Linaceae: Flax Family
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Many Americans rightly associate the genus Linum with the Flax family (Linaceae). A portion of the early American agriculture sector relied on commercial flax production to supply multiple markets including the linen market, paper market and oil seed market.
Flax's popularity remains equally high today, despite the fact the traditional flax industries, all sought flax alternatives.
Small, in terms of its contribution to the total amount of oil seeds planted, flaxseed production finds life in niche markets such as wood products.
Recent statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture show that in 2010, North Dakota farmers planted 390,000 of the total 421,000 acres devoted to the crop. Farmers in Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana account for the remainder of the production.
Whether touted as an arthritis cure for aging athletes or as an aid for reducing high cholesterol, the stories of the powers of flax as a medicinal plant pervade our culture.
The National Institute of Health reports,
"Flaxseed and its derivative flaxseed oil/linseed oil are rich sources of the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, which is a biologic precursor to omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid. Although omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with improved cardiovascular outcomes, evidence from human trials is mixed regarding the efficacy of flaxseed products for coronary artery disease or hyperlipidemia."
However, for any medicinal purpose other than as a laxative, the current state of the scientific literature remains unclear.
Pale flax (Linum bienne), one of around forty different Linum species, displays pale blue petals.
It's a naturalized, non-native plant of the West Coast, similar looking to a few other blue petal flax species, including the native Linum lewisii, named for the Western explorer Meriwether Lewis.
The blue anthers on the pale flax serve as a good field identification clue.
Early western explorer Meriwether Lewis, receives formal credit for the Western Blue flax (Linum lewisii), a native flax species.
Widely distributed throughout the West in dry areas, including higher elevations, the plant, and its seeds, serve as food for local wildlife.
The white anthers and yellow patch in the center of the petals serve as good field identification clues.
Their ability to withstand drought, along with their dainty colors, also make them a perfect, low maintenance garden plant.
The yellow flowered Stiffstem Flax (Linum rigidum), third picture, dominates the central United States landscape, east of the Rocky Mountains.
© 2009-2011 Patricia A. Michaels