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Posts Tagged ‘Oregon Native plants’

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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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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Part one:  Conifers

A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. –  John Muir

As a young person I developed a deep love and bond with trees.  I spent hours climbing trees, swinging in the boughs of a large fir or sitting high in an oak tree.  I loved the ability to see long distances across the landscape.  I found many interesting things in trees.  Bird nests, ferns, nuts, acorns, mistletoe and insects all fed my imagination. I found incredible peace in the treetops.  I would have been very happy to have lived in a tree house.

So now I teach you what I know about trees.

I have spent months now teaching you basic botany.  I have focused on the parts of the plant.  I want to begin to teach you how to go into the forest and find plants. I will teach you about the trees first.  I will be focusing primarily on the trees found in the Cascadian bio-region-that area found from Northern California, through Oregon and Washington state and up through British Columbia.  The Cascade mountain range separates the Western regions from the Eastern Regions but mant of the areas share similar tree and plant communities.

There are of course some amazing micro-ecosystems found in Cascadia.  For instance the eco-system of Northern California and Southwestern Oregon are very different from the eco-system of Western British Columbia and Western Washington.  More on that later.

Trees have always been the marker that I use to find the plants I am seeking. Why?

Because I can look out across the horizon and see the tall trees, the old ones that will have the most to share as far as a finding plant communities.  For instance, when I am looking for wild orchids or lilies, I will look to the horizon to find a large Douglas fir old growth or a very tall Western Red cedar.

Trees are the anchor for plant communities.  They create habitat, keep plants fed and watered, provide shelter for pollinators and animals that carry the seeds throught the forest.  Large Douglas fir and Western Redcedar have an outreach affect that can cover miles of terrain.  The mycelium connected through the roots of big trees support thousands and thousands of varieties of plants. Communication between the species found under big trees has been studied and now documented.

University of British Columbia professor Suzanne Simard, has discovered through her research that “trees in a forest ecosystem are interconnected with the largest, oldest ‘mother trees’ serving as hubs”.  This research has found that all trees in dry interior Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca) forests are interconnected, with the largest, oldest trees serving as hubs, much like the hub of a spoked wheel, where younger trees establish within the mycorrhizal network of the old trees.

The research also found that all the forest plants had a much better chance of survival if they were linked into the network of old trees.  It was found that increased survival was associated with below-ground transfer of carbon, nitrogen and water from the old trees. This research provides strong evidence that maintaining forest resilience is dependent on conserving mycorrhizal links, and that removal of hub trees could unravel the network and compromise regenerative capacity of the forests. (Simard 2013)

There are two different groups of trees – conifers and deciduous.  Conifers are the evergreens.  And, deciduous are the trees that drop their leaves in the fall and re-grow green leaves in the spring.

THE 12 MOST IMPORTANT CONIFERS IN THE WESTERN CASCADIAN BIO-REGION – and how to identify them.

The trees I will be teaching you about are all found west of the Cascades.  Later I will make some charts of important trees found east of the Cascades but still in the Cascadian bio-region. The charts below include information about what the tree needle, cone and general shape look like. This information should help you identify them.  I have included information about wildlife that use the tree for survival and I have included ethno-botanical information about the tree.  I have created some graphs that you can print out and make as large as you like. They are stored as graphics on this web page.   I hope that you will print them out, take them into the forest and try to identify the trees as you walk. I hope that you will fall in love with the trees as I have.

REFERENCES

  • Coastal Douglas-Fir Forests and Wildlife – Woodland Fish and Wildlife December 1992 viewed online July 20, 2012 – http://www.woodlandfishandwildlife.org/pubs/coastal-df.pdf
  • Gilkey, Helen M. & Dennis, L. J. (2001) Handbook of Northwestern Plants. Corvallis, OR: OSU Press
  •  Gunther, Erna. (1945) (Revised 1973) Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Knowledge and use of Indigenous plants by Native Americans, University of Washinton Press.
  • Moerman, Daniel E. (2004) Native American Ethnobotany. Portland: Timber Press.
  • Old Growth Forest Wiki- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old-growth_forest
  • Pojar & McKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Simard, S.W., Martin, K., Vyse, A., and Larson, B. (2013) Meta-networks of fungi, fauna and flora as agents of complex adaptive systems Managing World Forests as Complex Adaptive Systems in the Face of Global Change. Edited by Puettmann, K, Messier, C, and Coates, KD, Earthscan, Taylor & Francis Group, London. In press.
  • Simard, Suzanne – Trees Communicate With One Another, Connected by Fungi (Video)  http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/trees-communicate-one-another-connected-fungi-video.html

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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 ‘Amen!’ of Nature is always a flower.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes

I have been reading so much about flowers lately and I want to teach you what I learned as well as what I know.  So, I am going to teach about the flower in three parts.  Part 1: The history, physiology and pattern of the flowers (to help you identify flowering plants).  Part 2: Pollination and the sex life of flowers, and Part 3: The flower as a healing agent.

