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Archive for February, 2011

 

Wapato

Wapato – Sagittarian Latifolia ( Broadleaf Arrowhead, tule potato, duck potato, arrowleaf).

This story was told to me. I have never seen Wapato. I search for it often to release it back into the wild. This story was told to me by others who love the plants.

In the land whose borders stretched from the area we call British Columbia (Haida, Tlingit, Lleitsui Nuuchah Nuith, and Salish land) to the deep forests and coast of Northern California and Mt Shasta (Tshastl) Wapato grew and kept watch over the people. This was the time before the change.

Once, before the occupation and colonization of the first peoples of Cascadia. Before the times when women and children and the infirmed were taken from the Cow Creek, Umpqua, Siletz, Kalapuya and Chinook. Before the people were lined up and marched on the Trail of Tears to Grand Ronde. Before the strong youth and warriors of those tribe escaped across the Cascades to join the resistance leaders such as Bin, Sister, and Sami of the Carrier Athabasca, Joseph of the Nez Pierce whose real name was In-mutt-too-yah-lat-lat (Thunder coming up over the land from water). Before the brave ones crossed the deep snows of the Cascades to join the Paiute Leader Wovoka and the Ghost Dancers and the Modoc resistance leader Captain Jack – Keiutpoos.

Before that time the Wapato lived in great green rivers along the slow moving streams and the ponds. It was the glory food of the people.

Wapato grew so prolifically, that it was harvested like crops. First peoples apparently claimed patches that guaranteed rights of harvest. Families or tribes made claims on particular patches of the plant. While Wapato grows all over the North American continent (and the world), it probably came to prominence in the northwest due to mild winters and great abundance of places to grow. Wapato was gathered in October and November when most other ponds in the country are frozen over or too cold for gathering.

Wapato loved the shallow ponds, swamps, slow moving streams, and the margins of quiet lakes. It requires a rich muck that is submerged in water for most or all of the year. In good conditions, Wapato can grow in huge abundance.

According to Pojar and McKinnon a Chinook myth describes Wapato as “the food before Salmon came to the Columbia”. The women of the First People tribes would wade in water up to their chests or even necks, while using their feet, to release tubers from their stems. The tubers floated to the water’s surface, were collected, and tossed into a special canoe.

Wapato was eaten raw (although somewhat bitter) or cooked. Wapato tubers were prepared for eating by boiling, or by baking in hot ashes or in underground pits, after which they could be eaten or dried for long-term storage or trading. The taste of the Wapato is much like that of the potato.

The tuber was an energy food much like potatoes. Only this plant also yielded some iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium and other minerals. It was an outstanding food when there was a shortage of protein. It is very high in carbohydrates. This allowed the people who harvested Wapato to survive long winters with little other food. The tubers stored well and were much sought after as a trade food item.

The Wapato could be pounded into flour that was stored and made into cakes in the winter time. Or it was added to Pemmican or fruit leather.

But during the occupation wars, in order to beat down the people, the great twisting rivers of Wapato were dug up by the occupiers and piled along the stream edges and burned. This was done as part of the genocide against the First Peoples. It was thought that if the plant was destroyed in the wild, the people would be dependent upon the occupiers for food and would not run away.

The women tried to hide the tubers in their belongings in hopes of replanting them at the place of internment. Some Wapato was smuggled to Grand Ronde and into the Coast range. Some were released along the Luckimute and other local rivers and streams.

There are few reserves of these plants.

One is found at the Ridgefield Wildlife Reserve at Ridgefield, Washington. Great flocks of trumpeter swans migrate here each winter.  The Wapato is excellent food for these beautiful birds.  The area is closed to people, but there is an observation area nearby. 

Wapato is an herbaceous wetland plant. The leaves and flower stalk rise above the water. The leaves are arrow-shaped (sagittate). Leaf stems attach directly to the base of the plant like celery. The base is partially submerged in the muck, giving rise to the roots and rhizomes below.

The plants grow in long bands that snake around the curves of ponds, lakes and slow moving streams. Wapato’s white, 3-petaled flowers bloom on a spike from midsummer through early autumn. The flowering stalk is separate from the leaves but rises about as high off the water. Later in summer, small green balls form in place of the flowers. These turn brown in fall and break apart to disperse tiny, flat, winged, floating seeds.

There is a growing movement to replant the Wapato in Cascadia’s waterways. The plant is food not only for humans but for beavers, otters, muskrats, ducks and other animals that frequent water ways.

