Sunday, August 20, 2017

Plant Story--the Prairie Sunflower, Helianthus petiolaris

They remind me of pinwheels

prairie sunflower

bright yellow flowers all along the highway. From western Nebraska and Kansas west across Colorado, they are prairie sunflowers, Helianthus petiolaris.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Visiting Ontario, Canada--Plants of Toronto

In 2017, Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary. I took a tour of Toronto with Road Scholar link

Toronto is not only the city with the largest population in Canada (2.7 million people), but it is the 4th largest city in North America, after Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles. Greater Toronto has 7 million people. It sits along the north edge of Lake Ontario, so for Canada it is in the far south. Lake effects from the Great Lakes keep Toronto's climate mild, moist and unpredictable.

Toronto

For me it is always a botanic tour, so here is a brief look at Toronto's plants.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Visiting Northern Colorado--Yampa River Botanic Park

No plant enthusiast passing through Steamboat Springs, Colorado should miss the Yampa River Botanic Park. Website

The Painter's Garden, Yampa River Botanic Park
The Painter's Garden
This gem is snuggled along the Yampa River on the north side of the city of Steamboat Springs. The six acres are divided into dozens of individual gardens, tended or supported by the Steamboat Springs community. Some have themes--the Blue Garden, the Butterfly Garden, the Painter's Garden--some just feature plants the gardener loves.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Botanical Society of America Annual Meeting---June 2017

Datura sp.
Datura with flowers opening: research plants can be very beautiful
After the Garden Blogger's Fling, which featured gardens around Washington, D.C.,  I attended the Botanical Society of America meetings, within the excellent facilities of the Omni Hotel, Fort Worth, Texas. The first meeting was full of bright flowers, garden design and the heat and humidity of northern Virginia in June (link). The second showcased of the latest ideas, photos of exotic locations and the dark and chill of air-conditioned conference rooms.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Garden Bloggers Fling--Washington D.C., June 2017

The Garden Bloggers Fling is an annual conference of people who regularly write about gardens and gardening online. Hosted by an enthusiastic team of garden bloggers link it moves around between cities. Flings have been held for a decade, but this year was the first time I went.

What do garden bloggers do at a conference? Visit gardens!

beautiful plantings

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Plant Story--Crested Pricklypoppy, Argemone polyanthemos

You can't miss them. Big white flowers along the roadside in the eastern Rocky Mountains and out onto the plains.

prickly poppy, Argemone polyanthemos
crested prickly poppy, Argemone polyanthemos
The plant is crested prickly poppy, Argemone polyanthemos, poppy family, Papaveraceae. It is also called the thistle poppy and, a name I haven't seen in writing but makes it easy to remember, fried egg flower.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Plant Story--Curly Dock, Uses and Folklore

Curly dock, also called yellow dock, Rumex crispus, is a sturdy plant in the buckwheat family, Polygonaceae, native to Eurasia and now found all over the world. (See previous blog post, link.)

curly dock, Rumex crispus
curly dock, Rumex crispus
                                    
The Greeks and Romans both used it medicinally. Seeds soaked in water treated dysentery. The root was boiled in vinegar and applied to skin ailments and to ease itches. Served in wine, dock soothed aching teeth. It was considered an effective treatment for goiter, which to the Romans meant any swelling in the throat area. One common goiter treatment was to hang a piece of dock around the patient's neck like an amulet.

Throughout Europe, rubbing dock on the skin was an antidote to stinging nettles. Since both were common in wet areas, it was usually available.

Modern herbal medicine doesn't support these uses very strongly: for example, although dock soothes the skin but there are better treatments.

Dock leaves were traditionally added to tobacco pouches to keep the tobacco moist. They were also boiled and added to poultry feed. The stems, after boiling and salting, were woven into baskets. 

                                    curly dock, Rumex crispus

Europeans used the seeds in money charms. They were soaked in water and the liquid was sprinkled throughout the shop to bring customers. 

Seeds were tied to a woman's left arm, or carried there, to help conceive a child. 

People ate dock. The whole plant is edible, as are other docks and sorrels (species in the genus Rumex; not, though, plants that share only a common name such as burdock (Arctium) and wood sorrel Oxalis). The catch is, not all docks taste good. They range from too tough or too stringy or too acidy, on over to delicious. Foragers often recommend curly dock as best-tasting of the docks. 

All docks have some oxalic acid. In large quantities oxalic acid is toxic. Plants for a Future says, "People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition. Avoid during pregnancy & breast feeding." (PfaF). 

In moderate quantities, oxalic acid imparts an attractive acidy, lemon-like flavor. Many common foods such as spinach, contain oxalic acid (more info). An Indian woman told H.D. Harrington that she especially liked that curly dock "already has the vinegar on it." (pp.91-92).

                                   curly dock, Rumex crispus

Before you munch a leaf along the hiking trail and write it off as nasty, read foraging books such as Thayer or Harrington, or recipes from the web (see references). Choosing the right plant part at the right time of year and preparing it well makes a huge difference. 

People have been eating dock for a very long time. The Tollund man, 4th century BCE, Denmark, whose preserved body was found in a peat bog, had eaten a gruel that included dock seeds as his last meal. (Tollund mangruel). Dock seeds are easily collected, edible and nutritious, but hardly anyone likes the flavor. While dock seeds may never catch on, seeds of its relative buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum, are an important food. Buckwheat is not a wheat at all, but a plant very like dock from which we make both porridge and flour. 

                      curly dock, Rumex crispus

Curly dock has a long history as food and medicine. It is fair to call it a weed when it grows in the flowerbed with the zinnias or in a cornfield. But beyond that, it is a wild plant from Eurasia potentially useful to people all over the world. 

Comments and corrections welcome.

References
Cunningham, S. 1985. Cunningham's encyclopedia of magical herbs. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN.
Dean, G.  Rumex ruminations. Eattheweeds.com link Recipes and discussion.
DeLion, D. 2012. A dock a day may keep the doc away – Harvesting Wild Docks
Returntonature.us  link 
Gunther, R. T. 1934. The Greek herbal of Dioscorides. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Harrington, H. D. 1967. Edible native plants of the Rocky Mountains. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. Gathering and preparing curly dock. 
Jones, P. Just weeds. History, myths and uses. Chapters Publishers and Booksellers, Shelburne, Vermont. 
Plants for a Future. Rumex crispus. www.pfaf.org link 
Thayer, S. 2010. Nature's garden. Forager's Harvest, Birchwood, WI. Long discussion of gathering and preparing dock. 
Vickery, R. 1995. Oxford dictionary of plant-lore. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist