Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Annual pennyroyal

with 16 comments

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Even if you walked through natural areas in central Texas with your eyes closed—a dangerous proposition, I admit—you’d usually know when you had passed close to annual pennyroyal, Hedeoma acinoides. The slender flowers, barely half an inch long at their longest, have no appreciable scent, but the little plant’s foliage smells like lemon, especially when trodden upon or otherwise crushed.

I took this picture of annual pennyroyal, which is making its first appearance in these pages, on August 8 in my Great Hills neighborhood of Austin.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 21, 2012 at 5:58 AM

16 Responses

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  1. What a delicate looking shot – I love it!


    August 21, 2012 at 6:03 AM

    • Delicate is a good word for these diminutive flowers, Cindy. I’ve wondered what purpose the minuscule hairs serve. Even if it turns out that they don’t serve any for the pennyroyal, they help me as a photographer by outlining the flower and making it stand out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2012 at 7:02 AM

  2. Hedeoma is one of my favorite little annuals. The scent is heavenly. I wonder if crushing a bit and rubbing it on oneself would serve as an insect repellent… It makes itself at home in my decomposed granite path. No, I do not weed it out.

    Agnes Plutino

    August 21, 2012 at 7:21 AM

    • Your comment made me think of the words “Hedeoma has a heady scent.” Or, if I can adapt a line from (Rodgers and) Hammerstein: “Hedeoma, where the scent comes drifting through the brush….” I hadn’t thought about trying to use the plant as an insect repellent, but I’ve long wondered if it would be safe to use as an herb. I’ve done a bit of searching but haven’t found anything that says it is or isn’t edible. In any case, if I had a garden path, I wouldn’t weed this species out of it either.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2012 at 7:49 AM

      • I was told by my wild food friends that you can use it as a seasoning. I’m not certain on how much is too much. I’ve used it and found it similar to lemon thyme.


        August 21, 2012 at 7:58 AM

        • Thanks for letting us know—and from first-hand experience. I’ll have to see about gathering some and trying it out.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 21, 2012 at 8:14 AM

  3. Steve, I always think of mint on steroids when I think of pennyroyal. What a surprise that your Texas annual smells like lemons! I think I would much prefer that scent. 😉
    ~ Lynda


    August 21, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    • What symmetry: I’m not familiar with your species of pennyroyal, nor you with mine. The lemon scent is certainly wonderful. As I’ve said about other plants, too bad I can’t send over the Internet so you could smell it for yourself.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2012 at 8:13 AM

  4. This is beautiful and I imagine the aroma while walking among them is quite refreshing.


    August 22, 2012 at 12:02 PM

    • I’ll lament once again the fact that I can’t send the scent over the Internet along with the picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2012 at 4:10 PM

  5. I’m really curious about this pennyroyal – the American and European pennyroyal I’m familiar with are mint-like. Anything with a hint of lemon is far more appealing to me.

    Be careful about ingestion. Pennyroyal was used back in my grandma’s day as an abortifacient, and apparently it still is. I found this, for example. It sounds like the concentrated oils may not be person-friendly, either. There are plenty of warnings in the wiki . I’ll stick with lemon grass and dill!


    August 22, 2012 at 9:43 PM

    • If I can make one of my usual plays on words, the effects are species-specific. For example, the genus Solanum includes potatoes and eggplant (and formerly tomatoes), along with various nightshades that are poisonous. The genus Hedeoma is indeed in the mint family, and I gather from your comment that the more-familiar species that people cultivate have a minty aroma. The American pennyroyal mentioned in your link is Hedeoma pulegoides, while the one in Austin is Hedeoma acinoides. To what extent their effects on the human system are the same or different, I don’t know, and of course it’s best to play it safe when there’s uncertainty. Nancy (above) has tried this species and lived to tell us about it. I’d still like to find a scientific study showing that there are no long-term harmful effects.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2012 at 10:14 PM

      • See there? I missed the pulegoides and acinoides distinction. These scientific names are still so unfamiliar I have a hard time not just reading over them. Sigh. 😉


        August 23, 2012 at 11:02 AM

        • It’s a coincidence that both species names happen to end in -oides, which means ‘looking like, resembling.’ New species have sometimes been named after plants that they resemble in some way.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 23, 2012 at 1:56 PM

  6. Exquisite! I like the miniscule hairs you mentioned!

    Michael Glover

    August 24, 2012 at 8:54 PM

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