Rhododendron tomentosum, the Beauty of Peat Bogs - Dreamstime

Rhododendron tomentosum (Marsh Labrador Tea, syn. Ledum palustre) is a low shrub (usually about 30-100 cm tall) with evergreen leaves and delicate white inflorescences or clusters of flowers. Related to the large and showy Rhododendrons which grow in parks and gardens, Rhododendron tomentosum is an uncultivated plant which grows in peat bogs and pine bogs. The Common name “Labrador Tea” originates from swamps of Greenland and Labrador, where the plant is plentiful.

Rhododendron tomentosum is a plant of the Northern latitudes, found in Northern and Central parts of Europe, in Northern America in Greenland, Alaska and Canada, and in Asia in China, Korea and Japan. These blossoming plants have been photographed in a pine bog in Salo, South of Finland, in early June 2011.

Rhododendron tomentosum is one of the food plants for the caterpillar of Boloria euphrosyne (Pearl-Bordered Fritillary). This attractive butterfly has an exquisite pattern on the underside of the wings resembling a mosaic (see photograph far right). The adult Fritillaries were very fond of the flowers and busy feeding on them, when I took these photographs.

The white beautiful flowers emit a strong smell which attracts insects. The entire plant contains poisonous terpenes (primary components of essential oils). This is why some people find that just the smell of the plant can cause a headache or migraine.

Rhododendron tomentosum has a variety of herbal and homeopathic uses throughout the history. In the Middle ages, the plant was used in flavoring and bittering beer instead of hops, or to make the beer more intoxicating. The leaves of the plant were brewed to make Labrador tea or Indian tea which was a medicine to dizziness, weak blood, skin problems, colds, bronchial and pulmonary infections asthma, tuberculosis, stomach problems, rheumatism and kidney problems, and some other diseases and conditions as well.

Labrador Tea has narcotic properties. Evidence suggests that excessive use of it may cause poisoning.

In Scandinavia, the plant has was formerly used as an anti-moth to keep away Clothing Moths thanks to its strong smell. Modern research suggests that many terpenes possess qualities that make them ideal active ingredients as part of natural agricultural pesticides.

Photo credits: Taina Sohlman.

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