Saturday, December 3, 2011

Takin' a Closer Look

I have been combing the woods recently in search of vibrant plant life. Garlic Mustard is still popping up as is Wood Nettle (so I hear), however most of the plants have gone to seed and died back, seeds and roots moving into their winter slumber. So, as a result, I've had to simply look a little bit closer at the bare branched trees and browning stalks still standing tall.

It can be helpful to know how to identify your favorite plants even in the winter, so that come spring, you know just where to look for that choice medicinal / edible.

The plants to follow were found en route to the swamp in the Milford Experimental Forest as well as along the trail winding through the Pike County Park and over the gas pipeline.

Black Birch (Betula lenta) lenticels
 Black Birch is one of the few birches that does not have peeling bark and can be easily identified in winter by its elongated lenticels or rather the pores through which the tree "breathes" They allow the living tissue located beneath the bark to receive both moisture and air. Another indicator are its small cones that will hang on through the winter.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Mullein stalks can be seen standing tall throughout the winter. Look for it in open fields and dry roadsides. The large leaves covered with fine velvety hairs make a basal rosette. Both the leaf and flower make for an excellent soothing expectorant, particularly helpful in hot/dry coughs with aching lungs. Here we see only its empty seedpods, but in the summer it will bear a wand of yellow 5-petaled flowers.

underside of Turkey Tail mushroom

Turkey Tail growing on dead standing birch

Turkey Tail on rotting stump

Now, as far as mushrooms go, I am but a budding mushroom enthusiast, still stumbling my way through the woods, marveling at the fungi at my feet, but with little knowledge of that which I'm inspecting. However, I do believe these to be Turkey Tails (Trametes versicolor). Versicolor means "of many colors" which accurately describes this shroom's many guises. However all Turkey Tails will bear this design of parallel lines following the contour of the cap and are often velvety to the touch. They are also considered polypores which refers to their lack of "spore bearing tissue continuous along the underside of the mushroom" (Wiki). Many polypores are shelf or "bracket" fungi, meaning that they lack a distinct stalk and will be found growing "shelf-like" on rotting trees. 

Turkey Tail has the ability to support immune system function and has also been shown to have some ability in preventing the development of cancerous cells. A medicinal tea can be made by simmering these mushrooms for 20 minutes (a decoction). They can also simply be plucked from the tree and chewed raw while out for a hike. Why not increase your health in more ways than one? However, before making a medicinal brew of this shroom, make sure to connect with an expert forager and learn the basics of mushroom identification.

I invite any of my readers who know their mushrooms to please share their knowledge here on the blog in the comments section. There's so much to learn!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pike County Park

Today I had this sweetheart, my good ol' dog, Doobie, along with me for my stroll. Doobs loves hiking as much as I do, however with his older age, I now reserve our hikes to meandering plant walks along easy graded, not-so-rocky trails. But with spring in his step today, I watched as he lept over fallen trees and sloshed through murky streams without a second's hesitation, perhaps it was the return of warmer temps and crisp autumn weather. You're only as old as you feel- Doobie is panting, barking, romping proof of just that.

Pike County Park is a little known public park that is bordered on all sides by undeveloped forest land. It is complete with hiking trails that wander far into the woods and a dirt road that winds further than I know.  Although I have explored these woods all my life, I have spent little to no time in this particular patch. While out for a particularly long run the other day, I ran directly into the park and cresting a small hill, found myself peering out over this expansive, rippling pond. All this, right down the road from my house, backpacking and camping permitted....what a gem.

And so after dreaming about exploring this place further for the last few days and nights, early this morning, I had to return. Doobie and I walked just a ways down the dirt road and turned left onto the Foundation Trail.  The trees have finally released their leaves covering the usually grassy, rocky woods with a pallet of warm colors. The sky was a muted pale blue, washed with white clouds, making the tree limbs appear even more starkly bare. This is late autumn in northeast Pennsylvania.

However with all these dark branches straggling towards the sky, I couldn't help but notice the star-like sprays of yellow popping at eye-level.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) flower
 Meet Witch Hazel. This is a small many-branching tree or large shrub. It seems to like moist places, often found residing near streams or seep places, along embankements and in depressions. Flowers appear in late autumn to early winter at the same time as last year's fruits -  woody capsules - ripen, forcibly expelling two smooth seeds.
Witch Hazel empty 2-parted seed capsule
Buds are wooly and flattened, and although appear to have scales, are actually two "scalelike stipules"(Swanson). Leaves are alternate and toothed. Bark is smooth except for tiny raised dots, resembling braille, I've also heard them likened to warts, which if you choose to make the whole witch / wart association , could be a helpful way to remember this characteristic.

