2014 Plant Talk 4 Pages 14-24 (5th ed.) 15-22 (6th ed.)

Hello plant  enthusiasts!

Wow is spring ever springing in southern Appalachia…i have been busy as a bee teaching classes, doing botanical surveying of various properties, working for Plants and Healers International and hiking with my sweetie. Still on the search for Morel Mushrooms (Morchella spp.) the most choice  fungi of Spring.

Recently i noticed Bleeding Heart (Dicentra sp.), Iris (Iris cristata and Iris spp.), Azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), Fire Pink (Silene virginica), Honesty (Lunaria sp.), Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), Currants (Ribes spp.) various Violets (Viola spp.) and Trilliums (Trillium spp.) all blooming. What’s blooming around you?

Botany in a Day Pages 14-24 5th ed, 15–22 6th ed.

Classes of Flowering Plants

             The monocots and dicots are a big separation amongst the flowering plants. Elpel does a great job describing their distinctiveness. Go out in nature and try to figure out which plants are monocots now that you have a bunch of traits to tell them apart. Monocots represent 1/5-1/4 of all flowering plants in the world (Elpel, 2004; Spears, 2006). What is the ratio around you at this time of year?

The exception rather than the rule is for monocots to be edible. Members of the Onion genus Allium formerly put in their own family the Alliaceae and Day Lily (Hemerocallis fulva) from the Hemerocallidaceae are a few edible members. However, many members from the monocots are deadly poisonous. Even the Day lily mentioned above that has been consumed for thousands of years in Asia can cause intestinal upset in a small percentage of people. The devil is in the details! Ramps (Allium tricoccum) which are popular in Appalachia this time of year look very similar to the deadly Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis). They are also in threat of overharvest and probably need to be more intentionally cultivated than wildcrafted as well (Bentrup, Chamberlain, & Kellerman, 2011; Chamberlain, Bush, Hammett, & Araman, 2002; L & Chamberlain, 2009).

The Grass family (Poaceae) is also in the monocot group and one of the most important food families in the world! Which members of the grass family do you regularly consume? What other Monocot foods can you think of off-hand or by researching? There are certainly some other important ones out there though the poisonous nature of many members begs one to not assume and go slow…

On page 15 in the 5th ed. Elpel explores the idea of floral evolution. This happens on page 17 in the 6th ed. The basic idea is that plants started with many separate parts in their flowers i.e. Magnolias (Magnoliaceae) and Buttercups (Ranunculaceae). Plants have evolved over time to a fusion and modification of parts that can be seen in young families like the Orchids (Orchidaceae) and Asters (Asteraceae). Interesting that these are two of the youngest families in the world and yet they are also the bigges. Each has close to 10% of the total number of global flowering plant species! Why do you think this is? Seems intuitive that the oldest families would have the most members eh?

On page 16 in the 5th ed. and 19 in the 6th ed. Thomas gives an overview of the plant family concept. i would only qualify page 16 in the 5th ed. by saying that we have more like 150-200 flowering plant families in the temperate world rather than the 100 that Elpel refers to. On pg 16 in the 6th ed. Thomas has added a beautiful family tree that is very helpful in visualizing the evolutionary history of the flowering plants. You will surely recognize many orders shown here by their common names already. Page 18 in the 6th edition looks more in depth into the fusion of carpels described in brief on the inside front cover of all versions. Understanding the differences here can take a bit of time but is very helpful in distinguishing between different closely related or similar looking families.

Seven-Eight Major Families Pages 17-23 5th ed 20-21 6th ed.

           The last two versions of Botany in a Day diverge quite a bit in treating seven to eight major families that together hold about one in six of all flowering plants. The older version has a more in depth treatment which is nonetheless mostly repeated in the family descriptions later in the text. The new version goes off of a deck of cards that Thomas designed which can be very helpful in remembering family patterns. Thomas also substitutes the  Grass family and Rose family in the 6th ed for the Mallow family featured in the 5th ed.

Several families including most of the ones covered here can still be referred to properly by their old names which just end in ae and often are linked to flower form (Heywood, Brummitt, Culham, & Seberg, 2007).  See both family names next to each other in the following break down.

The Brassica family (Brassicaceae/Cruciferae) are very prolific and represent one of the most choice and nutritious families for greens in the temperate world. They are relatively easy to know due to distinctive four petaled flowers, different sized stamens distinctive tastes and smells.

The Mint family (Lamiaceae/Labiatae) are probably one of the easiest families to get to know and also one of the most useful to people and insects. However, i would add the Coffee family (Rubiaceae) and Nettle family (Urticaceae) to the list of families that have square stems as well as other families in the Mint order (Lamiales). These order mates of Mint include the Verbena family (Verbenaceae) and the Mullein family (Scrophulariaceae).

