Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Maine's Short Growing Season Prompts Rapid Plant Growth

Regular readers will recall my oft-repeated admonition to study our wild plants during all the different stages of their growth. Now, in late June, we have an excellent chance to study two common, edible plants. These are curled dock, Rumex crispus and bunchberry, Cornus canadensis.

Driving down most any rural road (and even some major highways) will reveal the striking seedstalks of curled dock. These are long and tapered, with the lance-shaped leaves often hanging down in the manner of a partially-husked ear of corn.

Anyone wishing to introduce curled dock to a new location need only wait for the seeds to fully mature and dry. Then, it is a simple job to walk about and shake them off the seedhead. Or, you could even go to the trouble of saving the seeds and planting them in cultivated ground.

Later, these same seedheads will serve as a center foil in any dried flower arrangement.

Next, bunchberry has a month or so before the bright-red berries develop. Right now, the plant is still in flower, although around my place, the flowers are beginning to fade. But a shady woodland, carpeted with blooming bunchberry, makes a striking sight.

All of Maine’s useful wild plants share one thing in common. They must break ground in spring and begin growing to maturity as fast as possible before the first killing frost. In many cases this involves flowering, developing and shedding seed, all in about five months, more or less.

Such an abbreviated growing season means that none of our wild plants look exactly the same from one month to the next. Some undergo remarkable physical changes from one week to the next.

Foragers and those who just plain appreciate wild plants will do well to learn to recognize plants at all stages of their development.

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