Plant Talk 5 Botany in a Day Online Class Pages 80-105

Plant Talk #5

August 27, 2010

Hello there plant enthusiasts!

Well i am in amazement of how much there is to learn about the plants below….i am also still learning when to say when as far as how much information to include after two weeks of dedicated work on this particular class. Much more information from the USDA can be found by clicking on the genus name in parentheses after each plant. Thank goodness next year i will have a template to use. My thinking is that classes will start earlier in the year and plant talks will be shorter in length. We will probably leave off some of the more obscure families as well.

A photo album of plants related to this class can also be found by clicking the link below.

What’s Blooming

Plants in the Asteraceae continue to shine in Appalachia and throughout the country. Most of the plants from this family mentioned in last time’s mailing continue to bloom. Certain weedy members such as Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) and Burdock (Arctium spp.) should probably be dealt with before spreading copious amounts of seed.

Poaceae is another family to watch at this time of year. It is one of the worst exotic invasive plant families in the world!!! Crabgrass (Digitaria spp.), Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense), Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), Foxtail Millet (Setaria spp.) and Chinese Silver Grass (Miscanthus sinensis) all are starting to flower and ideally would be prevented from making seed. Purpletop (Tridens flavus) is one of my favorites this time of year for cut flowers due to its beautiful color.

Other plants that are currently blooming include

Turtleheads (Chelone lyonii )                                       Snapdragon family (Plantaginaceae)

Cleome (Cleome spp.)                                                 Caper family (Capparaceae)

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)                        Mint family (Lamiaceae)

Carolina Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense)             Nighshade family (Solanaceae)

Touch me Nots (Impatiens spp.)                                 Impatiens family (Balsaminaceae)

Seed Box (Ludwigia sp.)                                            Evening Primrose family (Onagraceae)

Three Seeded Mercury (Acalypha sp.)                        Spurge family (Euphorbiaceae)

Tick Trefoil (Desmodium sp.)                                      Bean family (Fabaceae)

Liriope (Liriope sp.)                                                    Ruscaceae


Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) is another exotic invasive that is blooming and should not be allowed to spread seed. However, it is all too happy to reproduce asexually by roots as well. One consolation is that the blooms are loved by bees and the greens are edible like rhubarb in the spring. Local botanist/herbalist Robin Allison recently shared with me that this plant is high in resveratrol and potentially a treatment for Lyme disease. Now is also the time to take out the various pigweeds (Amaranthus spp.) and docks (Rumex spp.) before they spread their copious amounts of seed.

The story is quickly moving from what has flowers to what has fruit. During the decade i have lived around Asheville, NC. this has been one of the greatest fruit years in memory. Fruit that we rarely get like Plums and Peaches (Prunus spp.) have produced nice crops this year. All the usual standbys such as Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), Apples (Malus spp.), Blackberries (Rubus spp.), Raspberries (Rubus spp.), Elderberries (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis)  and Pears (Pyrus communis) have performed well also. Last weekend seemed to be the peak for flocks of folks from Asheville to go up on the Blue Ridge Parkway and collectively harvest the blueberry bounty. Graveyard Fields, Sam’s Knob and Black Balsam are particularly popular spots.

This weekend i will join Ken Crouse in making several concoctions related to Elderberries and Asian Pears in particular. Think mead, wine, syrup, sauce and chutney…yum…The Cornelian Cherries (Cornus mas) Cornaceae from the Asheville Edible Park this year were some of the best i have ever had. The Chestnuts (Castanea spp.) Fagaceae, Persimmons (Diospyros spp.) Ebenaceae and Medlars (Mespilus germanica) Rosaceae will be ready soon as well.

Recent/Upcoming Activities

Many incredible events have continued to happen since the last mailing including the Permaculture Gathering in Celo, NC and a memorial gathering for Frank Cook at Mulberry Gap Farm in Walnut, NC. i am ready for a break from gathering without and a marshalling of forces from within. Frank’s passing continues to throw me for a loop more than anybody else i have ever known. i pray for the peace and release that only time and the grace of spirit can bring…

There is still time to sign up for the Ethnobotany Intensive i will co-teach with Mycol Stevens at the Hostel in the Forest Other events that are coming up later in September and into October include

The True Nature Country Faire,

Falling Leaves Gathering and

LEAF festival

Keep tuned to the website events calendar for more info or send me your email if you are not already on my mailing list.

i continue to work at Blue Ridge Food Ventures doing food preservation. Recently we have worked with Summer Squash, Butternut Squash, Peppers, and Tomatoes.

