Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Not again! (oh, yes)

When will it ever end? I’m starting to think there are few truly native plants around. Today’s photo is of the mullein, a common wild plant with many medicinal uses and cool common names. But, as I seem to discover All The Time, it is not a native plant.

Does that surprise you? It sure as heck surprised me, and I’m getting tired of it. I’m starting to wonder just what this landscape around here might have looked like before all these non-native plants were released. And those non-native plants are so sneaky, too. They are very good at finding a foothold and pretending they have always been here.

Take the mullein for instance. It’s got a whole host of common names that make it sound as though it has always been around—Quaker Rouge, for one. The Pennsylvania Dutch call it Wolla or Wolla Graut (they smoke it). Native Americans used it regularly, usually for congestion, which brings me to one of its most common names—lungwort. Supposedly, one way to use the plant is to take its fresh leaves, pour boiling water over them and then inhale the infusion. I think I’ll give that one a try myself, perhaps tonight. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Of the plant’s many common names, my personal favorite is My Lady’s Flannel. Flannels were an older name for wash cloths and refers to the soft, velvety leaves of the plant.

So I think I’m going to make a mid-year resolution. I hereby resolve that I’m no longer going to post photos of non-native wild plants anymore. Gee, I hope that doesn’t mean I’ll have to give up posting photos. Stay tuned.


Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I didn't know that wasn't native!

Carolyn H said...

Lynne: (sigh) Neither did I.

Carolyn H.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Mullein was also often used to line the footwear of early settlers and Native American, the soft, thick leaves acting as insulation.

I've wrestled with the native/non-native issues on and off for years in my writing and attitudes. Not just on plants, but everything from fish to birds to pets. (That cat sitting on your bed in a recent photograph is a non-native species, right?)

So…what to do?

This country is, after all, populated completely by non-native humans—recent settlers from Europe and elsewhere, and those earlier people, whom we call Native Americans, yet are simply older non-natives that either walked over the land bridge between Russia and North America, or came up from Central America, depending on how much stock you put in oral tradition.

I think of the United States of America as my native land; the land of my birth. And in thinking of myself as an American, I do not think of myself as an immigrant or alien. My family roots in this soil go back to the late-1600s/early-1700s…long before the birth of the U.S.

I've finally—and I'm not by any means suggesting you do the same—decided that the natural world is what it is, with honeybees (non-native), dandelions (non-native, and my favorite of all greens for the table, wild or otherwise), and brown trout (non-native, though I'd rather catch brook trout because they, unlike the more tolerant browns, choose to live in the most wild, and therefore most beautiful settings.)

On the other hand, you can write forever, from your mountain cabin, and probably never run out of native species as source material. But it won't always be those common and showy plants at your feet; the non-natives often have a tendency to catch the eye…which is why some of them were brought over in the first place.

Check your field guides before writing your posts, though; you'll save time, because things will get tricky. :-)

Carolyn H said...

Griz: Yes, my cat is a non-native species, though he also isn't out and about either, populating his way across the countryside.

Technically speaking, I suppose you could say that humans aren't native to anywhere but Africa.

Still, I would say there's a difference between traveling on your own two feet to move somewhere else and allowing seeds from another continent to grow wild outside and change the native landscape.

But you're right that I'm going to have to pay attention to my field guides more before I take photos, not afterwards.

Carolyn H.

Jain said...

Carolyn, I feel similarly about non-native plants and wonder about the pre-settlement landscape, too. I started to post pics of day lilies and chicory one day last week, couldn't think of anything nice to say about them, and deleted the photos.

This is definitely a case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. I wish I could just appreciate what's there, but I know how much damage invasives do and it keeps me up at night.

I'm not quite to the point where I'll take the natives-only pledge (I post gardening photos too, none of which would qualify) but I wish you well on your non-natives ban!

Media.assistant said...

Hi Carolyn,

I wanted to give you the heads up since this seemed up your alley for Roundtop Ruminations. We are gearing up to launch a new website called Sierra Club Trails. It's (as far as we know) the first-ever comprehensive hiking wiki...A website where anyone can post their favorite hikes and anyone else can edit the descriptions so that the trails are constantly up-to-date. The site is up and running in a beta test now, and we're planning to launch it this Thursday, July 9th - so I wanted to make sure you were in the loop.

What makes this site unique is that it's a wiki - i.e. anyone can update or edit the trails that are posted. So if I post a trail in, say, Yosemite, and you've been there recently and saw that part of the trail is really muddy, or the bugs are bad this time of year, or if camping spots are getting really popular and should be reserved in advance, you can update that.

In addition to hiking and paddling trails, the site also features tips for hikers, a birding blog, photo contests, and Nature Notes, a series of audio features based on interviews with naturalists and Sierra Club Outings leaders. Sierra Club Trails is also an online community where users can create profiles and meet other hikers and nature-lovers, as well as join discussion forums with topics like the best trail mix recipe or whether guns should be allowed in national parks. Community members can form groups around a particular outdoor interest or place.

Does this sound like something you'd be interested in covering for your blog?

The link is - and the logo is on Flicrk here -


Natalie Gaber
Sierra Club
85 Second Street, Second Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 977-5526

LauraHinNJ said...

I'll post 'em... so long as they're pretty!