2023 Plant Talk 1: Introduction

March 18, 2023

Hey plant enthusiasts! Happy almost spring in the northern hemisphere or in the southern hemisphere happy fall!

Excited to be starting this year’s class near the beginning of our season for rebirth and renewal or conversely in the south of storing up and letting go. Here we have a chance to rekindle or increase our passion for the natural world and plants in particular. This is also an opportunity to collaboratively add to our collective pool of botanical knowledge. This knowledge is a crucial piece to any future sustainability as well as a whole lot of fun when employed appropriately. Grateful you are choosing to spend some of your time with us!

The text for this class is Botany in a Day 6th ed. by Thomas Elpel (2013). This handy resource covers over 100 families and 1000 genera of plants. The majority of all the common plants and many uncommon ones of the northern temperate places are encompassed at least at the genus and family level. Near the end of this year we will discuss further which families are not covered. The most recent edition has more information and an updated classification reflecting a lot of the changes that have occurred over the last ten to fifteen years. Botany in a Day now mostly conforms with the updates wrought by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) (Chase & Reveal, 2009; Group, 2009; Haston, Richardson, Stevens, Chase, & Harris, 2009; The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, 2016).

You might want to upgrade and pass along your 5th edition (2004) to some person or organization just beginning their botanical journeying. However, the fifth edition will still be serviceable if you find it to be necessary as your textbook for this course. Many other resources are also cited as the classes are posted to prompt and inspire further study and dependability of information.

The online class here is a continuation of a course Frank Cook offered through email for 9 years. Frank passed away over 13 and a half years ago and i have picked up the torch while also bringing this class to a website format. i strive to continue the work of Frank in a proactive way, honoring his past contributions, current inspiration and the evolving needs of our community of plant people. More on Frank can be found under the About Us tab on this website and at www.plantsandhealers.org. The support of numerous friends has allowed both Frank’s work and my own work to continue. Speaking of friends, i tend to capitalize most parts of plant names. My reasoning is that the plants are just as important as people who always have their names capitalized. However, my name and the i that signify me are not capitalized in remembrance of the need for humbleness.

A complimentary and very active Facebook group by the name Botany Everyday has grown to over 19,000 people from around the world! Oh, Life In The Modern Age… (LITMA) for short. Currently photo albums from each of the later classes will still be posted to Facebook. i will be working to move them to a more open platform like Flickr as time goes on and assistance from apprentices is made available. i have spent many hundreds of  hours of my life organizing and annotating them already and to replicate this without help would be very painful for me. Speaking of pictures, here is a photo album from this time of year, where i live outside Asheville, NC. Would love to see some of your nice and clear pictures too!

7Song, the great Northeastern botanical and herbal educator has contributed quite a bit to the Facebook group over time in particular. 7Song has formally instructed many folks who are now considered amazing teachers and authors in their own right including the afore mentioned Frank Cook, as well as Juliet Blankespoor and Corey Pine Shane among others. 7Song and i have mostly interacted with each other on plant walks at the annual National Rainbow Gatherings held in a National Forest in a different state each year around July 4th and at various conferences around the USA and Costa Rica. Further info on the Rainbow Gathering can be found at the following website www.welcomehome.org. Plant walks happen at Rainbow almost every day. All classes at Rainbow are also offered on a voluntary basis. This is one of the best possible chances to learn botany intensively for free. This year it will be held somewhere in New England.

Our Role of Engagement in this Adventure and the Power of Intention!

i encourage your direct participation in this endeavor. What’s going on around you? The more you read, follow the suggested exercises and provide feedback, the more we will all learn together. Makes me think of Mary Oliver’s poem Instructions for a Life:

Pay attention, Be astonished, Tell about it

We are all busy by default in today’s society. So, feel free to come and goes as needed. Know that the world of botany is always there to explore further. A lot of information is offered. Receive what intrigues you and leave the rest…

However, please decide now what type of commitment you can bring to this class. Try to honor that commitment by reading, reviewing, reflecting and getting out in nature. Pick at least one place that you will visit regularly, (weekly to at least monthly). There you will witness the cycling of the seasons in a conscious and observant way. Pick a few places if possible that represent different ecotypes which you can visit seasonally. Try to read the posts and suggested exercises section of text as much as possible. Write to me of your intentions. This will help secure your commitment and also give me a sense of who is on the journey this year.

