Posts Tagged ‘native plants’

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Devil’s Shoelace: Doddering Assailants

Devil's Shoelace, Considering the climate where the personification of evil is alleged to make his home, you’d think the devil would wear flip-flops or something, but it seems he prefers lace-up footwear (Prada, I’m told). “Devil’s shoelaces” is one name applied to dodder (Cuscuta spp.), a parasitic plant that looks more like creepy yellow-orange spaghetti than a plant. Dodder is known by a whole slew of unflattering titles including wizard’s net, strangleweed, witch’s hair, and hellbine. As these names suggest, dodder has earned itself quite a sinister reputation, which is no big surprise, since parasites generally inspire collywobbles, not cuddles.

But the leafless, ghostly pale, tentacle-like dodder really ramps up the squirm factor. Research has shown it is able to recognize which plants are around it by sniffing them out. Every plant gives off a unique blend of compounds such as terpenes and esters, making it easy to tell cilantro from tomatoes with just one whiff. Not only can dodder distinguish one plant from another, it can sense which is more nutritious, and will move toward that one with great precision, and attack it. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Adirondack Wintergreen

wintergreenI give a lot of tours at my 80-acre homestead, and have found that most visitors are delighted for the opportunity to connect nature with real life. Those of us who spend much time rubbing elbows with nature might say that it is real life, but for many people the connection is a serendipitous anomaly.

“Remember teaberry gum?” I like to ask as we walk along a wide, sunny woods path. “That stuff that used to be around when we were kids, in the red package?”

They always nod, even the people who are probably too young to have ever encountered teaberry gum on the shelves at the corner variety store. They suspect I’m leading up to something big and don’t want to miss out.

I reach down and pluck a shiny leaf from a wintergreen plant growing along the edge of the footpath, snap it into several pieces, and rub it between my fingers to release the oils. After taking a whiff myself — both as a show of good faith and to ascertain that it is sufficiently aromatic for a show-and-tell specimen — I offer it up for sniffs all around. » Continue Reading.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Wetlands: A Great Duckweed Migration

The word ‘migration’ conjures images of vast wildebeest or pronghorn herds crossing plains in unison, or hummingbirds traversing the Gulf of Mexico. When charismatic birds leave our Northeastern forests, migration is typically the explanation. But how can a group of plants disappear, without discarding leaves, stems, or other evidence of their presence?

Duckweeds are in the subfamily Lemnoideae and are the world’s smallest flowering plant. Their small oval leaves float on ponds and quiet backwaters. Root-like fibers dangle in the water. Although I’d noticed them on St. Michael’s College experimental ponds, as an entomologist, I’d never paid them close attention. Until they disappeared. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Native Plants: All About Wild Leeks

wild rampsThe white bulbs of wild leeks, also called ramps (especially in the south), can be eaten year round, but it’s the early leaves that are most appreciated. In pre-freezer days, ramps were the first greens available after five or so months of potatoes and they were considered important as well as good tasting. Ramp festivals are still held in much of Appalachia to celebrate the arrival of this nutritious fresh food, and these tourist attractions have become so successful that in some places ramps are over-harvested.

Wild leeks are spring ephemerals that have no flowers in the spring. I know this is confusing; there’s a tendency to call every spring-blooming thing an ephemeral. But most spring wildflowers keep their leaves through the summer and therefore don’t qualify – it’s the extra short lifespan of the photosynthetic machinery that defines a spring ephemeral, not the timing of flowering. The rounded flower heads of leeks appear in July, well after the leaves have withered and disappeared. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Herbal Remedies: Ancient Medicines, Modern Uses

herbal medicineBy late-March it starts to feel as though winter is the only time of year not in a hurry to get somewhere. By comparison, every other season seems to go by with a Doppler-type velocity like an Indy car blurring past. But I realize that any day now, spring could get sprung, and when that happens, plant life will change by the day, if not the hour. Some of the first plants to catch my eye are ones which have historically been used to treat coughs and colds. Good timing, I’d say.

