In an earlier post (Hound’s Tongue 04-25-18) I introduced a “cousin” of burgundy houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale). Although both plants belong to the genus Cynoglossum, burgundy houndstongue was introduced from Europe and is a noxious, highly invasive weed while its blue-flowered relative is a native wildflower.
Today burgundy houndstooth can be found throughout most temperate areas in North America and Europe. Its habitat is rangelands, pasture lands, roadsides and waste areas from 2,000 to about 6,000 feet.
A biennial that reproduces by seeds, burgundy houndstongue forms a rosette of leaves the first year and send up single or multiple erect, hairy flowering stems the second year. This member of the Borage Family (Boraginaceae) has greyish, alternate, rough, hairy, smooth-margined leaves. The lower leaves have petioles while the upper leaves clasp the stem.
Inflorescences are racemes (unbranched maturing from below upward) arising from leaf axils on the upper part of the plant. Burgundy houndstongue flowers are reddish purple and saucer shaped. Each of the five petals has a crest (petal appendage), is fused at the base and is surrounded by five sepals. Five yellowish stamens and a four-lobed ovary complete the flower.
The fruits are composed of 4 prickly nutlets that break apart at maturity. The nutlets contain the seeds and have hooked bristles. Burgundy houndstongue seeds are dispersed by sticking to clothing or the fur of animals.
Herbalists use burgundy houndstongue for a variety of ailments including as a diuretic, for persistent coughs, to relieve pain, and to treat sores and ulcers. In the 1700s “madness” was treated with burgundy houndstongue. Care must be taken with ingesting this plant because it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that cause liver cells to stop reproducing eventually leading to death. Among livestock that may graze on burgundy houndstongue, sheep are more resistant to these alkaloids than cows or horses. Additionally there are other alkaloids in the plant that depress the central nervous system and can cause skin reactions or tumors.
Other common names for C officinale include gypsy flower, dog’s tongue and beggar’s lice. The genus name, Cynoglossum, means dog tongue in Greek and refers to the leaves which are though to resemble a dog’s tongue. The species designation is a Latin term for a pharmacy or apothacary. It indicates that the plant was sold as a medicinal herb in an “office”, a previous name for a pharmacy or apothacary.
These burgundy houndstongue plants were photographed in July along the C30 line on Big Valley Mountain (Lassen Co CA) or in August near the Elkins #1 Pond in Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA).