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Archive for the ‘Permaculture’ Category

The roots of a plant play an important role to help the plant grow and thrive. They anchor the plant in the soil; absorb water and minerals; and store excess food for future needs underground.  We are all familiar with eatable roots like carrots, beets parsnips and potatoes.  But what about the roots of native and wild plants? What are their attributes? Do they provide food and medicine?  Yes! And native plant roots are easy to cultivate and harvest.

One of the really nice things about bringing native plants back into our environments is that they are already acclimated to our local soils, rainfall and nutrient loads.  Garden soils need little work for native plants to flourish.

ROOT PHYSIOLOGY

The roots of plants have four regions: (1) a root cap; (2) a zone of division; (3) a zone of elongation; and (4) a zone of maturation.

The root cap is a cup-shaped group of cells at the tip of the root which protects the delicate cells behind the cap as it pushes through the soil. The root cap secretes mucigel, a substance that acts as a lubricant to aid in its movement. The root cap also plays a role in a plant’s response to gravity. If you were to place a young plant on its side the stem would grow upward toward the light and the root cap would direct the roots downward. Yes, the root follows gravity toward the earth’s core.  The root cap firmly drives the roots downward in most plants. So strong and persistent is this mechanism that roots has been known to break through rock, concrete and other hard surfaces. Some scientists also believe that the downward direction of the root may also be that the plant is trying to escape the sun’s radiation. (Ott 1973)

Above the root cap is the zone of division and above that is the zone of elongation.

The zone of division contains growing and dividing meristematic cells.  As we learned last time the meristem cells are very important to the design and function of a plant, they hold the DNA of the plant and create new cells for the expansion of the plant.  If something damages the meristem cells the plant will either die or be deformed.

After each cell division, one daughter cell retains the properties of the meristem cell, while the other daughter cell (in the zone of elongation) elongates sometimes up to as much as 150 times. As a result, the root tip is literally pushed through the soil.

In the zone of maturation, cells differentiate and serve such functions as protection, storage, and conductance. Seen in cross section, the zone of maturation of many roots has an outer layer (the epidermis), a deeper level (the cortex), and a central region that includes the conducting vascular tissue.

The root systems of native plants

The root of a plant provides a significant competitive edge to a plant trying to reach light. The root of a plant such as a tree provides an anchor and base as the tree stretches to the top of the forest.  In general, the deeper the root and wider it’s base, the larger the plant.

We all have experienced the stunting of plant growth when a root has not the right soil to anchor in.  The tilth and depth of the soil is important to healthy roots.

Roots uptake water from the ground.  The leaves of a plant act to channel rainfall and water to the roots which in turn absorbs it and distributes it inside the plant. The root is also very good at uptaking toxins and heavy metals.  This is why plants are so good and helping to clean up the earth. This process is called bioremediation.  This intense uptake can also make eating roots and plants dangerous to human health.  That is why it is such a good idea to grow your own food or only purchase organically grown food.  For instance potatoes grown in the toxic fields of commercial chemical farms are very contaminated.

ALL MY RELATIONS

Beneficial soil fungi (mycorrhizae) form symbiotic relationships with the tender, young roots of many species of higher plants.

Rhizoboa bacterial influence on plant roots

The mycelium fungus penetrates the root and also the soil around the root.  The fungi open up or “till” the area around the root so that its root hairs can thrive.  Mycelium collects nutrients from the soil such as phosphorus and nitrogen and uses it not only for its own benefit but that of the host plant. In return the higher plant supplies the fungus with photosynthesized foods, including sugars.  Another important symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi involves the soil bacteria rhizobium.  Rhizobium “fixes” the nitrogen around the young roots of many angiosperms especially members of the pea family (Fabaceae, formerly Leguminosae).  Rhizobium and several species of blue-green algae or cynobacteria) are able to “fix nitrogen” by converting nitrogen gas (N2) in our atmosphere into a nitrogen that is useable by the plant. The bacteria invade the root of a plant causing it to enlarge in groups of root nodules. The host plant provides the rhizobium with carbohydrates.

