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#1 May-12-2008 07:29:am

tree hugger
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Registered: May-12-2006
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Accuracy matters when identifying plants

I know this was written for my local area but there is some good info and common plants.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu … 65917.html


Accurate language is critical to making sure you are clearly understood. It's in that vein that I take issue with some common names for wildflowers.
For instance: dogtooth violet, a common name for the native Erythronium americanum, is misleading because the plant is not a violet, but in the lily family. Trout lily is a better name, because it hints at the showy flowers that bloom at the beginning of trout season. Actually, I like the common name fawn lily. That name refers to the plants' leaves, mottled with pale spots, which look very much like a newborn fawn.

Likewise, the delicate little orchid of northern bogs, Pogonia ophioglossoides, sometimes is called snakemouth, a rather unflattering name. A more descriptive name -- rose pogonia -- combines the color of the flower and the actual Latin name of the genus.

The reason that I bring up the point of precise names is that in anticipation of the rapidly approaching summer season, I can count on getting a lot of e-mails about one of the less desirable native plants of Western Pennsylvania woodlands: poison ivy. I'll be asked what it looks like, how to treat the rash and how to get rid of the plant in lawns and gardens and around houses.


First, let me repeat something that I have written about several times, but need to emphasize: In Western Pennsylvania we have only poison ivy and poison sumac. There is no poison oak.
Poison oak (Rhus diversiloba) is a shrub or small tree and grows only in the Pacific Northwest. What often is called poison oak in this area is a particularly robust plant or colony of poison ivy or plants that have oddly shaped leaves. Poison ivy is a variable species that ranges from small plants growing along the ground to huge, vine-like climbers with arm-thick stems growing up trunks of trees. The leaf shape varies from smooth to lobed edges and the leaf color from light-green with sort of a frosted surface to deep emerald and very shiny.

Poison sumac is found in Western Pennsylvania, but it is restricted to the northwest counties and is found in wetlands. It isn't a common species, and if you encounter poison sumac, you probably are up to your ankles in water. My experience with poison sumac is that it produces a much more severe rash than poison ivy and is to be avoided as much as possible.

That said, let me get back to the point of accurate language. To be exact, poison ivy isn't poisonous.

Generally, poisons are substances that cause illness or death to organisms by causing chemical reactions on a molecular scale. Most commonly, poisons are substances that, when eaten by humans or wild animals, make them very sick or are fatal.

I've never tried this -- and you should not either -- but if you eat poison ivy, you'll get a very itchy mouth, tongue and throat, but you won't die as you would if you ate strychnine or arsenic. Birds and small mammals feed on the fruits of poison ivy in the fall and don't die.

Poison ivy and poison sumac contain an oil called urushiol. That substance produces an allergic skin reaction in humans, causing itching and painful rashes. So what happens with poison ivy is that you are having an allergic reaction to a chemical rather than being poisoned by a chemical reaction.

It's a fine line, and when you're itching like crazy, one that you'll probably forget.

To take the point further, there are poisonous plants. Few of these killers have poison in their common name. You can handle these plants and not break out in an itching rash, but if you did eat them, you would get very sick or die. Some of these are common species that we all grow in our gardens or are native species in Western Pennsylvania.

Poisonous plants of the garden include hyacinth, narcissus, daffodils, castor bean, larkspur, monkshood, star-of-Bethlehem, lily-of-the-valley, iris, foxglove, bleeding heart, rhubarb, wisteria and yew.

The fact that those plants are poisonous might come as a surprise, because they are common plants with which we often are in contact.

Hyacinth, narcissus and daffodil bulbs are poisonous and can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and can be fatal. Castor oil bean is a cultivated garden plant that grows huge, star-shaped leaves and has unusual flowers and seed pods. The seeds are poisonous with just one or two being lethal for adults.

Lily-of-the-valley leaves and flowers can cause irregular heartbeat, digestive upset and confusion. Bleeding heart foliage and roots can be toxic in large amounts and reportedly have been fatal to cattle.

As for rhubarb, which we eat all the time, the leaf stems are edible, but the leaf blade, raw or cooked, can cause convulsions, coma and death. This knowledge shouldn't keep you from enjoying a delicious bowl of cooked rhubarb with strawberries, but make sure you collect only the bright red leaf stems and avoid the green leaves.

Poisonous plants extend to trees and shrubs.

