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Sky Meadows Park
Crooked Run Valley
common speedwell (Veronica officinalis)
SCIENTIFIC SYNONYMS: There are no scientific synonyms for
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of common
speedwell is Veronica officinalis L. The entire group to which this
species belongs are called the Flowers of St. Veronica, through some
fancied resemblance of the marks on the corolla to the human features,
which tradition says were imprinted upon her handkerchief when the
saint wiped the face of Christ as he was bearing the cross. Speedwell is
an old word used in bidding good-by to a friend who is going on a jour-
ney. Its meaning is the same as that of farewell. It names this tiny, elusive
blossom because the pretty corolla drops so soon after it unfolds that
unless one takes leave of it quickly it vanishes before one has a chance
to do so.
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: Common speedwell is a spreading perennial, herbaceous plant,
possibily introduced (some botanists now think it may be native). The
hairy stem trails along the ground, rooting at the nodes, sending up erect
flower stalks often forming dense mats. It grows 2"-10" tall.
Leaves: The leaves are pubescent, opposite, up to 2 inches in length,
1 1/2 - 3 times as long as wide, short to no petioled, elliptical/oblong or
obovate in shape, finely serrated along the margin, obtuse at the apex,
and narrowed at base tapering to a distinct petiole.
Flowers: The flowers are small (1/4"-1/3" wide), irregular in shape, pale
blue with darker blue streaks on a lengthening narrow raceme, several
flowers in bloom at one time. The calyx is four-parted while the corolla
is wheel-shaped, four-lobed, pale blue (almost white at times) with dark
lines; the lower lobe smaller and narrower than the others. The two sta-
mens, opposite, long and flaring. The pistil has one ovary, one style, and
two-lobed stigma. Flowers arranged in close, erect flower spikes with dis-
tinct flower stalks for each flower (raceme).
Fruit/Seeds: The fruit is an compressed, obovate capsule with a flat seed.
Roots: The plant’s runners creep along the ground a good 20 cm (8 in.)
before gripping the soil lightly and putting down new stem roots.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Common speedwell propagates itself
HABITAT TYPES: Common speedwell can be found in dry fields,
upland and open woods, thin woods, grassy areas and disturbed sites,
meadows, and boarders.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Common speedwell prefers dry, acidic
to mildly alkaline, soils, preferring full sun to partial shade. Veronica
officinalis is primarily a mountain species.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: There is considerable variation with
blooming times depending on location; common speedwell has been
reported blooming from spring through late summer (April to September).
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Common speedwell is found across
Canada and the northeren United States; it extends southward in the
east to Georgia and in the west to California. Generally found in
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Some butterflies (e.g., heath fritillary
butterfly) are attracted to common speedwell.
Historically the green parts of the plant have been used medicinally for
coughs, otitis media, and gastrointestinal distress. There are good grounds
to suggest that it was used already in Ancient Rome: when the Roman
Empire conquered Germany they learned about the plant’s wonderful
qualities from the Teutons. The plant is rich in vitamins, tannins, and the glycoside aucuboside. Aucuboside is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. Extracts are widely sold as herbal remedies for sinus and ear infections.
Even in ancient times there was a saying about the plant, according to which a particularly highly-regarded person was said to have the virtues of heath speedwell.