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stem cellular structure of the water Milofoil

“Plants are all chemists,  Tirelessly assembling the molecules of the world.”  -Gary Snyder, Introduction, *Pharmako/poeia

Why should you, the aspiring naturalist be concerned with the cellular design of plants?  One answer might be – It is in this beautiful design that you will draw closer to plants and their ability to heal humanity.  Another reason might be that it is in the cells of plants that knowledge of the evolutionary past and future genetic path are stored.  It is also in this knowledge that you will come to know how at risk the earth is because of the efforts of a few who are attempting to genetically modify and capture the cells of plants.  The genetic material of cells store the combined ancestral knowledge of plants and no one has a right to destroy our link to our ancestors or our future.

By understanding the cellular structure of plants you will come closer to being able to identify plants very fast and also learn the medicinal, nutritional, utilitarian, and social connection between plants and humans.  You will hopefully join the movement to educate yourself about plants and move native plants out of sanctuaries and place them in all our environments. This knowledge was fast slipping from us, now there is a movement to end “plant blindness”.

Come with me on a voyage to learn the basics of plant cellular biology.  Before I begin, one story (because I am a Celtic woman – a story at the beginning, a story at the end of each lesson).

A couple of years ago I was very lucky to have spent time with a retired botany professor who loved to teach “newbie’s”-  or plant lovers who know very little about plant identification.  The man was very patient and had considerable knowledge of plants from my part of the world.  He fully understood that when most people go out in the forest they see plants of the same species as pretty much looking all alike  One weekend he taught us about conifers.  Identification of the many conifers in my part of the world can be quite confusing. They do look somewhat alike.  Unless a tree has a very different looking bark or shape it is hard to identify them.  That is unless you get very close- I mean on a cellular level of closeness.

Our teacher taught us about cell physiology and plant organelles before we went into the forest.  He was especially keen to teach about STOMATA BLOOMS which would allow us to identify many different species of conifers. The stomata are minute pores in a plant organelle in which gas exchange occurs.

Stomata cells up close

A stoma (pl. stomata) is a microscopic pore on the surface (epidermis) of land plants. It is surrounded by a pair of specialized epidermal cells called guard cells, which act as a turgor-driven valve that open and close the pores in response to given environmental conditions.

Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere enters the stomata and oxygen produced by photosynthesis diffuses out of the stomata. Water molecules also escape through the stomata, especially in hot, dry weather. Water loss through the stomata is known as transpiration. If the plant loses too much water it will wilt and eventually die. To cope with this dilemma, plants have evolved paired guard cells on each side of the stoma.

Each tree (plant) expresses the design of stomata blooms differently.

Western Red Cedar Stomata cells - butterfly pattern

The design and color of the stomata help us plant lovers to more easily identify the plants.  For instance the underside of the Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) needles has a butterfly pattern which is actually a stomata bloom.   You cannot actually see the guard cells without a microscope, on most plants they’re totally invisible to the naked eye. But you can see the STOMATA BLOOM. Depending on the species and the growing conditions, there are 100-1000 stomata per square millimeter on the underside of a leaf.

Plant cell biology is as complex as human cell biology. Understanding the healthy plant cell physiology can help the naturalist, gardener and plant lover to live closer to the plant world and understand their needs. Understanding this physiology will also keep you from being pulled into the propaganda and lies of big pharma, genetically modified corporates, and other scientists gone mad. There is no easy or fast way to teach you everything there is to know about these cells. So, I am just going to share a few things that I found very interesting about plant cells and plant organelles. Then at the end I will have links so you can further your education in plant cell physiology (blessed be to wiki-links).

CELLS WITH A PURPOSE

Both plants and animals have cells that reflect a genetic purpose. The kindom Plantae purpose IS NOT to take care of humans.  Their purpose is to be part of a global interactive, biological, energetic community that cooperates to create balance in all things. This means developing systems of survival.

But as for plant/human cooperation – Plants take CO2 out of the environment and exhale it as oxygen. This important transaction happens both on the cellular and organelle level.  This is probably the most well-known reason for plant/human appreciation.  We need oxygen to survive.  Humans use plants as food because plant cells store nutrients, carbohydrates and chemical compounds that keep us well.

Looking at a plant cell and an animal cell you will see some things are the same, and some things are very different.

At the smallest scale of plant cellular biology are molecular interactions of photosynthesis and internal diffusion of water, minerals, and nutrients. At the largest scale are the processes of plant development, seasonality, dormancy, and reproductive control.

The cells of plants have evolved differently from animals because plants cannot move.  Plants defend themselves chemically from herbivores, pathogens, and competition from other plants. Their cellular composition supports these interactions. The cells also produce compounds that defend against disease, permit survival during drought, and prepare plants for dormancy.  There are even compounds used to attract pollinators or herbivores to spread ripe seeds. (Yes, we humans are often used by plants to spread pollen and seeds). And in exchange we humans have learned to use those compounds to heal ourselves – as in plant medicine,food and for utility.

I read a couple of research reports on plant plasticity and adaptation some years ago. In these reports scientists and a plant specialist wanted to know how plants interact with threats from herbivores and environmental dangers.  They wanted to know if the reaction to threat was immediate or slow-reactive.  For a long time scientists and the rest of us saw plants as nonreactive.

In both studies the scientist collected information on plant reaction to threats including humans and found that the reaction happened on the cellular/chemical level and that change was almost immediate.  Plants changed their own chemical biology to release bitters, poisons, and chemicals to protect themselves.  The plant cells were designed to offer different mechanisms for different situations.  This process sometimes also inadvertently caused humans and animals to change physiologically for the better. Human involvement in plant medicine and in some cases mind-altering physical changes have occurred for millions of years.  I have listed links to this research at the end of this article.

Plant cells are mostly oblong in shape, animal cells are mostly round  Compared to animal cells, plant cell walls are tough.  They are strong enough to withstand osmotic pressure. Up to three strata or layers may be found in plant cell walls.  Plant cells have a cell wall that restricts the shape of the plant cells and this is what limits its flexibility and mobility. Cell walls in most plant tissues also function as storage depots for carbohydrates that can be broken down and reabsorbed to supply the metabolic and growth needs of the plant.

Up to three strata or layers may be found in plant cell walls:[5]

  • The middle lamella, a layer rich in pectins. This outermost layer forms the interface between adjacent plant cells and glues them together.
  • The primary cell wall, generally a thin, flexible and extensible layer formed while the cell is growing.
  • The secondary cell wall, a thick layer formed inside the primary cell wall after the cell is fully grown. It is not found in all cell types. In some cells, such as found xylem, the secondary wall contains lignin, which strengthens and waterproofs the wall.

