Category Archives: Survival Guide

Poison Ivy – Toxicodendron radicans

Poison Ivy

General:

Poison ivy is a common North American plant that produces urushiol, a clear liquid compound found within the sap of the plant that causes an poison ivy is widely distributed and can be mistakenitching rash in most people who touch it. The fluids released by scratching the blisters do not spread the poison or the rash. The fluid in the blisters is produced by the body and it is not by urushiol.

Poison ivy likes to grow in suburban areas and many people I know have unwittingly cleaned out “weeds” along neighboring fences only to wake up the next day with the signature itchy rash.

Description:

Poison ivy can be found growing in any of the following three forms

Trailing vine that is 4 to 10 inches high

poison ivy generally has three leaves and white berriesShrub up to 4 feet tall

A climbing vine that grows on trees or some other support. Older vines on substantial supports send out lateral branches that may at first be mistaken for tree limbs.

Poison ivy leaves are deciduous and typical form in clusters 3 on their own stem that are almond-shaped. The leaves grow alternately on the main stem. The leaves are not very large – approximately 1 ½” – 5” long. Like other plants that are deciduous, the leaves of poison ivy change color with age and season starting out often times red in spring then to green then red, orange, or yellow in the fall. The stems are smooth – this easily distinguishes poison ivy from blackberry vines.  The leaves as shown by the picture can have slight serrated edges and as the leaf matures can be shiny.

Vines growing on the trunk of a tree become firmly attached through numerous aerial rootlets. One problem here is that poison ivy grows in the same areas as Virginia creeper, so care must be exercised because you will not be able to clearly identify poison ivy in this situation. Poison ivy vines can have a “hairy” appearance, which can help in identification.
Poison ivy flowers from May to July. The flowers are yellowish- or greenish-white located in clusters approximately 3” above the leaves. The berries mature by August to November and are grayish-white in color.

Location:

Poison ivy grows throughout much of North America, including eastern Canada in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and all U.S. states east of the Rockies, as well as in areas of Mexico. So the lesson here is that you can expect it just about anywhere. When out and about hiking or camping you will likely find poison ivy in wooded areas, much of the time in open areas that receive sun. It also grows in exposed rocky areas and in open fields.

Poison:

Urushiol binds to the skin on contact, where it causes severe itching that often develops into a red rash or flesh colored bumps and blistering. The rash can be treated with Calamine lotion or other over the counter remedies such as oatmeal baths and baking soda. In severe cases hospitalization may be required or if the plant has been ingested.
Urushiol oil can remain active for several years, so handling dead leaves or vines can cause a reaction. In addition, oil transferred from the plant to other objects (such as pet fur) can cause the rash if it comes into contact with the skin.

Pacific Poison Oak – Toxicodendron diversilobum

poison oak Pacific Poison Oak

General:

Pacific poison-oak, a member of the sumac family, is a deciduous plant that grows throughout many parts of west coast. Urushiol, found on the stems, berries and leaves is the main component of the oily resin that causes rashes and blistering. Poison oak can survive under a wide range of temperatures, elevations, soil types, moisture conditions,

Description:

Western poison oak is variable in plant growth and leaf appearance. It can grow as a dense shrub, a tree with a 3” – 8” trunk or as a climbing vine.
When Pacific poison-oak grows as a shrub, it can reach up to 13 feet tall. When poison oak grows as a vine or tree, stems can reach up to 82 feet long. Twigs can be hairless to sparsely hairy and gray to reddish brown.

poison oak berries when ripe will turn whiteLeaves, generally resembling the leaves of a true oak, consist of three, and sometimes up to five leaflets but three leaflet leaves are most common. Leaf edges can be smooth, wavy, or have slightly rounded lobes. The upper leaf surface is hairless, or nearly so, and usually slightly glossy. The lower surface usually has sparse, short hairs. Leaves turn bright red in the autumn.

White flowers form in the spring in leaf axils, where the leaf meets or connects to the stalk, and white or tan berries usually form later in the summer

Without leaves, poison oak stems may sometimes be identified by occasional black marks where its milky sap may have oozed and dried.
Location: as the map indicates, western poison oak is found only on the Pacific Coast of the United States and of Canada. southern Canada to the Baja California peninsula.