My intentions for this year are to integrate Frank’s commentary from past classes more, add more plant family monographs under the Plant Families tab and cover new categories of ethnobotanical/ecological interest in the classes including European plants, Spiritual employment of  plants, Wetland and Carnivorous groups as well as more information and photos for other classes especially featuring a deep expansion of the Neotropical botany class.

General Information

All identified species have a distinct two part scientific name that is used by botanists all over the world. The first part is the genus or generic name. The second part is the species or specific name. The genus is always capitalized and the species is not. Both names are usually underlined or italicized. i will try when possible to link the scientific names mentioned to the incredible database hosted by the United States Department of Agriculture http://plants.usda.gov/java/ An example is (Daucus carota). This is the name for the cultivated carrot. The USDA database hosts a plethora of information including pictures, distribution maps, invasiveness, nativity, habitat and some uses. Unfortunately, their taxonomic recognition can be out of date at the family and genus level. Intriguingly, it is incredibly granular at the sub-species and variety level.

Plants that share a genus name are similar but often differ in leaf shape, size, habitat, color, palatability or other characteristics. Plants that have the same species name often look almost exactly the same but may still look rather different due to selective breeding. (Daucus carota) is also the name for the wild plant known as Queen Anne’s Lace.

Modern family names for plants take part of the name of a typical genus in the family and then add aceae to the ending. For example, the name of the Celery (Apium graveolens) family is Apiaceae. i tend to select common names for families that are linked to the typic genus they are named after.

In the notations below sp. = one species and spp. = multiple species of the same genus and neither is capitalized or italicized. Often it is possible to guess whether a plant is edible, medicinal, or poisonous simply by the family it is in. However, this is not always the case. One example is the Celery family mentioned above which contains many vegetables and spices as well as some of the most poisonous plants in the world! Learning the scientific names of plants helps to aid certainty in identification. Many plants that are very different share the same common names such as the Eastern Hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) in the Pine family (Pinaceae) and the deadly Poison Hemlock plant (Conium maculatum) in the Celery family.

Approximately 350,000 species of flowering plants have been named in the world with hundreds of thousands of synonyms for those names and new species being described every year. Scientists have grouped these into around 15,000 genera and those are divided into around 400+ flowering  plant families. The website www.worldfloraonline.org and a sister site that i find easier to use but is a bit more dated www.plantlist.org are good global authorities of the current scientific consensus on classification delineation. Another approximately 35,000 species and 200+ families of plants that are precursors to the flowering ones have been named as well. These plants include Conifers, Ferns, Mosses, Hornworts, Liverworts and others.

ImportantlyYou will know something significant about the majority of plants that you commonly see in the temperate world if you learn the top 30 families around you!!!

In southern Appalachia where i spend most of my time a profusion of plants have been blooming for a bit or are starting to bloom including Asian Magnolias (Magnolia spp.), Bluets (Houstonia sp.), Daffodils (Narcissus spp.), Bridal Veil Spiraea (Spiraea prunifolium),  Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles sp.) Forsythia sp. Toothwort-Cresses (Dentaria/ Cardamine  spp.), Camellia spp., Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.), Grape Hyacinth (Muscari sp.), Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), Apricots/Cherries/Plums (Prunus spp.), Pears (Pyrus spp.), Periwinkle (Vinca sp.), Poor Person’s pepper (Lepidium  sp.), Ragwort (Packera aurea), Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum), Violets (Viola spp.) and more. Unfortunately many of them are going to get hammered by a 18 degree temp and strong winds this weekend. This will be some of the coldest weather all winter happening at this late date in March around here and makes me think of the climate intensity that as time moves on we are bound to know. What plants have you noticed recently?

