Hey plant enthusiasts
June 9, 2010
Greetings from Western North Carolina. Here the Day lilies (Hemerocallis fulva), Chestnuts (Castanea spp.), Elderberries (Sambucus nigra L. ssp. canadensis), Yucca (Yucca filamentosa) and Roses (Rosa spp.) are blooming. Juneberries (Amelanchier spp.) and Cherries (Prunus spp.) are ripe for the picking. i encourage your direct participation in this endeavor. Whatâ€™s going on around you? The more you read, follow the suggested exercises and provide feedback the more we will all learn together. We are all busy so feel free to come and goes as needed knowing the world of botany is always there to explore more. A lot of information is offered. Take what intrigues you and leave the rest for later or neverâ€¦
Please take time now to decide 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) to witness the cycling of the seasons. If possible pick a few places representing different ecotypes to observe changes over time.
This first entry has been rather hard for me on reflection of my connection to Frank Cook and his previous iterations of this class over the years. i hope and pray that i may 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.
Approximately 250,000-275,000 species of flowering plants have been named in the world. Scientists have named around 15,000 genera and those are divided into around 500 flowering plant families (Heywood, Brummitt, Culham, & Seberg, 2007). You will know something significant about the majority of plants that you see in the temperate world if you learn the top 30 families around you!!!
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, 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 and the Poison Hemlock plant (Conium maculatum) in the Celery family. 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 both usually underlined or italicized. An example is Daucus carota this is the name for the cultivated carrot.
Plants that share a genus name are similar but often differ in leaf shape, size, habitat, color, palatability or other characteristic. Plants that have the same species name often look almost exactly the same but may still look rather different due to breeding. 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. In the notations below sp. = one species and spp. = multiple species of the same genus. Common names are followed by scientific names in parentheses. Most scientific names in these posts are linked to the incredible USDA database at http://plants.usda.gov/. i tend to select common names for families that are linked to the typic genus they are named after. i also 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 capitalize in remembrance of humbleness.
The world contains many thousands of edible plants (Facciola, 1998; Johnson, 1999; Stanford, 1934; Sturtevant & Hedrick, 1972). North America has at least 4,000 edible species of plants alone (Couplan, 1998). Many indigenous groups have traditionally made use of hundreds of local plants on the continuum between food and medicine (Moerman, 1998). 75% of the worldâ€™s calories come from only 12 plants (Groombridge & Jenkins, 2002, p. 41). The great proportion of all nutrients and calories come from wheat, corn, and rice (Cunningham, 2007, p. 189). Staples can vary from region to region. In the tropics Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), Cassava (Manihot esculenta ), Sugar Cane (Saccharum officinarum) are staples. Barley (Hordeum vulgare), Oats (Avena sativa), Rye, 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. Though the vast majority of foods comes from very few crops many groups from Asia to Africa and Latin America still makes use of hundreds of plants where they live (Groombridge & Jenkins, 2002, p. 45).
When picking wild plants make sure that you get the plants positively identified. Know what part to use (Leaves, Roots, Flowers, Fruits). Also know how to use (Fresh, Steamed, SautÃ©ed, in Tea, Infused or Tinctured) and what time of year to harvest. It is often easiest to start by going out with experienced people. A good guide is also essential. Take the time to know the few really toxic plants as much as choice edibles. Donâ€™t pick by roadsides or other chemically intensive areas. If you only need the top then leave the roots of perennials. Donâ€™t over harvest. Use all of your senses. Give thanks!!!
Discussion of Botany in a Day pages 1-16
This book was written by somebody who lives in Montana. Yet, it has application to the whole temperate world due to its focus on the family and genus level of plant classification. Most of the temperate world plants share the same genera with widely diverging representatives at the species level. People have used this book all over the world i.e. Central America, Africa, Australia etc. Frank Cook brought this book to all of those areas and many more finding it useful everywhere he went. Elpel covers 100 families and over 1000 genera. This represents less than half the total families in North America but the vast majority of the most widely distributed plants on the continent. i will continue the tradition of Frank and introduce some supplemental families not covered in the book where appropriate. Below the frost belt many different families and some genera persist. However, a multitude of new plant families, genera and species arise in the tropics where the majority of all living organisms reside.
The first 16 pages of Botany in a Day offer a brief overview of botanical concepts and the evolutionary history of plant development. See Botany for Gardeners 3rd ed. by Brian Capon (2010)for more coverage on this topic using mostly basic terminology. The front and back pages of Botany in a Day have essential vocabulary to describe flowers and leaves respectively. Take the time to learn these terms if you do not know them already. Their frequency of use will also reinforce their recognition over time.
Thomas lays out the flow of your interaction with his book on page one. What follows is a discussion of scientific naming of plants. All plants that have been identified tend to have only one scientific name while many plants have a multitude of common names. This is especially important if you anticipate traveling to other places where common names are often different. You can also feel free to make up your own common names that may help you with memory of use or identification. Learning scientific names helps tell the story of the plant. Six main categories are used in naming plants including morphological features, habitat, growth form, classical or native names, geographical names and commemorative names (Smith, 1977).