December 14, 2010

From Romania

Sorry for the long delay since my last post.

Im currently in Romania--Sibiu to be exact. A few days earlier I was in the capital city of Bucharest where I learned a lot of intriguing stories about the local city trees.

One story is about a tree that now stands between tall facades of concrete, steel, and glass. I could see the beautiful Chestnut tree still hanging on to its patch of soil. The buildings rose on either side only feet away, dwarfing the otherwise majestic tree.

Back in the 1930s, a plant physiologist by the name of Constantin Popescu carefully studied the vascular system in the then young chestnut tree, and was able to successfully graft Tomatoes and various types of Peppers onto this tree. But the grafting was not considered successful until the plants flowered and then produced fruit. He was successful according to what I was told.

He hired a photographer to take pictures of the ripe fruits and I'm curious if I can find some of those photos.

I also managed to acquire a few more old botany field guides from my Great-grandfather Alfred Zeidner. Some of the guides still have plants he pressed between the pages, along with careful notes in the margins.

October 22, 2010

Short pause

I am having a short pause on posting as I get through some of the more intense parts of my school term. Sorry if a week goes by with no new posts.


October 11, 2010

Visit to Avena Botanicals

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Avena Botanicals with my professor Nishi's Edible Botany class. Avena Botanicals is located in Rockport, Maine and was founded by Deb Soule whom I described a bit in an earlier post. She is a wonderful, generous, and amazing herbalist. Check out the Avena Botanicals website.

Here are some photos from the visit.

Deb Soule on the right
Deb showing us Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

Drinking delicious fresh nettle tea back inside.

Nishi and Deb

Juliette de Bairacli Levy--one of Deb's (and my) great inspirations towards herbalism. She is known as the grandmother of herbal medicine. Search her name for a vast collection of valuable books on the topic, including some of the first ever published on veterinary herbalism.

October 6, 2010

Mushroom Tasting

Disclaimer: Do not rely on the following photographs for accurate identification of edible mushrooms. Although these are correctly identified, the photos provided are insufficient to be used for identification.

...Later that evening,

Instead of mixing them all together to make a grand mushroom medley, I decided to do a proper taste test of the various mushrooms I brought back. Here are some pictures with the results. I sautéed a bit of each in normal salted butter until cooked. I cleaned the pan between uses and my mouth with a small piece of bread between tastes.

#1 Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea):
Color: Shades of an earthy brown, slightly translucent color.
Smell: Subtle earthy-butter smell.
Taste: A Full, bold mushroom flavor, but without any bitterness and a distinct sweetness reminiscent of sweet teriyaki glazed chicken leg. I see it going well with a meat side. Perhaps a bit too sweet for pasta as the starches in pasta already provide a certain sweetness. I bet it would also be a good compliment to some bitter greens such as kale. But it would be good to cut the kale into fine pieces so not to lose the small mushrooms among large leaves. The flavor intensified as the mushrooms cooled a bit. Overall VERY delicious.
Texture: Relatively easy to chew. The outside layers of the mushroom are a bit chewier, but overall quite tender.
Other: The subtle earthy aromas linger a bit after swallowing, but they are subtle and mostly overpowered by the sweetness.

#2 King Bolete (Boletus edulis):
Note that the spore tube layer under the cap has been removed

I peeled back and removed the spore tubes as instructed since they were already yellowing and become slimy after cooking according to Greg.

Color: Stem remained mostly white through cooking; only browning a bit where in direct contact with the pan. The cap became a strong yellow and likewise a bit brown where in direct contact with the pan.
Smell: Just like molten, slightly burned swiss cheese. Almost identical to the smell of the original grilled cheese (just a hunk o’ cheese grilled in a pan).
Taste: It is also a bit sweet, but not as much as the honey mushrooms. There is also very subtle vinegary flavor. The stem flavor is a little less intense. One piece of the cap tasted distinctly like a Cheez-it cracker. There is also a slight egg yolky and cauliflower flavor. Finally there is a subtle cow-barn aroma to it—not enough to bother me, only enough to instill a slight nostalgia…
Texture: The cap has a texture very similar to hot, molten cheese. I can definitely imagine this as a substitute for cheese in sandwiches. The stem texture is a bit more fibery than the cap, but still soft. When it cools it doesn’t harden the way cheese does, so if you want a molten cheese substitute that you can eat cool, then this is it. It doesn’t stretch like cheese though. The slightly slimy texture is perhaps its only downside, but I don’t really mind at all.
Other: This cap shrunk a lot more than the Honey Mushroom caps did when cooked.