For instance the bark of a tree is actually layers of live and dead cells arranged in layers. One layer that lies next to the heartwood of a tree called Sapwood, or xylem, carries water up from the roots to the leaves.  As the cells of Xylem age, they turn to heartwood. The next layer out, the cork cambium, covers the tree from twig to root. The cambium which is also called the phellogen, is normally only one cell layer thick and as the cells divides it creates the outer bark layer called cork or phellem.  The outer layer of bark on most trees helps keep out water and weather and insects. It acts as an insulation layer and is the product of mass cellular division.  The cells of the cork layer produce a substance called suberin, a waxy substance which protects the stem and trunk against water loss, the invasion of insects, and prevents infections by bacteria and fungal spores. Now, understanding this plant cellular biology you probably see why stripping the bark off trees can cause tree death or disease.  We humans have forgotten valuable information that would help us to better steward the earth and live harmoniously with plants, especially the great trees.

What is the same and what is different

Plant Cell Structure - click for larger view

Both plant cells and animal cells have: Cytoplasm, Mitochondria, Endoplasmic Reticulum (Smooth and Rough), Golgi Apparatus, Microtubules/ Microfilaments, Flagella, and a Nucleus.

In plants the nuclear and cell division are mainly localized in special regions called meristems. This information is important to know if you will be working with seeds, grafting, or hybridization.  This rapidly dividing region will either elongate the tips of stems and roots or expand the girth of the plant.  In animals, cells divide everywhere, all the time. The division process is essentially the same for plants and animals. The main difference comes when it is time for cytoplasmic division. A plant cell builds a new cell wall to divide its two daughter cells, and an animal cell will pinch in two, or cleave.

Both plant and animal cells have plasma membranes. Plant cells have cell walls; animal cells do not.  Plant cells have cell walls in addition to plasma membranes, not instead of plasma membranes.  The cell wall of a plant is made from cellulose and is much tougher.

Plant cells have chloroplast for photosynthesis whereas animal cells do not. Animal cells are round whereas plant cells are rectangular. All animal cells have centrioles whereas only some lower plant forms have centrioles in their cells.  Plant cells have one very large vacuole in the center and animal cells have a very small vacuole.

Plant cells have both mitochondria and chloroplasts.  The chloroplasts turn the sunlight into glucose. The mitochondria turn glucose into energy (ATP).

Plant cells contain chlorophyll, a chemical compound that interacts with light in a way that enables plants to manufacture their own food rather than consuming other living things as animals do.

A plant cell has plasmodesmata –  which are narrow channels that act as intercellular cytoplasmic bridges to facilitate communication and transport of materials between plant cells. Plant cells are eukaryotic – A eukaryote is an organism whose cells contain complex structures enclosed within membranes.

“Man sees the morning as the beginning of a new day, he takes germination as the start in the life of a plant, and withering as its end.  But this is nothing more than biased judgment on his part.  Nature is one. There is no starting point or destination, only an unending flux, a continuous metamorphosis of all things.”

–       Masanobu Fukuoka, The Natural Way of Farming

References

Cells alive – interactive animal and plant cell website – http://www.cellsalive.com/cells/cell_model.htm

Differences between plant and animal cells – http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Differences_between_animal_and_plant_cells#ixzz1lqkl5zMS

Biology online: a site to teach you biology, botany, cellular biology and other useful biological and botanical science.  http://quizlet.com/5551829/biology-test-1-flash-cards/

Plant cell physiology – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant_cell    viewed on the internet 2/7/2012

Karban, Richard, Agrawal, Anurag A., Thaler, Jennifer S. and Adler, Lynn S.. Induced plant responses and information content about risk of herbivory, Tree – Ecology and Evolution  vol. 14, no. 11, pages 83-86 November 1999

Buhner, Stephen Harrod, (2002) The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines to Life on Earth, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River, VT

Vocabulary

  • Organelles – mean little organs.  They are located inside the cell structure and have specific roles to play in how cells work.
  •  stoma (pl. stomata) is a microscopic pore on the surface (epidermis) of land plants. It is surrounded by a pair of specialized epidermal cells called guard cells, which act as a turgor-driven valve that open and close the pores in response to given environmental conditions.
  • TurgorTurgor pressure pushes the plasma membrane against the cell wall of plant, bacteria, and fungi cells as well as those protist cells which have cell walls.
  • A vacuole is a membrane-bound organelle which is present in all plant and fungal cells and some protist, animal[1] and bacterial cells.[2] Vacuoles are essentially enclosed compartments which are filled with water containing inorganic and organic molecules. They have multi-functions including:
  •  isolating materials that might be harmful or a threat to the cell,
  • holding and exporting waste products
  • contain water in plant cells
  • Maintaining internal hydrostatic pressure or turgor within the cell
  • Maintaining an acidic internal pH
  • Containing small molecules
  • Exporting unwanted substances from the cell
  • Allows plants to support structures such as leaves and flowers due to the pressure of the central vacuole
  • In seeds, stored proteins needed for germination are kept in ‘protein bodies’, which are modified vacuoles.[4]

  NEW UPDATE !   New Friend and Sponsor of Radical Botany:  Thanks farmers! 

Daggawalla seeds and herbs.  Open pollinated seeds and many specialized herbs.

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PLANT BLINDNESS is a modern phenomenon whereby humans walk through their world each day and do not notice plants, nor do they know the name, the physiological, ethnobotanical, herbological or ecological connection between themselves and plants.”

Evolution of Plants

First off you should know I am not a scientist.  I am a naturalist.  My knowledge of plants comes from a personal relationship and constant observation and study.  I read everything I can find, including the works of various plant and biological scientists.  I forage for plants and use them as food, utility, medicine, and spiritual growth.  I am teaching from what I know  and what I am learning and offer what I know as one method of connecting with the plant “kindom”.  Yes, KINDOM.  Kindom is different from the hypothesis of Kingdom, which is hierarchical in organization.  Kindom, is different – the hypothesis put forward by the likes of plant specialist and scientist Dr. Alan (Mushroom) Kapuler – says that plants and animals and all species all need each other for survival.  There is not a higher group organization, rather all species interact and need each other in cooperation. Relationships between all species is not competitive but cooperative.

Here is a link to Kapuler’s web blog for further discussion of cooperative relationships between species:

http://mushroomsblog.blogspot.com/2005/01/descriptions-from-dr-kapulers-peace.html

WHY DO YOU NEED TO KNOW BOTANY?

Why do you need to know botany?  Because my goal is to allow each and every one of you to go into a natural area and identify every plant.  A goal that will only be reachable if you are well versed in Botany and plant identification.

Do you know that the connection between humans and the natural world is breaking down so fast that we now have a definition for humans that are disconnected from plants.  It is called “Plant Blindness”.  PLANT BLINDNESS is a modern phenomenon whereby humans walk through their world each day and do not notice plants, nor do they know the name, the physiological, ethnobotanical, herbological or ecological connection between themselves and plants.

It is my hope that you will learn all about plants on this Radical Botany blog and it will be taught in a way that you can easily absorb and apply to your life as a plant lover, naturalist or budding scientist.

So let us begin.

Botany is the study of plants.  It is a scientific process whereby plants are examined from the cellular to the ecological levels.  A scientist who studies Botany or plants are called a botanist.  A plant lover can also be called a naturalist, a gardener, a horticulturist, or one of my favorite “a tree hugger”.  Unabashedly I am a tree hugger and a naturalist.