To learn more about Wapato

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadleaf_arrowhead

Pojar & McKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia

 Thrush, Coll-Peter – The Lushootseed Peoples of Puget Sound Country – Essay by Coll-Peter Thrush viewed on the internet 1/1/2011  http://content.lib.washington.edu/aipnw/thrush.html#circling  University of Washington – Digital Collections

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Click for larger image

I use a two step method of identifying plants.  I first use a profile sheet that allows me to check off key parts of a particular plant, make a sketch and collect plant samples. Then I “key” out the plant data I have collected. This allows me to indentify just about any plant I find in the wilds or in the city.

 I carry the profile sheets in my back pack when I go out in the woods or nature.  I take my color pencils with me and my profile sheet has a place on it where I draw the plant I have found.   I will put a link to an example of a good plant profile sheet you can use.

Once I have collected information about the plant I can begin to “key” the plant.

The key was actually devised over many years and categorizes the plant parts into plant family, genus and species.  You can view the key as a series of questions you answer that will allow you to get closer and closer to identifying a plant.

Pojar and MacKinnon have a great key at the beginning of each section in their book.  The Species are grouped as follows: Trees,  Shrubs, Wildflowers, Aquatics, Oddballs, Graminoids, Ferns and Allies, Mosses and Liverworts, and Lichens.

HOW TO BECOME AN EXPERT AT INDENTIFYING ANY PLANT

STEP ONE: Learn the basic parts of a plant.  Here is a link to a good source online that teaches you about the 19 basic botanical parts.

STEP TWO:  fill out a profile sheet on the plant you are trying to identify. Here is a sample of an online profile sheet

STEP THREE:  Key out the plant.  It is important to use a plant book that is designed to cover plants from your region of the world and includes plant keys.

 You choose family first.  Look at the plant and decide where it might fit.  It is a tree, a shrub, a wildflower, grass or sedge? Choose one.  Let’s say that we have come upon a tree.  Look at it and use a profile sheet to gather some information about this tree.

Here are the questions that you may want to answer.

Stem and Leaves

Stem where leaf is attached:  stipules?   no stipules?

Leaf blade  smooth edges?    toothed edges? 

Leaf petiole   long?    normal?   absent?

Leaf type (look for buds) ”  simple? ”  compound?

Arrangement of leaves (at nodes)  alternate?  opposite?  whorled?  spiral?

Needles?  Are they flat?  Round?  In groups of 2 or 5?  Other?

Next: draw a picture of the tree, its shape over all.  What does the bark look like?  Look closely at the leaves or needles.  Does the tree have a cone or flower? Take a sample.  Put it in a collection bag to study.

Now you have a profile sheet and can use a key to study what you have collected.

In the Pojar and MacKinnon book you will find small pictures that will allow you to identify the tree type.  Then you will be asked if the tree has leaves or needles and depending on what you choose to answer, you will progress to deeper information.  The key uses deduction.  Here is an example.  Let say I am trying to identify that tree again.  I am pretty sure it is a pine tree of some sort.  I look at the key for trees.

1a.  Leaves needle-like or scale- like evergreen, seeds usually in cones, not enclosed in a fruit (like a conifer).

2a – Leaves scale-like concealing the twigs                         Or

2b – Leaves needle-like, not concealing the twigs

 I CHOOSE 2b.

Under 2b I find other choices:

Needles in clusters?

Needles in clusters of 5?…..then it is a Pinus monticola

Needles in cluster of 2?……then it is a Pinus contoria

 My tree has needles in clusters of 5 –  I find that the tree is a Pinus monticola or a Western White Pine.

Pretty easy!   The trick is to have a good book that has a well prepared key.  It gets far more complex when you start trying to identify plants that flower or grasses and sedges.

If you really want to learn plant profiling and keying…pick up a copy of Elpel’s “Botany in a Day”. Thomas Elpel uses the patterns method of plant identification.  He teaches plant parts for profiling. He has keys for all the plant species and families. And, he teaches you how to understand important patterns found in the plant kingdoms.

Elpel also teaches about the hierarchy of the plant kingdom, from top to bottom.  Here it is for review:

Division (phyla)

            Class

                        Subclass

                                    Order

                                                Family

                                                            Genus

                                                                        Species

 The last three divisions are what most plant identification books and plant keys focus on. Profiling a flower is much harder than profiling a tree.  There is just so much more to know.  Basically flowering plants can be categorized into two classes:  Dicots and Monocots.

 What division of the plant kingdom does your flowering plant belong to?  Is your plant a monocot or a dicot?  Is your dicot plant a member of the Aster family?  How many petals does it have? These are just a few questions that help you profile your plant. Once you have answered these questions you will be able to easily find the right key for the plant.

