Andromeda polifolia: A Beautiful and Poisonous Bog Plant
Andromeda polifolia, also known as bog rosemary or marsh andromeda, is a species of flowering plant in the heath family Ericaceae. It is native to northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere, where it grows in bogs and other wet, acidic habitats. It is the only member of the genus Andromeda, which was named by Carl Linnaeus after the Greek mythological princess Andromeda.
The plant is a low, evergreen shrub or ground cover that reaches 10â20 cm (4â8 in) in height. It has slender stems and narrow, lanceolate leaves that are dark green above and white beneath, with curled margins. The leaves are similar to those of rosemary, which gives the plant its common name, but they are not related. The flowers are small, bell-shaped, and white or pink, and appear in clusters at the tips of the branches in late spring or early summer. The fruits are capsules that contain numerous seeds.
Andromeda polifolia has two varieties that are sometimes treated as distinct species: A. polifolia var. polifolia, which occurs in northern Europe and Asia, and northwestern North America; and A. polifolia var. latifolia, which occurs in northeastern North America. The latter variety has broader leaves and is also known as A. glaucophylla.
Andromeda polifolia is a popular ornamental plant for gardens that have moist, acidic soil and shade. It can be used as a border front, a ground cover, or a plant for water gardens, rain gardens, or pond margins. It has several cultivars that vary in leaf color and size, such as ‘Blue Ice’, which has intense slate blue leaves, and ‘Nana’, which has a dwarf habit.
However, Andromeda polifolia is not a plant to be trifled with. It contains grayanotoxin, a compound that can cause respiratory problems, dizziness, vomiting, or diarrhea when ingested. The toxin affects the sodium channels in the cells and disrupts the normal functioning of the nervous system. The plant is poisonous to humans and animals alike, and should be handled with care.
Andromeda polifolia is not only a beautiful and poisonous plant, but also a plant with a long history and a rich symbolism. The plant was first described by Johann Christian Buxbaum in 1731, who named it Polifolia after the Latin word for “many-leaved”. Later, Carl Linnaeus renamed it Andromeda in 1753, after the Greek princess who was chained to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea monster. Linnaeus saw a resemblance between the plant and the mythological heroine, both of whom were bound to a harsh and unforgiving environment.
The plant has also been associated with various legends and folklore in different cultures. In Scandinavia, it was believed that the plant could ward off evil spirits and protect against witchcraft. In Russia, it was used as a love charm and a remedy for infertility. In North America, some Native American tribes used the plant as a medicine for various ailments, such as rheumatism, colds, and skin infections. However, they also recognized its toxicity and used it with caution.
Andromeda polifolia is a plant that fascinates and challenges gardeners and botanists alike. It is a plant that requires special care and attention, but also rewards with its delicate beauty and fragrance. It is a plant that can be admired from a distance, but not touched or tasted. It is a plant that represents both the beauty and the danger of nature.