The 104th Psalm was used by the Hebrew people to praise God for the abundance of the fruit of the earth. “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth.” (v. 14)
The flowering spurge is found in states from New England to Florida and west from Texas to South Dakota.
This white wildflower blooms from June through October. It has five petals that are actually bracts surrounding a tiny cluster of flowers. That configuration of bracts is the same as we learned about when we studied the dogwood, ox-eye daisy, and black-eyed Susan blooms. What appears as petals are sturdy bracts that protect the smaller blooms in the center.
The bloom of the flowering spurge is much smaller than the dogwood or the others with bracts, measuring about 1/2 inch across the whole bloom. The very tiny yellow flowerets, in the middle of the bloom, are nearly impossible to see without a magnifying glass.
The plants usually appear in clusters and range between 1 and 3 feet high. Generally, they are seen in ditches along the roadways, along fence rows, and in fields and open woods. They tolerate dry weather quite well but may adapt by being shorter.
The leaves are bright green and lance-shaped. They are opposites except where the main branches that bear the flowers divide. There, the leaves form a whorl, that is, where several leaves tightly position around the fork, as illustrated. As the plant matures toward fall, the flowering stalk may divide again with a second set of whorled leaves.
Like most wildflowers, there are several common names that give clues to the plant’s early value, such as bowman’s root, snake milk, and milk ipecac. The name emetic root is related to its use as a purgative.
One of my herb books noted that the sap extracted from the root, a milky juice, was once commonly used to remove warts. However, that same article cautioned that its use on normal skin may cause dermatitis.
As I drive along the roads in the East Metro area, I am in awe of God’s love expressed in the beauty and diversity of our wildflowers. But of greater significance is the fact that the extravagant blooms in nature are a mere hint of the extravagant grace and love of God.
Let us take the awe we express in nature, and multiply it a thousand-fold through our hymns of praise this coming Lord’s Day.
Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. This column is included in a two-volume set of books of wildflower columns he has published. To purchase the books, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center Street in Olde Town Conyers. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.