Rabbit Tobacco

In these very home-bound and isolated times, Justin and I have found the pastime of taking afternoon / early evening “nature baths” in our local wooded parks. We live within feet to a river that opens out into a bay a few miles south, so the landscape is part brackish swamp with an overtone of urban decay.

The trails and parks we explore most are part of a former railway, so there’s a lot of interesting remnants of decades past. This past Monday, we stopped into a recently renovated patch of woods that has been developed into a small war memorial park. We went mostly to see what the developers had planted in the woodland’s stead, but as we walked around the park we noticed some trails that led into a more secluded wood.

Most of these woods were reasonably old Beech trees. Because I’ve been stalking Beech trees for their nuts, I learned a way to approximate their age: circumference/3.14(6)= appx years. In order for a Beech tree to fruit, it needs to be at least 40 years old, but better at 60. By my math, that means the circumference of a fruiting Beech tree needs to have at minimum a circumference between 20″ and 32″ at chest-height. I’ll be going back with my sewing measure.

Beech have a smooth surface adequate for young lovers to carve their declarations, and what a perfect place to do it, really. The older trails wind up and around a small inlet pond, further up a small hill and out at a hilltop with a very pretty view of the river with a final descent to the old rail-to-trail and rocky riverside.

Along the way, we saw plenty of flora: thistle, tansy, and some unbelievable autumn olives (for which we will be returning hastily).

But as we crossed over the trail to the bike path, and then to the old railway, a plant called out to me. It stood solitary but sociable: maybe even friendly. I had never noticed this plant before, and something about it actually asked me to get to its level and look at it. So I did!

This one is probably about 10″ high, so I couldn’t rightly get a photo of the bottom of it (as you’ll see, the base is one stalk and rather scraggly), but I got this lovely in-the-wild birdseye view:

I mean, what a beauty.

I use a plant id app to get me in the right family of plants: “rabbit tobacco” it said, so I went online to check for some characteristics. Turns out the app was correct and I had stumbled upon an ancient folk herb used medicinally by Natives and Americans for all kinds of chest and sinus ailments.

Characteristics checked out:

  • Grows on a single stalk.
  • Sessile, linear leaves
  • Smells distinctly like maple syrup.
  • Leaves are brown on one side; silvery grey on the other, and curled (dry)
  • Overall, a reasonably hairy plant.

When I got home, I was so excited. I read up as much as I could and found this strange South Carolinian video. I was instantly a little jealous that South Carolina even produces a show like this. What magic!

Well, there it is: my new herbal friend, Likamalaska, or Rabbit Tobacco: a plant that reminds how easily beautiful and useful things can be overlooked if we’re not open to knowing them.


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