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The Originals

The continuing discoveries of a 21st century artist and naturalist …

In the first piece I wrote in this series I talked about my grandmother and her affinity with plants – how they were, in many ways, her companions.  Today we are going to look at  the ‘ancestors’ of some domesticated plants we see in gardens  and adorning lawns today.  But before I start  I want to mention a segment of a book I just finished reading – ­Raising With The Moon The Complete Guide to Gardening – and living- by the Signs of the Moon.

In it the authors, Jack R. Pyle and Taylor Reese, explain the reasoning behind the methods my grandmother, and perhaps yours, used in planting their gardens.  The book is full of useful and interesting concepts regarding the effects of the moon’s phases on everything in nature.  One chapter took me back to my childhood – walking barefoot on tough Piedmont Carolina clay through my grandmother’s garden.  At least one side of her vegetable garden, was always planted with a row or two of sunflowers.

I loved the tall plants with their sunny faces watching over me and that garden.  In Chapter Four of Raising With The Moon the authors skim the surface of companion plants.  While they would need an entirely separate book to cover all of the beneficial combinations of plants they give several examples and end the chapter with two charts – ‘Good Companions’ and ‘Bad Companions’.  In the ‘Good Companions’ chart Sunflowers are listed as being good neighbors for cucumbers, squash and pumpkins. They don’t say why so I did a little of my own research and found that Sunflowers are hearty enough resist aphids. Those sentinels help keep aphids off susceptible plants  – an organic method of pest control.

So my grandmother, who planted by the signs, also practiced companion planting.  She also had marigolds and dill in her garden.  Marigolds’ pungent smell deter many garden pests but the flowers “will be all but ignored by bees….and the lady bugs, the mantises, and other insect predators”.  The reason I mention this companion planting concept is that some of the plants we’ll be looking at today are the wild versions of herbs that are good garden companions.

Now on to the ‘originals’.

Wild Garlic – Family:  Amarylidaceae; Genus:  Allium; Species:  Vineale

This plant has pink or white flowers mixed with bulbets or without flowers and replaced by bulbets with tails.  They typically bloom from May – July.  If you like garlic, and if the sources I reviewed are accurate, you’ll love the bulb of this plant since it is described as having a very strong garlic flavor.

It was introduced into North America during colonial times and, like many non-native species, has become a pest in some locations.  Apparently that is not the case here because this year was the first time I’d ever seen this plant.

Wild Garlic  Allium Vineale (a.k.a Stag Garlic, Crow's Nest Garlic)
Wild Garlic Allium Vineale (a.k.a Stag Garlic, Crow’s Nest Garlic)
Wild Garlic  Allium Vineale (a.k.a Stag Garlic, Crow's Nest Garlic)  - Spring
Wild Garlic Allium Vineale (a.k.a Stag Garlic, Crow’s Nest Garlic) – Spring

Wild Garlic  Allium Vineale (a.k.a Stag Garlic, Crow's Nest Garlic) Mid-Summer
Wild Garlic Allium Vineale (a.k.a Stag Garlic, Crow’s Nest Garlic) Mid-Summer
Wild Garlic  Allium Vineale (a.k.a Stag Garlic, Crow's Nest Garlic) Late Summer
Wild Garlic Allium Vineale (a.k.a Stag Garlic, Crow’s Nest Garlic) Late Summer

We go from the pungent to the sweet – the next two plants are both in the mint family:

Lamiaceae

Mint, Hairy Wood or Hairy Pagoda Plant –  Genus:  Blephilia; Species:  hirsuta

This member of the mint family has distinctive hairy stems and even the whorls of blooms have dense ‘hairs’.  What I love about this plant is the dotted pattern on the interior of the blossoms.  Perhaps they are another method of ‘directing’ pollinators to the center of the flower?

Hairy Wood Mint - Blephilia hirsula Close
Hairy Wood Mint – Blephilia hirsula Close
Hairy Wood Mint - Blephilia hirsula
Hairy Wood Mint – Blephilia hirsula
Hairy Wood Mint - Blephilia hirsula Blooming
Hairy Wood Mint – Blephilia hirsula Blooming
Hairy Wood Mint Shadowed
Hairy Wood Mint Shadowed

Wild Basil – Genus:  Clinopodium; Species:  vulgare

One of my favorite herbs for flavoring dishes, particularly tomato based sauces, I used to grow the domestic variety in my herb garden.  Just as with the domestic variety the leaves can be crushed or dried and used for flavoring.

Wild Basil Buds
Wild Basil Buds
Wild Basil Plant - Labiatae saturejam vulgaris
Wild Basil Plant – Labiatae saturejam vulgaris
Labiatae saturejam vulgaris Wild Basil Close Blossom
Labiatae saturejam vulgaris Wild Basil Close Blossom
Labiatae saturejam vulgaris Wild Basil Blossom Circle
Labiatae saturejam vulgaris Wild Basil Blossom Circle

Wild Basil Patch
Wild Basil Patch

Lyre-leaved Sage – Genus:  Salvia; Species:  Lyrata

Unlike the other ‘mints’ we’ve looked at, the lyre-leaved sage plant’s leaves are primarily at the base of the flower stem. It is a heat-tolerant, adaptable ground cover that blooms from March through June in most any sun setting (full sun, shade, partial shade) American Indians used the leaves in a salve for sores.

According to at least one source the application of fresh leaves will remove warts and can be made into an ointment to cure wounds and sores.  Also, Peterson’s Field Guide Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs  states that American Indians used the root in a salve for sores.

Lyre-leaf Sage Close Up
Lyre-leaf Sage Close Up
Lyre-leaf Sage Plants
Lyre-leaf Sage Plants
Lyre-leaf Sage
Lyre-leaf Sage

The next two plants are not wildflowers.  One is a vine and the other a tree – both of which have been converted into liquid forms for centuries.

First we have a vine that has been cultivated from its wild original since the 16th century and is native to the southern portion of North America.   The oldest and largest wine-maker here in my home state, Duplin Winery, makes all of their wines from Muscadines.

Family:  Vitaceae;  Genus:  Vitis; Subgenus:  Muscadinia; Species: rotundifolia

Spring Muscadines
Spring Muscadines
Little Berries on the Vine - Muscadine
Little Berries on the Vine – Muscadine

Muscadine Clusters
Muscadine Clusters
Filtered Light on Young Muscadines
Filtered Light on Young Muscadines

Muscadines - Scuppernog Wine on the Vine
Muscadines – Scuppernog Wine on the Vine

For the tree I’m including, rather than wine you can buy it in tea form or, if you know how, you can make your own from its roots.  However, one variety of this lovely tree is already extinct and the FDA has banned its use in flavoring root beer because of concerns of, not just the extinction of the plant, but of liver cancer if consumed long-term.

And among the interesting information about this tree I found that the Plymouth colonies were founded, in part, on speculation of Sassafras exports.

The Sassafras tree grows up to 69 feet in height and spreading habit allowing its branches to reach as much as 39 feet in width and has many slender branches, and smooth, orange-brown bark.  The young leaves and twigs produce a citrus-like scent when crushed.  The largest sassafras tree in the United States (and speculated to be the largest in the world) is in Owensboro, Kentucky also the site of the ‘Blue Bridge of Kentucky’.

Given the fragile nature of this tree’s use and future I feel fortunate to have seen a new one growing up in the woods this past spring.

Sassafras Tree: Family:  Lauraceae; Genus:  Sassafras; Species:  albidium

Sassafras Spring Sapling
Sassafras Spring Sapling
Sassafras Leaf Shoots
Sassafras Leaf Shoots

So now that we’ve covered the spices and libations let’s look at the purely ornamental side of things.

A couple of flowers….

Wild Geranium: Family:  Geraniaceae: Genus:  Geranium; Species:  maculatum

Bloom Time:  April – July

Wild Geranium
Wild Geranium

Common Evening Primrose:  Family:  Onagraceae; Genus:  Oenothera; Species:  biennis

Evening Primrose on the Hillside
Evening Primrose on the Hillside
Common Evening Primrose Close Up
Common Evening Primrose Close Up
Common Evening Primrose Plant
Common Evening Primrose Plant
Common Evening Primrose Morning View
Common Evening Primrose Morning View

And a shrub…..or two or three

Azaleas:

Family:  Ericaceae; Genus:  Rhododendron; Subgenus and Section:  Pentanthera:  Species:  calendulaceum (a.k.a Flame Azalea)

Rhododendron calendulaceuam
Rhododendron calendulaceuam
Flame Azalea
Flame Azalea
Orange Flame Azalea
Orange Flame Azalea
Flame Azalea Blossoms
Flame Azalea Blossoms

'Orange Blossom Special' - R. Calendulaceum
‘Orange Blossom Special’ – R. Calendulaceum
R calendulaceum Yellow and Orange - Competing for Color
R calendulaceum Yellow and Orange – Competing for Color

Rhododendron calendulaceuam Sunlight View
Rhododendron calendulaceuam Sunlight View
R calendulaceuam Yellow Bloom
R calendulaceuam Yellow Bloom

Family:  Ericaceae; Genus:  Rhododendron;  Species:  periclymenoides (a.k.a Pink Azalea; Pinxterflower Azalea)

Pinxter Flower - Rhododndron  periclymenoides
Pinxter Flower – Rhododndron periclymenoides

Each of these plants has an equivalent (sometimes hundreds of varieties) domestic version of their wild selves.  But these are the true originals.   Many other examples are out there…..look for them and make comments on your findings at the end of this post.


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