 Here is some basic information about flowering plants.

 Dicots:  (two seed leaves, netted veins, usually tap rooted, usually complex branching, floral parts mostly in 4’s and 5’s.)there are simple flowers and complex flowers.
Monocots: (one seed leaf, parallel veins in the leaves, horizontal rootstalks, usually simple branching, floral parts mostly in 3’s)

 Flower types include simple and complex classes.  These classes include Buttercup, Rose, Gentian and Aster, Arrowhead, Lily, and Orchid.

 “Botany in a Day” will help you identify the correct family of a plant.  It is much easier to identify the proper genus or species of a plant after you have accurately identified the proper family. Use Botany in a Day to find the correct family, then you can use color picture books to help narrow down choices.  

 Elpel’s book has pictures and explanations of these flower types. He also has included profile pages specifically for flowers. He also covers the evolution of plants.   Visually viewing the actual plant is essential to learning about it.  And the viewing needs to include deep study of each part of the plant.   Once you understand the patterns of each plant family you will easily be able to identify and “key” the plant. 

For instance: the pattern of the Mustard family:  4 petals and 6 stamens – 4 tall 2 short.

 The pattern of the Mint family is that it has square stalks and opposite leaves, often aromatic.

 There are plenty of resources on the internet to help you identify plants also.  Here is a link to a plant guide put together by the US Department of agriculture.  It is plant guide for the Common Snowberry – http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_syal.pdf 

Create a study group or skillshare to learn about plants.

 One thing you might consider doing is creating a study group or skillshare group using “Botany in a Day” and other books to learn together.  You might have people in your group who know a few plants and be willing to share with you.

 One last thing: storytelling.  I need storytelling to remember things.  I have a Celtic mind and soul.  Because I love storytelling I am fascinated with ethnobotany.  Ethnobotany discusses how the plant was used by indigenous peoples.  Pojar and Mackinnon’s book includes the ethnobotany of the each plant.  I have also included two great references with this essay.  Erna Gunther and Nancy Turner have great books about the ethnobotany of plants in the Cascadian bioregion.  

I wish to acknowledge my plant teachers who taught me to be able to identify plants through profiling and keying. My favorite plant identification teachers are Thomas J. Elpel who wrote” Botany in a Day”, and Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon who edited” Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast”.

Hope this explanation helps you get started on how to identify plants.  Until next time – see you in the deep woods!

 Next time: Wapato – the liberation plant

 References

 Gunther, Erna (1945) Ethnobotany of Western Washington, The Knowledge and Use of Indigenous Plants by Native Americans, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.

Elpel, Thomas J. (1996) Botany in a Day:  The Patterns Method of Plant Identification, Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families, 4th Ed (2004) HOPS press LLC, Pony, Montana

Pojar & McKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia

Turner, Nancy J. (1979) Plants in British Columbia Indian Technology, British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Online resources

Thomas Elpel’s website: http://www.wildflowers-and-weeds.com/

Website of Pojar and Mackinnon’s book “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast” http://www.lonepinepublishing.com/cat/9781551055305

US department of agriculture plant guide:  http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_syal.pdf

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Kinship with all things

For thousands of years humans have tried to categorized plants into systems that could be memorized and recalled when needed. At first plants were named after the color, smell, location and how it might be used.  Then came the domination culture and plants were named after the tribe or culture who won the battle. Wars were fought over control of trade of a plant (spice wars).  Naming a plant or species was also done to gain control over a culture. A prize of a conquest was to re-name all indigenous species. 

Over thousands of years of conquests humans began to search for a common language or naming system that would allow them to explore any area of the planet and identify a species of plants, animals or minerals – it was a search for connection to what was already known. Thus the bionomial Nomenclature method was born.

The binomial nomenclature method is a formal system of naming species of living things.  The system was devised over many centuries but was formally organized by Carl Linnaeus.  Linnaeus (1707 –1778) who was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature.   I am going to be very clear here that Linnaeus began to organize the names of species after the culture of Europe was destroyed by hundreds of years of war, genocide and domination. During these hundreds of years most of the healers, naturalists and scientists were killed or impisoned.  Plants had names before Linnaeus but much of that information was lost due to oppression.  Institutions such as the Roman Empire and then the domination by the Roman Catholic Church destroyed the community and family education systems of European culture. In North America mass genocide decimated tribal First Peoples. The knowledge of plants was mostly lost or kept very secret by the indigeous people.  Europeans came to North America and renamed the plants and animals and geologic areas of this continent.

