Edible Wild Plants


Beth and I took Penny to Sandogardy Pond today. I wanted to look for the late summer aquatics, and though we were able to find quite a few, I didn’t find all the ones I was looking for.

Before we got to the pond we found some Indian tobacco.

Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata)

Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata)


This is also called “puke weed” and I think that’s what I’m going to call it from now on. I suspect that “Indian tobacco” is a racial slur, as many plants with “Indian” in the name are. As in, “tobacco only good enough for Indians.”

Not far from the puke weed, we came across some hazel cuttings.

Beaked Hazels

Beaked Hazels


These are the shells from beaked hazels (Corylus cornuta) which were growing nearby. I have a lot of them on my property too, but have never really been able to harvest any. The squirrels and chipmunks tend to harvest them before they ripen. You have to be careful when gathering them too, because those husks are full of fine spines which have a tendency to stick in your skin and break off. Just imagine shelling one with your lips and teeth!

We got to the pond, and the first blooming plant I noticed was this spotted water hemlock.

Spotted Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Spotted Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)


It is important to be aware of this plant if you plan to eat wild carrots, because they are superficially similar, and spotted water hemlock is the most toxic plant in North America. One taste can kill.

Just offshore from the water hemlock, I could see the floating heart in bloom. I took off my shoes and waded out to it.

Floating Heart (Nymphoides cordata)

Floating Heart (Nymphoides cordata)


You have to be careful when photographing these, because the tiniest waves you make tend to wet the flowers, and when that happens, they turn from white to transparent. I have dozens of photos of transparent floating heart blossoms. I managed to avoid that this time.

Down the beach a little ways I found some Marsh St Johnswort.

Marsh St Johnswort (Triadenum virginicum)

Marsh St Johnswort (Triadenum virginicum)


I always have a hard time remembering the name of this one, because I keep wanting to put the “Virginia” part of the binominal name into the common name. Virginia St Johnswort? Nope. Virginia Swamp St Johnswort? Nope. Someday I might be able to remember without the aid of the Internet.

I had already put my shoes back on when I found some seven-angled pipewort. I didn’t want to take them off again, so I leaned way out and snapped this shot.

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum)

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum)


Leaning out doesn’t make the greatest photos, and we can see that here. I looked for these earlier this summer but could find no sign of them. But today, here they are.

A little farther down I found some square-stemmed monkey flower.

Square-temmed Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens)

Square-temmed Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens)


This plant got me into a little trouble once. A friend of mine breeds poodles and typically names them after flowers. Knowing that I was a plant-guy, she asked me to suggest a name for her next “keeper” dog. She was not pleased when I proposed square-stemmed monkey flower. I guess it just doesn’t roll off the tongue.

“Here, Square-stemmed Monkey Flower! Here girl!”

Nope.

After church today, Beth invited me to walk to Sandogardy Pond with her. I can’t resist an invitation like that, so I got my hat, boots, and camera, and put the leash on Penny.

While I was doing all that Beth popped outside. She came in with a report of a purple lady bug.

Gray-dy bug

Gray-dy bug


I thought it was more gray than purple. I haven’t tried to identify it, but for now, I will call this a “gray-dy bug”.

On the way to the pond, I spotted a tall flowering plant along the side of the road. I have never seen this species before, but I knew it was a milkweed of some sort.

Poke milkweed? (Asclepias exaltata)

Poke milkweed? (Asclepias exaltata)


I’m not 100% sure, but I think this one is a poke milkweed (Asclepias exaltata). I had been thinking that it’s cool to find new-to-me species in bloom, but when I went to tag this one, I see that I have already tagged that species. So it is one I have seen before, but forgot about!

Poke milkweed? (Asclepias exaltata)

Poke milkweed? (Asclepias exaltata)


None of these photos are that great, but hey – sometimes they aren’t.

Poke milkweed? (Asclepias exaltata)

Poke milkweed? (Asclepias exaltata)

Further along, I saw some wintergreen with absolutely huge berries.

Huge wintergreen berries (Gaultheria procumbens)

Huge wintergreen berries (Gaultheria procumbens)


I have notices that just before they bloom again, wintergreen berries swell. They are normally a quarter inch in diameter, but these were half an inch. Remember, volume increases with the cube of the diameter, so these have about 8 times the volume of an unswollen berry (though I expect they have roughly the same mass, as the density seems to decrease).

My theory is that the plant is making a last ditch effort to entice something to eat the berries and thus, spread the seeds. If that’s the strategy, it worked for this plant, because I ate these as soon as I snapped the photo.