THE FLOWER – PART ONE

How did this happen. The flower is so different than any other tissue on the plant. The flower is a creation so beautiful and so attracting and it grows at the tip of the green or brown stem or branch of a plant. The flower is as intricately designed as if created to reflect the fractal formulas of the universe. The flower is designed to include color, shape, aroma, and chemical attractants to bring forth the pollinators so that it can complete its cycle of life: reproduction of itself.  How beautiful and how perfect it seems to us humans too. But, how is it created?  The answer is again found in the DNA of the plant and the meristem cells that drive the action in creating the plant. In this essay we are introduced to the Floral Meristem.

FLORAL MERISTEM

Last time we learned about the leaf.  We learned that the leaf was formed by the action of chemical changes and apical meristem cells.   The plant is reaching for the sun just as there is enough warmth, light, chemistry, moisture and food and creating new structures that will help it thrive.

The meristematic cells give rise to various organs of the plant, and keep the plant growing. The Shoot Apical Meristem (SAM) gives rise to organs like the leaves and flowers. When plants begin the developmental process known as flowering, the shoot apical meristem is transformed into an inflorescence meristem, which goes on to produce the floral meristem, which produces the familiar sepals, petals, stamens, and carpels of the flower. Floral meristem cells are responsible for determinate growth.  That is, they know exactly what they are supposed to create and that is the flower. And, this flower will live long enought to reproduce the plant and then die. The floral meristem cells direct the limited growth of the flower to a particular size and form. The transition from shoot meristem to floral meristem requires floral meristem identity genes that both specify the floral organs and cause the termination of the production of stem cells at just the right time. The floral meristem identity genes are “turned on” at the time the leaf meristem is turned on.  In fact some parts of flowers (bracts) are actually modified leafs. If you would like to learn more detail about this process please check out the wiki on Meristems located at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meristem

Queen Anne's Lace

THE HISTORY, PHYSIOLOGY AND PATTERN OF FLOWERS

The ancestors of flowering plants diverged from gymnosperms around 245–202 million years ago, and the first flowering plants known to exist are from 140 million years ago. They diversified enormously during the Lower Cretaceous and became widespread around 100 million years ago, but replaced conifers as the dominant trees only around 60–100 million years ago. (Wikipedia)

Non-flowering plants includes conifers, ginkgoes, ferns, cycads, horsetails, and mosses

A Flower is the reproductive structure of a tree or other plant, consisting of at least one pistil or stamen, and often including petals and sepals. According to botanist Brian Capon the flower is a short branch bearing specially adapted leaves, and reproduction is the sole function for which flowers evolved.

A land plant that flowers is called an angiosperm.  The Angiosperms are seed-producing plants like the gymnosperms and can be distinguished from the gymnosperms by a certain characteristics including  flowers, endosperm within the seeds, and the production of fruits that contain the seeds.

Flowers aid angiosperms by enabling a wider range of adaptability and broadening the ecological niches open to them. This has allowed flowering plants to largely dominate terrestrial ecosystems.

There are an estimated 352,282 unique flowering plant names, it is also estimated that there are approximately 69,500 known species of monocots and 49,500 known species of non-monocot species. The number of presently unknown plant species is thought to be 10 to 20 per cent or 20,000 to 30,000 species (Joppa, Roberts, and Pimm 2010).   The number of flowering monocot plants increased steadily for the last 250 years up until about 1850 when the number began to plateau.  There has been a steady decline in the last 50 years of known species and there are still species that have not been discovered.  The decline is due to habitat encroachment and environmental degradation.

MONOCOT VS DICOT – A REFRESHER

Monocot vs Dicot

Traditionally, the flowering plants have been divided into two major groups, or classes: the Dicots (Magnoliopsida) and the Monocots (Liliopsida).  The Dicotyledon is typically described as group of flowering plants whose seed typically has two embryonic leaves or cotyledons. The monocotyledon is typically described as having one embryonic leaf.

The Dicotyledon class has the following characteristics: – two seeds, – netted veins in the leaves, usually tap-rooted, usually complex branching, – flower parts mostly patterned in 4’s and 5’s. Example of the dicotyledon flowers would be: buttercup, rose, gentian and aster.

Monocotyledon class has the following characteristics: – one seed leaf, – parallel veins in the leaves, – horizontal rootstalks, – usually simple branching – flower parts mostly in 3’s. Examples of the flowers would be: arrowhead, lily and orchid.

FLOWER PHYSIOLOGY

Flower physiology

The parts of the flower are important to learn as the specific arrangement of flower parts will help you to identify a specific plant. There is a more complete list of flower parts with definitions at the end of this essay, but for now we will be focusing on petals, sepals, pistil, stamens, ovary, stigma, and style.

