The genus name, 'Pedicularis', is derived from the Latin 'pediculus', 'louse'. A bygone belief had it that the plant gave lice to people and cattle. Or, according to some sources, it was thought to cure people or cattle of lice. 'Wort' is from the Old English, 'wyrt', meaning 'plant' (Figwort, Spiderwort, Spleenwort). These plants are erect perennials with opposite or alternate fern-like, pinnately divided leaves and terminal, spikes or spikelike clusters of flowers, which have leaf-like bracts at their bases. The sepals are joined to a calyx which is tubular or bell-shaped, obscurely lobed or with 2 prominent lateral lobes. The petals form a corolla which is strongly irregular, consisting of 2 lips. The upper lip strongly concave or arched, entire, sometimes with a 'beak' near the tip. The lower lip is about equal to or shorter than the upper lip, with 2 longitudinal folds. The flowers have 4 stamens, which are included by the upper lip. The fruits form a capsule which is ovate to oblong, laterally flattened, splitting only or mainly along the upper side.
Guide to Identify Presented Species of Genus Pedicularis
FLOWERS YELLOW OR WHITISH
P. bracteosa Bracted Lousewort Plant 20-60 cm tall. Moist, open or wooded sites, montane to alpine.
Flowers pale yellow, tinged with purple. Numerous in tall spikes. Beakless.
Leaves alternate, fern-like, 6-30 cm long.
P. contorta Coiled Lousewort Stems 15-50 cm tall. Dry, open and wooded sites, montane-alpine.
Flowers white, in loose clusters. Long, curved beak on upper lip. Calyx 5-lobed.
Leaves alternate, fern-like, deeply cut into narrow, toothed leaflets.
FLOWERS PURPLE OR REDDISH
P. groenlandica Elephant-head Stems reddish-purple, 20-70 cm tall. Wet meadows, montane to alpine.
Flowers pink-purple, numerous in tall spikes. Upper lip has an upturned 'trunk'.
Leaves basal and alternate, fern-like, pinnately divided into fine segments.