Poison:

Urushiol binds to the skin on contact, where it causes severe itching that often develops into a red rash or flesh colored bumps and blistering. Symptoms generally appear 12 to 48 hours later. The rash can be treated with Calamine lotion or other over the counter remedies such as oatmeal baths and baking soda. In severe cases hospitalization may be required or if the plant has been ingested.

Urushiol oil can remain active for several years, so handling dead leaves or vines can cause a reaction. In addition, oil transferred from the plant to other objects (such as pet fur) can cause the rash if it comes into contact with the skin.
Severe respiratory irritation can be induced by breathing the smoke from burning plant material. Repeated exposure often results in increased sensitivity.

Blueberry Plant Identification Information

Blueberry

Common Names:

Northern highbush blueberry, southeastern highbush blueberry, Maryland highbush blueberry, black highbblueberry plant leaves turn a vibrant red in fallush blueberry, American blueberry, New Jersey blueberry, rabbiteye blueberry, swamp blueberry, tall huckleberry, mayberry, whortleberry

Other than eating blueberry muffins and pancakes, I never thought much of the plant. My guess was that blueberries were farm plants and that was it. Then in my early twenties I was trout fishing in Quebec just north of Alma. We were fishing small lakes loaded with native brook trout. I walked down to the first lake and was met with about 2 acres of blueberry plants with ripe fruit. I asked my brother-in-law how they “got there”. Right then I learned a lesson – blueberry plants, in this case high bush blueberry are native plants to North America. That week I dined on brook trout and blueberries each evening and blueberry pancakes with bacon each morning – a great way to live.

Identification:

Blueberry bushes can be small to large shrub like plants. Highbush blueberry plants can grow over 6′ tall with a similar spread. Twigs are yellow-green (reddish in winter) and covered with small wart-like dots. Leaves are deciduous, alternate, simple, elliptic or ovate, 1 to 3½ inches long and slightly waxy above. As the pictures indicate, the leaves are usually a good healthy green. In fall the leaves can turn a vibrant red.
The white or pink-tinged flowers are small and urn-shaped with 5 petals, and occur 8 to 10 per cluster. Flowering occurs February to June, sporadically in the southern portion of its range; fruiting occurs April to October, about 62 days after flowering. Fruits are ¼ – ½” blue-black berries with many seeds.
Habitat: The most common native habitat is in moist or wet peat of moderate to high acidity – in and around marshes, swamps, lakes and flood-prone areas. There are varieties that also grow in drier areas such as dunes and barrier beaches, rocky hillsides, oak woods, and pinewoods.

Location:

With the exception of deserts etc. some form of blueberry can be found somewhere in North America as long as the habitat is favorable. Additionally, because of people using the plants for home, garden or farm the various species have become transplanted wide and far. Birds eating the fruit then disperse the seeds for more plants. The gist here is that it is possible to locate blueberry plants if you look.

Edible:

The berry is the edible part of this plant. Blueberries can be eaten raw, smoke-dried, sun-dried, boiled, and baked in a wide variety of culinary ways. They have one of the highest concentrations of iron of the temperate fruits. Additionally, blueberries are high in anti-oxidants.

Check out our blueberry recipes

Notes of interest:

Blueberries provide important summer and early fall food for numerous species of game birds, songbirds, and mammals – my fight with local animals is a testament to this fact!!
More than 50 blueberry varieties have been developed, primarily for commercially valuable fruit characteristics and seasonality.

Blueberry Growing Guide:

Blueberries combine delicious healthy fruit and ornamental value to the garden. This native plant is easy to grow and requires little care. If a few basic steps are followed your blueberry plants can last for years.
In order for bushes to grow properly, have fruit set and mature and have the plants flourish, you will want to provide as much sunlight as possible. My plants currently have a good 10 hours of sunlight from spring into fall.
These native plants do best in slightly acidic soil, somewhere between a pH of 5.5 and 6.5. When you plant blueberries, make sure you add plenty of peat moss. It will provide a great pH level to start as well as setting a good lose soil for the roots to spread. A periodic feeding regime with an acidic fertilizer such as Mir-Acid is good. I do not believe Mir-acid lowers soil pH but my blueberries do well. If after testing your soil pH it is still too high try sulphur, ammonium sulfate or iron sulfate.

Blueberries do best with a 2-4″ mulch over the roots to conserve moisture, prevent weeds and add organic matter. Bark mulch, acid compost, sawdust, grass clippings, etc. all work well. Repeat every other year.

