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Red Mulberry – Morus Rubra

Red Mulberry

Red Mulberry – Morus Rubra

Growing up in the Northeast I had a friend with a fruit tree in his backyard. I was amazed at this one tree that was able to produce so many “black berries”. No one in the neighborhood knew what the tree was but they were happy to eat the fruit. His mother even baked pies with its fruit. It turned out to be a red mulberry (morus rubra) a native plant of the Americas which is a close relative to the white mulberry which is an invasive plant from China. Trying to find out exactly what the tree was led me to a life-long passion to be able to identify wild plants.

Description:Red mulberry is fire intolerant. However, it colonizes post - fire sites when sufficient moisture is available.

The red mulberry is a deciduous tree, growing to 30 – 60 feet tall with a trunk that is 18” -24” in diameter. Its Leaves form in three general shapes: normal leaf shape, mitten shaped (single lobed) and three-lobed. The leaves are simple, alternate, and up to 7″ – 8″ long. The leaves are broad, egg shaped, and lobed. The base of the leaf is square, as if it has been cut off abruptly. The tip of the leaf is pointed. The leaves have sharply serrated margins. The upper leaf surface is rough to the touch. The lower surface is soft and covered with short hairs. The petioles are 1″ to 1 1/2″ long and produce a milky fluid when broken. The catkins that bear stamens are 1″ – to 3″ long. The catkins that bear pistils are 1″ to 1 1/2″ long. Red mulberry has aggregate fruits that are 1″ to 1 1/2″ long. The fruits are juicy and have a dark purple color. The bark of the red mulberry is grayish with flattened, either scaly ridges or smooth. The flowers are relatively inconspicuous: small, yellowish green or reddish-green. Male and female flowers are usually on separate trees although they may occur on the same tree.


Native red mulberry is rarely found away from the shade of mature, moist woods. where it prefers moist, wooded slopes, wood’s edges, and shady roadways. It is very tolerant of shade and is usually found as a small, understory tree. Many times you may find this native tree alongside streams where the soil is moist. Interestingly, because birds absolutely love the small blackberry sized fruit, they eat then scatter the seeds near and far so you may find red mulberry trees anywhere the soil is moist enough for the plant.

Grown in its native habitat and using local seed stock, red mulberry should not be prone to debilitating pests.Range:

Red Mulberry, is native to eastern North America, from Ontario and Vermont south to southern Florida and west to southeast South Dakota and central Texas.


The fruit of the mulberry and young shoots are the edible parts of this plant. The fruit, called drupes, look just like blackberries. They are typically about 1″ long. They ripen between late June through July. The fruit of the red mulberry can be eaten raw, juiced (very tasty) or cooked into pies, breads etc. The one problem there is in picking the fruit is that mulberry fruit in general, (red mulberry, white mulberry, etc) are favorites of just about all birds as well as small mammals. Often times they will get the fruit just before it ripens. The young shoots can be boiled until tender (1 water change in the process) and served with butter.

Notes of Interest:Red mulberry was used by several Native American tribes to treat a variety of ailments.

The red mulberry tree is a native tree of the Americas. The white mulberry tree which is, what I consider an invasive species, readily hybridizes with it. So, many times what you will come across is a hybrid tree – still all good to eat but once again the hand of man screws up nature.

I have read that the unripe fruit should not be eaten because they contain hallucinogens 1

The wood of red mulberry is strong and has been used in furniture and fence posts 2

1. Edible Wild Plants, Sterling Publishing page 200
2. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants – 2nd edition, Stackpole Books, page144

DAY LILY Information & Facts


Day Lily – Hemerocallis fulva / LlLIACEAE

Other Common Names:

Tawny Day Lily

Description:Daylily flowers come in a variety of forms, including: circular, triangular, double, ruffled, star-shaped and spider-shaped.

The day lily is a showy perennial herb. It grows from fleshy-fibrous roots or tubers. Keeled, sword like leaves grow from the ground. The leaves can be up to four feet tall that grow in clumps from the crown of the plant, at the soil line. The flower grows from a tall naked flowering stem that grows from the base of the plant. The flowers are large yellow to reddish- yellow and either face horizontal or upright. The flower is short lived, it withers and decays after blooming sometimes even after one day. Day lily flowers come in a variety of forms, including: circular, triangular, double, ruffled, star-shaped and spider-shaped.


