2013 Plant Talk 1 Introduction

Magnolia x soulangeana

March 20, 2013

Hey plant enthusiasts! Happy Spring…

Not sure about you but, i am way buried in work right now...A snap shot of this week. i am co-authoring a book chapter on teaching botany (due also this week), working on editing the next edition of Botany in a Day, moving into a cabin at a friend´s house, where i also have been transplanting vegetable starts in the greenhouse like mad, taught yesterday on wild edible plants, gardened for an 88 year old friend today and starting the 4th year of this online Botany Every Day class. Tomorrow it is off to the first annual Piedmont Earth Skills Gathering www.piedmontearthskillsgathering.com to teach Thursday-Saturday then back to Asheville to teach fruit tree pruning and fermentation at Warren Wilson college on Sunday, auditioning to be on a National Geographic show on foraging Monday! When it rains it pours...

Nonetheless, excited to be starting this year’s class right at the beginning of our season for rebirth and renewal. Here we have a chance to rekindle our passion for the natural world and plants in particular. This is also an opportunity to collaboratively add to our collective pool of botanical knowledge. This knowledge is a crucial piece to any future sustainability as well as a whole lot of fun when employed appropriately.

The text for this class is Botany in a Day 5th ed. by Thomas Elpel (2004). This handy resource covers over 100 families and 1000 genera. The vast majority of all the plants of North America are encompassed. Near the end of this year we will discuss further which families are not covered. Hopefully a new edition will be available as well with much more information than the one available currently. If that is the case then you might want to update and pass along your 5th edition to some person or organization just beginning the botanical journeying. Many other resources are also cited as the classes are posted to prompt and inspire further study and dependability of information.

This class is a continuation of a course Frank Cook offered through email for 9 years. Frank passed away almost three and a half years ago and i have picked up the torch while also bringing this class to a website format. i strive to continue the work of Frank in a proactive way, honoring his past contributions, current inspiration and the evolving needs of our community of plant people. More on Frank can be found under the About US tab on this website and at www.plantsandhealers.org. The support of numerous friends has allowed both Frank’s work and my own work to continue. I have also recently been named the Executive Director of Plants and Healers International which is a non-profit established to continue the work of Frank as well. Much more information can be seen at the website above.

A complimentary and very active Facebook group by the name Botany Everyday has grown to over 800 people from around the world! Currently photo albums from each of the later classes will still be posted to Facebook though you don’t have to be a member to view them. Past classes and their photo albums can be viewed under the archived classes tab.

7 song www.7song.com , the great Northeastern botanical educator has contributed quite a bit lately to the Facebook group in particular. Over the years 7 Song has formally instructed many folks who are now considered amazing teachers in their own right including Frank Cook, Juliet Blankespoor www.chestnutherbs.com and Corey Pine Shane www.blueridgeschool.com. 7 Song and i have mostly interacted with each other on plant walks at the annual National Rainbow Gatherings held in a National Forest in a different state each year around July 4th www.welcomehome.org . Plant walks happen at Rainbow almost every day. All classes at Rainbow are also offered on a voluntary basis. This is one of the best possible chances to learn botany intensively for free.

Our Role of Engagement in This Adventure and the Power of Intention!

i encourage your direct participation in this endeavor. What’s going on around you? The more you read, follow the suggested exercises and provide feedback, the more we will all learn together. We are all busy. So, feel free to come and goes as needed. Know that the world of botany is always there to explore further. A lot of information is offered. Take what intrigues you and leave the rest…

However, please decide now what type of commitment you can bring to this class. Try to honor that commitment by reading, reviewing, reflecting and getting out in nature. Pick at least one place that you will visit regularly, (weekly to at least monthly). There you will witness the cycling of the seasons in a conscious and observant way. Pick a few places if possible that represent different ecotypes which you can visit seasonally. Try to read the posts and suggested section of text as much as possible. Write to me of your intentions. This will help secure your commitment and also give me a sense of who is on the journey this year.

My intentions for this year are to integrate Frank’s commentary from past classes more, add more plant family monographs under the Plant Families tab and cover new categories of ethnobotanical/ecological interest in the classes including Spiritual Uses of plants, European plants and Wetland, Carnivorous, Artic, and Desert Plant groups.

General Information

All identified species have a distinct two part scientific name that is used by botanists all over the world. The first part is the genus or generic name. The second part is the species or specific name. The genus is always capitalized and the species is not. Both names are usually underlined or italicized. An example is (Daucus carota). This is the name for the cultivated carrot.

Plants that share a genus name are similar but often differ in leaf shape, size, habitat, color, palatability or other characteristic. Plants that have the same species name often look almost exactly the same but may still look rather different due to breeding. (Daucus carota) is also the name for the wild plant known as Queen Anne’s Lace.

Modern family names for plants take part of the name of a typical genus in the family and then add aceae to the ending. For example the name of the Celery (Apium graveolens) family is Apiaceae. In the notations below sp. = one species and spp. = multiple species of the same genus. As time goes on more common names will be followed by scientific names in parentheses. Most scientific names in these posts are linked to the incredible USDA database at http://www.plants.usda.gov/ . Simply click on them to get much more information such as pictures, distribution maps, invasiveness, nativity and uses.

