Archive for the ‘Conservation Status’ Category

Possomhaw Holly – Ilex deciduas

Possumhaw Holly
Possumhaw Holly

O reader! hast thou ever stood to see
The Holly-tree?
The eye that contemplates it well perceives
Its glossy leaves
Ordered by an Intelligence so wise
As might confound the Atheist’s sophistries.

 

By Robert Southey (1774-1843)

 This native of low, wet woods can be found throughout the southeast United States. It is one of the deciduous hollies, meaning it loses its leaves come winter. It is state listed as Threatened in Florida. The largest specimen found to date is located in South Carolina. It measures 3 feet around, and 42 feet tall!

 

The berries are generally considered toxic to humans. The low level toxicity causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. But all manner of small mammals, songbirds, and gamebirds, as well as deer find parts of this bush good eating. The deer being the only one to eat the twigs; all the others find the berries to be a delicacy.

 

Because of those same berries it is often planted as a winter ornamental, and a wildlife attractant. The branches with the berries have been collected to use in Christmas decorations. The wood of this shrub is not considered useful due to its small size.

 

Hollies in general (including this one) were used by the Alabama Indians. They took the inner bark of the tree, made a decoction from it and applied this to the eyes.  

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Persimmons – Diospyros virginiana

Persimmon fruit
Persimmon fruit

Mr. ‘Possom is a farmer
And his crop? Persimmon trees!
Many a woodland stocks his product
And he grows his crop with ease.

How he loves those ripe persimmons
Sweet as syrup, smooth as silk —
Like a gourmet loves his entrees
Like a baby loves his milk.

By Reverend John F. Dorsey (1916- )

This slow growing fruiting tree is native to Eastern North America. It can often be found in dry woods, old fields, and clearings. This deciduous tree is becoming less frequently found in the wild and is listed as of Special Concern in Connecticut and Threatened in New York.

The earliest reference to them that I have found was by Hernando De Sotto who first found them in Florida in 1539. The settlers quickly learned not to eat them until after the first frost, which took away the astringent aspects and rendered the fruit sweet. Later, during the Civil War, when times were tough, the seeds would be used as a coffee substitute by boiling them. And for those of you who like beer and other fermented foods, try a southern Appalachian idea of fermenting the ripe fruit to make beer!

The Cherokee are credited with some of the earliest baked breads using the persimmon fruit, which they served to the Europeans. The Asian persimmon is rarely cooked as they get astringent with heat, but the native American persimmon is often baked into puddings, pies, & breads. Jams and Jellies are also common from the fruit.

This tree also contributed to the ancient medicine wisdom of the south. The unripe, very astringent fruit would be boiled into a decoction and taken internally to stop bloody stools. The Cherokee used a decoction of the inner bark to treat thrush, sore throats and as a wash for warts or cancers. A few twigs boiled and cooled is a good wash for poison ivy and its kin, taking away the itch and finally drying out the blisters.

There is an old use of the persimmon that I have always found fascinating. Take fresh persimmon seeds and split them open. In the center you will find the little whitish sprout…the shape of this sprout was believed to predict the weather for the coming winter. If the sprout looked like a knife it would be an icy, cold winter. If it looked like a fork it would be a mild winter. And if the little sprout resembled a spoon, get the shovels ready ‘cause snow was sure to blow!

Meadowsweet – Spirea alba var. latifolia

White Meadowsweet
White Meadowsweet

Through grass, through amber’d cornfields, our slow Stream–
Fringed with its flags and reeds and rushes tall,
And Meadowsweet, the chosen of them all
By wandering children….

 

By William Allingham (1824-1889)

 

This perennial shrub of the Rose family is native to Northeastern North America and can be found growing in wet areas such as edges of marshes, bogs and ditches, along streams, and wet prairies. In Kentucky, and Tennessee it is considered Endangered. While in Ohio it is listed as Extripated (locally extinct).  The plant was imported into parts of Europe; Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, United Kingdom. In Belgium and Latvia it is listed as Invasive, and in Lithuania as potentially Invasive!