#3 Painted Bolete (Suillus pictus):

Color: The slices of mushroom have shrunk a bit and turned a dark brown color and are reminiscent of small fish such as anchovies.
Taste: Similar to the King Bolete, but less cheesy and bit more spice to it too. There is a bit more of the classic mushroom aroma that the previous two don’t have as much. The flavor definitely hits more on the backsides of the tongue with a slight acidity. Imagine the flavor of a fresh baked piece of hot sourdough bread. Almost tastes a bit salty too. Like in the King Bolete the stem is less flavorful, almost a bit watered down tasting. There is also a slight bitterness similar to brown rice. The after taste is similar to the King Bolete, but almost none of the cow-barn aroma. Again I see this going well in a sandwich, but not a sourdough sandwich. I think the bread should be a bit more neutral in order to appreciate the full flavor.
Texture: Similar texture to the King Bolete but a bit chewier and not as molten feeling. The stem is comparable in texture to the King Bolete.
Other: Seems like these were the fastest to cook.

Last but not least… This one was not collected in the field that day. It was a gift from Greg to Nishi and Nishi gave me a piece to try.

#4 Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa):

Color: Darkening bit through cooking, but nothing distinctive.
Smell: A very herby, fatty aroma. Very much like the strong smell of duck or goose as my friend Kaija suggested. She said the smell of this mushroom reminded her of the winter holidays since her family always cooks a goose.
Taste: The flavor is different from the smell. Very much like a baked potato. Much less sweet and distinctly more savory than the other three mushrooms. It would probably go well with a pasta and some kind of gravy that complemented it with a bit of sweet and spiciness. It is also a tiny bit bitter with a slight nutty flavor. It also has a subtle Swiss cheese flavor. These might go really well in a sweet and sour oriental dish.
Texture: The texture is more consistent than the previous two mushrooms. As it cooked, the edges dried a bit providing a very interesting texture that I enjoyed very much.

After tasting each mushroom on its own I mixed them to make a delicious leek coconut mushroom curry.

October 5, 2010

More Fungi

Ok, ok, I know… Mushrooms are not plants. Leave the site if you can’t stand the conondrum. 

That said, yesterday I was very fortunate to tag along with the Edible Botany class taught by Nishi Rajakaruna at COA. It was an especially good day because we were joined by two wonderful and very knowledgeable people--Deb Soule, herbalist and founder of Avena Botanicals, and Greg Marley, an amateur mycologist that has been teaching and pursuing his passion for fungi for the last 35 years. 

Greg pointed out various species of mushrooms, along with carefully describing their edible and medicinal uses. Greg is also the author of Mushrooms For Health: Medicinal Secrets of Northeastern Fungi. I quickly gathered up a few of the edible mushrooms he showed us and stashed them away for dinner...

September 30, 2010

More summer pics...

The moon and lighthouse of Great Duck Island
Great Duck and Great Black-Backed seen from Little Duck

Lots of Angelica lucida on Little Duck

One of many Bald Eagles on Little Duck
Life this summer... (Photo by N. Rajakaruna)

Matt and I on Mount Desert Rock at the end of the summer. (Photo by N. Rajakaruna)

September 26, 2010

The Giant Puffball

Calvatia gigantea is what I found the other day. A friend told me they had seen a puffball mushroom behind one of the buildings on the COA campus. I soon went to check it out, finding a very large and conspicuous organism.
Unfortunately.... upon cutting it open, most was yellowing and soggy with a repulsive odor. I saved what I could of the mushroom--perhaps more than I should have, but it was impossible not to feel pity for the pieces of yellowing marshmallow-like substance. To save my guilt, I deposited the semi edible pieces in my refrigerator for a future day I could devote to the delicacy.

Yesterday I found another one--smaller, but also much whiter, dry, and without the smell. This morning I knew what had to be done.  First I peeled away the tough outer layer of the puffball since I heard it is very hard to digest. A friend from school recommended that I dip the slices of puffball into egg, then flour, and then fry them as one would do in the case of traditional grilled cheese.

Indeed it was a great success. Very delicious. I'm glad I was finally able to try this mushroom.

I still have to think about the unfortunate pieces of the first puffball that are still in the door of my refrigerator... I have a feeling they will end up aiding the compost.