Often it is possible to guess whether a plant is edible, medicinal, or poisonous simply by the family it is in. However, this is not always the case. One example is the Celery family (Apiaceae), which contains many vegetables and spices as well as some of the most poisonous plants in the world! Learning the scientific names of plants helps to aid certainty in identification. Many plants that are very different share the same common names such as the Eastern Hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) in the Pine family (Pinaceae) and the Poison Hemlock plant (Conium maculatum) in the Celery family.

Approximately 250,000-275,000 species of flowering plants have been named in the world. Scientists have grouped these into around 15,000 genera and those are divided into around 500 flowering plant families (Heywood, Brummitt, Culham, & Seberg, 2007). You will know something significant about the majority of plants that you see in the temperate world if you learn the top 30 families around you!!! Another approximately 50,000 species of plants that are precursors to the flowering ones have been named as well. These plants include Conifers, Ferns, Mosses, Hornworts, Liverworts and others.

i tend to select common names for families that are linked to the typic genus they are named after. i also tend to capitalize most parts of plant names. My reasoning is that the plants are just as important as people who always have their names capitalized. However, my name and the i that signify me are not capitalized in remembrance of the need for humbleness.

The world contains many thousands of edible plants (Facciola, 1998; Johnson, 1999; Stanford, 1934; Sturtevant & Hedrick, 1972). North America has at least 4,000 edible species of plants alone (Couplan, 1998). Many indigenous groups have traditionally made use of hundreds of local plants on the continuum between food and medicine (Moerman, 1998). 75% of the world’s calories come from only 12 plants (Groombridge & Jenkins, 2002, p. 41). The great proportion of all nutrients and calories come from Wheat (Triticum spp.), Corn (Zea mays), and Rice (Oryza spp.) (Cunningham, 2007, p. 189). Staples can vary from region to region. In the tropics Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), Cassava (Manihot esculenta), Sugar Cane (Saccharum officinarum) are staples. Barley (Hordeum vulgare), Oats (Avena sativa), Rye (Lolium sp.), Soybeans (Glycine max) and Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are staples of temperate places in the world. Drought tolerant crops like Millets (Panicum miliaceum, Eleusine coracana, Echinochloa esculenta, Pennisetum glaucum) and Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) are staples in Africa. The vast majority of foods come from very few crops but many groups from Asia to Africa and Latin America still makes use of hundreds of plants where they live (Groombridge & Jenkins, 2002, p. 45).

When picking wild plants make sure that you get the plants positively identified. Know what part to use (Leaves, Roots, Flowers, Fruits). Also know how to use (Fresh, Steamed, Sautéed, Tea, Infused or Tinctured) and what time of year to harvest. It is often easiest to start by going out with experienced people. A good guide is also essential (Brill & Dean, 1994; Duke & Foster, 1999; Horn, Duhl, Hemmerly, & Cathcart, 2005; Peterson, 1978). Take the time to know the few really toxic plants as much as choice edibles. Don’t pick by roadsides or other chemically intensive areas. If you only need the top then leave the roots of perennials. Don’t over harvest. Use all of your senses. Give thanks!!!

Thank you for all that have donated to the cause. i encourage everyone to donate as they are able ($50 suggested for the class). Your contributions whether monetary, commentary or energetic greatly help me continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education.

For the next class we will cover pages 1-3 and both inside covers of Botany In a Day 5th ed.

It will be posted around March 29th 2013

Below are items to think about/comment on…The comments box has a limited time window for data entry as one way to prevent spam.

If you write for too long a time then your comment may be rejected and won't be saved!!!

You may want to email longer commentary to me or write it elsewhere and then copy to the comment box! Thanks, marc


Why are you taking this class?

What are five plants you hold closely?

What food is ready for harvest around you right now?

What are a few plants blooming around you right now?

Please let me know your thoughts in general and anyway i can help this class serve you best.

Thanks, marc



Literature Cited

Brill, S., & Dean, E. (1994). Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not so Wild) Places. New York: Hearst Books.

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

Cunningham, W. P. S. (2007). Environmental Science: A Global Concern. (9th ed.). Dubuque, Iowa: McGraw-Hill.

Duke, J. A., & Foster, S. (1999). A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Of Eastern and Central North America (Peterson Field Guides) (1st ed.). New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Elpel, T. J. (2004). Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification (5th ed.). Pony, MT: HOPS Press.

Facciola, S. (1998). Cornucopia II: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Vista, CA: Kampong Publications.

Groombridge, B., & Jenkins, M. (2002). World Atlas of Biodiversity: Earth’s Living Resources Inthe 21st Century. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Heywood, V. H., Brummitt, R. K., Culham, A., & Seberg, O. (2007). Flowering Plant Families of the World (Revised.). Buffalo, NY; Richmond Hill, Ont.: Firefly Books.

Horn, D., Duhl, D., Hemmerly, T. E., & Cathcart, T. (Eds.). (2005). Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley, and the Southern Appalachians: The Official Field Guide of the Tennessee Native Plant Society. Edmonton, Canada: Lone Pine Pub.

Johnson, T. (1999). CRC Ethnobotany Desk Reference. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press.

Moerman, D. E. (1998). Native American Ethnobotany (1st ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press, Incorporated.

Peterson, L. (1978). A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Stanford, E. E. (1934). Economic Plants. New York, London: D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc.

Sturtevant, L. E., & Hedrick, U. P. (1972). Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World. New York: Dover Publications.


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