Now i will dive into the families covered by last time’s suggested reading. Some sections are covered in brief but i would be happy to expound to anyone looking for more specific information.

Pages 80 – 105

i have taken to including the current orders that families are ascribed to as defined by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group 2 (APG2) and presented in three sources (Heywood, Brummitt, Culham, & Seberg, 2007; Judd, Campbell, Kellog, Stevens, & Donahue, 2008; Spears, 2006). This relationship is sometimes at odds with how Elpel’s text goes. In theory every family he features would be lined up within their respective orders in an evolutionary progression. Some families are changing orders due to genetic analysis. However, i can already start to see patterns in floral characteristics, phytochemistry and even utility for fiber and certain food stuffs along modern order level classification lines.

Elpel describes a pitcher plant order for the following two families which have been put in to two separate orders according to APG2.

Sarraceniaceae / Pitcher Plant Family / Ericales Order

The Pitcher plant family is one of several plant groups that are insectivorous. They grow in nutrient poor wetland places and use their bug prey to attain the macronutrient nitrogen. Many pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.) grow in the coasts of the Carolinas solely. They often readily cross breed and a neat collection of hybrids can be seen at the UNC Greensboro botanical gardens.

Doseraceae / Sundew Family / Caryophllales Order

The Sundew family of insectivorous plants is much more cosmopolitan than the one above. The Sundew genus (Drosera spp.) has the lion’s share of species. These plants have been used medicinally but should only be harvested when very abundant or purchased from a reputable dealer.  Other carnivorous plant families that Frank Cook took note of in his copy of Botany in a Day that are not covered within the text include the Nepenthaceae, Cephalotaceae and Byblidaceae

Violaceae / Violet Family / Malpighiales Order

The Violet family features one of the most commonly recognized woodland plants. Violets are also used for landscape ornamentation in cold areas. However, Violets are sometimes mistaken for Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), Golden ragwort (Packera aurea), Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), and Garlic Mustard  (Alliaria petiolata). Violets come in many colors and leaf shapes. One of my favorites is the bird’s foot violet (Viola pedata) To my delight i was recently introduced by Mycol Stevens to a linear leaf violet (Viola lanceolata) down at the Hostel in the Forest  in Brunswick, GA.

Violets can spread aggressively locally but are usually appreciated for their many virtues.

Aesthetically, Pansies (Viola spp.) are very common landscape plants in winter and early spring and candied violet flowers are a pretty ornament.  Violets are host to Variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) Meadow Frittilary (Boloria bellona) and Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) butterflies (Tallamy, 2009). They also host the Giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scibonia) (Tallamy, 2009).

Although there are 16-22 genera total, we in Eastern North America normally only see the Viola genus and occasionally the Green Violet in the Hybanthus genus. Hybanthus is sometimes combined with Viola (Weakley, 2008). Frank noted in his copy of Botany in a Day that he saw Hybanthus near Pearson falls outside Asheville, NC. Elpel lists this family in the Vioales order which does not exist under APG2.

Loasaceae / Loasa Family / Cornales Order

These are mostly plants of desert and tropical areas. In North America they generally occur out west. i was first introduced to a plant from this family in Costa Rica. A rude awakening in nature’s diversity occurred when i grabbed a flower that looked like a Hibiscus and received a nasty sting in return. Elpel states that many plants in this family can sting in such a way. He also lists this family in the Violales order.

Cucurbitaceae / Squash Family / Cucurbiltales

This is one of the major plant families for food but also contains several members with toxic properties as well. The medicinal effects of pumpkin seeds for anti-parasitic applications and inhibition of prostate cancer are well worth noting. The cultivated genera Squash (Cucurbita spp.), Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus), Canteloupe (Cucumis melo), and Watermelons (Citrullus lanatus) are choice. Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is considered to be an adaptogen (Winston & Maimes, 2007) . The Cucurbitaceae along with Corn and Beans formed the three sisters agricultural system upon which many Native American tribes were largely dependent (Smith, 1998). Bryonia dioica is a potential adaptogen but only safe to use by professionals (Van Wyk & Wink, 2004).

