There needs to be a category between common and rare particularly for species that are not rare but aren’t seen often. Polygala are a good example: You never see them except in April in pine flatwoods. You have to be in the right place at the right time and we were this weekend.
At Wickham park in Melbourne we found some “candyroot,” a few short orange ones and several tall yellow ones growing beside a drainage ditch. Colorful, distinctive, aromatic, they were important in the religious beliefs of the Miccosukee Indians. Polygalas break down into two groups for our purposes, those whose roots have methyl salicylate (and smell of wintergreen or liquorish) and those that don’t. They had medicinal uses and were also thought of as candy hence the same. You can read more about this unusual genus here.
If you are wandering around damp spots (as I was in Port St. Lucie Sunday for the Treasure Coast Environmental Education Council) look for the bright yellow blossoms of the Hairy Cowpea. They are closely related to Mung Beans and Black Eyed Peas. The blossoms are edible raw or cooked but are usually cooked. The seeds are edible cooked (not the pods.) Whenever you are near fresh water in Florida with a shrubby shore you are likely to find the Hairy Cowpea. And while one would not imagine so some folks confuse it with the common primrose willow which also had a yellow blossom. The primrose willow (which is neither a primrose nor a willow) is a shrub with a large four-petalled blossoms. The Hairy Cowpea has a small pea blossom, with “wings and keel.” Quite different. You can read about the Hairy Cowpea here.
The Education Council’s location was graced with a large amount of Purslane and Amaranth which probably came in with landscaping soil. One odd interloper in the parking lot turn around island was Barnyard Grass. I say interloper because Barnyard Grass usually likes to grow in damp places but perhaps there had been a lot of rain there lately. It’s an easy grass to identity: Barnyard grass is found in wet spots (usually) has a purple lower stem that’s often grows like a J, and does not have a ligule where the leaf blade separate from the main stem. Apparently it is the only grass in North America that does not have a ligule which helps in identification. From a human point of view the seeds can be used like wheat. You can read more about Barnyard Grass here.
The good folks of the Treasure Coast Environmental Education Council held two classes Sunday at two locations providing a look at Florida as it is and what was a nice homestead by the river. I think I will be holding future classes at the preserve location (which is also just a few miles from the junction of the interstate and turnpike.) While at the homestead there was a tree whose identification was in doubt. One person said she thought it was a “rose apple.” My guess was Syzygium. I think we were both right. I think it might of been Syzygium jambos which is also called Rose Apple. Unfortunately the tree was either hit by cold weather at the wrong time or has some disease in that the fruit and foliage was damaged which did not help identification. The genus name, Syzygium, has marital connotations in Greek. To read more about the tree you can click here.
New Article archived: Tropical Almond
What do these wild edible plants have in common: Water Hyacinth, Air Potato, Skunk Vine and Garlic Mustard? They have or soon will have some insect trying to make them extinct in North America. Forager have competition so eat them while you can!
Water Hyacinth is a multi-million dollar pest in warm water ways. It affects water traffic, water quality, pumping, hydro electric operations and contributes to fish kill. Great hopes have been placed on Megamelus scutellaris, a plant hopper from South America. Released in 2010 I have not found follow up reports on the success of the bug. They are not expected to bother Pickerel Weed, a native and close relative of the Water Hyacinth. The latter species was intentionally released in the late 1800’s into Florida’s water ways.
Skunk Vine, intentionally brought to the state as a plant for making rope, may find its seasons numbered by a beetle from Thailand, Himalusa thailandensis. Only one tenth of an inch long the bug does a good job of killing off closely related species to skunk vine. There is no native insect in North America that feeds on skunk vine so hopes are high for the little bugger.
Released last fall to control the “Air potato” was the leaf beetle Lilioceris Cheni from China. In Davie, Florida, where they have liberated the Lilioceris on a limited basis they did have a local impact. The concern among foragers is that while intended to control the mostly non-edible Dioscorea bulbifera they will probably attack the Dioscorea alata as well. The latter has a highly edible root and is prime in Florida as a foraged caloric staple.
Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, is the sole food source for a small weevil with the large name of Ceutorhychus scrobicollis. First discovered in the New World on Long Island in 1868 it has invaded 34 mostly northern states. It is edible though most official news releases say while it is edible it is rather poor as said. A northern university is close go getting permission to let the weevil get garlic breath.
Florida is ground zero for not only introduced plants that turned bad but also bio-controls that went awry. Melaleuca was brought in to drain the everglades, bufo toads to control sugar cane pests (no one noticed the toads didn’t jump high enough to catch certain bugs) and blue tilapia to clear canals of weeds…. at least the tilapia are readily edible but they don’t take a hook. The toads are edible, too, but have to be cleaned correctly which includes removing the skin and parotoid glans. The glands are at the back of its head, behind the ears. They secrete a milky liquid that can burn your eyes and irritate your skin. The secretion can kill cats and dogs if they ingest it… see, yet another failure in that the toad has not had a major impact on the dog or cat population…
Next week: How to tell our two sow thistles apart.