Black Velvet Or Backlight

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This tall wraithe of a forest wildflower is Black Cohosh. Like so many other wildflowers that are many times taller than wide, it’s a hard one to show off in the best light. Unless, of course, you seek and find the best light.

And that is not all that hard to do along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the morning hours before 10 or afternoon after 3 in the summertime. Shafts of light slanting through the forest selectively illuminate your subject against the black velvet backdrop of unlit shadow, eliminating the busy, distracting blobs of shape and color that leave the eye searching for the picture.

You may have heard of Black Cohosh, if not as a wildflower, as a medication recently in use to treat menopausal symptoms. See this Mayo Clinic report on Black Cohosh. I suppose the drug companies accept wild-collected stock, but haven’t heard of people collecting it for cash like they do Galax, Running Cedar, Ginseng and such. I’ll have to explore that issue. There’s sure plenty of it in the rich woods along the ridges here’bouts.

The larger image does a better job of showing this plant off at its best.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. thanks for the photography and lighting tips! these are things i need to know with my (very) amateur photography skills.

    so, mr. biologist, where does the name black cohosh come from, when there doesn’t seem to be anything black about it? enquiring minds want to know…….

  2. I know a couple of women who collect it locally for tincture making. There’s also a blue cohosh, but it’s probably not blue.

  3. I was going to ask you to send a cutting/rooted piece/etc. before I even finished reading the paragraph! I find it beautiful and even know its Latin name without looking it up: Cimicifuga Racemosa. (As if a plant shipped in July would be alive by the time it got here…)

  4. Cohosh is an Indian word for several medicinal plants.

    Black probably refers to the color of the seeds that will ulitmately come from the spikey white inflorescence of flowers, while the Blue Cohosh has, well you can guess what color berries.