Twigs and Branches

A web of present and past events

These short articles are written to highlight connections of the plants, history and lore of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden with different time frames or outside connections. A web of intersections.

May 9, 2021: A cautionary word to horses about Box Elder:
Now that we are beyond the maple syrup season we are into maple seed season.Maple trees produce seeds contained in a paired winged structure called a “samara” or a ‘key.” These are usually harmless but for our native maple, the Box Elder, it has recently been documented right here in Minnesota that ingestion of Box Elder seeds by horses in pastures is the previously unknown cause of a deadly muscle disease which is part of a disease complex called seasonal pasture myopathy (SPM). Under research is the question of how much material is a deadly dose. This research was reported by the University of Minnesota Equine Center in the Nov. 2012 issue of Equine Veterinary Journal. The University reports in 2021 that About 75 to 95 percent of horses affected by this disease die.

It becomes a problem for pastured horses that have insufficient food and begin to eat available plant material, of which Box Elder seeds can be amply and are available all season as they do not drop from the tree until fall and winter. Autumn is the worst season as other forage is typically less available. For years it was unknown what caused these death rates. The toxin responsible for SPM is hypoglycin A, which is found in the boxelder seeds. The chemical is found in about 270 species world wide but unlike Box Elder, in quantities not usually sufficient to cause disease. The Soapberry Family, of which the maples are members, seems to have a number of these plants. The same problem occurs in Europe, but from a different European maple species.

Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine states that "When one horse becomes affected, herd mates are also at risk. However, not every horse pastured near box elder seeds will develop SPM. The reason behind this is just one of the mysteries about SPM that remains to be solved.”

The Box Elder one of the few maples that retain the samaras all season of those that do, it can be identified as our only maple with divided leaves. Plant information sheet.

box elder key
Box elder samara maturing.
Box elder leaf
Box elder leaves.

April 21, 2021: Early flowers:
12 scenes from the opening days of the Garden in 2021, with commentary by Eloise Butler and others. View the photos.

Dutchman's Breeches plant

April 17, 2021: Yellow Trillium now in bud in the Garden.
If you visit the Garden at this time you will find a healthy clump of Yellow Trillium, Trillium leutum, on the west woodland path (Geranium Lane).

Yellow Trillium

While not native to the state it has been kept in the Garden as an example of a species that was planted in the early years, is not invasive, and survives tolerably well in Minnesota but not long-lived here. It is native to the Blue Ridge and was originally brought into the Garden in 1946 by Martha Crone, who planted it several times in succeeding years. She explained her rationale in her 1949 annual report to Superintendent Charles Doell: "Many of rarer species which formerly were unable to adapt themselves to varying environmental condition have been encouraged, with great success, such as the beautiful Yellow Trillium which has its home only in the Smokies and has been firmly established, as well as many others.”

After the 1960s the routine practice of bringing in new species not native to Minnesota was shelved.

You Trillium experts out there will recognize that the leaf and flower arrangement resemble Toadshade and Sweet Betsy - also found in the Garden.

Yellow Trillium plants

April 6, 2021: Such a Variety
Three plants introduced by Eloise Butler to her Wild Flower Garden 100 years ago in 1921 have a story to tell.

Wild leek leaves
Wild Leek.

Narrow-leaved Leek, (Allium tricoccum var. burdickii) is the companion to the Wide-leaved variety (var. tricoccum) which Eloise had introduced in 1910. Both are native to our state and are the same plant except for an overlapping leaf width difference. The DNR location census does not track them by variety, just the species. In 1694 Marquette and his party of exploration subsisted on wild leek in the vicinity of what is now Chicago, which word originated as a reference to the abundance of leek in the area.

Sweet Black-eyed SusanSweet Black-eyed Susan (Rudbekia subtomentosa) is found in the wild in Minnesota only in Mower County, adjacent to Iowa where it is native. It grows so well here in the metro area that one wonders why you don’t see more of it. The plants are up to 6 feet tall, profusely flowered. Plant them where you want then because moving the root ball can give you a hernia.