Day lilies are found in colonies or clumps along ditches and roadsides in damp soil. H. fulva: Western United States. H. flava: Primarily found in the northeastern United States west to Michigan.


Day lily bloom from May through July.


Buds, flowers, tubers.

Preparation:Day lily cultivar flowers are highly diverse in colour and form

The buds and flowers, long a standard vegetable in Asia, have many uses in cookery. Care should be taken not to overcook the flower buds. Boil only a few minutes when prepared as a solo dish topped with butter.

Buds and flowers can both be added to soup or stew a few minutes before removing from heat. The early tubers are good and crisp in a salad, or eaten raw alone. Care must be taken when eating the tubers – I have read they could have carcinogenic compounds. Do not eat the leaves there could be low level poison.1

Notes of Interest:

The day lily was originally a cultivated flower but escaped cultivation and now like certain types of dandelion are considered “invasive”. They are hearty and thrive when thinned where winters are cold.

1. Peterson Field Guides – Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs

Prickly Pear Cactus Facts

Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus- Opuntia

According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture “prickly pear” in the cactus family is the common name for the genus Opuntia, which contains Prickly pear cactus typically grow with flat, rounded cladodes (also called platyclades) that are armed with two kinds of spinesmany different species found in North and South America and surrounding environs. They are more commonly found in deserts but there are varieties that thrive in the Great Plains and American Southeast. For a list of prickly pear cacti, see below in notes of interest. All have flat, fleshy pads that look like large leaves. The pads are actually modified branches or stems that serve several functions — water storage, photosynthesis and flower production.


Most prickly pear cactus have large spines which grow on the pads and stems from tubercles (small bumps). Around the large spines are clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids. Glochids easily detach from the plant and can lodge into skin. Most prickly pear cacti can have yellow, red or purple flowers, even among the same species. They vary in height from less than a foot, such as the plains or hedgehog, to over 6 feet, such as the blind prickly pear or pancake. Pads can vary in width, length, shape and color. While all varieties have glochids, certain varieties such as the blind pear, are regarded as spineless.


While many people associate cactus with the desert, prickly pear cacti varieties can be found in different environments. Englemann’s prickly pear cactus can be found in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts while the coastal prickly pear can be found in California and the grassland prickly pear can be found in the Great Plains in the U.S.


The fruits of most prickly pear cactus are edible. Prickly pear branches and pads can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Prickly Pear Nectar is made with the juice and pulp of the fruits. The fruits and pads of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers that may help keep blood sugar stable. According to Web MD, “Prickly pear cactus might lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Watch for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and monitor your blood sugar carefully if you have diabetes and use prickly pear cactus” Some side effects of eating prickly pear include mild diarrhea, nausea, increased amount and frequency of stool, bloating and headache.

Notes of Interest:

A dye was made by Native Americans and settlers with the blood of cochineal bugs, an insect that feeds on the pads of the prickly pear.

A cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, that is native to South America was inadvertently introduced into the United States in the Southeast and is making its way west. It presents a potential problem since it is largely unchecked by nature in North America. The potential destructive effect will not only be the loss of millions of dollars in revenue to farmers and producers but also to the environment where the impact on animals that depend on the prickly pear for food and shelter could potentially be enormous. This is just another example of human stupidity and carelessness.

Prickly Pear cactus Species: Brazilian prickly pear, semaphore prickly pear, sour prickly pear, California prickly pear, brownspined prickly pear, Tucson prickly pear, Big Bend prickly pear, Graham’s prickly pear, chenille prickly pear, border prickly pear, golden prickly pear, Rio Grande prickly pear, beavertail prickly pear, Trelease’s beavertail prickly pear, Chihuahua prickly pear, Chisos Mountain prickly pear, dollarjoint prickly pear, searchlight prickly pear, grassland prickly pear, erect prickly pear, Edwards’ prickly pear, Texas prickly pear, brittle prickly pear, violet prickly pear, tulip prickly pear, arborescent prickly pear, coastal prickly pear, purple prickly pear, twistspine prickly pear, common prickly pear, chaparral prickly pear, tulip prickly pear, Pinkava’s prickly pear, plains prickly pear, El Paso prickly pear, grizzlybear prickly pear, Navajo Bridge prickly pear, hairspine prickly pear, cockspur prickly pear, roving prickly pear, blind prickly pear, blood-red prickly pear, Santa Rita prickly pear, erect prickly pear, marblefruit prickly pear, bell-flower prickly pear, woollyjoint prickly pear, elephantear prickly pear, turban prickly pear, San Antonio prickly pear, Vasey’s coastal prickly pear, Wooton’s prickly pear