Witch Hazel bud
Witch Hazel bark
 The twigs, bark, and leaves can all be used medicinally and make for a particularly effective astringent and anti-inflammatory. When the leaves are just beginning to unfurl in spring, finding a good sized branch on one tree, harvest and peel bark using a sharp knife, shredding down to the woody core. This bark along with any small twigs (cut up small) can be tinctured fresh in alcohol or vinegar, or decocted (simmered for 20 minutes) making an astringent tea. Leaves can be dried, steeped and drank as a tea as well. This medicine can be helpful when taken internally to ease diarrhea or gastrointestinal inflammation. Be wary of constipation and decrease dosage accordingly as this plant does have a drying and tightening effect upon tissues. Teas can be drank or gargled for sore throat. A tincture or tea can also be used for inflamed gums by swishing it around affected area.

A wee bit of lore...if you're out in the woods and looking for a safe place to sleep, simply seek out a Witch Hazel tree as they are revered for their protective properties.

Foam Flower (Tiarella cordifolia)
Above is another tannin rich plant, Foam Flower. This is the small leaf now changing color, soon to die back. These can be found growing from the base of the plant (basal leaves), and in early spring will shoot up a spike with tiny white flowers arranged spirally. I have never used this plant for medicine, but according to Peterson's Field Guide has traditionally been used as a leaf tea for mouth sores and eye ailments. The root is also reportedly a diuretic. I found it growing on a mossy mound in the middle of a small stream, very characteristic of this moisture-loving plant.

Common Milkweed (Asclepia syriaca) seeds

Look at these seeds! This is Common Milkweed ( Asclepias syriaca), which bears edible young shoots, leaves, unopened flowerbuds,  and young pods after a couple of changes of water. The flowers can be dipped in batter and fried as fritters too. It is past its season of edibility at this point, however at this stage, I think their cottony achenes still provide an asethetic medicine. These pods can be spotted from afar when their white tufts abundantly blot the edges of ponds and lakes. Do not confuse this plant with Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), although in the same genus, is a poisonous plant.

Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

Do you see what I see? I apparantly wasn't the only one appreciating the bark of this Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis). Notice the fine black hairs hanging on the edge of the curling bark...I think this tree had made for a nice scratching post for a resident black bear. I looked around for any other clues, such as scat, but found none. Perhaps he simply stopped for a moment to get that one "hard to reach" spot and mosied on his way. Yellow Birch can be used the same as Black Birch- the leaves are diuretic and the inner bark contains salicylates, excellent for relieving muscular pain. Oh, and the twigs are delicious chew sticks.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Lastly, another view of Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), it's "evergreen" leaves actually turning a deep purple. These berries will very likely hang on throughout the winter. I'll have to keep my eyes open after the next snow. This plant practically carpeted the Foundation Trail.

Pike County Park, I'll be back soon.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Autumn Snow

Sawkill stream and one-lane bridge

This past weekend, the Milford woods saw its first snow of the cold weather season, the clouds dropping almost a foot in about 12 hours time. The trees still holding onto leaves, displaying their color show of red, yellow, and orange, were suddenly laden with a heavy blanket of icy wetness, some of which bowed easy and limber, while many cracked and snapped, dropping limbs on roads, power lines and across trails.

It was a perfect opportunity to venture out, seeing in real time the abrupt change of seasons. Now it may still be a lengthy 7 weeks until winter, but to me, this time of year always symbolizes the end of one cycle and the quiet slumber that must preceed the flourishing of the new marked by the lengthening of days after the Winter Solstice. The snow offered silence and weight and stillness, while at the same time, in all its bright whiteness, a hint of the light that will come out of the dark.

Unknown shrub - opposite leaves with very pointed tips (acuminate apexes) and true berries (many seeds).

If anyone knows what this shrub might be, please comment at the end of this post! I have checked all my guides on local trees and can find nothing matching the description. It is not Dogwood which though it has opposite leaves bears drupes (a single stone seed) not berries nor is it Holly which has alternate spiny toothed leaves. I am leaning towards a non-native naturalized honeysuckle, as it lines the road along with other once cultivated and now escaped non-natives such as Autumn Olive.

