Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The sturdy, somewhat odiferous false gromwell occurs across most of North Dakota, but may be absent or rare in the extreme southwestern counties. The plant has a fairly wide range, being found on dry sites from New York to Louisiana and New Mexico northwestward to Saskatchewan, at elevations up to 8,500 ft.
False gromwell is a coarse, hairy species that grows up to three feet tall. Many living and dead stems occur together on the heavy perennial root, giving the plant a somewhat bushy appearance. Numerous yellowish-white flowers about a half inch long are crowded among the leaves on the upper one third of the plant. The styles (part of the female reproductive organ) are very long, and appear like needles protruding from the flowers. After freeze-up, pearly white nutlets become evident. These hard seeds persist over winter on the dead stems.
Populations of this plant are usually found as widely scattered individuals on native prairie pastures. Plants are slightly more abundant where grazing pressure is moderate or light. The species has no other known economic uses, but this is true for many of our Great Plains plants whose history of use by native peoples has been lost.
False gromwell is a member of the family Boraginaceae. Borage is an old name, presumably of folk origin, for a European plant in this family. The generic name was given because of a likeness to the ill-smelling genus Onosma, meaning "smell of an ass." The specific epithet molle means "soft" in botanical Latin. The species was first described for science in 1803 by the distinguished French botanist Andre Michaux. In 1792, he was unsuccessfully nominated by Thomas Jefferson to accompany Meriwether Lewis on a proposed expedition into the wilderness that lay west of the Mississippi River.