WHERE DO PLANTS COME FROM?

According to the theories of science,  hundreds of millions of years ago, tiny specks of protoplasm appeared on earth in the ancient seas,  and were the beginning of all our plants and animals.  The protoplasm specks – a one cell organism that became plants developed thick walls and developed the green coloring matter as chlorophyll which enabled them to make food from substances in the air, water and soil.  Slowly over time the plants were able to leave water and adapt to land growing and producing multi-cell organisms.

In the past botanists regarded plant as meaning a multicellular, eukaryotic organism that generally does not have sensory organs or voluntary motion and has, when complete, a root, stem, and leaves.  However this is a better description of vascular plants.  Some plants have no roots, stems or leaves.   And, plant-like organisms such as kelp are actually from the order Laminariales.

Let me go out on a limb here (pun intended) and make this statement about plants: they are alive versus being parasitic and not alive.

A second characteristic of a plant it is that it refers to any organism that is photoautotrophic—produces its own food from raw inorganic materials and sunlight.  However, Blue-green algae and certain bacteria and cynophytes are photoautotrophic and are not classified as plants.

The same is true for mushrooms.  A mushroom- the fruiting body of a fungus (Kindom Fungi)  is not considered a plant. It is closer to the animal kingdom.  A mushroom is not photoautotrophic at all, but saprophytic for the most part however, some fungi and bacteria is parasitic.

Traditionally, all living things were divided into five kingdoms:

MoneraProtistaFungiPlantaeAnimalia

I know, I know – scientists are now trying to say there are only three kingdoms: ArchaeaEubacteriaEukaryota and these kingdoms reflect whether the object of study has a cell wall or not.  I prefer to work with the five kingdom (or Kindom) system because it allows us to generally differentiate between major groups of living organisms.

So let us say that plants are part of the kindom Plantae.  Plants include familiar organisms such as flowering plants, conifers, ferns, mosses, and green algae, but do not include seaweeds like kelp, nor fungi and bacteria.

Plants can be grouped as follows:

First informal group – GREEN ALGAE

Green algae Division name: Chlorophyta and Charophyta of which there are between 3800 and 4300 species

Second Informal Group – BROYPHYTES – land plants that do not have true vascular tissue and are therefore called non-vascular plants.

Bryophytes : Marchantiophyta also called liverworts of which there are between 6,000 and 8,000 species.

BryophytesAnthocerotophyta also called hornworts of which there are between 100 to 200 species

BryophytesBryophyta also called mosses of which there are about 12,000 species

Third Informal Group of plants -PTERIDOPHYES- The pteridophytes are vascular plants (plants with xylem and phloem) that produce neither flowers nor seeds.

PteridophytesLycopodiophyta also called Club Mosses of which there are approximately 1,200 species

Pteridophytes: Pteridophyta also called  ferns, whisk ferns and horsetails of which there are approximately 11,000 species.

Fourth Informal Group of Plants: SEED PLANTS

Seed plants: Cycadophyta also known as cycads of which there are 160 known species

Seed Plants: Ginkgophyta also known as ginkgo of which there is one known species

Seed Plants: Pinophyta also known as conifers of which there are 630 known species

Seed Plants: Gnetophyta  (woody plants) also known as gnetophytes of which there are approximately 70 known species.

Seed Plants: Magnoliophyta also known as flowering plants of which there are approximately 258,650 species

My focus for Radical Botany will be worts, clubs, mosses, ginko, flowering plants and conifers as well as other trees found in the Cascadian bio-region: An area that includes British Columbia, Washington State, Oregon State, and Northern  California.

Next time: Cell structure of Plant Groups: flowering plants and conifers

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Mt. Rainer and Native Lupines by Ellen O'Shea

In 2012 I will strive to educate others to be able to go into any natural area and not only identify, but bring native plants back into their lives. I will teach others to be naturalists. I will teach the basics of botany. I will tell stories of transformation.  In your journey to become a native plant naturalist I will teach you to journal, observe, illustrate and forage. I will teach you to move the native plants back into your close environment and to start using them for food, medicine, utility and to rebuild wildlife habitat.  I will ask you to go outside at least once a day and observe, deeply observe a plant.

I promise to post to this weblog at least every two weeks and to use the following formula when I post:

  1. Short essay on a subject related to native plants.
  2. Education about a Naturalist who has greatly influence native plant education in our bioregion.  I will Include the name, area of concern, quotes from their work and links to more information. I will be writing about people who loved the earth and want to protect it.  Many times they left the wilderness because they knew unless they educated the masses about the beauty and sanctity of the wild place, it would be lost to industrialization and environmental degradation.   Here is a list of just a few of the people I will be writing about: Johnny Moses, Lelooska,Mourning Dove [Christine Quintasket],  Aldo Leopold, Celia Hunter, Gary Snyder, Terry Tempest-Williams, John Muir, Julia Butterfly-Hill, Henry David Thoreau, Lilla Leach, Edward Abbey and others.

3.  Native plant of the month – including where to find, how humans and animals have interacted with it in the past, how it benefits the local and regional ecosystem and how to propagate it so that humans can bring it back into local ecosystems.

4.  Botany lesson- starting from the beginning.  Learn botany – one step at a time. Included will be lessons on finding, observing, illustrating, nature journaling and propagating native plants.

5.  References and links – lots of them

Blessings to all in 2012 – welcome to the new earth.

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When I was a child growing up on the edge of a white (Quercus garryanna) oak forest in Oregon I loved to collect the wild seeds of native plants. I was attracted to their great beauty, unusual design, and uniqueness. I was fascinated by their shapes, sizes, colors and even smells. They were my special treasures.  I kept a collection of wild seeds in a tin box under my bed away from the prying eyes of my many siblings.  I would often take the box out and pour over my many wild seed “treasures”.

I spent hours collecting, observing, and drawing pictures of the seeds. I had special names for the seeds: “whirligigs” (the samara or winged seed pod of the Acer or Maple tree family),” wishes” (the multi-seed pod of the dandelion),” hooksters” (the hooked seed of the Cleavers), and “boings” (the seed pod of the wild pea or Vetch).

I asked my father, who was a very amazing gardener, why my seeds looked so much different than the seeds we planted in our garden.  He told me that the seeds planted in the garden had been changed by man over many years.  They were hybrids of once wild plants.  He told me that the seed I collected was wild seed. Seed that only nature had touched.

I scanned the Book of Knowledge book set that was in our family’s library looking for information about wild plants and seeds.  I had many questions.  I wanted to know why some seed had tails and seemed to fly through the air; some oozed fluids and were sheathed in pockets of paper-like plant material. Still others were very hard to touch because they were sheathed in very hard outer shells.  I found seed that dropped to the ground and burrowed itself into the earth. Other seed attached itself to animals or my pant leg and later dropped far away from the mother plant. Some seeds used streams and rivers to move through the forest and still others catapulted themselves through the air.

