2019 Plant Talk 3: Pages 4 – 13 in Botany in a Day (5th ed) Pages 5 – 14 in Botany in a Day (6th ed)

Plant Talk 3 Pages 4 – 13 in Botany in a Day (5th ed) Pages 5 – 14 in Botany in a Day (6th ed)

Greetings plant enthusiasts!

What’s blooming

Things, i have noticed blooming recently include Barrenwort ( Epimedium spp.),  Bear Corn (Conopholis americana),  Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium), Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spp.), Bridal Veil Spiraea (Spiraea prunifolia  var “Plena”),  Celadine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), Cowslip (Primula veris), Deutzia gracilis var. “Nikko”, Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata), Fleabane (Erigeron spp.), Honesty (Lunaria spp.), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Lily of the Valley (Convallaria sp.), Little Brown Jugs (Hexastylis spp.), Mazus reptans, Periwinkle (Vinca sp.), Mexican Anise tree (Illicium mexicanum), Pinkshell Azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi), Princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa), Stock (Matthiola spp.), Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens), Trillium spp., Trout Lily (Erythronium sp.), Tulipa spp., Variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonum odoratum var. odoratum), Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), and Wisteria sp.

How about you? How many of these plants above do you recognize? How many do you know the family of? Take some time to look one up in Botany in a Day and learn something new this way!

What’s ready to eat

Brassicaceae members Garlic Mustard and Honesty from the list above are invasive and edible. Native favorite foods Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and Morels (Morchella spp.) are out. Ramps in particular often lead me to think about ethical foraging. i just came across a great article that addresses this concern. It is important to realize both Ramps and Morels have potentially poisonous lookalikes.

The greens abound currently! Other great foods from the Brassicaceae are available including Armoracia, Barbarea verna, Cardamine spp., and Lepidium spp. Chickweeds (Stellaria spp. and Cerastium spp.) are still around but on their way out. Violets (Viola spp.) are in full effect and i continue to eat Wild Onions (Allium vineale) daily! A favorite cooked green of the Cherokee, Sochane (Rudbeckia laciniata) is starting to emerge. Hostas are also emerging which are considered edible according to a number of sources.  They are eaten traditionally regarding some wild species in Japan (Calavan, 1972; Carter, 2012; Fern, 2008; Hollis, 2011; Hosking & Samuels, 2015; Kelley, 2014). What’s your take, knowledge, experience with eating Hostas? Important to realize that when emerging they greatly resemble the potentially DEADLY but mostly found in the wild False Hellebore (Veratrum spp).

Botany in a Day Pages 4-13

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 in the midst of the 6th great extinction that has been witnessed by the earth. Some people term it the Anthropocene because of the vast influences of humans on the earth’s biochemical systems. Elizabeth Kolbert (2014) has written a fascinating book regarding this concept. The vast majority of everything that has ever lived has already perished. The last great extinction happened 65 million years ago when a giant asteroid 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.

Some sources especially ones regarding ethnobotany treat the ferns and their allies along with lichens all together (Abbe, 1985; May, 1978; Mickel, 1979; Phillips, Grant, & Rix, 1980; Rogers, 2014; Vitt, Marsh, Bovey, & more, 2007).

Lichens have their own special literature as well (Bolton, 1972; Brodo, Sharnoff, & Sharnoff, 2001; K. D. Casselman, 1994, 2001; K. L. Casselman, 2001; Gordon, 1980; Kappelle & Sipman, 1992; Lindsay, 1855; Lücking, Chaves, Sipman, Umaña, & Aptroot, 2008; McClure, 1992, 1992; McCune, 2009, 2009; McGrath, 1977; Nunez-Zapata, 2015; Pope, 2005; Purvis, 2000; Sérusiaux, 1996; Umaña & Sipman, 2002; Walewski, 2007).

i am less familiar with the moss, liverwort, hornwort literature (Churchill, Griffin, & Muñoz, 2000; Kimmerer, 2003; Martin, 2015; McKnight, Rohrer, Ward, Perdrizet, & more, 2013; Munch, 2006; Oshima & Kimura, 2017; Pope, 2016; Schenk, 1997; Söderström, Hagborg, von Konrat, & Renner, 2008; Welch & Crum, 1959).

