by Rachael Griffith
Making Medicinal Plant Knowledge Accessible
Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve is a 120-acre nature reserve on the Delaware River just south of New Hope in Bucks County, PA that features nearly 1000 species of native wildflowers, trees and shrubs. Two-and-a-half miles of trails wind through its woodlands and meadows, offering a wonderful opportunity to learn about a diversity of plant communities and their importance to a healthy ecosystem. Since its reconstruction in 2007, the Medicinal Trail at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve has been a source of tranquility, inspiration and reflection for visitors of the Preserve. Although relatively short in distance, the trail covers many different ecosystems and vistas, including a stream-side view, Piedmont woodland, and hilly terrain. The trail featured several different types of plants with recognized medicinal qualities that are native to the Delaware Valley region; however, many visitors expressed a desire for a means to identify and learn about the uses of these medicinal plants while on the trail. Naturalists who volunteer their time giving guided wildflower tours at the Preserve also expressed a desire for more medicinal plants species to make it more worth-while to take interested tourists down the somewhat-obscure trail.
Under the direction of Jeannine Vannais, Plant Stewardship Index Coordinator; as well as Amy Hoffman, Education Director; Bob Mahler, Nursery Manager; and Miles Arnot, Executive Director, 2009 summer intern Rachael Griffith undertook the project of introducing species of native medicinal plants onto the trail that did not exist elsewhere at the Preserve. The plants chosen were those with the most known and widely-accepted medicinal use. Some of the species include Panax quinquefolius (wild American ginseng), Actaea racemosa (black cohosh), Caulophyllum thalictroides (blue cohosh), Dioscorea villosa (American wild yam), Ulmus rubra (slippery elm), and Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal). The plants were purchased with a generous, greatly appreciated grant from the United Plant Savers. Nurseries from which plants were acquired were Russell Garden Center in Churchville, PA, Harding's Ginseng Farm in Friendsville, MD and Wetland Supply Co. in Apollo, PA.
Additionally, information about each of the plants' current and historical medicinal value was compiled into a booklet that is available to visitors on the trail and to take home with them. The booklet serves not only as an identification tool on the trail but also as a jumping-off point for visitors to peruse at home and use to find additional resources and information on specific topics. Signage to identify the plants was purchased and placed along the trail for further identification, and two special medicinal trail tours are scheduled for the spring to additionally highlight our new offerings.
After five months of work, the project is near completion. The plantings of goldthread, trilliums, blue and black cohosh, and bloodroot await the spring thaw to spring to life. The ginseng rootlets and seeds were planted in two nine-meter square research plots–one easily accessible to visitors on the trail, and one ‘hidden’ in a more remote location to protect against poaching–where they will be monitored and studied in the coming years. Although one shipment of trees and shrubs has yet to be delivered, we were surprised by volunteer sassafras seedlings right on the trail, so that we did not have to transplant them–they did it themselves! We have had lots of positive feedback from visitors and naturalists thus far, and we expect even more in the spring when the Preserve comes alive again with color and visitation. This project greatly fosters the mission of the Preserve, and we have much gratitude for the aid and encouragement provided by the United Plant Savers.
by Rachael Griffith