2012 Plant Talk 5 Pages 25-36

May 25, 2012

Plant Talk 5

Greetings Plant Enthusiasts!

Summer is almost here. Cherries (Prunus spp.) and Juneberries (Amelanchier spp.) are pretty much gone around Asheville but the Mulberries are ripe and tasty if you can beat the birds to them. Most roots and greens are gone though i have found some patches of Chickweed (Stellaria media) still around for the tasting. Looks like it is shaping up to be a good year for plums too!

What plants around you are in flower or fruit? Include a few down below in the commentary section if you get a chance.

i am headed to Maryland on Tuesday to spend time with the great ethnobotanist Jim Duke, Frank Cook’s family and go to the annual conference for the Society for Economic Botany www.econbot.org . Very excited for all these great learning opportunities.

Following that i will be headed toward Alaska with dear friend Rob Routhieaux. This is the last state of the U.S. that we have yet to visit! Rob has been gracious enough to facilitate this adventure for us which will encompass my birthday which happens to be on Father’s day this year. i will make sure to post some pictures and make a report from the field.

Following that is the Firefly Gathering www.fireflygathering.org/ which will feature over 200 classes this year and the Rainbow Gathering www.welcomehome.org where we will study plants intensively somewhere in the Appalachian wilds. i hear Rainbow will probably be in Tennessee or Kentucky this year.

Botany in a Day Pages 25-36

Using Keys

Using keys can be downright intimidating to some and at least a bit tricky to get a hang of for many. Organizing your thoughts in a systematic logical progression is essential.

The monocots and dicots are a big separation amongst the flowering plants. They have their own key on page 36. We discussed the differences in the last class and they can be revisited on page 14. Next to this key is a useful guide to woody plants by their fruits. The trees are a very accessible group to get to know as most areas have trees in the tens versus lower growing plants by the hundreds or thousands. The Asters are a natural distinction unto themselves numbering in the thousands in North America alone. Something on the order of 1 in 8 plants in North America inhabit the Aster family.

Understanding the terms covered in both inside covers and on page 26 is essential to going deep with your exploration of botany. However, much enjoyment can come from looking at the major patterns illustrated along pages 27-36.

Regular Dicot Flowers with Numerous Petals

Not too many wild plants fit in this group and many of them are succulent or aquatic.

Irregular Dicot Flowers

Most of these plants have distinctive flowers that are easy to distinguish. However in the Lamiales order i.e. Mints (Lamiaceae), Snapdragons (Scrophulariaceae), Verbena (Verbenaceae), and Plantain (Plataginaceae) it can get tricky. This is especially the case in the tropics where several more families join the party. Most of the Peas, Violets and Touch me Nots are rather apparent when in flower.

Regular Dicot Flowers 0, 3, 6 petals

Uncommon pattern as you may recall to have dicots with 3 and 6s. This is a mostly a primitive characteristic seen in the Magnolia (Magnoliaceae), PawPaw (Annonaceae), and Barberry (Berberidaceae) families amongst others.

Regular Dicot flowers 4 petals

i can often place a plant to family from four petals, form and bloom time alone. Brassicas flower early and tend to be yellow, white or occasionally purple. The coffee family has mostly square stemmed low growing members in the temperate world with petals that are white and occasionally blue and are blooming now as well . The olive family is the another major one in the temperate zone of the U.S. with four petals and it tends to contain trees and shrubs as representatives here with fragrant white petals.

Regular dicot flowers 5 united petals

Many of these plants with tubular flowers have distinct inflorescences that make it easy to place them in a family. Phlox’s are an excellent example.

Regular Dicot Flowers 5 separate petals

This is by far the most common pattern as can be seen from all the illustrations on page 36. Thus it will take the longest to learn and distinguish.

Flowers are by far the easiest way to determine a plant. But, the goal overtime is to build a portfolio of characteristics including growth habit, leaf orientation, leaf form, color, hairiness, smell, fruit characteristics, bark, sap, etc.

Just notice characteristics and differences…attention to detail is key. The vocabulary of botany can take you as far as you want to go. A flora may feature hundreds of technical terms. However, with the knowledge above and practice with the keys in Botany in a Day you can go really far toward a practical understanding of the plants around you. However, i encourage you to check out the Flora for your area to get a sense of the overall scope. A great flora for the Southeast by Alan Weakley can be downloaded for free www.herbarium.unc.edu/flora.htm A good book on plant terminology may also be helpful.

For the next class we will cover other major mostly non-woody temperate wild food plants.

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. Save your comment before submitting if possible as sometimes our spam filter seems to reject them which seems connected to how much time you take to submit. i would really love to hear what you have to say!!!

- Check out more under the entries for any of the families mentioned above as wild edibles.

- Read the entries in Botany in a Day and the site here on the 7 major families discussed last time if you have not already.

- Attend a workshop or a class and write up a brief description of plants or information learned.

- Begin to make a photo album of a certain nature spot as the seasons progress.

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

- Make a meal including some wild foods and tell us what you decided to put in it.

Praises to all that have donated to the cause. i encourage everyone to donate as they are able financially, commentarily, 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 anyway i can help this class serve you best.

Thanks, marc

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