The shapes of the seeds fascinated me. They were not only small, oval or round like the garden seeds, they took many shapes and sizes.  Some seeds were encased in berries; others were encased in cones or grew in long clusters. Some were round, some were square and a large number were geometrically shaped like small geodesic domes.  Every seed was unique and held a mystery within it. Every seed had adapted so it could survive a more or less competitive environment. I learned that plants disperse their seeds because they do not want new plants nearby competing for water, light and nutrients.  The fruits or pods that contain the seeds have adapted to different dispersal methods.  For instance, the acorn of the White Oak has a fruit that looks like a seed, but the outside of the acorn has a tough wall to protect the seed within. When the acorn falls to the ground it rolls away from the parent plant.  The acorn is very attractive to animals.  The squirrel will carry the acorn away and bury it. How convenient that the squirrel “plants” the acorn in the ground.

Some seeds develop coats of paper thin material – capsules and pods. As the pod membrane dries it creates tension and finally the pod will pop open- throwing the seed in all directions (Sweet Vetch and other pea family plants). The paper-like pod is also easily dispersed in the wind.  Some seeds have hooks – much like Velcro that allows the seeds to attach themselves to animals and people to be carried away.

In fact the inventor of Velcro Swiss engineer, Georges de Mestra was said to have studied the mechanism of a common burr to come up with the idea for his amazing invention.

One year I took half my collection and planted the seeds in a small bed of loose soil.  Very little of it germinated. Only some wild grasses came up. None of the wildflowers grew. I was so disappointed.

As always my dad patiently answered my many questions. He told me that wild things are special and unique and cannot easily be captured. He said most die in captivity and cautioned me not to catch the wild frogs or salamanders or try and hatch the pheasant eggs I found in the orchard. My father told me that wild plants also needed special care and in order to germinate the seeds I would have to learn everything I could about the plant first.  He said some seeds have special needs like a long cold spell, or fire or being eaten by a bird.  My father told me that unless we protect the wild plants we may lose our food plants, our forests, our water and our air. He said that all our food and flower plants were hybrids of wild plants. He said that hybrids become harder to grow over time and have to be grown again from wild stock at some time. If the wild stock disappears, so will our easy to grow food sources.  My father had great respect for wild plants. He taught me how to forage for berries and other food.  And he told me the names of the native and wild plants.  It was my father who told me that in the past First Peoples everywhere used wild native plants for everything in their lives.

Because of the general lack of training in biological/botanical training in the schools at that time I decided to learn everything I could on my own through books.  I spent hours in the library reading about plants and learning their mysteries.

I spent a good portion of my life trying to learn about native plants and how to propagate them through direct observation.  Some native plants must be grown from seed and have very peculiar growing habits. In nature only a small fraction of the seeds of plants succeed in germinating and growing to maturity because of the many hazards encountered. Each plant has a peculiar way of making sure it’s seeds will be distributed to safe environments. My own observations from gardening and also working with native plants have taught me that wild seeds flourish in their wild habitat and contribute to a plant community that is exquisite and dynamic. One has only to visit an old growth forest and experience the diversity of life, the mycelium and the healthy web of life to know that wild plants know something we do not yet understand. This is why so many fragile native plants do not do well in people’s yards. To successfully propagate native plants one must understand and create a replica of the environment that the plant came from.

As we move native plants back into our yards, cities and towns we will need to make sure there is enough diversity of plants and we need to keep protecting the wild areas where the plants flourish.

In his essay on the need for diversity in plant and seed life, D.A Albert proposes that creating small areas of plant repositories (plant zoo) can create fragmentation leading to the destruction of whole plant species.

“Habitat destruction and fragmentation by development interrupts normal plant dispersal and gene exchange. In extreme cases, isolation creates highly inbred populations which can have a number of deleterious effects. Highly inbred populations may not have the genetic variability “on the warehouse shelves” to adapt to change. Inbreeding poses additional problems for self-incompatible species. These species can become so inbred that cross pollination between “different” individuals is no longer possible, rendering the population unable to produce viable seed.” (Albert)

THE SPARK OF LIFE

One of the greatest biological mysteries for me when studying seed is how is it that life is generated from a seed?  At what point in its growth do seed grow or die. Where does that spark of life come from?  I was told in my biology classes that that the spark of life starts in the DNA and biochemical material of a plant.  But I also know that scientists do not know where the spark of life comes from. Scientists only have theories and hypothesis to work with and cannot fully prove where the spark begins.

In just the right conditions, the seed will germinate.  Growth occurring as a result sees new life in no obvious way resembling the origin from which it springs. Biochemical reactions cannot explain where the spark comes from. It is truly a great mystery. We are just now beginning to understand that toxins and radiation can destroy that spark or mutate it into a plant that has no chance of survival. We must learn to protect the “spark” of life.

EACH PLANT HAS ITS OWN ENVIRONMENTAL NEEDS

You cannot generalize about any wild plant-or seed for that matter. Each has its own environmental needs. Study, observation and trial and error are the tools of a good naturalist.

For instance many wild plants do not produce seed until fall and few can be expected to germinate within a few days like garden seeds. Some seeds may not germinate for years and many need cold to prepare them for germination.

Seeds from many wild flowers have embryos that are immature when they are shed from the parent plant. An after-ripening period is necessary to overcome the dormancy of such seeds before germination can take place. (Taylor and Hamblin)

Wild seeds may need a cold moist repository for periods from one month to a year according to species (cold stratification). Some seeds have very hard outer coats that require almost two years of stratification. Plants that need this cold stratification include Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesil).

Some seeds must pass through the gut of animal in order to germinate.  Placing the seeds in a container of hot water can mimic this process.  Here are some directions for this process presented by Washington State University extension service.

“HOT WATER (mimics passage through a stomach or heat from a fire): Boil 3-6 cups of water for every cup of seeds. Don’t use an aluminum pan or softened water, as either might introduce chemicals toxic to seeds. Turn off the heat when it reaches boiling, and let the water cool for a minute or two. Pour the seeds into the water and let them sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Seeds may still need to overwinter or be cold-stratified before they will sprout. Try this technique with Hairy Manzanita (Arctostaphylos Columbian), Kinnikinnick or Common Bearberry, (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), or Snow Brush (Ceanothus velutinus).”

For more tips on how to germinate native plant seeds check out this website put together by the Washington State University extension service.

http://gardening.wsu.edu/text/nvgrowng.htm

THE STRUCTURE OF SEEDS

Fully developed seeds usually consist of an embryo – a tiny plant with a shoot (plumule) and a root (radicle) together with seed leaves (cotyledons) – that is surrounded by a mass of food (endosperm).

Angiosperms

Flowering plants (angiosperms) are divided into two groups.

Monocotyledons have one seed leaf usually parallel veins on leaves, indistinguishable petals and sepals in multiples of three and non woody stems.

The dicotyledons, also known as dicots, have two seed leaves, net-like veins on the leaves, often small green sepals, petals usually in multiples of four or five and thicker stems that may have woody tissue, formed by the (cambium).