The fact that male and female flowers are separate is also worthy of attention. This is the reason that Zuchinni (Cucurbita pepo) may take awhile to produce fruit after flowering as the male flowers sometimes bloom solely first for awhile.

The Squash family also suffers from some of the worst insect problems of any major food family in the Americas. Common pests include Striped Cucumber Beetle (Acalymma vittata) which can transmit bacteria that causes bacterial wilt and cucumber mosaic virus (Cranshaw, 2004).  Spotted Cucumber beetles (Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi) and Squash Bugs (Anasa tristis) are less prejudiced to cucurbits but still challenging pests. Squash Vine Borers (Melittia cucurbitae) can take out whole plants. The species (Cucurbita moschata) represented most famously by Butternut is resistant to the borers due to solid stems. The USDA sight seems to have their Cucurbitas a bit mislabeled near as i can tell. You can see for yourself by following the links embedded in the genus name of the previously mentioned plants.  Squash Beetles (Epilachna borealis) can cause great damage to plants around Asheville. i prefer to use natural controls such as those sponsored by the Rodale Institute to deal with such pests (Ellis & Bradley, 1996).

Elpel put this family in the Violales though APG2 has given it its own order.

Salicaceae / Willow Family / Malpighiales

The Willow family continues the trend of unisexual flowers. It is the best known family for methyl salicilates. These are pain killing compounds that were used to develop Aspirin. Members of other families have these compounds as well including the Birch family (Betulaceae) and Blueberry family (Ericaceae).

Both Willow (Salix spp.) and Poplar (Populus spp.) are ubiquitous plants of wetlands throughout the temperate world including the extreme north. Elpel reports a type of Poplar sap as being edible. Saps of trees other than Maples represent a potential underutilized resource should sweeteners once again be hard to come by. Other saps i know as edible and slightly sweet include Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Basswood (Tilia americana) and Hickory (Carya spp.) (Couplan, 1998).

Willows have a multitude of uses. Some people have used a tea from Willow as a natural rooting compound for propagating plants cuttings.  Willows also provide early food to bees in the late winter time.

The Salicaceae is very important for members of the Lepidoptera order of insects including butterflies and moths. Willows (Salix) support 456 species and Poplars (Populus) support 368 species. (Tallamy, 2009, p. 147) Willows in particular host Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) and Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) butterflies. Willows also host a number of moths including Io (Automeris io), Luna (Actias luna), Polyphemus (Antheraea polyphemus) American Dagger (Acronicta americana) and Giant Leopard (Hypercompe scribonia) moths (Tallamy, 2009).

Willows and Poplars also host Mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) Dreamy Duskywing butterflies (Erynnis icelus) and  Big Poplar Sphinx (Pachysphinx modesta) and Black-etched Prominent (Cerura scitiscripta) moths (Tallamy, 2009). Poplars host the Fawn Sphinx (Sphinx kalmiae) and White-marked Tussock (Orgyia leucostigma) moths (Tallamy, 2009).

Many willows have been used as dyes including (Salix alba, S. caprea, S. cinerea, S. fragilis, S. purpurea, S. nigra  and S. viminalis) (Bliss, 1993; J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003; A. Krochmal & C. Krochmal, 1974; Nicholson & Clovis, 1967).  Many species of willows are also used for basketry (Trestain, 1998). Living fences and structures have also been formed from these valuable plants. Various species are also coppiced for fire wood.

Several species of both genera are valued landscape plants especially weeping willow (Salix babylonica) and Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra). Dr. Christof den Bigelaar at Appalachian State University is currently running a project using Poplar and Willow for Agroforestry with crops in between the rows of trees.

The Cottonwoods (Populus fremontii) of the Desert Southwest are some of my favorite big trees ever! i normally associate Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) with the west as well but was tickled to see it in Pennsylvania at the most recent National Rainbow Gathering. Silver poplar can be invasive (Populus alba) (Miller, Chambliss, & Bargeron Charles, 2006). Elpel puts this family in the Willow Order, Thorne puts it in the Violales (Elpel, 2004; Judd et al., 2008).

