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Posts Tagged ‘Connection to Nature’

cathedral-grove-mossThere are places on the earth where everything is in balance.  Places where the boundaries between humans and nature disappear.  Upon entrance to these natural places the human spirit leaves the cloak of ego, struggle, separateness and the tension of the world falls away.

The Hoh rainforest on the most westerly edge of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State is such a place.

“Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.” John Muir — John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 235.

I entered the Hoh Rainforest twice in 2013. I am only now writing about my experiences because something changed in me and I could not find the words to describe the emotions that welled up in me. Something lost, something found. I had a realization that we may be at a point of desolation in Western Civilization. We are destroying the places where our souls can find rest at an alarming pace. And, I feel helpless in stopping this destruction. And I am a refugee of those killing fields.

In spite of recognizing that the Hoh Rainforest may be all that is left of the rainforests of the west coast, my visits to the Hoh Rainforest helped me reconnect with my life purpose and develop a strong still voice, one with boundaries and courage.

I grew up near the coast range mountains in Western Oregon. At that time the rainforests were intact from British Columbia to Northern California. The habitat of animal and plant life was diverse and interconnected through that area. The ecology of the place provided shelter not only for the millions of species who lived there, but for the land east of the region. You see those precious rainforests created moisture for an area that spanned thousands of miles into the mid-west. Those precious rainforests seeded the clouds that came first from the ocean and passed over the area and dropped moisture on the Cascade Mountains, the Rocky Mountains and then finally fell and fed the great aquifers of the mid-west. Now the water is missing and the forests are burning. The water wars have begun and wildlife is going extinct.

Trail of Mosses

Trail of Mosses

Strong words, yes I know. Maybe you came to this blog for a description of a walk in the woods. Maybe you thought I would teach you about the native plants and fungi I saw. I will. I know. I saw. But for now you need to learn why my heart froze for an entire year.

Like I said, I grew up in Oregon. Millions of acres of Oregon’s forests, both public and private, have been clearcut over the past century. The devastation to wildlife, ecosystems, cloud ecology and snowpack reserves in the region is wide-spread and unrepairable.  I realize I grew up and lived in a war zone.  I am deeply scared by what I have experienced.

When I entered the Hoh Rain Forest I was both renewed and filled with much sorrow.  The place was Eden and I was a guest of the Great Creator who loves us all.  And yet the visits brought home to me what has been lost, and what is being lost.

And now, with that preface let us journey together.

Oh how I wish you and I were actually on the trail through the Hoh.  I am not a good enough writer to use words to describe the musky smell of the deep forest or the phenomenal song of the forest Robin .  All I know is that when I breathe in,  my body, mind and spirit remember something older than civilization.  The merging of flora, fauna, fungi, fresh air, local air currents, wind, rain, caverns of the tangled roots of an ancient Big Leaf Maple, Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock create a wondrous natural world experience.

Wood Sorrel

Wood Sorrel

Receiving 12 to 14 feet of rain per year, the Hoh Rainforest is one of the best examples of temperate rainforest in the world.  The Hoh Rainforest that is intact is located within the Olympic National Park and is protected from devastation.  The Hoh River valley was formed thousands of years ago by glaciers. Between the park boundary and the Pacific Ocean, 48 km (30 mi) of river, much of the forest has been logged within the last century, although many pockets of forest remain.

I choose my hiking partners well.  I expected a long drive and then another long hike.  I wanted someone who could become part of the forest and was somewhat introspective.  I was not interested in timed excursions or a mapped out day hikes.  I wanted to let the forest lead me.

The first time I entered the Hoh Rainforest it was very early April 2013.  The wild flowers had not yet opened.  My friend Elizabeth agreed to initiate me to the Hoh.  She had been in the forest many times and had spent time alone living in a tent near the forest.  Her spiritual orientation to creation is what attracted me also.  She did not see humans and nature as being separate.  She knew the trees, the flowers, the streams, the paths.  She led me to a special place along the Hoh River where warm black sands provided an exceptional meditative place.

Elizabeth taught me how to find nearby lodging so we could enter the forest twice in our visit.  There is very limited camping in the Hoh Rain forest.  It is part of the National Park system and one must possess a seasonal pass as well as a reservation to camp nearby.  Even at the early part of the season, other people were present on the path-but they were few.

On our arrival to the park we entered the Hall of Mosses trail. I took a deep breath of the clean, fresh air.  I looked up and saw the towering canopy of Big Leaf Maple, Sitka spruce,

Hall of Mosses - Hoh Rain forest

Hall of Mosses – Hoh Rain forest

Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlock. Some of the trees were near to 300 feet tall. All along the path the Redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) grew in large communities. We stopped to chew on a leaf. The citrus-like taste refreshed us both. Small nubs of soon-to-be wild flowers shot up through the leaf and winter debris layers.  Although the weather was somewhat cool, the sun was out and the sunbeams shot down through the forest. It was a magical place and I am sure the Fae were present.

The cool moist landscape supported a community of unique lichen, ferns and fungi.  Lettuce lichen (Lobaria oregana), grew on the sides of trees and downed logs and the forest floor. The Spike moss draped itself across the branches of the Big Leaf Maple.

Young Sitka Spruce grew from a downed nurse tree.  These epiphyte flourish in Old Growth forests where generations of life lives and thrives one on top of the other.

Black cottonwood buds

Black cottonwood buds

We came upon a Black Cottonwood (Populus balsamifera) that was dropping it a sticky cone-shaped bud. The buds were fragrant with a balsamy scent.  We realized we had come upon a coffer of the mystical Balm of Gilead. We picked up the sticky orange and gold coverings from the ground and inhaled the spicy scent.  We understood that this bud contained a “salicylate precursors” related to aspirin and it was very healing.  We shared stories about Balm of Gilead and how it is found on several other trees like the Balsam Poplar.  We talked about how the sticky substance was used to line medicine bags of the First Peoples, both to protect healing plants and to keep out bad energy. We considered it a wonderful

find and put some in our pockets to soak at a later time.

We found native Willow growing along the Hoh river. There was both Pacific Willow (Salix lucida)  and Scouler’s Willow (Salix scouleriana)present.  I did not take any cuttings.  This place is sacred and it is actually against the law to remove plants or plant materials from a National Park without permission.  Also the Willow was sparse.  Willow used to flourish in this area.  The First People’s harvested it wisely for thousands of years.  They used it to make baskets and hats and containers.  They used it to patch housing and canoes and to make traps and fishing implements.  Now it is very sparse. It should be left alone and respected or we will lose it.  Such a gift.

I loved the sound of the Red-winged black bird as it sat in the tops of the Willow.  The river current was swift as the spring melt from nearby glaciers filled the river banks. We could hear the Spruce grouse nearby calling for its mate.  We saw an American Dipper in the nearby forest and a Bald Eagle soared overhead.

As we walked back to the Hall of Moss a young Roosevelt male Elk suddenly appeared on the trail some twenty feet away. We stood silently as it meandered along eating smallfungi composit

spring plants and sipping from a nearby stream.  It walked into a nearby clearing and lay down.  We very slowly moved away from the animal.  Showing great respect for such a large wild animal is very prudent behavior. It did not show fear of us at all.  Probably not a good strategy.  Hunting may not be allowed now, but humans have a way of changing their wildlife “management” plans and have been known to slaughter what is beautiful (i.e. the buffalo of Yellowstone Park).

We saw quite an array of beautiful fungi protruding from every tree, rock and moss-covered ground.  Most fungi obtain their food from dead organic matter (saprophytes).  The multi-colored Conk’s and Turkey Tails splashed hues of gold, red, brown and yellow across the trunks of ancient trees. It was a glorious initiation into the deep woods.

My second excursion into the Hoh Rain Forest happened just weeks after the first.  It was a mystical journey.  This second trip was inspired in a most unusual way. In the week after the first,  my dreams were filled with visions of the Hoh.  In one dream I was called to come up a path and visit a teacher.  The teacher was an unusual plant, one that I had not experienced before.  It was tall, very tall with outreached branches.  And it had large thorns.  I was somewhat afraid of the plant that presented itself in my dream.  I saw the thorns and thought “danger”.  But instead it spoke to me about personal power and having good boundaries in this life. It spoke to me about the changes coming and how humans may act toward one another during these times. And, it asked me to go back to the Hoh Rain forest and find it.  It did not tell me to harvest it, only find it and study it well because there was a life lesson to be found in finding it.

I did not even know what its name was so I contacted a herbalist I know who is deeply connected with the wild world.  His name is Sean Donahue and he is a traditional herbalist who teaches in Victoria, British Columbia at Pacific Rim College in the Community herbalist program. He teaches herbal energetics.  I heard him speak about some of the more powerful plants of the Olympic Peninsula and BC.  And I was pretty sure he would know this plant and how to find it and maybe he would teach me about what the dream might mean.  I sent him an email and also called him on the phone asking him about the plant.  He immediately identified the plant as  Oplopanax horridus or “Devils Club”.   Sean told me that Devil’s club calls us to go into the deep murky places within us and to open up to those hidden parts.  It helps shift people’s relationships to their grief, fear, pain, and sorrow, and reclaim their sense of self. Devil’s Club helps people reclaim their power and assert their right to be in the world.

I had gone through a time when I felt powerless.  I had attracted energies into my life that threatened the safety of my very soul.  Those others had been soul stealers and I had escaped only through prayer, energy healing and grace. Now I was scarred and at times so filled with grief that I could not move.  I had become afraid to go into the forest by myself.  My wonderful companion dog of 17 years had died and I had no way to sense my safety in the deep woods.  Without my frequent trips to the deep woods I had lost my way to that which is sacred. I felt frozen.  Sean said that an appearance of Devil’s club in ones dreams was a call to come back in the full power of the self.  To honor one’s gifts and to step up ones spiritual journey.

I told him that the plant called me to go to the Hoh Rain Forest again and find it.  Sean told me that he also wanted to go into the Hoh Rain Forest but had not had time to go since moving from the East Coast a year ago.  So, I asked him if he would like to go with me.  He said yes.  And so we journeyed.

It was beautiful spring time weather. By this time in late April the wild flowers had begun to bloom and the sweet smell of the early blooming catkins of the Big Leaf Maple had been replaced by the heavier smell of Skunk Cabbage flowers, fungi blooms and green leaf. Salmonberry – (Rubus spectabilis) and Huckleberry (Vaccinium sp) were beginning to bloom.  Sword fern unfurled along every trail. The streams were full of tiny young salmon (fry) that were being carried along the currents of the forest streams.  The song of Robins filled the forest canopy.

Sean Donahue with giant Conk fungi

Sean Donahue with giant Conk fungi

There was a light rain that day as we proceeded down the Hall of Mosses.  We walked for several miles.  There was no sign of Devil’s Club.  I wondered about that.  I had expected to come upon it suddenly in a glen. But no, its appearance would be on its own terms.  I asked several hikers if they had seen it.  One man said you had to walk a good ten miles to see it and then it might be too early to see it with leaf.  As we walked we saw many wondrous things.  The Conk and Turkey Tail fungi we there in all their glory.  The forest was a fairy land of fungi.  The spring rains had awakened the fungi forest.  The colors of the fungi ranged from violet to gold and red.  The dark Chaga was tinged with violet and red. Small transparent fungi spread their skirts against the bright green moss.