Frankia nodules on Red Alder roots

Another important nitrogen-fixing bacterium in our Cascadian bioregion is Frankia ahni.  Red Alder (Alnus rubra) and other types of alders are the host for this important bacterium. Alder is particularly noted for its important symbiotic relationship with Frankia alni, an actinomycete, filamentous, nitrogen-fixing bacterium. This bacterium is found in root nodules, which may be as large as a human fist, with many small lobes and light brown in appearance.  The practice of removing alders from conifer tree farms and clear cut replants has caused much damage to the eco-systems in our region.  Massive amounts of herbicides are used to kill Alders in clear cuts.  If you look at the soil after this poisoning, you will find dead, grey hard compacted soil that will take years to recover.

Over use of fungicides and herbicides in the garden and natural areas is killing off the mycelium and the beneficial bacterium that thrive on the roots of plants.  The cumulative effect of years of poison application is destroying native plant habitat.  There is much discussion about this fungi-plant relationship in Permaculture.  Permaculture looks at all the relations of living things in each community and welcomes native plants. The roots of plants found in natural undisturbed areas are a wonder to behold.

THE HAIRY TRUTH

If you look closely at the root of a newly sprouted seed you will see a fuzzy area all around the root.  These are actually root hairsor extensions of the outer root cells. The primary function of the root hairs is to increase, by several hundred-fold, the organs absorptive surface level. That is why you must be very gentle when transplanting seedlings so as not to tear off the root hairs.  You can stunt the growth of the plant for good by damaging the root hairs. (A really fast way to observe root hairs is to sprout radish seed between wet paper towels.  Radish seed can sometimes sprout in 2 to 3 days.)

Later on as the plant shoots up above the ground, the root will produce branches which will become part of the root ball.

It was once believed that the root of a plant was the brain or center and electrical nervous system of the plant.  Much research has been done to prove that while the root operates like the human heart expanding and contracting and sending out fluids and signals to the rest of the plant, there are many other ways for the plant to relay information. Much communication happens on the cellular level simultaneously throughout the plant.  The root however is a powerful distributor of chemicals, electrical charge and food storage.  That is why the root of the plant is such a complete food for animals and a very powerful medicine as well for humans and animals. Peter Thompkins and Christopher Bird wrote a book in 1973 that became a cult favorite of plant lovers.  “The Secret Life of Plants: A fascinating account of the physical emotional, and spiritual relations between plants and man.” The book offered extensive research from around the world that provided much new information for the naturalist and gardener.  The book delves into the profound relationship between root and plant, and root and man and animal including how humans foraged for plants and roots for thousands of years. Thompkins and Bird looked at the relationship between plants and human health and healing and found much evidence that wild plants resonate at a closer level to human cells energy than do cultivated plants.  (Thompkins and Bird pg 306-07)

THE ROOTS OF OLD

The roots of native plants can be extremely beneficial to human health. First peoples referred to any part of a plant growing underground as a root.  Bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes are often lumped into the family of roots. The term root crop refers to any edible underground plant structure, but many root crops are actually stems, such as potato tubers. Rhizomes are simply underground stems. They grow horizontally just below the soil’s surface. They will continue to grow and creep along under the surface with lots and lots of growing points. Examples of rhizomes would be lilies, irises, and asparagus. A corm looks a lot like a bulb but is the actual base for the plant stem and has a solid texture. As the plant grows, the corm shrivels as the nutrients are used up. Essentially the corm dies, but it does produce new corms right next to or above the dead corm.  If you look closely at the bottom of the corm, rhizome and bulb you will find true roots.

ROOT HARVEST

First people were very organized in their harvesting of native roots.  So important were roots as a staple crop and medicine that tribes would negotiate ownership rights to these areas.  The area was cultivated, protected, and specific rules of harvest were instigated.  The rules of harvest included making sure that the plant would come back year after year.  The root was harvested in a way that did not harm the plant or its community.  One rule was to never tear at the plant.  A sharp knife or root stick was used to cleanly cut the roots.  Another rule was never to destroy the tap or mother root.  Smaller side roots were harvested.  That way the plant could keep growing.  This was hard to do when harvesting the bulb of camas or the corm of Wapato.  However, in these cases care was taken to not overharvest an area.  The land, water and environment was to be protected. These practices guaranteed a continuous crop each season. There are all sorts of stories about the destruction of native root plants because humans were greedy in their collection practices or because acts of genocide against the First Nations of Cascadia included destroying nutritional and medicinal plants. (see my essay on Wapato)

ROOT MEDICINE OR “SKOOKUM”

The word “Skookum” comes from Chinook Jargon used as a Pacific Northwest trading language and was used by many tribes.  The word meant to be strong, powerful or having special powers.  Roots of plants were thought to be very Skookum.  Roots were harvested and dried to be used fresh or over many months.  Here is a list of my favorite native plants whose roots were harvested for food or medicine.

