2012 Plant Talk 13 Missing Plant Families from Elpel 5th ed.


Plant Talk 13: Missing Families from Botany in a Day

Hello plant enthusiasts!

Below are some recent and upcoming happenings in my world botanically. Feel free to skip over if you are more interested in the material on families not covered by Elpel…

Recent Events

Hostel in the Forest Ethnobotany Intensive Brunswick, GA www.foresthostel.org

            Mycol Stevens and i once again met up to teach an Ethnobotany Intensive at the incredibly inspiring Hostel in the Forest. We had somewhere between 15-20 people in the class at various points. This time we tried to not cram quite some much in and leave more room for relaxing. We discovered many new plants for the list in an area recently logged and bought by the Hostel. Some examples include a special Lobelia and several grasses. We also participated in discussions with the management about how to maintain this special ecotype. Sweet Gums (Liquidambar styraciflua) are currently leading the charge to repopulate the open space. Fire and goats are the big two methods to keep it clear but both are challenging to implement for various reasons.

Falling Leaves

            Finally got to attend the legendary Earthskills gathering called Falling Leaves. However due to other work obligations i was only there for two nights and one day. Nonetheless, i was tickled to see a Hickory mast comprised largely of Shagbarks (Carya ovata) and Mockernuts (Carya tomentosa). Finally learned how to distinguish these great food sources from the less choice Pignut (Carya glabra) and Bitternut (Carya cordiformis) Hickories. Pecans (Carya Illionensis) are probably the most famous type of Hickory. Hickories like Oaks tend to produce a heavy crop every 2-3 years which is called masting. It can take up to 40 years for a Hickory to begin fruiting (Spira, 2011). Therefore, choice ones are probably best left for food rather than used for wood when possible.

 i also started an inventory of the land where the gathering has been held for over 25 years. So far we have more than 70 species listed from just a few hours of surveying! Excited to return in the spring and double that amount or more.  As always i really enjoyed walks by friend and mentor Doug Elliot www.dougelliot.com .

Boone, NC

            Thursday morning led to a 6 hour drive from the rendevouz to Boone in order to see my friend Holly Drake do an incredible presentation on reasons to eat wild. She also provided so much yummy food to prove it. Check out her website www.wildblessings.com …Some examples of things she has shared with me include Beauty Berry and Crampbark fruit jellies, Crabapple and Autumn Olive Fruit Leather and a Wild Seed Blend. The food at the presentation included Nettle soup, Sumacade a Wild Green frittata and incredible baked goods. While in Boone i also worked on completing a plant inventory of a community called Brightwood and added significantly to the plant inventory of Ken Crouse’s land known as Peaceful Valley. At Brightwood we were particularly excited to see a Gentian (Gentian sp.) and Rose Pink (Sabatia sp.) both from the Gentian family as well as Branch Lettuce (Saxifraga micranthidifolia). Ken has so much plant diversity and special cultivars and species that it will probably take a while to catalog. Some of my favorites are a multitude of Dogwoods (Cornus spp.), Camellias (Camellia spp.) and a collection of several rare members of the Hamamelidaceae.

Johnson City, TN www.mountainyogatn.com

            This class was requested by Yoga studio owner Jennifer Chisham in the Johnson City area. Here i facilitated another rendition of the Forage and Feast class. We made Wild Green Pesto Pasta, a green salad with Honey Mustard Dressing, Herbal Tea, Hickory Nut Milk and a Pear oat Crumble with Spice Bush berries.

Small Terrain Asheville, NC  www.smallterrain.com

            Small terrain is a great new homesteading store in West Asheville. i was excited to teach a fermentation workshop there and facilitate a plant walk in the local community. Dosas from lentils and rice, hummus, and yogurt cheese were some featured foods while we also enjoyed various fermented beverages as well such as water kefir and sodas.

Warren Wilson College Agroecology class Swannanoa, NC  www.warren-wilson.edu

            This semester i have been excited to work with my mentor and friend Dr. Laura Lengnick as a guest instructor in her Agroecology class at Warren Wilson. i first made a presentation on useful plant families and then in a series of classes helped students identify plants from various plots around campus. Interesting insights from a flora of Warren Wilson include the fact that the wide leaf Plantain we see everywhere is probably often Plantago rugelii versus Plantago major (Boyd & Monroe, 2010). i wonder what that means in regards to medicinal efficacy and or edibility?

