Wetlands Are Not Wastelands

Thinking this might make a nice future notecard...
Thinking this meadow shot might make a nice future note card...

One resource many Floyd residents may not appreciate is the abundant wetlands along the Blue Ridge Parkway. One Parkway biologist chose to work along this portion of the National Park simply for that reason, one of his chief interests being Bog Turtles. There are a number of places where Bog Turtle nests are protected by small fenced enclosures visible from the Parkway, sheltered from cattle hooves. Most folks have no idea what those little corrals are for.

The image above is from an area of saturated soil and shallow beaver pond not far from town. I suppose it is Parkway property and I’d love to go mucking around in it, but the day I found myself there recently, I was heading for a social event and being muddy up to my knees might not have been acceptable, so I only lurked around the edges, admiring.

This shot (I’d have loved to have gotten closer–here’s somebody else’s closeup) consists of the tall, spiky, lavender “vervain” or “swamp verbena” and silverlace vine, in addition to an assortment of rushes, sedges and late-summer grasses. The former is not that common, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen it. Come to find out, vervain is a plant with a very interesting history. So if you have dropsy or piles…

Pieces of vervain root, or a sachet of its dried leaves, were hung round the neck to cure scrofula, prevent nightmares, and make one immune to snakebite; it was also said to staunch blood, because it grew at the foot of Christ’s cross. One Jacobean poet says it ‘hindreth witches of their will’ (Drayton, Nimphidia (1627), line 391); this probably alludes to hagriding, since it is nowhere mentioned as a house protection.

A sacred herb used to cleanse the table of Zeus before a feast in ancient Greece. In Rome it was also strewn on the altars of Jupiter, and water containing vervain was also sprinkled in houses to cast out evil spirits.

Among the Druids particularly it was employed in connection with many forms of superstition. They gathered it at daybreak, before the sun had risen. Later sorcerers followed the same usage, and demonologists believed that in order to evoke demons it was necessary to be crowned with vervain.

During the Crusades it was believed that when the nails were driven into the hands of Christ, vervain sprang upon Calvary.

The old herbalists recommended vervain to ease childbirth, and for jaundice, dropsy, gout, worms, stomach complaints, wound healing, ulcers and piles. Native Americans used ver-vain to cure menstrual disorders.

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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 Fred. I’ve got plenty of vervain here what with about 800 feet of Greasy Creek slicing through the property and several small seeps that ooze their way down to it. Now I need to learn some more about bog turtles since I probably have some of those here too.

  2. As a wetland scientist and ecologist for the last 30 or so years I have often wondered why wetlands are still seen as wastelands by the masses. Perhaps our most diverse ecological ecosystems, and certainly responsible for cleaning up our dirty water, it is hard to image why they are so disdained.

    Perhaps the fact that wetlands most well known commodity is misquitoes is a plausible explanation.

    Nevertheless, thank you for the appreciation of one of our most precious natural resources.