 

In herbal medicine of the Ojibwa Indians a tea of leaves and flowers was used to ease childbirth. Early settlers used the inner bark as a pain killer, much like other early aspirin like herbs (willow. etc). Unlike willow or poplar, which also contains Salicylates, the properties and strength of the aspirin like effects is consistent from plant to plant. In minute amounts Meadowsweet can also be used on stomach issues. The Blackfoot Indians used a tea as an enema and a vagina douche to treat infections.

 

The leaves smell like almonds and have been used to keep linens fresh and nicely scented. The leaves have also been use in making an astringent skin tonic. The leaves have been dried and used as a China tea substitute, supposedly tasting much the same as the original. The early settlers ate the roots.

 

In magic use this plant and its flowers are used to promote love, balance and harmony. Among the Druids the Meadowsweet, Vervain and Verbena were their three most sacred herbs. The use of fresh flowers on the alter has been frequent when casting a love spell, also use the dried petals in love mixtures. The fresh flowers were often included in wedding bouquets. In Welsh Mythology, Gwydion and Math created a woman out of oak blossom, broom, and meadowsweet and named her Blodeuwedd (“flower face”).

Leatherleaf Mahonia – Mahonia bealei

Leatherleaf Mahonia leaflets and fruit
Leatherleaf Mahonia leaflets and fruit

This evergreen is a native of China and brought to the United States in 1848 as an ornamental. In 1848, after the Opium Wars in China had ended which opened up trade, Robert Fortune first found this plant. An interesting story surrounding his first encounter goes like this: Fortune saw the leaves of this plant peeking above the walls of an enclosed courtyard of someone’s home. He didn’t know the people, but apparently that didn’t matter to him. He opened their front door and walked through the house to the courtyard where he considered digging up the shrub, but felt it was too large to survive. In the next town he offered a reward to anyone who would bring him smaller specimens he could carry with him. In short order he received three separate shrubs.

 

This interesting plant is recommended in the southeastern United States as a wildlife attractant, but it is that wildlife that it attracts that has contributed so heavily to its becoming an almost invasive plant there! The fruits are abundant and are greatly relished by the birds, which eat it and spread the seed in their excrement. So this once garden plant is now naturalized throughout the south. The Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council has it listed as a Rank 2 NIS plant (significant threat). This means that it poses a threat of becoming invasive, but as of yet is not spreading easily into native plant communities.

 

The leaves on this plant are very attention-grabbing. They resemble holly leaves in basic shape and in having points on the leaflets, but they are opposite unlike holly leaves that are alternating. The other major difference is that these are not opposite leaves, but leaflets…which make them all together one very large leaf! The flowers are an interesting yellow, growing abundantly in large clusters and appearing in late winter. Walk past on a crisp winter, very early spring day and get a whiff of citrus in the air…those are the Mahonia flowers!

 

The fruit which follows start out green but swiftly turn bluish black with a grayish bloom. If you can beat the wildlife to them (birds will strip the plant bare in a few short days) then they are actually edible. There are many seeds wrapped up in very little flesh, but the taste has a very refreshing, slightly acidic taste. They have been recommended added to cereal. They ripen in April and May and provide Vitamin C.

 

Since this plant is in the Barberry family of plants it has Berberine in the rhizomes which make it a bitter tonic with antibacterial effects. A decoction of the root and stems has been used to treat pulmonary tuberculosis, recurring fever, and cough in rundown body systems, rheumatoid arthritis, backache, weak knees, dysentery, and enteritis.

Carolina Nightshade – Solanum carolinense var. carolinense

Carolina Nightshade fruit
Carolina Nightshade fruit

This native of the southeast North America has spread to cover most of the United States. It is known to be weedy and invasive spreading through seeds and its underground rhizomes. It is extremely deep rooted, and if the entire root is not removed it will regrow being a perennial. Of the 44 states in which it grows, 7 of them have listed it as a Noxious weed…Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Iowa and Nevada. Even though this plant is list as a noxious weed it cannot be listed as invasive, since it is native of this land.