Gymnosperms

The seeds of gymnosperms are “naked” or only partly enclosed by tissues of the parent plant. An example would be a conifer cone.  Conifer cone seeds are wind pollinated and seeds form on the scales of the female cones.

Spores are not seeds. Plants such as mosses, liver worts, ferns, club mosses and horse tails reproduce by spores. A spore may look like a seed but is asexual and develops male and female sex organs independently from the plant that bore it.

REFERENCES

*Albert, D.A., 1995. Regional Landscape Ecosystems of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin: A Working Map and Classification. USDA Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station. General Technical Report NC-178.Viewed on the web on December 1, 2011 http://www.wildtypeplants.com/gentalk.html

Phillips, Harry R., Growing and Propagating Wild Flowers, An easy-to-use guide for all gardeners, The University of North Carolina Press. Available from NJ Audubon stores and many other retailers.

Taylor, Kathryn S. and Hamblin, Stephen, (1963) Handbook of Wild Flower Cultivation: a guide to wild flower cultivation in the home garden, p.14 The Macmillan Company, NY

VOCABULARY

hybrid n. Genetics . The offspring of genetically dissimilar parents or stock, especially the offspring produced by breeding plants or animals of.

rad·i·cle/ˈradikəl/ – The part of a plant embryo that develops into the primary root.  A root like subdivision of a nerve or vein.

A samara is a type of fruit in which a flattened wing of fibrous, papery tissue develops from the ovary wall. A samara is a simple dry fruit and indehiscent (not opening along a seam). It is a winged achene. The shape of a samara enables the wind to carry the seed farther away than regular seeds from the parent tree as in the maples (genus Acer) and ashes (genus Fraxinus).

Scarify– Scarification means scratching or cracking the hard outer coat of a seed to help it germinate. Some seeds  have outer shells that are extremely hard and don’t allow water through. This is one way a seed stays dormant in the fall and winter, until growing conditions improve.

WEB RESOURCES

Here is a link to a wonderful website put together by Washington State University extension service on propagating native plants from seed. http://gardening.wsu.edu/text/nvgrowng.htm

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The wild Elwha river

In the remote corner of Washington state deep in the rain forest of the Olympic National forest a river is about to be set free.  Also set free will be thousands if not hundreds of thousands of native plants and at least seven
salmon species including the Chinook, steelhead, chum, coho, sockeye, bullhead and pink salmonids. (1)  And the river has been home to the Klallam people for millennia.

Much of the river moves fast and wild with intense churning power. River water crashes against large boulder and granite walls and then it rounds a corner and spreads itself out in flat valleys, seeming to sleep and mosey along. The kayakers dream journey, this place has remained pristine because it is locked within the vast wilderness boundaries of the Olympic National Forest.  The Hoh Rainforest is to the north, Hurricane ridge of Mount Olympus tower above the river.  The source of the clear cold fast waters comes from this mountain also.  To the north the river drains into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and it’s diverse ocean estuaries.

Giant red cedar, majestic western hemlock, Sitka Spruce, Douglas fir and big leaf maple line the river banks.  Youthful willows and red alders sprout on the river sandbars.  In other places trees over four centuries old still stand tall or lay in the forest acting as a “mother” tree to thousands of other native plants.

THE DAM REMOVAL BEGINS

On September 16th, 2011 a ceremony was held near the Elwha dam on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State to mark the starting of the removal of two dams that bloc salmon spawns on the Elwha river. The two dams – Elwha Dam (108 feet tall, built in 1913 just five miles from the river’s mouth) and Glines Canyon Dam (210 feet tall, (Lake Mills)  built in 1927, several miles upstream of Elwha Dam) were built without fish passage, and completely blocked salmon from historic habitat.

A little over 100 years ago the Elwha river was dammed to create hydroelectric power.   Once the Elwha dam was put in place the river backed up behind and created what was called Aldwell Lake.   It was named after the man who built the dam.  This same man failed to build fish ladders on this dam and one further up the river called the Glines Canyon Dam.  In the last hundred years the vast salmon runs that swam the upper 38 miles of the river ceased, and the river ecosystem was damaged. The altering of the ecosystem was extensive. River sediments used by the salmon to lay eggs were diminished and the water in the river began to warm.  Salmon runs feed the plant life and sustain the health of the land and the forest.   Vast numbers of native plants were swamped by the damning of the river.  Before the dam the salmon runs numbered more than 400,000 fish annually. After the dam was built the count of salmon on the lower river was estimated at 4,000 fish annually.

The return of salmon to this ecosystem will return vital marine-derived nutrients to the watershed, restoring a vital food source for the range of life that inhabits it.

What is the relationship between salmon runs and native plants, forests and wildlife health?

THE SALMON – giver of life

Salmon Varieties - Elwha river

Salmon swim up streams and rivers, spawn and die.  Their carcasses create excellent fertilizer that is full of ocean minerals and nutrients. When a salmon run is destroyed native plant  and forest diversity also suffers.

Fish help create diversity and range of native plant habitat by helping to move plant seeds, roots and branches along the rivers and streams.  Some plants have parts that
break off when fish eat them, or swim through them, and the plant may float to a different area and root.

ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION HAS BEGUN

Today, the Elwha River is the site of one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects in National Park Service history. As part of the effort to restore the Elwha River ecosystem, the Olympic National Forest personnel and volunteers have been constructing a new native plant nursery called the Matt Albright Native Plant center. After the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams are removed and the reservoirs drained, hundreds of thousands of native plants will be used to restore native vegetation to the over 700 acres of lakebed that will re-emerge after the reservoirs are drained. Stabilization of the new banks to control sediment movement downstream is crucial in preserving native salmon habitat in the lower river and estuary.

For more on this project go to the website for the Friends of Olympic National Park

THE INTERRELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SALMON AND FOREST

In a recent study conducted by biologists with Simon Fraser University researchers concluded that Salmon contribute to the diversity and health of the forests.  The study showed not only did the carcasses of  the spawned-out salmon benefit stream side plants but that bear and wolves will often carry the carcasses into the forest and further “feed” the forest.

The study was extensive and covered the interrelationship between salmon and forest ecosystems bordering 50 streams on the remote central coast of British Columbia, Canada.

Link to study: http://insciences.org/article.php?article_id=9994

In addition to restoring the fish habitats, the draining of Lake Mills (and removal of  and Lake Aldwell will create an additional 715 acres (2.9 km2) of terrestrial vegetation, improving elk, insect, bird and other wildlife habitats as well. Increased sediments loads are also predicted to help restore the retreating delta at the mouth of the Elwha.

The $325 million project is expected to last three years and eventually restore the Olympic Peninsula river to its wild state and restore salmon runs.

