The Real Magical Plants of Harry Potter

Left: Virginia Sneezeweed by Gary P. Fleming/© DCR-DNH || Middle: Swamp Pink by Gene Nieminen/USFWS || Right: Sensitive joint-vetch by Dale Suiter/USFWS

In honor of Harry Potter’s birthday, straight from the pages of “One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi” — required reading for all Hogwarts herbology students — here are some plants that will aid you in your magical endeavors.

Sure you’ve heard of the healing power of mandrakes and the insidious nature of devil’s snare, but these plants will take your magical plant repertoire to a whole new level — Professor Sprout approved.

Furbish Lousewort

Pedicularis furbishiae
Use in Harry Potter:
Invisibility cloak fabric

Furbish Lousewort by Mark McCollough/USFWS

Ancient tales tell of the adaptive powers of the endangered Furbish lousewort. Wizards have long used this plant to achieve metamorphosis in various forms. Its fibers are sewn through the mystical cloth of the infamous invisibility cloak and wizards often ingest small amounts to temporarily shield themselves from nemeses. May also be added to Polyjuice Potion to prolong its effects and substitute for the use of hair or other bodily samples. Contrary to popular belief, this plant has no effect on lice.

However, you’d be hard pressed to find it in the wild. This plant likes to live on the edge, on the banks of the river that forms the border between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. No stranger to ice-scour, flooding, and other natural land disturbances caused by river movement, Furbish lousewort is sensitive to development and competition with shrubby vegetation.

Wizards, landowners, volunteers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists alike are joining forces to conserve and recover this Ice Age survivor’s shoreline habitat.

Virginia Sneezeweed

Helenium virginicum
Use in Harry Potter:
Sneezing powder

Virginia Sneezeweed. Photo Credit: © DCR-DNH, Gary P. Fleming

A best seller at Zonko’s Joke Shop and often found finely ground, the sneezing powder made from Virginia sneezeweed is particularly pernicious. Wizards that want to prank their classmates or need a sudden distraction can sprinkle this powder nearby their target to prompt a sneezing fit. Just be careful not to inhale any yourself, you’ll blow your cover and be sidetracked for hours.

Virginia sneezeweed can reach heights of 3.5 feet and grows on the shores of seasonally flooded, naturally occurring limestone ponds. This yellow splendor is affected by changes in water levels, causing populations to vary. Please report all sighting to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and George Weasley.

Swamp Pink

Helonias bullata
Use in Harry Potter:
Escape aid

Swamp Pink blooming in Cecil Co., Maryland. Photo by Kerry Wixted/Creative Commons.

Of special mention in “Winogrand’s Wonderous Water Plants,” swamp pink once helped Neville Longbottom escape a hoard of flesh-eating slugs. Swamp pink can also be used as a substitute for a portkey by highly trained Herbologists. The presence of this vibrant flower indicates there is Gillyweed growing in the water, so wizards often overlook this stunning plant in search of a different prize.

Muggles who happen upon swamp pink during its spring bloom are in for a fragrant delight. This wetland jewel is often found in patches made of up thousands of individual plants. Service biologists are working to preserve this threatened plant’s habitat along with volunteers and landowners.

American Hart’s-tongue Fern

Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum
Use in Harry Potter:
Truth potion

American Hart’s-Tongue Fern by John Wiley/USFWS.

The main ingredient in Veritaserum — the most powerful truth potion known to the wizarding world — American hart’s tongue fern sprouts in limestone sinkholes in heavily shaded, humid forests, much like the Forbidden Forest. Students are often caught sneaking into the tree line, looking for the supplies to make a Veritaserum of their own. However, Veritaserum is a controlled substance by the Ministry of Magic, and they are usually discovered before the potion finishes its lunar cycle length brewing.

Because the American hart’s-tongue fern is vulnerable to high levels of sunlight and will also make you spill any secret hidden on your tongue or your heart, the Service has protected this truth inducing flora by listing it as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Sensitive Joint-vetch

Aeschynomene virginica
Use in Harry Potter:
Magical cure

Sensitive joint-vetch by Dale Suiter/USFWS

Commonly used as medicinal plant by Madam Pomfrey in the infirmary, sensitive joint-vetch grows in coastal marshes and is supplied to the Hogwarts infirmary by Xenophilius Lovegood, who tends to the plant in his spare time. Broken heart? Achy joints? This plant is a cure-all for whatever ails you.

In the muggle world: Service biologists are working to conserve sensitive joint-vetch and the tidal marsh habitat on which the plant depends. Unfortunately, non-wizards can’t use magic to make plants grow and sensitive joint-vetch is threatened by habitat loss and competition with invasive plants.

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