The flowers of native perennial Parthenium integrifolium (wild quinine, American feverfew) look like miniature cauliflower, or perhaps cotton. Perfect in a cottage, meadow, or prairie garden, wild quinine has a long period of bloom, typically eight weeks or so.
Wild quinine’s flowers arrive in clusters of pure white.
Each flower bud borders on tiny, perhaps 1/4″-1/2″ across at most, and are borne in large clusters of 50-100.
The thing about Parthenium integrifolium’s flowers that is a little strange is they always look like buds just about to open to something larger and more impressive. I keep walking by waiting for them to open but they stay tightly wrapped.
Wild quinine would make a beautiful cut flower for those who love wildflowers in their bouquets (or as a replacement for baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata) with roses).
American feverfew grows 2′-4′ and the leaves are bold and beautiful, a medium-dark green that reminds me of tobacco leaves, somewhat large and coarse. The relatively dark leaves contrast with the white flowers beautifully.
Wild quinine tends to present a very healthy appearance and is another one of those plants beginners could grow in a well-tended garden.
Wild quinine in the garden
It is native to the eastern United States and hardy zones 4-8. Parthenium integrifolium’s native habitat are open-fields, meadows, and prairies. It can handle clay soils.
American feverfew likes full sun but can be grown in a little bit of shade. It is not particular about soil moisture once established and can handle moist to dry conditions. Wild quinine is a tough plant in the garden, being both cold hardy and heat tolerant. Leaves may turn yellow and wither if things get really dry.
A note about transplanting: Parthenium integrifolium does not like to be moved. It is an easy to grow plant once established. It is important that you plant in spring after all danger of frost has passed (Illinois Wildflowers).
Historical uses of wild quinine
Native Americans (Catawba tribe most specifically) used wild quinine as medicine. It has been used to treat a wide variety of health problems, ranging from burns to dysentery. Cinchona tree bark is the source of medicinal quinine (University of Minnesota). During World War I, wild quinine was stockpiled as a possible alternative to Cinchona.
Plant type: herbaceous perennial
Native status: It is native to the eastern half of North America.
Winter hardiness: 4-8
Of note: Native perennial that is underused in the garden. Easy to grow and hardy. Plant in the garden after all danger of frost is gone. Attractive to bees, beetles, and other pollinators. White long-flowering perennials are always at a premium in the garden and American feverfew fits this niche perfectly.