Sean and I walked slowly through the forest looking at the magic of the place.  We immersed ourselves in the community of nature fully intact. These are the days I live for.  For nature is my true home, my mother and my family.

We had a wonderful day but we did not see Devil’s Club.  I was somewhat let down.  When I have these mini failures I begin to doubt my ability to connect with the higher forces, the angels and the Great Spirit Who Loves us all.  Sean did a teaching for me.  He taught me about the energetics of the Western Red Cedar.  I love this tree.  It is truly the central reason there is a rainforest here.  This tree collects enough rain fall yearly to supply drinking water for a small village.  It is a protector plant for thousands of other plants, animals, fungi and cloud cover.

I video-taped Sean’s teaching and will share it below:

Video of Sean Donahue talking about the medicine of the Western Red Cedar

We left the Hoh Rainforest and headed back toward Port Angeles.  On the outskirts of PA we decided to drive toward Hurricane Ridge and check out the flora.  The ridge itself was still covered with snow.  About a mile up the road Sean called out “stop!  There it is…Devil’s club”.  Sure enough the entire hillside along the road was covered in Devil’s Club.  We drove down a side road exploring the plant life.  The stream bed and bog along the road was covered in large yellow-flowered skunk cabbage.  There were many Red Cedar and then we saw it.  A very large Devil’s Club set back in the forest.

Devil's Club - Oplopanax horridus

Devil’s Club – Oplopanax horridus

We got out and Sean began to teach again about the plant. He taught me about plant “signatures” and ask me look closely at the signature of this plant.  I could see with its armor that indeed there was an air of boundary-making.  Its branches somewhat outreaching and yet protective of the core of the plant. It stood out in its uniqueness and yet it had boundaries.  There too was I.  Always standing up and speaking out against injustice but then experiencing the crush of the status quo. I do believe that I do not have good boundaries with these people.  I need to develop discernment.  This is especially true in these ‘Changing Times”.

How the plant was used for medicine

The First People’s used the bark of this plant as a purgative .  The bark was also used as a poultice for headache and pain.  It was used to draw out rheumatism and aches. But it was also used to draw out toxins in the body via purging. A very powerful medicine on the physical level, and also used to draw out stagnant and stuck energy on the energetic level.

The medicine of this plant is so strong that a poultice was used to knit broken bones.  So, it is…could the energetics of this plant knit back together my faith in humanity?  Will I be assisted in my task of letting go of darkness so that I could continue on a path to self awareness and deep connection with the divine?  Will I be able to help in this transition time?  Can I serve?  That is really all I want from this life?  Is that too much to ask for.  Devil’s Club says “Go deeper”.

References and Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Sean Donahue for letting me link to the video of his Western Red Cedar teaching. And for teaching me about our allies in the plant world.

Gunther, Erna. (1945) (Revised 1973) Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Knowledge and use of Indigenous plants by Native Americans, University of Washington Press.

Moerman, Daniel E.(1998) Native American Ethnobotany, Timber Press, Portland and London

 

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The journey with spirit2‘And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?’ – Rumi

 

In April 2013 I began a journey that I thought would take me to the Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula, instead the path led through the Hoh to southern Ireland, the land of my grandfather and grandmother and then I was brought to my new home on an incredible farmstead outside of Port Townsend, Washington.

So enthralling was this journey that I felt frozen in the ability to write about it.  This was a new experience, not being able to write.  I have been journaling for the last 30 years and in the last year I was left frozen, a block of a kind.  I could not think of the words, only experience the sensations.  All the time I journeyed I felt the part of the observer being rushed along and not by my own accord. It was as if some spirit teacher had taken my hand and pulled me to places I had never seen before.

You see this journey was so compelling that I was bedazzled by my environment. It was as if I was given a gift and asked to open a door with the promise of exploring a few native plants but as I opened the door I was extracted from my old life and taken to places I never thought I would know. When Spirit calls do you say “not now there is no time”?  I was called by plant spirits to journey.  I did not know when I called out to Devils Club and Elderberry that they would show me a path to an ancestral home and a new way of living.   According to my friend and fellow herbalist, Sean Donahue, Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) helps people reclaim their power and assert their right to be in the world. He told me that when you ask to know and see Devil’s Club you are asking to reclaim your power.  Last year I searched for Devil’s Club in the Hoh Rain Forest and I was not prepared for what happened once I found it.

During this last year there were few words to tell you about this journey, even though I thought of you all often and wished that I could update my blog with the details.

And now, one year later in April 2014 I have come out of the journey to tell you what I saw.  And as always, it was native plants that were my guides.  It was native plants that called to me.  In the Hoh I searched for Devils Club, in County Cork Ireland I searched for my grandfather’s old stone house and found native elderberries.  And on this beautiful wild farm that I now reside, I found whole communities of plants, forests, bogs, bear, unique pollinators, rare frogs, salamanders and a life of community.

In the next few weeks I will be writing about my journey beginning with my trip to the Hoh Rain Forest of the Olympic Peninsula.  I hope that you will check back often and journey with me.  Because I have a message from Spirit that is worth telling – Namaste

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Earth’s the right place for love:

I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Excerpted from Robert Frost – “Birches”

white birch grove

White Birch Grove

Preparing to write about these lovely deciduous trees has been quite a journey.

I have found that what I know is only the tip of the iceberg of what I need to know.  The White or Paper Birch is a tree that I am slowly becoming familiar with. My early relationship was one of taking for granted that this tree would always be here for me to sing to, climb and use as crafting materials.  I did not ever imagine these lovely fast growing groves of trees could be used to heal, attract some of the most powerful healing fungi in the world or that they would one day be imperiled.

My father was a land surveyor and he sometimes took me and my siblings along for the day on his forays into the forested areas of Oregon. On a early summer day many years ago he took us on a walk along a coastal mountain stream.  The White Birch was plentiful and lovely.

We came upon a White Birch which had a broken branch half hanging.   He took some of the sap dripping from the broken tree, spread it over the wound, and then he took the shedding white bark for which it is known and used it to tie the branch back in place.   This is just one of the “signatures” of this tree.  Later I would learn that birch bark was used to set into a cast, the broken bones of humans.  On that day long ago, my father gave me some of the sap to chew and told me that it would be good for my teeth and mouth.  It was sweet and tingled in my mouth. I asked daddy about the bark.  I asked if I could remove some naturally occurring shedding white bark without white birch hanging barkharming the tree.  He told me that in other parts of the country, the bark was used to make canoes and to line baskets and wrap food and that it had probably been used as paper somewhere in the world. He told me there was time of year in the late spring and early summer when the bark was easy to remove without harming the tree.  He told me the tree sap was very healing as was the bark and that is why he used it to repair the broken limb.

Later I used some of the bark to make clothes for my doll and I made a small pouch to hold special things.  I made a small canoe that I could push across our pond.   I found sanctuary in the birch grove and sat in silence to watch the wild birds skip from branch to branch.  In late summer the tiny rounded samara became part of my secret cache of wild seeds.

This was my introduction to White Birch.  It was easy to interact with the community of birch. I can imagine now that it is this easy relationship to the tree and bark that attracted the First People. It is also easy for humans to take this tree for granted, not respect it.  As you will read, the White Birch is a powerful healer for both human and forest communities. It is a tree that welcomes the fungi mat (mycelium) and heals the wounds caused by fire, humans, disease and floods.

Betula papyrifera (Paper Birch, also known as American White Birch and Canoe Birch) is a species of birch native to the northern part of North America and the southern part of Canada.  The species birch is found all over the world.

PREPARING THE WAY – Birch, Alder, Aspen

Some trees are steady and slow in growth reaching to the tops of forests they create an umbrella for the web of life.  And, some trees are pioneers, growing fast, living a short time and creating a birthing platform for many other species. The White Birch is a pioneer species. The stands of White Birch come on fast and can grow only to about 20 meters high (65 feet). A healthy tree can live to be 40 or 50 years old. During their growth the pollen from birch catkins attract a great many pollinators that will bring life to other plants in the forest. The sap and bark attract a great many fungi that live symbiotically on the tree.  The fungi are then dispersed into the disturbed soils to help create the forest mycelium mat.  For a long time scientists and foresters thought the fungi found on the birch were a sign that the tree was dying.  They thought the fungi were killing the tree.  Now we know that the birch is a nurse tree to a great many beneficial fungi. It chooses which fungi will inhabit it and also has a chemical defense method that will trap certain fungi in the heartwood or on the outer barks.   The sap actually has pesticide qualities.  It detracts insects such as termites and certain bacteria that might do the tree harm. According to Grieve in her book A Modern Herbal, Birch tar was used to repel insects (p. 103)

Like the Red Alder and Aspen, the White Birch lives in symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacterium.  This relationship is called mutualism. In mutualism: plants gain nitrogen compounds, the bacterium gains carbohydrate and an environment with reduced oxygen. The plant then changes carbon dioxide to oxygen and releases it for human use.

White birch as a pioneer deciduous species is often found in groves on the edge of newly formed second-growth tree communities or near the edges of changing forests. This tree shows up in ecosystems that have been disturbed by fire, flood or human decimation.  They can be found in open or dense stands of forest usually in an opening. They can be found in lowlands to lower mountain slopes in drained sites or along bogs and other wetlands.  B. papyrifera requires high nutrients and sun exposure.

These trees do not live long. From the time they spring up and then die, can be as little as 20 years or as much as 50 years. It is easy to propagate and the young saplings are often found spouting from a cut stump.  Like the Red Alder, the White Birch is a very important part of establishing the mycological forest community. Without these forerunners of forest health, there would not be a fertile soil and microbiological environment that would support the deep wild forest.

NAME

The name is a very ancient one, probably derived from the Sanskrit bhurga, ‘a tree whose bark is used for writing upon’ (Grieve, p. 103).  The First Peoples of the Cascadian bio-region have names for this tree also:

Salish = âîçêáÛ – birch bark

âîçêálî, îçêá white birch, paper birch, birch bark.

paper birch îçæálî, îçæá birch; paper birch.

The English name is White Birch, Paper Birch or Canoe Birch

The Latin botanical name is: Betula papyrifera

LEAF

white birch leafThe leaf is alternate, deciduous, oval to round and sharp-pointed. The leaf of the White Birch can be longer when on young trees. The color is dull green above and paler and hairy below.  The margins are doubly toothed. (Pojar and Mackinnon p. 47)

Learning the shape of the leaf is important because there are other trees that grow in similar environments that look much the same when young.  For instance bitter cherry has a similar bark and structure but the leaf is oblong to oval, and less pointy.

The FLOWER AND THE SEED

The flowers, and thus the seeds, of white birch are arranged in a pendant cluster about an inch long which is referred to as a catkin. Male white birch leaves-catkins-conesand female flowers are on separate catkins. When pollinated, the female flowers develop seeds, each of which is located on a scale in the catkin.

Male and female flowers grow in separate catkins and flower at the same time.  Sometimes there will be young leaves emerging as the tree flowers. The buds for the male catkins appear in autumn, when it begins getting cold.  During spring, the tassel-like catkin will produce yellowish or grayish green flowers that produce pollen with an aromatic scent.

Over the winter the catkins disintegrate, dispersing both seeds and scales.  You can identify the species of birch from the shape of its scales or nutlets.  Again, the white birch nutlet is round with wings that are broader than the body.

