Plant Talk 4 Botany In a Day Online Class Pages 14-24

June 6, 2011

Plant Talk 4

Greetings Plant Enthusiasts!

Summer is almost here in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Recently i have taken notice of Adam’s Needle (Yucca filamentosa), Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria), Chestnut (Castanea mollissima), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum spp.), Dogbane (Apocynum sp.), Hollyhock (Alcea rosea), and Lavender (Lavandula sp.) blooming. The exotic invasive Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) is blooming as well. Beloved by the bees this is one of my least favorite plants of the Appalachian flora due to its aggressiveness. However, it also may have medicinal use for Lyme disease (Buhner, 2005).

The Juneberries (Amelanchier) and Cherries (Prunus spp.) are ready! i have been eating Lamsquarters (Chenopodium album) for quite a while and now. Gallant Soldiers (Galinsoga spp.) are young and tender wild edibles used as cooked greens since the time of the Incas (Couplan, 1998). Pigweed (Amaranthus spp.) is just starting to come up and can be eatern raw when young better cooked when older. The leaves and seed have been used as food and cultivated throughout the world for thousands of years. What plants around you are in flower or fruit? Include a few down below in the commentary section if you get a chance.

Recent Events

            Last Saturday i co-taught a plant walk on the Appalachian Trail outside Hot Springs, NC.  The walk was put on by Corey Pine Shane  and John Immel  in the spirit of Frank Cook. Frank would often do a similar walk this time of year. One notable plant included my first direct sighting of Goat Rue (Tephrosia sp.). Apparently this plant can be used to make an insecticide akin to Rotenone (Horn, Duhl, Hemmerly, & Cathcart, 2005)! Other great plants we saw included Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) and a five lobed Sassafras (Sassafras albidum).

            On Sunday i taught a five hour Forage and Feast class through the Appalachian School of Holistic Herbalism at the Soulflower Botanical Sanctuary . Over 20 people were in attendance and we even had a waiting list. Good to see so much interest in wild edibles! The next class is Saturday August 13th so mark your calendars if you will be in the area. Our menu included Green Salad with Miso/Mustard/Tahini dressing, Pesto pasta, Quinoa Tabouleh, Hummus, Herbal Tea and a Gluten Free Juneberry/Strawberry Crumble. We made use of over  20 different plants from the land in preparing our meal.

i have continued to work with my friend Elly. The last of the planting for her flower garden might be about done. Recent additions include Bee Blossom (Gaura sp.), Angelon (Angelonia sp.), Blue Mink (Ageratum houstonianum), Astilbe (Astilbe sp.), and Marigolds (Tagetes sp.). i also worked on removing copious amounts of Forget Me Not (Myosotis sp.) and staking her tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum). Her Currants (Ribes spp.) and even some early Blueberries (Vaccinium sp.) are also ready! i brought a sterile Rosa of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus ) from the Chestnut Nursery as a present and she was pleased. Of the hundreds of species she maintains this one was not yet in her collection. Rose of Sharon can become weedy locally so the sterility piece is important to reduce maintenance and upkeep. However, the flowers are edible raw and even the leaves are edible cooked (Couplan, 1998).

A couple days ago i visited my friend Amy Fiedler at Springhouse farm in Vilas NC i brought her a bouquet harvested from Elly’s abundant gardens and also the wild. From Elly, i got Roses (Rosa sp.), Pink Spirea (Spiraea sp.), Smoke Bush (Cotinus  sp.), Barberry (Berberis sp.), and Love in a Mist (Nigella damascena). From the wild i got Indian Physic (Gillenia trifoliata) and a number of Grasses. Up near Boone on Amy’s farm the greens are popping. Did you know that Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris L. ssp. cicla) is a sub species of Beet? Peas (Pisum sativum) are almost ready and members of the Squash family (Cucurbitaceae) are going into the ground. The Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is looking beautiful but must be harvested in the next couple weeks to keep it from going bitter. Flea beetles are a bit of a problem on Mizuna (Brassica rapa var. japonica) and Arugula (Eruca vesicaria) as well as other Brassica family members and Nightshades (Solanaceae) as well.

i also decided to bring a bunch of plants from the nursery of Juliet Blankespoor to up the diversity of the Appalachian State University medicinal gardens and that of other friends including Amy and our compatriot Serene Dae Rawl. Some choice selections included Toothache plant (Spilanthes acmella), Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), Elecampagne (Inula helenium), Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) and Greek Mullein (Verbascum olympicum).