For more on Pacific Northwest Salmon recovery project check out this beautifully illustrated booklet that includes lists of native plants that benefit Salmon.

http://www.co.snohomish.wa.us/documents/Departments/Public_Works/SolidWaste/Information/Brochures/salmonfriendlybro7-10WEB.pdf

For more on Salmon life cycles check out:

http://www.oregonwild.org/fish_wildlife/wildlife-pages/coho-salmon?gclid=CP6n8aPLt6sCFQdzgwodq10OeQ

References

(1)  Potential range map of seven salmon salmonids on the Elwha river. Website: http://www.nps.gov/olym/naturescience/potential-range-of-salmonids-in-the-elwha.htm

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I went into the forest today to be thankful for the bounty and ask Great Spirit who loves us all to teach me about these amazing beings we call plants. I had that feeling I often have that I once lived in the forest with my tribe and my people. I feel at home in that forest. The farmers have brought in honey bees and the oak and maple have attracted the bees and other pollinators.  The air is churning with activity.  It is like a natural air conditioner swirling above me. The sound of the bees is so loud that I can barely hear the other sounds of nature.  Wildflowers are blooming everywhere: trillium, bleeding hearts, coral bells, false Solomon seal.  The pinks and buttercups and the wild berries are all in bloom.  The smell of the forest is sweet and musky all at once.

I have in my life time been introduced to many native plants and I have been taught about how everything is connected to this forest, even humans belong here if they will just slow down to be at peace with this place. 

It is spring and I am collecting many starts: cuttings, roots, sprouts.  Once they have roots and are strong, I will put them in pots and take them to the nearby farmers market and try to teach others about opening up their garden doors and letting the native plants back in.  It is important.  We are losing the pollinators and the fertility of the soil, and the hillsides and streams and rivers because we take out the native plants. We call them weeds and poison and chop and throw them away. These plants are our future and our hope.  Once gone, so goes our food, medicine, clean water, clean land, and beauty so great that our essential energy is affected and changed for the better.

Soon at the local farmers market I will be setting up my table and handing out simple brochures on how to incorporate native plants into gardens, farms, parks, roadsides and river and stream banks. I will sell the plants to support the overall Radical Botany project and to give back to the farm I am living on now. Carly, the land owner is allowing me to finally have a home for me and my plants.  I have moved a half dozen times in the last five years, always carrying my many plant friends with me.  We are tired. We need a real home that is safe and long term. I think I am home. I love this land. I am thankful for this land. I respect this land and the creatures and people who live here.

Thank you Great Spirit who loves us all for bringing me home.  Thank you Carly, Deb, Mitchell, Annie,  the farmers for inviting me in from the cold.

Here is a list of a few of the plants I saw today and why they are important:

Common Name Scientific Name    Ecological  Importance  and Human Use
Pacific Willow Salix lucida ssp. Salix lasiandra              

The catkins will attract insect and hummingbird pollinators, and all willows are used as butterfly host plants.

The same for Hooker’s Willow

The Fraser River Lillooet  called Pacific Willow the “match plant”.  They dried the wood and used it for both the hearth and the drill in making friction fires. The ashes were mixed with diatomaceous earth and were made into a fine white powder to treat wool.

Hooker’s Willow Salix Hookeria   The bark was used in shingle baskets, the young plants were split into twine and made into rope.
Pacific Ninebark Physocarpus capitatus Used to make small tools, but was also used as a laxative and needs to be handled properly. The flower attracts many insect pollinators and the birds will eat the berries of the plant. Beautiful shredding bark, this plant is found along streams, rivers and wetlands.
Oceanspray Holodiscus discolor Found in dry to moist, open sites (open woods, clearings ravine edges and coastal bluffs).  Commonly called ‘Ironwood” because of the hardness and strength of the wood. Was used to make digging sticks, spears, harpoon shafts, bows and arrow shafts by almost all coastal groups from BC southwards.  An infusion of berries was used to make a tea that was used to treat diarrhea. Also used as a blood tonic.  May attract as many as 50 pollinating insects.The flowers provide nectar for butterflies and insects. A caterpillar host plant for Pale Tiger Swallowtail, Lorquin’s Admiral, Echo Blue, Brown Elfin, and Spring Azure but­terflies. Oceanspray provides foraging habitat for insectivorous birds including Bushtits and Chickadees
Red Elderberry Sambucus racemosa Found along stream banks, swampy thickets, moist clearings and open forests, sea level to middle elevations. The unripe or uncooked berries are toxic can cause stomach cramps or worse. They should  always be cooked even when making Elderberry wine or jellies. The stems, bark leaves and roots, especially in fresh plants, are toxic due to the presence of cyanide-producing glycosides. Elderberry is an important caterpillar host plant and its white flowers attract hummingbirds.
Thimble berry
Rubus parviflorus

 

Has a white flower – petals crinkle tissue paper. Found in open sites such as clearings, road edges, shorelines etc. Has a red, raspberry-like cluster berry. The flower favorite of bumblebees and native pollinator insects. Spreads by rhizomes. Eaten by all Northwest Coast people.  Some people also collected and ate the early shoots. The berry can be easily dried.  Often mixed with Salal berries for winter food (dried).  Often mixed with native raspberries and blackcaps and used in a dried cake for winter food. The large leaves were often made into berry collecting containers.

 

Salmon berry
Rubus spectabilis

 

Has a pink to reddish purple flower. Found in moist to wet places of forests and disturbed sites. Often abundant along stream edges, at low to subalpine elevations. This wonderful wild berry blooms very early and attracts the earliest pollinators.  The berries arrive early in the season and attract several song birds. Both sprouts and berries were eaten by First Peoples.

 