Capparaceae/ Caper Family/ Brassicales

Here in Appalachia we normally only see the Bee plant (Cleome sp.). Cleome can become a bit of a pest locally and sometimes has spines which can make it harder to remove. The mustardy spice of Capers (Capparis  sp.) from this family and Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) in the related Tropaeolaceae illustrate how taste compounds can prevail through an order as well as a family. Many members occur out west that we do not see in the East. Elpel and Thorne name the order after Capers (Capparales) (Elpel, 2004; Judd et al., 2008).

Brassicaceae / Mustard Family/ Brassicales

This family is crucial in any diet for vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, K, and the minerals calcium, iron, and magnesium (Van Wyk, 2005). Cook the greens lightly to preserve nutrients and save any pot liquor to retain water soluble elements.

Most members of the Mustard family are generally considered edible or choice. However, members of the Brassicaceae may uptake heavy metals. Therefore, don’t collect in polluted areas. Some members may also uptake excess nitrates (J. M. Kingsbury, 1964).  Elpel states that nitrates are rarely a problem except for the very young. Wall flower (Erysimum cheiri) contains cardiac glycocides especially in the seeds (Wink & Van Wyk, 2008). Several members may also be too bitter to truly enjoy.

The Mustard family fosters a lot of insect activity. Bees work many members of the Brassica genus (Lovell, 1977). Members of the Brassicaceae may also bring some beneficial insects to the garden (McDonald, n.d.).  The mustard family hosts a number of pests including Flea Beetles (Phyllotreta spp.), Cabbage Looper (Trichoplusia ni), Imported Cabbage Worm (Pieris rapae), and Harlequin Bugs (Murgantia histrionica) (Cranshaw, 2004; Ellis & Bradley, 1996).

The Falcate Orangetip butterfly (Anthocharis midea) is supported by the Brassicaceae family in general and the Rockcress (Arabis) genus in particular (Tallamy, 2009). Siberian Wallflower (Erysimum hieraciifolium) attracts several butterflies including whites, blues, and swallowtails and Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is noted as a crucial nectar plant for butterflies in the Spring when little else is around (Lewis, 1995).

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a serious exotic pest plant which i have heard verbally from several sources is alleleopathic. However, at least one study may dispute that (Scott, 2010). Either way it is edible, medicinal, and apparently a general nectar producer for bees, butterflies, moths and flies (Scott, 2010). i would wonder about it’s potential to take up heavy metals due to its place in the Brassicaceae.

 Many other species readily naturalize and are prevalent in disturbed areas including Cress (Barbarea vulgaris), Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis), Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum), Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) and (Rorippa sylvestris) (Miller et al., 2006).  Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) can be very pervasive in the garden and should be put in a long term place due to its tendency to spread by roots as well as prolific seeds.

The Mustard family has many members that have been used as dye plants including:

Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003),

Kale, Collards etc. (Brassica oleracea) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003, 2003).

Wallflower (Cheiranthes cheiri) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003),

Woad (Isatis tinctoria) (Buchanan, 1995; J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003, 2003),

Poor person’s pepper (Lepidium ruderale) (Buchanan, 1995),

Stock (Matthiola incana) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003, 2003), and

Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003).


Many plants in the Brassicaceae make exceptional cut flowers fresh or dry. Species of Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and Honesty (Lunaria spp.) have pretty purple flowers. Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri) has a bright orange flower. The seed pods of various species are very ornamental when dry. Some of my favorites include Field Penny Cress (Thlaspi arvense), Shepard’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), Poor person’s pepper (Lepidium spp.) and Honesty (Lunaria  spp.).

The now popular medicinal Maca is another species of Lepidium (Lepidium meyennii). Maybe amongst the multitude of other Lepidium species is a more local Maca substitute waiting to be discovered?