That said, Linnaeus was paid to name the species and he inherited a complex and confused system of knowing. The system of knowing was intentionally kept complex so that only a few knew the secrets of the plants. Plants were the key to food, medicine and access to nature and the land.  For hundreds of years a person who needed healing had to go through a priest or physician caste for prayer, herbs, and treatment (much of which was very destructive to human health and wellness).

Much of Linnaeus’ work was done in Sweden.  In the 1750s and 60s, he continued to collect and classify animals, plants, and minerals, and published several volumes. At the time of his death, he was renowned as one of the most acclaimed scientists in Europe. He added knowledge to a system of hierarchical kingship with humans at the top of the pyramid.

The essence of the binomial system of naming is this: each species name has two parts, the genus name and the species name (also known as the specific epithet), for example, Homo sapiens, which is the scientific name of the human species. Every two-part scientific name is either formed out of (modern scientific) Latin or is a Latinized version of words from other languages.

The two-part name of a species is commonly known as its Latin name. However, biologists and philologists prefer to use the term scientific name rather than “Latin name”, because the words used to create these names are not always from the Latin language, even though words from other languages have usually been Latinized in order to make them suitable for this purpose. Species names are often derived from Ancient Greek words, or words from numerous other languages, including tribal languages. Frequently species names are based on the surname of a person, such as a well-regarded scientist, or are a Latinized version of a relevant place name. This person was identified as having “discovered” the species. 

Plants had names before Linnaeus and other scientists came along and named species after themselves.  Many First Peoples find this re-naming of plants and other species as offensive and part of the genocide and domination of their culture.  I agree. But there were problems with local naming of plants.  The same plant found over large geological areas could have different names, in a different tribal language.  For instance, take the plant name “Kinnikinnick“.

 In Cascadia the scientific name is Arctostaphylos uva-ursi.  It was called Common Bearberry by European immigrants. And it had several tribal names as well.  The word Kinnikinnick is a eastern North American tribe (Algonquian) term meaning “smoking mixture”.

According to Erna Gunther 1 some Cascadia tribal names for the plant include:

Tribe               Tribal language name for Archtostaphylos uva-ursi

Chehalis –“ kaya’nl”

Klallam – “Kinnikinnick”

Makah –  “kwica’”

Skokomish –  “Sk!ewat”

Squaxin –  “s’quaya’dats

 But what is identified as Kinnikinnick throughout North America and Europe is actually several plants. And the word “Kinnikinnick” means “that which is mixed”.  It is also known as “a mixture that is smoked”.   By using the Binomial nomenclature method of plant identification, botanists, herbalist and naturalists can accurately identify this plant found in a certain geographical area.  And so Binomial nomenclature can be very useful in learning about native plants.  I learned this method and I also search for the ancient names and knowledge of the plants or the ethnobotanical knowledge of plants.  It all works, it all has meaning and it all is worth knowing.

Some plant specialists such as Alan Kapuler have come up with a connection between species that are based on “Kinship” and view all species as equal.  Kapuler says “Plants and other species do not need Kings”.2    There is no ruling species.  Kapuler believes strongly that we must place more value on the relationship between species as the core notion for optimizing diversity and subscribes to the Dahlgren Coevolutionary Layout.  That is, we should realize that a Giant Sequoia or a sunflower is just as important as a human life. We humans cannot continue to destroy whole groups of species and expect to live.  When we allow one species to become extinct, we are moving ever closer to our own extinction.

The Binomial nomenclature is used in “keying Plants”.  Learning to “key” a plant will allow you to identify any plant that you find.

Next time:  In part 3 of this series on plant identification I will teach you how to “key” plants

Until next time: See you in the deep woods.

References

1. Gunther, Erna (1945) Ethnobotany of Western Washington, The Knowledge and Use of Indigenous Plants by Native Americans, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.

2. Kapuler, Alan M (1997) System Tree and Kinship Gardening, Peace Seeds Resource Journal, Vol. 8. Peace Seeds publishing, Corvallis, Oregon

3. Kapuler, Alan M (1997) An Ark for the Plants, Construction, Planting, and Growing a Kinship Garden Using the Dahlgren Coevolutionary Layout, Peace Seeds Resource Journal, Vol. 8, Peace seeds Publishing, Corvallis, Oregon.

Online resources

More on Alan Kapuler

Mushroom’s Blog (Alan Kapuler) http://mushroomsblog.blogspot.com/2005/01/descriptions-from-dr-kapulers-peace.html

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