2021 Plant Talk 4: Botany in a Day Pages 14-24 5th ed, 15–22 6th ed.

Plant Talk 4: Botany in a Day 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 with this online class, expanding the botanical survey on the sanctuary land where i have an office, doing a bunch of gardening and working for the American Herbalists Guild, International Herb Symposium, Medicine’s from the Earth Conference, North Carolina Arboretum and United Plant Savers. Still on the search for Morel mushrooms (Morchella spp.) the most choice fungi of Spring. Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) is another second prize fungus people are also finding out in the woods. Have you noticed any interesting fungi out and about?

What’s Blooming

Since last class i have noticed the following things continuing or starting to bloom: Azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), Bachelor’s Buttons (Centaurea cyanus), Bellworts (Uvularia spp.), Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), Chokeberry (Aronia sp.), Clematis spp., Columbine (Aquilegia sp.), Cress (Barbarea sp.), Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne), Fern Leaf Phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida), Fire Pink (Silene virginica), Firethorn (Pyracantha sp.) Fleabane (Erigeron spp.), Forget me Not (Myosotis spp.), Fringe Tree (Chionanthus sp.), Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), Iris (Iris cristata and Iris spp.), Japanese Honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.), Lord and Ladies (Arum italicum), Lousewort (Pedicularis spp.), Mache (Valerianella sp.),  Phlox spp., Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), Plantain (Plantago spp.), Princess Tree (Paulownia tomenetosa),  Red Tip Photinia (Photinia sp.), Rhubarb (Rheum sp.), Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa), Spotted Geranium (Geranium maculatum), Stone Crop (Sedum ternatum) Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii), Trilliums (Trillium spp.), various Violets (Viola spp.), Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Vetches (Vicia spp.), Weigelia sp., Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Wild Comfrey (Cynoglossum virginianum), Wisteria (Wisteria spp.) and Yellow Archangel (Lamium galeobdolon). How many plants mentioned above do you have in your area or how many do you recognize by name? If you know most of these plants do you also know what families they belong to? What’s blooming around you? Do you have something to contribute to the list that is blooming now in your area? Any gaps in your knowledge are some opportunities to explore more! See the following photo album to see most of them as well as some other items of ethnobiological interest!


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, 2013; 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. One notably edible group is the Grass family (Poaceae) where most of our grains come from. Which members of the grass family do you regularly consume? Another major monocot food family is the Palm (Arecaceae) group from which we get Dates, Coconuts and the product of sometimes incredibly environmentally destructive practices known as Palm oil and Hearts of Palm as well as some other more minor crops (Balick & Beck, 1990; Bernal, Galeano, García, Olivares, & Cocomá, 2010; Craft, Riffle, & Zona, 2012; Ellison & Ellison, 2001; Haynes & McLaughlin, 2000; Mayfield, 2005; Pye & Bhattacharya, 2012; Sylvester & Avalos, 2009; Sylvester, Avalos, & Fernández, 2012; Van Wyk, 2005).

Members of the Onion genus Allium were formerly put in their own family the Alliaceae but now are in the Amaryllidaceae. The Day Lily (Hemerocallis fulva) from the Hemerocallidaceae is another edible monocot. However, many taxa 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 spp.). They are also in threat of overharvest and probably need to be more intentionally cultivated and wildcrafted as well (Bentrup, Chamberlain, & Kellerman, 2011; Chamberlain, Bush, Hammett, & Araman, 2002; L & Chamberlain, 2009; Rock, Beckage, & Gross, 2004). Concerns about sustainable ramp harvests have been expressed in various outlets from the Huffington Post to the Chicago Tribune and New York Times. NC State University and Purdue University have some good information on cultivation.

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 not to assume and go slow… i came across this interesting article on the oldest completely preserved lily discovered in Brazil that you mike like to check out.

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 younger 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 biggest. Each has around 9% 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 due to more time for evolution eh? Recent research and new fossils have pushed the origin of flowering plants back by 100 million years as well.

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 can see something similar courtesy of the US Botanic Garden linked here. 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 especially ones with five petaled flowers.

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 or fruit form (Heywood, Brummitt, Culham, & Seberg, 2007).  See both family names next to each other in the following breakdown.

The Brassicas (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, as well as strong tastes and smells. They also are known to potentially take up heavy metal pollution when present and some members are used intentionally in the process of phytoremediation due to this propensity (Anjum et al., 2012). Here is a link to my monograph of this all important group for foragers.

The Mints (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 can 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). Here is a link to my monograph for this very important family group.

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/Oenanthe spp.) (Schep, Slaughter, Becket, & Beasley, 2009; Vetter, 2004). Whenever working with this family one must be triply sure of positive identification! Sweet Cicelys (Osmorhiza spp.) are a favorite wild edible that can look like poison hemlock at times. i have turned up a little literature about this genus specifically (Lowry & Jones, 1984; Wen, Walck, & Yoo, 2002). Biscuitroots (Lomatium spp.) from the Western USA can also look like Poison Hemlocks that have dissected leaves i.e. (Conium spp.). Here is a link to my monograph of this fascinating group.

