2020 Plant Talk 3 Pages 4 – 13 in Botany in a Day (5th ed) Pages 5 – 14 in Botany in a Day (6th ed)

April 18, 2020

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 and around this time over the years include Alum Root (Heuchera spp.), American Plum (Prunus americana), Chocolate Vine (Akebia sp.), Barrenwort ( Epimedium spp.),  Bear Corn (Conopholis americana),  Bellworts (Uvularia spp.), Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium), Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spp.), Bluets (Houstonia sp.), Bridal Veil Spiraea (Spiraea prunifolia  var “Plena”), Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), Camas (Camassia scilloides),  Celadine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), Cherry Laurel (Prunus sp.), Cowslip (Primula veris), Deutzia gracilis var. “Nikko”, Dewberry (Rubus trivialis), Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata), Eastern Blue Eyed Mary (Collinsia verna), Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), Fleabane (Erigeron spp.), Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii), Honesty (Lunaria spp.), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Geranium spp. Hackberry (Celtis sp.), Jack/Jill in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), King’s Solomon Seal (Polygonatum kingianum),  Larkspur (Delphinium spp.), Lilac (Syringa sp.), Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), Little Brown Jugs (Hexastylis spp.), Lords and Ladies (Arum italicum), Creeping Mazus (Mazus reptans), Mulberry (Morus sp.), Oaks (Quercus spp.), Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), Pennywort (Obolaria virginica), Periwinkle (Vinca sp.), Mexican Anise tree (Illicium mexicanum), Pasque Flower, Pinkshell Azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi), Phlox (Phlox spp.), Primrose (Primula spp.), Princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa), Siberian Pea Shrub (Caragana arborescens), Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia), 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!

See this photo album entitled Spring Springing for a sampling of what’s typically on offer this time of year in the area around Asheville, NC and further afield within the state and other parts  of southern Appalachia.

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 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 Alliaria petiolata, Armoracia, Barbarea spp, Brassica spp. 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) weekly! A favorite cooked green of the Cherokee, Sochane (Rudbeckia laciniata) is out and about. 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.) which people have confused with Ramps before as well.

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 all those hundreds of 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. Interesting the decline in fossil fuel use recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Should make for some fascinating scientific observation of what the world could look like if we were to take such a reduction intentionally into our plans moving forward… People are seeing blue skies and far off mountain ranges for the first time in decades especially in Asia and of course are having the resulting health benefits because of such a reduction in pollution.

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 (Bubandt et al., 2017; Kawa, 2016). Elizabeth Kolbert (2014) has written a riveting book regarding this concept. The vast majority of every species that has ever lived had already perished before humans were a sparkle in the eye of creation. 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). That said i have steadily grown my own interest is such subtle beings and will include some resources here for folks that would like to explore more. One note on Algae is that they produce as much oxygen for us as forests like the Amazon that we can more readily see.

Some sources especially ones regarding ethnobotany treat the ferns and their allies along with lichens all together (Abbe, 1985, 1985; May, 1978; Phillips et al., 1980; Rogers, 2014).

Lichens have their own special literature as well (Bolton, 1972; Brodo et al., 2001; K. D. Casselman, 1994, 2001; K. L. Casselman, 2001; Gordon, 1980; Kappelle & Sipman, 1992; Lindsay, 1855; Lücking et al., 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 et al., 2000; Kimmerer, 2003; Martin, 2015; McKnight et al., 2013; Munch, 2006; Oshima & Kimura, 2017; Pope, 2016; Schenk, 1997; Söderström et al., 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 et al., 2014; Stewart & Rothwell, 2010; Stinchcomb, 2013; Taylor et al., 2009; Willis & McElwain, 2014; Xiang et al., 2000).


Ferns tend to intimidate folks for some reason myself included historically. One big reason may be because the difference between them can be more subtle than flowering plants. Relatively few ferns live in any given area of the temperate world. Only around 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. (Cobb et al., 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. 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 et al., 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 in New Zealand, the Andes and Japan (Abbe, 1985; 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 graduate school entrancde excamine known as 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. Here is a PDF focused on teaching botany to children in particular as i know that many folks are experiencing a lot of extra time with their littles all of a sudden due to the current pandemic. i also have developed a PDF of some favorite Audio/Visual resources for the study of botany as well.

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 on 5/2

Below are items to think about/comment on. Please leave information in the commentary under this class or alternatively write me directly at marc at botanyeveryday.com.

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? What are some of your favorites? What family do you consume the most from?

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. Even more important this year given the devastation of my in person teaching schedule due to the current pandemic.

Frank Cook’s legendary saying applies here…

 “Give what you can and receive what you need”

Thanks, marc

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