Plant Talk 14: Year End Review and Extended Californian Botany

Marc with a Bristle Cone (Pinus longaeva)


December 21, 2011

Hey there plant enthusiasts!

              This evening leads into the holiday of Winter Solstice. It is the longest night of the year. It also marks the returning of progressively longer days! According to my friend Banka, the Sun moves into Capricorn today and this time of year is celebrated by cultures all over the world including Kwanzaa (AfricanAmerican), Cassave/Dreaming (Taino), Festival of Hummingbirds (Quecha), Soyal (Hopi), Jul (Scandanavian), Chanukkah (Jewish), and Christmas (Christian). The Goddess Festivals are: Sarasvati (India), Freya (Norse), and Lucia (Italy).


May you find a way to celebrate this sacred time that fits you best and honor all the rest


           A corresponding photo album to the class below may be viewed at the following link   


           We have reached the last class of the year! i would like to thank everyone reading this for your participation. i welcome and encourage any reflections and commentary on the past classes or how we may improve future ones. My hope next year is to elicit more commentary especially!!!  Next year’s class will continue to evolve conceptually over the winter and your feedback will help make it as beneficial as possible.

            My current thoughts are to start off earlier next year. We will begin around mid-March before everybody gets immersed in the busyness of Spring. i also plan to add a few more sessions of which the topics are still to be determined. A class on plants and fermentation will certainly make an appearance. Are there other classes about the people plant connection not already covered that you would like to see?

             i also plan to separate out the recent events section that normally appears before the subject matter at hand. This section will be transferred to a blog format so that folks interested in these updates solely can limit their intake appropriately. Folks going through Botany in a Day specifically or interested in specific subject matter such as Wild Edibles, Medicinal Plants, Craft Plants, Plants for Biodiversity etc. can hone their attention as well.

             The beauty of having this class in a web format is that it is all available with a few clicks of the keyboard at all times given an internet connection. My hope is that some people will continue to check out this year’s classes that they missed once things calm down post holidays. If you have comments on specific past classes please send them to me via email and i will add them to the appropriate comment stream. This circumvents my need to check each class to look for new commentary. Meanwhile, i will talk with my web designer Aaron to see if we can somehow be automatically informed when people comment on any individual class too.

              Speaking of Aaron he has been an amazing angel in my life! He has done a good bit of work by donation as i have scraped by financially this year. i am happy to say that some funding has come our way through friends of Frank Cook that will allow me to continue my work as well as compensate Aaaron more appropriately in this coming year. i plan to work diligently on bringing more plant family monographs online including picture catalogues through the winter. We will also install a new search function so that the voluminous amounts of information already uploaded can be located more easily.

               Please realize that i have already subsidized on the front end this information to the tune of $30,000 in loans and thousands of hours of unpaid research and writing. This is above and beyond numerous jobs, assistantships, grants, scholarships, and fellowships i received in the course of my education. Any support whether, financially, commentarily, energetically or through barter is immensely appreciated by me. Comments on classes and in the Facebook group are actually what i desire most right now more than anything. However, i continue to live life on a shoe string even with the generous support of a few special friends…i have renewed dedication  for the coming year to quest for financial stability while maintaining our paradigm shifting outside the box model that leaves so much information open by donation to everybody.

Recent Events

California Activities

              i realize that many folks who signed on to Botany Everyday through Facebook live in Appalachia and other far flung places of the world. Yet, my personal focus for botanical growth has recently been the Western U.S. generally and California specifically…My hope is that some tidbits below will be relevant to all while the bulk will pertain specifically to the amazingness of Californian botany. Over 5,000 plant species grow in CA of which over 1,500 appear nowhere else in the world. That 5,000 represents over 20% of all the plants that grow in the whole North American continent (Kartesz, 1994) with very little overlap from the east. For this reason i have dedicated much of the last two years to the study of Californian botany.

              i have found myself in various parts of California since September. A host of good plant information prefaces each class since September for folks reading this from the West. i have taught through a number of great venues, while reading and researching as hard as i possibly could. Lately, through the support of friends i have been able to focus on my personal development of Californian botany to a large degree. Below are some snippets from my recent exploits.

Harmony Training

            This paragraph is more about me and liberty than botany. However, i feel VERY called to share. i recently participated in a personal development course called Harmony in Sacramento. A number of dear friends from Asheville, NC and some other folks from the west were there as well. i cannot say enough for how this course has helped me to see my challenges and face them with honesty, awareness, clarity and bravery. It is obvious to me how this personal inner work will profoundly affect my outer work with botany, education and beyond. Many friends that i hold in high esteem have done this course over the last decade. Yet, it is still a pretty grassroots, word of mouth type of thing i.e. no website!!! If your interest is piqued i recommend you contact me for further information or you can call the number 1-916-9BE-FREE to connect directly. May all beings know the freedom and liberation that this brings and the incredible elation and light creations that may result!

