The Elephant’s Parade // Elephant Head Lousewort

We camped at Big River Meadow, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. We were assigned to do a plant study; choose a plant to sit with and observe for 1 hour, create a name for it and a creative component and then come back and use the plant ID books to identify the specimen. 

I sat down with, what I named, THE ELEPHANT’S PARADE.

    • still flowering near the creak (Big River Meadow Creek)
    • growing out of wet moss and mud
    • flower buds have closed and seed buds beginning to develop in the marshy areas away from the creek, and more abundant in these areas, it seems
    • the specimen seems to prefer wet and sunny areas and is found with other plants that seem to like the same soil types. The other plants found alongside this one are all relatively the same height, besides the low lying mossy and marshy plants my specific specimen seem to spring up from.
    • found in the mountain meadow (6,000 ft)
    • I do not recognize this plant from the areas we have been, and does not seem to grow in the surrounding forested and shady areas or surrounding hills and mountains
    • hardy root system- when I pulled the root out, it wouldn’t come up easily
      • gnarly looking bulbous root system, white and black
      • leaves and stalk come directly out of bulbous root
      • 1 flower stalk and approx 15 fern like leaves
    • Leaf
      • purple around edges, rest green
      • serrated edges
      • fern-like
      • does not lay flat-whorled around stalk and alternating
    • Stem
      • ranging from 5” to 12” tall
      • uneven leaf growth, all the way up the stem, getting smaller and smaller as you go up the stem and leading into the flower buds then the flowers and then the seed heads
      • it seems that the younger plant has a redder stem and as the plant flowers and makes seeds the stem becomes more green
      • alternating buds and flowers
      • flower buds poke out of leave nodules (green and purple)
      • end of stem is tuberous- might be tasty for an ungulate to eat
    • Flower
      • light floral scent
      • looks like a purple elephant
      • shades of purple
    • needs an abundance of water
      • leaves aren’t grown in a way that concentrate water flow
    • needs lots of sunlight
      • leaves aren’t grown in a way to max sunlight so needs a lot of sun
      • the tuberous stalk and roots makes me think it is good to eat for ungulates
    • flowers allow for only specific pollinators (a certain type of bee)
    • bright purple attracts pollinators
    • bulb allows plant to overwinter (perennials)


So, I took my observations to the books and discovered my lovely little flower was a Elephant Head Lousewort (pedicularis groenlandica). This guy can become a weed in hay fields, and like I speculated it is eaten by ungulates, specifically elk. And a specific bee will pollinate the Elephant Head Lousewort. This flowering plant is a perennial, partially parasitic on the roots of other plants, grows in alpine meadows. The roots can be eaten in moderation, but only depending on its host. If the host is poisonous, then the ElephantHead can become poisonous too. If eaten the roots can be used as a sedative for children and a tranquilizer for adults, but it is not recommended to eat this plant. The Elephant Head Lousewort is part of the figwort family. Many figworts are ornamental, but not this one because of its parasitic tendency’s.  




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