Sunday, November 22, 2020

Bamboo - Amazingly Versatile

 In the United States, when I mention bamboo, the most common reaction is that it is horribly invasive. That's true, but bamboo in the U.S. is not balanced by its usefulness, as it is in Asia. This post showcases some of the uses I've seen, the next post will be about bamboo botany.

bamboo shoots and leaves
A clump of bamboo

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Plant Story: The Colorful Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja

They're a splash of orange on the mountainside or of red in the meadow: Indian paintbrushes. Also called flame flower, prairie-fire, squaw feather, and painted cups, the Castilleja species, now classified in the owl clover family, Orobanchaceae, but long considered figworts, Scrophulariaceae, are handsome wildflowers. 

Indian paintbrushes, Castilleja species
Indian paintbrush, Castilleja, in western Wyoming

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Plant Story--Dill, The Strong-Smelling Herb

Dill (Anethum graveolens, celery family Apiaceae) is one of the spices that is always in my kitchen. It is my go-to spice when the salad seems repetitious or the potatoes dull. (Generally, an herb is used fresh, while a spice is dried. Dill is both an herb and a spice.) This is a plant from southern Europe that has been cultivated since at least 400 BCE, the date of the archaeological site in Switzerland where it was found. 

Dill, Anethum graveolens
Dill in seed

Dill is usually described as an annual, but, in my garden, it often grows for two years before flowering and distributing seeds. I planted it years ago in the vegetable garden and, now and then, find plants showing up in other flower beds. The plants are pretty but not dramatic, with fine feathery leaves. The flowers are yellow but tiny, developing into umbels of round flat fruits, each of which contains two seeds.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Travel Ideas: Mountain Ranges of the World

Alaska
Mountains in Alaska (above)

In the last six months, I haven't traveled more than 30 miles. My husband reads menus from restaurants from Honolulu and New York online. I tried a daydream about where would I go if I could leave tomorrow, but that wasn't encouraging; I'm not going anywhere dramatic for probably 100 tomorrows. Travel was such fun. There are spectacular vistas in our world and things I don't know I don't know. After experiencing a few "must sees," though, one has to decide among thousands of destinations. What goals lead a serious traveler? Bird watchers classically have "life lists" which motivate them to go to distant places to see a particular bird. Botanists don't generally do life lists, but what might those be, if you were a botanist or ecologist, or just a fan of the natural world?

The first one I thought of was: mountains. And, starting simple, mountain ranges. Here's the idea: a life list of mountain ranges. See them all!

Monday, October 26, 2020

Prostrate Juniper, Juniperus communis var. depressa

The prostrate juniper is, as the name says, a juniper that runs along the ground, like a ground cover, and does not stand tall like a tree. North America has two such junipers, the prostrate juniper, Juniperus communis variety depressa and the creeping juniper, Juniperus horizontalis. Both are native, but prostrate juniper is more widespread, found over most of the continent (map). The common juniper, Juniperus communis, is the most widespread woody plant in the world, growing across Eurasia as well as North America. With a range that big, it is very variable and seven distinctive varieties are recognized. In Eurasia it is mostly an upright tree, though one variety, J. communis var. saxatilis, is prostrate. There is no close relationship between the two prostrate forms and J. communis var. depressa colonized all of North America. 

prostrate juniper, Juniperus communis var. depressa
prostrate juniper, Juniperus communis var. depressa

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Plant Story--Harebells and Bluebells, Campanula rotundifolia

The little blue flowers are always a delight to see. Its a harebell, Campanula rotundifolia (harebell family, Campanulaceae), seen in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. 

harebell or bluebell, Campanula rotundifolia
harebell, Campanula rotundifolia

Harebells are relatively common on the eastern slope of the Rockies, so I have often done "there it is!" while my brain races to remember the name. The scientific name Campanula is Latin for "little bell", from campana a bell. The distinctive bell tower on the University of California Berkeley campus is called the Campanile (see Wikipedia link) and there are other words with this root in English, such as campanology, the study of bells, and the botanical campanulate, bell-shaped, so looking at the bell-like flowers I think of the scientific name easily enough. (The species epithet rotundifolia, means round-leaf)  But the common name in Colorado, given in the Flora of Colorado and most wildflower identification books, is harebell, as in "rabbit bell." If I think bluebell, in Colorado bluebells are plants in the genus Mertensia, which has bell-shaped blue flowers too (borage family. Boraginaceae).

bluebell, Mertensia
bluebells, Mertensia

harebell, Campanula rotundifolia
harebells, Campanula

That's been my problem, I always know it is a bell, but am not sure which one. Harebell. 

