In perusing our backyard, I have lately become aware of the need for a new plant taxon, and, since I seem to be alone in this so far, I have taken the liberty of naming it. I call it Family Dangerfieldaceae. (I suspect that this taxon may eventually be elevated to a higher level—-maybe as far as Kingdom Dangerfieldae—-but we’ll start here for now.) This new family is not based on morphology or habitat or even genetics, although all of these may play a role in its members’ classification. It is based rather on the quality of getting no respect.
My first nomination for this new taxa is Late Boneset (Eupatorium serotinum) also known as Late Flowering Boneset, Late Flowering Thoroughwort, and White Boneset, among other names.
Take this description, for example, “Eupatorium serotinum is among the weediest species of Missouri thoroughworts, with little fidelity to any particular habitat, moisture regime, or substrate type.” You see? It’s not only “weedy”, but it’s unfaithful to pretty much any place or thing. If it got respect, it would be referred to as “aggressive” and “adapted to a wide variety of habitats”.
Or this one, “Interesting Info: Slender, serrated leaf distinguishes this plant from the more interesting true boneset.” This plant is uninteresting and untrue, at least compared to E. perfoliatum. Yawn.
This member (so far) of the Aster Family has more going for it than that, in my opinion. It is a showy (kind of) perennial wildflower, growing up to 4-5 feet tall, blooming in late summer and into the fall, branching well up on the stem into numerous panicles with small white flowers.
It is found from Nebraska south to Texas and pretty much everywhere east, including a possible population in Ontario. It is said to prefer moist areas, which seems to be true in our yard, but can tolerate some drought, although some lower leaves may brown and drop off. It sailed right through the hot, dry summer this year and seems to require no maintenance that we have discovered. It doesn’t show much tendency to take over and pretty much minds its manners. It likes to be around the water feature in our backyard, but it’s not addicted to it.
Maybe that’s why it tends to be overlooked. No squeaky wheel, this. It doesn’t seem to have any special medicinal properties or fascinating folklore. It doesn’t appear to be much celebrated in song, poetry, and legend. All that is reserved for its close relative, Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), which can treat flu, dengue fever (breakbone fever, get it?), worms, malaria, diarrhea, and who knows what else? Back in the day it made kids run hard to avoid being dosed with its bitter, smelly tea for whatever ailed them. Wiccans even use it to conjure Banishing Spells to avoid unpleasant people.
But I digress. We don’t have Common Boneset in our backyard. We have Late Boneset, which wouldn’t be caught dead attracting such attention.
So why do I think this plant deserves more respect? Stand beside it on a nice late summer or early fall day and watch the party. Bees, small and large, wasps, and butterflies find it irresistible.
Like Partridge Pea, if you look out of the corner of your eye, it sometimes looks as if the plants are moving, there are so many insects feeding on the flowers. If you want to attract pollinators to your surroundings Late Boneset is a standout. Now also consider the time of year that it reaches its full bloom. It coincides with the migration of the mighty Monarch Butterfly, and this unassuming
perennial appears to provide a significant source of late-season nectar for the long journey south. Keep your Banishing Spells—long live the Monarch!
Plus, in the right company Late Boneset is hardly a wallflower. Its white inflorescences, not very ornate by themselves, can join up with other late-bloomers for some memorably beautiful combinations. Consider it for use as a cut plant and in dried plant arrangements.
So give our shy lady a little bit of respect. She doesn’t ask for much and gives a lot.