Water Lily, Brandy-bottle, pond lily, bullhead lily, spatterdock, yellow cowlily, water lily
My son built a small pond in the backyard several years ago. Along with the necessary koi we bought the flora we added included a plant native to the entire USA – a yellow pond lily. In researching this plant I found out its history and the many ways this wild food is used and useful.
As its name implies, the yellow pond lily is an aquatic plant. It is a long lived plant, a perennial, which grows from spongy rhizomes anchored into the bottom of a body of water. The floating leaves are thick, somewhat heart-shaped and have up to an 18” spread. The stalks connecting leaves and flowers to rhizomes can grow six feet long.
Flowers of the water lily emerge on separate stem stalks. They are cup-shaped, yellow-green, with small scale-like petals. Flowers bloom from May to October. Spent flowers give way to seed heads that burst upon ripening, broadcasting their seeds over the water surface.
Yellow pond-lily occurs in slow-moving streams, ponds, and lakes. The plant pictured here was in Pine Lake, NY, a shallow Adirondack lake. The plant grows in wet, poor sandy soils and grows best in 1’ to 5’ of water in full sun to part shade. It is however tolerant of shade and deep water. There is a boggy area fed by the Normans Kill in Albany, NY that gets choked up with these wild plants by mid-summer every year. This is where the lilies I have come from.
The yellow pond lily can basically be found from Alaska south to California East to Labrador and south to Florida.
The roots (rhizomes) are rich in starch and can be harvested any time of the year and either roasted or boiled. I understand that the root can be dried and ground into a flour substitute. The seeds can also be gathered in late summer into the fall and roasted and shelled. They can be eaten as is, boiled like you would rice or ground into a flour/meal.
Notes of Interest:
Yellow Pond Lilies provides great cover for wildlife, including all types of fish, insects (aquatic, terrestrial and flying), amphibians and reptiles. It is also a food source for beaver, muskrats and waterfowl.
The plant’s use dates back to pre-colonial times. Native Americans used the starchy rootstocks as a boiled or roasted vegetable. Additionally, they harvested the seed for grinding into flour.
Although water lily seeds are produced and deposited on the water surface, the yellow pond-lily reproduces more readily by spreading rhizomes – I can attest to this. The lily in the koi pond has a root system around 4’ long with several spots that stems and flowers grow from. This native aquatic plant can readily take over a body of water – please do not help it spread. It is very difficult to eradicate
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).
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:
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.
Common names: ribwort plantain, English plantain, buckhorn plantain, narrowleaf plantain, ribleaf and lamb’s tongue, dooryard plantain, common plantain, Englishman’s foot, White Man’s Foot
It is just one of those damned weeds that you fight with every year – that is of course if you care about your lawn. Plantain, a perennial, is a very common “weed” that can be found just about anywhere. Just like so many other plants, Colonists brought it over from Europe with them. So, it is in my opinion an invasive species. Native Americans gave plantain two of its “common names” – Englishman’s foot and White Man’s Foot.
Leaves spiral on a very short, weakly woody stem. Leaves are broadly lance shaped to egg shaped, hairless or sparsely short haired. Roughly 2″ to 7″ long, leaves have five to seven prominent parallel veins from the base. Roots are fibrous and shallow. Broadleaf plantain can be distinguished from buckhorn plantain, Plantago lanceolata, by its broader leaf and longer flower head spikes.
The leafless flower stalks grow in summer into fall. They will reach approximately 6″ to 18″ tall. As the picture illustrates, the flower stalks grow out of the center of the plant. The flower stalks bear densely packed greenish white flowers each of which will form a seedpod containing 10 to 18 seeds.
Plantain grows in varied habitats. They can grow in moist soil, shade or full sun, poor soil in between sidewalk cracks – take your pick.
As the map demonstrates, plantain grows throughout Canada and the Coninental U.S.
The very young leaves can be added to salads, or cooked as greens. The immature flower stalks may be eaten raw or cooked. The seeds have a nutty flavor and may be parched and added to a variety of foods or ground into flour.
Notes of Interest:
Plantain is very high in beta carotene (A) and calcium. It also provides ascorbic acid (C).
The plant provides food for butterfly caterpillars, rabbits, deer, and grouse. A wide variety of birds eat the seeds.
According to WebMD: Fibers from broccoli and plantain plants may block a key stage in the development of Crohn’s disease…read more
Common Names: sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple or topinambour, Canadian potato, sunflower root, wild sunflower
Driving around in upstate New York in late summer you can spot Jerusalem artichoke growing just off the road. Take a walk near old farms and just off the path you can spot small plots of these native plants growing. This edible plant is actually a species of sunflower native to eastern North America – however due to its food value (and probably its flower) it has been introduced worldwide. Just another example of man bringing a new plant to an area to become an “invasive species”. The root system of this wild food is fibrous with thin cord-like rhizomes that can grow as long as 50 inches. Usually apparent at the tips of rhizomes are whitish to pinkish tubers that are irregular in size and shape and resemble a slender potato with knots.