I discovered, though, that people do call Campanula rotundifolia bluebells. The plant is native all across northern North America and Europe. Europeans often say bluebells; in fact, my harebell is the famous bluebell of Scotland. This is the plant Anne Brรถnte wrote about link and the folk bands sing about (Bluebells of Scotland: youtube). But Americans call Mertensia species bluebells, not Campanula species. Mertensia virginica is the bluebell of Virginia. The USDA lists the bluebell of Scotland, Campanula rotundifolia, as occurring in Virginia, but my guess is Mertensia is or was more common, so in North America it got the bluebell name, and as a consequence, Campanula went by an alternate name (harebell is sometimes used for it in Britain). Whatever the original story, in North America, generally a bluebell is Mertensia and in the British Isles it is Campanula. 

Bluebell is the kind of common name easily given to various plants. Sources on British folklore (see links in references) frequently comment that bluebell is also the name for wild hyacinth (Hyacinthus non-scriptus, also called scilla, as Scilla nutans, Asparagus family, Asparagaceae) and the folklore can apply to both plants. 

Other common names for harebell/bluebell of Scotland include bluebell bellflower in the U.S. and witches' thimble and old man's bell in Great Britain.

harebell, Campanula rotundifolia with bee
bumble bee visiting harebells

Harebells grow in a wide variety of forest and meadow environments across the Northern Hemisphere. They start blooming in June but continue into the fall as long as there is good weather. The buds point upward, but the flowers nod when open, hanging like a hand bell. Opening downward protects the working flower parts (stigma and stamens) and the nectar from rain. They are pollinated by a diversity of flower-visiting insects but especially bees. 

The leaves are edible cooked or raw, though I rarely find enough in one place to consider gathering it. Harebell is a close relative of Campanula rapunculus, rampion, which has been a garden vegetable in Europe for centuries (the leaves are treated like spinach, the roots are eaten like radishes.)

Native Americans also used the roots medicinally to treat ear, lung, and heart ailments (Chippewa, Thompson, Woodlands Cree respectively). The Ramah Navajo included it in mixes of ceremonial cleansing smoke for head trouble or deer infection, and rubbed it on for protection while hunting or against witches.

Across the Atlantic, there is lots of folklore. The name harebell associated the flower with witches, the hare being a favorite of witches (and more see link). Calling it old man's bell, or aul' man's bell, was saying "the devils' bell." Possibly the devil would be called if you picked it. And especially, fairies. Fairies frequented places with many harebells, so, in such a spot, you might be able to glimpse a fairy, but you need to be wary to protect yourself from fairy spells. In all cases, hearing the harebells ring warned of magic and not necessarily friendly magic.

a place of fairies
a place to look for fairies

Of course they were used in charms. Anyone who wore a bluebell was compelled to tell the truth, though in one version, only about his/her loves. Turn a harebell flower inside out without damaging it, and you are assured you will eventually have the person you love. Or, when you see a harebell, say "Bluebell, bluebell, bring me some luck before tomorrow night!" put the flower inside your shoe, and watch for the luck it sent.

As a memorable wildflower, harebells frequently appear in poetry and literature. A quick Google search will bring up dozens of poems and essays. Yet my favorite is a Wordsworth story of a poetic line that doesn't actually mention harebells. William Wordsworth (1770-1850, biography), in his 70s, visited familiar places but found himself mourning for lost friends. Walking sorrowfully, he spotted harebells growing on a wall. The sight lifted his spirits, and he was moved to quote, from one of his recent poems,

"Would that the little flowers that grow could live,
Conscious of half the pleasure that they give."
               Poems and Sentimental Reflections #4

Let harebells raise your spirits, wherever you see them.
  
harebell, Campanula rotundifolia
harebells, Campanula rotundifolia,

Comments and corrections welcome.

References

Cunningham, S. 1993. Scott Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN.
Durant, M. 1976. Who Named the Daisy? Who Named the Rose? Congdon and Weed, New York.
Edmiston, A. 2019. Flower folklore: spring blooms and bells of blue. folklorethursday.com link Accessed 10/16/2020.
Finch, S. 1982. Wordsworth's Flowers. Limesdale Publishing Group, Carnforth, Lancashire, U.K.
Hypnogoria blog. 2016. Folklore on Friday, The chime of the harebells. link Accessed 10/16/2020/
Moorman, D, E. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press, Portland, OR. (database online link)
Rhian. 2012. Fairy flower. Scottish Wildlife Trust link Accessed 10/16/2020.
Rich, V.A. 1998. Cursing the Basil and othe Folklore of the Garden. Horsdal and Schubart, Victoria, BC, Canada.
Windling, Terri. 2019. Myth and Moor blog. Wildflower season. terriwindling.com link Accessed 10/16/2020.

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist
More at awanderingbotanist.com
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Sunday, October 11, 2020

Musing about Recycling

Recycling is on my mind because a National Public Radio (NPR) study (link) last month found that plastic recycling is basically not happening; most of the plastic goes to landfills. And always has. What? I am a believer in recycling.

recycling bin and trash bin