USDA Plants Profile – prickly pear

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Sunflower Facts & Identification


Sunflower – Helianthus annuus

Common names:Sunflowers are annuals with showy, daisylike flowerheads that are usually 2-4 inches across and bright yellow

common sunflower, Kansas sunflower

Years ago when I would go hiking and find a few sunflowers growing in a field I assumed they were “escapees” from someone’s garden or seeds dropped by a bird. How wrong I was. They are native plants of the Americas. As its name indicates, the sunflower is named for its huge, flower heads, whose shape and image are often used to depict the sun. Additionally, they have long been used by Native Americans as a food source and medicinal aid.


Frankly, sunflowers are iconic. Once you have seen one you will never make a mistake in identification. But for those that want a description of a sunflower, here goes – Sunflowers are large annual plants that commonly grow to heights between 5’ – 12’. As can be seen in the pictures, they have rough, hairy stems, broad, coarsely toothed, rough leaves and circular heads of flowers. The leaves are mostly alternate, egg-shaped to triangular, and entire or toothed. The heads consist of many individual flowers which mature into seeds, often in the hundreds, on a receptacle base

Leaves of the sunflower can be used as cattle feed, while the stems contain a fibre which may be used in paper production.Habitat:

Many times you will find sunflowers growing along a roadside in a sunny spot. They need full sun for optimum growth. They grow best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil with heavy mulch. However, I have found as long as a seed can germinate in decent soil and have enough sun, it will grow.


The sunflower is common and widespread. It can be found in all of the contiguous 48 states, all of Canada and Alaska.


Sunflower seeds can be eaten raw, roasted, cooked, dried, ground into flour and used as a source of oil.

Native Americans made a meal with parched seeds that were pounded in a mortar and mixed with beans, dried squash and pounded parched corn.

Sunflower seeds can be processed into a peanut butter alternative, sunflower butter.

Roasted seeds can be used as a coffee substitute much like chicory.

Notes of Interest:The stem of a sunflower grows from the plume found inside the seed.

Traditionally, several Native American groups planted sunflowers on the north edges of their gardens as a “fourth sister” to the better known three sisters combination of corn, beans, and squash.

Their seeds are commonly used as a wild bird food.

Purple, yellow and black dyes can be extracted from wild sunflowers.

As is all too often, sunflowers have been exported around the world. Frankly, even though they are beneficial plants, I would consider them invasive in areas they have been introduced.

Strawberry Plant Facts and Identification


Strawberry – Fragaria Virginiana

Common Names:Strawberry - Strawberries are in full fruit production in their second year.

Woodland strawberry; California strawberry, Virginia Strawberry


The first time I came across strawberries in the wild, and knew it, I was 18 years old hiking with a friend in the coastal mountains of Oregon. He was the one that identified them. It was one of those times when it was all about camping, fishing for cutthroat trout and eating wild foods – with a lot of it being strawberries along with a smattering of blackberries, thimbleberries and a bit of wild greens. I found it strangely fulfilling camping in a tent for a week really living off the land.

The good news about strawberries is that they are easy to identify and widely distributed. The bad news is that the strawberry fruit can have a limited growing season. This is a perennial plant that spreads by seed, short rhizomes (a thick underground horizontal stem that produces roots and has shoots that develop into new plants) and leafless stolon (a long stem or shoot that arises from the central rosette of a plant and droops to the ground).

Strawberry - Growing strawberries is fun and easy because they'll thrive in many regions.Identification:

If you have ever seen a strawberry plant in Home Depot, Lowes or your local garden center then you know what a wild strawberry plant looks like – only the wild strawberry is smaller. The toothed leaves are thin and basal compound in groups of 3 with a petiole generally 1” – 4”. They are sparsely hairy below. Leaf color is generally a bluish-green. The strawberry flower has 5 white petals with numerous pistils and 20-35 stamens. The flower is typically .25” – .5” wide. The fruit is white then turns red when ripe with the seeds on the outside. The plant is generally 2” – 6” tall.