The Jerusalem artichoke is a tall perennial plant. It can grow up to 10’ in height. Its stems are strong upright in growth. They have “hairs” along the stem. The leaves are opposite or in whorls of three on the bottom and alternately arranged near the top. The top of the leaves are covered with short hairs and are 4 to 10 inches long and 1 1/2 to 5 inches wide broadest at the base and tapering at the tip. All leaves have toothed margins. The flowers are bright yellow as can be seen in the picture. The flower head is a rounded central disc approximately 1 ½” to 2” wide which has approximately 10 – 20 – 1 ½” to 2 ½” flowers rays attached. Each plant will have several flowers on small stems.
You can find Jerusalem artichokes in damp or rich thickets, waste areas, old fields, along roadsides and even in peoples gardens – either as a known vegetable or just a nice yellow flower.
You can find clusters of these wild flowers growing from southern Saskatchewan south into Kansas and eastward into Quebec down to Georgia. Frankly since many people have attempted to grow jerusalem artichoke as a food source, you can find this plant growing where ever conditions are right – again “invasive”
The tuber is the edible part of this plant. If you wait until after a frost the inulin in the tubers will start turning to sugar thus making it sweeter. You can prepare the tuber just as you would a potato – roast, bake, boil, eat it raw, dry and grind into a flour. It is extremely versatile.
“Jerusalem artichokes get their sweetness from a unique sugar called inulin, which the body metabolizes much more slowly than it does other sugars. This makes the veggie a preferred food for diabetics, and for anyone who wants to avoid eating simple sugars and starches. Jerusalem artichokes are rich in iron, potassium and a range of B vitamins.” 2
Notes of Interest:
Jerusalem artichokes were cultivated by the Native Americans, in fact Samuel de Champlain found domestically grown plants at Cape Cod in 1605.
Truly a plant of many uses, the jerusalem artichoke can be grown for: human consumption, alcohol production, fructose production and livestock feed.
“Dehydrated and ground tubers can be stored for long periods without protein and sugar deterioration. Tubers can be prepared in ways similar to potatoes. In addition, they can be eaten raw, or made into flour, or pickled.” 1
A 25-square-foot planting can produce more than 100 pounds of harvested tubers. 2
The sugars from one acre of Jerusalem artichoke can produce 500 gallons of alcohol, which is about double the amount produced by either corn or sugarbeet. 3
Driving around during September in New York you will eventually come across a group of small trees growing in dense stands. The leaves will be a deep red and large conical red hairy fruits called drupes may be at the end of branches. This is the common Staghorn Sumac which is a deciduous shrub to small tree. It grows quite aggressively. Because staghorn sumac can grow by its roots (rhizomes), and once established it can be a pain to remove.
Staghorn Sumac grows 10’ – 35’ tall. As can be seen in the picture, the leaves are alternate & compound growing approximately 24” long with 10 – 32 serrate leaflets. Each leaf grows to 12” long. The leaf stalks and the stems are densely covered in rust-colored hairs. Mature trunks are smooth and hairless. Interestingly, only female plants produce flowers and berries. The red berries grow at the end of branches. The plant flowers from May to July and fruit, the drupes, ripen from June to September. As can be seen in the pictures, they grow in upright bunches. Each cluster of drupes may contain 100 to 700 seeds
Staghorn sumac grows in gardens, lawns, the edges of forests, and wasteland. It can grow under a wide array of conditions, but is most often found in open areas which are not already established by other trees.
Staghorn sumac is found throughout the eastern half of the United States and Canada from western Ontario, south to Oklahoma into the Gulf Coast States and eastward to all the Atlantic States and eastern Canada.
The fruit of sumacs can be collected, soaked and washed in cold water, strained, sweetened and made into a lemonade-like drink.
Notes of Interest:
Staghorn sumac spreads by seeds, and by its roots, rhizomes, to form “stands”.
The staghorn sumac derives its name from the countless tiny hairs covering its branches and resembling the tines of a deer’s antler when in velvet.
All parts of the staghorn sumac, except the roots, can be used as a natural dye.
Native Americans used the berries from staghorn sumac to make a drink.
The berries and bark are an important source of food for birds (upland games birds as well as song birds) and small mammals.
Staghorn sumac can form with either male or female plants.
Northern highbush blueberry, southeastern highbush blueberry, Maryland highbush blueberry, black highbush 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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