Wild Arkansas

August 1, 2010

So many plants, so little time

Patrick investigating

Lactuca nine feet tall. The vibrant lavendar of the bull thistle, smart weed, jewel weed, flea bane, dog bane, sumac and few delights for the wildcrafters among us: chamomile, evening primrose and vervain among them.

Roaming the perimeter of Lake Fayetteville with Mr. Ethnobotany we only managed to traverse half a mile per hour–stopping every few feet to take photos and investigate our finds.

Though quite a few of the specimen we stopped for had already went to seed, there were just as many in full bloom or headed that way.

Patrick dug the root of a first year bull thistle as I looked on. It took a bit of work, because the thistle has a tap root much like the dandelion. This one happened to be a youngster, but I imagine if it had been older, it would have been next to impossible to uproot completely.

Bull thistle

The taste and smell of the raw root is quite distinct and brings to mind a time when we grew our own artichokes. The thistle is a relative of the artichoke, afterall.

The chamomile (Matricaria) we found grew close to the marina. Though I’ve seen plenty of photos of the plant, it was my first up close and personal encounter. You can tell a nerd by how excited they get over their first encounter with a much loved plant.

[Yes the heart leaps into the throat and there is a brief moment of wide-eyed wonder, corresponding to a sharp intake of breath.]

Toward the end of our walk, I realized I had stepped into a patch of Rhus radicans (poison ivy) and felt the stinging sensation creeping up my ankle. Patrick spotted some jewel weed, grabbed a handful and instructed me to crush it and use the juice on the infected area.

Voila! It worked. The pain immediately subsided, as did the itching and two hours later I had no rash.

Alas, the quick rise of temperature into the nineties dictated we stop early, though with the promise of another visit soon.

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July 1, 2010

Forager’s herbarium

Though I’ve been around Lake Fayetteville several times, last night I participated in my first field class with a tracker and former Alaskan ethnobotany teacher, Patrick Monroney.

The lesson included learning how to build an herbarium.

This particular preservation method is not the same used by botanists who collect, label, dry and press the plant material before mounting.
[read Wikipedia article about how to build a formal herbarium http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbarium]

It is meant to build identification and collecting skills in the field.

For newbies to plant identification techniques, the herbarium consists of collected samples placed on plain index or card stock and held in place with clear contact paper. Once mounted, the plant data is entered on the card.

Despite fading daylight, we managed to put a couple of hours into collecting.

Lake Fayetteville is one of the best botanical classrooms in the area, because of the diversity available. In the two hours collecting, I came away with ten mounted samples.

Following is a project on how to start your first herbarium for identification purposes.

If you are going to mount in the field, you may want to prepare your contact paper beforehand, cutting pieces down to size.

What you need:

Scissors or an exacto knife
5×8 index cards (preferably white, unless you collect white flowers. In that case, Patrick uses colored stock.)
Contact paper cut into 4×7 pieces. (Comes in rolls that can be found in the housewares section at Wal-Mart.)

Method:

1. Cut your collected sample/parts down to size. Make sure all parts are clean and dry. (If moist, pat with paper towel).

2. Peel contact paper from backing, place sticky side UP on an index card and center it.

3. Lay plant (parts) as flat as possible on contact paper. Some are impossible to flatten, just do your best to flatten enough to mount.

4. Place another index card, white side down (white side facing plant)

6. Turn it around to inspect. You may have to clip or cut, but now you can label the card. 

Voila!

If you need additional help putting together your herbarium, shoot me an email. I can send photos. The photos I tried to use in the post didn’t work very well. 🙂

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