LEAF Black Mountain, NC www.theleaf.org

           This past weekend’s LEAF festival was one of the best ever! Incredible weather, great music awesome community. Felt Frank Cook a lot…The plants we placed in his honor are all growing to varying degrees. The Ginkgo (Gingko biloba) from Juliet is doing the best. The Elderberries (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis cvs. “Benchmark” “Medicine Wheel”) and Persimmons (Diospyros virginiana seedling and variety “Meader") from Chuck Marsh probably need more fertility and water. We had to plant a new White Oak (Quercus alba). We put in a few from the land of Hart Squire due to the loss of the original one planted at the fall LEAF 2009. Wondering how to take the plant educating to the next level at the LEAF festival as well. Seems a plant inventory/list is one great way and maybe some longer classes as well.

Upcoming Classes

Now i find myself out west for the next few weeks. Various classes are happening every Sunday afternoon around the Nevada City area. See the website here for further details http://www.botanyeveryday.com/events

Workshop at Dancing Pines home of Daniel Nicholson Nevada City, CA


This weekend on Sunday from 1-5 p.m. i am helping facilitate a multi-part workshop. First we will host a Plant/Mushroom walk focusing on harvesting roots like Yellow Dock (Rumex sp.), Yampah (Perideridia sp.) and aerial parts from Doug fir (Pseudotsuga menzesii) and Douglas’s mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana) and fruits from  Manzanita (Arctostapyhlos sp.) and Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia).

We will then host a wild food potluck featuring Wild green Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) tabouleh, Wild Morel Mushroom (Morchella spp.) frittata, Acorn Ginger Bliss bites and Pine Needle tea. Other offerings are sure to appear of which i will try to inform you of later.

Sodas, Meads and Liqueurs at the Stonehouse Nevada City, CA

This will be a presentation on brewing using local ingredients. Beverages we will cover include Sodas, Ales, Meads, and Liqueurs. i plan to bring a survey of local plant material for people to look at and take home. We will feature local abundance as we taste a Sierra Soda and herbal liqueur while preparing a mead,.

One of my favorite tasks in the last year is the creation of local liqueurs. My Sierra Liqueur contains Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), Gray Pine (Pinus sabiniana), Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), Rose Hips (Rosa spp.), Kit Kit Dizze (Chamaebatia foliolosa), Douglas’s Artemisia (Artemisia douglasiana) and Osha (Ligusticum grayii, L. porteri).

Eastern and Western Medicinal and Edible Plants Comparison Nevada City, CA


i am honored to once again work with the Health Alternatives for All Local (HAALo) folks to present a cross comparison of Western and Eastern medicinal/edible plant families. We will go through a list of over 100 taxa putting them into perspective in regards to identification, preparation, and phytochemistry.

HAALo class on Healing Lyme


Stephen Buhner wrote the book Healing Lyme (2005). HAAlo will host a day-long training based on the Buhner Lyme Protocol with Herbalist Julie McIntyre. Access to the class via the internet may be possible as well.

Missing Plants from Botany in a Day

Now the focus shifts to some of the families that are not covered in Botany in a Day. Frank Cook took note of several families that were missing in his 5th edition copy including Aquifoliaceae (Holly), Calycanthaceae (Sweetshrub), Cannaceae (Canna Lily), Celastraceae (Bittersweet/Euonymous/Khat), Myrtaceae (Myrtle), Phytolaccaceae (Poke), Rutaceae (Rue/Citrus), Styracaceae (Styrax), and Theaceae (Tea, Camellia, Stewartia, Franklin Tree) (Elpel & Cook, 2006).

i have taken note of several others which include Clethraceae (Clethra), Ebenaceae (Ebony), Paulowniaceae (Paulownia), Phyrmaceae (Lopseed/Monkey Flower), Platanaceae (Sycamore), Plumbaginaceae (Leadwort/Statice),  Schisandraceae (Five Flavor Fruit), and Symplocaceae (Horse Sugar). These families are all treated below.

The mostly tropical families of Acanthaceae (Bear’s Breeches), Annonaceae (Pawpaw/Soursop) Bignoniaceae (Trumpet Creeper/Cross Vine),  Myrtaceae (Myrtle), Rutaceae (Citrus/Rue), and the order Zingiberales including the Cannaceae, Heliconiaceae (Heliconia), Marantaceae (Arrowroot/Prayer Plant), Musaceae (Banana) and Strelitziaceae (Bird of Paradise) will all be treated in the next class.

