Saturday, November 23, 2013

Initial Nature Walk in Bluemont Park

Before sunrise on Holloween morning, I drove over to Bluemont Park for a little foraging. This post is about what I found - plants I identified, plants which I didn't identify, and fun misc. stuff that happened. This is more of a travel log than a how-to, but I include links to further resources if you want more details.

Warning: Since I'm new at this, take all plant names and uses listed here with a grain of salt. Tomorrow, I may realize one of the plants shown here is actually called something else! I haven't eaten or used any of these plants yet.

Plants I Identified
A note on how I ID'd the plants: I brought my internet-capable tablet with me. If I didn't recognize the plant, I did an image-search for the plant and scanned through images 'til I found what I wanted or gave up. Once I found a matching image, I looked up the species of the plant in the image, found a description of that species, and then compared that description with the plant in front of me. This isn't foolproof, but since I'm just looking and not eating, this seemed like a reasonable start. When I returned home I used the foraging books I have as well.

In a future post I'll describe the books I've found really useful.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard is an herb* which is extremely invasive. It makes a great addition to salads, but every author I've found recommends you remove every patch you find, or you'll end up with nothing but garlic mustard. This is another example of an edible weed - very common, generally unwanted, but great for humans to eat! (Source: Sam Thayer's Nature's Garden)

The garlic mustard shown here is in the first year of its 2-year life (it's "biennial", meaning has a 2-year lifespan). In the second year, it grows stalks and gets up to a few feet high.

Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana)

Pokeberry is gorgeous! Check out the beautiful purple-red branches and distinctive berry clusters. It's a great example of "Some parts of this plant may kill you, others are tasty and medicinally useful." Roots and seeds are very bad. Other parts o the plant may be useful if boiled. Here's a good resource.

Porcelain Berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata)
Porcelain Berry

This is another gorgeous plant. It's a vine that produces beautiful pastel-colored berries like you can see in this shot. It's related to grapes and is edible (source, source, source), but I'm still looking for a really good how-to-prepare resource.

Unfortunately, it's also extremely invasive, and like Kudzu or Mile-a-minute weed, it's capable of taking over an area and suffocating everything else. Bluemont park is a victim of this. See below:
Almost all the greenery you can see here is Porcelain Berry covering up other plants.

It's taken over! Naturalists recommend that people remove the plant when it becomes this much of a nuisance... I'm thinking of organizing a work party one weekend to do this. It'd be a public service, and it would yield free food! Not only could we eat the porcelain berry we harvest, but we'd be keeping it from killing other edible plants in the area.

Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
The tulip poplar is the one with bright green leaves in the middle.

The tulip poplar apparently has edible parts, but doesn't provide much food. It's apparently good for making rope and even rakes. However, it's not actually a poplar - it's in the magnolia family. This is important for fire-making, as poplars are better than magnolias for fire-making.

It also has lots of medicinal uses, though I haven't studied them yet.

Sow-Thistle (Sonchus sp.) [possibly Sonchus oleraceus]

The leaves, stems, and stalk of this plant are edible according to Sam Thayer in Nature's Garden, but he recommends them when they're young in the spring or early summer.

Red Oak (Quercus subgenera Erythrobalanus)

Oaks produce massive harvests of acorns which are edible but need a little TLC before they're ready to eat. Source: Sam Thayer's Nature's Garden.

English Ivy (Hedera helix)
Both the light and dark green triangular leaves are part of the English Ivy plant. It can have leaves of both colors growing on the same stalk.

There's nothing edible here, but it does have medicinal uses. However, I haven't studied these yet.

Plants I Did Not Identify (Help Welcome)
Below are images of plants I haven't been able to identify. Any help is welcome!

This has cool yellow berries, but otherwise it's hard to find distinguishing features to search for.

What is that brown stuff? Leaves? Not knowing that, I found myself searching for a plant with a brown stem... and had little success :(

Searching online to try to identify grasses is hard.

This image is sideways: the base of the plant is on the right. This plant is all over the place, including on the bank of the Potomac river.

Fun Stuff

Leaves That Turn Color Sideways
I'm not sure what plant this is, but it's got 3 seasons on display on one blade of grass: the green of summer, the yellow of autumn, and the dead of winter:

The Potemkin Oak
I found an oak tree which I now call the Potemkin Oak ["Potemkin" defined]. From the front, it looks like a full, beautiful oak tree:
An oak tree from the front. It seems like a full, dense oak tree.

But from the side/rear, it's clear that the branches and leaves are only on one side, and it looks a little less impressive from there:
Same tree from the back.
Same tree from the side.

This happens because some plants grow preferentially in the direction of the sun. In this case, almost all the oak tree's branches grew towards the sun and away from the surrounding trees. This is an impressive example!

And Then I Got the Boot
Just as I was thinking of heading home, a wildebeast offered me a parting gift. It landed on my head, and when I realized what had happened, it was indeed time to go home:

* "Herb" has two means:
  1. Culinary: any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume. 
  2. Botanical: any seed-bearing plant that does not have a woody stem and dies down to the ground after flowering.