A Helmet atop my Head..

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 very rare Mountain Skullcap is found only on the Northwest Georgia ridges.
The Turtlehead is not easily confused with the Skullcap unless you see one for the first time. The Turtlehead lives in wetter environments than the Skullcap which is at home in dry, rocky terrain.
Note the square stem of this Mad Dog Skullcap.

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.

A White Turtlehead “gobbling” a pollinating bee. The tight flower insures pollination.
It is easy to see how the Blue Skullcap could be overlooked.

The Mint family is huge and perhaps in the next group we can explore it more fully.

Is this beautiful blossom a Turtlehead or a Skullcap? The stem appears square, therefore a Mint which means Skullcap!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close