October 25, 2009

Botany Club: meeting 3, 4

The Botany Club met today to work on American bittersweet baskets....  ...hmm  Maybe Celastrus scandens baskets sounds better.

Last week one of the club members led everyone to collect this vining plant. Today woven baskets were made. It is wonderful when win-win situations like this arrise: both clearing invasives, and making useful containers.

Plant Collecting Fun

I finally made some time to go plant collecting today. I was actually quite surprised by how many plants I was still able to find either in fruit or in flower. Some reading this may laugh, but it is Maine, and we have definitely had a few hardy frosts.

There is a small park accross the street from where I live. It is not a park in the traditional town-park sense. It is an open spruce/pine woodland that someone is somehow able to mow portions of. I heard rumor that some type of Drosera spp., an insectivorous plant also known as Sundew, was found in this park. I didn't believe this having always seen the park as a dry woodland. Today however, I ventured in, to my surprise finding a large acidic wetland!

Haven't found any Drosera spp. yet... kind of late in the season... I did however, collect some wetland sedges, rushes, and grasses. Look forward to keying them out... heh heh.

October 2, 2009

Elderberries, Cornelian cherries, and more...

The other day I had a wonderful gathering experience. It began with walking past a tree that I had walked past many times before, but this time I noticed some red fruit hanging off the branches. "Could it be?!" I thought. I had recently read about Cornelian cherries, but had never actually known to see one growing. Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas, unless the name has changed) are in the Dogwood (Cornaceae) family. They produce large, red, cherry-like fruit that each contain a large olive-like pit. Indeed I was right. I found two Cornelian cherry trees right in the middle of COA's campus. I collected at least a pound of these fruit and will post later about how I process them.

This led into collecting a few pounds of rose hips from Rosa rugosa, and Rosa canina, but will have to wait until a frost comes through in order to collect more. More on this later, but just know that rose hip jam is the BEST jam I have ever had, and not many people even know about it.

After that I thought I'd check on the Elderberries (Sambucus nigra, but will have to confirm) on campus. The ripe berries were weighing the branches down! I quickly got a pair of pruning shears, and fixed them to a long stick. Then I tied a rope to the handle, so that I could pull the rope, and thus use the shears from a distance. This was very helpful because most of the berries were very high up. Soon I had what must have been more than six pounds of berries.

At home, I froze the Cornelian cherries and Rose hips, but boiled the Elderberries with a bit of honey and water, until it reduced to about half of the full pot. Then I strained them by squeezing the berry paste in a cloth. The left over mush I spread in a pan, and dried to a sort of fruit leather consistency. I had never tried that before, but both the syrup and leather turned out amazing!!!

Have to go now, but more on this later.

Botany Club: meeting 2

The Botany Club at COA has met for the second time on Tuesday evening. We spent time learning about the greenhouse on campus and seeing all the cool plants there. We tasted some Stevia, and were quite stricken with its overwhelming sweetness. Also part of the meeting, we checked out the herbarium on campus. I mentioned that I would be more than willing to teach anyone about how to collect, press, and mount plants for the herbarium, or even for their own personal collection. I believe there are few things more fun, peaceful, and rewarding, than collecting, pressing, identifying, and mounting plants.
Attendance was great, and I am looking forward to the botanical enthusiasm new students are bringing to COA.