2013 Plant Talk 3 Pages 4-13

Bristle Cone Pine Forest

Plant Talk 3 Pages 4 – 13 in Botany in a Day

Greetings plant enthusiasts!

Thankful for the opportunity to bring another class to you! Especially mindful and heartful as Frank Cook’s mother Kaye Cook passed away recently. Such an amazingly strong woman in her own right as well as a fundamental part of Frank’s legacy as well. Wife for over 50 years, mother, grandmother and great inspiration in the work of Plants and Healers International.

She will be missed and always remembered by many…

Interesting that we will be releasing a film tribute to Frank in the coming weeks and months and Kaye’s story is now even more necessarily intertwined in various ways…Thankful to her for all of her days…

Botany in a Day Pages 4-13

Plant Evolution

The evolution of plants covered in the next few pages can verge from fascinating to overwhelming. Can anybody really conceive of what 300 million years looks like? Yet we are burning in 300 years petrochemical products that were generated millions of years ago by the deposition of ancient huge Horsetails (Equisetum spp.), Ferns, and Wolfpaws (Lycopodium spp). 300 million and 300 share the same denomination yet the order of magnitude difference is almost beyond human comprehension.

One potentially important lesson is that some plant groups have significantly more history, tenacity and adaptive ability on this earth than others. We are on the verge of the 6th great extinction in this era some term the anthropocene. The vast majority of everything that has ever lived has already perished. The last great extinction happened 65 million years ago when a big meteor hit the Yucatan peninsula. We have a lot to learn from some of the ancient beings that have survived so much.

After the botany overview in the text most people tend to skip over the single celled plants, lichens, ancient non vascular spore plants (Mosses, Hornworts and Liverworts) and vascular spore plants (Horsetails, Club Moss, Ferns). If anyone is interested in going deeper with Lichens, Mosses, Liverworts or Hornworts please tell me and i will get you in touch with good friend and teacher Luke Cannon and/or continue the conversation one on one. Paleobotany is a fascinating science that looks into the lineage of these plants and the evolution of others (Stewart & Rothwell, 2010; Taylor, Taylor, Krings, & Taylor, 2009).

Ferns tend to intimidate folks for some reason. Relatively few ferns live in any given area of the temperate world. Only 36 genera live in North America total (Cook, 2007). Some species such as Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) live all over the world. A couple small pocket references can unlock most of the ferns of the east (Evans, 2005; Hallowell, 2001). A couple other references will allow a more complete conception of Fern diversity in general (Cobb, 2005; Lellinger, 1985). In my research i have found at least one good resource for Costa Rican/Panamanian ferns as well (Lellinger, 1989). Fern taxonomy like several other botanical categories has undergone quite a reformation in recent years  (Kato, 1993; Smith et al., 2006). Only a few ferns in general are safe for consumption and traditionally eaten and even some of those are in question. The Yahoo Forage Ahead group has exhaustive information on this topic as well as many things wild edible… http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/ForageAhead/ Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) which only naturally grow in the Northeast, Midwest and Canada/Alaska, seem to be the most prime.

Conifers represent a very accessible group to approach. Only 630 total species have been described in the whole world (Groombridge & Jenkins, 2002, p. 236). However, breeders have developed many varieties with dramatic results in increased diversity. Most places in the temperate world have less than ten species of native conifers. Landscape varieties are often easy to identify to genus, though to species can be difficult. A number of great references exist to help with teasing apart the many conifer types (Eckenwalder, 2009; Farjon, 2008, 2010). Conifers are much older than flowering plants. Their range has also been much diminished from a former wider distribution. They tend to live in harsher conditions than the flowering trees as well. Only a few families represent the range of conifer diversity including the Pinaceae, Cupressaceae, Taxaceae, and interestingly the monotypic Gingkoaceae. The first two have the lion’s share of the species.

The flowering plants are relatively young compared to the other plant groups. Yet as can be seen on page 13 of Botany in a Day they contain the vast majority of species now growing on the planet (Elpel, 2004). Therefore, they will be the main focus of our studies this year.

Elpel points out a couple other very useful resources for this exploration of the plant world Wildflowers of North America by Frank Venning (1984) and  Plant Identification Terminology by James G. Harris (2001). Consider purchasing these books as well if you are able. Learning terminology is an incremental process. Flash cards help some. A number of good online resources exist with card sets already made and the ability to generate others. Quizlet is a favorite I have explored so far http://quizlet.com/subject/botany/  Ultimately some form of repetition will be necessary to cement certain words into your vocabulary. One bonus is that by learning many of these words you may better understand the roots of romance languages. You can thereby learn Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese easier and may do better on the GRE as well if that is of interest.

On page 12 one can see a way to conceptualize how plants fit into the greater classification of other biological organisms. The use of domains has overtaken kingdoms as the ultimate level of classification. The main point of this for me is how humbling it is to be a small part of one domain while seeing that organisms we commonly lump together as microbes have two whole domains to themselves.

For the next class we will cover the pages 14-24 which describe the two major classes of flowering plants and patterns of seven major plant families of the world.

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.

Take a notebook with you and record what distinguishes the blooming plants you see from each other.

Take the quiz on page 24

Check out one of the websites i mentioned in the introduction to this class and pick up an interesting fact or two.

Most people in the world get the vast majority of their food from around 30 plants. An indigenous culture may easily make use of over 150 species of plants for food throughout the year. How many different plants do you consume annually?

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


Praises to all that have donated to the cause. i encourage everyone to donate as they are able. Your contributions greatly help me continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education.

Thanks, marc

Literature Cited

Cobb, B. L. (2005). A Field Guide to Ferns and Their Related Families: Northeastern and Central North America / Farnsworth, Elizabeth. The Peterson field guide series;. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Eckenwalder, J. E. (2009). Conifers of the world: the complete reference. Portland: Timber Press.

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

Evans, A. M. (2005). Ferns & Fern Allies of the Smokies. Gatlinburg, Tenn.: Great Smoky Mountains Association.

Farjon, A. (2008). A natural history of conifers. Portland, Or.: Timber Press.

Farjon, A. (2010). A handbook of the world’s conifers. Leiden; Boston: Brill.

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

Hallowell, A. C. (2001). Fern Finder: A Guide to Native Ferns of Central and Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. Rochester, NY: Nature Study Guild Publihers.

Harris, J., & Harris, M. (2001). Plant Identification Terminology (2nd ed.). Spring Lake, Utah: Spring Lake Publishing.

Kato, M. (1993). Biogeography of Ferns: Dispersal and Vicariance. Journal of Biogeography, 20(3), 265–274.

Lellinger, D. B. (1985). A Field Manual of the Ferns & Fern-Allies of the United States & Canada. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Lellinger, D. B. (1989). The Ferns and Fern-Allies of Costa Rica, Panama, and the Chocó. Washington, D.C.: American Fern Society.

Smith, A. R., Pryer, K. M., Schuettpelz, E., Korall, P., Schneider, H., & Wolf, P. G. (2006). A Classification for Extant Ferns. Taxon, 55(3), 705. doi:10.2307/25065646

Stewart, W. N., & Rothwell, G. W. (2010). Paleobotany and the Evolution of Plants (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, T. N., Taylor, E. L., Krings, M., & Taylor, T. N. (2009). Paleobotany: the biology and evolution of fossil plants. Amsterdam; Boston: Academic Press.

Venning, F. D. (1984). Wildflowers of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. The Golden field guide series. New York: Golden Press.


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