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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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stem cellular structure of the water Milofoil

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stomata cells up close

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

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

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

Western Red Cedar Stomata cells - butterfly pattern

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

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

CELLS WITH A PURPOSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the same and what is different

Plant Cell Structure - click for larger view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–       Masanobu Fukuoka, The Natural Way of Farming

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vocabulary

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

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