Thursday, May 3, 2012

Plants Are Where You Find Them

Are you tired of fiddleheads yet? I sure am. This morning I froze my winter supply and still, a good-sized bag remains in the fridge for fresh eating.

Dandelions, my very favorite potherb, are going by now. I never tire of them and only wish they lasted longer.

Other wild edible plants are on hold because of the cold, damp and cloudy weather. If and when the rain stops and the sun shines, I expect it to take about two days for things to put on noticeable growth.

Yesterday was an interesting time for me. I have agreed to put on weekly foraging classes at Spruce Point Inn in Boothbay Harbor during the months of July and August. So I went down to reconnoiter the area. The inn owns lots of property and I am to conduct my field trips there. But only one thing bothers me. The place is nearly bereft of plants. Oh, there are enough for me to talk about, but I’ll have to supplement my seminars with lectures and picture shows.

The trouble here is that the land is a monoculture of red spruce, with no openings, fields or anything to let in light. Such places are green deserts and a person could starve to death there for want of edible plants.

It’s the same in the north woods. Thick forests do not present a suitable environment for annual, biennial or perennial plants. It is the edges, places where the sun shines, where we find interesting plants.

In fact, a typical vacant lot in any Maine town or city probably holds a greater variety of edible wild plants than does a 100-acre plot in the north woods.

The Boothbay site is more typical of our offshore islands than inland Maine. Spruce trees dominate and the ground is covered with moss. Little light shines in here and so plants do not take hold.

The seashore is home to lots of great plants, but here again, not all seashores are created equal. In Boothbay, the shore is pretty much rocks and ledge, with no mud, sand or gravel for plants to take root.

In the Mid-Coast Region, things are different in that our seashore has what plants need. Most beaches are gravelly rather than sandy, and that’s good for all kinds of tasty plants. Sand beaches are pretty much barren, though, since nothing grows on sifting sand.

My point here is that good plant environments are where you find them. They can be small but fruitful. For instance, the south-facing side of a hill, field or even a driveway can be a plant paradise. Garden beds, too, once “weeds” infiltrate, provide as many meals of wild plants as they do cultivated vegetables.

So the typical picture of people waxing fat and happy on wild food from the wilderness is not exactly accurate. It all depends upon the wilderness. 

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