Common Name: Lanceleaf Figwort
Scientific Name: Scrophularia lanceolata
This perennial plant is somewhat common but seldom noticed. Scrophularia is the type genus for the family Scrophulariaceae, meaning that the basic flower characteristics of the plants in the genus set the standard for which plants should be included in the family.
This member of the genus is found across southern Canada and most of the U.S. except the southeastern states. About a dozen species are found in the western U.S. and another 90 or so in Europe and Asia. The figwort in this article is the only one in Eastern Oregon and generally grows at middle elevations.
The family and genus names are from the Latin scrophula, which is a disease of the neck tissues that was once believed to be cured by the plants of this genus.
Lanceolate refers to the lance-shaped leaves. Figwort is a name applied to plants in this genus many centuries ago. Wort, the latter part of the name figwort, was often tacked onto the end of plant names, to simply indicate it was the name of a plant, so I suppose one could substitute the name figplant, though it has nothing to do with figs.
Lanceleaf Figwort is usually about three feet tall with one to several stems per plant. The stems are square, and the lance-shaped leaves are in opposite pairs on the stem, with jagged edges.
The flowers set this plant apart from any other plant in the Blues, though they are a dark, dull purplish to green or brownish color guaranteed to avoid being noticed.
The flowers are also rather odd-shaped, kind of like some sort of deformed guppy. More specifically, they are the size and shape of a large vitamin capsule with a little baseball cap sun-visor sticking out at one end. The flowers are later replaced by cone-shaped seed capsules.
European and Asian species of Scrophularia were used for a variety of skin ailments including sores and cuts in addition to scrophula. Scrophularia lanceolata was used by many American Indian tribes across North America.
The primary use appears to have been for skin ailments including infections, sunburn and frostbite. Several tribes also used a decoction of the roots to treat bleeding following childbirth. The similar medicinal uses for plants of the genus were used in both eastern and western hemispheres long before any contact between people of the east and west.
Where to find: This plant is currently blooming in a few places along Highway 204 west of Spout Springs in the vicinity of Andes Prairie.