Queen Anne's LaceQueen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) also called Wild Carrot and Bird’s Nest was best kept out but Eloise wanted one of everything. Even though it is the wild version of our cultivated carrot and impressively flowered it is so intensely invasive that it seems only the purposely planted Crown Vetch can out-compete it along roadsides, which seem to be its avenue for transport, having made its way up north from the more southern areas. This is an example of how invasive species hitchhike. It is found in SE Minnesota, up along the river, in a few metro counties, including Hennepin, but then also in Hubbard, Lake, Pipestone and Rock. Fortunately it was removed from the Garden.

March 21, 2021: Devil's Club:
One hundred years ago Eloise Butler brought into her wild flower garden in Glenwood Park several obscure plants. One has a lengthly history. It is called “Devil’s Club” and from the Latin name of “Oplopanax horridus” you may gather it is somewhat formidable.

Devils Club
Devil's club, Oplopanax horridus. Photo R A Howard Collection, Smithsonian Institution.

Martha Crone described it this way in 1955: “Devil’s Club or Devil’s Walking Stick is a member of the Ginseng Family. The densely prickly stems grow as tall as 13 feet. Both sides of the large leaves have scattered pickles. This plant often forms extensive dense thickets and because of the sharp prickles these are almost impenetrable. It grows abundantly in the forest of the pacific slope from Oregon to Alaska, and is also found about Lake Superior as well as in Japan. . A number of plants are thriving in the Wild Flower Garden.” (1)

Miss Butler’s log stated her plants came from Isle Royal. When Mrs. Crone planted more in 1935 her’s also came from Isle Royal as it grows nowhere in Minnesota. Martha’s friend Gertrude Cram supplied the Isle Royal plants with this note: “I hope you receive the Devil’s Club in sufficiently good condition to enable you to recognize it. The package was a flimsy one - there is never a box to be had here without reserving it weeks in advance - and I was not sure it would get through the mail. I put in two young plants in case you want to start a colony in your own yard or in the wild garden! It really is a handsome plant even if it is vicious.” (2)

Gertrude Cram vacationed every summer on Isle Royal, staying at the Rock Harbor Lodge. She was also a close friend of Eloise and it is possible it was she who supplied the 1921 plants but Eloise did not note that. The 1935 plants obviously survived a number of years but when they died out they were not replaced as when Ken Avery became Curator in 1959 he did not replace plants that were not native to the state, but then - there were also those words “impenetrable” and “vicious.”

(1) The Fringed Gentian™, Vol. 3 No. 1
(2). Letter from Rock Harbor Lodge, Isle Royal, marked 1935. One of several from that August, this one without a day of the month.

March 4, 2021: 75 years ago:
One of the rarest spring ephemeral plants in the Wildflower Garden is the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily (Erythronium propullans). Seventy five years ago on April 18, 1946 Martha Crone planted 175 of them marking only the second time they had been planted in the Garden. Eloise Butler introduced the plant on May 17 1909 from a source in Goodhue County. It is unique to Minnesota, occurring only in the wild in Rice, Goodhue and Steele counties and is the only plant species in Minnesota listed as “endangered” by both the MN DNR and Federal Government.

She does not note in her log her source but Mrs. Crone would have secured them from a development site where they would otherwise be lost - that was her practice at the time. The last known planting of the species was in 1955 by Mrs. Crone.

In appearance, it is somewhat similar to the White Trout Lily (E. albidum) but smaller, more nodding, more rosy color and usually has 5 petal-like tepals instead of the 6 of the White Trout Lily, although MN Dwarf plants with 4, 5 and 6 parts are known. It rarely sets seed and grows only by offshoots and thus does not spread much. Attempts to artificially propagate it have been unsuccessful and it has been noted for years now that the species may become extinct in the wild.

More details and photos on our plant information page. This photo was taken by Martha Crone on April 25, 1955.

Minnesota Dwarf Troutlily

Feb. 15, 2021: A bunch of berries,
All six of the Minnesota native Dogwoods were once in the Wildflower Garden but two are missing - lost and probably not replaceable. One is the Round-leaf Dogwood, Cornus rugosa and the other is the Bunchberry, C. canadensis. Bunchberry was indigenous to the Garden as it was to many secluded spots in Minneapolis in the early 1900’s but after numerous re-plantings by Eloise Butler and Martha Crone it died out in the 1950s. Ken Avery experimented with it again in 1960 and thinking he had success, he planted more in 1962. But in the long term - the habitat was no longer for them and they have never been replanted.

