Celebrating traditions. Creating new ones. Planning. Shopping. Friends. Family. Cooking. Parties. Ceremonies. The laughter of children. The smiles of grandparents. The love of another. Recollections. Reflections. Contemplations. Life… May the holidays add to your memories.
♣ Chickweed has arrived. If you want to sample it in a variety of ways you have a couple of months at best. I usually find chickweed locally between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. It can be found earlier, as it was this past week, and it can be found occasionally after Valentine’s Day. But those two holidays mark the practical beginning and end of the local chickweed season. It also doesn’t grow much farther south than central Florida. In northern climates Chickweed is a green of spring. It actually germinates under the snow so it can get a head start on other spring plants. Snow spits here every half century or so and the ground never freezes which is why we can forage 365 days a year. Chickweed is fairly easy to identify. Besides tasting like corn silk it has a stretchy inner core and one line of hair that runs along the stem switching sides at each pair of leaves. Don’t confuse Chickweed for a local cousin and minor edible, Drymaria cordata. To read more about chickweed click here. Also coming on strong is Pellitory, the lead article in last week’s newsletter. To read about Pellitory again click here.
♣ Why forage? There are many reasons from nutrition to self-sufficiency but here’s one you may not have heard of: Avoiding famine. It is rare for hunter/gatherers to experience famine because they do not rely on just a few crops or food sources. Famine tends to be a problem of few-crops agriculture, such as the great Irish potato famine that killed at least a million and forced at least another million to immigrate. Anthropologists say Australian Aboriginals managed to survive some 60,000 years without a form of agriculture resembling Western agriculture. They also passed on knowledge of wild foods by giving each food its own dance and song which incorporated where to find the plant, when, as well as how to harvest and prepare it. Incidentally only the woman gathered and only the men hunted. A large section of Australia is set aside for Aboriginals who still want to live the hunter gatherer lifestyle. That practice is the subject of scholarly study. About two-thirds of their energy requirements come from things that move and a third from plants. (My first guess was that she is holding an iguana. But mu Aussie friends say it could also be a Goanna — a kind of monitor lizard — but they are protected… in theory. )
♣ Botany Builder #8: The endings of botanical names in Dead Latin can often give us a clue about the species especially -ifera and -oides (and variations such as -iferum.) Often the botanical name is virtually no help in identifying a plant, such as when the genus and the species honor two different people. A good example is Decaisnea fargesii, Dead Man’s Fingers. It’s named after Joseph Decaisne and Pere Farges, upper right. No description there.. seems like a lost opportunity to me… Sometimes the species name is misleading as in Pinus palustris, which means a pine that likes to grow in swamps. Unfortunately Pinus palustris only grows on the top of dry sandy hills. That the descriptive name is very wrong is not enough to get it changed. The reason has to be botanical even if flimsy botanical.
-ifera and -oides however usually are helpful. -ifera means “producing” or “bearing.” Papyrifera means paper bearing, as in Betula papyrifera, the Paper Birch, left. Bulbifera means bulb bearing, such as the Dioscorea bulbifera, the Air Potato. Cerifera means wax bearing like the Southern wax Myrtle, Myrica cerifera . The Myrica cerifera produces a green wax that was traditionally used to make Bayberry Candles. –
oides means “resembling” or ‘looks like.” Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish Moss) means looks like the lichen usnea. Anemone ranunculoides means looks like ranunculus. Centruroides means … like sharp (and is a genus of scorpions in reference to their stingers.) While the word “folia” can mean leaves it is also used to mean look like. Aquifolium means holly-like leaves. Tiliifolia means basswood-like leaves. Sonchifolia means leaves like a sow thistle. So if you have an -ifera in front of you it should be producing something. If you have an oides it should look like something else you probably already know. -Folia is usually also descriptive.
♣ One of the earlier videos I made — number 52 — was on Turtle Mound, which is a midden a few miles south of Daytona Beach. A midden is what archaeologist call an ancient trash heap. This particular midden was some 80 feet high, covered two acres and had some 33,000 cubic yards of oyster shells. Some of it has been removed and the angle of repose has lowered its height. As a mound it has a variety of edible plants on it despite being in a wet, windy and salty environment. Plants who like it dry can live higher up the midden and those that don’t like the salt spray or wind can grow on the back side. It’s a not-so-mini microclime. Because of its mass it absorbs enough heat to keep frost sensitive plants like papayas alive through below freezing weather.