Families below come from a diverse number of orders. Tropical/small members of the Ericales, Lamiales and Austrobayliales are particularly missing from Botany in a Day 5th ed. i have treated each family with a short monographic style. The main aspects of ethnobotanical usage and taxonomy are pointed out for some families more than others. My hope is to steadily increase these through incremental personal efforts and those of others over time. Many scientific names are linked to the USDA plants database where a plethora of other information is available.

Aquifoliaceae / Holly Family / Aquifoliales

The most famous member of this family now is probably Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis). Some research i came across recently alludes that yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) may have less caffeine (1/2 to 1/3)  than Yerba Mate and Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine) less still (Edwards & Bennett, 2005; Marx, Janssens, Urfer, & Scherer, 2003) However, Yaupon and Dahoon represent the only native caffeine sources that i know of in North America. i wonder about the use of other Holly leaves for tea?

Guayusa (I. guayusa) also has significant amounts of caffeine (Wink & Van Wyk, 2008). Guayusa is from Ecuador and used in Ayhuasca traditions there in combination with the traditional plants the Ayuhuasca vine itself (Banisteriopsis capii) and Chakruna (Psycotria viridis). Hollies have male and female plants so you will need both to get fruits. The Holly collection at the Royal Gardens of Kew in London England is astounding amongst many other things there www.kew.org .

Holly fruits are often considered poisonous but do not seem to have a large toxicity (Frohne & Pfander, 2005). A special honey is made from the flowers of the Gallberry (Ilex glabra) in the SE U.S. (Lovell, 1977).

Ancient Angiosperms

Many members of these ancient angiosperms break the dicot rule and often have flower parts in multiples of 3’s. They also tend to be more tropical in distribution.

Illiciaceae / Star Anise Family / Austrobaileyales

This order and the four families within are not covered in Botany in a Day. It is thought to be ancestral to every other flowering plant group other than the Water Lily (Nymphaeaceae) and Amborella (Amborellaceae) (Spears, 2006).

A few special plants occur in this family in Florida and a bit further north including Florida Anise Tree (Illicium floridanum) and Yellow Anise Tree (Illicium parviflorum). The Clemson Arboretum in South Carolina has some excellent examples.

Schisandra Family / Schisandraceae / Austrobaileyales

The Schisandra family is not covered in Botany in a Day. This family is most known for the Adaptogenic medicinal (Schisandra chinensis) (Winston & Maimes, 2007). However, a native species occurs in Eastern American (Schisandra glabra). Some have wondered at the potential to use the native species as an analog to the Asian one. However, the native is not a common plant and would probably need to be cultivated. The Schisandraceae is sometimes included in the Illiaceae (Judd, Campbell, Kellog, Stevens, & Donahue, 2008).

Calycanthaceae / Sweetshrub Family / Laurales

This is a very special small family. Calycanthus occurs in Appalachia, California and Eastern Asia. The plant Wintersweet (Chimonanthus) is also in this family. Calycanthus is known as sweet bubby in Appalachia and was traditionally used as a perfume for ladies. Another name is Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus) or California Allspice (Calycanthus occidentalis) and it has been used traditionally for cooking like cinnamon as a spice (Couplan, 1998). However, the seeds contain a toxic substance (calycanthine) similar to strychnine (Couplan, 1998). The plants are very ornamental with tropical looking foliage aromatic showy flowers and pretty leaves in the fall. One species occurs only in Georgia (Calycanthus brockianus) (USDA, n.d.).


Clethraceae / Sweetpepper Bush Family / Ericales

Appalachian native (Clethra alnifolia) has beautiful exfoliating bark. A wide variety of butterflies are attracted to it including Silver-spotted skippers and Swallowtails (Lewis, 1995). Also known as Summersweet Clethra it is often planted landscape shrub and is very fragrant (Dirr, 1997, 1998). Doug Elliot taught me that the plant contains saponins and rubbing the leaves with water can create a “soapy” effect.

Ebenaceae / Ebony Family / Ericales

This family is home to one very special genus besides its namesake (Diospyros ebenum). The etymology of the genus includes Dios (God’s) Pyros (Pear). Quite the regal name for a plant most of us know as Persimmon! In the East we have a native Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). In Asia they have a type often considered more delectable (Diospyros kaki). However, an even more amazing type known as the Black Sapote (Diospyros digyna) grows in Central America and Florida. It tastes something like cinnamon pudding (Rollins, 2006). A type of native Persimmon even grows all the way out to Hawaii Diospyros sandwicensis but it's fruits are really small.

