Monday, May 16, 2011

Woodland Plants of The Mottled Shade

The steady passage of time bears heavily upon plant habitats. Pioneer species such as poplar and birch give way to taller, shadier deciduous trees. As this happens, a number of species that depend upon the mottled sunlight of spring die off as the forest canopy becomes thicker.

The process works the other way, too. Selective cutting often creates just the right environment for these early spring plants and they are quick to colonize.

Among these springtime treats are Clintonia, or corn lily, and large-leaved aster. Clintonia first.

This plant has two or three shiny, roundly-pointed leaves. These very slightly resemble the toxic lily-of-the-valley. But Clintonia leaves are wide in the middle and lily-of-the-valley leaves are rather slender.

When young, Clintonia leaves are delicious raw. They have a distinct cucumber taste. This is obvious when the leaf is crushed or broken and helps to make the distinction between Clintonia and lily-of-the-valley.

Often, people ask which domestic vegetables the different wild plants taste like, a difficult question to answer because every wild plant has its own, unique flavor and seldom does a wild plant taste much like any domestic vegetable. Clintonia is one of the exceptions.

I like my Clintonia snipped fine with scissors and added to a salad. It saves buying hothouse cucumbers, a real plus. When the plant sets blossoms, the cucumber taste becomes too pronounced and is no longer pleasant.

Another plant of the mottled shade, large-leaved aster is ready now. This unassuming plant grows in often-huge colonies in places with dappled sunlight. When young, the leaves make a fine potherb when boiled. I particularly enjoy the leaves before they have fully unfurled.

The window of opportunity for harvesting our edible wild plants at their peak of perfection is often short. In the case of the two plants mentioned here, it is too short. So if you aspire to sample either of these, better get out now. Soon, the plants will be gone by and it will be another whole year before the opportunity presents itself again.

The good news is that as one edible wild plant fades, another comes online to take its place. Stay tuned for more.

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