Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Big Tease

     Here are a few things I know and some things I'm not sure about:
     -Washington County once had a huge sheep population.
     -Woolen mills dotted the countryside.
     -Teasel plants are part of our flora.
     -Teasel has been used in the carding of wool.
     And the uncertainties:
     -Was teasel used here in wool processing?
     -If so, was teasel grown as a crop or simply harvested from wild populations?

     If you're wondering what kind of plant could be used in manufacturing, I suggest a drive north on Rt. 4 past the intersection with Rt. 22. Look for a large pull-off on the east side of the road and  you'll see big weeds growing there. Careful! This is botany that demands discretion and heavy gloves. Teasel is a plant covered in spines but it was the bristled, cone shaped flowerhead that was used in the mills.
     There are probably patches of teasel throughout Washington County but this spot's accessibility is hard to beat. It's over-your-head height keeps the plant above the deepest snow and visible all winter long. It is a biennial, native to Europe and Asia (invasive here). In the first year teasel produces a low rosette of leaves and the second year brings a tall stalk topped with the distinctive spiny eggs. These have purple flowers in summer and delicate curving bracts all year.
     I'm hoping to learn more about this curious plant and its role in the areas agricultural/industrial past. Anyone out there who can help?

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