by Jane Scully
Once again, we are faced with a family of plants so large -- 30 genera and 1,000 species, mostly in the northern temperate region in which we live -- that positive identification of a single plant among these similar wildflowers is difficult. They are part of the summer and fall meadow scene, noted for their tiny, deep-pink flowers growing in slender, spike-like clusters.
Pennsylvania Smartweed, also known as Pink Knotweed, is the most prominent of the 35 species of smartweed in our area. The individual spikes of dense bright-pink flowers can be 2-1/2" long and the entire plant may stand a lanky 4' high. The leaves are long, 4" to 6", and lance-like; they rise out of a distinctive, cylindrical sheath around the stem.
This smartweed blooms from May to October. Like many fall flowers, it prefers fields and moist waste places. The plant also turns up in gardens. Its seeds are eaten by songbirds and waterfowl.
The name Polygonaceae is derived from Greek words meaning "many knees" and refers to the stems' swollen nodes that occur where leaves and stems join, where that cylindrical sheath is found. I find smartweeds to be leggy and easily moved aside in my fall flower pursuits.
American Indians used tea made from whole plant for diarrhea and the bitter leaf tea to stop bleeding from the mouth. The tea was also used for women after childbirth to heal them internally.
Photos by the author