Looking directly downward upon the tousled, whirligigged, floral spike of the Wood Betony, one is immediately impressed with its rip-saw symmetry. And, if it is plucked and twirled 'twixt the forefinger and thumb, the illusion becomes quite real and amusing. As we recall frequent references to the Betony of ancient history, we are apt to connect it with our native species, but it is the European plant, Betonica officinalis, that was frequently extolled for its many physical and medicinal charms and virtues. Our own curious Wood Betony has one unhappy connection in folk-lore, and that is its scientific name. Pedicularis is Latin for louse, and was applied to this species by farmers who, for many years, seemed thoroughly convinced that the Lousewort, as they disparagingly named it, was responsible for breeding a small insect that developed a skin disease among their sheep, which they concluded had surely fed upon its foliage. Several flowering stalks spring from the centre of a tuft of circular clustered leaves. They are stout, hairy, and sparingly leafy, and rise from six to eighteen inches. The peculiar flowers are curiously arranged in a thick, leafy, terminal spike, and they develop spirally toward the green top. The corolla is two-lipped, with the upper one hooked or arched, and flattened like the bow of an Indian canoe, while the lower lip is much shorter, and has three lobes, the outer ones of which are flared. The colour varies from a light yellow to purplish red. The upper lip has two tiny, hair-like teeth at the apex, between which extends a fine pistil. Four stamens huddle beneath the hood of the upper lip. Sometimes the entire flower is yellow, and again the lower lip is yellow and the upper one shades into a deep purple. This peculiarity gives it the name of Beefsteak Plant. The tubular calyx is deeply notched on the under side and tapers to a point on top with two or three small scallops. The dark green fern-like leaves are oblong or lance-shaped, and graduate into slender stems. Their margins are deeply cut into small lobes, each of which is again notched and scalloped or toothed, and is partly curled. The surface is shiny, and the midrib is strong and conspicuous. Both leaves and stem are often stained with red. After the flowering season the spike extends several inches, and the fruit ripens in the stiff, russet seed cases. Wood Betony is found in sprawling clusters from April to June, in shaded woods and thickets, where the undergrowth is sparse and low. It ranges from Nova Scotia and Manitoba to Florida, Kansas, and Colorado, into Mexico.
WOOD BETONY. Pedicularis canadensis.