There will always be thistle, said the late U.S. Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin in one of her poems, because “Sheep will not eat it / nor horses nor cattle / unless they are starving.” She described it “choking the sweet grass / defeating the clover,” and pricking the hands with its spines.
Okay, I guess thistles are not everyone’s favorite wildflower, but I’ve always liked them. I’m not a farmer, so it’s easy for me to say. I like them because they’re pretty, they remind me of Scotland, and they’re like grocery stores for goldfinches. » Continue Reading.
Ingredients for healthy beverages are free for the taking outdoors if you can get past the introduction stage.
Hemlock tea, one of my favorites, is a good example. This is not the recipe poor Socrates used, which was made with the toxic perennial herb, poison-hemlock. The kind I serve is a vitamin-C-rich infusion of needles and young shoots from the stately eastern hemlock tree, Tsuga canadensis. This hemlock tea is great with a touch of honey, and the good part is that you can drink it more than once. Plus it’s fun to see the reaction when I offer it to guests. » Continue Reading.
The Lake George Community Garden Club will hold their Annual Perennial Plant Sale on Saturday, May 19, from 9 am to 2 pm, at the St. James Episcopal Church, 172 Ottawa St., Lake George.
Select from a wide variety of high-quality perennial plants dug, potted, and ready to plant from Garden Club members’ zone 4 and 5 gardens. Garden club members are always available at the sales to share planting instructions and gardening tips. » Continue Reading.
Weeks before the soil warms enough to plant most garden favorites but those vegetables agreeable to cool weather, there are many delicious, healthy, and useful wild edibles available – if one knows where to look.
One of the earliest to appear is the dandelion, taraxacum officinale. As soon as the ground is friable, look for the early signs of emerging dandelions. Dig up the roots, remove the crowns, wash with a vegetable brush to remove soil. If the root has been harvested while the soil is still very cool, they may be lightly peeled, and prepared as most root vegetables by adding to soups or steaming until tender. » Continue Reading.
A favorite snippet of British poetry my father Howard Zahniser sometimes quoted was “Come down to Kew in lilac time, / It isn’t far from London.” His intense delight in the piece showed in how he would dip one shoulder and lean headlong into his audience — even if only one person — during a recitation. He used his body to punctuate his public speaking about wilderness, too, with his bob-and-weave guided walk-through of rhetorical emphases. “Come down to Kew in lilac time…” There are certain words a lifetime loads with meaning. Lilac was one. Whitman’s “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed …” Its poignancy suggesting spring but, too, its heavy nineteenth-century scent of death and dying. » Continue Reading.
An online Pollinator Plant Sale hosted by the Adirondack Pollinator Project is underway, and will continue through May 31st.
All flowers are local to the Adirondacks and were selected for their ability to attract pollinators, like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The plants are being cultivated without the use of pesticides by locally-owned Cook & Gardener Nursery in Plattsburgh. » Continue Reading.
I followed a stream downhill through the woods as it coursed through a small ravine. At the base of the hill, just before the brook entered a wetland, a patch of unusual-looking plants was growing amongst moss on a decaying tree root that spanned the stream. They were round and flat with lobed edges, and only the size of a dime. A couple of other patches grew nearby. Here the plants had branched out from their round bases, extending flat green ribbons across the damp soil.
These odd plants are liverworts, named for the resemblance of lobed species to the human liver. Liverworts are often confused with mosses and both are bryophytes, though recent evidence indicates that they may not be closely related. Liverworts have no roots, tubes, or veins to transport water and nutrients, but they anchor their bodies to soil or rock with threadlike filaments called rhizoids. They rely on diffusion (movement from an area of higher to one of lower concentration) to move water in and out. » Continue Reading.
A few Thanksgivings ago, my then-ten-year-old daughter and I went for an afternoon stroll. Unseasonably warm weather made for a longer than planned walk through a power line right-of-way and on down through steeply sloping woods to the Winooski River. As we moved through the tall scrub, Lauren’s interest was drawn to the golf ball-sized swellings on desiccated goldenrod stalks.
As usual, she had many really good questions: what were these woody spheres on dead plants; why did some have holes; what did they look like inside? We pocketed a few and continued our walk. The soft silty river bank was peppered with footprints left by raccoons, herons, skunks, and deer that prompted more questions. By sunset we had made it through the Muddy Brook Natural Area and back out onto the gravel road. Our catch of the day remained in our pockets until after dinner. » Continue Reading.
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.
I 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.
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.
The 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.
By 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.
Elizabeth 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.
Ever 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.
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