The Celery family (Apiaceae/Umbelliferae) is very distinctive for their compound umbels. This family is also famous for being the home of many edible and medicinal plants. However, it also contains some of the most poisonous plants in the world including Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) and Water Hemlocks (Cicuta spp.)! Whenever working with this family one must be doubly sure of positive identification!

The Pea family (Fabaceae/Leguminosae) tends to have very distinctive flowers as described and illustrated by Elpel. i would point out that in the Southern hemisphere where most members grow they sometimes segregate the family into three including the Fabaceae, Mimosaceae, and Caesalpiniaceae. Also this family has grown and is now considered to have over 700 genera and 19,000 species (Heywood et al., 2007; Spears, 2006). Over 30 tribes are now recognized and more than 20% of species in the family fall within the two genera Astragalus and Acacia alone! Also not all Pea family members have the typical banner, wings and keel as demonstrated by the Mimosa and Albizzia genera amongst many others.

Elpel takes on the Lily family (Liliaceae) next. He alludes to how much the family has changed. This is a family with some foods but also some deadly poisonous members. Look under the plant families tab of the Botany Every Day website for an updated treatment of how this family is now characterized and ethnobotanical uses. The 6th edition of Botany in a Day also does a good job of describing the dissection of this formerly lumped together grouping.

The Mallow family (Malavaceae) has some of the most distinct flowers in the world. Therefore, this is a very easy family to ID when blooming. It is also a rather gentle family in relation to toxicity. i take some exception that of over 1,500 species that Cotton is the only one with toxic properties, but i also have not seen any information on other toxic ones yet. Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is not a type of Hibiscus as Elpel states in the 5th ed.

The Asteraceae/Compositae is a hugely humbling family. Frank Cook was fond of saying that 1 in 9 plants in North America are from this family (Elpel & Cook, 2006). A less flattering way to consider them is the Darn Yellow Composites (DYC’s). The flowers from this family are very distinct and well worth slowing down to appreciate with a magnifying loupe. Check out the monograph under the plant families tab for a more complete treatment of what this diverse group brings to the table.

The Rose Family (Rosaceae) is the number one family for temperate fruit and rather easy to identify in tree and shrubby forms. Smaller plants in the family can sometimes be confused with members of the toxic buttercup family. This is a good family to learn about the phenomenon of stipules (leaf like appendages occurring where the leaf petiole meets the main stem)

The Grass family (Poaceae) as stated above is a major food family. Probably almost all the members could be used for their grain in a pinch. Gluten is a protein fraction only within some members native to Africa, the Middle East and Mediterranean.

The last page from this class in the 5th ed. is a little quiz. How’d ya do? What if anything was confusing for you? Thomas substitutes a description of how and why scientific names change in the 6th ed. It is important not to get too stuck on names staying the same. Frank Cook was fond of saying that knowledge is a wave and always changing. We just have to ride it the best way we can. That said we are probably getting closer and closer to a set in place system with the advent of genetic studies overlaying the  work of morphologists who have formerly classified everything based mostly on fruit and flower types.

The next class will be posted around May 10th and will cover the pages 25-36 5th ed and 23-35 6th ed.

These are the keys that Elpel uses to put plants into their respective families. It might be easy to be overwhelmed by the density of information on these pages. Slowly slowly….Just glance over it periodically over the next couple of weeks rather than try to absorb it all right away. See if you can get some major patterns to stick.

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.

-     Read the descriptions both in the reference section of Botany in a Day and under the Plant Families tab at this website for the 7/8 plant families covered in the primer.

-     Go around and try to find as many monocots as you can.

-     Make a meal including some wild foods and tell me/us what you decided to put in it. Only pick things that you can absolutely positively identify and know for certain not to be rare! Safety and conservation first! You can see a spirited discussion i and others had about this with a colleague on Facebook at the following link.


-     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 financially, commentarily, or energetically... Your contributions greatly help me continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education.

Thanks, marc

Literature Cited

Bentrup, G., Chamberlain, J., & Kellerman, T. (2011). Using GIS-based suitability assessments to identify appropriate forest habitat for edible forests Products: opportunities to forest farm ramps (Allium tricoccum). In Agroforestry: A Profitable Land Use.

Chamberlain, J. L., Bush, R. J., Hammett, A. L., & Araman, P. A. (2002). Eastern National Forests: Managing for Nontimber Products. Journal of Forestry, 100(1), 8–14.

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

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

L, B. G., & Chamberlain, J. L. (2009). Sustainable Production of Wood and Non-wood Forest Products: Proceedings of the IUFRO Division 5 Research Groups 5.11 and 5.12, Rotorua, New Zealand, March 11-12, 2003. DIANE Publishing Inc.

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.



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