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This episode looks at a number of resources that are available to identify plants.
Before we begin however, I’d like to thank Jen Mendez at Permiekids.com for sponsoring this episode. Permie Kids is a solutions-based, do-ocracy community designing a holistic early childhood and primary education with our children that empower in learning and life. The community believes that the solution, the only ethical solution to borrow from Bill Mollison, is to take responsibility for ourselves and our children. This means valuing each individual, be they child or adult, and creating an inherent permanence in our learning culture.
This community is a collection of educators including parents, teachers, grandparents, mentors, and children that take responsibility together to collaborate and design a personalized holistic education with children that is passion-driven, project based, and grounded in the scientific methodology that empower people to care for themselves, others, and the earth. It is not about teaching children to “do” permaculture in the landscape, but do live a permaculture life regardless of where their passions take them.
You can become a part of the solution and learn more by going to PermieKids.com and joining the community, check out the podcast, and share in the surplus of community knowledge and ideas. Jen also offers free 1 to 1 mentoring for anyone who would like to bring this information into their lives with their children and grandchildren.
I really like what Ms. Mendez is doing. It fills in a gap that too few people are addressing and her work fits in with my long term view of The Plan. Where her early childhood and primary education ends, my desire for permaculture based, skills oriented, experiential education of young adults picks up. It’s really good to see these synergistic developments in the permaculture community and makes me hopeful for what the future holds.
Plant Identification and Uses
I want to look at three different types of plant identification sources: online, books, and in-person.
Online there is a community that I recommend anyone who is on Facebook gets involved with, that is the Plant Identification and Education group. It’s a closed group with over 6,000 members who really come together to post information and help people solve plant ID issues. I’ve learned quite a bit in the last few weeks of being a member. I recommend anyone who wants to delve into this subject goes there and gets involved. Read, explore, and learn more. A link that and all the other resources mentioned can be found in the show notes.
For online websites I would check out Go Botany! From the New England Wild Flower Society. I’ve interviewed Elizabeth Farnsworth who is involved with this project and they’re doing a lot to get good information out there. Also, if you contact the GoBotany team you get in touch with a real human being who is personally involved in the project. This site is at gobotany.newenglandwild.org.
Next is the Plants for A Future site at PFAF.org. The amount of information is nearly overwhelming and includes a data where you can search to find plants to meet a specific need. As a permaculture practitioner this site is indispensable for filling in the gaps of a design and finding something to fill a particular niche.
Another good identification site is the Discover Life wildflowers page. This provides a key where you can click the various characteristics and narrow down what you have. There are also pictures to go with each of the botanical meanings, and explanation keys. If this is your first time working with identifying plants and you want an online resource, this is where I would start.
Next is the USDA PLANTS database found at plants.usda.gov once you have an idea of what it is you have in order to find out more information on it. There are links here to see a list of the plants in a given state, and to learn about the endangered plants of the U.S. These endangered plants, to me, are ones we should seek to preserve in our own state.
The final resource to look for is to see if you state or territory has a natural heritage program. Using your favorite search engine, enter in the name of place where you live followed by natural heritage program and see what pops up. In the U.S. my understanding is that most states have a natural heritage program or something similar. The Pennsylvania site includes information on plant communities, aquatic communities, county inventories, interactive maps, species lists, the climate change vulnerability index, and more. I’ve learned an incredible amount about not only my state but my local region by looking through the many many resources there.
From online resources, I move to books. This is an area where I have limited knowledge, so turn to a list from Nathan Carlos Rupley, which has a foraging and re-wilding focus. His list includes:
- Abundantly Wild by Teresa Marrone
- Ancestral Plants by Arthur Haines
- Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos
- Botany in a Day by Thomas Elpel
- Dandelion Hunter by Rebecca Lerner
- Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas
- The Forager’s Harvest by Sam Thayer
- Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill
- Nature’s Garden by Sam Thayer
- It will Live Forever by Beverly R. Ortiz
I have three of these, those by Sam Thayer and Arthur Haines, in my personal library. There are also copies of each of those books floating around in the Traveling Permaculture Library Project. On order are copies of Botany in a Day by Thomas Elpel and Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas after seeing these two recommended over and over again. Another series of book I recommend are those by Euell Gibbons. Stalking the Wild Asparagus and his other works are classics and worth reading.
Even with all those resources available, I recommend that you connect with local or regional plant identification or use groups. Things to look for include native plant organizations, garden clubs, primitive skills folks, herbalists, or anyone else who is doing the kind of things you are interested in. If you’re practicing permaculture start with the closest permaculture group you can find. That’s how I’ve gotten in touch with so many people doing different things. Ask questions, ask around, connect, and you’ll be surprised what you can find.
If you try and try and can’t locate someone local, let me know. I’m always available to help you and know a lot of people in the community.
Finally, with any of these resources, no matter how much you trust the site or author take your time and double check against more than one resource to insure you have it right. Slow and steady wins this race and you’ll learn more from it.
Get out there, observe, learn more about the plants around you and how to use them. While you’re out there, take someone with you so they can join in the joy of these experiences.
Is there anyway I can help you on your path, or you can help me in return? Get in touch.
The Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann
P.O. Box 16
Dauphin, PA 17018