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Posts Tagged ‘wild plants’

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell one cat from another, especially if they’re plants, not animals.

A cattail from last year looking ragged in springtime

In the spring, last year’s cattails look shabby and ragged.  An aggressive native species, colonies of this spike-like plant are commonly found in ditches and freshwater wetlands.  The soft down-like seeds are easily dispersed by the wind.  Besides being employed by birds to line nests, the down was used by First Nation’s people as a firestarter and to line moccasins and papooses.  Many parts of the plant are edible.  (For more see the Wikipedia page for Typha at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typha) New green cattails will appear later this summer and turn brown as the season progresses.

Cattails growing in a ditch.

Cattails are often confushed with catkins, the male (and sometimes male/female) reproductive part on some trees and bushes.  Below are catkins on an alder tree.    The word ‘catkin’ is derived from the Dutch word for kitten.  In late spring, these catkins certainly look like kittens’ tails.

Male catkins on a speckled alder in May

In the next image, you can see the greenish catkins as they appeared earlier this spring, hard and closed.  Also visible on the leafless branches are small brown cones leftover from last year.  These cones hold many small seeds that are a favorite of chickadees.

New catkins on speckled alder with last year’s cones

Below are the pussywillows that are such a welcome sight in early spring.  Their soft grey fur invites petting by young and old.  As a child I recall my first grade class glueing these to an image of a kitten to provide texture and color.  It was a common craft back then when most children had access to pussywillows near their homes.

Pussywillows are a type of catkin growing on willow trees or bushes.  Eventually, they go to seed and appear quite different than when they first emerged from the branch.

By now, it’s difficult to find evidence of  pussywillows in our woods.  However, fresh green catkins can now be found on the yellow birch trees.

Yellow birch catkin

With such staggered and changing appearances, cattails, catkins and pussywillows can seem as mysterious as their feline namesake.  Perhaps that’s part of their charm.

Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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In an effort to increase awareness and encourage positive change, 2010 has been designated the International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations.

What is biodiversity?
Basically, it’s the variety of life on earth: plant and animal species and the ecosystems that sustain them.

How does this variety affect our daily lives?
From the foods we eat to climate change, biodiversity affects us all.

Why should we be concerned?
Loss of biodiversity on the planet is happening at a rapid rate.
For example…
– Forests are being changed into croplands with devastating effects to climate.
– Species of plants and animals are being harvested at unsustainable rates.
– Changes to the timing of flowering and migration routes are affecting relationships between species within ecosystems.
– Introduced invasive species (plants, animals and micro-organisms) are threatening native species by competing for food and habitat.
– Pollution is creating dead zones in the ocean which can no longer sustain life.

What can be done at the local level?
Doing something about biodiversity can be as simple as encouraging the growth of native trees in your yard as opposed to growing exotic species that require extra maintenance to ensure their survival.  It’s always amazed me how people move from the city to the country wanting to be close to nature, and then work so hard to tame the wild spaces in order to make them look ‘civilized.’

In the year ahead, I’ll be writing more on the subject of biodiversity, but for now it’s enough to simply introduce the subject.

We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well – for we will not fight to save what we do not love.
~ Stephen Jay Gould

For more information about 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity, see the Convention on Biological Diversity.

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bunch berries

The fastest plant in the world resides unassumingly in Nova Scotia’s cool woods. Botanists have discovered that the petals of bunchberries move at a speed of 22 feet per second when they open, releasing a flurry of pollen into the air.

In late summer however, it’s the red berries of this plant that dot the forest floor.  Their leaves are worn and streaked with burgundy, duller versions of the fresh green plants that brightened the ground back in June.

buncberryThese bland tasting berries are edible but far less enjoyable to the palate than the blackberries available in the wild at this time of year.  Yet children often enjoy them and find them easy to pick.  Berries can be found on plants consisting of six leaves.  Also known as dwarf dogwood, the plant will acquire an overall burgundy color later in the fall.  Berries dry as the season progresses, providing food for deer, moose, grouse and songbirds.

With a preference for acidic woods, bunchberries often grow in partially shaded spots.  They are known to neutralize the effects of acid rain.

Known as Cornus canadensis in Latin, bunchberries are native to northern North America and have a history of being used medicinally for kidney ailments, to lower fevers and treat infant colic.  Leaves have been applied topically to stop bleeding and heal wounds.  Berries can be made into a poultice to treat burns or taken internally to help counteract the negative effects of ingesting poisonous plants.  Their use is being investigated for cancer treatment.  

bunchberries in bloom

High in pectin, berries can also be made into jellies and puddings. In the fall, they were gathered by native people by the bushel full and later either frozen or stored in bear fat for use in winter. The berries are thought to promote mental strength and clarity which is reason enough to give them a try.

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