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 somewhat temperate Mimosa, Albizzia, and Chamaecrista genera amongst many others especially in the tropics. Here is a link to my monograph of this huge and diverse family group.

Elpel takes on the Lilies (Liliaceae) next. He alludes to how much the family has changed. This is a family with some foods but also some deadly poisonous members as mentioned above. 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 (Malvaceae) 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. Here's a link to the Malvaceae monograph under the plant families tab here at the website.

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 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 typically poisonous Ranunculaceae 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). It is also a family with quite a bit of taxonomic debate over the years which is possibly still a work in progress regarding the sub-family/tribe level of distinction (Potter et al., 2007). Here is a link to a Rosaceae monograph. What would you like to add about this fascinating family?

The Poaceae as stated above is a major food family. It is one of the largest families in the world and has a rather complicated taxonomy (Barker et al., 2001). Probably almost all the members could be used for their grain in a pinch. Gluten is a protein fraction contained only within some members native to Africa, the Middle East and Mediterranean as far as i know.

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 8th 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 uncommon or rare! Safety and conservation first! See a spirited discussion i and others had with a colleague about this on Facebook if you care to at the following link.


Please let me know your thoughts in general and any way 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, and/or energetically... Your contributions greatly help me continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education.

Thanks, marc

Literature Cited

Anjum, N. A., Ahmad, I., Pereira, M. E., Duarte, A. C., Umar, S., & Khan, N. A. (2012). The Plant Family Brassicaceae: Contribution Towards Phytoremediation. Springer.

Balick, M. J., & Beck, H. T. (1990). Useful Palms of the World. New York: Columbia University Press.

Barker, N. P., Clark, L. G., Davis, J. I., Duvall, M. R., Guala, G. F., Hsiao, C., … Spangler, R. E. (2001). Phylogeny and Subfamilial Classification of the Grasses (Poaceae). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 88(3), 373–457. https://doi.org/10.2307/3298585

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.

Bernal, R., Galeano, G., García, N., Olivares, I. L., & Cocomá, C. (2010). Uses and commercial prospects for the wine palm, Attalea butyracea, in Colombia. Ethnobotany Research & Applications, 8(0), 255–268.

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.

Craft, P., Riffle, R. L., & Zona, S. (2012). The Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms (2nd ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Ellison, D., & Ellison, A. (2001). Betrock’s Cultivated Palms of the World. Hollywood, FL: Betrocks Information Systems.

Elpel, T. (2013). Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification. (6th ed.). Pony, MT: HOPS Press, LLC.

Haynes, J., & McLaughlin, J. (2000). Edible palms and their uses. Miami: Univ. of Florida.

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.

Lowry, P. P., & Jones, A. G. (1984). Systematics of Osmorhiza Raf. (Apiaceae: Apioideae). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 71(4), 1128–1171. https://doi.org/10.2307/2399249

Mayfield, M. M. (2005). The Importance of Nearby Forest to Known and Potential Pollinators of Oil Palm ( Elaeis guineënsis Jacq.; Arecaceae) in Southern Costa Rica. Economic Botany, 59(2), 190–196.

Potter, D., Eriksson, T., Evans, R. C., Oh, S., Smedmark, J. E. E., Morgan, D. R., … Campbell, C. S. (2007). Phylogeny and classification of Rosaceae. Plant Systematics and Evolution, 266(1–2), 5–43. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00606-007-0539-9

Pye, O., & Bhattacharya, J. (Eds.). (2012). The Palm Oil Controversy in Southeast Asia: A Transnational Perspective. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Rock, J. H., Beckage, B., & Gross, L. J. (2004). Population recovery following differential harvesting of Allium tricoccum Ait. in the southern Appalachians. Biological Conservation, 116(2), 227–234. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3207(03)00193-9

Schep, L. J., Slaughter, R. J., Becket, G., & Beasley, D. M. G. (2009). Poisoning due to water hemlock. Clinical Toxicology, 47(4), 270–278. https://doi.org/10.1080/15563650902904332

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.

Sylvester, O., & Avalos, G. (2009). Illegal Palm Heart (Geonoma edulis) Harvest in Costa Rican National Parks: Patterns of Consumption and Extraction. Economic Botany, 63(2), 179. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12231-009-9081-8

Sylvester, O., Avalos, G., & Fernández, N. C. (2012). Notes on the ethnobotany of Costa Rica’s palms. Palms, 56(4), 190–201.

Van Wyk, B.-E. (2005). Food plants of the world: An illustrated guide. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Vetter, J. (2004). Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum L.). Food and Chemical Toxicology, 42(9), 1373–1382. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2004.04.009

Wen, J., Walck, J. L., & Yoo, K. O. (2002). Phylogenetic and Biogeographic Diversification in Osmorhiza (Apiaceae). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 89(3), 414–428.


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