The Plant with a Thousand Leaves Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) acquired its scientific species name because its foliage appears to consist of thousands of tiny leaves: “mille”= thousand, and “folium” pertains to its foliage. In reality, the picture at the right shows 7-8 leaves of yarrow, with a midrib running the length of each leaf. The blade on each side of the midrib is made up of numerous smaller divisions. This leaf adaptation serves the plant in at least two ways. The small divisions in- crease the total surface area exposed to the sun and capable of carrying on photosynthesis. It also allows the leaf to resist the heat of the sun, because smaller parts shed heat more easily. Thus, yarrow is well equipped to thrive during hot, dry California summers. (Most photos can be enlarged simply by clicking on them.)
Myth or Reality? Yarrow has an interesting history, altho its history is based in myth. Achilles was a mytho- logical Greek warrior who fought during the mythological Trojan War. Achilles had been a student of the mythological centaur Chiron, who excelled in many useful skills, including medicine. Chiron introduced Achilles to the medicinal qualities of the yarrow plant, which Achilles subsequently used to treat his own wounds and the wounds of his fellow warriors.
Yarrow grows in many countries, but the native California yarrow comes in two colors – white (Achillea millefolium californica), and a pink variety that is native to the Channel Islands near Ventura (Achillea millefolium rosea). Another variety, frequently found in local nurseries and gardens, happens to be bright yellow, and is not strictly a native to California, but it appears to fit in ecologically, growing in the same environment and attracting the same pollinators as the native varieties. Its varietal name is ‘Moonshine’, and is reported to be a cultivar formed by a cross between the native yarrow (A. millefolium) with Egyptian yarrow (A. aegyptiaca var. taygetea). Its leaves are silvery green, as opposed to the dark green of the California native.
Achilles Was On To Something! But the medicinal qualities of yarrow are not a myth. One of its most pleasing characteristics is the aroma of the crushed leaves, which seems to be more noticeable on some plants or at different times of the year. The aroma is due to several chemical compounds (achillein, chamazulene and numerous others), and aromatic plants have been used medicinally by all cultures in various parts of the world. In 1960, traces of yarrow along with other medicinal herbs were found in the grave of a Neanderthal man in Iraq, dated about 60,000 years ago. However, one of its more common uses appears to be its ability to treat cuts and sores and to stanch bleeding from wounds. Native Americans used yarrow for this purpose as well as for colds, respiratory problems, pain relief (it contains salicylic acid, the active ingredient in Aspirin), headaches, toothache, fever reduction, an aid to sleep, and joint relief. This newsletter does not attempt to recommend any part or decoction of yarrow for any medicinal application. However, an Internet search will reveal medicinal uses of yarrow for virtually every ailment known to man (including prevention of baldness, which would have been useful to me many years ago), as well as a substitute for hops in the brewing of beer. And, again without promoting any specific uses of yarrow, there appears to be extensive legitimate research into its curative qualities, such as from the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research, and the German Commission E and German Standard License (“Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals, A Handbook for Practice on a Scientific Basis”, edited by Max Wichtl, CRC Press). Warning: It should not be used during pregnancy.
Yarrow in Your Garden Whatever variety of yarrow you might choose, yarrow is a good choice for a native garden. It requires little care, aside from clipping off the old flowering stems and dividing the clumps every couple of years to reinvigorate them. It seems indifferent to the amount of water it receives. It propagates itself both by seeds and by underground stems; in other words, it spreads, but not uncontrollably. It blooms mainly from spring into fall, but some individuals at the Granada Native Garden are in bloom even at this time, in February. Yarrow has also been recommended for the stabilization of slopes, and as a lawn substitute because it tolerates light foot traffic and can be mowed. However, I have trouble imagining it as a mow-able lawn because of its clumping nature, and I would love to receive clarification on this issue from our readers!
Further, yarrow attracts many beneficial insects, pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds. Its foliage provides winter forage for birds. (Thanks to Laura Hanson of The Watershed Nursery for letting us use her photo of the bee gathering pollen from the yarrow.)
Jack St. Thomas Aquinas said that something reaches perfection when it is used for the purpose for which it is intended. Jack is one person who helps the Granada Native Garden reach its perfection. He is an almost daily visitor to the Garden, walking from his residence (almost a 2-mie round trip) to purchase his cup of coffee at a nearby donut shop and work on his Chronicle cross- word puzzle or catch up on his reading at one of the Garden tables. Jack already knows many of the plants there by name, and is obviously one who enjoys being out of doors and values contact with nature in the relatively placid environment of the Garden! May there be more like him in the future!Wildflower Update, Spring 2017 We anticipated that the abundant Fall and Winter rains would produce a display of California native wildflowers rivaling last year’s exceptional show. But it is not to be. The bank of non-native weeds lurking in the ground, mainly oats and crane’s bill, saw their chance and effectively crowded out most of the native wildflowers, which germinate a bit later in the season. In the process of “weeding out” the non-natives, we have tried to rescue some of the native wildflowers and give them a chance to greet visitors to the Garden. This year, visitors will find markers to help you identify the wildflowers by name. If you have children, you might challenge them to visit different parts of the Garden and find other examples of the same flower. Meanwhile, we are working on a strategy that, hopefully, will limit the spread of the non-native weeds in future years.
Check out the native plant selection at ALDEN LANE NURSERY, 981 Alden Lane, Livermore, CA 94550
For reliable certified arborist services, contact STUMPY’S TREE SERVICE, (925)518-1442, http://www.stumpystrees.com .
Guided Tours of the Granada Native Garden Are Available! Are you interested in seeing some of the plants that are described in this News- letter or in past issues? One or more staff of the GNG are routinely on duty at the Garden on Mondays and Thursdays, roughly between 10:00 AM and 12:00 noon. But it isn’t very hard to arrange a guided visit at other times. If you are interested in scheduling a visit, just email Jim at JIMatGNG@gmail.com . Or if you have any questions or inquiries, please email Jim at the same address!