Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mountain Plants

Now, to give you a glimpse at some of these gorgeous Mountain flowers....

Galax aphylla
Galax is the unassuming lil' plant that gives the Blue Ridge Mountains there unique scent. It is really quite indescribable...but if you've walked the higher altitude trails through North Carolina and breathed deep, you already know this plant. Galax also goes by the common name Beetleweed, but I think simply calling it Galax is more appropriate as this unusual name better conveys its individuality. It is the sole member of the Diapensia Family, although I couldn't help but notice how much the leaf resembles that of Pennywort found along the Coastal Plain.

Galax flowers
Galax is not edible and with its strong odor, its inedibility is already strongly suggested. From its basal leaves (there are no stem leaves), a single flowering stalk arises, slender and tall, bearing 5- petaled regular flowers. The evergreen leaves are toothed, shiny and heart-shaped, yet much more rounded than say the heart-shaped leaf of a violet. It often shares woods with Rhododendron, Eastern Hemlock, Black Birch, and various Oaks.

Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum)
Again, not an edible or medicinal, but this flower is too lovely to simply ignore. The trail often passes through tunnels of Rhododendron thickets as this shrub spreads easily with many-crooked or angled branches that together can weave quite the impenetrable woody web for the unfortunate lost or wandering hiker. It shares the same genus as Azalea and is a member of the Heath family (Ericaceae) which also contains the genus of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia), which is somewhat similar in appearance, although flowers are more cup-shaped.

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis)
Finally onto an edible! This is Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis) showing off it's new spring tips. These tips are the edible part. Simply pinch off just the ends and pop in your mouth for a lemony-pine tasting treat. They are packed full of vitamin C and will help to ward off any spring-time colds. A tea can also be made of these tips, simply take a small handful and steep in hot water for 10 minutes. It is quite tasty, and crazy as it sounds, I think they are a nice addition to the bitter instant coffee hikers must often resort to on the trail. However, please pick sparingly as this tree is under attack by the wooly adelgid, an insect that slowly kills the tree by preventing these spring tips to form. Avoid any trees that may be under management by conservation groups as these could be treated with chemicals to kill the adelgid. Also avoid any trees with a soapy residue at the base of the needle, as this is evidence of the adelgid's inhabitance.

Eastern Hemlock's striped needles
The easiest way to identify Eastern Hemlock is by turning over a sprig to see the undersides of the needles. Each needle bears two horizontal white stripes. Another species of Hemlock is Carolina Hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana). This Hemlock's habitat is specific to the high elevations of the Southern Appalachian mountains. I come across this species much more rarely and instead of pinching off tips, choose rather to simply appreciate it. It's needles will not lie in the almost perfectly flat plane you see here, but rather will be more twisted or shoot off at different angles.

Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
Self Heal can be found growing along the edges of trail in deep woods, along the roadside, or amongst grasses in wild meadows. Therefore it is one of your most easily accessible medicinals. It is a Heal-All (also one of its common names) with its antiviral and antibacterial properties. Now, the medicine, I feel, is a more subtle one, so it is best employed with the use of other herbs when treating an actual virus or infection. Simply make a tea of the flowering heads and fresh green leaves. A member of the mint family, it has opposite leaves, a square stem, and irregular bilabiate flowers. What I find helps to distinguish this flower is its tall spike and the circular pattern in which the flowers seem to grow around it.

Spotted St. John's Wort (Hypericum punctatum)
This is the forest loving species of St. John's Wort (Hypericum punctatum). There are over 400 species, with Common St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) being the one most often marketed medicinally. However, Spotted St. John's Wort has been shown to possess equal, if not greater, amounts of hypericin, one of the main the constituents, believed to contribute to its anti-depressant qualities. It's xanthones and flavonoids (plants chemicals) also play a large role.

Spotted St. John's Wort's spotted leaves
I have personally had little experience with using this plant medicinally and so would like to do more research before expounding upon all of its useful properties...and there are many....from treating depression and pulmonary issues to bed-wetting and diarrhea. I believe this plant to be incredibly useful, but one which we don't entirely understand yet. Hold the leaves of this St. John's Wort up to the sun and you will see each leaf possesses many translucent dots that at first glance appear black. Therefore, I like to look at this plant metaphorically...Spotted St. John's Wort is the flower that when all appears dark, let's the light in.

Oh, I would absolutely love to keep sharing the plants with you! But alas, I now must get back to the woods!

1 comment:

  1. hey beautiful! i really want to see you! how long in asheville? text or call me- 828-776-5347 - not sure i can make your long time sun event as i am teaching at asheville yoga fest - let's see what we can manage. and, book trade? so much love, sierra