Berkshire County has one of the largest concentrations of wildflower species for a comparable area in the Northeast. Look
for these species in the summer and early fall.
Joseph G. Strauch, Jr., author of "Wildflowers of the Berkshire and Taconic Hills," describes the wildflowers you're
likely to spot along Berkshire trails and roadsides.
You'll find wildflowers everywhere. Most garden weeds are wildflowers, as is much of the vegetation on roadsides, around parking
lots and along paths and trails. For example, the grounds at Tanglewood probably support more than 100 species of wildflowers.
About 1,650 species of flowering plants have been recorded in Berkshire County.
To find a large variety of wildflowers, you have to visit different sites because species differ in their environmental requirements.
As a rule of thumb, species brought by the settlers from Europe adapted to open country and fields, whereas native species are
found in woods and natural wetlands. In all areas you visit, try to put the environment first, never picking flowers where fewer than
12 of a species exist.
Most of the descriptions here and in the book give information about the current and past medicinal uses of each plant, however,
neither the author nor the publisher recommends the use of any plants for medicinal treatment or vouches for the efficacy or safety
of such use.
Here are some of the easily recognizable wildflowers, grouped by color, that bloom in summer months.
WHITE TO CREAM
Watch for numerous ¼-inch wide flower heads held in flat-topped corymbs on erect stems with fern-like, gray-green foliage.
The flowers are white or sometimes pinkish. The plant may grow to three feet tall, and is most often found in open fields.
It was used in place of hops to flavor beer, but the plant contains thujone, which causes convulsions.
The Turtlehead flower resembles a turtle with its mouth open, and occurs in dense spikes. White tinged with pink, and
about 1- to 1-½ -inches long, the blossom has two "lips" with the upper overlapping the lower. The plant may be up to four-feet tall,
and is found in wet areas, along streams, in ditches, and in woods and meadows. Turtlehead was once used to treat liver disorders
and as a laxative, and an ointment made from the plant treated hemorrhoids, inflamed breasts and herpes.
Indian Pipe or Ice Plant
Look for erect white to pink waxy stalks 3- to 10-inches tall with a solitary nodding flower. Indian Pipe might easily be mistaken for
a tall, slender mushroom as it has no chlorophyll and its leaves are reduced to scales. The flower is tubular, about 1-inch long, and
has five petals. Indian Pipe is parasitic on fungi that have a mycorrhizal relationship with other plants. Edible but tasteless, Indian
Pipe juice was used in the 19th century to treat inflamed eyes.
YELLOW TO ORANGE
Greater Celandine or Swallowwort
The flowers of Greater Celandine are easy to spot. They are bright yellow, up to 2/3-inch wide and arranged in loose clusters.
The leaves are up to 8-inches wide and arranged alternately on hairy, branched stems. The plant may grow to 2-½ -feet tall and is
found in sunny locations. Its juice has been used to treat warts, corns and ringworm, but the entire plant is irritating and highly poisonous.
Look for yellow to orange nodding bell-shaped flowers with one to several on long stalks. The flowers are 2- to 3-inches wide and
consist of three petals and three petal-like sepals that are spotted on the inside. The tips of the flowers arch outward. Plants have
6-inch long leaves arranged in whorls of four to ten on stems that may reach five feet in height. This majestic plant is commonly found
in moist areas in woods and along roadsides. Native Americans cooked the bulbs to thicken soups and used the plant to treat
You can't miss the Black-eyed Susan, which puts on a good show in fields, meadows and along roadways throughout the Berkshires.
The flower heads, which may be up to 3-inches wide, consist of eight to twenty golden yellow rays and a domed purplish-brown disk.
The stem is usually unbranched and bristly, with alternating leaves, and the plant grows up to 3-½
feet. Some Native Americans made Black-eyed Susan tea to treat worms and colds, but the plant can cause contact dermatitis and is
known to have ill effects on livestock.
PINK TO RED
Wood Sorrel or Wood Shamrock
This low-growing plant (up to 6-inches tall) displays white or pink flowers and clover-like leaves and is found in shady, moist woodlands.
The solitary ¾-inch flowers have five notched petals with dark pink veins. The flowers and leaves close at night. The sour leaves are
edible or can be brewed into tea but are toxic in large quantities.
Swamp Milkweed grows to about 4- to 5-feet tall in wet areas in woods and meadows, and along bodies of water.
Quarter-inch pink flowers occur in terminal umbels (flower cluster resembling an inverted umbrella). This plant is a relative of
common milkweed (A. syriaca). Herbalists use the roots to induce vomiting, promote urination and treat intestinal parasites.
Small Purple Fringed Orchid
This plant is always a treat to find. Its varieties have been seen at Mt. Greylock and Bartholomew's Cobble. Keep your eyes
open for a plant 1- to 3-feet tall with a stalk of rose-purple flowers. Then check for a three-parted lower lip with a distinct fringe.
The fragrant flowers usually tilt to one side.
PURPLE TO BLUE
Harebell or Bluebells of Scotland
Harebells are found in meadows, dry open fields and on rocky slopes, and quite easily found at Bartholomew's Cobble.
They are airy plants with 1-inch long, five-lobed violet blue flowers nodding singly or in small clusters from wiry stems. The stem
leaves are alternate, narrow and up to 4-inch long. The smooth and slender stems grow to 1-½ feet.
A member of the Geranium Family, Herb Robert is a sprawling plant with half-inch pinkish purple flowers. The flowers have
five petals and occur in pairs in the upper leaf axils. The foliage is dark green with a reddish tint. The stems are hairy and sticky
and highly branched, and the plant may reach 2-feet tall. You'll find Herb Robert in moist areas in woods and along roadsides,
often in weepy areas on rock ledges. It was used as an astringent to treat skin irritations and to relieve diarrhea.
Spotted Joe-Pye Weed
This plant is a dominant element of the flora of late summer to early fall. They are tall, robust plants with large, flat-topped, fuzzy
clusters of pinkish purple flowers. The individual flower heads are about a half-inch wide. The leaves are in whorls of four or five
and grow up to 8-inches long. The stems are purple or spotted with purple, and the plant may be up to 6-feet tall. You'll see spotted
Joe-Pye Weed in damp areas along roadsides, in meadows and along water bodies.
Editor's note: This information was excerpted from Wildflowers of the
Berkshire & Taconic Hills (Berkshire House, 1995) by Dr. Joseph G. Strauch, Jr. Dr.
Strauch is a naturalist and photographer and former director of the Berkshire Botanical