Unknown fern about 1' tall, northeast PA.
Come on fern people! This appears to be a very common fern in these parts, growing roadside along the embankments. If you know your ferns, please do comment at the end of this post - I'm just beginning to get to know this community of ancient greenies.
White Pine (Pinus strobus)
 Gives a whole new meaning to "White"Pine, eh? White Pine can be identified by its fascicles of  5 needles, each with a  white stripe along one edge. The needles are also actually toothed or scaled which can be seen with the aid of a hand lens. See the characteristic bark on the tree just behind the snowy needles - deeply and coarsely furrowed. To determine the age of a White Pine, simply count the whorls of branches, each whorl equals one year. These trees grow very large very  quickly. See my previous post: for info on White Pine's medicinal properties. Pine needle tea makes for an excellent winter Vitamin C supplement as well as a stimulating expectorant for stubborn mucus in the lungs!

This coming winter, my first in the northeast in 10 years, will no doubt, provide some challenges to plant viewing and investigation. However, even if I must make homemade snowshoes, strapping garbage pail lids to my feet with bungee cords (then again...I could just make a trip to the outfitters and buy some- but what fun would that be?) I will be continuing my hiking ventures. And when most all of the plants have finally settled in for slumber, the pouring over of plant books will begin.  

During this time of early morning fog and crisp night-time starry skies, drying leaves, and chill air, thank you for the opportunity for contemplation, quiet, and the building of reserves.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Zimmerman Farm

Looking out from the haybarn

Randy enjoying a Black Birch (Betula lenta) chew stick
 Several afternoons ago on a crisp autumn day, a friend and I ventured up to Zimmerman Farm just outside of Milford on Route 209. Parking the car at the bottom of an old carriage road, we walked only a short distance when the buildings came into view. On a small portion of this 1300 acre estate sits a stone house, stunning in its architecture with a short but stout steepled tower, large 4-paned windows with green shutters each adorned with a single cresecent moon, and a wide outdoor stairway and patio leading up to its back-of-the-house barn-style double doors. Surrounding this well-preserved home, built sometime in the early 1900's, are numerous outbuildings, a hay barn, and two smaller residences perhaps for family or farmhands.

Apple trees and unique ornamentals - unknown to me- can be seen lining old pathways, however, the landscape is largely overgrown. Blackberry and Barberry now dominate, along with a host of wild lettuces, tall grasses, and dried stalks of wintering plants. This landscape is probably abuzz with insect life in the spring and summer when blossoms are popping. Although now quiet and entering slumber, this earth still offered some bright plant life...

Yellow Foxglove (Digitalis grandiflora)

Yellow Foxglove (Digitalis grandiflora) flowers up-close
 I found this plant growing in clumps not far from one of the secondary residences. Although Foxglove is not native to this area and often hybrized as an ornamental, I believe this to be one species that has long since naturalized in this region. The dried leaves of this plant have powerful glycosides called digoxin. You may recognize digoxin as a pharmaceutical used in regulating and strengthening the heart, though it does contain extracts from Foxglove, it is from a different species, D. lanata. This is a medicine to be respected and handled with great caution, as it can easily cross the line from therapeutic to deadly. Considering the host of safe herbal medicines for conditions of the heart, I would not recommend Foxglove as medicine.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)
 Mitchella is a creeping evergreen vine, most often found trailing along the ground in Pine woods. In late spring and early summer it bears two 4-petaled white flowers at the end of its branches, by fall producing two edible (though tasteless) red berries. A fellow classmate once suggested cooking them up, adding lots of sugar and some pectin might produce a tasty jam. This plant is excellent for toning the tissues of the uterus, bladder and urethra. It can be helpful in bladder infections, interstitial cystitis, and urinary tract irritability, as well as protatitis. Historically it has also been used as a partice preperator, strengthening the uterus in preparation for childbirth. A tea can be made of the dried leaves, using 1teaspoon per cup of water or it can also be taken as a tincture, 2-5 dropperfuls three times day. This plant is on a "watch" list of potentially endangered plants, so if you must use it as medicine, please do so respectfully, taking only what you need and not uprooting.

Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)

Finally, here is an easy plant to identify that can be gathered in abundance and easily enjoyed as a wild edible. Meet Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella), a member of the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae). This plant can be found growing from between rocks, hugging the base of trees, throughout old farm fields, along the edges of roads, and anywhere soil seems thin and dry and available. Notice the two lobes at the base of each leaf, making it appear like a lamb's head with its ears sticking out to either side. It has a strong lemony flavor and makes a nice addition to salads, sandwiches and soups.  

As we wandered further from the buildings, following the old carriage road as it wound up and around a steep hillside and into open woods, we paralleled stonewalls which led periodically into old clearings and crumbling foundations. We came to a swamp, the overflow of a nearby pond, catching a Bald Eagle as it flew between standing wood from dead trees whose bases had been gnawed away by resident beavers to the shape of hour-glasses. And with the sun beginning to dip below the treetops, we decided to call it a day, turning round and heading back to the farm. Thank you Zimmerman Farm.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Living on the Edge

Trail through Milford Experimental Forest

Before I delve into this post, I'd like to give you a sense of place. I am presently up in Milford, Pennsylvania and will be residing here at least through the winter. Although I miss Asheville immensely, I have family here as well as a welcoming community of fellow plant lovers and hikers. Asheville is a place with its roots deep in the earth, full of knowledgeable plant experts and appreciators of wilderness. Milford and the surrounding area - rural New Jersey and New York contain similar pockets of like-minded people that are ever growing. So, being that I  have a set of roots here, I'd like to water them a bit and contribute some to this place I called home for so many years. I will still be returning to Asheville to teach various plant walks and classes in the branches will simply have to reach a little ...

The good news is that most of these northeastern plants can be found in Western NC as well!

To one side of my house is the Milford Experimental Forest: 1000+ acres of undeveloped forest land protected by Peter Pinchot, grandson to conservationist, Gifford Pinchot...these are the woods in which  I have spent and still spend most of my time. To the other side of my house, just a ways down the road is the I-84 overpass and a sand quarry (not quite as picturesque, eh?) However, as discovered on the MST, civilization does not necessarily equal the absence of useful wild plants.

White Pine woods by sand quarry

A couple of days ago, the rains finally subsided, crisp fall air and bright shining sun abounding, I was called to meander into the sand quarry. Surrounding the quarry are dark White Pine woods filled with moist mosses and mushrooms of every color. But between wasteland and woods is meadow and thicket. The plants found here thrive on the edge of both habitats, enjoying the open sky and run-off waters. 

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Seeing the irregular shaped flowers gathered into a thick spike above opposite toothed leaves, I knew surely what family I was looking at: Mint (Lamiaceae). Rubbing the leaves between my fingers, the strong scent of mint roused my senses. But what kind of mint was it? Upon closer inspection, I saw the leaves were more oval shaped than spearmint and the spike not interrupted. The larger leaves were stalked, like that of Mountain Mint, but Mountain Mint's flowers come together in whorls at the axils (clustered at leaf stalks in circular arrangement) rather than this singular terminal spike. Mints do have an easy ability to hybridize, so I am always a bit skeptical of my found mints, but this one seemed to sigh Peppermint (Mentha piperita) from every angle.

Peppermint - soon to be tea!

Free of dust and debris, non-native, and growing in abundance, I quickly harvested a fat ziploc, which I plan to dry for tea. Always a pleasure to drink tea from one's very own surroundings. How this mint came to be here I do not know, but mints seem to easily travel and create homes and with this being a populated area, likely it came from an old homestead or nearby house.

Wondering from the quarry I followed the Sawkill Stream towards the base of the overpasses. Excited at first to stumble upon an abandoned falling apart shack, I examined its construction, making notes for my own someday and wondering if this one could still be salvaged. However I then spotted a very much inhabited house through the trees just on the other side of the stream. Hmph. Not wanting to disturb anyone (or their dogs), I hustled up the steep embankment to my right towards the road. It was here that I spotted little buttons of red amongst the leaf litter, the red berries of Wintergreen.

Wintergreen  (Gaultheria procumbens)

Wintergreen or Checkerberry (Gaultheria procumbens) is evergreen, like many members of the Heath Family (Ericaceae). With alternate, oval shaped, slightly toothed, dark green leaves, it is low to the ground, easily passed over when hiking in thick woods. However, look closer and you may find a carpet of it beneath you (as I did further into the woods) In summer it bears small white flowers that hang beneath the leaves, but by fall these have turned to a bright red edible, though tasteless, berry. Berries will often hang on until following spring. When crushed, they smell strongly of wintergreen and can be gathered throughout the year to make a tea.

Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Last but certainly not least, I have been very much enjoying the ripe berries of Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). This is a non-native invasive shrub, which was once often planted for ornamental and wildlife purposes (deer looove it). The leaves are alternate and often somewhat curling or crinkled on the margin. Undersides of leaves are shiny silver as are the branches. The berries have their own sort of sparkle, speckled with golden dots. Each berry has a single fibrous seed. These shrubs line the road en route to the overpass and are quickly overtaking the fields behind my house. Easy to harvest, they are delicious with cereal, salads, on ice cream, and make an excellent sauce or fruit leather.

underside of Autumn Olive leaf

Speaking of fruit preparation for my MST hike I thawed several quarts of autumn berries I had harvested in the fall and cooked them up, adding just a touch of sugar - they can be quite astringent. Next I mashed them up and pressed them through a sieve to remove the seeds. Though edible, the seeds can sometimes be a bit tough and troublesome. Then, pouring the makeshift puree into a pan, 1/8 - 1/4" thick, I baked it on the lowest heat possible -about 200degrees- for several hours with the door slightly cracked to allow moisture to escape. I then sliced it into strips and peeled off. Perfect hiking food!

Check back soon for more plant info and hiking adventures in the Northeast! I apologize for the lengthy gap in posts, but it's taken me some time to get myself up and running here...techie stuff...always a challenge.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Western Plants

And now...all those western plants I promised! I have had little personal experience with these plants as food or medicine, as I have just recently met them. However, I've done quite a bit of research upon my return home and so invite you to learn about these plants along with me! Also, please do contribute any further info you may have about these beauties...

Sierra Gooseberry (Ribes roezlii)
 I had never before seen such a fruit and so I thought surely by the looks of its spiky encasing it couldn't be edible. Well, I should have known better...just like the at first touch seemingly unappealing Wood Nettle or Cat-brier...upon later identification I realized I was looking at Gooseberry! Quite the edible plant. From what I understand, boiling these guys for a few minutes in a bit of water will help to soften their spines. Once softened, mash them, let sit overnight, then press through a sieve into another container and let this sit overnight so that the sediment will separate from the juice. The juice can be poured off and made into syrup or jelly, whereas the sediment can be thickened and used as a pie filling (info courtesy of This plant was growing in abundance trail-side in Sequoia National Forest.

Sierra Mint (Pycnanthemum californicum)
I found this cottony beauty along the trail in the Redwoods. It had the strong recognizable odor of mint upon first touch. It's other mint characteristics included a square stem, opposite leaves, and bilabiate (two-lipped) flowers. Special to this mint was its four-column arrangement of leaves- in other words, one pair oriented north/south, the pair above or below oriented east/west. Like our eastern mountain mints, it would make a pleasant tea.

Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.)
Most every dry rocky or sandy mountain I hiked in California supported these hardy shrubs/small trees. Their dried dead leaves, looking something like brown poker chips littered the edges of trail, shifting and shuffling in the sand with each hiker's step. Their branches twist and tangle similar to that of Rhododendron, creating red-barked thickets, impossible to penetrate. Though rather different looking in appearance, Manzanita actually shares the same genus as a common medicinal plant, Bearberry, also well known by its species name, Uva-ursi. I am uncertain as to what species this was, but most Manzanita berries are edible. Traditionally they were dried and ground into a meal or soaked along with branch tips producing a sort of cider.

Sequoia giganteum cone

Sequoiadendron giganteum needles
Believe it or not that little cone up there belongs to the largest trees (by volume) in the world. The Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) cones were even smaller, about the size of a Hemlock cone. These cones were strewn about and at times piled up on the trail throughout the old-growth grove in King's Canyon, and when my feet suddenly left the ground and I found myself gazing up at the tree-tops, I came to know their marble-like qualities. No easy task to walk across marbles in the forest. Sequoia needles very much resemble Red Cedar and Juniper, however in my observations, seem more loosely arranged. The needles of the Redwood's needles were similar, however the lower branches bore needles more broad and flat - this way they can catch more available light. The needles seen above have less evaporative surface, thus retaining moisture better in hot, dry, exposed environments.

Crimson Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)
Crimson Columbine was by far one of the most unique looking flowers I saw on my trip. This particular fellow I found growing streamside in the shady Sequoia woods. They are a member of the Ranuncluaceae (Buttercup family), suggested by their lobed 3-part leaves and conspicuous many stamen. This flower would be considered nodding and spurred. Now perhaps it is a good thing I didn't know their edibility when hiking or else this man might be missing his head. The raw flowers are reportedly sweet and flavorful and the leaves may be thoroughly boiled and eaten as well. Noting the toxicity of many members of this family I would heed caution in consuming it in quantity, particularly its leaves.

