Wineberry

We opportunistically gathered Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) on our last field excursion. Wineberry is in the genus Rubus, along with raspberries and blackberries. Wineberries have a mild raspberry flavor & are quite juicy! We froze a few pints & made a Wineberry syrup to stir into yogurt. Ah summer! 

 

Wineberry harvest

Wineberry harvest

Wineberry is easy to distinguish from other species in the genus Rubus. Note the distinctive, glandular red hairs covering the stem & calyx  & the bright red fruit.

Wineberry is easy to distinguish from other species in the genus Rubus. Note the distinctive, glandular red hairs covering the stem & calyx  & the bright red fruit.

Three-foliate leaf structure of Wineberry. 

Three-foliate leaf structure of Wineberry. 

Superior sojourn

This summer, our family returned to the upper Midwest to monitor the ongoing managed relocation study taking place in northern WI. Fieldwork in the buggy north proved interesting with a toddler, but we finally finished the job!

Field work in northern Wisconsin. 

Field work in northern Wisconsin. 

Along the way, we were able to catch up with old friends & enjoy the stark beauty of Lake Superior's shores! 

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Blackcaps: The King of Berries

Blackcaps: The King of Berries

In North America, one berry has proven superior to all of its berry counterparts; this is the black raspberry, affectionately known as the “blackcap.” The blackcap has high antioxidants as well as deep coloring, allowing it to be used in a variety of health and healing agents, candy flavorings, and dyes! In fact, black raspberries were used for the original USDA meat stamp! The great functions of the blackcap don’t stop here though. Stay tuned to hear all about ice cream, candy, and cancer prevention… it doesn’t get much sweeter than that. 

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A May-apple a Day May Just Keep the Doctor Away by Rebekah Honce

A May-apple a Day May Just Keep the Doctor Away by Rebekah Honce

Podophyllum peltatum, better known as the may-apple, is an ingredient in Carter’s Little Pills. The pills’ lasting cultural significance was highlighted in 2000, when upon reelection to the United States senate, Robert C. Byrd stated “West Virginia has always had four friends: God Almighty, Sears Roebuck, Carter's Liver Pills and Robert C. Byrd”.

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Piu, What’s that Smell? A tribute to skunk cabbage.

Author: Chloe Bland, Plant systematics student 2013

           Scott Milburn, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

           Scott Milburn, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Have you ever thought that there was a plant that could push aside the dark and cold depths of winter?  Well, if you said no, then you are mistaken.  Although quite malodorous when injured, Symplocarpus foetidus (better known as skunk cabbage) is a good indication that spring is right around the corner.  Skunk cabbage has the ability to produce temperatures between 55 degrees F and 95 degrees F that allow it to melt the snow around it and grow out of the frozen ground.  This plant is an early indication that winter will soon be ending. 

Skunk Cabbage is a flowering perennial plant.  The plant is usually the first plant to bloom at the end of winter and in the beginning of the spring.  The plant emerges out of the soil during late February and continues until May.    

Symplocarpus foetidus is found throughout the eastern portion of Canada and in the eastern part of the United States.  It is as far south as Tennessee and North Carolina and as far west as Minnesota.  Eastern Skunk cabbage has also been found in parts of Asia.  However, some botanists believe that the species in Asia is a separate species from the one found in North America.

The plant thrives in habitats that have wet and mucky soils.  Skunk cabbage grows in areas that have lots of shade.  Most of the time, Skunk Cabbage will grow around streams, bogs, thickets, and around wooded areas.  Occasionally, Skunk Cabbage can be found on hillsides but only if the soil around it is continuously wet.  Skunk cabbage can grow in a different range of soil pHs from acidic soil to slightly alkaline soil.  Some commons plants that are frequently found with Symplocarpus foetidus include sedges, jewelweeds, and Marsh Marigold.

Skunk cabbage is a member of the Araceae family.  Other members of this family include lilies, philodendrons, taros (elephant ears), and other native plants such as Green Dragon and Jack-in-the-pulpit.  Skunk Cabbage is relatively common species.  However, when habitat destruction such as deforestation and/or agriculture alters the environment, skunk cabbage has a hard time recovering.  Because of habitat destruction, skunk cabbage has become an endangered species in states such as Tennessee.   

Skunk Cabbage is characterized by a maroon bract called a spathe.  The spathe allows pollinators such as bees, butterflies, or beetles, to enter and pollinate the flower.  The spathe can have different color patterns such as irregular spots, lines, and splotches, in shades of green, maroon, and purple.  The spathe surrounds the spadix which is knob-like structure on the plant.  The spadix is a spike of many flowerless petals. Normally, the flowers have four sepals, four stamens, and a pistil.  The leaves are arranged in a basal rosette.  The leaves of the plant are rather large with the length ranging from 40-50 cm and the width being 30-40 cm. 

The flowers of skunk cabbage emerge during the early spring.  The plant is capable of producing temperatures between 55 degrees Fahrenheit and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  The heat that the plant produces is generated through cyanide-free cellular respiration.  This heat production allows the plants to emerge from the frozen ground.  The heat that is produced also helps spread the odor of their flowers to attract pollinators.  The plant also attracts pollinators by releasing an odor that resembles the smell of a skunk when the plant is broken or injured. The foul odor encourages pollination while providing the pollinators a refuge from the harsh effects of winter.  The principle pollinators of skunk cabbage are flies because they are attracted to the rancid odor.       .  