When we got to Cross Brook (or as I call it, Little Kohas Creek) which drains Sandogardy Pond, Penny was in full throw-me-a-stick mode. She brought us one and dropped it on the bridge.

Penny brings a stick

Penny brings a stick

Except it fell between the planks and into the creek. She couldn’t figure out where it had gone, but it was floating downstream by then.

It drops between the boards and into the creek

It drops between the boards and into the creek


I pointed it out to her, and she went in after it.
She fetches it

She fetches it


She did this twice. The second time it had floated farther downstream than she could have imagined, so she didn’t find it. She did know that it had gone between the planks though, because she was looking through them into the creek trying to find it. But that wouldn’t help in this case, because there’s no way she could get it back between the planks.

Thank you Penny for entertaining me today! And thank you Beth for the walk!

Ground nut (Apios americana)

Ground nut (Apios americana)


This is ground nut. It’s a plant I went looking for before I had ever found one because it has an edible root. That was back in the days when I would try to find what I had identified rather than trying to identify what I had found. I didn’t find this one when I was looking for it, but rather found it when I had decided to identify everything growing on my property.

The tubers were a staple among the Native Americans, and I did eat a few a couple of years after I found these. But I didn’t not eat a full serving because there were not very many here. I let them grow, and now they are far more abundant. I think I will dig some up next month.

Today I spent a little time in the woods behind my house. Pnny came along in case there were any sticks that needed retrieved. There were.

Here is a wintergreen (some call it teaberry, but I prefer to call it wintergreen) in bloom. This stuff is thick at my place, and I like that.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) in bloom

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) in bloom

I strayed from my trail and cut across the woods in hopes of seeing something different. Score! We have purple mushrooms:

Purple!

Purple!

And orange ones too:

Orange!

Orange!

At several points in my “walk” I would kneel down in the forest and just look at my surroundings, scanning only about three feet in each direction. Sometimes I find neat things that I would miss if I were just walking through with my eyes nearly 6 feet from the ground. This is the kind of stuff you can find when you do that:

Starflower (Trientalis borealis)

Starflower (Trientalis borealis) fruit


I recognized it immediately as a starflower. They have pretty flowers in the early spring, but I find their fruit even more interesting. This one was only about a 16th of an inch across (which is typical). The shot is cropped, but not not scaled much. I think it looks like a blue soccer ball.

In the front woods I checked out the hazel.

Beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta)

Beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta)


Not many nuts on them this year. I have tried harvesting them in the past with little luck. The squirrels and/or chipmunks here tend to harvest them before they get ripe, leaving none for me. The husks are covered with tiny prickers. If you grab one and pull you will be rewarded with a handful of spines. They detach from the husk and are so tiny that makes them nearly impossible to remove from the skin. But if I see a ripe one, I will pick it anyway. If I can ever get them in quantity, I’m sure I could figure out a good way to avoid the prickers.

We also have some Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) growing here:

Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata)

Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata)


It is the lobelia I see most often, and it’s fairly prolific around the edges of the yard.

Maybe next week I will go to Sandogardy Pond to look for aquatic lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna).

Today I went to the field-that-was-a-forest to pick some blueberries. I had gone there a couple of weeks ago and picked about a pint and a half, but that’s not enough for making pie. (The recipes call for 5-6 cups). Penny came along in case I needed any sticks thrown, or grouse flushed.

Ruffed Grouse?

Ruffed Grouse?

There were at least three of them. Two flushed as soon as we walked by, and I didn’t even see them. The third flushed a few seconds later but didn’t go far. I think this one might be a juvenile, but I am not a bird expert. I’m not even sure it’s a ruffed grouse.

The berries were past their prime. Two weeks ago the bushes were loaded with them. This week I had to search diligently. I think I picked maybe a pint after an hour’s effort. Luckily, the blackberries are coming in now, and I picked a few cups of those too. Between the blueberries and the blackberries, I have enough to make a pie. There are recipes out there that use both, so I will follow one of those.

This morning I took Penny for a lap around the property. I brought my camera along.

In bringing the camera from the air-conditioned house to the humid, sweltering July heat, the lens fogged up. I took a few “soft” shots courtesy of this effect, but the mosquitoes were trying to carry me off. So I set the camera on the deck, went in, and grabbed some Off. After applying it liberally, I grabbed the camera and tried again. By then the lens had warmed up and the fog on it had lifted. Here are the results.

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens)

Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens)


I finally found some dewdrop flowers that were not horribly misshapen. I am relatively pleased with this shot.

We’ve been getting a lot of rain for the past couple of weeks, and as a result, I have several pools of standing water in the woods (which explains the mosquitoes). Smack in the middle of one puddle was this blueberry bush bearing a modest amount of berries. I ate them after taking this shot.

Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)

Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)

The wintergreen is starting to bloom. I didn’t see any with open flowers, but they are very close. I like this shot because it shows two plants – one with flowers, and one still sporting a berry. Wintergreen hangs onto its fruit through the winter and even to the point when it flowers (as shown here).

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

I liked this mushroom. I haven’t tried to id it.

I don't do mushrooms, but here's one anyhow.

I don’t do mushrooms, but here’s one anyhow.

I was hoping to see some Indian pipe, and was not disappointed. This is the second of two clumps I found (the other clump being a solitary flower).

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora)

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora)


These plants are parasitic on the roots of other plants, and they produce no chlorophyll of their own. That’s why they are white.

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)


The loosestrife is still going strong. I thought this shot in full sun came out pretty OK!

Saint John's wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Saint John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)

As did this shot of some common Saint John’s wort.

Mouse-ear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella)

Mouse-ear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella)

This might be garlic mustard, or it could be some other mustard. I pulled it up after photographing it, as I don’t want it taking over.

Some kind of mustard (Brassica spp)

Some kind of mustard (Brassica spp)

There were several clumps of white campion here and there about the yard, but this one was in the shade giving a softer light more conducive to photography.

White campion (Silene latifolia)

White campion (Silene latifolia)

This one surprised me. I haven’t seen it growing on my property before. Samuel Thayer adamantly avows that these are quite edible (they have a reputation for being poisonous). However, he has eaten them many times, and they are a staple in many places (Africa, for one). Thayer thinks their reputation come from people who misidentify it and eat something else in the Solanum genus that is poisonous (but I don’t remember what). There are lots of Solanum’s out there, and many are poisonous.

Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum)

Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum)

Here’s some spreading dogbane. You can distinguish is from “regular” dogbane (A. cannabinum) by the way the petals recurve.

Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium)

Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium)

I also found some heal-all in bloom.

Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris)

Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris)


It’s been in bloom for a while, but this was the first time I had time to shoot it.

Yesterday it was raining, but since it had been a while since I had been able to go out for a walk, I fished my raincoat and rain pants out of my backpack, put the leash on Penny, and headed down to Sandogardy Pond.

We cut through the cut-down forest. There were tons of blueberry blossoms, and I took several shots, but none of them really turned out. I’m blaming the rain. It was not only getting everything wet (camera included), but it was also reducing the available light. I had better luck with these purple violets.

Violets are violet!

Purple violet


I’m pretty sure I ate a bunch of the leaves from this batch. There are few greens in the wild that are better than violets. Actually, I can’t think of any other wild green that I prefer to these.

We crossed Sandogardy Pond Road and made our way along the edge of the town forest. I stopped to see if the lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) had come up yet.

Lily-of-the-valley

Lily-of-the-valley


Yup. The blossoms will probably open sometime this week, so I need to get back to that spot soon.

As I walked along the class VI road (meaning they don’t plow it in the winter or perform any other maintenance on it – ever), my eyes were scanning the ground for wild flowers. Ha! Here’s are some!

A clue!

A clue!


Seeing these petals all over the ground forced my eyes skyward to find their source.

Some sort of wild cherry.  I think.

Some sort of wild cherry. I think.


I think this is a cherry tree, but I don’t know what kind. I really ought to learn to id the TWWF’s (trees with white flowers). There must be hundreds of species that fit that description. They all bloom at about the same time, and they all have five petals. It’s a daunting undertaking, which is, I suppose, why I have not done it yet.

Penny and I got to the pond in short order. The city has moved the dock back into the water. I wasn’t expecting them to do that before Memorial Day, but there it is. Someone else’s dock appears to have broken free and drifted into position next to it.

As is someone else's!

The dock is in the water now.

Penny didn’t care. She went straight into the pond to cool off. This did not make her any wetter, as it was raining steadily the whole time we were out.

I turned from the dock and found some white violets in the grass.

White violet

White violet

Near the violets was a small patch of wild strawberries.

Wild strawberries

Wild strawberries

We walked along the beach and turned back into the forest. The Indian Cucumber Root has come up since I was here last:

Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana)

Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana)


These are one of my favorite wild vegetables. The roots taste for all the world exactly like cucumbers. I have never eaten them in quantity though as they are not terribly abundant. I let them be today.

We made a loop through the woods and then headed back to the house. When we got home I shed my rain gear and sat down on the couch completely dry. Penny shook her fur all over Virginia (she did not appreciate that), and laid down on the floor, soaking wet.

She was still quite damp when I went to bed, so score one for a good raincoat.

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