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Wild Pennyroyal
Piloblephis rigida
Wild pennyroyal, photographed at North Jupiter Flatwoods Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach County, in March 2015.
wild pennyroyal

Wild pennyroyal has to have one of the strangest scientific names in the plant kingdom: Piloblephis rigida. Translated into English: Rigid hairy eyelid. You cannot make this stuff up.

It's a Florida native, but a rare one here in South Florida. Its range extends throughout most of the Peninsula, into a few counties in Georgia and a few islands in the northern Bahamas. The one place in South Florida where it's not found: Monroe County.

Wild pennyroyal is a wild mint, found in pinelands, sandhills and open woods. It is a perennial, with short, needle-like leaves. The flowers are small but clustered for effect. Each has five lips, two on top, three on the bottom, with purple spots on the bottom lips. The strange scientific name comes from hair-like structures on parts of the flowers. Wild pennyroyal blooms year round but most prominently fall through winter. It can be a ground hugger or grow to a couple feet tall.

One quick note: wild pennyroyal is not actually a pennyroyal, nor is it related to pennyroyals; in fact It's also called false pennyroyal. But if you Google wild pennyroyal you will get hits for the real thing, so check for "Piloblephis rigida " or use it as your search term to ensure getting the right plant.

For the Seminoles, wild pennyroyal was food, medicine and pesticide. Seminoles would gather the leaves of the plant, dry them and use them to make tea and flavor soups. A variety of sources, including plant expert Roger Hammer, say the tea, made with sweetened water, is quite refreshing.

wild pennyroyal

The Seminoles used various parts of wild pennyroyal both internally and externally. They would use the roots to treat leg sores and ulcers. They would use everything but the roots to treat something they called hog sickness (the Seminoles named diseases after animals) and to revive the unconscious — a sort of herbal smelling salts. They would treat colds and fevers with it and use it as a tonic for chronically ill babies.

But perhaps one of its more interesting uses was as an insecticide, or rather as an insect repellent. The Seminoles would place sprigs of wild pennyroyal in the bedding of their dogs to repel fleas. As it turns out, the oils in wild pennyroyal do effectively keep the bugs at bay, but there are two problems for anyone thinking of commercializing it. The first is how rare wild pennyroyal is; the second is the plant doesn't consistently produce the desired oils.

On the other hand, wild pennyroyal is commercially grown for use in landscaping — in restorations, wild flower and butterfly gardens and as a border planting. It grows from seed and it is commonly propagated, or reproduced from cuttings, but it is difficult to transplant. It prefers full sun, sandy soils and has a high tolerance for drought.

Wild pennyroyal is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. Other common names: pineland pennyroyal and Florida pennyroyal.

Photographs by David Sedore
Links for Wild Pennyroyal
Institute for Regional Conservation Natives for Your Neighborhood   USDA PLANTS Database Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
Flora of North America   Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants   Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.