You can find Bunchberry in all of Canada, Greenland and northern Eurasia as it is a circumboreal dweller, preferring a variety of moist places from bogs to moist woods, but partial to soils on the acidic side. And here we probably have the reason for the loss to the Garden: Changes to the wetland at Eloise Butler over the years, beginning with the loss of the tamarack bog and the slow change to what we call climate; this will probably continue to push them further north.

They are attractive plants with showy white bracts under the cluster of creamy flowers that produce bright red drupes which are edible but not too tasty although Eloise said they had cloying sweetness and she ate bunches of them. Lesser known about them is they release pollen via a catapult mechanism - the flower opens and flings out pollen in less than 0.5 mille-seconds, the fastest known release movement, requiring a camera speed of over 10,000 frames per second.


Jan. 31, 2021: Superstition, the Maltese Cross and White Ash all come together. -
Setting aside the many qualities of our native White Ash tree such as durability, strength, suppleness, water resistance and such we turn to the quality lesser known today but well known in pioneer times in the east. When designing a house in colonial times special attention was given to the front door in terms of design and the type of wood used. Beyond the simple batten style door, rails and stiles were employed for more design and strength and for the superstitious a Maltese Cross would be added to the lower section, making it a “witch door” to keep out evil spirits. For more potency you framed the door with ash as the tree, particularly the white, had the ability to ward off sickness and evil spirts. A barrier of ash leaves it was said prevented any snake from crossing the leaves.

Witches Door
The Maltese Cross formed by the crossed stiles in the bottom door section creates what is called a "witches door." Ash rails and stiles add potency.
White ash
White ash in fall color.

When Thomas Nuttall wrote his supplement to a later1850s edition of Francois Michaux’s 3-volume North American Sylva he added this: “The leaves and branches of the White Ash are said to be poisonous to serpents, and the leaf to cure their bite. No rattlesnakes are found in White Ash swamps. An ash leaf rubbed upon the swellings caused by mosquitoes, removes the itching and soreness immediately. The same effect is produced on the poison occasioned by the sting of the bee.”

So check your doors and see what wood you have! Photos: White Ash in fall color - G D Bebeau; drawing courtesy of Eric Sloan.

Common Dandelion

Jan. 18, 2021: Dandelions to the rescue -
Written records for the use of our Common Dandelion for medicinal purposes go back into the 10th and 11th centuries. A more recent discovery comes out of Ghana. University of Ghana researcher Dorcas Osei-Safo tested herbal medicines obtained from local practitioners against laboratory cultures of various disease causing parasites. These diseases in question are sometimes referred to as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDS) because pharmaceutical firms do not invest in cures, even though they affect several billion people in the poorer parts of the world, with the result that many people rely on herbal treatments.

Recently published in PLOS were the laboratory results - all 15 treatments tested has some effect against their disease target but one stood way out - in fact it was 30% more effective than the standard drug, diminazene aceturate, for treating sleeping sickness. The herbal treatment was a dried mix of Aloe vera and Taraxacum officinale, our common dandelion. Both plants are found in that part of the world but if you want to make your own concoction you will have to go down to Texas or Florida to find the Aloe vera, the only place where it grows in North America. More details about herbal uses of dandelion are on our plant information page. Aloe photo courtesy DJ Midgley.

aloe Vera

Jan 8, 2021: Have you ever seen a flying squirrel? They are considered our hidden neighbors as they prefer the dimmer hours of the day. I encountered one only once when I went to clean out an unused metal birdfeeding box mounted on a pole. When I opened the top, out came the squirrel who leaped, or I should say, glided, over to a nearby tree. (Photo by Nature Smart Images)

Flying Squirrel

You can read more about them in The Friends recently published newsletter, The Fringed Gentian™, along with other articles about Snow Tracks, a historic wild garden in Canada and what the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden’s Curator Susan Wilkins has to say of the past season. Read it here.

Selections published in 2020