 

Another reason for the aversion to this plant is that all green parts, but especially the unripe berries carry an alkaloid (solanine) that is very toxic. It has been shown toxic to horses, cattle, sheep, and humans. The symptomology of poisoning is abdominal pain and may potentially cause circulatory and respiratory depression. If sufficient quantity of the plant is consumed it can be deadly.  Although the unripe berries are toxic, the ripe berries are consumed safely by pheasants, quail, prairie chickens and wild turkeys.

 

The fruits have also been consumed by humans safely although it is not recommended. In times past the ripe berries (after turning yellow) have been used in herbal medicine to treat epilepsy, and to work as a sedative and an anti-spasmodic. In fact the Genus name (Solanum) is taken from the Latin, meaning quieting! According to Foster & Duke (A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants Eastern and Central North America Volume 40: Peterson Field Guides) the berries have been use to treat epilepsy and pain, as a diuretic, antispasmodic, and aphrodisiac.

 

The Cherokee Indians used it in their Herbal medicine. Often referred to as the bull nettle, the ripe, yellow berries were used to treat nervous stress and as a mild sedative. It was also used for treating asthma, and all sorts of bronchial conditions. The Cherokee also used the crushed leaves mixed with sweet milk as a fly poison. In another use the root would be strung on a thread or piece of leather latigo and hung around a teething babies neck to easy the pain!

Japanese Honeysuckle – Lonicera japonica

Japanese Honeysuckle
Japanese Honeysuckle

….The Fairies taste.

Fly, dance and breathlessly exclaim…. 

Honeysuckle, forever mine.

by Robin Qualls 

This invasive vine from East Asia is banned or prohibited in several states. In the Orient where it is native, the plant has been used for thousands of years for medical treatments. An ointment is used to remove freckles; this was made from the leaves. And the flowers gathered and made into a bouquet to treat asthma.

In modern herbal use it is considered alterative, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, diuretic, and febrifuge in action. The stems are used for acute rheumatoid arthritis, mumps, and hepatitis. An infusion of the stems and flowers combined is used for upper respiratory tract infections, and dysentery. The unopened buds are made into an infusion to treat tumors, dysentery, colds, and enteritis.

The leaves are highly nutritious and can be boiled much like spinach. The buds and flowers are edible and can be made into syrup or used to flavor wine, sorbet, and other sweet dishes…such as pudding. Tea can be made of the leaves, buds, and flowers.

This plant remains palatable throughout the winter months and is an important browse food to the white tailed deer. In the summer months the flowers attract hummingbirds and scores of bees. The fruit is eaten with great lust by many different songbirds.

The vines of Honeysuckle (including the Japanese variety) have been used in basketry. The vines can be pounded to release the saponins and then thrown into the water of fishing grounds. The saponins act as fish poison to stupefy or kill the fish for easier harvesting.

American Marsh Pennywort – Hydrocotyle ranunculoides

American Marsh Pennywort
American Marsh Pennywort

Pennywort.

Pennywort.

Pattern of primrose and pennywort.

Taking me, taking me,

Take me to meadows of childhood…

By Dic Edwards

This creeping, perennial aquatic herb is native to eastern North America where is grows in moist areas such as marshes, springs, and swamps. Here in the east there are places that it is becoming Endangered…Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. But in Europe it is considered an invasive species because of its tendency to develop large colonies!

Here in Delaware in can be found along the edges of ponds, creeks, and swampy areas. It often keeps its deep green color in winter. The small white flowers form in small clusters or umbrells from the leaf base. The flowers are on short stalks in the umbrell, and have 5 tiny, white petals.

The genus name, Hyddrocotyle, comes from the Greek and means water (hydro) cup (or small drinking vessel – cotyle). It is believed to have similar healing properties to its Asian cousin the Hydocotyle asiatica, which has been used to treat leprosy, itch, scrofula, rheumatism, ulcers, and secondary syphilis.

This member of the Carrot family was used by the Cohuilla Indians for greens.