The world contains many thousands of edible plants (Facciola, 1998; Fern, 2000; Mabberley, 2017; Sturtevant & Hedrick, 1972; Wiersema & León, 2013). North America has at least 4,000 edible species of plants alone (Couplan, 1998). Many Indigenous groups have a tradition of use of hundreds of local plants on the continuum between food and medicine (Moerman, 1998). Yet, 75% of the world’s calories come from only 12 plants (Groombridge & Jenkins, 2002, p. 41). The great proportion of all nutrients and calories come from Wheat (Triticum spp.), Corn (Zea mays) and Rice (Oryza spp.) (Cunningham, 2007, p. 189). Staples can vary from region to region. In the tropics Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), Cassava (Manihot esculenta) and Sugar Cane (Saccharum officinarum) are staples. Barley (Hordeum vulgare), Oats (Avena sativa), Rye (Lolium sp.), Soybeans (Glycine max) and Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are staples of temperate places in the world. Drought tolerant crops like Millets (Panicum miliaceum, Eleusine coracana, Echinochloa esculenta, Pennisetum glaucum) and Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) are staples in Africa.

The vast majority of foods come from very few crops but many groups from Asia to Africa and Latin America still have fairly recent to current use of hundreds of plants on the spectrum from food to medicine where they live (Bletter, 2007; Burkill, 2004; Bussmann & Sharon, 2006; Duke, Bogenschutz-Godwin, & Ottesen, 2009; García-Serrano & Del Monte, 2004; Hadjichambis et al., 2008; Kang, Łuczaj, Ye, Zhang, & Kang, 2012; Kidane, Maesen, Asfaw, Sosef, & Andel, 2015; Łuczaj, 2012; Łuczaj, Dolina, Fressel, & Perković, 2014; Mabberley, 2017; Pardo-de-Santayana, Pieroni, & Puri, 2010; Rivera et al., 2007; Sánchez-Mata & Tardío, 2016; Shiu-ying, 2006)

When picking wild plants make sure that you get the plants positively identified. The classic saying is “When in Doubt Leave it Out” Know what part to use (Fruits, Flowers, Leaves, Roots, Shoots). Also know how to use (Fresh, Steamed, Sautéed, Tea, Infused or Tinctured) and what time of year to harvest. It is often easiest to start by going out with experienced people. Green Deane is one of the most well-known foragers in the USA and he has a list of other foraging instructors from around the country at his website as well as a lot of good videos. A good guide is also essential. Cited here are a few sources for the east coast of the USA but every region has their own (Brill & Dean, 1994; Duke & Foster, 1999; Horn, Duhl, Hemmerly, & Cathcart, 2005; Peterson, 1978). Good books are typically found pretty easily by sellers online. However, you can look under the reading lists in the linked suggested reading part of the resources section if you want more detailed ideas from the website here. Take the time to know the few really TOXIC plants as much as choice edibles! Don’t pick by roadsides or other potentially dangerous chemical laden areas. If you only need the top then leave the roots of perennials. Don’t over harvest, use all of your senses and give thanks!!!

Thank you for all that have donated to the cause. i encourage everyone to donate as they are able ($100 suggested for the nine month length of the class). Your contributions whether monetary, commentary or energetic greatly help me continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education. This class continues by donation in the spirit of Frank but the benefit of my $70,000 academic education, let alone the cost of the many thousands of hours of personal travel and experience is reflected here. Please be as generous as possible and in the words of Frank “Give what you can receive what you need”

For the next class we will cover pages 1-3 and both inside covers of the text Botany In a Day. It will be posted on March 25th.

Below are items to think about/comment on…You can put them in the box below or send me an email at marc@botanyeveryday.com

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Thanks, marc

Why are you taking this class?

What are five plants you hold closely?

What food is ready for harvest around you right now?

What are a few plants blooming around you right now?

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

Thanks, marc

Literature Cited

Bletter, N. (2007). A quantitative synthesis of the medicinal ethnobotany of the Malinké of Mali and the Asháninka of Peru, with a new theoretical framework. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 3, 36. https://doi.org/10.1186/1746-4269-3-36

Brill, S., & Dean, E. (1994). Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not so Wild) Places. New York: Hearst Books.

Burkill, H. M. (2004). Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa: Volume 6 General Index (2nd ed., Vol. 6).

Bussmann, R. W., & Sharon, D. (2006). Traditional medicinal plant use in Northern Peru: tracking two thousand years of healing culture. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 2, 47. https://doi.org/10.1186/1746-4269-2-47

Chase, M. W., & Reveal, J. L. (2009). A phylogenetic classification of the land plants to accompany APG III. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 161(2), 122–127. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.01002.x

Duke, J. A., Bogenschutz-Godwin, M. J., & Ottesen, A. R. (2009). Duke’s handbook of medicinal plants of Latin America. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis.

