One common name for Cynoglossum grande is hound’s tongue, because the leaves supposedly resemble the tongue of a dog. Other colloquial names for this native perennial are variations on hound’s tongue (houndstongue, grand hound’s tongue, Pacific hound’s tongue and western hound’s tongue) or describe the flowers (bluebuttons).
A member of the Borage Family, hound’s tongue grows in shady areas amid woodlands and chaparral below about 5,000 feet. It can be found in Washington, Oregon and California.
Hound’s tongue grows from a heavy taproot. The stems are erect and hairless. Leaves are mostly basal or confined to the lower half or third of the stems. Heart-shaped, hound’s tongue leaves have a long stalk, are distinctively veined and are smooth above and hairy below.
The hound’s tongue inflorescence is a pannicle (branched with the flowers maturing from the bottom up). The blue flowers age purple and resemble forget-me-nots. Each petal has a white crest (petal appendage) and they are fused at the base. The five hound’s tongue stamens are attached to the petals (epipetalous). The five sepals remain after the petals drop. The ovary is four-lobed.
The fruits of hound’s tongue are nutlets, slightly bristly on the surface. They develop in an array of four. Each nutlet contains a single seed.
According to lore, a piece of hound’s tongue placed in one’s shoe will protect from being barked at by strange dogs. Compounds derived from hound’s tongue were used by indigenous people to treat skin diseases and dog bites. Since hound’s tongue contains carcinogenic alkaloids, it should not be used internally. Although some sources state that the hound’s tongue root is edible when cooked (the alkaloids are degraded?), I do not intend to try them.
The shape and rough texture of the leaves are described in the genus name, which is derived from the Greek – “cynos” is dog and “glossa” is tongue. The species name, grande, means showy (or big). The blue flowers are indeed very lovely.
The flowers and leaves were photographed in early April along the Lower Table Rock Trail near Medford OR (Jackson County). The developing nutlets were on hound’s tongue plants along Waters Gulch Trail at Lake Shasta (Shasta County).