Seep Spring Monkey Flower (Mimulus guttatus)
Is this not the most fun plant name to recite aloud? Just try it- I'm telling you, you won't be able to stop. I found this flower encircling a small spring en route to the falls in Yosemite. I've come across many species of Monkey flower on this trip, understandably with as many as 150 species in this genus, a large number of them in North America. Monkey flowers have opposite leaves, this one bearing lobed leaves that become deeply lobed closer to the stem. According to Wiki, this plant concentrates sodium chloride and other salts from the soil in which it grows and so Native Americans used it as a salt substitute to flavor wild game; the whole plant is edible though very salty and bitter unless thoroughly cooked.

Wolf Lichen (Letharia vulpina)

This lichen, looking less neon here as it is beginning to dry out, grew in bright green, ecto-cooler patches on the sides of trees. Against dark brown or reddish bark, its color was vivid. It is considered a fructicose lichen meaning that it is many branched. Due to its vulpinic acid, toxic when consumed, Ranger Phaedra informed me it was once used as wolf poison, hence its name.

Rabbitbush (Chrysothamnus spp.)
Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.)
I feature Rabbitbush and Sagebrush because they were so prevalent in the in both the desert landscape of the canyons as well as the arid lands of California. As far as I know Rabbitbush does not have any edibility however the flowers were used as a yellow dye. The seeds of Sagebrush were used by Native peoples, eaten raw or dried and ground into a meal, although they are said to be very bitter. I will remember Sagebrush for the amazing fragrance it lent to the air during a hard rain.

Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)
This many branching sunflower I found growing beside a dried up riverbed in Horseshoe Canyon. If you remember, this is where my father and I hiked to see the petroglyphs. Perhaps ancestors of this very plant went to feed the ancients peoples who called this canyon home. The seeds are edible raw and also have a history of being dried and ground into a fine meal which was made into gruel or sometimes cakes (with the addition of grease) making them handy to take on longer journeys- kind of like an old school granola bar! I saw this plant not only in Utah and California but in great abundance through the prairie states often growing on the side of the road as a weed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Princeton Prairie Plants

Monarch caterpillar on Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)

After our venture into the Redwoods, it was time to head for home. However, on the way we passed through Princeton, Illinois, home to my sweet Grammy and Grampy as well as my Aunt Debby and Uncle Rick. Yearly as a little girl and more recently as an adult, I have been out to this small town and farming community, however it hasn't been until the last couple of years that I've begun to discover its native plant communities. You see, much of Princeton's land, like much of Illinois and the neighboring prairie states have been stripped of most of their prairie grasses, replaced by large-scale farming. I am thankful for our abundance of food, but much of this agriculture is corn and soybeans,  most of which is fed into poor-quality foods, livestock or gasoline tanks. And so I say, grow, Switch-grass, Indian Grass, Prairie Drop-seed, Red-top, Little and Big Blue Stem, grow!

Rick is a dragonfly extraordinaire, even discovering his very own dragonfly, species formerly unrecognized, during his most recent travels this past spring. So although these long-winged beauties as well as quick-jumping hoppity frogs are his first love, while wading through wetlands and walking quiet trails  in search of these critters, he's gotten to know quite a few of the prairie plants. Thus upon my arrival, he promptly took me out to meet the locals at the Hennepin and Hopper Lakes restored wetlands and prairie lands...thank you, Rick!

Blazing Star (Liatris spp.)


Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)-this is the Illinois state flower and endangered

Partridge Pea (Cassia fasciculata)

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) - a well known immune system strengthener. The roots can be decocted and/or flowers steeped as a tea and taken as a preventative when immunity is threatened. The tincture made of roots and/or flowering parts can be taken at the onset of symptoms. Besides being an immuno-modulator and immune stimulant, it is also antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory.

Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)
Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) flower

Could this be a Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) acorn? It was by far the largest acorn I've ever seen- over 1" wide - and it appears as if it had quite the fringe around its cap, now dried. Check back at my To the West! post to learn more about Bur Oak 

Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
While in Illinois, my father and I were also treated with a trip to Starved Rock State Park. Here we climbed many a stair to the stop of a large flat rock outcrop-upon which a small village had actually once been erected- and saw views of the Illinois River. We marveled at the blotches of red amidst the fading green leaves, and with a chill in the air, we knew fall was certainly on its way. We enjoyed lunch at the Lodge, which I would highly recommend to anyone passing through the area- lots of delicious, creative, and local foods. The lodge was built by the CCC back in the day and so is constructed with large heavy wooden beams, evident from the inside, complete with hand-hewn benches and an enormous fireplace. Lovely. Thank you Grammy and Grampy!

And thank you, Debby, who was more than happy to help answer my plethora of publishing questions!