The eastern native Persimmon supports the larva of the hickory horned devil and hosts the Luna moth (Actias luna) (Tallamy, 2009). The wood is hard but can be beautiful for carving even in other species than ebony.

Styracaceae / Silverbell Family / Ericales

The Silverbells (Halesia diptera and Halesia tetraptera) are very special showy little Appalachian trees that only occur in a few fertile locales. Carolina Silverbell (H. carolina) provides food for the Promethea moth larva (Tallamy, 2009) (Tallamy, 2009). These are very much underutilized native small trees for the landscape. Other members include…

Theaceae / Tea Family /  Ericales

Many very special woody species including one that is extinct in the wild are in this family. Probably the famous plant for tea (Camellia sinensis) is known world round and was one of the most sought after early trade items. Other Camellias like the Sansqua (Camellia sasanqua) and Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica) are ornamental. Crosses between the two and other species have led to thousands of cultivars (Hogan, 2003). Many plants in this family have beautiful exfoliating bark. Sansqua Camellia blossoms also tend to have lovely smells.

The father and son botany team of John and William Bartram first found and then collected the seeds of the Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) which they named after their friend Ben Franklin. The tree which is thought to be from a small area near the Alatamaha river in Georgia subsequently went extinct in the wild. However, like many special plants it has been spread all over the world where it lives on ex situ in Botanical Gardens. i have seen a particularly gorgeous specimen at the Harvard Arboretum. Stewartia is another stunning small ornamental tree native to the Americas. The University of North Carolina Asheville has a great Theaceae collection around the main quad.

Other assorted familes…

Phytolaccaceae / Poke Family / Caryophyllales

We only have one genus and one species north of the frost belt in America. Poke Weed (Phytolacca americana) is one of the most famous wild food plants of Appalachia. Yet it is also the source of many poisonings! Only eat young shoots which are green after cooking in multiple changes of water. Stay ahead of the red!

The fruits are fun to play with as a non-permanent dye. This plant is often mentioned in modern books about cuisine. A tree form (Phytolacca dioca) grows on the plains of South America and has been planted in Spain for ornament. Rouge plant (Rivina humilis) grows beneath the frost belt.

Plumbaginaceae / Lead Plant Family / Caryophyllales

This family is home to Statice (Limonium leptostachyum) which is one of my favorite plants for fresh or dried cut flowers. The Lavender thrift (Limonium carolinianum) and the California thrift (Limonium californicum) live in the eastern and western U.S. respectively.

This family also attracts several butterflies including the Clouded Sulphur and Painted Lady (Lewis, 1995). The False Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) attracts Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Viceroy, Blue and Sulphur butterflies (Lewis, 1995). Leadworts (Plumbago spp.) often have attractive blue flowers.

Platanaceae / Sycamore Family / Proteales

This ancient family is not covered by Elpel and only contains one genus. It is mostly known for the stunning Sycamore tree. Three major species occur including Eastern American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Californian Sycamore (Platanus racemosa) and Eurasian Sycamore (Platanus orientalis). The Sycamores of parks are often the hybrid Platanus x hispanica. Another Sycamore occurs only in Arizona and New Mexico (Platanus wrightii) (USDA, n.d.).The sap of Platanus spp. can be drunk like water and contains a mild amount of sweetness (Couplan, 1998).

Flowers are unisexual and wind pollinated whereas the fruits are wind dispersed and secondarily spread by water (Judd et al., 2008). The Eastern Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is host to the White-marked tussock moth (Orgyia leucotigma) (Tallamy, 2009). This family is sometimes included in the Proteaceae (Judd et al., 2008).

Phrymaceae / Lopseed Family / Lamiales

Monkeyflower (Mimulus) has historically been put into the Scrophulariaceae family. However, some have supported its placement here in the Phrymaceae (Judd et al., 2008; Spears, 2006). According to the USDA site http://plants.usda.gov many plants formerly in the genus Mimulus are also now in the Bush Monkeyflower genus (Diplacus).