Time on the Coast

            For Thanksgiving i spent time on the Coast near Ft. Bragg with some of my oldest friends from when i was living in Gainesville, Florida 16 years ago…i did not have much time for botanizing but did take note of some special plants on the beach including Bull Kelp, a succulent Brassica (Cakile sp.), and a special Pine. Brassicas must be the most important wild food greens of the temperate world! They seem to appear in one form or another everywhere i go and often are action packed with nutrients including many vitamins and minerals that the body needs. Brassicas were Nature’s multi-vitamins before health food stores and GNC. A very striking member from the Melastomataceae was present around their homesite too probably (Tibouchina). Check the photo album link above and let me know who that might be.

Eastern Sierra

             i was blessed by a trip with some of my course compatriots to the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains post Harmony. i had visited this location once before in 2004 on the way to the California Rainbow Gathering. i was still a budding botanist and had no reference for the alien scene before me atthat point. Mono Lake stood out as the strongest memory. i was primed and ready this time with several good references at hand and seven more years of study ! My focus was mainly on the trees as not much else is blooming or growing this time of year. But oh so glorious those trees were! The total highlight was a visit to what may be the oldest living beings on the planet! The 4,000 plus year old Great Basin Bristle Cone Pines (Pinus longaeva ) awaited us in the White Mountains. Words really cannot express how profound this visit was for the group and me.  Suffice it to say one of the best days of my life to date! These great trees growing at 8-9,000 foot elevation into almost solid limestone rock are the epitome of strength amidst adversity. i will take their example along with me forever more to persist in honoring the life that i adore…

              On the way to the Bristlecones we passed by the Single Needle Pinyon (Pinus monophylla). These trees have huge seeds that were relished and coveted by the native Paiutes tribes that originally lived there. Most of the seeds had been eaten by animals or dessicated away. However, i look forward to the day when i may feast on them as well si dios quiere. Juniper (Juniperus sp.) grew intermittently amongst the Pines too. The Juniper “berries” which are actually fleshy cones are famous for use in Gin and Kraut amongst other applications. i plan to make an Eastern Sierra liquer including them. Jeffrey Pines (Pinus jeffreyi) are near relatives to the Western Ponderosa and hard to tell apart from superficial characteristics. However, i have now learned that the prickles on Jeffrey cones face in while Ponderosas face out and Jeffreys smell more heavily of vanilla or some type of candy (Petrides, 2005)…On mountain passes from Tahoe to Mono we went by forests of  Fir (Abies), Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) and Quaking Aspens (Populus tremuloides). Lodgepoles have a darker bark than the other pines, two needles per fascicle versus 3 or 5 and much smaller cones. Some botanists contest that Quaking Aspens may be older than the Bristle cones as they are clonal and seem to reproduce themselves to infinity. Friend and colleague David Rodriquez recently made the assertion that Creosote (Larrea tridentata) may have the same ability.  

               Hot Springs come with the territory out there and in our three day journey we soaked in three different places! Over a hundred hot springs are around the area in all. Our host was new dear friend Jonah Matthewson. He grew up in the area and graced us with a place to stay and an insider’s view to the beauty. The highlight of his hook-up was a field trip to 5-10,000 year old petroglyphs in the middle of chapparal and a well loved rock climbing spot. Jonah is a filmmaker amongst many other talents and has recently gotten much acclaim for a movie he helped make about the saving of  Mono Lake. This movie will be showing at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City which is an incredible event to see . Jonah is also currently working on making a film about the life and times of teacher, friend and inspiration Frank Cook…

Fungus Foray

i finally got to see the legendary Fungus Foray at the North Columbia School House!




            Daniel Madrone a compatriot and teacher of Frank Cook has been the main inspiration and work horse for this event over the last 14 years. It benefits the non-profit Yuba Watershed Institute. They have compiled a list of over 500 species since the events inception. Mycological and Botanical hero Christopher Hobbs (2002; 2002; 2007) was present to lecture on medicinal use of mushrooms. Choice edibles we found included Shrimp (Russula brevipes), Chanterelle (Cantharellus spp.), and Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria mellea).

            The event also featured an Exhibit Mushrooms for Dyeing cloth, a talk on Mushrooms of the tropics by Danny Newman, a talk on Ethnomycolgy by Berkeley professor Else Vellinga and a tour of what was found by Daniel. i have decided to make a new links section at the website here for Mycological Resources. However, they have for awhile had their own kingdom separate from the plant one. The best mushroom book for Appalachia  in case you are wondering was written by Bill Roody Mushrooms of West Virginia and Central Appalachia.