Nookta Rose Rosa Nutkana Found in open habitats (shorelines, meadows, thickets, and streamside areas). Was often used in pit cooking. The leaves were placed over food for flavoring.  Tea from the bark were used as an eye wash. The chewed leaves were applied to bee stings and the ripe hips were cooked and fed to infants for diarrhea.Its seed-filled hips are full of vitamins A & C and are eaten by a variety of birds and mammals. Bees and but­terflies seek nectar from its flowers. A caterpillar host plant for Western Checkerspot, Mourning Cloak, and Gray Hairstreak butterflies.
Indian Plum Oemleria cerasiformis The flowers arrive very early spring to late winter – often before its leaves appear.  Important food source for pollinating insects, butterflies and the fruit is eaten by many woodland animals.  The fruit can be quite bitter and astringent so it was often mashed with sweeter berries such as Salal.  It bark was used to make tea that was used as a purgative and tonic.
Bleeding hearts Dicentra Formosa Pink heart-shaped flower. Found in moist forests, ravines, streambanks; low to middle elevations. Its namesake pink flowers attract hummingbirds and its rhizomes are reported to be medicinal by some, toxic by others. Ants feed on an oil-rich seed appendage. Bleeding heart is an important caterpillar host plant for the Clodius Parnassian.
White Oak or Garry Oak Quercus garryana A beautiful, heavy-limbed tree that is very important in helping to maintain the integrity of several low-lying ecosystems. Found in dry, rocky slopes and bluffs, sometimes in deep, rich well-drained soil. The springtime catkins (flowers) are highly attractive to honeybees and many native insect pollinators. The acorns are an important food source for ducks, deer, squirrels and other wildlife.  First peoples used the bark as one ingredient in the Saanich “4 barks” medicine used against tuberculosis and other ailments.
Big leaf Maple Acer macrophyllum Large, often multi-stemmed.  In the spring the flower will often appear with or before the leaves.  Found in dry to most sites, often with Douglas-fir, often on sites disturbed by fire, at low to middle elevations. Bigleaf maple supports a large ecosystem on its trunk, limbs and stems. These symbiotic relationships are important to native forest. Living on this tree you will often find: mosses, lichens, ferns, fungi, herb-like plants, small flowering plants etc. Many parts of the tree were used for food, medicine and utility.  Insects and bees pollinate the tree and produce about 1000 pollen grains (55µm each) for an individual flower.  Important solitary bees such as the Blue Orchard Bees, Osmia lignaria, are attracted to this tree
Fringecup Tellima grandiflora In the Saxifrage family. Found in  moist forests, glades, stream-banks, thickets and clearings; common from low to middle elevations. The Skagit pounded fringecup, boiled it and drank the tea for any kind of sickness, especially lack of appetite. Provides habitat and cover for small insects.
Yellow Wood Violet Viola glabella A common perennial in moist, shaded forests. Its flowers are yellow, with some petals boasting violet streaks. The flowers have a small spur which provides an excellent landing platform for insects, which are attracted to its nectar. A caterpillar host plant for a variety of butterfly species. Also known as stream violet.
Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica Common in moist, rich soil, often in disturbed habitat, nettles are a tasty green if cooked, a valued medicinal herb, and traditionally a good source for strong plant fiber. Nettles are also an important caterpillar host plant for the Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, Satyr Anglewing, and Red Admiral butterflies.
     

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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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Shooting stars at Mt. Shasta

“The day man experienced the consciousness that made him feel separate and superior to the other forms of life, at that moment he began sowing the seeds of his own destruction.” (U. G. Krishnamurti) 

I am on a journey, a quest to save native plants from destruction by our mechanized minds and world.

I want to try and save what is left of the natural world. I think it is important. I want there to be a beautiful, healthy, safe world for my children, my grandchildren and  for seven generations after me.  There are so many beautiful parts of God’s creation worth saving. It all needs to be saved.  The web of life fits together like a puzzle. When one part goes missing, the rest is weakened. I choose to try and save native plants.

We have been going down this path for some time. Most humans are oblivious to what is happening to our planet, or they choose to close their eyes and try to ignore it.  I choose to teach about native plants because they choose me and I would not want to live on this planet if all the plants were gone. In fact, none of us could.

All parts of the web of life are worth saving.  The polar bears, the whales, the brown pelican, the hummingbirds, the great trees and the great forests are all worth saving.  The water and the air and the earth are needed for the web of life to survive. They are all worth saving.  Each of us who understands the importance and immediacy of saving the planet will need to choose where to focus. I choose native plants.

I am almost old and I have been on this journey for some time. I have been blessed to have good teachers.  When I was a child living near the forest I only knew a few names of the plants.  I spent years exploring the forest before I found a good teacher to tell me about the plants. The plants were always there for me, healing me, and helping me through loss and in times of wonder.

I walked through the forest speaking to the birds, the tree,  and the other plants. I built a nest in a tall Red cedar tree and climbed the great oak. I carried a pad and pencil with me into the forest and sat for hours watching the forest, observing the plants and wildlife. I made note of how the petal of a flower connected to the stem and how the stem connected to the root. I drew pictures of what other plants might be growing nearby so I could remember how to find it again.  I was amazed at the ingenuity that plants develop in order to survive.  I observed that the natural world is a place of connections.  Nothing is alone. I saw how the native plant connected to all species including humans.

I had teachers when I was a child who told me stories about the plants: grandma and my wonderful father.  Very little was taught to me in grade school or high school about native plants. I remember being told not to eat anything in the forest because it was probably poisonous.  In fact as a women I was only allowed to take one science class in high school.  What I learned later from history books was that for thousands of years women were the keepers of plant knowledge.  As Black Elk said: the world has turned upside down.

I combed over books. I looked for pictures and I looked for thehistory of the plants.  I never took a botany class in college although I had many mind-numbing science classes.  I did not want to memorize factoids, I wanted to understand and know the plants. I did not want my childhood wonder to be destroyed by long intense lectures and pressure to “get the grade”.  And yet I have learned that it is helpful to learn about plant kinship.

So I asked myself: how could I teach others about native plants?  What would I want them to know?  How could I get other humans to understand that native plants are not on this planet just for our pleasure?  Would I teach you one plant at a time?  Or would I teach you all about “keying” plants using the “binomial nomenclaturemethod of plant identification.  I surmised that people learn differently.  So I will be teaching all three methods, keying, “binomial nomenclature” and grandma’s way.

Grandma

Who was grandma?  She was an older woman who lived across the fields and forest from me when I was a child.  She loved the natural world. She was patient and kind and a very good teacher. I discovered her one day in a field of Queen Anne’s lace collecting the tiny purple flower found in center the plant. She was going to make dye for fiber baskets. We struck up a friendship. She told me many stories about the plants and I am forever grateful that she taught me about native plants.

If I was to try to teach you about native plants using grandma’s method I would take you on a walk in the forest.  I would ask you to bring a notebook and a pencil. I would find a place that attracted me. We would sit amongst the plants and we would be quiet and observant. I would ask you to write what you are observing. I would ask you to make notes about the weather, the time of year, the condition of earth: is it wet or dry? Does it have a smell?  I would wait until a particular plant came to me attention. And then I would ask you to observe it as I told you a story about this plant. It might be a story about its structure or connection with the forest. Or it might be a story about how to use the plant for food, medicine or how it might feed and attract wildlife.  If it is edible, I would ask you to taste it. I would ask you to find its flower and draw a picture of it.  I would ask you to write about how it connects to the rest of the forest.  I would try to tell you a story about how the First People’s used this plant. I would hope that this story would help you remember it. This is my way of learning and teaching.

Shooting Star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi)

 Over the years I have carried my water colors into the wild places and tried to capture the beauty of plants in their own spaces.  I rarely pick wild flowers. I have attached a painting I did of Shooting stars in a meadow just below Mt. Shasta in Northern California.  The variety is called Tall Mountain Shooting Star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi).  This plant is so beautiful.  Pojar and McKinnon in their book “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast” describe the special relationship between Shooting stars and bumblebees. The Shooting star they say provides a good example of “buzz pollination”. Pollen is shed into the stamen tubes of the flower. The sound waves set up by the buzzing of the bumblebee dislodges the pollen and makes it available to the bee. A member of the primrose family (Primulaceae) the plant is most often found in moist meadows. The First peoples of the Willamette Valley, Okanagan, and Yurok tribes mashed the flowers and used the stain to dye fibers and wood.

There – I just taught you a little about this plant. Where to find it, what it was used for and how it interacts with wildlife. That is the way I like to teach. But there are others and I cannot always be with you.