The Ericaceae / Heath Family/ Ericales

Including the Pyrolaceae and the Monotropaceae

The Heath family is one of the most important plant groups for acidic soils in the temperate world! Several choice edible fruits alone make it worth knowing well. Members of this family tend to have distinctive urn shaped flowers, though certain members do not. Due to molecular and taxonomic studies the Ericaceae has been greatly expanded to include the formerly distinct Empetraceae, Epacridaceae, Monotropaceae and Pyrolaceae. This expanded family contains 8 sub-families, 20 tribes, 124 genera and 4,050 spp! (Heywood et al., 2007). i rarely deal with sub families and tribes right now as so many systems abound and they are continually in a state of flux. The genera Rhododendron, Erica and Agapetes account for 50% of all species but 50% of genera have 5 spp. or fewer (Heywood et al., 2007). None of the many species included in the Blue Ridge Flora are introduced (Wofford, 1989).

Fruits from Blueberries/Cranberries (Vaccinium spp.)  Huckleberries (Gaylussacia spp.) and Mazanitas (Arctostaphylos spp.) are relished for pies, jams, wines etc. i remember being introduced to Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandicum) by the great botanist and mycologist Greenlight at the California Rainbow Gathering around 8000 ft. elevation in Modoc National Forest. This is certainly a food to be used with some extra awareness and caution as Elpel describes.

The Ericaceae is famous for its use in issues involving the urinary tract. Members of the Pyrola family or tribe are especially useful for this purpose in tea. Wintergreen (Pyrola spp.) and Pipsissewa (Chimaphila spp.) are well known in this regard. A little girl i know was named in honor of Pipsissewa though for now she goes by Pippi.

The plants affiliated with Ghost pipe (Monotropa uniflora) are really a special group unto themselves. i somewhat contest the re-inclusion of this family back into the Ericaceae. From a utilitarian standpoint the lack of chlorophyll alone would seem to provide a reason to put this group in its own family. However, most family distinctions are made due to flower morphology or genetics. Some people even think it is a mushroom because of the lack of color. Elpel astutely states how other plants also lack chlorophyll including Broomrape (Orobanche spp.) in the Orobanchaceae, Dodder (Cuscuta spp.) in the Cuscutaceae and members of the Orchid family (Orchidaceae).

 Honey from several members of the Ericaceae including Rhododendron spp. may be toxic (J. M. Kingsbury, 1964; Nelson, Shih, & Balick, 2007; Pellett, 1977; Wink & Van Wyk, 2008). That said Vaccinium and Gaylussacia provide good surplus nectar for bees and a special honey is produced in Appalachia from the sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum). Several members of the Ericaceae are hosts to a few special butterflies and moths. Blueberries support 288 species of Lepidoptera alone (Tallamy, 2009, p. 147)! More information from Tallamy’s book follows below.



Brown Elfin butterfly (Callophrys augustus).


Blueberries (Vaccinium  spp.) and Leatherleafs (Chamaedaphne spp.)

Major Datana moth (Datana major).


Azaleas (Rhododendron  spp.) and Blueberries

Saddleback Caterpillar moth (Acharia stimulea).


Striped Hairstreak butterfly (Satyrium liparops)

Ericaceae including Blueberries and Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum)

Huckleberry Sphinx (Paonias astylus)

Blueberries and Box Huckleberry (Gaylussacia brachycera)


Mountain laurels (Kalmia spp.), Fetterbush (Pieris spp.) and Dog hobble (Leucothoe spp.) are all toxic to livestock. Their wood should also probably not be burned and inhaled either. Sodium channel inhibitors are present in Kalmia spp., Pieris spp., Maleberries (Lyonia spp.), Rhododendron spp., Pernettya spp. and Leucothoe spp. (J. M. Kingsbury, 1964). Andromedatoxins are the compounds usually attributed to this mode of Ericaceae toxicity (Wink & Van Wyk, 2008).

Dye Plants are many and well documented in this family

Heath (Erica spp.) & Heather (Calluna vulgaris ) (J. Cannon & M. Cannon, 2003; Fern, 2008)

Madrone (Arbutus menziesii)  (Fern, 2008; A. Krochmal & C. Krochmal, 1974)

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) (Fern, 2008; A. Krochmal & C. Krochmal, 1974).

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) (Eaton, 1973; Fern, 2008; Nicholson & Clovis, 1967).

Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) (Fern, 2008; A. Krochmal & C. Krochmal, 1974; Nicholson & Clovis, 1967).


