The Piñon Pines — Pinus monophylla, Pinus edulis, and more…

Pinenut inside the cone of Pinus monophylla
Pinenut inside the cone of Pinus monophylla

After climbing over the Sierra Nevada mountains from the west to the east, the landscape drops into the Great Basin. Here it is the country of sagebrush steppe, desert grasslands, cottonwood and aspen canyons, river willows, and piñon-juniper forests. This year, on the border of Nevada and California I gathered pinenuts from the single-needle piñon trees (Pinus monophylla). It wasn’t my first time gathering pinenuts — I gathered from the two-needle pinyon Pinus edulis in Taos, New Mexico in 2015 — but this was a really enjoyable trip and I got to dig deeper into the ecology of these trees as well as the ins and outs of the pinenutting process.

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Mecha-meck, the wild sweet potato vine — Ipomoea pandurata

Ipomoea pandurata -- a wild sweet potato vine in the morning glory family
Ipomoea pandurata — a wild sweet potato vine in the morning glory family

One of the most useful aspects to learning plant families is the way one begins to find and see the connections between seemingly separate species. Take the flowers of Ipomoea pandurata above… five-petaled big white morning glories with fuchsia centers, on a sprawling vine of heart-shaped leaves.

Ipomoea batatas
Ipomoea batatas

Now check out the next picture of Ipomoea batatas. See the similarities? Continue reading Mecha-meck, the wild sweet potato vine — Ipomoea pandurata

Southern Wild Rice or River Rice — Zizania aquatica

Sometime in August my friend Eric Lewis sends me a message. Eric is a teacher of plant knowledge and permaculture practices in the Maryland area. He’s found a large stand of wild rice in a local river. I’d never harvested wild rice before so the idea of gathering some was exciting, especially rice that was local to the Chesapeake Bay bioregion, only a couple hours drive away from me. I knew that wild rice or Zizania aquatica was a fairly common tidal grass up and down the east coast but I had no experience with it. Wild rice normally conjures up ideas of the north country regions surrounding the Great Lakes, but as I was soon to find out, it is more common and abundant than I had imagined. Eric kept daily watch over the ripening rice, and when it was ready for harvest, I borrowed a canoe and we took to the river…

Wild rice lining the banks of the river.
Wild rice lining the banks of the river.

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Decolonizing the Garden

Wild plants have made up most of the focus of this blog. But what about “domesticated” plants, such as the annuals we grow in our gardens?

How can we treat them that they behave more like wild plants – vigorous, resilient, low-maintenance, and more fecund and feral – yet which continue to supply our needs for flavor, nutrition, and ease of access?

The answers, I believe, are found inside the genome of the seed where genetic diversity is found. I will explore the concept behind landrace gardening, which provides for many real-world examples of genetic diversity in action.

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Sunroot, Sunchoke, or Jerusalem Artichoke — Helianthus tuberosus

The many sides of Helianthus tuberosus —

The Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke, or sunroot – Helianthus tuberosus

Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, is not from Jerusalem nor is it an artichoke! Some use the shorthand “sunchoke” as an alternate name; others simply call Helianthus tuberosus “sunroot,” and this is what I prefer. It’s a tuberous perennial sunflower in the Asteraceae family (or Compositae) native to eastern & central North America. It has been cultivated for centuries as a root crop by indigenous peoples and western farmers alike. To the Cree who lived beside Lake Superior, it was called askipaw, and to the Huron north of Lake Ontario it was called skibwan. Buffalo Bird Woman in interview with Gilbert Wilson (vol. 16, 1914) names the plant kakca or kaakca in Hidatsa. Other names for this plant in indigenous languages are pange (Omaha-Ponca), panhi (Winnebago), and kisu-sit (Pawnee). In Passamaquoddy-Maliseet the word for the tuber is ktahkitom (k’tAH-kee-tOM).

Continue reading Sunroot, Sunchoke, or Jerusalem Artichoke — Helianthus tuberosus