Do not plant blueberry bushes in wet areas of your property or in clay based soils that will hold water and slow drainage. Blueberries need adequate water, especially when the fruit is maturing you will need to make sure there is plenty of water, if not the fruit will shrivel on the plant. This is what happened to my crop in 2012 when the U.S. experienced drought conditions

Blueberries are like many other fruiting plants, in most cases a single plant will not “self-pollinate”. Most, if not all good gardening guides will tell you to plant two different varieties for proper pollination.

For proper growth, plant blueberries 4-5 feet apart.

My big fight of the year is when the fruit begins to ripen. Maturing blueberries attract birds and squirrels from all over. The only way I know of keeping the fruit is to cover with fine-meshed deer netting. I tack the ends down to the ground to keep animals from getting under the netting to feed. I have walked out too often to find a northern cardinal or gray squirrel trying to get out of the net. When winter sets in upstate New York, rabbits will eat the young branches of blueberry plants. In my area eastern cottontail rabbits are a pain. In a few days they can chew a young plant to the ground. I surround my blueberry plants with chicken wire. This protects the plants.

Blueberry Benefits

Heart health

In a study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, blueberry supplementation in mice with high cholesterol reduced their risk factors for atherosclerosis. Those who took the extract noted a 29 percent reduction in total cholesterol, with bad cholesterol dropping by 34 percent and good cholesterol rising by up to 40 percent, despite consuming a high-fat diet. In addition, triglycerides – a fat that turns normal cells into fat cells – and homocysteine – which causes inflammation in arterial walls – were both reduced by half.

Excellent references and information in growing blueberries:

Local County agents are listed in the phone book or can be looked up online, call up and ask questions

University of Maine – great article with video instructions

Atlee Burpee & Co – what I consider the best seed and plant company around (with a great history)

Chokecherry – Prunus Virginiana

General: The common nthere are parts of the chokecherry plant that are poisoname, chokecherry, came from the bitter and astringent taste of the fruit. The fruit was a staple for numerous Native American tribes across the North American continent, especially those who lived on the plains and prairies. The Cheyenne used the limbs to make arrow shafts and bows. The Crows used it for tipi stakes and pins. Early trappers washed their steel traps in water boiled with the bark to remove the scent.

In their journals, Lewis and Clark recorded that while camped on the upper Missouri River Captain Lewis became will with abdominal cramps and fever. He made a tea from chokecherry twigs and wachokecherry drawings well the next day.

The leaves, bark, stem, and seed pit of chokecherry are all toxic due to production of hydrocyanic acid.
The leaves of the chokecherry serve as food for caterpillars and the tree can be a host for the tent caterpillar.

Description: The chokecherry may reach a height of over 30 feet. Its crown is irregular and may spread between 10 to 20 feet. The stems are numerous and slender. The chokecherry’s leaves are dark green and glossy above and paler below. They are alternate on the stem shaped oval to broadly elliptic in shape and are 1” – 4” long and ¾” – 2” wide. The leaf edges are toothed with closely-spaced sharp teeth pointing outward forming a serrated edge. They turn yellow in autumn.

The bark of young trees may vary from gray to a reddish brown. As it ages the bark turns darker, into brownish-black and becomes noticeably furrowed. The bark is distinctly marked by horizontal rows of raised air pores. With maturation the lenticels develop into shallow grooves.
It has perfect flowers which are aromatic and arranged in cylindrical racemes 3 to 6 inches long. The racemes always grow on the current year’s leafy twig growth. Individual flowers are perfect, 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter with 5 white petals. The flowers start appearing before the leaves are fully developed. Flowers may appear from April to July and fruits form a couple of months later.

Location: As can be seen on the map, the chokecherry is widespread across North America. Chokecherry is found in a large geographic area and it grows abundantly in many habitat types

Edible: The flesh of the fruit is edible. Also, jelly and jam can be made from the fruit. Native Americans would mash the fruits and seeds and use it to mix with meat and make pemmican.