I think calling a midden a trash heap is a limiting modern view. I think they are or were much more than that. This may sound simplistic but you find what you are looking for. When we say a trash heap we automatically remove several things from consideration. For example one does not think of trash heaps as organized. One also expects trash heaps to contain trash. An organized trash heap is a land fill and we expect to find trash in it… have you noticed land fills here in flat Florida are not fills but are always a couple of hundred feet high? They should call them land hills… which returns us to Turtle Mound. I don’t think it just a heap. I think it was intentionally built.
Archaeologist tell us, if we choose to believe them, that Turtle Mound came into existence between 800 and 1400 AD, and the island its on a few thousand years before that. It is in what was the southeast coastal end of the Timucuan Indian range. The view from atop Turtle Mound is quite good, miles in fact. Long ago as today it is a good place to see anyone approaching. Tactically holding the high ground has always had great advantages. Camping on mounds gets one up in the summer breeze and away from some pestering insects. And when the hurricane winds blow you might not be able to escape the rain but you can hide behind the mound to break the wind.
Locally the natives would winter in the middle of the state then summer on the coast, not only a change of scenery but a change in menu. When living off the land the menu is limited and only changes with the seasons. Different cooking methods, things you could add to change the flavor, and different locations with different food were as much a gastronomical issue as a practical one. Turtle Mound contains millions of oyster shells, and occasional examples of other dietary remains, bones of this or that. The mound is not the result of millions of oyster meals but rather an intentional alteration of the environment. They made the place intentionally. I think the idea to build a hill came first, that you threw the remains of dinner there an after thought. It was no doubt a good idea passed down through generations. Not only that but creating hill in flat Florida might have also included some pride and sense of accomplishment.
And as a linguistic side note, the name of the Indians has been modernized. They were around into the 1800s and said their name tim-MUCK-you-awn. That wasn’t marketing friendly so the various areas and housing developments are called TIM-ah-quan.
♣ Follow Up: Canna Island: Last year in this newsletter you learned about the problem Canna Island was having. Canna is a Scottish Island less than a mile wide and five miles long struggling to stay populated. In fact the government has invited people to live there. It’s a tourist destination and even has a restaurant. In 2004 Canna had 20 permanent residents. It also had 10,000 rats. An extermination team from New Zealand was brought in. A year and a million dollars later the rats were gone. Mother Nature, however, has her ways. By 2010 Canna had a huge rabbit problem. Their burrowing was undermining 8,000 year old archaeological sites. You can only eat so much Hasenpfeffer. The exterminators were called back. A couple of years later and a lot of bunny birth control chemicals the rabbits were under control. The one population explosion Canna has not had is human. There are now 11 permanent residents. If you like few neighbors and harsh windswept winters you might look into emigrating to Canna Island. Interested? Click here then at the bottom of the page click on “Property to Let” and make inquiries.
♣ Had classes this weekend in Winter Park (center of the state) and Port Charlotte, about 180 miles to the southwest. As I left at 4 a.m. to make the Port Charlotte class I took the interstate all the way. But on the way back I drove the more scenic route through the middle of the state and spied several stands of Wild Radishes. Made me a bit jealous as I have not located any locally so far this year though it is about time for them. Where I collected bushels of the greens last year is now on office complex. While Wild Radishes are a common sight on sides of the road the best place to find them is in Orange Groves or agricultural land not currently in use. One can confuse Wild Radishes and Wild Mustards but as they are used the same way either will do. Generally said Wild Radishes have yellow four-petal flowers on individual stems, noticeable veins on the petals, have jointed toothpick-like seed pods, and would be tall except they tend to get scoliosis, that is they bend over and twist around staying low to the ground. Wild Mustards have yellow four-petal flowers in clusters, do not have noticeable veins on the petals, have smooth toothpick-like seed pods and grow several feet high. To read about Wild Radishes click here. , Wild Mustards click here.
♣ Free Class: This is only being mentioned here to my subscribers because you are my subscribers. I will hold a free foraging class Saturday, Dec. 24th, 2011, in downtown Winter Park. The directions are the same for Urban Crawl on my class page except we will start at 9 a.m. in front of Panera’s Bread. 9 a.m. We will wander around Winter Park for a few hours and find edible plants in the urban setting. Again, that’s 9 a.m., and free.
♣ Did you know? In case you missed it Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, Scotland last week had hurricane-force winds. That made one of their $3 million 328-foot wind turbines turn too fast and self destruct. Photo below.
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