Here are two plants in bloom right now whose common name begin with “ground.” First, the ground nut (Apios americana)

Ground Nut (Apios americana)

Ground Nut (Apios americana)

This is a plant I searched for back when that’s how I tried to find edible wild plants. I would identify the plant from a book, and then go out looking for it. I never found it that way. Later, I switched to identifying what I had found, and this turned up in the backyard at the edge of the woods. It has an edible tuber, and I have eaten them on a few occasions. This is the only stand of ground nut that I know of, so I have been going easy on them. Over the past five years, they have spread by an order of magnitude, and I think that in a couple of years, I should be able to harvest them less conservatively.

The second “ground” plant is the ground bean:

Ground Bean (Amphicarpaea bracteata)

Ground Bean (Amphicarpaea bracteata)

The “amphicarpaea” portion of its binomial name means something like “two kinds of flowers”. These are the open flowers. The other type are closed, which may be above ground, or below ground. The closed flowers self-pollinate.

A lot of source call these “hog peanuts”, but I don’t call them that any more, as Samuel Thayer (an edible wild plant author) says it’s a racial slur against Native Americans. They used this plant as a food source, and the Europeans refused to eat them, insisting they were only fit for hogs. And by extension, by Native Americans. They were missing out on a good thing, as these beans are quite good. However, they are difficult to collect. The Native Americans let small rodents collect them on their behalf. The critters would squirrel them away in underground storage holes, and when the people found these caches, they would take half, leaving the rest for the hard-working rodents.

I have not had the fortune of finding a rodent cache of these, so the only way I can get them is by digging. The edible “beans” come from the underground flowers, and are therefore located underground. They are worth the effort though.

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This morning when we got to church I stepped outside to see if I could find some forked bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum). Found some!

Forked bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum)

Forked bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum)


I had seen some out in the field earlier this week, but there were no blossoms, and I was pressed for time. This is one of my favorite late summer flowers. I have a better photo I had taken a couple of years ago – it can be seen on Wikipedia

After church I took a nap, and then Beth and I took Penny down to Sandogardy Pond. Penny was beside herself with anticipation. She knows when we’re heading to the pond.

Along the way, I saw these asters. I don’t even try to place them in a genus any more. There are hundreds of asters, and they are very difficult (at least to me) to distinguish.

Asters

Asters

I also spotted a patch of these a little farther down.

Ground bean (Amphicarpaea bracteata)

Ground bean (Amphicarpaea bracteata)


This is most often called hog peanut, but it turns out, that is a derogatory name for this plant. It makes underground seed pods – beans really – and the Native Americans made frequent use of them. I have eaten them myself and find them utterly delightful. The White Man cast aspersions on them (and by extension, upon the people who ate them) by naming them “hog peanuts,” a suggestion that they were only fit for consumption by hogs. Samuel Thayer prefers to call them “ground beans,” and I have adopted that name for them as well.

It began to rain before we got to the pond. Beth was there to swim though. I can never pass up the opportunity to make a joke about her not being allowed to swim in the rain, because she might get wet.

She swam, and I walked along the beach looking for flowers and wildlife. Specifically, I thought I might find some snails.

Bingo.

Viviparid snail

Viviparid snail


I have tentatively placed this snail as belonging to the family Vivipadae. The name suggests that it bears live young, but I can’t seem to find any information on their life cycle. The photo above shows the snail’s operculum, which is like a front door. The snail can open and close this at will.

I set it down and took another photo to show a different angle.

Viviparid snail

Viviparid snail


With its portrait taken, I chucked it back into the water, pretty close to where I had found it.

I bet it would make a nice meal for a muskrat.

Sunday morning I woke up kind of early, at least for me. After breakfast, I asked Beth if she wanted to walk down to the pond, but she said she was not interested. David had gone back to bed, as is his wont on Sunday mornings. So it was just Penny and I. I got the leash and we headed out.

We didn’t get too far when I found one of the blooms I had been looking for:

American Hog Peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata)

American Hog Peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata)


This is American Hog Peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata). I have a fair amount of it on my property near the catchment pond and along the driveway. None of it has bloomed yet, and indeed, none of it is looking very good. I think the lack of rain has affected it. But there was plenty of it in bloom along the road to Sandogardy.

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)


Elderberry is a common plant that I only recently learned to identify. The berries are edible, and I had a handful before I took this photo. Maybe I should have waited until afterwards, but they looked so good, I was unable to resist. I’d love to harvest a bunch of this, but this is the only tree I know of around my regular stomping grounds.

Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)


The spotted jewelweed (above) is going full steam ahead about now. These are lovely flowers, and are said to have the fastest mechanism in the plant kingdom. Once it goes to seed, the seeds pods are highly sensitive – any disturbance will cause them to explode, scattering seeds everywhere. That’s where its other common name comes from – touch-me-not.

When I arrived at the pond it was only about 9:00am. There were several people there already: two girls on bikes (they had passed me on the road); a couple of guys fishing. I should get up earlier so I can have the pond to myself. Not that I mind sharing though, and these people all seemed nice enough. Penny even managed to convince one of them to throw a stick a couple of times. She can be very persuasive!

But I was savoring my solitude, so after a quick check for new blooms, and finding none (possible because the check was so quick), I moved on, plunging into the woods through which the stream draining the pond flows.

I was on the lookout for Clintonia (aka corn lily, aka blue-bead lily). There is a stand of it growing along the trail there. Before I got to it though, I came across some Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana).

Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana)

Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana)


This too is an edible plant, though the berries shown here are not. As the name implies, the root tastes like cucumber. I have sampled it in the past and would love to make a meal of them someday, but it just doesn’t grow abundantly enough to make that a realistic (or responsible) choice.

I found the stand of Clintonia, but it was past time for the blue beads already. I’m not sure when they fall off the plant, but it looked to me like it had happened well in the past. Since they sported no blue beads, I didn’t take any photos.

I crossed the bridge over the stream and took a look around there. I had been flipping through my Peterson’s Edible Wild Plants book the previous evening, and low and behold, I saw a cluster of berries that I remembered seeing in the book.

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)


I couldn’t remember what it was though, so I had to look it up again when I got home. Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is another plant that is well known by many, but new to me. This is the first specimen I have found. Peterson describes the berries , but doesn’t say they are edible, so I assume they are not. The root however, forms a corm that he describes as quite good – so long as it is thoroughly dried first. Otherwise, it contains calcium oxalate crystals, which cause severe burning in the mouth. I’d like to come back and dig one up so I could try it, and you can be sure I will let it dry thoroughly first.

As much as I enjoy the company of my kids, it is nice to occasionally take a walk alone. What I like about solo hikes is that I can set the pace without worrying that I’m going too fast for someone – or more importantly, too slow. They are often more interested in getting to the pond as quickly as possible, and do not like to wait around while old Dad takes pictures of yet another plant. I go for the journey. They go for the destination. I think Penny goes in case someone will throw a stick.