Plant Common Name Plant Latin Name How it was used Where it is found
Dull Oregon   GrapeTall   Oregon GrapeIn   the Barberry family Mahonia   nervosaMahonia   aquifoliumAlso   known as Berberidaceas The   shredded bark of the stem and roots were used to make a bright yellow dye for   basket materialsThe   root is a bitter herb. The root was boiled and the liquid drunk to cure   coughs and stomach disorders.  The   Squaxin, Swinomish and Samish prepared a tea of the root to be used as a   gargle for sore throat and drunk in the spring to purify the blood. Oregon   grape and its cousin goldenseal act very similarly. But since Oregon grape is
easy to grow and is not threatened with extinction, more and more herbal   practitioners are switching from goldenseal to Oregon grape to treat a range   of conditions.
Dry   to fairly moist, open to closed forests at low to middle elevations
WapatoBroadleaf   Arrowhead, tule potato, duck potato, arrowleaf Sagittarian   latifolia The Wapato tuper 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. 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.
Skunk   Cabbage Lysichiton   americanum Native   American informants and botanist Ernst Stuhr report that the root of the   skunk cabbage (Lysichitum americanum) was the main ingredient of the infamous   “Skookum” which was reported to be a blend of plants that was reputed to be a   stimulant, antispoasmodic, and emetic for bronchial and pulmonary   afflictions.  It was also used as a   salve for ringworm, swellings and inflammatory rheumatism. The root is very   bitter. Swamps,   fens, muskeg, wet forest, mucky seepage areas, wet meadows, at low to middle   elevations.
Western   TrilliumBirth root, Beth root Trillium   ovatum A tea   of the root was used as an eye wash by the Lummi and Skagit peoples.  The   root is used as an alternative medicine and is antiseptic, antispasmodic,   diuretic, emmenagogue (to promote menstruation), and ophthalmic. The roots,   fresh or dry, may be boiled in milk and used for diarrhea and dysentery. The   raw root is grated and applied as a poultice to the eye in order to reduce   swelling, or on aching rheumatic joints. An infusion of the root is used in   the treatment of cramps and a common name for the plant, ‘birthroot’,   originated from its use to promote menstruation. A decoction of the root bark   can be used as drops in treating earache. Considered to be a sacred female   herb. Moist   to wet woods, stream banks, shaded open areas; at low to middle elevations
Stinging   Nettle Urtica   dioica The   Snohomish used the shredded nettle root as a hair wash.  The root and the rest of the plant as well   as the needles and bark of the white fir were pounded together and boiled and   put into a bath to be used as a general tonic. The Quileute pound the root   and drink the boiled infusion in small amounts for rheumatism. The root was   used for yellow dye. Meadows,   thickets, open forest and stream banks.    Often found in disturbed areas. Always in moist rich soils; common   locally from the lowlands to subalpine elevations.
Fern   – Licorice Polypodium   glycyrrhaiza or Polypodium vulgare This fern rhizome has a distinct licorice   flavor is somewhat sweet. It was a favorite medicine for many people. The   rhizome is roasted by the Makah, peeled, chewed, and the juice swallowed for colds   coughs and sore throats. The Cowlitz crush the rhizome, mix it with young fir   needles, boil it, and drink the infusion for coughs. The root is demulcent,   pectoral, purgative and anthelmintic Found   on wet mossy ground, logs and rocks. Also found on the trunks of trees and   often found on big-leaf maple at low elevations.
Cattails Cattail   is a member of the grass family, Gramineae, as are rice, corn, wheat, oats,   barley, and rye, just to mention a few. Traditionally, Typha latifolia   has been a part of many native   North American   cultures, as a source of food, medicine, and for other uses. The rhizomes are edible   after  cooking and removing the skin,   while peeled stems and leaf bases can be eaten raw, or cooked.  Some cultures make use of the roots of T.   latifolia as a poultice for boils, burns, or wounds.    In early spring, dig up the   roots to locate the small pointed shoots called corms. These can be removed,   peeled, and eaten, added to other spring greens for a salad, or cooked in   stews or alone as a pot herb. As the plant growth progresses to where the   shoots reach a height of two to three feet above the water, peel and eat like   the corms, or sautee. Root starch is harvested until late spring. The starch   is made into flour.  The root can also   be made into a natural sweetener.  The   root contains vitamin C, A and micronutrients. Marshes,   ponds, lakeshores, and wet ditches, in slow-flowing or quiet water; low to   middle elevations

