Did the freeze get your tomatoes? I have not put any out yet. But some of the native wildflowers have their own version of anti-freeze coursing through their veins. The Narrow-leaf Puccoon not only survived but even looks more brilliant today following a very cold night. What is this native perennial plant?

11 April 2013 Blog

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Below freezing again last night, long enough for ice to form over the puddles and thick frost to cover the windscreens and roofs.  The last freeze usually happens by the 15th of April in this area, but this year who knows?

I am happy to report the Narrow-leaf Puccoons are now in bloom.  The freeze did not affect these guys, but they are closer to the ground…..no more than 6 inches high in my area.  I have read in other places the Puccoon can reach nearly 16 inches.  The ground temperatures are about 42 degrees right now, and that may have been a factor in protecting the low-growing Puccoons.  Even though they are found throughout the central USA into the southern Canadian Provinces (but not the Eastern Seaboard or Washington, Oregon and Idaho), the Puccoon is endangered in Indiana (can’t compete with the megafarms and corn production) and probably extinct in Michigan. 

The Narrow-leaf Puccoon is in the borage family (the group with Forget-me-nots and flowers usually blue!).   The flowers grow in clusters and each flower consists of a narrow yellow tube ending in 5 joined frilly edged petals.  The bright yellow flowers appear at the ends of stems 6 inches or longer, and the plant may fan out from its base into a small herb bush.  The leaves, arranged in alternate fashion, are very narrow at the ends, but become slightly broader at the base of the plant. The leaf blades and stems are “hairy” and can be irritating due to their calcium carbonate and silicon dioxide content.

The Puccoon is a perennial that prefers dry prairies, disturbed soils and open areas or woods.  Dry soils, lots of sun and sandy, clay or loamy soils.  Perfect for central Oklahoma.

Puccoon comes from the word poughkone in the Powhatan language.  Spoken by the Powhatan Algonquian tribe that lived in eastern Virginia and southern Maryland region, the language became extinct in the 18th century.  Oddly enough, English borrowed many Powhatan words we are very familiar with in this part of Oklahoma:  hickory, hominy, opossum, pokeweed, persimmon, raccoon, terrapin and chinquapin as in chinquapin oak.

Puccoon was a common name for many plants with roots that produced red and yellow dyes.  This is why I will narrow the field to Lithospermum incisum, the , the official name for our Narrow-leaf Puccoon.  Lithospermum means “stone seed” as each flower produces 4 hard little nutlets.  And just to confuse the issue a little more, the showy early spring flowers tend not to set many seeds.  A few weeks later, a series of hidden unopened flowers in leaf axils will become fertilized and these flowers produce most the seeds that are responsible for new offspring. The plant is announcing “here I am, do not forget I am here!”  (remember, they are in the forget- me-not family) as spring arrives, but the pollinators may not be out in great numbers.  As the season warms up, the odds increase for fertilization with more pollinating insects flying about. Sly Narrow-leaf Puccoons. 

Go look but do not disturb.  Forget not where they are and as good gardeners wait for the seeds later.  The plants will thank you.