WildeHerb is a collection of wild herb and wildflower sightings.
Plant sightings is the main focus of wildeherb. Plants native to North America, and especially the Northeastern United States and Pennsylvania, are found, identified, observed and photographed to become part of a living diary about our plant friends, new and old.
One of the ferns that stays with us through winter is my Lil’ Stand Up Fern. This one I found across the pond down the lane.
Without access to all the characteristics that would definitely identify this little fern, my initial ID is that it’s Ebony Spleenwort, Asplenium platyneuron.
Characters gleaned from the photo above include the following:
pinnae slightly lobed
blade less than 2 inches wide
If you’re not familiar with the terms used to describe ferns, a $5 guide book would help immensely. Fern Finder by Ann and Barbara Hallowell is small enough to fit in a hip pocket, so it’s easy to take with you.
The way I came to ID this plant is the exact opposite of how you’re supposed to use a dichotomous key, which is how the Fern Finder and many other field guides are presented.
Their growth habit isn’t like a typical flower you might think of where some green leaves develop first and a bit later flowers with pretty petals appear near the top of the plant or the tips of the branches. Skunk cabbage forms the flowering structure first, then the leaves appear.
Skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, is in the Arum Family, Araceae. Other family members are odd in their growth habit too, like the Jack-in-the-Pulpit that we find in similar habitats as the skunk cabbage.
The general form of the skunk cabbage flowering structure has two parts known as the spadix and spathe. To save a thousand words, here’s a close-up picture of the plant shown above with a few leaves cleared away.
The spadix is the flowering structure that holds the actual flowers. The spathe is a hood-like structure that at least partially envelopes the spadix. Here, the spathe is maroon flecked with yellow.
Ferns have a way of holding onto bits of their color during even the coldest months. Not that the plants are actively growing then, but a lot of their aerial parts don’t totally die back in the winter.
In the Northeastern United States we experience four seasons and right now it’s still officially Winter. Yeah, it looks kind of bleak out there in nature, at least when you’re looking at the big picture.
A lot of the grass, and weeds!, in lawns and near roadways appeared light green to tan or brown before the big snow arrived. The green parts will reappear when the weather gets sunnier and warmer and that’s actually not too far away now that it’s March, which came in like a lamb here in Central PA.
Greens polka-dot the landscape where the pine trees and hemlocks and other evergreen trees grow, but zoom in a little bit and you can find more splotches of color.
Taking a walk in the woods you can find ferns holding on to their leaves from the past growing season.
At least three kinds of ferns share our piece of land with us. At this point I can only call them as I see them:
Large fern found singly. Long arching leaves with rounded leaflets.
Small upright fern. Few leaves in vertical arrangement. Leaflets twist up the stems.
Medium size light green fern often found in mass groupings. Erect leaves with etched leaflets.
So, the witch hazel has me a little confused. Is it gonna make those nutlets this Spring?
I thought for the plenty of flowers I saw this fall that the dwarf trees would have lots of nuts on them before Spring.
I was surprised seeing the remnants of flowers at this late date in January.
(Photos taken 31 Jan 2016.)
The nuts that I saw in the fall must have lasted a whole year on the plant. Does that tell us that no animals really want to eat them? They should have been easy enough to find as the witch hazel trees are right on a lane that acts like a corridor connecting the agricultural field at the top of the ridge and the pond near the valley.
Can anybody clarify when witch hazels develop their fruit? In the meantime I’ll check out what the trees are doing as the weather warms up.
The different flavors of The Discovery Channel or The History Channel are the TV channels most likely to be left on all day in my house. I was going about a few chores just this week when I overhead a familiar name and so I turned my attention to the big screen.
Somebody was talking about skunk cabbage as something bears like to eat and when I looked up at the TV I saw a plant that was not what I know to be skunk cabbage. The H2 channel was running some silly program — yeah I’m not convinced — about Bigfoot.
The people researching the big-hairy-man-ape legend were in Washington State about to set up some trail cameras in hope of capturing an image of Sasquatch passing though the forest. Deer, a cougar and a bear were actually photographed in the baited location. Sorry, no Bigfoot!
Anyway, the location was the Western United States and the mountain habitat was forested. Snow was on the ground and the skunk cabbage leaves were already growing so it had to be late winter or early spring.
Note the stream in the image below from a History Channel program as it’s near the habitat of skunk cabbage.
Skunk cabbage grows in lowlands for the moisture. It may be surprising to know it can grow right in the middle of creeks and in standing water.
Every year when most of the scenery is trimmed down to bare trees and the colors are browns and greys, the chives come out of hiding. Green is really noticeable in the woods when you see it in January or February.
Wild chives grow in the forested mountains of Central Pennsylvania. The first time I realized these plants were the same chives that we eat, it stumped me. I guess I had never given any thought about, “Where do chives come from?”
Well, they looked like chives, but fakes and look-a-likes abound in nature, so we need to take precautions and err on the side of safety. I know of a guy who died after eating a wild mushroom, so I take heed to all warnings!
Crushing one of the long, rolled leaves gave out a scent of chives. That’s how you know they’re ok to eat.
We’ve grown chives in the herb garden so it was easy to recognize the ‘clump of grass in the middle of the woods’ as wild chives.
The way to know you’re safe with your wild-picked chives is to note the smell. If your “chives” don’t have an onion or chive-like scent, then it’s not the right plant. Besides, in Eastern North America there isn’t another plant that looks quite like chives.
Chives, Allium schoenoprasum, grows in clumps that are taller than grass in your yard. These clumps rise above the leaf litter on the forest floor.
The dark green leaves are hollow cylinders that taper to a point at the tip. The longest leaves, maybe up to a foot long, bend to the sides. When crushed, they release a mild onion-like scent.
If you were to dig up the plant, you’d find small 1/2-inch white bulbs from which the leaves sprout.
Garlic, onion and chives are all members of the Lily Family, Liliaceae, and one thing they have in common are the odoriferous compounds that make them tasty. Other family members are quite poisonous, such as irises and gladiolas, but they have no onion-like smell. Also, all these related plants are much larger than chives and the leaves tend to be flat, not rolled like the chives leaves.
Flowering occurs in mid- to late-Spring as a cluster of pink/lavender flowerettes on a round flower head. We’ll be looking for chives to flower in May or June at our location.
Too bad it was so foggy that we didn’t venture out earlier. What a wonderful ice fog to behold!
Had we left the house any later we would have missed the beautiful display all along the back roads to the main highway.
Car lights beamed through the fog and the land on the mountain looked liked it was topped off by a giant cloud. You couldn’t see far at all, perhaps an 1/8 of a mile at most.
Then, at the side of the road the weeds glowed with an extra bright white. The once white and golden-flowering weeds were white with a heavy frost. But it seemed like such a thick frost we termed it an “ice fog” that gave us the beautiful icy mini-sculptures to ponder.