Plant Talk 12 Botany In a Day Online Class: Missing Plant Families from Elpel 5th ed.


November 12, 2011

Plant Talk 12: Missing Families from Botany in a Day and recent events around CA.

Hello plant enthusiasts!

Below are some recent happenings in my world botanically. This update comes from a Californian perspective.

Recent Events

Wild Foods with Alicia Funk

On October 19th i was privileged to teach with local food activist Alicia Funk. She is the co-author of the book Living Wild (2011). Alicia served up various creations from wild items including Chocolate Truffles with “Oak Nut” flour and Manzanita Ice Cream. She also led people in processing acorns which she calls “oak nuts” for their own holiday preparations.

i brought a presentation on brewing using local ingredients. Beverages covered included Ales, Meads, and Liqueurs. I brought quite a survey of local plant Material from Dancing Pines Farm for people to look at and take home. Daniel Madrone the steward of Dancing Pines is the person who set me up with Alicia and he donated a Kit Kit Dizze (Chamaebatia foliolosa) Reishi (Ganoderma sp.) ale and a Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) ale for people to sample.

Turtle donated a Marion Berry (Rubus sp.), Passionflower (Passiflora sp.), Skullcap (Scuttelaria), Ashwaganda (Withania somniferum), Cali poppy (Escholtzia califonicum), St J’s (Hypericum sp.) mead for the cause. i brought some of the mead made at Rucker Lake, which has been mentioned in previous classes and a brew made by Frank Cook called Pearl Harbor Porter.

One of my favorite preparations lately is the creation of local liqueurs. My Sierra Liqueur contains Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), Gray Pine (Pinus sabiniana), Incense Ceder (Calocedrus decurrens), Rose Hips (Rosa spp.), Kit Kit Dizze, Douglas’s Artemisia (Artemisia douglasiana), and Osha (Ligusticum grayii, L. porteri). Soda making has been a fun occupation lately as well. i recently made some soda on 11/1/11 for a friend’s birthday party on 11/11/11 of the above ingredients minus Osha. It was a big hit even with the kiddos.

HAALo conference 

The HAALo conference was a tremendous opportunity for the local Nevada County community. Many of the best teachers of the area including Kathi Keville, Candice Cantin, Pam Caldwell, Heather Luna Catesby, Marza Miller, and Daniel Madrone presented on topics of Nervous System, Digestive System, Herbs for Pregancy/Birth/Postpartum, Nutrition, Shamanism and Brewing respectively. i was honored to present a cross comparison of Western and Eastern medicinal plant families. A good time was had by all including delicious food featuring local items.

Workshop at Dancing Pines home of Daniel Nicholson

Today i am helping facilitate a multi-part workshop. First we will host a Plant/Mushroom walk focusing on harvesting roots like Yellow Dock (Rumex sp.), Yampah (Perideridia sp.) and aerial parts like Doug fir (Pseudotsuga menzesii) and Douglas’s mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana) leaves and Manzanita (Arctostapyhlos sp.), Toyon fruits (Heteromeles arbutifolia).

We will have a wild food lunch featuring Wild greens Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) tabouleh, Wild Mushroom (Boletus spp.) frittata, Acorn Ginger Bliss bites and Doug Fir tea. Other offerings are sure to appear of which i will inform you later.

The afternoon will focus on fermenting. We will feature local abundance as we taste various preparations and prepare a mead, a Sierra Soda and herbal liqueur all described in more detail under recent events above.

Missing Plants from Botany in a Day

Now the focus shifts to some of the families that are not covered in Botany in a Day. Frank Cook took note of several families that were missing in his copy including Aquifoliaceae (Holly), Calycanthaceae (Sweetshrub), Cannaceae (Canna Lily), Celastraceae (Bittersweet/Euonymous/Khat), Myrtaceae (Myrtle), Phytolaccaceae (Poke), Rutaceae (Rue/Citrus), Styracaceae (Styrax), Theaceae (Tea, Cammelia, Stewartia, Franklin Tree. (Elpel & Cook, 2006).

i have taken note of several others which include Clethraceae (Clethra), Ebenaceae (Ebony), Paulowniaceae (Paulownia), Phyrmaceae (Lopseed/Mimulus), Platanaceae (Sycamore), Plumbaginaceae (Leadwort/Statice),  Schisandraceae (Schisandra), and Symplocaceae (Horse Sugar) are treated below.