The male catkins will fall away from the tree, while the female catkins will form into cones in the summer. These cones vary from a deep brown to a tan, though they may also have a reddish color to them. During late summer, the cones will open and in autumn, the cones will fall, spreading their nutlets across the ground. The nutlets are then dispersed on the wind.

BARK

The tree is most familiar to us humans because of its bark.  The bark peels in papery strips in late spring and early summer. The bark of this tree is commonly thought of as being white or grayish white, but also comes in yellowish or dark gray.  It is often marked with brown horizontal lines of raised pores. The bark is highly weather-resistant. The wood itself is highly flammable and can be burned as firewood even when damp.

MEDICINE

Birch syrup is a sweetener made from the sap of birch trees, and used in much the same way as maple syrup. It is also used as medicine syrup.  The sap is boiled down to produce birch syrup.

The same sap is fermented to make beer and wine.  Birch beer is very popular in Northern Europe and a few areas of North America.

The oil is astringent, and is mainly employed for its curative effects in skin afflictions, especially eczema, but is also used for some internal maladies. Oil of wintergreen is distilled from its inner bark and twigs (Meyer p. 15)

The inner bark is bitter and astringent, and has been used in intermittent fevers. The bark is ground to a fine power and used to treat diaper rash.  It is also used internally to treat a great many inflammatory and bacterial infections.

The vernal sap is diuretic. The resin contains zylitol, a disinfectant used as a natural tooth cleaner. However, it may also contain terpenes. Used in making turpentine, terpenes and terpenoids are the primary constituents of the essential oils of many types of plants and flowers. Essential oils are used widely as natural flavor additives for food, as fragrances in perfumery, and in traditional and alternative medicines such as aromatherapy. It was also reported that those who chewed the resin could get somewhat of a “buzz” (Pojar and MacKinnon p.47.

One of the chemicals that has been isolated from birch bark is called betulin. Betulinic acid, which is made from betulin, is being studied as a possible cancer treatment. Betulin has also been found in many other plants.

White Birch is used on the skin to treat warts, eczema, and other skin conditions. Promoters say that birch tea can be taken internally as a diuretic or a mild sedative and that it can be used as a treatment for rheumatism, gout, and kidney stones. The leaves are sometimes used on the scalp to help with hair loss and dandruff. Birch tar (oil distilled from birch bark) is used on the skin for skin irritations and parasites. Other claims for birch bark include the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera.

WHITE BIRCH AND THE POWERFUL FUNGI CHAGA (THE TINDER CONK)

Chaga conk on a White Birch

Chaga conk on a White Birch

White Birch Moxa

Before I started this study of the White Birch, I did not know that the First Peoples in Cascadia used Moxabustion.  Moxibustion is the application of heat resulting from the burning of a small bundle of tightly bound herbs, or moxa, to targeted acupoints on the human body. The burning plant material is traditionally mugwort.  It is sometimes used along with acupuncture.  It is used to open up or move energy in a part of the human energetic body. It is well-known that for thousands of years far-eastern cultures have used moxabustion as part of their healing regimes.  What I was not aware of was that the First Peoples of North America, Central America and South America also use Moxibustion.  As I studied the White Birch I came upon a quote that perked up my inquisitive nature.  The book is called A Modern Herbal published in 1931 by Mrs. M. Grieve.  Grieve reports that birch leaf and bark was used as a moxa, and that it was burned on top of a fungi.  Both the birch parts and fungi were used to create a moxa for healing. Here is a quote from Grieve’s published works.

“Moxa is prepared from it and regarded as an effective remedy in all painful diseases. A type of moxa is made from the yellow fungus that is excreted from the wood of the White Birch, which sometimes swell out from the fissures of the bark” – Grieve p. 104

After some research I found that there are several types of fungi that are yellow and live in the fissure of the White Birch.  It is a tree that attracts fungi as it ages. Here is short list of some of the edible and medicinal fungi that grow on birch.  Ganoderma applanatum, or artist’s conk, Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), Turkey tail (Trametes spp.) attacks fire-scarred, wounded and drought-, freeze- or sunburn-stressed birches. Hairy (T. hirsuta) and colored (T. versiclor) turkey tails, Lenzites betulina, commonly called birch mazegill, Yellow Brain fungus and Chaga (Inonouts obliquus). According to Paul Stamets, most of these fungi have several medicinal properties, including antioxidant, antimicrobial, antitumor, and immunosuppressive activities. (Stamets 2005)

There are so many fungi attracted to the White birch that I would only be able to identify which was used as a moxa by contacting an expert.  But, there are clues.  It is yellow; it is used for burning as a moxa.   Was the fungi Chaga (Inonouts obliquus) also called Birch Tinder fungus Grieve’s moxa?  Chaga has a somewhat yellow underbelly.

I found several books that stated that the First peoples burned plants for many reasons; healing, food, spiritual connection, and fire carrying. It is well know that the First Peoples of all cultures across the globe including those of Cascadia burned plants as a method of reconnecting spiritually to the natural world.  They smoked and burned plants for healing and for ceremony. And they used the burning of plants as a method of healing via moxabustion.  One method of releasing essential oils in a plant or bark was to burn the plant, or place it on burning material and let the spark ignite the essential oils of the plant.  This method was often used to help healing substances connect with hard to reach areas of the body, such as cartilage and deep tissues.  My investigation found that in the practice of shamanism, moxabustion was essential to the healing process.

Let’s look at Chaga and its relationship with the birch.

Many mushrooms prefer a particular wood for their growth because they need the nutrients and conditions that they can get from that wood. Some form symbiotic relationships with certain trees, as the chanterelle does with birch, but many also feed on dead, decaying wood. There are also mushrooms that parasitize birch trees and which will kill weakened trees, such as the birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus), a shelf fungus with an interesting history.

Chaga, a fungus in the Hymenochaetaceae family is in a symbiotic parasitic relationship with birch and other trees. The sterile conk that is Chaga is irregularly formed and has the appearance of burnt charcoal. Chaga was called the Birch tinder fungus because it was used as a means of carrying fire from one hearth to another.  The fungus was lighted and it carried the ignition spark.  Chaga was also used as a moxa hearth.  Plant material was placed on top of a burning ignited Chaga.  Together the Chaga and the burning plant created a moxabustion of healing aromatic substances. According to Paul Stamets the First Peoples used these fungi as a natural antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and immunopotentiator as well as a practical fire-starter mushroom. (Stamets – Mycelium Running p. 258)

Finally I found a research paper published in the Journal of Ethnobiology in the summer of 1992 titled “Short communication – Use of Cinder Conk (Inonotus obliquus) by the Gitksan of Northwest British Columbia, Canada.

The author Leslie M. Johnson Gottesfeld writes:  “Cinder conk had two principal uses: for moxibustion treatment of swollen athritic joints, and as tinder or a slow match for making and transporting fire.”

Further she writes the Gitksan elder had two words for cinder conk: mii’hlw and tiiuxw. A Gitksan elder describes cinder conk and its medicinal use as follows:

“Mii’hlw-the black growth from the crack in the birch tree. Like yellow cotton inside. If you cut it off, use the yellow cotton stuff. Take a sliver like a match stick and burn it for pain in the joint.” According to the elder, after the sliver of cinder conk was burned near the skin on the affected joint, a special salve was then applied to the burn wounds. This treatment was reported to be effective in reducing the swelling, and presumably the discomfort, of the joint. ( Johnson Gottesfeld p. 154-55)

I love this much endangered fungi and birch that it grows upon.  And so do others who value it for its healing abilities.   Paul Stamets reports that wild harvesters for the nutraceutical industry are decimating the White and Yellow Birch populations of North America and Europe as they walk through the forest with machetes chopping the fungus off the tree and causing life-threatening damage to the trees.  The removal of the mother-chaga is also removing the spores from the forest (Stamets, October 2012).  The Chaga communities are becoming rarer as are the birch forests.

Stamets is trying to remedy the situation by teaching the nutraceutical industry and others to grow Chaga in growing houses on birch and other forest product chips.  He is also asking that the industry stop buying from foragers. Here is a link to a short video about conservation efforts to save the Chaga and the birch.

The trees are dying for a second reason:  Birch trees are especially sensitive to herbicides because they have a shallow root system. The herbicides are also decimating the beneficial fungi that live in symbiotic relationship to the birch.

UTILITY – CANOES AND BASKETRY

The White Birch is also called the Canoe Birch. In the Cascadian Bioregion (Pacific Northwest), some canoes were built as large as one

Canoe building - inland waters of Pacific NW

Canoe building – inland waters of Pacific NW

hundred feet long and seven feet wide, and could hold up to sixty people. Bark canoes are constructed of sapling frames covered in bark. Birch bark is very popular for both its durability and its relatively light weight. The birch bark is an outer covering spread over a frame (ribs and gunwales) made of flexible wood such as red or white Cedar. The canoe of the First Peoples was extraordinarily light and graceful. When new and dry, a 15-footer might weigh less than 40 pounds; the longer ones, made by some tribes, weighed about 75 pounds. One man could pick up a canoe and carry it, upside down and resting on his shoulders, over a long rough portage. For its size and weight, it had greater carrying capacity than almost anything that floats. A birch bark canoe could carry almost a ton of load and it is said that a 15-foot canoe was often used to transport an Indian Family with several children, plus all of their duffel and dogs. (Nature Bulletin)The Birch bark has been used to make baskets for thousands of years. There are myths about these baskets that have been retold to the basket-making societies. The birch basketry was used to make many helpful containers.  Panels of bark were also be fitted or sewn together to make cartons and boxes (a birchbark box is called a wiigwaasi-makak). The bark was also used to create a durable waterproof layer in the construction of sod-roofed houses.

Video – Cool things in nature:  Paper Birch Tree

REFERENCES

  • Birch Bark Canoes – Nature Bulletin No. 463-A   September 23, 1972
  • Forest Preserve District of Cook County viewed on the internet 1/20/2013 – http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/natbltn/400-499/nb463.htm
  • Doctrine of Signatures – plant signatures – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine_of_signatures viewed on the internet 1/22/2013
  • Gunther, Erna. (1945) (Revised 1973) Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Knowledge and use of Indigenous plants by Native Americans, University of Washington Press.
  • Grieve, Mrs. M. (1931) Modern Herbal – The medicinal, culinary, cosmetic and economic properties, cultivation and folk-lore of herbs, grasses, fungi, shrubs and trees with all their modern scientific uses, 2 volumes, Harcourt, Brace company; reprinted by Dover Publications, NY in 1971.
  •  Johnson Gottesfeld , Leslie M. (1992) Short communication – Use of Cinder Conk (Inonotus obliquus) by the Gitksan of Northwest British Columbia, Canada. Journal of Ethnobiology, 12(1):153-156 Summer 1992
  • Meyer, Joseph E. (1918) (Revised 1970) The Herbalist, Meyer Books Publishing
  • Moerman, Daniel E.(1998) Native American Ethnobotany, Timber Press, Portland and London, pp.38
  • Pojar and MacKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, BC
  • Stamets, Paul (2005) Mycelium Running- How Mushrooms can help save the world, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA pgs 203-205.
  • Stamets, Paul “Chaga, the Clinker Fungus: This Mushroom Looks Scary But Can Benefit Health – October 25, 2012 – Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-stamets/chaga-mushroom_b_1974571.html
  • Stur, Ernst T. (1933) Manual of Pacific Coast Drug plants, Ernst Theodore Stuhr Papers, Oregon State University Archives, Corvallis, Oregon.