Other crafts from this family are prominent in Appalachia including wood from Rhododendron spp. and Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). These are used for ornamental fence railings. Doug Elliot also recently showed a group i was with how to make a crow call from Mountain laurel as well. Many of the plants in this family are used in the landscape and treasured for their spring flower displays. Enkianthus is an unusual genus that is useful for the landscape (Dirr, 1997).

The following five families are not in Botany in a Day. They are all members of the Ericales and appear alphabetically by scientific family name. (Judd et al., 2008; Spears, 2006).

Ebony Family / Ebenaceae / Ericales

Besides its namesake (Diospyros ebenum)  it is home to one very special genus. That is 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).

Sweetpepper Bush Family / Clethraceae / Ericales

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

Silverbell Family / Styracaceae / Ericales

The Silverbells (Halesia diptera and Halesia tetraptera) are very special showy little Appalachian trees that only occurs in a few fertile locales. Carolina Silverbell (H. Carolina) provides food for the Promethea moth larva (Tallamy, 2009).

Horsesugar Family / Symplocaceae / Ericales

This is another special little family. The foliage of the Sweetleaf (Symplocos tinctoria) are sweet and the name denotes its use as a dye plant. The leaves are apparently eaten in Asia and brewed in tea in Latin America (Couplan, 1998). Many more species occur in the Carribean.

Tea Family / Theaceae / 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 Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.

Primulaceae / Primrose Family/ Ericales

i mostly think of this family representing the Primroses (Primula spp.), Whorled Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)  and Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon spp.). However, i was excited to meet the Starflower (Trientalis borealis) recently at the Pennsylvania Rainbow gathering. This plant was sometimes confused for Indian Cucumber (Medeola virginiana) in the Liliaceae at that most recent gathering. Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) and Gooseneck Loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) are potential locally escaping invasives from this family.

 The common name conventions get tricky as this family is not related to the Evening Primrose family (Onagraceae). The Loosestrife in this family is also not related to the terrible invasive Purple Loosetrife (Lythrum salicaria) in the Loosestrife family (Lythraceae).

Elpel puts this family in its own order which seems to have now been absorbed into the Heath order.

Special Taxonomic Note!

The taxonomy of the following families is being vastly redefined by genetic studies. Many were formerly put in the Rosales order as reflected by Elpel, but are now in several other orders or still to be determined (Heywood et al., 2007).

Hydrangeaceae / Hydrangea Family/ Cornales

Hydrangeas (Hydrangea spp.) are major ornamental plants. Sweet spire (Itea virginica) is a prized native ornamental that is sometimes put into its own family known as the Iteaceae. The USDA site puts it into the Gooseberry family (Grossulariaceae) (USDA, n.d.). It is well known that the color of some Hydrangeas can be changed from pink to blue depending on the pH of the soil. It is interesting to note that Mock Orange (Philadelphus spp.) can be used for soap as well as its ornamental qualities. Try to remember also that most members have opposite leaves. However, this family is not included in the typical pneumonic device for remembering woody families with the opposite leaf trait. MADCapHorse. (Maple, Ash, Dogwood, Caprifoliaceae, Horsechestnut) is the memory device most commonly used in my experience.

Grossulariaceae / Gooseberry Family/  Saxifragales Order

The Gooseberry family has sometimes been placed in the Saxifragaceae. The genus Grossularia is most often put into the genus Ribes now. The fruits of many species of Ribes are cherished. However, plants can transmit a disease to White Pines (Pinus strobus) and for that reason their cultivation is sometimes outlawed. Several species of Gooseberries have also been used as natural dyes (Bliss, 1993; Fern, 2008; A. Krochmal & C. Krochmal, 1974).

Crassulaceae / Stonecrop Family / Saxifragales Order

Stonecrops (Sedum spp.)  are by far the most populous genus of this family. They are succulent plants that are often placed in rock gardens. are also a common plant used in green roofing situations (Dunnett & N. Kingsbury, 2005). Live Forever (Sedum spectabile) is a very common landscape plant that also attracts a wide variety of butterflies including Swallowtails, Sulphurs, Coppers, Hairstreaks, Blues, Nymphalids, Monarch and Skippers (Lewis, 1995).

The hardiness of these plants is incredible! i have seen them growing above 9,000 ft elevation in Wyoming and Montana near Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is a pan temperate/artic plant in the Stonecrop family is a famous adaptogen (Winston & Maimes, 2007).

