White Snakeroot Weed Looks Like Baby’s Breath in My Early Autumn Garden

White snakeroot

Today I noticed that a weed that I have been yanking all summer had escaped my grasp and had bloomed with the sweetest little blossoms that look very much like Baby’s Breath. Once again, I am reminded that haste in weeding is not always the best plan–at least not for my garden.

Allow me to digress:  I have removed all the grass from my yard and have begun designating areas either as flower beds, vegetable gardens, a kitchen garden, a grape arbor, and shade gardens.  Because much of my yard has not actually been designated yet and is rather more a bit of scruffiness here and there, I emphasize the words “begun to designate.” The scruffy areas continuously surprise me with plants that just seem to appear.  The snakeroot is one of those surprises that leapt from the scruffiness.

As soon as I found the white flowers, I snipped a piece; came inside and Googled the plant, trying to identify it.

Rather quickly, I determined that the cutling was either boneset or snakeroot.  I saw that snakeroot is poisonous for livestock, and I initially hoped that my plant was boneset.  Although I am not running any cattle in my yard, I had difficulty getting around the fact that I was growing poison.  Just to be sure, I checked even closer and resolved that my plant was indeed snakeroot and not its more benign look alike.

Snakeroot’s leaves have short stems and appear to be more serrated.  Sprays of flowers grow from between them. The following 2 images are Snakeroot. This site was particularly helpful:  http://identifythatplant.com/white-snakeroot-and-boneset/

White snakeroot

White snakeroot

Bonseset’s leaves look more like salvia to me.  The following image is Boneset.


No doubt about it, my wild plant is Snakeroot, which is poisonous to livestock, and I have a conundrum: I like the little white flowers, that look like Baby’s Breath, and they seem to like my yard.  I began to reason:  Should this plant’s bit of poison be reason for its demise in my yard?  My next Google search was to see if Snakeroot had any redeeming qualities, and I found one: Migrating butterflies and those still in the garden late seem to like Snakeroot.   It is one of the few flowering and thereby nectaring plants during fall. Snakeroot is a way that nature sustains butterflies in autumn.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Feeding on Nectar of Snakeroot [Image from Flickr]

Buckeye Butterfly Feeding on Snakeroot

Male Julia Butterflies on Snakeroot

Julias are Longwing Butterflies.

Cabbage White

White Cabbage Butterfly on Snakeroot [I have lots of these little guys]

Male Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly on Snakeroot

 Male Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

 Male Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar

The North American Butterfly Association says that because snakeroot growns in shady areas, butterflies will not lay eggs on it.  The NABA says that seeds laid on snakeroot would only be those of moths.  http://www.nababutterfly.com/eupatorium_rugosum.html


Book’s image from Amazon, where it can be purchased.

Doug Elliot, in the book Planting the Future, disagrees with the NABA claim and says that he watched a Male Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly lay a seed on Snakeroot.  [p.241]  That seed should grow to become a caterpillar.

Bottom line:  I found my reason to allow the Snakeroot to remain in my garden; yet, I need to keep in mind that Snakeroot can be an agressive weed that spreads from rhizomes.  With all this in mind, I’ll take a chance and allow more snakeroot to stay in my next year’s garden, but I’ll keep my eye on it.


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