Mimulus cardinalis attracts several butterflies including Checkerspots, Ringlets, Painted Lady, Cabbage White, and Checkered White (Lewis, 1995). Sticky Monkey flower (Diplacus aurantiacus ssp. aurantiacus syn M. aurantiacus) which is native to Southern California is a larval food plant for Common Buckeye and Chalcedon Checkerspot (Lewis, 1995).

Paulowniaceae / Empress tree Family / Lamiales

The Royal Paulownia/Empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) has historically been put in the Scrophulariaceae which always seemed weird to me. There is now some strong support for giving it a separate family (Judd et al., 2008; Spears, 2006). The Empress tree is a very distinctive ornamental/exotic invasive in Appalachia. The Flowers are a gorgeous purple color in the spring and the wood is apparently of rather high value in Asia. It tends to only invade disturbed areas like road cuts and must be rather shade intolerant. The stems are hollow unlike the very similar looking native Catalpa (Catalpa spp.) in the Bignoniaceae.

For the next class we will cover Tropical families not included by Elpel and it will be posted around the 16th of November.

Below are items to think about/comment on. Please write me directly at marc@botanyeveryday.com or leave information in the commentary under this class.


-      Find one temperate world plant family not covered in Elpel or this class and

        some significant reason to add it to future classes      

-       Plan to go to a conservatory at a place near you and meet some tropical plants.

-       Discover what area of the world your house plants come from.

-       Write a list of tropical plants that you consumed for food and where they  

         originated and are currently produced.

-        Post any clear photos of question plants to Facebook or send in an email.

Praises to all that have donated to the cause. i encourage everyone reading this to donate as they are able financially, commentarialy, or energetically... Your contributions greatly help me continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education. Please let me know your thoughts in general and any way i can help this class serve you best.

Thanks, marc

Literature Cited

Boyd, A. E., & Monroe, A. L. (2010). Vascular Flora of the Warren Wilson College Campus, Swannanoa, North Carolina. Castanea, 75(3), 353–365.

Buhner, S. H. (2005). Healing Lyme: Natural Prevention and Treatment of Lyme Borreliosis and Its Coinfections. Randolph, VT: Raven Press.

Couplan, F. (1998). The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America. New Canaan, CT: Keats Pub.

Dirr, M. A. (1997). Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Dirr, M. A. (1998). Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (5th ed.). Athens, GA: Stipe Publishing LLC.

Edwards, A. L., & Bennett, B. C. (2005). Diversity of Methylxanthine Content in Ilex cassine L. and Ilex vomitoria Ait.: Assessing Sources of the North American Stimulant Cassina. Economic Botany, 59(3), 275–285. doi:10.1663/0013-0001(2005)059[0275:DOMCII]2.0.CO;2

Elpel, T. J., & Cook, F. (2006). Botany in a Day: The Patterns method of Plant Identification (Frank Cook personal copy.). Pony, MT: HOPS Press.

Frohne, D., & Pfander, H. J. (2005). Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists and Veterinarians (2nd ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc.

Hogan, S. (Ed.). (2003). Flora (Vols. 1-2). Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc.

Judd, W. S., Campbell, C. S., Kellog, E. A., Stevens, P. F., & Donahue, M. J. (2008). Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach (3rd ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

Lewis, A. (Ed.). (1995). Butterfly Gardens. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Lovell, H. B. (1977). Honey Plants. (L. R. Goltz, Ed.) (Rev ed.). Medina, OH: Gleanings in Bee Culture.

Marx, F., Janssens, M. J. J., Urfer, P., & Scherer, R. (2003). Caffeine and theobromine composition of mate (Ilex paraguariensis) leaves in five plantations of Misiones, Argentina. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 58(3), 1–8. doi:10.1023/B:QUAL.0000041144.28025.fc

Rollins, C. (2006). The Fruit and Spice Park. (L. Bohorquez, Ed.). Lawrenceburg, IN: The Creative Company.

Spears, P. (2006). A Tour of the Flowering Plants: Based on the Classification System of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group. St. Louis, MO: Missouri Botanical Garden Press.

Spira, T. (2011). Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont: A Naturalist’s Guide to the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia. The University of North Carolina Press.

Tallamy, D. W. (2009). Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded (Expanded ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

USDA. (n.d.). The PLANTS Database | USDA PLANTS. Retrieved March 10, 2009, from http://plants.usda.gov/

Wink, M., & Van Wyk, B.-E. (2008). Mind-Altering and Poisonous Plants of the World (1st ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Winston, D., & Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.


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