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Red Alder (Alnus rubra)

During the storm I dreamt of Red Alder.  I dreamt that the spirit of the tree was leading me away from danger.  Then I woke and saw ruts of the big machines and I cried for the forest.  Soon after the Red Alder came up through the sun-baked soil of the clear-cut. – Ellen O’Shea – Radical Botany

Red Alder Grove along stream

Some plants are trailblazers.  They show up when great change has happened.  They grow in the ruts of human civilization, the mud, the flood tracks and the places where sun and wind prohibit other plants to grow. Red Alder just such a trailblazer. A true pioneer plant.  It shows up to heal, grows fast, stays a short time, then allows the tall conifers, the redcedar and majestic Bigleaf maple and other trees to take over.  It is a friend and healer of the forest. It is a tree that perseveres in the direst of circumstances. Even after massive clear-cutting and wild fire destruction where the forest seems changed forever, the Red Alder will push up out of the graves of other trees and change the soils.  It is an alchemist.  It will attract the bacterium needed to change the acid of riddled sun-parched soils into  the conditions needed to bring back an entire eco-system.  After the Red Alder emerges, the tiny herbs, the ferns and sedges follow.  Soon after that the wildflowers, elderberry shrubs, Indian plum and wild honeysuckle will follow. And then the conifers and larger deciduous trees follow and a whole forest eco-system emerges.

The Red Alder soothes the hardest of earth and entices the fungi, bacteria and nutrients back into the forest floor. The bacterium on its roots fix the nitrogen needed to feed the forest community. A grove of Red Alder will only live about 100 years, just enough time to coax the forest community to come home one more time.  As a healer of humans its bark is used to sooth the acid stomach and gallbladder, clean the lymph glands and bowels, entice the poisons from the skin and open up the lungs.  A poultice of the bark will bring forth the inner poison.

Red Alder wood chips are often used to cultivate eatable and medicinal mushrooms such as the Shiitake.

THE NAME

Clallam  – s’ko’noiltc

Quinault – malp

Swinomish – su-k’uba’ts

Alder is the common name of a genus of flowering plants (Alnus) belonging to the birch family Betulaceae. The English name was derived from the bright rusty red color that develops in bruised or scraped bark. The outside bark is mottled, ashy-gray and smooth, often draped with moss. But just inside is the glorious red used for dye and medicine.

HABITAT

Red alder (Alnus rubra) are the largest species of alder on the west coast of North America.  The tree can grow to 40 feet or more, needs full sun, is a nitrogen fixer, tolerates poor, wet soil and is found in valleys in the Cascadian bio-region as well as the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Red alder is a fast- growing but short-lived (old at fifty, with a maximum age of about a hundred years).

For years, as the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest were devastated by massive clear cutting of the region, Red Alder was thought to be invasive and was destroyed.   For the first 100 years of European settler decimation, the Red Alder was thought to be scrub, a noxious weed and unnecessary for forest health.  Then in the 1970’s and 80’s as second and third growth Douglas fir tree farms failed to thrive, research showed that an essential part of the forest eco-system was missing.  Red Alder, an amazing nitrogen fixer had been systematically removed from the forests using massive amounts of chemicals and extraction methods of forest management.

With the lack of nitrogen in the forest soils, other native species began to be stunted and attract disease. But as foresters began to study forest re-growth, they noticed that Red Alder was one of the first trees to return to a clear-cut.  They also noticed that as the Red Alder stands thrived, so did the small plants, shrubs, and then other tree species thrive. The Red Alder is a forest healer; it brings life back to much damaged soils.  For soils that have been heavily sprayed with toxic chemicals, the introduction of Red Alder is less successful.

RED ALDER AND NITROGEN FIXING BACTERIUM

An 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 ahni, 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.

I found a great online source for explaining the nitrogen fixing process. “A Nitrogen Fixation: The Story of the Frankia Symbiosis by Peter Del Tredici a Harvard researcher can be found at this link: http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/1995-55-4-a-nitrogen-fixation-the-story-of-the-frankia-symbiosis.pdf

Here is a quote from that document:

“Before atmospheric nitrogen can be used by plants, it must be “fixed,” that is, split and combined with other chemical elements. This process requires a large input of energy and can occur either biologically, within the cells of various bacteria, or chemically, in fertilizer factories or during lightning storms.

Among all living organisms, only bacteria have evolved the complex biochemical mechanisms required for nitrogen fixation. All “higher” plants and animals that are said to fix nitrogen are really only the symbiotic partners of the bacteria that do the actual work.”

Red alder is often found growing near coast Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii subsp. Menziesii), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), grand fir (Abies grandis), western redcedar (Thuja plicata), and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) forests. When found along streambanks it is commonly associated with willows (Salix spp.), red osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), Oregon ash (Fraxinus latifolia) and bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum).

Red Alder leaf

THE LEAVES

Alternate, deciduous (fall off the limb in the autumn), broadly elliptic, and sharp-pointed at the base and tip. The leaf top is dull green and smooth, and the underside is golden-colored and hairy. The leaf margin is revolute, the very edge being curled under, a diagnostic character which distinguishes it from all other alders. The leaf turns yellow in autumn before it falls from the tree.

 

The male and female catkin

THE FLOWER

The flowers are catkins with elongate male catkins on the same plant as shorter female catkins, often before leaves appear; they are mainly wind-pollinated, but also visited by bees to a small extent. These trees differ from the birches (Betula, the other genus in the family) in that the female catkins are woody and do not disintegrate at maturity, opening to release the seeds in a similar manner to many conifer cones. The catkins form in the fall, and then overwinter, ready to open or flower in spring. The female catkin is cone-like, droops slightly, usually in clusters of threes.

The male catkin is slender, cylindrical, hanging in clusters of 3 to 5 from short leafless branches.

THE FRUIT

Red Alder cones or fruit

The fruit is clusters of brownish cones which are quite small (up to 2 cm long). They remain on the trees over the winter and contain oval winged nutlets. About 2000 seeds are normally produced by the cones which are normally spread by the wind but also by the water and birds. The seeds have a viability of about 45%. Seeds are normally dispersed between the months of October and March.

THE BARK

The bark is thin, grey, and smooth often with white patches of lichens.  The bark will turn bright red to rusty red when cut.

As a weaver I often sought the bark of the Red alder as a source of dye.  I peeled back the bark and exposed it to air and it would turn a brilliant red.  As the bark dried the color of the bark changed from red to a slightly golden brown.  I fixed the color using apple cider vinegar.

MEDICINE

Red Alder is a bitter and an astringent (Meyer p.3).  Bark twigs and buds were used. An ointment of the bark was used to cure eruptive skin diseases (Stuhr  p. 21). Catkins are edible and high in protein, but are very bitter in taste and utilized usually on for survival food. The wood is used to smoke cooked food.

The Bark of the Red alder contains anti-inflammatory salicin that metabolizes into salicyclic acid in the body.

Cut of the Red Alder – new (red) and old (golden)

Salicin is related to Aspirin. Red Alder bark is used for relief from poison oak, insect bites, and skin irritations.  The Red Alder bark is used in infusions to treat lymphatic disorders and tuberculosis.

The bark was boiled and drunk for colds, stomach trouble, and scrofula sores. The rotten bark and woody parts were rubbed on the body to ease “aching”. (Gunther p. 27)

The wood was used to make canoes, boxes and paddles and multiple other utility implements.  Like the Western Red Cedar, this tree was widely used by the first people of the Cascadian bio-region. The wood was important because it could be used while still green, seasoned and not split in the sunlight.  The wood of the Red Alder has long been used to smoke salmon.  The bark was used to line baskets for storing wild berries, roots and other foods and herbs.

POLLINATOR AND BUTTERFLY HABITAT

Alder leaves and sometimes catkins are used as food by numerous butterflies and moths. The late winter and spring catkins are beneficial to more than one species of bee,  and depending on nearby habitat may attract other insect pollinators, such as butterflies, hoverflies, and pollinating beetles. If the Red Alder is close by water, the pollinators can be plentiful.

Red Alder is a better butterfly host plant than the Asian butterfly bush, which only provides some nectar, not structure to attach chrysalis, nor leaves for caterpillars after hatching.

If you would like to learn more about native plants and the pollinators they attract, order the wonderful book  put out by the Xerces Society called “Attracting Native Pollinators”.  The book is coauthored by four Xerces Society staff members Eric Mader, Matthew Shepherd, Mace Vaughan, and Scott Black in collaboration with Gretchen LeBuhn, a San Francisco State University botanist and director of the Great Sunflower Project.  More on the book go here – http://www.xerces.org/announcing-the-publication-of-attracting-native-pollinators/

VIDEO  AND ONLINE RESOURCES

Article about Red Alder healing capacity by Kiva Rose, herbalist- http://bearmedicineherbals.com/alder-tree-of-transformation-healing.html

How to identify a Red Alder – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBdmL5A0_3c

Interactive Distribution Map of Alnus rubra – http://www.plantmaps.com/nrm/alnus-rubra-red-alder-native-range-map.php

REFERENCES

  • Del Tredici, Peter (1995) Nitrogen Fixation: The Story of the Frankia Symbiosis, Harvard University, Arnoldia Arboretum – viewed on the web on November 9, 2012 – http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/1995-55-4-a-nitrogen-fixation-the-story-of-the-frankia-symbiosis.pdf
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Tilford, Gregory L., Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, ISBN 0-87842-359-1

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BIG LEAF MAPLE (Acer macrophyllum)

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life. –       Hermann Hesse, Trees: reflections and poems

Dear ones,

I have struggled for weeks for the words to express my love of the trees. My last attempt while teaching about conifers was to create graphs, with just the fine points, of how to possibly experience conifers.  I spent hours trying to choose just a few words to express the cones, needles, wildlife, habitat, healing qualities and ethnobotany of each tree. I wanted you to carry the graph into the forest and touch each tree.

But somehow it felt empty.  I did not have enough space to express the soul of the tree.  The one thing above all else is that I want you to know that the trees are alive! They are alive in a way that humans are alive.  And we humans are decimating them.

Now, I want teach you about 12 deciduous trees that live in the Cascadian bio-region. There are far more than 12 of course. But these 12 are my friends.  I will again teach in essay form- as a story teller. That is what Great Spirit who loves us all wants me to do. Tell you the story of the tree and how we are related.  I will attempt to convey what the trees have taught me, rather than what science has collected about the trees.  I want you to fall in love with the trees.  I want you to go outside and embrace the trees as you would a lover.  I want you to cherish the trees so much that you will not allow them to be decimated. I will teach you the indigenous name as well as the common English language and Latin name of each tree so that you can learn how humans related to the tree for thousands of years.

