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Manyflower Marshpennywort
Manyflower Marshpennywort
Manyflower Marshpennywort, photographed at Green Cay Nature Center in Boynton Beach.
Manyflower Marshpennywort
 

The leaves don't give it away, but the flower spike does; this is a water-loving member of carrot family, Araliaceae. It is called manyflower marshpennywort, Hydrocotyle umbellata, a Florida native and possibly the holder of a world record for most words crammed into a single common name.

While many members of the family have thin, whispy leaves (think carrots, dill, fennel) this guy has foliage that's shaped like an umbrella. But manyflower marshpennywort does have the multi-floral spike or head called an umbel (as in umbelata) that is characteristic of the carrot family (see also mock bishopweed). The flowers themselves are small and white to greenish white.

The plant grows in moist soil, but it also can be submerged. It spreads via long, creeping stems, and is capable of forming dense patches. It's a short plant, growing to a foot or less, but the stems can be several feet long. It is a perennial.

Its range extends throughout much of the southeastern United States, the Mid-Atlantic states, the West Coast and into the Midwest. It's found in most Florida counties, but not Monroe or Broward. It's in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, South America and the old world (every place not part of the Western Hemisphere). Both Connecticut and Ohio list manyflower marshpennywort as endangered, and it likely doesn't exist any more in Pennsylvania, but it is common here.

The leaves with their scalloped edges give the plant an interesting look, and combined with its ability to spread, it's used as a ground cover and erosion control around lakes and ponds. In places, it's grown as an ornamental. But It also can be invasive when growing in places where it has no natural enemies. In Thailand, one study found it had the ability to outcompete a similar, native plant called Centella asiatica, which the locals use as food.

 
 
Manyflower Marshpennywort
 

Marshpennywort closely resembles C. asiatica, so much so that in Thailand, it's often mistakenly harvested and cooked instead of the local favorite. It's probably not a good idea to eat it, however, since it can be toxic, depending on the time of the year it's picked, the life stage of the plant and parts eaten. Marshpennywort also absorbs toxins, such as pesticides, from its environment.

But it does have its benefits. The Seminoles used the plant to treat something called turtle sickness — as a sedative, cough medicine and breathing aid.

And if manyflower marshpennywort has a familiar look to it, you've problably seen its cousin, Hydrocotyle bonariensis growing in your yard. Other common names: dollarweed, moneyweed, marsh pennywort, water pennywort and navel wort.

Photographs by David Sedore
Manyflower Marshpennywort
 
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