Plant Talk 5 Botany In a Day Online Class Pages 25-37

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June 16, 2011

Plant Talk 5

Greetings Plant Enthusiasts!

Summer is almost here in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Major bloomers not included before are the Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) and the exotic invasive Crown Vetch (Securigera varia). i am out west for the next few weeks in route to the Rainbow Gathering and have already been introduced to new beings that occur in the unique flora out here. Some examples include Pin Cushion Plant (Navarretia), Bicolored Linanthus (Leptosiphon bicolor syn. Linanthus bicolor), Chinese Houses (Collinsia sp. ) and Brodiaea. Tomorrow is my 36th birthday and i will be facilitating a walk at a very special gathering in northern California that used to be attended by my friend and teacher Frank Cook.

What plants around you are in flower or fruit? Include a few down below in the commentary section if you get a chance. Not all plants are green and photosynthesize as can be seen by this Ghostpipe to the right (Monotropa uniflora) which i recently saw blooming around Boone, NC.

Recent Events

Since the last class i attended an incredible conference for the first time. The Medicines From the Earth Conference proved to be an incredible learning and networking opportunity. It is always a great joy to see Dr. Jim Duke in action. A special treat was to see him play many songs that he has composed over the years. Since he is a botanist plants are often the protagonist in his lyrics. Some he paid homage to included Ginseng, Elderberry, Wintergreen, May Apple, Maple Syrup, Ground Nuts and Evening Primrose. You know it must have a special plant story to inspire Jim to write about them. Maybe you will be inspired to look deeper into some of the plants mentioned here? Jim also sang a couple of poignant songs to honor the Amazon Forest and Frank Cook….

As part of my entrance to the conference i did a work trade assisting my friend and teacher 7 Song in a field botany intensive. The mission was to pick him up at the airport and immediately go and pick flowers for the next day’s class. On the way i picked up some Winged Everlasting Pea (Lathyrus latifolius ), Poor Person’s Pepper pods (Lepidium).

It was at first hard to think of where we could pick the most diversity for the class from the wild. However, the farm of friends Anne and Aaron Grier came to mind. Anne has always been my favorite flower farmer of the area and until recently was a neighbor as well. She gracefully offered her fields both wild and cultivated for the picking and we happily brought our collection to over 20 species. A visit to good mutual friend Juliet Blankespoor and some roadside collecting of Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus), and Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) brought our total to over 30 species.

The class went well and i feel immensely grateful to the Medicine’s from the Earth folks for a chance to work hard using my specific skills in exchange for education in an incredible environment.

Numerous other incredible teachers were present and i took classes with Jim Duke PhD, Ryan Drum PhD, Mark Blumenthal, Jillian Stansbury ND, David Winston, and Cascade Anderson Gellar. My focus drew me naturally to teachers from outside the region primarily coming from the Northwest and Northeast.

Many other great teachers were present that i did not have time to see. Local folks like Doug Elliot were also holding forth which is always good to know.

This past weekend i taught twice around the Boone area. Once was around Vilas and the second was by the Kerr Scott Dam in Wilkesboro.

The Vilas walk was a sweet mix of mostly native Appalachian species already covered elsewhere with the class of good friend and teacher Serene Dae Rawl.

The Dam walk was for a private group. It was a rather acidic ecosystem consisting mainly of Pines (Pinus spp.), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), and Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.). Some Oak (Quercus spp.)and a good bit of Beech (Fagus grandifolia) grew on nicer sites or near the water. To see a type of Skullcap (Scutellaria sp.) blooming was a highlight.

Botany in a Day Pages 25-36

Using Keys

Using Keys can be downright intimidating to some and at least a bit tricky to get a hang of for many. Organizing your thoughts in a systematic logical progression is essential.

The monocots and dicots are a big separation amongst the flowering plants. They have their own key on page 36. We discussed the differences in the last class and they can be revisited on page 14. Next to this key is a useful guide to woody plants by their fruits. The trees are a very accessible group to get to know as most areas have trees in the tens versus lower growing plants by the hundreds or thousands. The Asters are a natural distinction unto themselves numbering in the thousands in North America alone,

Understanding the terms covered in both inside covers and on page 26 is essential to going deep with your exploration of botany. However, much enjoyment can come from looking at the major patterns illustrated along pages 27-36.

Regular Dicot Flowers with Numerous Petals

Not too many wild plants fit in this group and many of them are succulent or aquatic.

Irregular Dicot Flowers

Most of these plants have distinctive flowers that are easy to distinguish. However in the Lamiales order i.e. (Lamiaceae, Scrophulariaceae, Verbenaceae, Plataginaceae) it can get tricky especially in the tropics where several more families join the party. Most of the Peas, Violets and Touch me Nots are rather apparent when in flower.

Regular Dicot Flowers 0,3,6 petals

Uncommon pattern as you may recall to have dicots with 3,6’s mostly a primitive characteristic

Regular Dicot flowers 4 petals

i can often place a plant to family from four petals, form and bloom time alone)

Regular dicot flowers 5 united petals

Many of these plants with tubular flowers have distinct inflorescences that make it easy to place them in a family.

Regular Dicot Flowers 5 separate petals

This is by far the most common pattern as can be seen from all the illustrations on page 36. Thus it will take the longest to learn and distinguish.

Flowers are by far the easiest way to determine a plant but the goal overtime is to build a portfolio of characteristics including growth habit, leaf orientation, leaf form, color, hairiness, smell, fruit characteristics, bark, sap, etc.

Just notice characteristics and differences…attention to detail is key. The vocabulary of botany can take you as far as you want to go. A flora may feature hundreds of technical terms. However, with the knowledge above and practice with these keys in Botany in a Day you can go really far toward a practical understanding of the plants around you.

For the next class we will cover other major mostly non-woody wild plant food families including Amaranth (Amaranthaceae), Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodiaceae), Smartweed (Polygonaceae), Purslane (Portulacaceae), Nettles (Urticaceae), Onion (Alliaceae), Wood Sorrel (Oxalidaceae) and Pinks (Caryophyllaceae)

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 which seems connected to how much time you take to submit.. i would really love to hear what you have to say!!!

-          Check out more under the entries for any of the families mentioned above as wild edibles.

-          Read the entries in Botany in a Day and the site here on the 7 major families discussed last time if you have not already.

-          Attend a workshop or a class and write up a brief description of plants or information learned.

-          Begin to make a photo album of a certain nature spot as the seasons progress.

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

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


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

Thanks, marc



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