Wild Quinine – September 2018 Wildflower of the month




Parthenium integrifolium

John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society

by Helen Hamilton


Wild Quinine is a prairie plant, growing to 4 feet tall and producing long-lasting white flowers. A sturdy, fleshy taproot provides support and moisture, so the plant is drought tolerant. It can thrive in full sun on poor soil, even clay, but prefers moist meadows and open woods.

Tiny disk flowers are surrounded by even smaller ray flowers, loosely branched in a flat-topped cluster, somewhat resembling the flowers of cauliflower that are separated. This is one of those asters that produce inconspicuous or no ray flowers, like dandelions and ironweed. Wild Quinine has a long blooming period, from late spring through summer, and the blossoms make nice indoor flower arrangements. Seedheads are charcoal-gray, adding winter interest to the garden.


Landscape designer C. Colston Burrell recommends growing these plants in moist, rich soil in full sun or light shade. He says, “Use it as a specimen or as a filler in the middle of the border with rose mallow and coneflowers, or in a meadow with asters, goldenrods and ornamental grasses. This tough plant deserves a place in every garden, formal or wild.”

Leaves are largest at the base, with a rough, sandpapery feel and coarsely toothed edges. Deer don’t like the bitter-tasting, aromatic leaves, but bees, wasps, flies and beetles are frequent visitors for the nectar and pollen.

A native perennial, Wild Quinine grows in all regions of Virginia with the exception of the far southwest.  The plant grows naturally in prairies and dry woods from Virginia to Minnesota and south to Georgia and Arkansas.

The flowering tops were once used for “intermittent fevers” like malaria, hence the name Wild Quinine. The root was used as a diuretic for kidney and bladder problems and gonorrhea.  One study suggests Wild Quinine may stimulate the immune system.  It is a common addition to extracts of Purple Coneflower (E. purpurea), historically and in modern times.

For more information about native plants visit www.vnps.org.

By Helen Hamilton, John Clayton Chapter, VNPS

Photo: Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) taken by Helen Hamilton