Saturday, August 6, 2011

Identify your wild plants now

Entering late summer, many wild plants have already matured. This gives foragers an opportunity to examine them in their most easily recognizable form. It also goes hand-in-hand with my frequently stated admonition that we need to be able to recognize the wild, useful plants in all their stages of development.

Also, so many plants are only good as food when they are young. And that often presents a problem in locating them. Young plants are small plants and as such, are sometimes difficult to locate. By noting now where the mature plants stand, we can return to that same spot next spring and reap a harvest of young, tender plants.

Today’s highlighted plant, common evening primrose, Oenothera biennis, is well on its way to maturity. Individual plants have attained their maximum height and are now in flower. Soon, they will develop rocket-shaped seedpods. These will later open and spread hundreds of seeds all around the base of the plant. The plant with numerous small yellow flowers standing next to my greenhouse in the above photo is an evening primrose. The second half of the botanical name, biennis, gives a hint as to the nature of common evening primrose. It is a biennial, meaning that it lives for two, perhaps three years, sets seed and dies.

In early spring, the carrot-shaped roots of first-year plants make fine eating when cooked. Also, the young leaves from the basal rosettes (the leaves, when very young, lie flat on the ground, their stems emanating from a central point) are useful in salads and cooked as a potherb.

But finding these plants just after snow melts is a hit-or-miss proposition, that is unless you have an idea where to look. Noting the presence of last year’s dried stalks greatly simplifies the search.

So begin today. Look in fields and lawn edges for the mature primrose. Then, next spring, visit again and reap your reward.

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