So until next week – See you in the deep woods…

Next time:  Kinship and the “Keying” of  plants – teaching you to be self sufficient in your learning.

References:

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

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Fenders Blue Butterfly and the Kincaid Lupine

I attended a wonderful talk at the Straub Environmental Center is Salem, Oregon last night.  The speaker Gail Gredler an instructor at our local community college spoke about creating native plant gardens. She answered a lot of questions I had about what is a native plant and why are they important to humans and to the planet.

What is a native plant?

First, according to Gail a native plant can be described as plants growing before European settlements started about 200 years ago. Other sources I found also describe them this way: “A native (indigenous) species is one that occurs in a particular region, ecosystem, and habitat without direct or indirect human actions” (Kartesz and  Morse 1997; Richards 1998

Gredler explained that trying to say what is native and what is not is getting harder because some plant specialists are cloning and messing with the DNA of native plants to create “nativars”.  These mad scientists (my judgment) are creating these bio-modified cloned plants so they can patent the plant and make money on each sale of the plant or its seeds.  Bio-modification is not made with ecosystem health in mind so we don’t know if there will be detrimental effects.  People are beginning to sell the look-alikes as natives and so it is important to find a native plant nursery that is registered.  (See resource list at end of this article).  Insects may or may not recognize the plant chemicals of these “nativars”.  Some research on bio-modified corn and other grain crops are showing that insects will not pollinate the crops because the plant chemicals are toxic to the pollinator. The bio-modified grains are causing issues with human and animal health also.

Insects need native plants to survive.  We need insects alive so that our food and medicine and utility plants can be pollinated and fertilized. Without insects and native plants our biome will experience an ecological collapse.

 Ke Chung Kim an entomologist with Penn State University writes in his book “Biodiversity, conservation and inventory: why insects matter”, that insects and anthropods have existed for more than 400 million years and after surviving the Permian and Cretaceous mass extinctions, arthropods have been the most successful of all living things and along with other invertebrates constitute more than three-quarters essential for human food production, and maintaining rain forests, savannahs and other important components of global water storage in ecosystems.

 Without insects we would experience complete eco-system collapse. Native plants are the only food that many pollinator insects will consume. Without native plants, many insects such as the Fender Blue butterfly, the Franklin’s Bumble Bee (Bombus franklini) and Mason bees (Osmia cascadica) will become extinct.  Bringing native plants back into our environment is essential to the survival of humans, fauna and flora. Once the insects are gone, then will fall the birds, squirrels, foxes, rabbits, deer, and other fauna. The food chain will collapse.

According to Gredler 90% of insects depend on native plants for food. Local insects evolved with native plants and are attracted to particular leaf chemicals.  The leaf chemical allows the insect such as the Fender Blue butterfly and pollinators to find food. Only 10% of insects are generalist feeders.

Here are 7 reasons on why native plants are important according to Gredler.

  1. Resource conservation:  Native plants do not need a lot of extra water. They are drought resistant. Most native plants that would grow in Oregon and (Washington, British Columbia) valleys do not need extra water in the summer time. They need well adapted to our dry summers.
  2. Save on the use of fertilizers and pesticides:  Native plants do not need pesticides. They are already acclimated to insect populations and can take care of themselves, thank you.  Fertilizers are applied sparingly.  Having plants grow in correct soil types is more helpful.
  3. Insects need them to survive. As already mentioned: 90% of insects depend on native plants for their survival. 37% of animal species eat herbivorous insects.
  4. Native plants in landscapes will stop the desertification of Cascadia.
  5. Habitat fragmentation is a hazard to wildlife.  Bringing natives back will stop the ecosystem collapse. Native plants provide food, water, and habitat for wildlife.
  6. Plants are the only thing on the planet that can harvest the sun’s energy and create their own food.
  7. Native plants are not necessarily aggressive and can be out done by non-natives. They will need our help to come back.  We need to stop planting aggressive non-natives like the Butterfly plant.

Here are few more from other sources:

8.  Native plants are important to human health. The vast array of natural chemicals is already the basis for ~25% of all U.S. prescriptions, ranging from aspirin (bark of willow tree) to taxol (bark of pacific yew tree).  These plant based medications easily break down in our ecosystems unlike pharmaceutical synthetic hormones and drugs. Use native plants for healing and stop the chemical soup poisoning of our world.

9. Native plant heritage: plants were used for almost everything that humans needed to survive. Think what the world would be like if we stopped producing toxic plastic “stuff” and went back to living simply with few things, essentials made from plants: clothes, homes (not from trees but from fast growing plant fiber and earth such as in Cob buildings).  Paper not made from our forests but from fast growing plant fibers. Humans lived with this technology for hundreds of thousands of years.  We may have to adjust to new ways of living to survive.

10. Native plants can be used to restore our land.  They easily adapt to harsh conditions and have been used in the repair of streams, meadows, savannahs, forests, and other fragile landscapes.

According to Gredler since the 1840’s over 80 million acres have been taken out of native landscapes.  Landscapes have been paved over, planted in non native turf grass and tilled for non native crops.  Gredler called this process the “desertification of Oregon”.  I call this process the desertification of Cascadia because this destruction of the bio-region is happening everywhere.

According to my other source Kartz and Morse, although only about 737 native plant species are protected by the Endangered Species Act, it is estimated that nearly 25 percent of the 20,000 native plant species in North America are at risk of extinction. It is becoming generally recognized that in order to preserve individual species, their plant communities must be preserved. This includes the preservation of native plants that are not yet in danger of extinction, but still play an important role in native ecosystems.

Native plant species provide the keystone elements for ecosystem restoration. Native plants help to increase the local population of native plant species, providing numerous benefits. There are specific associations of mycorrhizae with plants, invertebrates with woody debris, pollinators with flowers, and birds with structural habitat that can only be rebuilt by planting native plants.

 We need your help.  Begin today to tear out the turf and aggressive non-natives and plant your yards to become a native plant repository and sanctuary.

Resources:

Where to find a list of reputable native plant nurseries in cascadia

1. Online PDF booklet of native plant nurseries in Oregon and Washington

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/yamhill/sites/default/files/wholesale_np_nurseries.pdf

2. Sources of Pacific Northwest native plants – a online Pdf booklet

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/yamhill/sites/default/files/sources_for_native_plants.pdf

3. The plight of the Fenders Blue Butterfly and its relationship to Kincaid’s Lupine

http://www.xerces.org/2010/12/10/saving-the-fenders-blue-butterfly/

If you would like to learn more about the relationship between insects and humans, animals and plants, check out the Xerces Society website at:    http://www.xerces.org

References

Kartesz, John, North Carolina Botanical Garden, and Larry Morse, The Nature Conservancy. 1997. Personal communication

Kim, Ke Chung (1994) Biodiversity and Conservation, Volume 2, Number 3, 191-214, DOI: 10.1007/BF00056668, Center for Biodiversity Research, The Pennsylvania State University. http://www.springerlink.com/content/q465056vr1t45u67/

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