Posts Tagged ‘Botany’

Saturday, September 24, 2016

An Abundance of Caution: Wild Food and Risk

solanum nigrum“I’ve got a botanical question for you,” my friend said as he came into my classroom the other day. “Is black nightshade edible?” He’d found some growing near his chicken coop. “I took the tiniest bite,” he said. “I’m not sure if I felt funny because of what I ate, or because I was nervous.”

I told him that black nightshade is edible, if what he had was actually black nightshade (note: there is also an unrelated plant called deadly nightshade, which is toxic). I asked him to describe the plant, and after some discussion, he asked if I had ever eaten it. I never had. “Why not?” he asked, and I had to pause. At least partly, I haven’t eaten it because of fear. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Patches Of Dame’s Rocket Sought For Study

Dame's RocketElizabeth Lombardi, a graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University, is collecting field data on plant pathogens in natural ecosystems throughout the Adirondack region, and has identified a virus in the non-native species Dame’s Rocket at several locations. Lombardi is asking the public if they cultivate this flower, or have seen it in the Adirondacks.

Wild plants, like their cultivated relatives, are susceptible to a diversity of pathogenic antagonists. Unlike crops, however, wild plants live or die by their own defenses when confronted by adversity. In recent years, there has been an uptick in scientific interest in plant epidemiology of natural systems and how environmental changes such as urbanization and global warming may alter pathogen presence wild plants. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Dead Trees: Suddenly Is Relative

witch of 4th lake postcardOne of the drawbacks of being an arborist is the language barrier. Routinely I spout off about trees such as Corylus, Carpinus, and Crataegus before noticing a glazed look on the faces of my victims, I mean audience. Once I engage my Nerd Translator, though, such offensive words are corrected to hazelnut, ironwood, and hawthorn, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Sadly, this works in reverse, too.

Fairly often someone calls up wanting to know what caused the unexpected and untimely death of their well-established landscape tree that “suddenly” died over the spring or summer. As a result of my arborist-ailment this sounds to me as absurd as if they said the tree shot up from a sapling to fifty feet tall with no warning at all while they were on vacation. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Adirondack Wildflowers: Jack-in-the-Pulpit

jack pulpit the outsiderJack-in- the-pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) are not the most colorful spring flowers, but what they lack in beauty they make up for in interesting characteristics. These easily-identified plants are full of surprises, from their ability to change from male to female (and back) to the bite of their calcium oxalate crystals, which can make your tongue feel like it’s full of burning splinters.

Jack-in- the-pulpit surfaces in wet, shaded woodland areas in mid-spring as a purpley-brown spike, all tucked up within itself. As the days meander toward summer, this spike unfolds into leaves and flower, with the plants growing as tall as two feet. The floral anatomy here includes a spadix of tiny flowers contained within a hooded spathe: Jack enclosed within his pulpit. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Adirondack Wildflowers: Lady Flower Season

the outsider lady slippersI’ll never forget my first encounter with lady’s-slippers. While hiking the Long Trail in southern Vermont one June, we camped near a remote pond. Our tent site beneath an evergreen canopy was surrounded by the flowers. Each hung from a stalk that arose from a pair of large, parallel-veined basal leaves. As a breeze blew through our campsite, hundreds of pink pouches bobbed gently ― an incredible sight.

The lady’s-slipper, whose genus name Cypripedium is Greek for “Venus’s slipper,” is our best known native orchid. The pink lady’s-slipper, or moccasin flower, that I saw is the most common lady’s-slipper in the Northeast. It grows in acidic soils and is often found in oak and white pine forests. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Many Uses Of Stinging Nettle

Urtica dioica from Thomé, Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der SchweizOne of my favorite plants is either highly versatile, or very confused. On the one hand, professional herbivores like rabbits and deer refuse to even touch it, but many people, myself included, will gladly eat it every day it is available.

While contacting it is painful, it has been proven to relieve certain chronic pain. It is steeped in over a thousand years of folklore, at one point imbued with the power to cleanse away sin, yet medical science recognizes it as a legitimate remedy for many disorders. Some gardeners consider it a bothersome weed, but others actually cultivate it. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

First Blooms: Juneberries

june berryAnother regional attraction has just opened, and for the next few weeks you can see the show at innumerable open-air venues across the Northeast. The performance is free, although only matinees are available.

The new event is the blossoming of a widespread, though strangely little-known, early-flowering plant. It is either a small tree or a shrub, depending on who you ask, which makes me wonder if it’s hiding something. In fact, this thing has more aliases than one of America’s Most Wanted. Variously known as serviceberry, shadbush, shadwood, shadblow, Saskatoon, juneberry and wild-plum, it is a small-to-medium size tree that also answers to amelanchier canadensis, its botanical name. Of those options, I prefer juneberry even though its fruit may ripen in early July in northern New York State. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Author Robin Wall Kimmerer At The Wild Center

robin-wall-kimmerer-braiding-sweetgrassOne of my family’s favorite year-round Adirondack museums is Tupper Lake’s Wild Center. The combination of trails and outdoor space mixed with live exhibits and multi-media shows satisfies a wide range of ages from grandmother to granddaughter.