So let us begin

BIG LEAF MAPLE (Acer macrophyllum)

The Name- before the Europeans came and renamed everything, this tree was called many things.  It was a protector, a habitat creator, a source of food,shelter, medicine and tools.  It was a wood used to make canoe paddles and ceremonial masks and rattles. It was a sacred being in the forest; it was much revered. Here are a few of the names that the First Peoples of Cascadia used to identify this tree.

sqəlelŋəxʷ = Salish =Any large Tree

K’u’lawi = Chehalis

Cuk’ums = Cowlitz

Stsla’act = Klallam

K!amali’tc = Lummi

K!o’luwe = Skokomish

Two years ago I lived in an older apartment complex near Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon where there was a still-standing grove of Big Leaf Maple trees.  The large trees had been on the land for over 200 years and were part of the original farmstead that graced the area 100 years ago.  A developer bought the property in 2009, tore down the trees in 20122, and built a shambles of cheap “student” apartments.  My heart was broken.  I had known these trees since my childhood.   I moved away and took my potted garden with me.  Much to my delight many of my potted native plants and herbs pots began to sprout Big Leaf maples.  The trees near my apartment had dispersed their “Samara” or winged seeds to my pots and I unknowingly took them away from the slaughter.  Today they still travel with me as I search for land to settle on.  They are getting quite tall and I may have to find a safe haven for them in a nearby forest.  It does my heart good to know that I took the offspring of my childhood friends to a new life. I hope that I can also find a place to plant myself near these young ones and watch them grow.

THE BIG LEAF MAPLE – A Mother Tree

These trees are magnificent large trees that can grow over 100 feet tall and branch out another 100 feet as well.  The tree offers shelter to diverse wildflowers that need shade and moisture. Wherever you find this forest of Big Leaf Maple you will find Bleeding hearts, ferns, Larkspur, Trillium, Salmon berry, Thimble berry, Indian plum, and Elder berry.  Vine maple and other native shrubs are found growing under this tree. The branches often harbor a completely new eco-system of ferns, mosses, lichen and herbs. Numerous birds nest in the branches and the knots and cave-like holes found in its bark.

The Big Leaf Maple is the “mother tree” of the forest.  Much like the Western Red Cedar in the conifer forest, the Big Leaf Maple attracts the conditions, the plants and fungi that create a healthy viable eco-system.

I used to climb these big trees.  I know these trees. The trees can live hundreds of years.  Their outstretched large limbs made a wonderful place to hang a tree cocoon (canvas tent hung in a tree).  The wildlife attracted to the tree was phenomenal.   One of my favorite things to do in the spring was to visit the blooming flower of Big Leaf Maple.  I stood under the tree and felt the light breeze of the thousands and thousands of bees and other pollinators visiting the tree for nectar. There was so much pollen distribution that it fell downward and peppered the ground with a light yellow dusting.  I came away covered in pollen.  It was such an invigorating experience.  I often built fairy altars under the tree in thanks giving for its great beauty and vitality.  White Oak (Quercus garryanna) grew on the edge of the forest.  Red cedar and other conifers speckled the forest.  Squirrels, deer, blue jays and wild doves moved throughout the forest.  Wild rabbits and raccoons ran along the well-traveled animal trails.

THE RACEME – The flower of the Bigleaf Maple

The Raceme- is a pendulum-like flower stalk that hangs down from a short stalk attached to an early spring leaf bud. It is unbranched and it’s yellowish to light green flowers open up to an array of wild and domesticated bees and other pollinators.  The Bigleaf maple begins to flower at about 20 years of age.  Insects and bees pollinate the tree and produce about 1000 pollen grains per flower. The flower pollen and other secretions are quite sweet. The nectar-rich flowers were eaten raw in the spring by the Sannich First peoples.  It was said to be an over-all spring tonic and was highly nutritious. The sticky gum of the spring bud was used as a hair tonic.

THE LEAF

It has the largest leaves of any maple, typically 15–30 centimeters (0.49–0.98 ft) across, with five deeply incised palmate lobes.  They are dark green above and lighter green below. The leaf will turn yellow in the fall.

The large leaves were used under layers of food while cooking on an earthen oven.  The leaves were used to cover food cooking in pits. The leaf stalk has a milky juice when cut. This is the sticky gum used in hair tonic.

 

THE SEED- SAMARA

My favorite wild seed – called a “whirly-gig” by children and more playful adults. The fruit is a paired winged seed called a samara. Each seed is approximately 1–1.5 centimeters (0.39–0.59 in) in diameter with a 4–5 centimeters (1.6–2.0 in) wing.  Wings help to disperse the seeds throughout the forest. The whirly-seeds or double-winged samara, as well as spring’s leaf-buds, are a major food source for squirrels, birds, & other wildlife. The First Peoples of the Salish Coast ate the young sprouted seeds as food.

THE BARK

In the more humid parts of its range, as in the Olympic National Park, its bark is covered with epiphytic moss and fern species. The species that grow upon the branch of the Bigleaf maple can form canopy roots deep into the adhering mosses. The mosses are often so deep they create their own soil and their own ecosystem. The bark of the tree is green when young and grows grey-brown and ridged after a few years.

HABITAT

 This species of maple is found in dry to moist sites, often with Douglas-fir. Found in low to middle elevations in its range.  The trees are found along riverbanks and in somewhat early spring damp areas.  The trees will begin to rot if they stand too long in flooded areas, but they are often found in native rainforests.

ETHNOBOTANY

In many coast Salish languages, its name actually means “paddle tree” because the people are able to carve paddles out of its wood due to its great size. Some other helpful tools fashioned from the Big-Leaf Maple include dishes, spoons, hairpins, combs, and scouring pads.The inner bark was eaten in small quantity as it was constipating. The inner bark was also used to make baskets, rope and whisks for whipping soopolalie berries. Some First Peoples ate young maple shoots raw, and also boiled and ate the sprouts when they were about 3 cm tall. The leaves, like Skunk Cabbage leaves, were used as a base for drying berries. The large leaves were also used for storing food during the winter or burned in steaming pits to add flavor to food.

The wood was used for spindle whorls and various other implements such as combs, fish/duck spearheads, and fish clubs. The ends of branches and strips of bark were used in basketry.  The wood was used to make masks and rattles used in ceremony.

The sap was boiled and made into sweet maple syrup and sugar by some First Nations.

POLLINATORS ATTRACTED TO BIGLEAF MAPLE

 The Bigleaf maple is an important early blooming tree.  The tree blooms in March and is essential food for many wild bees, honey bees and other pollinators that are now threatened because of habitat and plant loss.

Here is a short list of wild bees that need this tree for food and habitat:

Solitary bees – Osmia aglaia – O. aglaia are metallic blue, green or rust/bronze in color. They nest in tunnels in wood about 3/8 – 1/4 inches in diameter. They are active as adults in late spring, while Rubus is in bloom

Osmia lignaria- mason orchard bee

Blue Orchard bees – Osmia lignaria, in the Portland area and in WashingtonState are more attracted to Big leaf Maple, Acer macrophyllum

 

And of course the honey bee-

A short video looking at the structure and habitat of the Big Leaf Maple

References

  • Gunther, Erna (1973) revised edition Ethnobotany of Western Washington, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.  pp. 39
  • Moerman, Daniel E.(1998) Native American Ethnobotany, Timber Press, Portland and London, pp.38
  • Pallardy, Stephen G. (2008) Third Edition,  Physiology of Woody Plants, Academic Press, Burlington, MA – Elsiver Inc. pp. 90
  •  Pojar & McKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia

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“Beauty and seduction, I believe, is nature’s tool for survival, because we will protect what we fall in love with.”– Louie Schwartzberg, from The Hidden Beauty of Pollination

After I posted the first part of the “The flower in three parts” my current essay series, I received an email from someone who said “The Flower in three parts, sounds like a symphony”.  Yes, I said, that is the energy I have been trying to convey to others that botany, plants, native plants, flowers are all part of a symphony of life. Each part of the flower and its growth processes are important to the whole. The first part or movement was to turn your attention to this fantastic creation sitting at the end of a stem. I hoped to raise your curiosity.  I tried to flood your senses with wonder at the design and substance of flowers. It was a slow movement encumbered by way too much vocabulary but necessary if you are to truly meet the flower in all its wonder.

I have been drawing you into the allegro or opening sonata in order to capture your attention for the second movement the main allegro or scherzo: The pollination cycle or sex life of flowers. And finally in The Flower – part 3: “The Flower as Healer”, I will end with one of the strongest connections between humans and flowers: they heal us – the finale – we are flowers ourselves.  We are they and they are us. What we do to the flower, we do to ourselves. If we kill off the pollinators and clear-cut the plant kingdom, so goes all Eden, of which we are a part.

But now for Part 2: Pollination and The Sex Life of Flowers

The name of the second part “The sex life of Flowers” came from my research on flowers and their ways and means of pollination. While researching I

Sauromatum-guttatum-Voodoo Lilly

discovered a scientist named Bastiaan Jacob Dirk Meeuse.  He was a naturalist and botanist who was a professor at the University of Washington. He lived from 1916 to 1999.  Meeuse was a prolific researcher whose five decades of research on the exotic but stinky voodoo lily resulted in numerous contributions to science.  Dr. Meeuse was an authority on pollination, especially by insects and birds, and wrote the textbook ”The Story of Pollination” (1961).

In the 1980’s his research contributed to a well-known public television documentary called “Sexual Encounters of the Floral Kind” (1983). I have links to segments of the documentary in end of this essay. In 1984 Meeuse co-authored a book along with Sean Morris called “The Sex Life of Flowers”.

Meeuse was a botanist attracted by the exotic, he unlocked the secrets of the voodoo lily (Sauromatum guttatum) a relative of the corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum). The voodoo lily has a very strong smell and generates much heat, up to 108 degrees when it ready for pollination. When it flowers, perhaps once a year, its fleshy purple spike emits waves of heat and an odor not unlike that of rotting meat. The chemicals released by the heat apparently helped to attract pollinators. (see picture).

Meeuse, along with his research team documented the flower cycle and the important relationship between pollinators and flowers. Meeuse and Morris found innumerable examples of mimicry in which the flower part has evolved to resemble a female bee. The male, trying unsuccessfully to mate with the flower, unwittingly collects and spreads the orchid’s pollen.

Here are a few facts about mimcry in pollination: When the male wasp tries to mate with the dummy female, he fails, but the orchid succeeds in getting pollen on the wasp. He flies away, only to be fooled again by another orchid pulling the same trick. In the process, the wasp transfers pollen from flower to flower. Plants that are farther away from each other are more likely to be distant relatives, so mimicry may reduce inbreeding. Posing as a sexual suitor may be a strategy that allows the geographic spread of plants over a wide area — generally, insects will travel further to find a mate than to find a meal.

Here is a link to the BBC documentary using some of Meeuse’s research:Wild Orchid and wasp mimicry – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-h8I3cqpgnA

Another important aspect of Meeuse’s research was to show that flowers develop MANY paths to pollination.  Flowers can be asexual (agamogenesis), hermaphrodites, only male or only female. And then there are the combinations. The only way to learn about a plant and its lovely flower is to sit with it, study it. Learn its entire life path. You just can’t make any broad statements about how flower reproduction takes place.

THE FERTILIZATION PATHWAY OF THE ZUCCINI SQUASH

Female and Male flowers of Zucchini Squash

Let’s look at the squash plant: A Zucchini squash plant has both male and female flowers.  Male flowers usually appear first and have a thin stem. Female flowers appear later and have a small, baby zucchini developing between the base of the flower and the vine. The male flower will usually open in the early morning, attract a certain type of early morning foraging insect, then can die away by the late afternoon.  The female flower will open later in the day and again attracts the same pollinating bee or insect and is fertilized by the pollen it is carrying.  If the small squash rots away then it has not been fertilized.  This can show a lack of garden pollinators. Hand pollination may be the only way to have a good crop of squash.