Strawberries grow where there’s lots of sun: in meadows, fields, on moist ground, along the edge of woods, and on hillsides. You can find them across the U.S. and Canada except in desert/arid areas.


The fruit ripens sometime between June and August. I have even come across strawberry fruit in the wild in late September. Obviously the fruit is edible and if you can pick enough, it can be canned, frozen or dried. The fruit of strawberries are nutritious and are full of essential vitamins and minerals.

The leaves and stems are edible and actually taste good when fresh and young. They are loaded with vitamin C – an important vitamin used to prevent scurvy. One way to enjoy the benefits of the leaves is make a tea with a handful of freshly picked leaves. For winter use you can dry out the leaves and store in a jar.

Notes of interest:The Strawberry has a very high vitamin C content and is versatile as a dessert food.

Native Americans used strawberries as a food source. The strawberry is an important food source for many wild animals from insects to deer and birds.

Growing your own strawberry patch: Strawberry plants are easy to grow if you want free fresh fruit. I like to plant my strawberries in long rows.

They should be planted in full sun in a light, loose soil, about 10” apart in rows 2’ apart. You should plant in an area that has plenty of room for your patch to spread out. Lightly fertilize the plants during the growing season. After 2 – 3 years your plants will spread – mostly from “runners”. Once a runner plant has established its own roots and is healthy I like to move it to avoid overcrowding. Keep the runners pruned back until after you pick the strawberry fruit. This allows the plant to focus on fruit production thus increasing yield. As they age plants will lose “vigor” so you should pull plants over three years old to maintain your patch’s fruit production. Younger plants are more vigorous and produce more berries.

The biggest problems I have in the Northeast are rabbits (they will eat the plant right down to the ground) and gray squirrels (they will sneak in like the rats they are and eat the fruit just as it is ripening). I find the best way to protect plants and fruit is to cover the row with deer netting. It will let in the bees for pollination but keep out rabbits and squirrels.

Dandelion Information & Description


Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale / COMPOSITAE Sunflower family

Other Common Names:

Common Dandelion, Blowball, weed

General:Each bloom is made up of numerous strapshaped florets of a bright golden yellow.

There are a multitude of species of dandelion growing in the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. Dandelions are a perennial or biennial herb but many consider them an invasive weed. Many consider dandelions to be the worst lawn weed there is, even paying for lawn services and using herbicides to eradicate these lowly plants from the face of the earth. Many of the dandelions you see in your lawn are invasive, brought to North America by Europeans.


Dandelions have hollow flower stems that ooze a bitter milky liquid if broken. The plants are as short as 2” but can also be as tall as 18”.  The leaves are typically thin, deep green and coarsely toothed. The shiny and hairless leaves are clustered, growing from plant base in spreading rosette. The long, thick taproot typically goes straight down. Each stem has a single flower head or seed head. Plants can have multipe flowers on individual stems.

The flower is bright yellow to orange in color. The flower ultimately turns into a white ball of seed heads.


Abundant throughout North America; open fields, roadsides and lawns. Any place with enough sun and water can hold dandelions – even the sidewalk cracks in my front yard.


The plant grows and blossoms in early spring through summer and into the fall. The edibles can be picked from spring through fall.


Leaves and root.

Small birds are very fond of the seeds of the DandelionPreparation:

Young leaves harvested before flowers appear can be used in salads or cooked like domestic greens. They are nutritious so if in need, do not pass up. Older leaved have a tendency to be bitter. To remove bitterness, cook the leaves in water, change the cooking water and bring to a boil again. That should remove the bitterness.

Roots are best dug in autumn and should be dried uncut until hard. Like chicory root, dried roots are slowly roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. You can also just scrape the roots and boil in a little salt water.

Notes of Interest:

Superior source of vitamins, containing a large amount of vitamin A; also B, C, and E as well as calcium, sodium and potassium. Dandelion greens are rated very high nutritionally.

Traditionally, dandelion has been used a diuretic, to increase the amount of urine in order to get rid of too much fluid. It has been used for many conditions where a diuretic might help, such as liver problems and high blood pressure. However, there is no good research on using dandelion as a diuretic in people.

USDA, NRCS. 2014. The PLANTS Database ( , 9 February 2014). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA