Rare Plants and Diversity

For any plant lover, finding exotic and rare plant species may be the most exciting part of one’s day! Today, I found a wild orchid: Cypripedium acaule. In North Carolina, there are a number of native, terrestrial orchids where the orchids grow with their roots in the ground. Mostly, orchids are epiphytes, because they grow on a substrate like rocks or tree bark, with their roots exposed to the air. The roots have a special coating called velamen to keep in moisture.

 

The topic of rare plant species is coming up a lot recently in part because it is spring and plant life is waking up. Also because one of my classes this semester is focusing on an endemic and threatened plant species. This plant, which I recently met although not yet flowering, is Hudsonia montana (Mountain Golden Heather). Hudsonia montana is only found within two counties in North Carolina, and no where else in the world. (Albeit, other species of Hudsonia are found elsewhere in the world.) Hudsonia montana has a very specific habitat; it only grows on rocky outcrops, in higher elevations, and largely depends on wild fires to spread. This species in in danger in part because wildfires are less common in its habitat and people tend to trample this low-lying subshrub.

hudsonia

The orchid, Cypripedium acaule, was found in a tract of woods nestled between an interstate highway and a local busy road. The location of the Hudsonia montana is within designated wilderness area where there is nothing but mountains in all directions. The stark difference between the sightings of these native plants is indicative of the importance of ALL natural areas. Despite proximity to human activity, all natural areas may provide habitat and refuge for rare and threatened species.

Natural habitat is everywhere.  Not only do we need a focus on wilderness conservation, but also effort to conserve, to respect, to tend to the natural world in our own backyards, wherever we live. In a way, a single flower blooming among traffic is even more appreciated than the threatened shrub that people trample on when they drive for hours to arrive at the wilderness.

A diversity of plant life contributes to the biodiversity of our local ecosystems. When looking at diversity, we can look on so many different levels, from microbe diversity to human diversity. To the impassioned botanist, it goes without saying that we should respect, value, and protect native and threatened plant species. But most people may not understand why this is important, or why a plant sighting would make someone’s day. Well, biodiversity is essential to the longevity and the health of an ecosystem, of which humans are a part. For example, within the healthy human gut lining is found multiple species of bacteria, which function to maintain immunity, digestion, and emotional balance. Within a natural ecosystem, flowers have a mutualistic relationship with pollinators, so certain insects may rely on specific plants. Also, the genetic diversity of a plant population depends on large populations. These rare plants have a bigger role in our natural world, and in our backyards, than we may realize on a daily basis. I challenge you to learn a new plant in your backyard and to think about reasons why plant life may be important to protect.

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So many plants to learn

My sense of place is shifting from one place and ecology to another, yet again.  I am back in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, and suddenly the idea of home is amorphous.  A relationship is developing created by a connection to the land and the activities that go along with it.  Weeding, hiking, gardening, pruning, harvesting.

For the highly sensitive person, energies are acutely sensed from the environment.  Also, most people become a product of their environment such as reflects in their mannerism, accent, and even interests.  In a physical sense, people literally are their environment if it is that which they eat and sustains them.

I am honoring this week that which I do not know as I am surrounded by a plethora of wild and native plants which are foreign to me!  Since it is the season for flowers, the colors that greeted me in the morning caused me to wonder, “who are you, what are your properties, why are you here?”

Similar to the current migration and mixing of people the world over, plants native to Europe were brought to the U.S centuries ago and have adapted as a part of the populous. Despite this immigration of weeds, every corner of Earth (except maybe the north and south pole) contains plant life which is known to be medicinal (ie: ethnobotany).  This wonderful symbolism of the plants teaches me that a sense of place is created and is related to the ecology just outside of your door.

My intuition tells me that these unknown plants are more than compost, either containing chemical properties for health and healing, and/or metaphysical goodness.

The flowers of this shrub caught my eye this morning, and screamed “mallow,” but the leaves look nothing like marshmallow, and it is a shrub and not a single stalk.  Some of the same type of shrub is growing up the street and is up to 8 feet tall! I wonder if anyone knows what this is?


Also, this plant is growing in the most abundance, and is currently going to seed…. A lady bug seems to have been enjoying the perch during the early morning.  At first glance I thought it resembled goldenrod, but has very different flowers. The leaves do not have lobes, do have straight edges, are ovular and the stem is woody and round. Any guesses?


Finally, this looks similar to a marigold. It has little yellow flowers that are about to bloom.  There is a close up picture of the leaf below.

While most of these new plants I do not know, there is one old favorite commonly called Lambs Quarter.

Lambs Quarter Again
Lambs Quarter or wild spinach is a wild eatable.  The minerals that this plant contain in its leaves are directly absorbed from the soil in which it is growing, which contribute to the sense of place that is so much desired!  Similar to eating local organic food, wild weeds contain minerals for the body to function and to heal.  Over time, the cellular matrix of the body becomes composed of these minerals found in the land on which you live!

Lambs Quarter

Wild spinach grows all over the place and really does taste like spinach. I usually pick a few leaves and just eat them as a snack, but they also taste Great cooked with scrambled eggs or thrown into a stew.  I think this is like Alchemy where one thing turns into another! Creating You.  What makes you feel home? Does your sense of place relate to the natural world around you?

Thanks for reading. Love and Light…. Liane