There is a very fragile dance going on here.  If there are no pollinator bees or other insects, our food will disappear. On most flowering plants there is only one short time frame in which a flower can be pollinated and if the conditions are just right or there are not enough pollinators available, no fertilization can happen. As in many processes in nature, timing is important. The female reproductive part of a flower is receptive to pollen only at certain times of the year. Creatures like insects and birds, which move from flower to flower in search of food, are a fast and often guaranteed way for plants to distribute their pollen.

Not all flowers need to be so cunning. Several angiosperm species including grasses bear inconspicuous blossoms – that use the wind for pollination.

Sometimes drought and disease can cause squash plants to only produce male flowers. Now this lack of fertilization can also be caused by severe weather change, or lack of fertilization in the soil types or pollution that causes mutations of plant or pollinator. Yes, the fragile dance is important to support.

PLANT CELLS AND THE MERISTEM-FLORAL

Floral-Meristem Physiology

For the last few months I have been leading you on a journey from the root to the stem to the branch and now on to the flower. All the while following the adventures of the meristem cell.  At the point of developing the flower, the meristem cell morphs into a meristem-floral cell and begins to produces cells that will become the structure of the flower.Plants produce 2 types of reproductive cells.  The first is the spore – found on such plants as ferns. The second is formed during sexual reproduction – a process where a population is divided into male and female members or distinct male and female structures on individual plants. The DNA of the plant, stored in these specialized flower cells will begin to build the structures and organelles that will become the flower. Flowers give rise to fruit and seeds.

BASIC SEXUAL PARTS OF A FLOWER

Flowers are short branches bearing specially adapted leaves, and reproduction is the sole function for which flowers evolved (Capon 2010).  Both the male and the female reproductive parts of a plant are in the center of the flower. The male, pollen-producing part is called the anther, held aloft by a stalk called a filament. The entire male apparatus is called a stamen. Each pollen grain is unique to its species. The female reproductive part of a plant, the stigma, sits on top of a style, or stalk, which leads to an ovary at the base. The entire female plant mechanism is called a pistil. This is the illustration of a perfect flower having both female and male parts (some do).

Flowers have figured out a way to do the amazing things they do while taking care of the place that will take care of their offspring.  They are focused on having their genetic material here 10,000 years from now. Plants seduce pollinators with fragrance, hue, platform structure and a promise of sex with another of its own kind and ensure return visits with the promise of nectar.

Some flowers attract with scent, some with color. Most offer nectar as an enticement to visitors and as a way to ensure repeat visits. The chemical ecology of plants seeks not only to attract pollinators, but keep predators away. The complexity of floral odors mediate interactions between flowers and pollinators to guarantee reproductive success (Carde and Ring 2004).

Return business is particularly important for plants that encase many seeds in a single fruit—raspberries, for instance, or melons. A poorly pollinated raspberry will have many shrunken, dry drupelets. A melon blossom that doesn’t attract enough pollinators may produce a melon that is small, lopsided, and not very sweet.

A few varieties of plants have adapted the shape of their flowers to favor certain pollinators—tubular blossoms attract hummingbirds, for instance, but the nectar is often inaccessible to bees.

Lady Slipper Orchid

Other plants aren’t choosy. They’ll do business with birds and bees, and also with wasps, beetles, rodents, and even humans if that’s what it takes to move the pollen.Many flowers have a distinctive bull’s-eye color pattern or a throat of a different shade from the outside petals, to help insects and birds find the payload of pollen.

Plant structures, too, are designed to attract specific pollinating partners. The Queen Anne’s lace flower places its nectar right at the base of its tiny flowers where pollinators with a short proboscis (nectar-gathering appendage) such as honeybees, ants, wasps, flies, and beetles can reach it when they crawl on the flower. On the other hand, bumblebees, butterflies, and moths have long proboscises, which enable them to reach nectar in less accessible places. For example, the long shape and curve of the columbine flower complements the long tongue of a bee, butterfly, or hummingbird. By concealing the nectar deep within its trumpet-like blossoms, the columbine prevents animals who are not its pollination partners from taking the nectar and transferring any pollen.

WHY ARE HUMANS ATTRACTED TO FLOWERS?

Are humans also pollinators?  Michael Pollan, author of “Botany of Desire” writes in his 2002 article called “Border Whores” that some evolutionary psychologists have proposed an interesting answer. Their hypothesis goes like this: our brains developed under the pressure of natural selection to make us good foragers, which is how humans have spent 99 per cent of their time on Earth. The presence of flowers is a reliable predictor of future food. People who were drawn to flowers, and who, further, could distinguish among them, would be much more successful foragers than people who were blind to their significance. In time the moment of recognition—much like the quickening one feels whenever an object of desire is spotted in the landscape—would become pleasurable, and the signifying thing a thing of beauty.

Humans have danced with the flowers, written poetry, songs and spent endless hours nurturing their flower gardens.  The flower is etched into our psyche- we are changed by the floral scents, the structure and the nectar.  Humans have used flowers for food and medicine for thousands if not millions of years.  It has only been recently that we have become “plant and flower blind. It has only been in the last 100 years that we have begun to call certain flowers “weeds” and have conducted a chemical warfare on our beloved inspirers.

We humans have lost the ability to love the plants and their flowers. We cannot see the connection between life on earth and the need to pave over paradise. We need to grow and protect fertility.  In ensemble that is what ecosystems do, it creates more and more opportunity for life. We need to create conditions conducive to life the same way flowers and plants do. Ban all the dangerous chemicals and stop making war on the natural world.  We need to make peace with the flowers and the plants and all species. Namaste.

CASCADIAN NATIVE PLANTS THAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT

Oceanspray-Pacific Ninebark-Spirea

Matthew Shepherd of the Xerces Society reports that there are approximately 900 species of bees and approximately 200 species of butterflies in the Cascadian bioregion.  Native plants are the forage of choice by these pollinators. Some native plants attract a great many pollinators.  Cascading plants such as Pacific Ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus), White Spirea (Spiraeabetulifolia), and Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor) could be attracting hundreds of types of pollinators.  They often grow near wetlands, stream banks and moist forest lands.  They should be included in all landscaping projects where ever possible. These essential native plants will bring wildlife into any garden or natural area and guarantee the pollination for many flowers.

Another extremely important indigenous plant is the Willow. The Willow species are the basis of a vital food web for insects, birds, small mammals, larger animals; many soil organisms, bacteria and fungi. They are a very important habitat.  In particular Apis mellifera, (the honey bee) an insect belonging to the Hymenoptera Order use the early blooming Willow flowers (catkins) to survive long wet, cold springs. These insects are not damaging to the willow leaves or flowers, but are feeding on nectar and are helping to pollinate other early blooming plants (Aliner 1992).

The flowers of the Willow are inflorescences, taking the form of catkins, which develop in a familiar way, through the loss of the bud scale and the revelation of the silky hairs of the ‘Pussy Willow’. Eventually, however, the anthers surmount the filaments of the stamens and reveal a vivid display of pollen from pale yellow through gold to shades of red and purple depending on the species.

BEE COLONY COLLAPSE – A CANARY IN THE MIND SHAFT?

And finally I leave you with this little video called “The Beauty of Pollination”.  The speaker is director and producer Louie Schwartzberg.  He is presenting his work as part of the TED TALKS.  His deep concern for the present bee colony collapse that is decimating pollinators worldwide caused him to take all his film making skills and present a dire message to the world.  “The destruction of the bee is like a canary in the coal mine- once the bees are gone, then the flowers will disappear. Once the flowers are gone – then we will be gone.” You cannot truly love the flowers if you do not love the pollinators. Feast your eyes on this TED TALK on

The Hidden Beauty of Pollination:

VOCABULARY

  • Anther: The anther is part of the stamen and produces the pollen.
  • Articulation: Another term for articulation is internode. Articulation describes the space between two nodes (joints).
  • Calyx: The whorl of sepals on the outside of a flower is referred to as the calyx.
  • Corolla: The whorl of petals is called the corolla.
  • Filament: The filament provides support for the anther in the stamen.
  • Floral Axis: The floral axis is the stem holding the reproductive flower parts.
  • Microsporangium: The microsprangium is located in the anther and produces microspores, which become male gametophytes. These male gametophytes will later be used in forming the pollen grains.
  • Nectary: The nectary produces nectar, a sweet liquid that attracts insects and birds for feeding. As they drink the nectar, the nearby pollen sticks to them and is transported to other flowers.
  • Ovary: The ovary houses the ovules and will become the fruit after pollination.
  • Ovule: The ovules contain egg cells and become the seeds after pollination.
  • Pedicel:The pedicel is the flower stalk.
  • Perianth: The perianth is the collective term for the calyx and corolla.
  • Petal: The petal is designed to attract pollinators to the flower and protect the stamen and pistil. Many have patterns that can be seen in ultraviolet light by bees and other insects. These indicate where the nectar is located.
  • Pistil: The pistil is the female reproductive part in the flower. It includes the ovary, style, and stigma.
  • Sepal: Sepals are found on the outside of the flower in a whorl. They are usually green. The group of sepals is called the calyx.
  • Stamen: The stamen is the male reproductive organ in the plant. It consists of the anther and filament.
  • Stigma: The stigma is the sticky surface where pollen lands and is collected to fertilize the ovules.
  • Style: The style is part of the pistil and holds the stigma above the ovary.

REFERENCES

Ailner, J. Edward (1992) The Tree Book Collins and Brown Ltd

Capon, Brian (2010) Botany for Gardeners, 3rd edition, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon

Carde, Ring T. and Millar, Jocelyn G:  Editors (2004) Advances in Insect Chemical Ecology – Cambridge University Press

Elpel, Thomas J. (2006) 5th Edition, Botany in a day. The Patterns Method of Plant Identification, Hops Press LLC, Pony, Montana

Meeuse, Bastiaan and Morris, Sean ( 1984) The Sex Life of Flowers Faber & Faber, London.

Meesue, B J D (1961) The Story of Pollination, Ronald Press, New York, NY

Meeuse, Bastiaan contributior – Documentary “Sexual Encounters of the Floral Kind”  part one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Qi7Pnth_t8

Pollan, Michael (2002) Border Whores, The Times London, March 9, 2002 Viewed on the internet May 18, 2012 http://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/border-whores/

Shepherd, Matthew (2012) Xerces Society, Portland, Oregon http://www.xerces.org/ from a private email on 5-18-2012

Shepherd, Matthew, et al. Pacific Northwest Plants for Native Bees, Xerces Society, The invertebrate Conservation, viewed on the web on 5-12-2012 http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/pacificnw-plants-for-bees-xerces3.pdf

Weiss, M. 1991. Floral colour changes as cues for pollinators. Nature 354:227-229.

