Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Umbrella Plant Has Arrived!
I didn't expect to stop for photos on the way to work this morning, but a half mile north of the Greenville Y, the pink clusters of flowers of the Umbrella Plant struck me. I had to stop. Darmera peltata has long been known as Indian Rhubarb, but I'm converting to the newer name that I'm finding in most field guides. I'm assuming that is to remove any likelihood that like Digger Pine and Squaw Carpet it may have pejorative connotations. This member of the saxifrage family is one of many unrelated plants that might be called Umbrella Plant, but that's the way it goes with common names.
I typed both Umbrella Plant and Indian Rhubarb into web browsers and found interesting patterns. It was hard to find any sites that commented on whether or not the plant was edible, much less palatable. There were a number of sites through which you could buy seeds or starts if you wanted to give your garden a more tropical look - even though this is not a trou[ical plant - go figure! Most sites simply listed in a boring manner the basic identifying characteristics. There was mention in a few that the stalks could be peeled and eaten raw or cooked. No mention was made whether, like garden-variety rhubarb, the parts other than the stalks were toxic. I could find no mention of medicinal uses. Sometimes you can learn more from what is NOT found in the Internet than from what is.
What I love about this plant, besides its obviously dramatic look, is that it is a point of interest from Spring through late Fall. The first sight of these is usually in April, although they are a little late this year around Quincy. Stalks ranging from 1 to 3 feet tall bear huge clusters of white to pink flowers. Over a few weeks they get pollinated, wilt, go to seed, then die back. Then the leaf stalks arise separately and end up bearing huge round leaves that somewhat resemble umbrellas blown inside out by the wind. They may be 2 feet across. All through the summer they provide wonder shade and preserve dampness for all sorts of creatures. Then, in the fall, they turn bright shades of red, orange and yellow and are a major feature in Plumas County's fall foliage entertainment. I think this year I'm going to put them to the taste test. And, I'm going to see what some of my Native American friends know about the plant.