VOCABULARY

Angiosperm (an·gi·o·sperm). noun. Botany. a plant that has flowers and produces seeds enclosed within a carpel. The angiosperms are a large group and include herbaceous plants, shrubs, grasses, and most trees. Compare with gymnosperm.

Phlo.em (fl m ). n. The food-conducting tissue of vascular plants, consisting of sieve tubes, fibers, parenchyma, and sclereids. Also called bast.

REFERENCES

  • Capon, Brian (1990) (Revised  3rd edition, 2005) Botany for Gardeners, Timber Press, Portland, London
  • Gunther, Erna. (1945) (Revised 1973) Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Knowledge and use of Indigenous plants by Native Americans, University of Washington Press.
  • Meyer, Joseph E. (1918) (Revised 1970) The Herbalist, Meyer Books Publishing
  • Ott, John Nash (1973)  Health and Light – The effects of Natural and Artificial Light on Man and Other Living Things. Old Greenwich, Conn. Devin-Adair
  • Pojar & McKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Stur, Ernst T. (1933) Manual of Pacific Coast Drug plants, Ernst Theodore Stuhr Papers, Oregon State University Archives, Corvallis, Oregon.
  • Tompkins, Peter and Bird, Christopher (1973) The Secret Life of Plants: A fascinating account of the physical emotional, and spiritual relations between plants and man.  Perennial – HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY
  • O’Shea, Ellen “Honoring our ancestral plants: Wapato” (2011)  https://radicalbotany.com/2011/02/21/honoring-our-ancestral-plants-wapato/
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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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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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In 2011 I will be sharing with you why you need to respect and bring native plants into your life.  I will be doing this in a pragmatic way. First I am going to take up the post-a-week challenge made by WordPress and will be updating my blog weekly. 

 I will share with you why it is so imperative that humans stop destroying their natural environment.  I will share with you the science behind why native plants are so important.  I will teach you to identify native plants so that you can start visiting them in the wild places and start bringing them back into your health and wellness regimes, your yards, your cities and biomes.

I will be listing more activities found in Cascadia (the area from British Columbia to Northern California) that will help you connect with the both native plants and those who can teach you what you need to know.

You can help me.

Tell me what is going on in your area of the world that inspires others to protect native plants.  Share inspired comments to this website (skillshare).  Tell others about this website and this project.

I will be learning more about the technology offered by WordPress and available on this website.  I promise to learn how to tweet, digg, RSS, etc. I know I can do it, I know I can do it…

I will be publishing my book as an e-book during 2011.  It will include illustrations and watercolors that I have completed of native plants, plant identification charts, maps, and other useful information.  This book has 18 chapters.  Here is preview of the chapters.

Table of Contents

Introduction: finding our way back, reconnecting with the plant world. 1

Chapter 1. Plant Community, human community (White Oak) 5

Chapter 2. Learning the lay of the land (Oregon Grape) 11

Chapter 3. How to identify and “key” native plants (Miner’s lettuce) 19

Chapter 4. Building shelters from plants (Willow) 27

Chapter 5. Growing your own fibers: Grasses, sedges, tules and fiber plants (Cat-tail) 29

Chapter 6. Seeds and wild plants. What is valuable?. 31

Chapter 7. The great harvest (Wapato) 33

Chapter 8. Digging in the dirt- exploring earthworms and mycelium.. 35

Chapter 9. Using native plants as medicine (Pacific Ninebarks) 37

Chapter 10. Spring plants in Cascadia (Nettles and the potherb) 39

Chapter 11. Stalking the wild plant – Tools, geography, maps (Horsetail) 41

Chapter 12. Fermenting the bounty (Red and Blue Elderberry) 43

Chapter 13. Bringing the native plant and pollinators home. 45

Chapter 14. Twenty important native plants you need to know.. 46

Chapter 15.Place where the spirit dwells- First Nations- the ethnobotany of native plants  47

Chapter 16. Generational Injustice (St. John’s Wort) 49

Chapter 17. Bringing Native plants back into our mechanized world (Cats Claw) 53

Chapter 18.  Resources and Tools: books, gear, online resources. 57

WordPress will not allow me to publish the ebook or link to the ebook on this website so I am looking for other avenues to let you know how to support the Radical Botany project.  I will find a way to let others purchase the book and support this project to educate others about native plants .  I will continue to update this blog weekly and continue to teach what I know and what I am learning. 

