The Skullcap is an orchid looking small flower that resembles a helmet worn by medieval knights in a jousting tournament. There are several hundred varieties worldwide and a dozen, at least, in Georgia. Many are rare and endangered and one, which lives in Northwest Georgia along the Tennessee border may only have a 100 plants surviving in Georgia. This is Scutelleria montana or the Mountain Skullcap. I thought many years ago that I had located a group on Clingman’s Dome in the Smoky Mountains but I quickly discovered is was a more common but similarly looking Turtlehead – Chelone obliqua.
The mountain Skullcap is an interesting flower with its white “hat” covering a blue lip which is found on orchids. It is not an orchid but, instead, a member of the Mint family. Its four-sided stem is an instant give-a-way and the rounded stem of the Turtlehead told me I wasn’t dealing with a Mint.
The Mad Dog Skullcap is more common and blooms along the square stem and now you can see why I confused the Turtlehead with a Skullcap. The square stem is an obvious earmark of any mint. Where did it get its name – Mad Dog Skullcap? Native Americans and early colonists believed a Skullcap tea would cure rabies. Maybe it does. I don’t intend to find out. The blossoms are small whereas the Turtlehead’s are much larger and the Turtlehead is more of a closed blossom limiting its pollinators to small native bees. Draw a few eyes on the top petals and you can see the turtle’s head.
The Mint family is huge and perhaps in the next group we can explore it more fully.