WEB RESOURCES

Websites:

  • The sexual encounter of the floral kind. A 12 part series produced by public television and based on the research of Bastiaan Meeuse. Part 1 -Video on how flowers attract pollinators.  The male wasp and the flower.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hv4n85-SqxQ&feature=relmfu

  • North American Pollinator Protection Campaign – The best website available for resources on pollination, projects for classrooms, organizations affiliated with the Pollination Protection Campaign and more. Detailed lesson plans for in the classroom with teacher guides and student guides available for printing directly off website. Availability to order posters and materials for the classroom. http://www.nappc.org/
  • Xerces Society –The invertebrate Conservation organization located in Portland, Oregon. A very valuable organization and website. Lots of resources and education material.  – http://www.xerces.org/

Next time: The Flower:  Part 3 – The Flower as healer

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The Leaf

“Oh leaf, you must surely have found strength to force the branch to burst open so that you could emerge. What did you do to become free from the prison? Speak, Speak…” -Rumi

A leaf is like a flag unfurling.  The emerging leaf from the stem announces the beginning of the metamorphosis from stem to flower, from winter to spring.  It is the opening up of the new leaf that announces new life. Humans and animals begin to notice a plant once the leaf emerges.  It is our food and it is our hope for spring and the first harvest. Leaves provide brilliance in the spring and shade in the summer. They are perfect food containers and provide food for many species on the earth.  Later when the seasons turn to winter, the leaves that have fallen on the ground provide protection and fertilizer to the creatures of the forest and other environments.  Leaves provide more than half the human food needs.  Another large portion of leaves are used for the feeding of livestock.  Without leaves, humans would starve or die from malnutrition.

THE PRIMORDIAL LEAF

When last I wrote I told you about the mersistem cells and the apical cap or bud that is growing up toward the light. 

It is also, at precise intervals, creating appendages that will become branches and possibly leaves. The apical bud is involved in making the stem growing longer, initiates the orderly arrangements of leaves on the stem, and makes provision for the eventual development of branches.  This early period of leaf production in the mersistem bud is called leaf primordia. A primordium, the nascent leaf, forms at the least crowded part of the shoot meristem. The leaf cells fold over the meristem bud to protect it from sun and other weather. At just the right time, when the days are longer and the air temperature is warmer, the leaf begins to grow larger and then finally opens up.  At the base of the leaf primordia a bulge appears and it is called “axillary bud primordium” and is the beginning of a branch.   A branch forms at the axil or angle between the leaf and the stem.

Now the meristem cells are following the DNA blueprint of this plant whether it will be at maturity a tree or a sunflower.  And as the meristem cells formulate the stem it is remembering the specific design and pattern of this plant. It “remembers” at what interval to place the leaf nodes or the branch nodes.  The branch node of course can grow leaves as it extends its growth.

The cellular structure of the leaf is all about meristem cells, stomata, glucose storage and photosynthesis.   In review, the stomata’s main function is to allow gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor and oxygen to move rapidly into and out of the leaf.  Stomata are found on all above-ground parts of the plant including the petals of flowers, petioles, soft herbaceous stems and leaves.

Leaf Stomata

Stomata are the main “food manufacturing” organs of the leaves. They make food from carbon dioxide and water in the presence of light during a process called photosynthesis. As stomata open in the presence of light, carbon dioxide will diffuse into the leaf as it is converted to sugars through photosynthesis inside the leaf. At the same time, water vapor will exit the leaf along a diffusive gradient through the stomata to the surrounding atmosphere through the process of transpiration.

Another very interesting thing happens at the point that the meristem cells decide to create a leaf.  The cells start to create new chemicals.  One such chemical is chlorophyll.  And, cell tissue that is filled will chlorophyll will turn green. Leaves receive their green color during the process of trying to absorb energy from the sun. The sunlight strikes the leaves, which contain chlorophyll, and the chlorophyll reacts by emitting the green color. Likewise in the autumn some plant leaves turn color because as the days shorten and leaves absorb less light, the leaves prepare for autumn by stopping the food-making process. Consequently, the production of chlorophyll drops off, turning some leaves orange and yellow in the fall.

Colors, like yellow and orange, are in leaves all summer, but the powerful green chlorophyll overwhelms them. Once the cold shorten days come on in the fall, chlorophyll disappears and the leaf’s other colors shine through.

THE PATTERN IS THE KEY

Each plant has a pattern for growing stems, branches and leaves.

  • A leaf is connected to the stem by a structure called the petiole.

▫         The base of the stem where the petiole connects is called the node

▫         Where the petiole connects to the leaf is called the axil

▫         The axil is where we happen to find buds, clusters, and emerging leaves.

Leaves appear on the stem in a set pattern.  Learning the leaf patterns will help you identify the plant and help you use plant keys

Leaf Morphology: Shape and arrangement, margin and venation

Studying the different shapes and designs of the leaf will also help you to identify a plant.  Each plant has a pattern of growth.  Identifying the overall shape of the leaf, the outer edge of the leaf (margin) and the pattern of leaf veins will help you to identify or key the plant type. Developing a keen eye for observation will help.  I actually draw the leaf so I can more fully study it.

Overall Shape of the leaf

Many plants have adapted leaf shapes that help water drip off the plant to avoid too much moisture, which might make bacteria and fungus grow.  The leaf shape and arrangement on the stem will funnel water to the root. The leaf shape may provide a platform to collect the sun’s rays or keep wind from blowing the plant apart.

Arrangement of the leaf on the stem

Leaf arrangement types on the stem

In botany the word “phyllotaxis” is a word used to describe the study of the arrangement of the leaf on a plant stem. .  There are four primary leaf arrangements:  Alternate, opposite, whorled and rosulate. (Please see illustration).

  • Opposite      leaves are positioned across the stem      from each other, with two leaves at each node.
  • Alternate (spiral) leaves are arranged in alternate steps along      the stem, with only one leaf at each node.
    Whorled leaves are arranged in circles along the stem.
    Rosulate leaves are arranged in a rosette around a stem with      extremely short nodes.

Leaf Margins

Leaf Morphology Chart

The leaf margin is the outer edge of a leaf. There are many different margins.  Here is a list of margin types listed on Wikipedia .  Learning these types of margins will help you to key a plant.  (Please see illustration on left. CLICK TO ENLARGE -also found on Wikipedia -thank you Wikipedia!).

  • ciliate: fringed with hairs
  • crenate: wavy-toothed; dentate with rounded teeth, such as Fagus (beech)
  • crenulate finely or shallowly crenate
  • dentate: toothed, such as Castanea(chestnut)
    • coarse-toothed: with large teeth
    • glandular  toothed:  with teeth that bear glands.
  • denticulate: finely toothed
  • doubly toothed: each tooth  bearing smaller teeth, such as Ulmus (elm)
  • entire: even; with a smooth margin; without toothing
  • lobate: indented, with the indentations not reaching to the center, such as many Quercus(oaks)
  • palmately lobed:  indented with the indentations reaching to the center, such as Humulus (hop).
  • serrate: saw-toothed  with asymmetrical teeth pointing forward, such as Urtica (nettle)
  • serrulate: finely serrate
  • sinuate: with deep, wave-like indentations; coarsely crenate, such as many Rumex (docks)
  • spiny or pungent: with stiff, sharp points, such as some Ilex (hollies) and Cirsium (thistles).

Design of the veins found on the leaf

There are two subtypes of venation, namely, craspedodromous, where the major veins stretch up to the margin of the leaf, and camptodromous, when major veins extend close to the margin, but bend before they intersect with the margin.

  • Feather-veined, reticulate arise from a single mid-vein and subdivide into veinlets. These, in turn, form a complicated network. This type of venation is typical for (but by no means limited to) dicotyledons.
  • Palmate-netted or fan-veined; several main veins diverge from near the leaf base where the petiole attaches, and radiate toward the edge of the leaf, e.g. most Acer (maples).
  • Parallel-veined      or parallel-ribbed– veins run parallel for the length of the leaf, from the      base to the apex. Commissural veins (small veins) connect the major      parallel veins. Typical for most monocotyledons, such as grasses.
  • Dichotomous – There are no      dominant bundles, with the veins forking regularly by pairs; found in Ginkgo and some pteridophytes.

For a full discourse on every leaf shape possible check out Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaf_shape

LEAVES FOR FOOD AND MEDICINE

For as long as humans have been on the earth, the leaves of plants have been used for food, medicine, shelter and utility.  Green has been a sacred color to those cultures who understood the important relationship between humans and plants. Leaves were used in ceremony, clothing and decoration.

Children learned rhymes and axioms that taught them to identify the helpful and not so helpful plants around them. Here are just a few:

  • The leaves of three, Leave it be. The leaves of four have some more. (a song to teach a child to identify Poison oak or Ivy)
  • Hairy vine? No friend of mine!
  • Berries white, danger in sight!
  • Red leaflets in spring are a dangerous thing.
  • Side leaflets like mittens will itch like the dickens!
  • Berries of red will soon be dead!
  • Berries of black, caution for that. Or ”Berries of black, ask about that.”

Nutrition of plant leaves

Humans have been able to survive the long months to the first harvest by storing food and by harvesting early spring plants.  Roots are important through the winter months. But the early green leaves of Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica), Miners lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), Dock (Rumex patientia L,) Dandelion (Taraxacum) and hundreds of other species have allowed humans to survive until the next great harvest.

Nutritional – Medicinal

There were a number of plants that were known by the First Peoples of Cascadia that helped humans survive starvation and nutritional imbalance. Known by Europeans as “Spring tonic” plants, these plants with their new shoots are full of nutrients that are helpful to our well being. For instance- Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) when picked young, can be steamed and eaten in February and March. This plant has been known to alleviate muscle pain, depression and tiredness. It truly is a spring tonic. Stinging Nettle is often found in semi-wet well drained areas.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) and the Spring Potherb

Stinging Nettle (Urtica diocia)

Stinging Nettle is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant, native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America,and is the best-known member of the nettle genus Urtica.  It was a survival plant for First Peoples and others who moved here to live. It is a key ingredient in the Spring Potherb. This is a soup where early plants are steamed and cooked into a broth and drunk to get one’s body ready for spring and summer. It wakes up the body, mind and spirit. The greens are also consumed.  The greens contain vitamin C, iron and many minerals.

Recipe for the Spring Potherb

Bring a big pot of water to boil, turn down the heat.  Place plants into the water and turn off heat.  Season to taste.

Stinging Nettle
Chickweed
Clover
Dandelion leaf and root
Great Burdock
Lamb’s Quarters

The fresh leaves of Stinging Nettle contain vitamins A, C, D, E, F, K, P, and b-complexesas well as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B-6, all of which were found in high levels, and act as antioxidants. The leaves are also noted for their particularly high content of the metals selenium, zinc, iron, and magnesium. They contain boron, sodium, iodine, chromium, copper, and sulfur.

Stinging Nettle is a versatile plant. The plant is not only eaten, but as the plant matures the fibers of the plant were used for making many useful things. The fibers have been used for thousands of years for shoes, hats, fabric for clothes, fishing line, and was woven into twine and rope. The use of Nettle fiber worldwide is the similar to the use of Hemp or Flax. Used to weave fabric of all kinds, it is has also been used to press into paper. The nettle fiber is usually mixed with other paper-making plants as it does not possess the gluey substance needed to allow the paper fabric to hold together.

The Sting of the nettle is said to be a cure for Arthritis and other diseases of muscles, joints, and some organ tissues.

