20 December 2009

Elephant Head

Were you able to figure out the plant that I was looking at in the photograph in my previous post? Here's a closer look...

... and here is a look at the inflorescence...

If you're still not sure what this is, the title of this post says it all. This is Elephant Head (Pedicularis groenlandica). The common name for this species comes from the spitting image resemblance of the individual flowers to the head of a particular pachyderm. The "trunk" is actually the upper lip of the corolla that is declined and curved upward; the "ears" are two lobes of the lower lip of the corolla (Guennel 2004). Be sure that you're looking at the mature flowers and not the buds at the top of the inflorescence in the photo above, or instead you may be tempted to call this plant Gonzo Flower.

Little Red Elephant, as this species is also known, is a member of the family Scrophulariaceae (for now). In the photograph above, notice the fern-like leaves that are characteristic of most members of the genus Pedicularis. This species is circumboreal in distribution (Beidleman et al. 2000), meaning that it is found in northern regions around the world. In North America, it is found in the western United States, Alaska, and in most Canadian provinces (USDA, NRCS 2009).

A photograph of the habitat in which we saw Elephant Head is shown above. Look at all the color in this subalpine meadow! Elephantella (another common name for this species) grows from the montane into the alpine, where it is found in wet meadows, bogs, and swamps, as well as near streams, ponds, and springs (Guennel 2004).

This is one of my favorite photographs from our Colorado trip, but it pales in comparison to the photograph of an albino Elephant Head on Southwest Colorado Wildflowers at the bottom of the page at this link. Elephant Head has been used medicinally in several ways, most commonly to loosen chest congestion; like other members of the genus, it has also been used as a tranquilizer, muscle relaxant, sedative, and aphrodesiac (Psychoactive Herbs 2009). I'm not sure how this last use fits in with the previous three... I'll leave this to your imagination.

Beidleman, L.H., R.G. Beidleman, & B.E. Willard. (2000). Plants of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park, Colorado: Rocky Mountain Nature Association; Helena, Montana: Falcoln Publishing, Inc.

Guennel, G.K. (2004). Guide to Colorado Wildflowers, Volume 2: Mountains. Englewood, Colorado: Westcliffe Publishers.

Psychoactive Herbs. 20 December 2009. Retrieved from http://psychoactiveherbs.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=123.

USDA, NRCS. 2009. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov/, 20 December 2009). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.


Jim said...

I own the website natureasarkphotography.com and I notice the link you have to my site is broken. Would you please fix it. Thanks, Jim

Scott said...

Hi Jim. Sorry about that. I tried to link directly to your blog, and for some reason it won't work. I think it's the apostrophe in your blog address that is throwing it off. I've used your website address instead, and that should work now.


Ted C. MacRae said...

The albino form is spectacular.

However, I really think my favorite photo is the top one showing you botanizing with the Colorado landscape as a backdrop - reminds me of some alpine meadows I've visited in the high Sierra Nevada. Oh, how I adore the mountainous west!

Scott said...

Hi Ted. Lindsay took the photo of me botanizing. We were trying to re-enact a photo of me in a Missouri prairie looking at Aster paludosus. It turned out pretty good.