The mostly tropical families of Acanthaceae (Bear’s Breeches), Annonaceae (, Bignoniaceae (Trumpet Creeper),  Myrtaceae, Rutaceae, and the order Zingiberales including the Cannaceae, Heliconiaceae (Heliconia), Marantaceae (Arrowroot/Prayer Plant), Musaceae (Banana), Strelitziaceae (Bird of Paradise) will be treated in the next class.

Families below come from a diverse number of orders. More tropical/small members of the Ericales, Lamiales and Austrobayliales are particularly missing from Botany in a Day 5th ed. i have treated each family with a short monographic style. The main aspects of ethnobotanical usage and taxonomy are pointed out for some families more than others. My hope is to steadily increase these through incremental personal efforts and those of others over time.

Aquifoliaceae / Holly Family / Aquifoliales

The most famous member of this family now is probably Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis). Some research i came across recently alludes that yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) may have less caffeine than Yerba Mate (1/2 to 1/3) and Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine) less still (Edwards & Bennett, 2005; Marx, Janssens, Urfer, & Scherer, 2003).  However, Yaupon and Dahoon represent the only native caffeine sources that i know of in North America. Guayusa (I. guayusa) also has significant amounts of caffeine (Wink & Van Wyk, 2008). Guayusa is from Ecuador and used in Ayhuasca traditions there in combination with the traditional plants the Ayuhuasca vine itself (Banisteriopsis capii) and Chakruna (Phycotria viridis). Hollies have male and female plants so you will need both to get fruits. The Holly collection at the Royal Gardens of Kew in London England are astounding amongst many other things there

Holly fruits are often considered poisonous but do not seem to have a large toxicity (Frohne & Pfander, 2005). A special honey is made from the flowers of the Gallberry (Ilex glabra) in the SE U.S. (Lovell, 1977).

Ancient Angiosperms

Many members of these ancient angiosperms break the dicot rule and often have flower parts in multiples of 3’s. They also tend to be more tropical in distribution.

Illiciaceae / Star Anise Family /  Austrobaileyales

This order and the four families within are not covered in Botany in a Day. It is thought to be ancestral to every other flowering plant group other than the Water Lily and Amborella in the Amborellaceae and Amborellales and Cholranthaceae (Spears, 2006).

A few special plants occur in this family in Florida and a bit further north including Florida Anise Tree (Illicium floridanum) and Yellow Anise Tree (Illicium parviflorum).

Schisandra Family / Schisandraceae / Austrobaileyales

The Schisandra family is not covered in Botany in a Day. This family is most known for the Adaptogenic medicinal (Schisandra chinensis) (Winston & Maimes, 2007). However, a native species occurs in Eastern American (Schisandra glabra). Some have wondered at the potential to use the native species as an analog to the Asian one. However, it is not a common plant and would probably need to be cultivated. The Schisandraceae is sometimes included in the Illiaceae (Judd, Campbell, Kellog, Stevens, & Donahue, 2008).

Calycanthaceae / Sweetshrub Family  / Laurales

This is a very special small family. Calycanthus occurs in Appalachia, California and Eastern Asia. The plant Wintersweet (Chimonanthus) is also in this family. Calycanthus is known as sweet bubby in Appalachia and was traditionally used as a perfume for ladies. Another name is Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus) or California Allspice (Calycanthus occidentalis) and it has been used traditionally for cooking like cinnamon as a spice (Couplan, 1998). However, seeds contain a toxic substance (calycanthine) similar to strychnine (Couplan, 1998). The plants are very ornamental with tropical looking foliage aromatic showy flowers and pretty leaves in the fall. One species occurs only in Georgia (Calycanthus brockianus) (USDA, n.d.).


