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A native perennial for moisture and wet places. Bistort blooms with the pale pink flowers that are mainly pollinated by butterflies. To this day, it is used in academic and folk medicine.
Wild, non-cultivar seeds.
Polish name: snakeweed, snakeroot, medical bistort, dragon root
Latin name: Polygonum bistorta L. Bistorta officinalis Delarbre, B. major Gray, Persicaria bistorta Samp.
Family: Polygonaceae knotweeds
Status in Poland: native, still common in wet habitats
Bistort is a persistent rosette-clump (perennial) plant with impressive pink inflorescences.
It owes its name to the shape of the rhizomes that are serpentine, stout, brown-black or red-brown with blackish spots and transverse stripes on the peel. They are usually flattened in cross-section, often convex at the upper side, and grooved at the bottom. The cross-section of the rhizome is pink or light beige in color, with elliptical bands of whitish points (these are vascular bundles).
The flower stems with sparse but large leaves are single and erect. Biscort produces several types of leaves: basal, stem and distinguishing the knotweed family, the so-called ochrea. The lower leaves are broadly egg-shaped, blades pointed to the tips, gray on the underside and dark green on the top, forming a rosette. Middle (without peduncles), with narrowly lanceolate blades and a heart-shaped base. The upper ones, forming an ochrea, i.e. a sheath made of fused stipules. The ochrea structure details play an important role in distinguishing knotweeds in a vegetative state.
The inflorescences unfolding from the bottom to the tops take the form of dense, cylindrical spikes. The individual bistort’s flowers have a perianth with the 5 pink or raspberry leaves, the one pistil with three free styles, the 8 stamens with the violet anthers, and the nectaries at the base of the stamens. It blooms from May to July.
The fruit of the medical bistorta is typical for the whole knotweed family, a triangular, shiny-faced nut, surrounded by the expanded perianth leaves.
Bistort will feel best in wet meadows with a high level of groundwater. It will also work on the shores of water reservoirs or wet glades.
Bistort is a perfect match for carnivorous plants – Venus flytraps, trumpet pitchers, sundews, bladderworts and butterworts; with flowering rushes, globeflowers, irises and marsh-marigolds in specialized rain gardens and peat bogs, fashionable in the UK and the Netherlands, referring to natural. It has also been planted on the banks of ponds for centuries.
In wet hay meadows, bistort was exterminated as a weed harmful to cattle and horses. On the other hand, it was used in tanning leather, dyeing wool, and finally producing ink. Currently, the active protection of the rich sites of this bistorta is an important element in saving the violet copper – a butterfly that is almost extinct in Western Europe, and locally still quite common in Poland, although less and less.
Young, delicate bistort leaves were part of the salads and fermented food eaten during Lent and Easter in old England. A tradition of serving the so-called sorrel pudding, made not of sorrel, but bistort leaves, old porridge, onions, nettles and other wild vegetables (which were the secret of every housewife) has been preserved as a tourist attraction in West Yorkshire. At Easter, this pudding is fried with bacon.
Bistort is considered a melliferous plant, although specific data about pollen and nectar yield are hard to find. Increasingly, it is recommended for field margins and other bee forages in wetlands.
It is the host of the violet copper , a rare butterfly from the gossamer-winged butterflies family.