            The Firefly Gathering this year led me to carving my first spoons ever i have now decided to make a spoon out of every wood that i can. Daniel donated to my spoon project by procuring Manzanita wood from his land. The wood is hard but has a beautiful red color. The project is about honoring tree diversity but also the people and places where these plants grow and thrive. i am thankful in so many ways to Daniel and excited to incorporate his energy into this spoon community!

Ananda Village

               Recently i got to visit and old friend from my time as a student at Warren Wilson College. Greg Traymar (Sundara) is a major player in the foundation started by Joseph Cornell called “Sharing Nature with Children” (Cornell, 1998, 1999) . Greg shared with me a grand tour, some teaching techniques and a lovely lunch for which i am very grateful. The foundation and many other cottage industries are based out of the spiritual community Ananda Village At Ananda they also have a Tulip (Tulipa sp.) festival with more than 10,000 plants in bloom! If you ever happen to find yourself in The Netherlands in March-May do yourself a favor and visit the wonder of Keukenhof where millions of tulip bulbs are planted each year .

              The two major invasives in the area known as “The Ridge” where Ananda is located are Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) and Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius). Cytisus does have some use as a dye and medicine. The Himalayan Blackberry is one of the most tasty i have ever had. It’s leaves may also be used for tea.

               i hope to teach at Ananda in the Spring and more with children in general in the coming year. If you happen to know of a specific group around Asheville for that sort of thing please let me know. i am also building a links section for helping children overcome Nature Deficit Disorder as described by Richard Louv (2005).


            On the Fall Equinox i brewed a Strawberry Basil Mead. On 9/18 we made a mead dedicated to our Sierra Hike and the birthday of dear friend Lydiyah. On 9/19 we made a mead to honor the most prolifc brewer i know, Turtle, and his birthday. On 11/11/11 we made a mead dedicated to the birthday of dear friend Angelina. Finally i recently made an Osha (Ligusticum grayi, Ligusticum porteri), Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), Pear (Pyrus communis) “Stark Crimson”. This eve into tomorrow i will bottle all of the above mentioned meads other than the Osha, Toyon, Pear which will be racked and left to settle. All are meads made on special days, from special ingredients, then bottled/moved on the longest night/start of winter. Get the level of intention that i am proposing here???

            Also working on finishing a Sierra Liquer with all local ingredients for the holidays. Tonight i will start a Eastern Sierra Liqueur to match. Yummy food as medicine…oh man…


            Recently i made an epic trip down to the big Californian Bay. Along the way i visited the Bridgeport section of the South Yuba River State Park. This is one of over 70 Californian parks proposed to be closed. The community has stepped up for this place in particular as well as several others. Bridgeport is the home of the longest single span wooden bridge in the country! It was made from Doug fir  (Pseudotsuga menziesii) posts with Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) shakes. They also have a neat little native plant garden and some old historic structures to boot!

The Bay Area

            My trip to the bay area was very fruitful in many ways. i botanized four botanical gardens and the very floristically interesting neighborhoods of Berkeley, Japan Town, and Yerba Buena.

An art exhibit called Interconnection: Tapestry Weavers of the West provided fascinating fiber scapes. Some were even done with natural dyes. The exhibit was located in the Mills Building of the Financial district. My first visit to that area of San Fran was in general a bit over-stimulating but this art exhibit coupled with lunch with a dear friend let to much more solace for me…

            Book Stores

            It is no secret that many independent book stores are having a hard time surviving in the current economic climate. It is also no secret to anyone who knows me that i love books and supporting independent retailers. Couple this together and you get many an hour spent poring over shelves of books. i must admit to checking Amazon by Android to compare prices…But when a book is the same price or less and i really want it the independents win! Moe's books, Pegasus Books and Half Price books all in Berkeley were some winners from my most recent foray. Moe's in particular is legendary and rightly so...4 floors!!! whoa....

Some additions to the library include (Casebeer, 2004; Gilbar, 1998; Keator, 2009; Melandry, 2010; Munz, 2004; Turner & Szczawinski, 1988). All for a total of no more than $30!!!

             Berkeley Botanical Gardens

             The first botanical gardens i visited was with David Rodriguez. David is a good friend of Frank Cook’s and a great recent compatriot/collegue to me as well. He just completed his thesis on Skullcap at San Francisco University (Rodriguez, 2012). i am thankful for the American Horticultural Society for their reciprocal admissions program. Because i am a member of the University of South Florida Botanical garden i get into almost every other garden in the country for free …i am also grateful to a couple book resources for illuminating which gardens were the best choice to visit for me (Altschuler, 1990; Joyce, 2005).