Duke, J. A., & Foster, S. (1999). A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Of Eastern and Central North America (Peterson Field Guides) (1st ed.). New York: Houghton Mifflin.

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

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

Facciola, S. (1998). Cornucopia II: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Vista, CA: Kampong Publications.

Fern, K. (2000). Plants for a Future: Edible & Useful Plants for a Healthier World (2nd ed.). Clanfield, England: Permanent Publications ; Kutztown, PA : Distributed in the USA by Rodale Institute Bookstore.

García-Serrano, C. R., & Del Monte, J. P. (2004). The Use of Tropical Forest (Agroecosystems and Wild Plant Harvesting) as a Source of Food in the Bribri and Cabecar Cultures in the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. Economic Botany, 58(1), 58–71. https://doi.org/10.1663/0013-0001(2004)058[0058:TUOTFA]2.0.CO;2

Group, T. A. P. (2009). An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG III. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 161(2), 105–121. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.00996.x

Hadjichambis, A. C., Paraskeva-Hadjichambi, D., Della, A., Elena Giusti, M., De Pasquale, C., Lenzarini, C., … Pieroni, A. (2008). Wild and semi-domesticated food plant consumption in seven circum-Mediterranean areas. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 59(5), 383–414. https://doi.org/10.1080/09637480701566495

Haston, E., Richardson, J. E., Stevens, P. F., Chase, M. W., & Harris, D. J. (2009). The Linear Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (LAPG) III: a linear sequence of the families in APG III. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 161(2), 128–131. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.01000.x

Horn, D., Duhl, D., Hemmerly, T. E., & Cathcart, T. (Eds.). (2005). Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley, and the Southern Appalachians: The Official Field Guide of the Tennessee Native Plant Society. Edmonton, Canada: Lone Pine Pub.

Kang, Y., Łuczaj, Ł., Ye, S., Zhang, S., & Kang, J. (2012). Wild food plants and wild edible fungi of Heihe valley (Qinling Mountains, Shaanxi, central China): herbophilia and indifference to fruits and mushrooms. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae, 81(4), 405–413.

Kidane, B., Maesen, L. J. G. van der, Asfaw, Z., Sosef, M. S. M., & Andel, T. van. (2015). Wild and semi-wild leafy vegetables used by the Maale and Ari ethnic communities in southern Ethiopia. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 62(2), 221–234. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10722-014-0147-9

Łuczaj, Ł. (2012). Ethnobotanical review of wild edible plants of Slovakia. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae, 81(4), 245–255.

Łuczaj, Ł., Dolina, K., Fressel, N., & Perković, S. (2014). Wild Food Plants of Dalmatia (Croatia). In Ethnobotany and Biocultural Diversities in the Balkans (pp. 137–148). Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4939-1492-0_8

Mabberley, D. J. (2017). Mabberley’s Plant-book: A Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses (4th ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Pardo-de-Santayana, M., Pieroni, A., & Puri, R. K. (2010). Ethnobotany in the New Europe: People, Health and Wild Plant Resources. Berghahn Books.

Peterson, L. (1978). A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rivera, D., Obón, C., Inocencio, C., Heinrich, M., Verde, A., Fajardo, J., & Palazón, J. A. (2007). Gathered Food Plants in the Mountains of Castilla–La Mancha (Spain): Ethnobotany and Multivariate Analysis. Economic Botany, 61(3), 269–289. https://doi.org/10.1663/0013-0001(2007)61[269:GFPITM]2.0.CO;2

Sánchez-Mata, M. de C., & Tardío, J. (Eds.). (2016). Mediterranean Wild Edible Plants: Ethnobotany and Food Composition Tables. Springer.

Shiu-ying, H. (2006). Food Plants of China. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press.

Sturtevant, L. E., & Hedrick, U. P. (1972). Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World. New York: Dover Publications.

The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group. (2016). An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG IV. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, n/a-n/a. https://doi.org/10.1111/boj.12385

Wiersema, J. H., & León, B. (2013). World Economic Plants: A Standard Reference (2nd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Stanford, E. E. (1934). Economic Plants. New York, London: D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc.

Sturtevant, L. E., & Hedrick, U. P. (1972). Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World. New York: Dover Publications.


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