Clethraceae / Sweetpepper Bush Family / Ericales

Appalachian native (Clethra alnifolia) has beautiful exfoliating bark. A wide variety of butterflies are attracted to it including Silver-spotted skippers and Swallowtails (Lewis, 1995). Also known as Summersweet Clethra it is often planted landscape shrub and is very fragrant (Dirr, 1997).

Ebenaceae / Ebony Family / Ericales

Besides its namesake (Diospyros ebenum) it is home to one very special genus. Dios (God’s) Pyros (Pear) the Persimmon! In the East we have a native Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). In Asia they have a type often considered more delectable (Diospyros kaki). However an even more amazing type known as the Black Sapote (Diospyros digyna) grows in Central America and Florida. It tastes something like cinnamon pudding (Rollins, 2006). Native Persimmon supports the larva of the hickory horned devil and hosts the Luna moth (Actias luna) (Tallamy, 2009). The wood is hard but can be beautiful for carving even in other species than ebony.

Styracaceae / Silverbell Family / Ericales

The Silverbells (Halesia diptera and Halesia tetraptera) are very special showy little Appalachian trees that only occur in a few fertile locales. Carolina Silverbell (H. carolina) provides food for the Promethea moth larva (Tallamy, 2009). Very much an underutilized native small tree for the landscape.

Theaceae / Tea Family /  Ericales

Many very special woody species including one that is extinct in the wild are in this family. The famous Tea (Camellia sinensis) is known world round and was one of the most sought after early trade items. Other Camelias like the Sansqua (Camellia sasanqua) and Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica) are ornamental. Crosses between the two and other species have led to thousands of cultivars (Hogan, 2003). Many plants in this family have beautiful exfoliating bark.

The father and son botany team of John and William Bartram first found and then collected the seeds of the Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) which they named after their friend Ben Franklin. The tree which is thought to be from a small area near the Alatamaha river in Georgia subsequently went extinct in the wild. However like many special plants it has been spread all over the world where it lives on ex situ in Botanical Gardens. i have seen a particularly gorgeous specimen the Harvard Arboretum. Stewartia is another stunning small ornamental tree. The University of North Carolina Asheville has a great Theaceae collection around the main quad.

Other assorted familes…

Phytolaccaceae / Poke Family / Caryophyllales

We only have one genus and one species north of the frost belt. Poke Weed (Phytolacca americana) is one of the most famous wild food plants of Appalachia. Yet it is also the source of many poisonings! Only eat young shoots which are green after cooking in multiple changes of water. Stay ahead of the red!

The fruits are fun to play with as a non-permanent dye. This plant is often mentioned in modern books about cuisine. A tree form (Phytolacca dioca) grows in South America and has been planted in Spain for ornament. Rouge plant (Rivina humilis) grows beneath the frost belt.

Plumbaginaceae / Lead Plant Family / Caryophyllales

This family has the Statice (Limonium leptostachyum) plant, which is one of my favorite plants for fresh or dried cut flowers.  The Lavender thrift (Limonium carolinianum) and the California thrift (Limonium californicum) live out in the western U.S.

This family also attracts several butterflies including the Clouded Sulphur and Painted Lady (Lewis, 1995). The False Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) attracts Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Viceroy, Blue and Sulphur butterflies (Lewis, 1995). Leadworts (Plumbago spp.) often have attractive blue flowers.

Platanaceae / Sycamore Family / Proteales

This ancient family is not covered by Elpel and only contains one genus. It is mostly known for the stunning Sycamore tree. Three major species occur including Eastern American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Californian Sycamore (Platanus racemosa) and Eurasian Sycamore (Platanus orientalis). The Sycamores of parks are often the hybrid Platanus x hispanica. Another Sycamore occurs only in Arizona and New Mexico (Platanus wrightii) (USDA, n.d.).The sap of Platanus spp. can be drunk like water and contains a mild amount of sweetness (Couplan, 1998).

Flowers are unisexual and wind pollinated whereas the fruits are wind dispersed and secondarily spread by water (Judd et al., 2008). However, the Eastern Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is host to the White-marked tussock moth (Orgyia leucotigma) (Tallamy, 2009). This family is sometimes included in the Proteaceae (Judd et al., 2008).