Paleobotany is a fascinating science that looks into the lineage of these plants and the evolution of others (Armstrong, 2015; Cleal & Thomas, 2009; Graham, 1996; Niklas, 2016; Stevens, Montiel, & Raven, 2014; Stewart & Rothwell, 2010; Stinchcomb, 2013; Taylor, Taylor, & Krings, 2009; Willis & McElwain, 2014; Xiang, Soltis, Soltis, Manchester, & Crawford, 2000).


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, Farnsworth, & Lowe, 2005; Olsen & Steffen, 2015; Vitt et al., 2007; Walewski, 2016; Wherry, 1995). i have found quite a few good resources for Costa Rican/Panamanian and by extension Central American ferns as well in my research (Barrington, 1993, 2012; Grayum & Churchill, 1987; Kluge, 2006; Lellinger, 1977, 1989a, 1989b, 2003; Rojas, 1999). i have collected a few for Jamaica in particular and the Caribbean more broadly as well (Kelly, 1985; Newton & Healey, 1989; Proctor, 1953, 1961, 1984). Florida also has a number of guides to the ferns (Long & Lakela, 1971; Nelson, 2000; Small, 1931) as does Hawaii (Bohm, 2009; Palmer, 2008; Valier, 1995).

Fern taxonomy like several other botanical categories has undergone quite a reformation in recent years  (Kato, 1993; Lellinger, 2002; Schuettpelz & Pryer, 2007; A. R. Smith et al., 2006).

Due to their aesthetic beauty and growth in the shade ferns are a popular subject for cultivation (Dunk, 1983, 1994; Hoshizaki, 1975; Hoshizaki & Moran, 2001; Mickel, 2003; Olsen, 2007; Olsen & Steffen, 2015).

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. Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) which only naturally grow in the Northeast, Midwest and Canada/Alaska, seems to be the most prime. Bracken fern mentioned above has been eaten all over the world but has been known for decades to potentially cause cancer (Fenwick, 1989; Pamukcu, Yalçiner, Hatcher, & Bryan, 1980; B. L. Smith et al., 1994). This effect may even extend to the consumption of milk from cows that have grazed on Brackens. However, there is some question if part of this effect is immunosuppression versus the pure carcinogenic nature or various compounds (Latorre et al., 2009). Ferns also have an enzyme called thiaminase that breaks down vitamin B12 and therefore should always be cooked in order to deactivate this anti-nutrient.

According to a conversation i had with Frank Cook, he took note of much fern eating by people in New Zealand in particular. Fern eating is popular in Japan as well. i have found a little information on the ethnobotany of ferns including in New Zealand, the Andes and Japan (Abbe, 1985; Franquemont, 2012; Lellinger, 2002; May, 1978; Rogers, 2014; Shawcross, 1967; Tryon, 1959).


Conifers represent a very accessible group to approach. Only around 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 majority of conifer diversity including the Cupressaceae, Pinaceae, Podocarpaceae, Taxaceae, and interestingly the monotypic Gingkoaceae. The first two have the lion’s share of the species. A few other more southern and Asian families also fall in the conifer group including the Araucariaceae, Cephalotaxaceae, Cycadaceae, Ephedraceae, Sciadopityaceae, and the Zamiaceae.

Flowering Plants

The flowering plants are relatively young compared to the other plant groups. Yet as can be seen on page 13/14 of Botany in a Day they contain the vast majority of species now growing on the planet (Elpel, 2004/2013). Therefore, they will be the main focus of our studies this year. We will revisit the conifers more in depth during the class about woody plants as well.

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 and mentioned last class as well 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. See the resources section for a list of other electronic resources that may be available for further study.

On page 12/13 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(5th ed) 15-22(6th ed.) which describe the two major classes of flowering plants and patterns of seven major plant families of the world. It will be posted around 5/4

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 (5th ed.) This is omitted in the 6th ed.

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

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

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Carter, A. (2012, May 7). Eating hostas. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from Of Plums and Pignuts website: https://scottishforestgarden.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/hostas/

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