Get to Know a Lizard’s Tail

Lizard’s Tail (Saururus cernuus)

Friends work using lizard’s tail in restoration projects:

Lizard’s tail is a perennial plant that grows up to 3’ tall, branching occasionally native in most of Illinois but largely absent from the driftless NW section of the state.

Habitats include soggy openings in floodplain and bottomland woodlands, shallow vernal pools in wooded areas, swamps, seeps and springs in semi-shaded areas, shallow slow-moving streams, and ditches along wooded areas. Lizard's Tail is usually found in higher quality wetland habitats where there is some shade. It thrives along many reaches of the Chicago River system including in the North Shore Channel where a Friends’ partnership with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources established new colonies. This effort continues with the Shedd Aquarium.

The leaves of Lizard’s Tail are heart shaped, 3-6’ long on opposite branches. The flowers of Lizard’s Tail are a defining feature of the plant, as they form a 4-7’ long semi-cylindrical shaped spike of dense whorls of tiny fragrant white flowers. They typically bloom June to September in the Chicago region. The flowers then give way to small green fruits.

The genus name comes from the Greek words sauros meaning lizard and oura meaning tail. 

As an aquatic plant, Lizard’s Tail is an important food source for many wetland animals, including beavers. It is quite deer resistant, which helps established colonies in areas like the Forest Preserves of Cook County, which have a high population of white-tailed deer. The plant attracts many invertebrates, which are an important food source for birds and fish.

Its medicinal properties have been used to treat swelling in the body.  Several Native American tribes report mashing up Lizard’s Tail roots as a poultice, and applying the plant to soothe inflammation of the breasts and back.  The Seminoles used the plant as an antirheumatic, as well as a way to soothe fevers and body aches.