             Ruth Bancroft Garden

            The Ruth Bancroft Garden is dedicated to dryland water conserving plants. Ruth is 103 and still lives adjoining the garden property. i learned quite a few new plants in the process of botanizing this relatively small four acre space. They also have quite a nice map of the trees that reminded me of my hope to finish the mapping project of trees on the Warren Wilson College campus first started in 2008! The non-profit Garden Conservancy was also started right there in Walnut Creek .

              Heather Farm

            Heather Farm is actually a rather big public park located also in the Walnut Creek Community. However, they have a rather nice botanical Gardens nestled in with 21 themes! Some examples include a Riparian Garden, Sensory garden, Children’s Garden, Heritage Garden, Rose Garden, Meadow Garden, Stroll Garden, Native Plant Garden and a Rockery!!! The Native Plants in particular held serveral new plants and even new genera for me.

            Quarryhill Gardens

            Quarryhill is a jewel tucked in the heart of Sonoma. This garden hosts a world class repository for ex situ Asian plant conservation. Not only did i meet new genera even in the conifers but also a couple new families! The Daphniphyllaceae is home to Daphniphyllum macropodum and Trochodendron araliodes in the Trochodenraceae.

            Odds and Ends

            i reconnected with many great spirits along the way to the gardens mentioned above. With a couple Warren Wilson graduates, i enjoyed roasted nuts from California Bay (Umbellularia californica). i have already mentioned in other classes that this tree is a treasured resource in the West representing the more tropical Laurel/Sassafras/Cinnamon family (Lauraceae). Its leaves/oil are used in aromatherapy, it’s wood is popular for carving and the fruits as mentioned above can be eaten when PREPARED PROPERLY! However, i have also heard that it can be a carrier of Sudden Oak Death and the aroma may cause headaches. So caution is advised.

            i thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with other old friends from Gainesville too! i was able to show one friend amongst an already prolific garden the other edibles volunteering such as Wood Sorrel (Oxalis sp.), Yellow Dock (Rumex) and Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). A statue dedicated to Dandelion in downtown San Francisco further reminded me of the wonder in this plant.

           One plant in Berkeley stumped me and i have included it in the photo album to crowd source the identity. i will have to think of some good prize for whoever can tell its identity...


             All in all it has been a very blessed and epic time here in California. Soon i will return to the east. i am excited to reconnect with friends and family in Florida. Florida has it’s own special botany of course too. So i will have to switch gears and put my sub-tropical mind back on. More class offerings will be available down there in late January and at a gathering hosted by my friend and collegue Mycol Stevens at the beginning of February .

               i will be back west in March to pick up my car and offer a series of classes around Nevada City, CA, the Bay and possibly Oregon too…Then on to botanizing the south again before returning to Appalachia for a mind bending series of other offerings. i hope to see some of you along that trail. Keep tuned to the events tab at Botany Everyday for updated information on where i will be.

              Once again i would like to thank everyone reading this for your participation. i welcome and encourage any reflections and commentary on the past classes or how we may improve future ones. My hope next year is to elicit more commentary especially!!!  Next year’s class will continue to evolve conceptually over the winter and your feedback will help make it as beneficial as possible.

Much love, light and respect to all of you! marc


Literature Cited

Altschuler, S. (1990). Hidden walks in the Bay Area. Santa Cruz, CA: Western Tanager Press.

Casebeer, M. (2004). Discover California Shrubs. Sonora, CA: Hooker Press.

Cornell, J. B. (1998). Sharing Nature with Children, 20th Anniversary Edition. Nevada City, CA: Dawn Pubns.

Cornell, J. B. (1999). Sharing Nature with Children II. Nevada City, CA: Dawn Publications.

Foster, S., & Hobbs, C. (2002). A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Peterson field guide series; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Gilbar, S. (Ed.). (1998). Natural State: A Literary Anthology of California Nature Writing. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Hobbs, C. (2002). Medicinal Mushrooms. Botanica Press.

Hobbs, C., & Keville, K. (2007). Women’s Herbs: Women’s Health (2nd ed.). Botanica Press.

Joyce, A. (2005). Gardenwalks in California: Beautiful Gardens from San Diego to Mendocino (1st ed.). Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot.

Kartesz, J. T. (1994). A Synonymized Checklist of the Vascular Flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland (2nd ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Keator, G. (2009). California Plant Families: West of the Sierran Crest and Deserts. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Melandry, M. (2010). The History of the University of California Botanical Garden 1970-2010. Berkeley, CA.

Munz, P. A. (2004). Introduction to California Desert Wildflowers: Revised Edition. (D. Renshaw & P. M. Faber, Eds.) (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Petrides, G. A. (2005). Trees of the California Sierra Nevada. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Rodriguez, D. (2012). Headspace Volitales Of Scutellaria californica and Scutellaria baicalensis. San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA.

Turner, N. J., & Szczawinski, A. F. (1988). Edible Wild Fruits and Nuts of Canada. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

comments powered by Disqus