Some say that the wildflower known as Crow Poison was used by the Cherokee to eliminate crows that ate their corn. Today, Crow Poison (Nothoscordum bivalve) is better known as a pretty native wildflower that spreads from Arizona to the Atlantic coast, and from Texas north through Illinois and Ohio.
Its genus, Nothoscordum, combines the Greek words for ‘illegitimate’ (Nothos) and ‘garlic’ (scordum). In fact, Crow Poison often is called false garlic, and sometimes is confused with wild onion, but it neither smells nor tastes like either of those plants.
As its buds emerge, they’re initially encased in two translucent membranes like those shown in the photo above. In time, those membranes dry and become two bracts beneath the flowers: the ‘bivalves’ of the specific epithet.
One of the first early spring flowers to appear, Crow Poison often reblooms in the fall. On the other hand, it sometimes persists through every month, as it did this year: opening on warm sunny days and closing in cloudy or cold conditions. An early spring food source, the flowers are especially attractive to small butterflies, green metallic bees, bee flies, and syrphid flies.
When I first met Crow Poison, it was a part of the Liliacea, or lily family. Eventually, I discovered sources were including it within the Amaryllidaceae, or amaryllis family. Imagine my surprise when I found it moved into the newly constituted Alliaceae, or onion family!
Taxonomy can be taxing, but there were good reasons for the recent changes. Writing for Pacific Horticulture, Dean Kelch’s article titled What Happened to the Liliacea is one of the best I’ve found. It’s an easy read: well organized and understandable for non-specialists. It includes a helpful list of forty families formerly included in the old Liliaceae, as well as a listing of some of the familiar genera within each family.
Taxonomy aside, there’s nothing more lovely than these small, oft-ignored but elegant signs of spring. Today, they’re still scattered, but in time they’ll be filling pastures and roadsides with their own drifts of white.