Greetings plant enthusiasts!
Well, spring is in full swing here in the Appalachian Mountains. We just passed Beltaine, Cinco de Mayo and are approaching Mother’s Day. We have lots of reasons to celebrate this time of year! Many early ephemeral species are finishing flowering and a whole new wave of plants has begun to bloom. Recently i have taken notice of Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), Roses (Rosa spp.), Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), Weigelia (Weigela sp.) Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa), Iris (Iris spp.), Batchelor's Buttons (Centaurea cyanus), Indian Physic (Gillenia) and Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia uvaria) and Spiderworts (Tradescantia spp.) like the beautiful purple one to the right.
Last weekend a number of incredible plant events happened in the Asheville area. i worked for Juliet Blankespoor www.chestnutherbs.com at the Western North Carolina herb festival on Friday. Over 10,000 people come to this sale every year. Juliet grows a lot of special plants that none of the over 40 plus vendors had. She has a real focus on medicinals as do a couple other booths run by Joe Hollis www.mountaingardensherbs.com and Robert Eidus www.ncgoldenseal.com . Juliet has scoured the materia medicas of the world to offer our community over 100 types of plants both native and introduced from sun loving to shade. Joe focuses mostly on native and Asian woodland medicinals. Robert focuses on native medicinals and native spring ephemerals. Many other vendors have their own niches as well from the Basil King to Chuck Marsh’s woody permaculture focused Useful Plant Nursery www.usefulplants.org .
The 39th annual Wild Flower Pilgrimage at UNCA http://biology.unca.edu/wildflower-pilgrimage also occurred last weekend. i went on four separate hikes, three on the Blue Ridge Parkway and one at the exceptional botanical sanctuary of Jim Petranka. Because of the elevation at the Parkway we were able to view many spring ephemerals still blooming including Trilliums (Trillium), the rare Rosy Twisted Stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus), Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) and the shrubby Hobble Bush (Viburnum lantanoides). An even older pilgrimage in its 61st year happens at Great Smoky Mountains national park annually http://www.springwildflowerpilgrimage.org. Though i have never been i certainly hope to catch it sometime. They have over 150 activities to choose from in a five day period!
Today, i am leading a wildflower walk at the Laughing Waters Retreat Center www.laughingwatersnc.com with my friend and fellow botanist Josh Kelly www.wildlaw.org/ncarolina.htm. Josh makes a living out of doing plant surveys. According to him Bearwallow Mountain where we are going is a really choice spot to view wildflowers. i will posts some choice photos soon from our adventure.
Botany in a Day inside covers and Pages 1-3
Front Inside Cover
Make sure to get real familiar with the two inside covers and the first few pages if you have not already. The inside of the front page details flower form. Most plant families were traditionally based on the similarity between the flowers. The female parts when present are in the middle of the flower and the male parts, when present, surround the female. The petals follow next then surrounded by the sepals. Petals tend to be colorful and sepals green. However, when sepals and petals are essentially the same they are called tepals. This often happens in Lily like plants. Most plants tend to have bisexual flowers with both female and male parts. It is worth paying attention to the plants that either are monoecious with male and female flowers separate but on the same plant or dioecious with separate male and female plants. Dioecious plants will always need both males and females around to make fruit. Hollies (Ilex spp.) are a good example of this.
Regular flowers are also known as actinomorphic or radially symmetrical. This is because you can cut them from any angle going through the center just as spokes on a wheel and have two equal halves. Irregular flowers are also known as zygomorphic or bilaterally symmetrical and can only be bisected in half up and down to get equal pieces. Members of the Mint (Lamiaceae) and Orchid (Orchidaceae) families are good examples of plants with bilateral symmetry. The progressive fusion of pistils is interesting from an evolutionary perspective and can help with family identification. However, you may need at least a hand lens if not a microscope to witness these features on many plants. In practice petal number, flower shape, flower color, and presence or absence of the male/female parts can get you pretty far.
Back Inside Cover - Leaf Terms
The inside of the back cover includes a basic guide to leaf terms. During the growing season leaves are one the most telling features as to what group a plant might be in. Always look at whether the leaves are oriented opposite each other on the stem or alternating first and foremost. After that, noticing whether leaves are simple or compound is often a tell-tale sign of the family. Woody plants are particularly easy to identify by leaf orientation and form. Very few plants have whorled leaves i.e. (Cleavers, Lily’s) and this is a distinctive identifier when present.
On page one Thomas lays out for us how his book works. First you need to start with a little history. Page two and three state further information from last class about how plants are ordered at different hierarchical levels. Next, Thomas takes on seven of the most major flowering plant families of the world. Just these seven contain almost 20% of all flowering plants known on the planet! Once you are familiar with these major families then you can start branching out to others either through using the keys on pages 25-36 or looking up scientific/common names in the index and following them to the family page. Start to pay attention to the plants in your immediate vicinity first. Notice the details that make them different whether it be flowers, fruits leaves etc. You will find that even without knowing who they are or terminology to classify what you see that attention to detail will automatically illuminate them more clearly. Plants that have been there the whole time unnoticed will all of a sudden be surrounding you wherever you go. i agree with Thomas that once you pick up on patterns of plant growth and development that books organized by family are easier than ones organized by color. Almost anywhere i go in the temperate world i can know what family a plant is in now. If plants are grouped by family it is not hard to quickly find what members are around from the guide and start drawing new connections.
Page two has an inset box of interest to you. Thomas describes how he has listed the diversity of each genus for the world, the U.S. and to his home state of Montana. He also marks each plant he recognizes with a dot. You are encouraged to determine how many species occur for each genus in your state. A state flora (total listing of plants) or the USDA http://plants.usda.gov can help in this regard. It is also very gratifying to mark each genus you become familiar with by dotting or highlighting it. For advanced folks you might mark the families you recognize on pages 215 or 221. Very advanced folks might take note of which families are missing from page 215.
For the next class we will cover the pages 4-13 which describe plant evolution and the major groupings of plants
Below are items to think about/comment on. Please write me directly at email@example.com or leave information in the commentary under this class.
What are a few new plants that just started blooming with the ripening of Spring?
Go to a landscape nursery, botanical garden or some other concentrated place of flowering plants and just observe patterns in flowers, leaves, growth forms etc.
Post some CLEAR picture(S) of a flowering plant you would like to know either at the group on Facebook or in an email to me.
Check out one of the websites i mentioned in the intro to this class and pick up an interesting fact or two.
Botanical learning is an incremental process. Doing just a little each day can amaze one in how much knowledge and understanding can accrue over time. Just like any good practice. We are also surrounded by plants practically wherever we go. The classroom awaits everywhere for your attention and discernment.
Praises to all that have donated to the cause economically, commentarily, and energetically! i encourage everyone reading this to donate as they are able. Your contributions greatly help me continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education.