Fly Poison (Amianthium muscitoxicum)
Fly Poison (also known as Stagger Grass) is a member of the Lily Family and is conspicuous from April through June. It has grass-like basal leaves and at full bloom a spectacular cylindrical, white inflorescence. Although the distribution of Fly Poison is reported to be throughout the Southeast, extending as far west as Oklahoma and as far north as New York, it is found infrequently in a range of habitats from wetlands to pine-oak forests. At the Arboretum, it can be seen along the Oak-Hickory and Backwoods trails.
All parts of the plant are toxic, especially the bulb. In the past, a mixture of sugar or honey and crushed portions of the bulb was used to kill flies. Cattle and sheep may eat the plant when other forage plants are not available. The toxic alkaloid contained in the plants can cause the animals to stagger around before dying - thus the origin of the common name "stagger grass."
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Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Fringe Tree, a native species of the Southeastern US, is found as far west as Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri and as far north as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Although it is not a common tree, it grows in a variety of habitats within its range, from moist streamside edges to dry and mesic forests, to rocky outcrops. In the spring it displays clusters of fragrant white flowers with four fringe-like petals that give rise to its common name. Trees are generally unisexual (dioecious), but perfect flowers may occur on some plants. The dark blue, olive-shaped fruits develop in late summer and are eagerly eaten by birds and small mammals.
The simple, dark green, opposite leaves are from 3 to 8 in. long and elliptical in shape. Herbal remedies have been made from Fringe Tree roots to treat liver, gallbladder, and other digestive ailments. Remedies using the root bark have been used as a healing poultice and for reducing inflammation of the eyes and mouth. Fringe Tree is used primarily as an ornamental/yard tree. Though it is not common in our area, a specimen planted in 1966 can be seen in the Arboretum's Shade Tree Collection. Its fragrant, white fringe-like flowers are conspicuous from late April to early May.
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