Herbal remedies have been part of human culture since the day culture got invented. No matter where our early ancestors settled, they exploited regional plants for medicinal as well as culinary value. In a sense, unknown plants served as an evolutionary pressure, except they selected against bad luck, and perhaps gullibility, and likely didn’t help the human genome a lot. As knowledge of plant medicine accrued, it was refined, committed to memory and passed along — first orally and later in writing — from one generation to the next. Ancient healers had to know the properties of a given plant, what it might interact with, and how to tell it from similar species. This of course helped protect them from the wrath of disgruntled patients, not to mention early malpractice suits. » 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.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Paul Hetzler: Pining For The Good Old Days

Adirondack Rain StormEver find yourself pining away for the “good old days” when things were simpler, a time when 911 was just a number, and no one was allergic to peanut butter? Maybe you like the era of Beatles concerts, big collars and even bigger hair, or you dream of living in the horse-and- buggy days.

Personally, I get misty-eyed when I think back to the early 2000s. It’s not that I can’t remember further back—my memory isn’t quite that bad yet. But those were the good old days when you could grow tomatoes free of blight, and pine needles were green. (Have you taken a look at the eastern white pines and Scots pines this summer? I’m pretty sure yellow and brown are not their normal colors.) Plant diseases have really blossomed recently. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

American Hazelnut: A Tasty Treat For Native Landscaping

american hazelnut in bloomWhile many people might be familiar with store bought European hazelnuts, or the popular spread Nutella which is made from hazelnuts and chocolate, the American hazelnut is also a tasty treat if you are lucky enough to beat the birds and other critters to it! The ½” edible nuts ripen in the fall, but the flowers typically bloom in April. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ticonderoga: Herbal History Exhibit Opens Friday

herb gardenThe Ticonderoga Historical Society will open its second exhibit of the 2016 season on Friday, April 8 at 7 pm at the Hancock House.

“Herbal History of the Adirondacks” looks at how Native Americans and early settlers utilized native plants as medicinal and culinary preparations and how this has led to a contemporary herbal culture that continues to thrive today.

Noted local herbalist Nancy Scarzello is a co-designer of the exhibit and will speak at the opening. A Ticonderoga resident, Scarzello has more than 35 years of experience studying and teaching about herbs, native plants, natural healing and plant medicines. She is a regular presenter at the New England Women’s Herbal Conference. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Native Foods On The Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving-BrownscombeThe winter of 1620 nearly wiped out the Pilgrims, who were woefully unprepared for life in the New world. Many historians feel they would all have perished if not for food provided by the Wampanoags, on whose land they settled. The following spring, the Wampanoags provided the Pilgrims with seeds to plant, as well as a tutorial (possibly an App, but we can’t be sure) on the production, storage and preservation of food crops such as corn, beans, and squash.

That fall – we’re not even sure if it was October or November – the Pilgrims gave thanks for Native American agriculture, and feasted upon its bounty for three days straight. The Wampanoags probably gave thanks that there wasn’t another ship full of Pilgrims on the horizon just then. » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Lake Pleasant Green Infrastructure Demonstration Projects

This rain garden is a landscaped depression that captures and absorbs stormwater from the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District’s driveway and roof. My coworkers and I completed the installation of green infrastructure demonstration projects at the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District office in Lake Pleasant including a rain garden, a bioswale and two rain barrels.

Local homeowners and municipalities have the opportunity to see the benefits of stormwater pollution prevention practices. The projects are designed to protect and preserve water quality as essential aspects of public health, a vibrant local economy and a flourishing ecosystem. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Native Foods: All About Cranberries

Cranberries - Keith Weller, Agricultural Research Service PhotoLike the political process, cranberries can leave a sour taste in your mouth. But unlike politics, whose bitter aftertaste cuts through any amount of sweetener, the flavor of cranberries is readily improved with a little sugar.

To say a fresh cranberry is sour is like saying Picasso and Monet are reasonably good painters. In fact it can have a lower pH value than stomach acid. It’s almost a wonder people ever started eating them, right? » 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.


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.


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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