Now onto a discussion of the reading for this class…

Botany in a Day Pages 14-24

Classes of Flowering Plants

The monocots and dicots are a big separation amongst the flowering plants. Elpel does a great job describing their distinctiveness. Go out in nature and try to figure out which plants are monocots now that you have a bunch of traits to tell them apart. Monocots represent 1/5 total of all flowering plants in the world. What is the ratio around you?

On page 15 Elpel explores the idea of floral evolution. The basic idea is that plants started with many separate parts in their flowers and have evolved over time to a fusion and modification of parts that can be seen in young families like the Orchids (Orchidaceae) and Asters (Asteraceae). Interesting that these are two of the youngest families in the world and yet they are also the biggest each having close to 10% of the total number of global species. Why do you think this is? Seems intuitive that the oldest families would have the most members eh?

Page 16 gives an overview of families. i would only qualify by saying that we have more like 150 flowering plant families in the temperate world rather than the 100 that Elpel refers to.

Seven Major Families

Elpel includes an overview of seven major plant families to whet your appetite for understanding major patterns. Several families including most of the ones covered here can still be referred to properly by their old names which just end in ae and often refer to flower form (Heywood, Brummitt, Culham, & Seberg, 2007).

The Brassicas (Brassicaceae/Cruciferae) are very prolific and represent one of the most choice families for greens in the temperate world. They are relatively easy to know due to distinctive flowers, tastes and smells.

The Mints (Lamiaceae/Labiatae) are probably one of the easiest families to get to know and also one of the most useful to people and insects. However, i would add the Coffee family (Rubiaceae) to the list of other families that have square stems.

The Celery family (Apiaceae/Umbelliferae) is very distinctive for their compound umbels. This family is also famous for being the home of many edible and medicinal plants. However, it also contains some of the most poisonous plants in the world Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) and Water Hemlocks (Cicuta spp.). Whenever working with this family one must be doubly sure of positive identification.

The Pea family (Fabaceae/Leguminosae) tends to have very distinctive flowers as described and illustrated by Elpel. i would point out that in the Southern hemisphere where most members grow they often segregate the family into three including the Fabaceae, Mimosaceae, and Caesalpiniaceae. Also this family has grown and is now considered to have over 700 genera and 19,000 species (Heywood et al., 2007; Spears, 2006). Over 30 tribes are now recognized and more than 20% of species in the family fall within the two genera Astragalus and Acacia alone.

Elpel takes on the Lilies (Liliaceae) next. He alludes to how much the family has changed. This is a family with some foods but also some deadly poisonous members. Look under the plant families tab for an updated treatment of how this family is now characterized.

The Mallow family (Malavaceae) has some of the most distinct flowers in the world. Therefore, this is a very easy family to ID when blooming. It is also a rather gentle family in relation to toxicity. i take some exception that of over 1,500 species that Cotton is the only one with toxic properties but i also have not seen any information on other toxic ones yet. Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is not a type of Hibiscus as Elpel states.

The Asteraceae/Compositae is a hugely humbling family. Frank Cook was fond of saying that 1 in 7 plants in North America are from this family (Elpel & Cook, 2006). A less flattering way to consider them is the Darn Yellow Composites (DYC’s) The flowers from this family are very distinct and well worth slowing down to appreciate with a magnifying loupe. Check out the monograph under the plant families tab for a more complete treatment of what this diverse group brings to the table.

The last page in the book from this class is a little quiz. How’d ya do? What if anything was confusing for you?

For the next class we will cover the pages 25-36 which are the keys that Elpel uses to put plants into their respective families. It might be easy to be overwhelmed by the density of information on these pages. Slowly slowly….Rather than try to absorb it all just glance over it periodically over the next couple of weeks and try to get some major patterns to stick

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 before submitting if possible as sometimes our spam filter seems to reject them for some reason.

Read the descriptions both in the reference section of Botany in a Day and under the Plant Families tab at this website for the 7 plant families covered in the primer

Go around and try to find as many monocots as you can

Make a meal including some wild foods and tell me what you decided to put in it.

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


Praises to all that have donated to the cause. i encourage everyone to donate as they are able financially, commentarily, or energetically... Your contributions greatly help me continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education.

Thanks, marc

Literature Cited

Buhner, S. H. (2005). Healing Lyme: Natural Prevention and Treatment of Lyme Borreliosis and Its Coinfections. Randolph, VT: Raven Press.

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

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

Heywood, V. H., Brummitt, R. K., Culham, A., & Seberg, O. (2007). Flowering Plant Families of the World (Revised.). Buffalo, NY; Richmond Hill, Ont.: Firefly Books.

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.

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.


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