  I am looking into starting a non-profit education project.  I hope to locate to a more rural area in Cascadia where I can have a greenhouse and native plant nursery and school.  I want to live next to the forest.

So those are my resolutions for 2011.  I hope that you will contribute in a positive way.

See you in the deep woods – Let us begin…

Happy New Year! 

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“The ultimate role of ethnobotany lies not in the identification of new natural products for the benefit of the modern world, but rather in the illumination of a profoundly different way of living in relationship to nature.” -Wade Davis

                         Who is Wade Davis?  Follow the link

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Oregon Grape

This is the first of 14 essays that I wrote on plant knowledge that appeared on the Portland Indymedia Website from January 12, 2008 until May 8, 2010.  They appeared as skill shares. People were encouraged to comment and share their own level of plant knowledge. I am reposting the 14 essays with updates and changes. I will also be archiving them on this website so they can be easily accessed. Please feel free to comment on each weekly essay.  There is a link to the original essay that appeared on Portland Indymedia.  The posts include interesting comments.

Let us begin this important discussion.

I must start by explaining that I call this land, this ecosystem and nexus of ecosystems stretching from British Columbia to northern California, Cascadia.  I will reference Cascadia throughout my writing and will sometimes, when necessary, identify a place more specifically by state, valley, or mountain range.  Much of what I will say about plants in Cascadia is true for plants across the Earth.  The Earth is made up of a connected series of ecosystems that support plants, humans, and all other creatures.  I believe in the Gaia hypothesis put forth by James Lovelock and others, which proposes that the living and nonliving parts of the earth interact in a complex system that can be thought of as a single organism. And we are a part of that organism – not apart from it.

I am a longtime Cascadian. I was born here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and grew up with the ways of a true wild child. I attended school and was part of a very large family, but every other moment of my life outside those realms I spent close to the earth and the plants.  I lived close to a white oak forest and learned about the plants from the plants themselves.  I loved the crawling animals, the birds and all creatures I found in that amazing forest. In that forest I found the divine. I lived close to the foot of Mary’s Peak in the Coast Range, a mountain that the native Kalapuya called Tamanawis, “place where the spirit dwells.”  When I was an older child in my teens, I ran wild on the slopes of the mountain – especially on the North Trail.  This trail was where Kalapuyan children were sent for their vision quests.  I had a father who loved the Earth and helped me to understand its plants and learn how to identify them.  He encouraged me to draw and paint pictures of the plants as a way of understanding them.  He did not know about their healing abilities, but  he sensed that some knowledge had been lost about these plants.  My father was a longtime organic gardener, and for a time our family raised about 50 percent of our food from the earth.  I learned a great deal about growing,drying, preserving, and harvesting plants from my parents.

In my early teens I was able to attract another great plant teacher: a woman simply called “Grandma,“ who lived not far from me. She lived across a couple of fields from my home..  Grandma taught me to harvest the tiny purple center of Queen Anne’s lace for use as a natural dye.  She was my most important human plant teacher. She told me about the spirit of each plant.  I was taught that specific plant families do not always react in the same ways in each human dose,  that we all attract plant healing in different ways.  This is the inverse of what corporate medicine teaches today.  Teachings such as homeopathy and the use of flower essence (Bach Flower Remedies) also teach that the healing must start with the human spirit and that all healing starts with emotions and energy.  I was also taught that to achieve proper healing,  a healer must be able to observe the progress and changes in a human or animal over time.  My most important teacher was the plants themselves. Through observation and use of the plants to heal myself and the animals on our farm, I was able to learn essential techniques used in plant healing.

To understand fully my relationship with the plants of Cascadia, I sought out stories about how native peoples used local plants. And I discovered an attraction to several plants.  I will start by teaching what I know about some essential plant species found in Cascadia.  These species are important to me, and you may find that  you are drawn to other plants in the region.