Phrymaceae / Lopseed Family  / Lamiales

Monkeyflower (Mimulus) is most often put into the Scrophulariaceae family. However, some have supported its placement here (Judd et al., 2008; Spears, 2006). According to the USDA site many plants formerly in the genus Mimulus are now in the Bush Monkeyflower genus (Diplacus).

Mimulus cardinalis attracts several butterflies including Checkerspots, Ringlets, Painted Lady, Cabbage White, and Checkered White (Lewis, 1995). Sticky Monkey flower (Diplacus aurantiacus ssp. aurantiacus syn M. aurantiacus) which is native to Southern California is a larval food plant for Common Buckeye and Chalcedon Checkerspot (Lewis, 1995).

Paulowniaceae / Empress tree Family / Lamiales

The Royal Paulownia/Empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) is normally put in the Scrophulariaceae which always seemed weird to me. There is now some strong support for giving it a separate family (Judd et al., 2008; Spears, 2006). It is a very distinct Ornamental/Exotic Invasive in Appalachia. The Flowers are a gorgeous purple color in the spring and the wood is apparently of rather high value in Asia.

For the next class we will cover Tropical families not included by Elpel and it will be posted around the 26th of November.

Below are items to think about/comment on. Please write me directly at or leave information in the commentary under this class. Save your comment in some form before submitting if possible. Sometimes our spam filter seems to reject them. The problem seems to be connected to how much time you take to submit. I WOULD REALLY LOVE TO HEAR WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY!!!

-          Plan to go to a conservatory at a place near you and meet some tropical plants.

-          Discover what area of the world your house plants come from.

-          Write a list of tropical plants that you consumed for food and where they originated and are currently produced.

-          Post any clear photos of question plants to Facebook or send in an email.

Praises to all that have donated to the cause. i encourage everyone reading this to donate as they are able financially, commentarialy, or energetically... Your contributions greatly help me continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education. Please let me know your thoughts in general and any way i can help this class serve you best.

Thanks, marc

Literature Cited

Couplan, F. (1998). The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America. New Canaan, CT: Keats Pub.

Dirr, M. A. (1997). Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Edwards, A. L., & Bennett, B. C. (2005). Diversity of Methylxanthine Content in Ilex cassine L. and Ilex vomitoria Ait.: Assessing Sources of the North American Stimulant Cassina. Economic Botany, 59(3), 275-285. doi:10.1663/0013-0001(2005)059[0275:DOMCII]2.0.CO;2

Elpel, T. J., & Cook, F. (2006). Botany in a Day: The Patterns method of Plant Identification (Frank Cook personal copy.). Pony, MT: HOPS Press.

Frohne, D., & Pfander, H. J. (2005). Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists and Veterinarians (2nd ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc.

Funk, A., & Kaufman, K. (2011). Living Wild: Gardening, Cooking and Healing with Native Plants of the Sierra Nevada. Nevada City, CA: Flicker Press.

Hogan, S. (Ed.). (2003). Flora (Vols. 1-2). Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc.

Judd, W. S., Campbell, C. S., Kellog, E. A., Stevens, P. F., & Donahue, M. J. (2008). Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach (3rd ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

Lewis, A. (Ed.). (1995). Butterfly Gardens. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Lovell, H. B. (1977). Honey Plants. (L. R. Goltz, Ed.) (Rev ed.). Medina, OH: Gleanings in Bee Culture.

Marx, F., Janssens, M. J. J., Urfer, P., & Scherer, R. (2003). Caffeine and theobromine composition of mate (Ilex paraguariensis) leaves in five plantations of Misiones, Argentina. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 58(3), 1-8. doi:10.1023/B:QUAL.0000041144.28025.fc

Rollins, C. (2006). The Fruit and Spice Park. (L. Bohorquez, Ed.). Lawrenceburg, IN: The Creative Company.

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.

Tallamy, D. (2009). Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Updated Ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

USDA. (n.d.). The PLANTS Database | USDA PLANTS. Retrieved March 10, 2009, from

Wink, M., & Van Wyk, B.-E. (2008). Mind-Altering and Poisonous Plants of the World (1st ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Winston, D., & Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.





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