Cherries, wild and cultivated, have twigs and leaves that contain a compound that releases cyanide, which, when eaten, causes shortness of breath. Elderberry leaves, stems and roots are poisonous, but the berries make a wonderful pie filling. Again, care needs to be taken as to which parts of the plants become part of the pie.

Yews, the evergreen, needle-leaved shrubs that are used as foundation plants around homes, as well as the native low-growing shrubs, have a bright-red berry-like fruit. These are botanically not berries but are called arils. Arils are extremely poisonous to people and pets. Great care should be taken when there are yews around the home, because the brilliant arils can be attractive to children who might mistake them for edible fruit.

Native wildflowers have their share of poisonous members.

These include buttercups, monkshood, Mayapple and jack-in-the-pulpit.

Jack-in-the-pulpit is an especially dangerous plant with all parts, particularly the roots, containing calcium oxalate that causes intense irritation of the mouth and tongue.

The plant is a member of the Arum family, and the name arum comes from the Arabic word for fire. Obviously, when that plant family was named, someone, somewhere was aware of the potent characteristics of calcium oxalate, its presence in many of the plants of the family and the effect on human mouths. Jack-in-the-pulpit roots are more than just intensely bitter; the chemicals can cause serious burns and blisters.

Although well-aware of the consequences of ingesting roots of jack-in-the-pulpit, Native Americans of this region learned to overcome the calcium oxalate to reap the food value of the starch in the roots. Roasting the thick, fleshy roots, botanically called corms, then drying them for half a year removed the chemical. The resulting dried stock was ground into flour and baked for bread.

The process of transforming a naturally poisonous plant into a staple food, perfected by Native Americans, was so prevalent that jack-in-the-pulpit has another common name -- Indian turnip. The latter part of the name comes from the shape of the rootstock, which is similar to a turnip.

With the current interest in edible wild foods, caution needs to be exercised. Check as many references as possible to make sure plants coming from the wild are edible and which parts are edible. People giving common names to our native trees, shrubs and wildflowers haven't insisted on accurate labeling practices. You won't see "highly poisonous jack-in-the-pulpit" as a common name in a field guide.

Paul G. Wiegman is a freelance writer, photographer and naturalist born and raised in western Pennsylvania.

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#2 Jul-05-2008 10:49:pm

NanticokePiney
Member
From: Hopewell Twp., New Jersey
Registered: Jul-10-2007
Posts: 4214

Re: Accuracy matters when identifying plants

monkshood

Also known as "wolfsbane".


Cherries, wild and cultivated, have twigs and leaves that contain a compound that releases cyanide, which, when eaten, causes shortness of breath. Elderberry leaves, stems and roots are poisonous, but the berries make a wonderful pie filling. Again, care needs to be taken as to which parts of the plants become part of the pie.

This has killed many horses, sheep and goats

Yews, the evergreen, needle-leaved shrubs that are used as foundation plants around homes, as well as the native low-growing shrubs, have a bright-red berry-like fruit. These are botanically not berries but are called arils. Arils are extremely poisonous to people and pets. Great care should be taken when there are yews around the home, because the brilliant arils can be attractive to children who might mistake them for edible fruit.

This has killed a lot of everything including some good Roman orators

The plant is a member of the Arum family

Also known as the onion family.....I think.....


I don't have anger issues...just violent reactions to B.S.
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#3 Sep-28-2008 05:12:pm

Ohelemapit
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From: England (North)
Registered: Sep-23-2008
Posts: 3470
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Re: Accuracy matters when identifying plants

Foxglove... I love the Foxglove and have many in my garden, believe it or not the local garden center actually sold some to my (then) 9 year old daughter... she decided to buy me some for my garden as a present, I approached the people in tha garden center and asked "why they sold poisonous flowers to a child"... they had no idea they were poisonous.

Even touch contact can cause headaches and skin irritation.. by the way the cost 7.95 EACH now here in the UK that works out at about $15.. needless to say I pick them wild along with many other plants now?

Monkshood... Is another plant I like to see and I believe it is our most poisonous plant here in the UK?


Illegal aliens have always been a problem in the United States. Ask any Native American.

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#4 Sep-28-2008 09:06:pm

NanticokePiney
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From: Hopewell Twp., New Jersey
Registered: Jul-10-2007
Posts: 4214

Re: Accuracy matters when identifying plants

XSAS wrote:

Monkshood... Is another plant I like to see and I believe it is our most poisonous plant here in the UK?

monkshood/wolfsbane is a very painful way to poison yourself.


I don't have anger issues...just violent reactions to B.S.
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