As I teach you about the important healing plants of Cascadia, I will also encourage you to observe yourself and note what plants you are attracted to. Understand that many times the attraction is mutual, and that the plant  that draws you in may be trying to heal you or bring you back to a state of balance with the natural world.

I will be covering how to identify and harvest the plants that I think we should all know about.  I also plan to discuss how to use these plants for nutrition and for emotional, physical, and spiritual healing.  I will provide resources for additional learning about each plant and share some ideas on how to use plants (not trees) for shelter and other necessities such as clothing and fiber…

 Before you can learn about healing and nutritional plants, you need to learn the lay of the land, and you must grow aware of the spirit force that the Earth gives us through plants.  Plants are more than inanimate objects put on the Earth for our enjoyment – they are part of us and we are part of them.  We need to have an understanding that everything in heaven and earth is connected as one big system and that plants are as much a part of our bodies, minds, and spirits as anything else in the ecosystem that we live in.  For too long humankind has been immersed in the idea of a mechanized world.  Many humans mistakenly believe they can treat the Earth and our bodies like machines with exchangeable parts.  Many believe they can remove or abuse a body part without harming the whole of the body.  A similar attitude perseveres about plants.  Yet as with human bodies, when you remove or abuse a plant community, you bring imbalance and dis-ease to the whole.

Plants are amazing Earth entities.  Yet we have lost so much knowledge about how to interact with them and gain health and wellness through their use.  There is a movement amongst permaculturists and plant healers to collect the stories of how native peoples interacted with plants – the Ethnobotany of plant knowledge.  The following is information that I gathered during a talk that I attended at the 2008 gathering of permaculturists in Eugene, Oregon put on by the Eugene Permaculture Guild.

The speakers were from Bill Burwell, a Kalapuya researcher, and Jerry Hall, an ethnobotanist who teaches at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon.

Bill Burwell spoke at length about the relationship between the Kalapuyans who lived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  He said that at the start of each harvest season they first had a gathering ceremony.  Great respect was given to the earth and the process of harvesting.  The Kalapuyans expressed gratitude for the harvest.  „The spiritual leader of each winter village site would harvest a few articles of each resource, bring it back, prepare it in a ceremonial way, bless the plants or animals that were responsible, and then the regular harvest could begin.“

Burwell reported that there was a belief that all plants and animals, including humans, were part of the same lifeforce, family and community. „As above, so below“.

Burwell spoke of a word that was used up and down the Willamette Valley, the lower Columbia, and into the Salish area of Washington and British Columbia.that expressed this reverence for life: Tamanawas. Burwell said it’s been translated as spirit power. People on a vision quest would look for thier Tamanawas. Burwell said that what  Tamanawas really related to was a person’s ability to interconnect with all the rest of nature. Burwell reported that often a persons ability to find a certain plant for healing happened because they were able to connect with nature on a energetic level. „The plant actually was the teacher of the person who was going out on the search“, Burwell said.

Jerry Hall spoke about language and songs that were used to connect with nature.  Hall spoke about first people gather songs that would connect them to a plant. The songs were located in the ether world and if one was accepting, the song would come to them and then they would find the plant. „ My experience is that singing evokes something from us that is beyond talking and gives expression to prayer“, Hall said

Both Burwell and Hall agreed that people 500 years ago knew where everything was in nature and the people took care of it and respected it.

Original Essay with comments found at http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2008/01/370936.shtml?discuss

Other resources:

Eugene Permaculture guild:  http://www.eugenepermacultureguild.org

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Amateur Naturalist Series
Offered through the Friends of Straub Environmental Learning Center in Salem, Oregon

The Amateur Naturalist Series provides an introduction to a wide variety of nature and science topics. The programs slated for 2010-2011 cover Conifer identification, marine life, Nature Photography, Landscaping with natives,mushrooming, wildflower identification, reptiles and entomology. The Naturalist Series is open to the public, and no previous knowledge of the topic is required! Classes are $5 per person, registration is required due to limited space. All classes are held at the Straub Environmental Learning Center at 7:00 p.m. Call or email Alexandra at 503-391-4145 or fselc@fselc.org to register.

Here is a link to this wonderful program: Friends of Straub Environmental Learning Center

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