The antidote for being stung by this plant is the juice found inside the stem or Dock (Rumex patientia) which usually grows nearby. A Plantain (plantago macrocarpa) or (plantago lanceolata) poultice can also be used as antidote for the sting.
NEVER COLLECT THESE PLANTS ALONG POLLUTED WATERWAYS, ROADS OR INDUSTRIAL AREAS. This plant, as well as all plants, is adapted to uptake dangerous heavy metals (bio-remedial). Always harvest in safe areas.

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.” – Henry David Thoreau

Vocabulary

Axillary bud primordium – An immature axillary bud. An embryonic side shoot. A point on a stem, at the node, and between the stem and leaf, where a new shoot can develop. Growth is usually inhibited at these buds.

Leaf primordia – A lateral outgrowth from the apical meristem that develops into a leaf

Petiole – The stalk that joins a leaf to a stem; leafstalk

Photosynthesis – The process by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water. Photosynthesis in plants generally involves the green pigment chlorophyll and generates oxygen as a byproduct.

Transpiration – the emission of water vapor from the leaves of plants. Water loss that occurs through the open plant stomata (tiny pores primarily on the underside of the leaf). Rate of loss is determined by wind and atmospheric humidity conditions.

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.
  • Pojar & McKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific      Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska,      Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Wikipedia – viewed on the internet April 2012.

NEXT TIME:  THE FLOWER

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As they presented the herb to me they told me to drop it on the earth and when it hit the earth it took root and flowered. You could see a ray of light coming up from the flower, reaching the heavens, and all the creatures of the universe saw the light. – Black Elk (in DeMaille, The Sixth Grandfather)

Apical Meristem Cell tissue - the God force

Ok, being the total plant nerd that I am; I get very excited about teaching about parts of the plant.  I mean it blows my mind that all you have to do is cut a branch, place it in water, and watch it grow roots.  How does that happen?  What would happen if humans could do the same and just grow new parts?  (clue: stem cells)

And, a second amazing fact about stems and branches is that you can graft a branch of one plant on to another plant  and promote new and interesting growth and fruit.  Pure magic! (More on grafting later).

What is happening here?  It all goes back to the most magical part of a plant-the “meristem cell”.  You know, the God-particle magical cell that stores all the DNA of the plant and allows parts of the plant to regenerate, accept cells from other plants, and grow itself from an injured part.

Let me explain in more detail. (Now don’t get bored with all this plant physiology facts, in the end it all is just amazing and your knowledge of living with, growing and ingesting plants will grow exponentially!)

Meristem tissue in most plants consists of undifferentiated meristematic cells. With the apical meristem cells the tissue either heading downward and becoming roots or heading upwards and becoming stem, branch, leaves and flower are considered to be indeterminate or undifferentiated, in that they do not possess any defined end fate. The meristem cells “remember” that they are going to grow into a tree, a shrub, a wildflower etc, but allow a variety of changes to happen to the tissue.  Where ever these cells appear in the plant, there can be new growth, including growing new parts. These types of cells seem to store the DNA of any part of the plant. The apical meristem, or growing tip, is a completely undifferentiated meristematic tissue found in the buds and growing tips of roots in plants. Its main function is to begin growth of new cells in young seedlings at the tips of roots and shoots (forming buds, among other things). Meristem cells cause the plant growth to take place in a very organized yet adaptive process. Now, meristem cells can become differentiated after they divide enough times and reach a node or internode.   As the plant grows upward driven by apical meristem cells the tissue begins to organize itself into stem, branch, leaves and flower.  These cells divide rapidly and are found in zones of the plant where much growth can take place. That is why you can graft one part of a plant to another part of the plant if it is in the right zone or node and if the two plants share the same type of DNA. Plants must be closely related for grafting to be successful.

For tissues to knit successfully, the cambium layers (full of fast dividing meristem cells) and rootstock must be brought into firm contact. The cambium – a continuous narrow band of thin-walled, regenerative cells just below the bark or rind – grows to form a bridge or union between the two parts in days. The same cells are found at the joint of a branch which allows it to grow new roots at the cut.  Now, not all plants can grow roots from a branch.  You need to study each plant for its particular characteristics.

SEED TO STEM – THE JOURNEY BEGINS

The stem begin its journey with the seed opening up and a dicot or monocot leaf revealing itself.

A monocot (a flowering plant that produces an embryo seed with single cotyledons) will produce only one leaf.  A dicot will produce two embryonic seed leaves or cotyledon.  The cotyledon is a seed leaf – the first to appear as the seed sprouts. It appears at the same time that root tissue appears.

Next a shoot appears (new stem) and sends out growth. The apical meristem cell structure is leading the way. We assume that the stem is heading upward toward light but  a contradiction to this rule would be stems that spread downward or sideways like potatoes, tulip bulbs and other tubers. A strawberry plant will create a “stolon” or sideways stem to propagate new growth. A vine has a long trailing stem that grows along the ground or along anything it can attach to.

 The three major internal parts of a stem are the xylem, phloem, and cambium. The xylem and phloem are the major components of a plant’s vascular system. A cambium is a lateral meristem that produces secondary tissues by cell division. The cambium area is located just under the epithelial (outer most area of the stem) and is very active in cell growth.  It is this area that is tapped into when attempting grafting.

Stem tissue is actually organized into pipe-like vascular bundles held together by pith and cortex tissues. These tissues are used for pipelines of fluid transport, connecting leaves, stems and roots. They also serve as a supportive structure for the stem.  The stem is also made up of other substances that allow it to remain flexible so that it will not break easily. Depending on what kind of plant is growing, a great tree or a wildflower, the stem may become a thick trunk with layers of vascular cambium, cork and hard bark or a more herbaceous plant.  The trunk of a tree is its main stem.  And, yes plants can have more than one stem.  The stem that branches is called a branch.

Stems may be long, with great distances between leaves and buds (branches of trees, runners on strawberries), or compressed, with short distances between buds or leaves (fruit spurs, crowns of strawberry plants, dandelions). All stems must have buds or leaves present to be classified as stem tissue.

An area of the stem where leaves are located is called a node. Nodes are areas of great cellular activity and growth, where auxiliary buds develop into leaves or flowers. The area between nodes is called the internode. Nodes are protected when pruning back a plant. Destruction of the nodes can result in long non-fruiting branches.

MODIFIED STEMS

Although typical stems are above-ground trunks and branches, there are modified stems which can be found above and below the ground. The above-ground modified  stems include crowns, stolons, and spurs and the below-ground stems are bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tubers.

STEM FUNCTION

  • Stems serve as conduits (pipelines) for carrying water and minerals from the roots upward to the leaves utilizing the xylem tissue and for carrying food from the leaves (where food is manufactured through the process of photosynthesis) down to the roots utilizing the phloem tissue.
  • Stems provide support for the leaves and reproductive structures (flowers, fruit, and seeds) of the plant.
  • Stems are also used for food storage (as in potatoes and onions) and in plants with herbaceous (green-colored) stems they help manufacture food just as the leaves do.

NATIVE PLANT PROPAGATION BY CUTTINGS.

Taking cuttings from native plants to propagate them is especially helpful in preserving what is left of many species. There is no digging or destroying plants. Forest communities are not damaged.

The process of removing a plant part then having that part grow into a genetically exact replica of the original plant is called cutting propagation. It is a plant cloning technique. The plant part that is removed is called a cutting.  Plants can be propagated from root cuttings, leaf cuttings, stem cuttings, etc.

  • The mother plant or “stock” plant should be at a stage of growth most likely to have stem cuttings root. Old, mature plants are often more difficult to root than young, vigorously growing plants. Using new growth on a mature plant may not root.  Always try to use young plants.
  • Always place cuttings in water as soon as it is cut. You can wrap the cut end of a cutting in wet paper towels and place in plastic bags if you do not have a tub of water.  If the cutting wilts it may not fully recover and may not develop roots.
  • Always take cuttings when the temperature is above freezing. Research has demonstrated that cuttings collected when temperatures were above freezing and stored in plastic bags or moist burlap in a refrigerator rooted in higher percentages than fresh, unstored cuttings taken when shoots were frozen.
  •  For all types of stem cuttings, the cuttings should be removed with a clean, sharp (don’t crush stems) knife or pruners and placed into a container that will keep the cutting from losing more moisture.

Some amazing Cascadian bioregion native plants that root from branches are: Pacific Willow (Salix lucida), Hooker’s Willow (Salix hookeriana), Pacific Ninebarks (Physocarpus capitatus), and Snowbush (Ceanothus velutinus).  All are great attractors of important pollinators and Snowbush will fix nitrogen in the soil.

The first peoples of Cascadia built summer fishing and hunting huts along marshes and streams by placing freshly cut Willow in circles.  The Willow would root and grow into a shelter and  hunting blind. Today, some wonderful garden trellis have been erected using live Willow.

VOCABULARY

  • Angiosperms – 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.
  • Budan undeveloped or embryonic shoot and normally occurs in the axil of a leaf or at the tip of the stem. Recognizing buds is important under two circumstances when trying to identify plants. 1) When you need to distinguish a bud from a “stipule”, and 2) When you need to determine whether a leaf is “simple” or “compound”.
  • Cotyledon – A seed leaf. A leaf of the embryo of a seed plant, which upon germination either remains in the seed or emerges, enlarges, and becomes green.
  • Crowns – is a region of compressed stem tissue from which new shoots are produced, generally found near the surface of the soil. Crowns (strawberries, dandelions, African violets) are compressed stems having leaves and flowers on short internodes.
  • Dicot –comprising seed plants (angiosperms) that have two cotyledons in their seed. Examples of dicots flowering plants are (more 300 families) sunflowers, peas, geranium, rose, magnolias, maples, oaks and willows.
  • Internodethe part of a plant stem between two of the nodes from which leaves emerge.
  • Monocot – comprising seed plants that produce a seed embryo with a single cotyledon and parallel-veined leaves: includes grasses and lilies and palms and orchids; divided into four subclasses or super orders: Alismatidae; Arecidae; Commelinidae; and Liliidae. flowering plant; the stem grows by deposits on its inside
  • Nodethe part of a plant stem from which one or more leaves emerge, often forming a slight swelling or knob. Something special happens at a node that tells the plant tissue to start forming leaves and flowers.
  • Pith – The soft, spongelike, central cylinder of the stems of most flowering plants, composed mainly of parenchyma (in higher plants, any soft tissue consisting of thin-walled, relatively undifferentiated living cells)
  •   Spur – is a   compressed fruiting branch. Spurs are short, stubby, side stems that arise   from the main stem and are common on such fruit trees as pears, apples, and   cherries, where they may bear fruit. If severe pruning is done close to   fruit-bearing spurs, the spurs can revert to a long, nonfruiting stem.
  •   Stipule One   of the usually small, paired appendages at the base of a leafstalk in certain   plants, such as roses and beans.
  •   Stolon – is a horizontal stem that is fleshy or semi-woody and   lies along the top of the ground. A runner is a type of stolon. It is a specialized stem that grows on the soil surface and forms a new plant at one   or more of its nodes. Strawberry runners are examples of stolons. Remember, all stems have nodes and buds or leaves. The leaves on strawberry runners are small but are located at the nodes which are easy to see. The spider plant also has stolons.

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.
  • Pojar & McKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Toogood, Alan (1999) Plant Propagation, American Horticultural Society, DK Publishing, Inc. New York, NY

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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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