FLOWER PATTERNS OF SPECIFIC PLANT FAMILES

Mustard family – They have four free saccate sepals and four clawed free petals, staggered. The mustard family flower pattern includes 4 petals, 4 sepals, 4 tall stamens, 2 short stamens (Examples: Wild Mustard, Wall flower, Water Cress, Stock, Candytuft, and Lunaria)

The mints, taxonomically known as Lamiaceae or Labiatae – 5 united petals, (2 lobes up, 3 down), 5 untied sepals, 4 stamens (2 long, 2 short). Flower matures into a seed capsule containing four nutlets. (Examples: Horehound, Self Heal, Stinging Nettles, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, thyme, lavender, and perilla)

The Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae), commonly known as carrot or parsley family – 5 petals, 5 stamens, 2-cell ovary, compound umbels (Examples: angelica, anisewater hemlock, Water parsnip, Queen Anne’s lace, cow parsnip, parsnip, dill and fennel).

The Fabaceae or Leguminosae, commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family – irregular flowers- 5 petals forming banner, wings and keel.  The keel consists of two petals fused together. Internal fused and free stamen. Fabaceae range in habit from giant trees (like Koompassia excelsa) to small annual herbs, with the majority being herbaceous perennials. (Examples: wisteria, pea, bean, acacia, mimosa, vetch,

Lilly or Lilium family is a genus of herbaceous flowering plants growing from bulbs, all with large, prominent flowers. – Flowers with parts in three. Sepals and petals usually identical. 3 sepals, and 3 petals (same size and color), 6 stamens, Pistil with a 3-parted stigma. (Examples: Tiger lilly, Shasta Lilly, Leopard Lilly,

Malvaceae, or the mallow family, is a family of flowering plants containing over 200 genera with close to 2,300 species.  5 petals, 5 sepals, bracts (modified leaves located at bottom of the flower), numerous stamens fused together as a column, pistil. The ovary is superior, with axial placentation. Capitate or lobed stigma. The flowers have nectaries made of many tightly packed glandular hairs, usually positioned on the sepals. The flowers are commonly borne in definite or indefinite axillary inflorescences, which are often reduced to a single flower, but may also be cauliflorous, oppositifolious or terminal. (Examples: hollyhock, okra, globe mallow, Hibiscus)

Sunflower or Aster family is an exceedingly large and widespread family of vascular plants.[3] The group has more than 22,750 currently accepted species, spread across 1620 genera and 12 subfamilies. Composites of many small flowers in disk-like flowerhead. Stigmas, 5 stamens fused around pistil, 5 petals fused together, pappus hair sepals, ovary. Even the petals are individual flowers. Each seed is produced by a single tiny flower. Multiple layers of bracts are common. (Examples: Dandelion, sunflower, asters, dahlia, Chrysanthemum, Gerbera, Calendula, Dendranthema, Argyranthemum, Dahlia, Tagetes, Zinnia).

Rose family Rosaceae (the rose family) are a medium-sized family of flowering plants, including about 2830 species in 95 genera. Roses can be herbs, shrubs or trees. Most species are deciduous, but some are evergreen.[2] They have a worldwide range, but are most diverse in the northern hemisphere. Arrangement of flowers is radially symmetrical and almost always hermaphroditic. Rosaceae generally have five sepals, five petals and many spirally arranged stamens. The bases of the sepals, petals, and stamens are fused together to form a characteristic cup-like structure called hypanthium. They can be arranged in racemes, spikes, or heads, solitary flowers are rare. (Examples of rose family includes many fruit varieties life apple, cherry, plum chokecherry as well as wild and domesticated roses)

There are several other families of flowers that I will explore in the future but for a full breakdown of all the flowering plant families check out Thomas Elpel’s book “Botany in a Day, The Pattern Method of Plant Identification”. He covers all the plant families including those I did not identify today such as : Heath family, Pyrola family, Indian Pipe family, Primrose family, Hydrangea family, Gooseberry family, Stonecrop family, Saxifrage family, Gentian, Dogbane, Milkweed, Nightshade, Morning Glory, Pholx, Waterleaf, Borage, Verbena, Plantain, Olive, Figwort, Broomrape, Bladderwort, Harebell, Madder, Honeysuckle, Teasel, Arrowhead, Arrow Grass, Water nymph, Pondweed, Spiderwort, Rush, Sedge, Grass, Cattail, Duckweed, Arum, Lily, Iris, and Orchid.

INFLORESCENCES – BRANCHING PATTERNS OF STEM OF THE FLOWER

An inflorescence is a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem that is composed of a main branch or a complicated arrangement of branches. Strictly, it is the part of the shoot of seed plants where flowers are formed and which is accordingly modified. The types of arrangements include: the spike, the raceme, the panicle, the umbel, the composite, the corium, capitulum and the thyrse. (Please see graphic of these patterns).

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

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

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

Lucas N. Joppa, David L. Roberts, and Stuart L. Pimm,(2010) How many species of flowering plants are there? Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, Proc. R. Soc. B doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.1004 Published online: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2010/07/07/rspb.2010.1004.full.pdf+html  viewed online April 26, 2012

Wikipedia – Flowering plants – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flowering_plant Viewed on the internet on 4-28-2012

NEXT TIME:  Pollination and the Sex Life of Flowers

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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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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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