Pictures:

Sheri Hagwood @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. Wetland flora: Field office illustrated guide to plant species. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
W.D. Brush @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Broadleaf arrowhead – Information & Identification

Broadleaf Arrowhead

General:

Broadleaf arrowhead is an aquatic and very cold hardy plant. Grown in ponds and other water features in the home broadleaf arrowheadgarden as well as in the wild. A common wetland plant, the wapato is also known as: broadleaf arrowhead, arrowhead, duck potato and Indian potato. The tubers of broadleaf arrowhead have long been an important food source to indigenous peoples of the Americas. The Lewis and Clark expedition depended on the plant when they were in the Columbia River basin.   The seeds and tubers of are readily consumed by waterfowl, songbirds, wading birds, muskrats, and beaver.

Description:

wapatoThe wapato is a perennial aquatic or marsh plant. The leaves are extremely variable very thin and are from 4” – 10” long. As can be seen by the pictures, the leaves are in the shape of arrowheads. The plants can reach heights of 3 to 4 feet.

Between mid to late summer one or two tapering cylindrical flowering stalks emerge holding 2 to 15 whorls of white, three petaled flowers with yellow reproductive parts. Each stalk is taller than the leaves. From August to October round clusters of seed casings develop. Growth peaks in July and by mid fall the emergent plant parts annually die back to the root crown.

Location:

The broadleaf arrowhead is widespread across North America, but also found natively in Hawaii, the Caribbean and the northern part of South America, broadleaf arrowhead has been introduced in Europe and Australia. As with most man made introductions, it is considered an invasive weed.

The broad-leaf arrowhead can be found along the curves of rivers, ponds and lakes, well marked by the dark green color of the leaves. The plant has strong roots and can survive through wide variations of the water level, slow currents and waves.

Edible:

The roots produce white tubers covered with a purplish skin that are edible. The tubers can be dug from the ground by using your feet, a pitchfork, or a stick. Once loosened from the soil, they usually will float to the surface. Ripe tubers can be collected in the fall.broadleaf arrowhead distribution

These tubers can be eaten raw or cooked for 15 to 20 minutes. The taste is similar to potatoes and chestnuts, and they can be prepared in the same fashions: roasting, frying, boiling, and so on. They can also be sliced and dried.

Picture of plant: Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1992. Western wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. West Region, Sacramento.

Picture of leaf: USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 100

Four-wing Saltbush – Atriplex Canescens

Common Names: Chamise, chamize, chamiso, white greasewood, saltsage, fourwing shadscale, bushy atriplex Four-wing saltbush are shrubs that grow an average of two to three feet tall although they may reach eight to fifteen feet in height,four-wing saltbush, four wing saltbush

Description: Fourwing saltbush is deciduous to evergreen, depending on climate. Its much-branched stems are stout with whitish bark. Mature plants range from 1 to over 8 feet in height, depending on the soil and climate. Its leaves are simple, alternate, linear to narrowly oblong covered with fine whitish hairs and ½ to 2 inches long. Its root system is branched and commonly very deep (to 20 feet) when soil depth allows.

Male and female flowers are commonly on separate plants. Male flowers are red to yellow and form dense spNative Americans of the Southwest harvested the leaves and seeds of the plant for food.ikes at the ends of the branches. The female flowers are axillary and nondescript. Fourwing saltbush plants can exhibit male and female parts in one flower. The seed is contained in cases that turn a dull yellow when ripe and may remain attached to the plant throughout winter.

Location: Four-wing saltbush is a widely distributed shrub on rangelands in the western United States including the Intermountain, Great Basin, and Great Plains regions (see map). Its natural range extends from below sea level to above 8,000 feet elevation. Land owners and agencies use fourwing saltbush for reclamation of disturbed sites

Edible: Fresh roots can be boiled with a little salt and drunk for stomach pain and as a laxative. Leaves and young shoots can be added to soups and stews. Soapy lather from leaves can be used for itching and rashes from chickenpox or measles. Fresh leaf or a poultice of fresh or dried flowers or roots can be applied to ant bites and bee stings.Four-wings grow from California, northwest to Washington, east to North Dakota and Kansas, and south to Mexico
Native Americans used ashes from the leaves as a substitute for baking powder.

Seed generally ripens in late August and September and can be harvested from mid September through December. The seeds can be ground into meal. Seed yields may range from 200 to 400 pounds per acre.

Notes of interest: Saltbush is high in carotene and averages about four percent digestible protein. The leaves may be as high as 18 percent total protein. It is important for both wildlife and domestic animals.
The blossoms and twigs can make a yellow dye.