Many members from the Crassulaceae are very easy to propagate by cuttings or divisions set straight into soil. Jade plant (Crassula ovata) is probably the most famous family member in this regard.

This family really peaks in diversity in South Africa where many succulent houseplants have been imported from. Frank determined in his Master’s thesis that the African system of plant use, especially for medicine, was the least studied and understood by his contemporaries (Cook, 2009).

Saxifragaceae  / Saxifrage Family / Saxifragales Order

This is a family that usually inhabits thin, moist forest soils. The genus Saxifraga has the lion’s share of species of which some are edible (Couplan, 1998; Peterson, 1978). Branch Lettuce (Saxifraga micranthidifolia) is particularly relished in Appalachia. Many flowers from this family, though minute, are considered sufficiently ornamental for mainstream cultivation. Astilbe (Astilbe spp.) is a notable genus omitted by Elpel. It is often used for landscaping. In Appalachia we have False Goat’s Beard (Astilbe biternata) which may be confused with the Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus) in the Rose family (Rosaceae). The tannins in certain members have also been used as mordants for natural dyes.

Rosaceae / Rose Family / Rosales

The taxonomy of Roses is rather complex. There are many genera that cross readily at the species level. Famous ones in this regard include Rubus, Amelanchier and Crataegus (Lance, 2004).

The Rosaceae is one of the major families for fruits in the temperate world including Apples (Malus spp.), and Pears (Pyrus spp.). Plums, Cherries, Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, and Almonds are all in the same genus (Prunus spp.) Juneberries (Amelanchier spp.), Hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) and Mountain Ash (Sorbus spp.) are a few wild genera that are foraged for food. Many shrubs including cane fruits (Rubus spp.) and roses (Rosa spp.) are also edible. Apple wood is used to smoke food and impart a special flavor.

Cyanogenic glycocides are present in some members of the Rosaceae. However, they are rarely ingested by humans at levels high enough to cause serious damage (Frohne & Pfander, 2005). Livestock have been especially negatively affected by consuming wilted cherry leaves (J. M. Kingsbury, 1964). Cyanide is deactivated by heating or drying and is apparently not present in the Rose subfamily. Some people are allergic to members from this family for other reasons. Agrimony (Agrimonia spp.) and tea rose (Rosa ×odorata) in particular can cause contact dermatitis (Nelson et al., 2007). Triterpine saponins are another potentially toxic compound that occur in the Rosaceae as well (Wink & Van Wyk, 2008).

Most plants in the Rosaceae provide copious amounts of early pollen and nectar for bees. Here around Asheville, i relish a Blackberry honey that is available in limited quantities from local bee keeper Greg Rogers. Pest insects and diseases can be hard to control for Apples especially. In case you are interested, my senior project for an undergraduate degree at Warren Wilson College focused on organic production of apples in Appalachia. Diseases tend to often affect plums, cherries and peaches as well.

Numerous members of the Prunus genus in the Rosaceae are hosts for Butterflies. The Cherry/Plum/Necatarine genus hosts the Red Spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) butterfly. The Coral hairstreak butterfly is hosted by Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) and Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina). The American Plum (Prunus americana) and Cherries host the Striped Hairstreak butterfly (Satyrium liparops). Black cherry hosts the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus).

Other members of the Rosaceae are hosts for moths as well including Wild Black Cherry Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia) Io (Automeris io), Small eyed sphinx (Paonias myops) Black Etched Prominent (Cerura scitiscripta) Yellow-necked Caterpillar (Datana ministra) and Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) moths.

Wild Black Cherry and Apples are the host for Promethea moth (Callosamia promethea). Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina) Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris) Meadow Rose (Rosa blanda) and Southern Crabapple (Malus angustifolia) are hosts for the Apple Sphinx (Sphinx gordius). Hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) are hosts for the Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe). Hawthorns are hosts for the Waved Sphinx (Ceratomia undulosa). American plum and Wild Black Cherry are hosts to the Wild Cherry Sphinx (Sphinx drupiferarum). Apples host the Large tolype (Tolype velleda) and White Marked Tussock (Orgyia leucostigma). The Prunus genus hosts the Saddleback Caterpillar (Acharia stimulea).


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