Veronica alpina or Veronica wormskjoldii – (I cannot confirm…see Pan-Arctic Flora for more confusion)
Also called American Alpine Speedwell and Alpine Veronica
Poking through tangled grasses and horsetails in the marshy ravine bottom, the tiny blue flowers catch the eye as they gather the blue of the sky to their four-parted corollas. The little cluster sits on the end of the stem like the coloured bead on the head of some of my dressmakers pins that have been bent and warped by my inept use on denim alterations. The delicate flower cluster seems out of proportion to the lanky and hairy stem with its well-spaced lance-shaped pairs of leaves.
Alpine Speedwell is not listed in my favourite plant book and I’ve had a hard time confirming the species. Superficially similar to another Veronica, American Brooklime, it distinguishes itself by its terminal flower cluster and stem-clasping leaves.
I have exhausted sources trying to specify this little plant’s exact identity but am leaning towards Veronica alpina subsp. pumila because of this qualifier:
“The differences between subsp. pumila and subsp. alpina are small but constant in stem usually flexuous vs. straight, upper internodes densely hairy with long (multicellular) hairs vs. sparsely hairy with minute hairs…” (source)
Online sources vary greatly in the species’ range and even its habitat. As well, apart from the comparison above, I have not found good botanical descriptions. As always, I welcome the input of any reader that can help me with this mystery.
Please see the post on a cousin, American Brooklime for details on the edibility and medicinal qualities of the this genus.
Veronica americana (alsoVeronica beccabunga ssp. americana)
Also called American Speedwell, Water Pimpernel
Gently semi-reclining in the shade at the marshy edge of the forest, like a delicate multi-headed princess posing in her mud-bath, American Brooklime soaks languid legs with such lassitude that they begin to take root at the supine nodes, anchoring the languid beauty even more firmly into the soggy soil. Displaying her paired stamens like alabaster eyelashes and drawing her colours from the ground, she paints her pretty four-lobed faces blue or violet, lilac or white, securing her prominence among the transition zone grasses and horsetails.
Looking closely at any plant’s many names and parts of names can reveal clues to its history, mythology, morphology and habitat. Veronicas are named for a Christian saint. ‘Americana’ denotes this plant’s status as a North American native. But most interestingly, I learned about a practice called ‘birdliming‘ as apparently ‘Brooklime’ came from this plant’s muddy habitat, which has been known to catch birds who are unfortunate enough to become mired in it. (You, on the other hand, might know about birdlime if you studied Othello: “I am about it, but indeed my invention/Comes from my pate as birdlime does from frieze…”.)
Botanary gives two possible origins of this perennial species’ peppy alternate name, beccabunga, which appears to refer to the European variety.
“Apparently derived from the German Bachbunge (brook+bunch), Another possible derivation is from the Flemish beckpunge (mouth smart), referring to the pungent leaves.”
All Veronicas are edible and high in vitamin C so were recognized early as a treatment for Scurvy. They have also been used for tea and tonics. Young plants can be added to salads, like watercress, but like many greens they become bitter as they age and should be cooked. Somewhat conflictingly, Brooklime was reportedly used by the Navajo Indians as an emetic (source) so I suspect that as in most things, moderation is the key. Gatherers must also be aware that the succulent stems contain the water that they grow in, so care must be taken to ensure that that water is safe.
American Brooklime is one of two Veronicas I have found in the Swan Hills area. The other is Alpine Speedwell.
Other Selected Sources:
Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases
Native American Ethnobotany