I’m sorry that the photograph, above, can’t convey to you the serenity of standing at the edge of the August meadow. It’s peaceful and calm, although not quiet, really. The late summer air is filled with the cricks of crickets, the hum of cicadas from the trees lining the field, the buzz of bees. At first, the meadow looks very still, but as you stand and watch, you begin to see activity. At least a dozen big darner dragonflies were zipping across the tops of nearby flower heads. Butterflies suddenly lift into the air and are visible for a few seconds until they drop down and resettle on the next flower. Grasshoppers leap and shine like tiny bits of silver as the sun catches their wings.
A few plants dominate the meadow. The yellow is mostly goldenrod of several species, probably Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), above, and lance-leaved goldenrod (S. graminifolia) below.
The Joe Pye Weed is past its peak and the flower heads are fading. Its pale purple flowers are giving way to the white flowers of a Eupatorium relative, commonly called Thoroughwort or Boneset (E. perfoliatum).
There are a few different stories as to how this plant came by the name boneset. One is that the leaves were used in the setting of broken bones, wrapped around the fracture with splints and bandages. Another version holds that boneset is so named because it was used to treat dengue fever (a viral disease once known as breakbone fever), which causes severe joint pain.
A third version says that the name reflects the use of the plant to fight the achy-bone feeling of colds and flu. Certainly boneset tea was a common home remedy for aches and pains and general malaise in many pioneer and native homes. The bitter tea induces sweating and was purported to promote bone healing.
Boneset has many flat-topped clusters of dull white flowers. The flowers consist of multiple insect-pollinated bisexual florets, with flower heads usually containing fifteen to twenty florets. They secrete abundant nectar and are popular with the pollinator crowd. Boneset prefers damp ground and is often found with Joe Pye weed and jewelweed.
The scientific species name perfoliatum, or perforated foliage, refers to the leaves, which are very distinctive. The leaves grow in pairs and at right-angles to the set of leaves below and above them. Each pair of leaves join at the base, with the stem perforating them. The common name thoroughwort also refers to the leaves, thorough being an old form of through (as in thoroughfare) and wort meaning flower.