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Posts Tagged ‘Ethnobotany’

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

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

ROOT PHYSIOLOGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

The root systems of native plants

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

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

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

ALL MY RELATIONS

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

Rhizoboa bacterial influence on plant roots

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

Frankia nodules on Red Alder roots

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

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

THE HAIRY TRUTH

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

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

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

THE ROOTS OF OLD

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

ROOT HARVEST

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

ROOT MEDICINE OR “SKOOKUM”

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

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

VOCABULARY

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

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

REFERENCES

  • Capon, Brian (1990) (Revised  3rd edition, 2005) Botany for Gardeners, Timber Press, Portland, London
  • Gunther, Erna. (1945) (Revised 1973) Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Knowledge and use of Indigenous plants by Native Americans, University of Washington Press.
  • Meyer, Joseph E. (1918) (Revised 1970) The Herbalist, Meyer Books Publishing
  • Ott, John Nash (1973)  Health and Light – The effects of Natural and Artificial Light on Man and Other Living Things. Old Greenwich, Conn. Devin-Adair
  • Pojar & McKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Stur, Ernst T. (1933) Manual of Pacific Coast Drug plants, Ernst Theodore Stuhr Papers, Oregon State University Archives, Corvallis, Oregon.
  • Tompkins, Peter and Bird, Christopher (1973) The Secret Life of Plants: A fascinating account of the physical emotional, and spiritual relations between plants and man.  Perennial – HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY
  • O’Shea, Ellen “Honoring our ancestral plants: Wapato” (2011)  https://radicalbotany.com/2011/02/21/honoring-our-ancestral-plants-wapato/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same for Hooker’s Willow

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

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

 

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

 

Salmon berry
Rubus spectabilis

 

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

 

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

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Wapato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are few reserves of these plants.

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

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

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

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

To learn more about Wapato

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

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

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

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Kinship with all things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tribe               Tribal language name for Archtostaphylos uva-ursi

Chehalis –“ kaya’nl”

Klallam – “Kinnikinnick”

Makah –  “kwica’”

Skokomish –  “Sk!ewat”

Squaxin –  “s’quaya’dats

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

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

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

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

Until next time: See you in the deep woods.

References

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

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

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

Online resources

More on Alan Kapuler

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

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Shooting stars at Mt. Shasta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandma

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

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

Shooting Star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi)

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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