Though the creative hands-on learning opportunities are a good part of its appeal, the Wild Center continues to grow with its audience through award-winning films, the Youth Climate Summit and other special programming. Saturday’s visit by Robin Wall Kimmerer, whose latest book is, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, is another of those occasions.

According to Exhibits and Programs Manager Rob Carr, Kimmerer’s reading is open to members and those with a paid admission to The Wild Center on January 9 at 1 pm. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Challenges Of Identifying Mushrooms

Russula mushroomsWhen you stumble across something purple in the forest, it’s hard not to stop in your tracks. At least it was for me on a recent hike, when I came across three purple mushrooms. They stood about four inches tall, with saucer tops that were nearly black in the center and ringed in a rich eggplant-purple.

I was captivated. I was also clueless, as I had no idea what I was looking at. I have long regarded mushrooms the way I do yellow-colored warblers and ferns – far too many and too confusing to distinguish one from another. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Lichens: More Than Meets The Eye

A lichen covered treeWe all know correlation does not equal causation, and that it’s unfair to convict someone based on circumstantial evidence. But when every appearance points to a culprit, it’s hard to resist jumping to conclusions, which by the way is my favorite athletic endeavor. After all, the kid out in your yard holding a baseball bat might not be responsible for the ball that just smashed through your window.

A landscape tree has a rough life, by definition beset with hardships not faced by its forest-dwelling peers. When chronic stress catches up to one and it declines and dies, I often hear from the homeowner about beetles, pillbugs, mushrooms or what-not (mostly what-not) found near the crime scene that must be to blame. It’s understandable – it’s like the kid with the bat. » Continue Reading.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Distressing Colors: Early Leaf Change An Unhealthy Sign

Early leaf colorIf trees held a race to see which would be among the first to have their leaves turn color, the winners would be losers. Premature leaf color change is a reliable indicator of failing health, and the worse a tree’s condition, the sooner it begins to turn.

Precious few places in the world have a fall color show like ours, and the display that northern hardwoods produce each autumn never fails to fill me with awe and appreciation. But when it starts in July, as was the case again this year on some roadside maples, I know those trees aren’t long for this world. In early August even some forest hardwoods growing on thin rocky soils began to show color, which is also unusual. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wild Foods: Cattails

TOS_CattailsLast winter I spent three months exploring East Africa, traveling through ten different countries and covering over 8,077 miles. I was continuously impressed with how much local guides knew about their surroundings, in particular the human uses of various plants. In some instances we could not walk more than ten feet without stopping to learn about another plant and all the ways it could save your life.

This experience made me curious about plants in my own backyard. A quick skim of foraging articles on the Internet revealed that cattails, with their various edible parts, are often referred to as “nature’s supermarket.” I was thrilled to learn that I had a 40-acre produce section right outside the back door. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Afflictions Of Late Summer Tree Leaves Only Skin Deep

330px-RhytismaAcerinumDetailUBeing an arborist, I’m of course very mindful of complexion. Things like bruises and blemishes catch my eye, in addition to scabs, cuts, and even those out-of-place whiskers that appear out of nowhere. It sounds like a description of my aging skin, but I’m talking about blotches, warts and cuts that accumulate on tree leaves over the summer.

I suppose if we had to stand outside day and night all season, our skin would develop issues too. Those who work or play much outdoors need to be concerned about skin spots that suddenly show up. With tree leaves, that’s not the case – even the ugliest “skin” condition is generally no cause for concern. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Jewelweed: Definitely Not A Weed

JewelweedBy definition, a weed is any plant growing where you don’t want it. To clarify, this holds true only in the garden beds or acreage under your cultivation. “Weeding” flowers in a park planter because they offend your sense of aesthetics is frowned upon.

To a plant, having “weed” embedded right in its name is probably akin to having a “Kick Me” sign on your back. Right out of the box there is bound to be a bit of prejudice against you, fair or unfair. Spotted knapweed, goutweed and Japanese knotweed are all pernicious invasive species, and deserve all the bad press they get. But occasionally an innocent bystander suffers from this name game. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cattails: A Culinary Tale of Nine Lives

cattailsThe two cats at my place have survived many life-threatening traumas such as falls, fights and even the compulsory “devotions” of small children. It’s amazing the hazards they can evade. I think if pets could drive, only dogs would get speeding tickets – cats would always find ways to wriggle out of a citation. Sadly, my contacts in the veterinary field continue to assert that cats have but a single life, and that the whole “nine lives” thing is just a cat tale.

However, the story about cattails having (at least) nine lives is no yarn. An obligate wetland plant, the common cattail (Typha latifolia) is native to the Americas as well as to Europe, Africa and most of Asia – basically the planet minus Australia, all Pacific Islands and most Polar regions. It can be found growing along wetland margins and into water up to 30 inches deep, from hot climates to Canada’s Yukon Territory. » Continue Reading.


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