Walks in the woods can be gifts that keep on giving. I often find clues in one season that help me make discoveries in another. For instance, just a few months ago I came across this low growing vine with heart shaped leaves, most of which were arranged in several whorls of three around the plant’s stem. The small greenish yellow flowers were not showy and were somewhat hidden. However, I knew that these flowers, once pollinated, would produce unique three-sided seed capsules. By winter, these capsules would turn from green to shades of copper and would (to my mind’s eye) resemble dainty dangling ornaments.
Although not common, wild yam, Dioscorea villosa is a native plant, and at Bernheim you can find it growing in moist woodlands, including along the Bent Twig Trail. Although wild yam has a long history as a food source for early Americans, it is not the same yam that we prepare in abundance over the fall and winter holidays. According to Tom Atkinson from the North American Native Plant Society, the yam of our Thanksgiving feast is from Papua New Guinea.
The thick fleshy root of wild yam and other related species is rich in herbal lore and medical history. The root was used extensively for relief from pains of childbirth and cramps. Many species of Dioscorea have also been used to make progesterone and other hormones related to birth control.
See if you can find these little ornaments decorating a wooded trail on your next hike.
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