September 23, 2010


The last two weeks have been really busy with school starting plus all the extracurricular botanical fun I've been having. One of my classes is on GIS--Geographic Information System--using ArcGIS software. For those unfamiliar with GIS, Wikipedia has a good site describing the subject. Essentially it is a system that allows someone to create dynamic maps in which every shape, point, or line has tables of data associated with it. This allows one to view data in a spatial way--something essential for understanding ecological processes. It has opened up a new world for me in this way. I knew a bit about GIS before taking this class thanks to my exposure to it in high school, but I never fully grasped the potential that it offers.

For a Little Duck Island update:
I am currently in the stages of uploading my GPS--Global Positioning System--data from Little Duck Island and beginning to process it. I am also working on computerizing the data from the beat-up Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks. Finally I am almost ready to send out my soil samples for analysis. More on this soon.

Finally, here are some pics from the summer: (Click on them to see them bigger)

Waves on Little Duck Island
Great Duck Island to my left
My wonderful field assistant/imaginary friend Matt Dickinson

Collecting Fragaria virginiana!
We filled ourselves on these in June
Working on a plot on the south end of the island (note Great Duck in the distance)
Our camp sweet camp
Plant presses provided a nice reading table in our room
One of out last nights on the island (note Mount Desert Island on the horizon)

September 2, 2010

Back from the field!

...and ready to start posting again. I will soon post some photos and entries about the work this summer. Looking forward to some cool weather.

May 20, 2010


I am currently preparing for the research this summer. On Saturday my field assistant (Matt Dickinson) and I will be going to Little Duck to do a preliminary survey of currently flowering plants on the island. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. I really look forward to it.

March 13, 2010

Term is over

Winter term is over. It was a good term--one where I learned a lot of things that I think will help me the rest of my life. Good stuff. I just finished drawing a guide to common graminoid species from the local islands. It was a really good experience even though I had to rely on digital images as opposed to plants in the field. I think the guide will be useful for identifying grasses this summer.

I'm working on an application for the Botany Club now. I will try to finish it this week.

Otherwise, not much. Time to rest now that school's out for two weeks.

January 23, 2010

Petrels, plants, and more

Ok, I'm back on board again--well, I'll be fully back after this next week. Let me explain.

There is an island about 8 miles off the coast of Bar Harbor, Maine, called Little Duck Island. The island is about 80 acres in size and botanically unexplored--meaning few have ever tried to identify all of the plants on the island. A few plants were collected from the island around 1900, but nothing besides that. There is a nearby island called Great Duck Island. Although three-times bigger, Great Duck was thoroughly inventoried (practically all plants and animals) in 1985 (Folger and Wayne, 1986).

I'm currently applying for grants to conduct a floristic inventory of Little Duck this summer. If this all works out, it will be an great opportunity to learn a lot about Maine flora and ecology. However, I'm also really excited about comparing Little Duck to Great Duck. Great Duck is a home for hundreds of European varying hares, but Little Duck is not. There are also possible differences in how much bird guano affects the soils on each island.

The differences in flora between the two islands could mean drastic changes of habitat over the years. If--as I have heard--it is true that there is no forest regrowth on Great Duck (due to the hares eating all the saplings?) then it means Great Duck is slowly becoming deforested.

You may be thinking, well geez Luka, Little and Great Duck Islands are these tiny specs of earth and rock on the ocean, WHY would I ever care what happens on Little or Great Duck Island? Well, reader-of-my-blog, your question is valuable because it addresses a long standing issue in the world of conservation. I can give you a short answer for now, but I would be very interested in regaining this topic in a future blog post.

My understanding is that the coastal spruce habitat on Great Duck Island (and possibly Little Duck) is essential for Leach's Storm-petrel--a small but fascinating seabird. Great Duck currently holds the largest breeding population of these birds--about 5000 pairs ( If the old spruce trees on the island die without saplings arising, then a large population of Leach's Storm-petrel will have to find a new home--not something easy to do given their specific living conditions.

So essentially, the study I hope to do this summer will help shed some light on this issue, perhaps uncovering new observations relating the presence of hares and forest regeneration, or perhaps the effect of excessive guano affecting the diversity of plants. These results could have the potential of influencing conservation policies--helping preserve populations of Leach's Storm-petrel.

I won't even mention Black Guillemots or the possibility of discovering rare plants.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions,

I will be back after I finish writing grants by Friday.

Be well,