 Symplocarpus foetidus is considered a poisonous plant. It contains calcium oxylate which can create causing kidney stones.  If the plant is dried or cooked, the calcium oxylate can be destroyed.  Native Americans used to cook the roots of Skunk Cabbage to treat conditions such as headache, earache, bleeding, to skin and mouth sores.

Although the plant produces foul odors, Symplocarpus foetidus is an indicator that spring will be arriving soon because of the plants ability to create temperatures that allow it to emerge from the frozen ground.  Just remember, if you are ever in the woods and need toilet paper, don’t grab the skunk cabbage!

Literature Cited

Hayden, John. 2009 Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). 10 December 2008.

         R.A. Howard, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Springsteen, Joel. Native Plant: Eastern Skunk Cabbage. 22 March 2013.

The New York Botanical Garden. Weekly Wildflower: The First Wildflower of Spring–Or the Last of Winter? 2014.

 

 

Deadly Nightshade

Deadly Nightshade

by Guest Blogger, Becca Davis, Plant systematics student, WVWC

Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) has an interesting resume of skills, ranging from assassination to healing. Historically speaking, this plant is most notorious for being used as a poison. The Ancient Romans were known to have used deadly nightshade to make poison tipped arrows.  More recently, it has been willingly ingested by people to help alleviate motion sickness or control muscle spasms. 

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Pit Paste

Pit Paste

Ever smell like hot dog water? Afraid to wear synthetics to dances? If you consider yourself “musky”, yet want to avoid antiperspirants, try pit paste – the all-natural deodorant that is sweeping armpits across the nation.

Many of you may have heard the claims that antiperspirants are linked to breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, and kidney disease (discussion here). While these claims are generally unsubstantiated, why not reduce chemical exposure and soften your pit skin in the process? Making your own deodorant is easy, and the result is a product easy on sensitive skin with a customized fragrance. Plus, this deodorant works at least as well as antiperspirant. Seriously, we are talking high school prom protection!

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Winter biking

Winter biking

A wintery mix dusts the ground, my shifters are frozen, and my favorite bike space is available - cold-weather biking is here! Yes, winter biking requires a touch more effort than biking on sunny summer days; and yes, it is hard to look stylish in a balaclava, BUT the benefits of commuting – no burning of fossil fuels, great parking spaces, and an invigorated spring in your step when you arrive at work – remain! Madison is consistently in the top 10 U.S. biking cities; many commuters here bike year-round. I wanted to generate a list of favorite winter-biking equipment, so I polled seasoned locals, talked with a nearby bike shop, and added some of my personal picks. 

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Natural cleaning breakdown

Natural cleaning breakdown

I spent way too much time trolling the Internet for natural cleaning recipes. There are SO many recipes, and absolutely no realistic way to test them all. I needed a way to organize the information. I started by breaking the recipes down by the functional role of their components and identifying the desired properties of cleaning agents for various household chores. Then, I tested the recipes. The results? With a small monetary investment and a little time, you can produce cleaners superior to ‘green’ cleaning agents that you find in stores. I’m never going back!

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Scrumpy-style hard cider

Scrumpy-style hard cider

Scrumpy:  It’s not a new dance.  It’s not your neighbor’s rascally mutt.  It isn’t the way that you feel at the end of a week with no exercise.  It is so much better than all of those things!  Scrumpy is a rustic, unfiltered, hard cider.  At the mention of hard cider, you probably just thought of Woodchucks or some other sweet, mild brew. The hard cider that I’m talking about is more like sparkling wine. It is relatively high in alcohol content (10 - 14 % alcohol), dry, and bubbly. Scrumpy is a great way to preserve extra cider, and a perfect accompaniment to autumn grilling or Thanksgiving dinner!

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Crawly, not creepy: DIY natural floor cleaner

Crawly, not creepy:  DIY natural floor cleaner

I had been using “green” cleaning agents found at major retail stores. Unfortunately, recent reports suggest that many of these products may not be any better for you or the environment than conventional cleaners. So, for me, its back to the drawing board to find effective, all natural cleaners that don’t leave my house smelling like a pickle. I’m starting at the bottom – literally - with the floor!

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Sumac Semifreddo

Sumac Semifreddo

There is nothing like multi-tasking. So the next time you are out and about, grab some sumac - its sure to inspire interesting dishes for your next potluck! Sumacs line roadways, trails, and park edges. The berries are ripe in August, and there is typically less rain at this point in the summer (rain washes the tart covering on the berry away), so it is an excellent time to harvest.  Be warned that this plant is in the same family as poison ivy, poison sumac, mangoes, pistachios, and cashews.  I’m extremely allergic to poison ivy, as well as cashews and mangoes, but I have not had a problem with sumac. If allergic to poison ivy, proceed with caution and wade, rather than dive, into using sumac.  That being said, for those that love acidity and tartness, sumac is a delicious find.  

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