“I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall its buildings of concrete are, But rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.” Sun Bear of the Chippewa Tribe
A native perennial herb Northern Bedstraw is a member of the coffee family and its tiny seeds can be roasted as a coffee substitute. Growing in both Northern Europe and North America, bedstraw grass has a pleasant smell when dried (like newly mown grass) and was used in Europe as a stuffing for mattresses and pillows. It has a sticky nature and has also been called "Stickywillie" or "the Velco plant". Because this plant adheres so well to each other, when used as a mattress, its straw does not shift. Its clinging nature also caused it to be used in love potions. Bathing in an infusion of this plant was said to make you lucky in love. This plants was and is still used as a sieve in Sweden to strain milk for making cheese. Bedstraw grows by seed and by rhizomes and although rare, is widely distributed. The efficiency of its propagation by rhizomes causes it to sometimes form dense stands.
Some of Galium Boreale species produce a chemical called asperuloside. Asperuloside can be converted into prostaglandins earning it interest by the pharmaceutical industry as a potential source of medication formulation. Asperuloside can also produce coumarin which is the compound that gives Northern bedstraw its sweet smell and insect repellent properties. Coumarin is prescribed by physicians and nurse practitioners to prevent strokes and blood clots. Large amount of coumarin if consumed can cause fatal bleeding as well as toxicity to the liver and the kidney.
First Nations people ate young plants, and made tea out of the stems and leaves. Women and anyone with a bleeding condition should avoid bedstraw consumption because of the coumarin present. First nation’s people also made red dyes out of the roots of this plant.
Despite the potential toxicity of bedstraw, grazing animals and birds eat this plant without becoming ill. Northern Bedstraw is one of the plants that make up part of the mixed prairie grasslands of which there is less than 20% left in North America. The nectar of its small flowers attracts small bees and small flies. Consequently bedstraw is considered a good plant to attract native pollinators as well as beneficial insects. (Beneficial insects help reduce populations of pest insects) Both flowers and leaves are food for insects, moths and butterflies. While little is known about its faunal relationships native prairie plants such as bedstraw are capable of supporting significant biodiversity.
This plant and members of its family, play an important role in healthy ecosystems of North America and Europe. It provides food for insects as well as animals. It has multiple known useful functions for humans, and is being studied further for its medicinal potential. We would be wise to revere this plant and learn more about the many roles it plays and its importance for the many plants and animals associated with it.
photo creditBy photo MPF (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
“A weed is but an unloved flower.” ~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Canada Thistle is a hated weed that has naturalized to America from Europe.
Despite this unwanted status, thistle plays many ecological roles such as breaking up hardpan soil in areas of heavy clay and providing nectar to bees, butterflies, beneficial insects, as well as seeds for birds. I have noticed that this plant protects growing trees from browsing animals and provides cover for birds and other animals.
The thistle is a member of the artichoke family and its flower head can provide a small edible nubbin. The flower head have been collected to curdle milk. According to Plants for a Future, the flowers, leaves, oil, roots, stems and seeds are all edible. The stem has a fiber which can be made into paper. The milk thistle, whose seeds contain 4 to 6 percent silymarin, has been cultivated for the pharmaceutical industry on a larger scale in Austria, Germany, Hungry, Poland, China and Argentina. Silymarin has been used in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes with significant results. Also, silymarin is being investigated as an anti-liver cancer agent in people at risk for this condition such as those with liver cirrhosis.
Canada thistle generally grows on soil that is compacted…so much so that it so considered an indicator plant for that condition. Its roots are able to penetrate up to 20 feet deep, causing it to "mine” nutrients and moisture, bring them to the surface to share with other plants. . It is a valuable plant for bees. In addition to attracting long-tongued bees and short-tongued bees, the flowers of Canada Thistle attract a wide variety of beneficial insects such as ladybugs and predatory insects. The caterpillars of the butterfly Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady) feed on the foliage of thistles, as do the caterpillars of many moth species. The seeds of Canada Thistle and other thistles are a source of food for songbirds, including the Eastern Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Slate-Colored Junco, Indigo Bunting, and Clay-Colored Sparrow.
Because of the thorny foliage, mammalian herbivores usually avoid eating this plant, except when little else is available. However, there is an author and educator called Kathy Voth who has been teaching cows to eat weeds including thistle. She has written the book called "Cows Eat Weeds"
Scotland has made the thistle their national flower emblem and has songs dedicated to this plant. There is a legend that the thistle saved them from a Norse invasion when a barefoot Norseman, trying to surprise the Scots army in an attempt to silently attack, stepped on a thistle, letting out a cry, alerting the Scots army to their approach.
This plant has been very difficult to manage in agricultural fields and is intensely disliked by most farmers. As with most unwanted plants, there is a complex set of reasons why this plant is able to establish itself and cause so many problems. It is a plant that will not compete well in densely vegetated, porous healthy soil. Thistle easily establishes itself on bare land, on compacted soils where many other plants are unable to grow, on disturbed soils and on overgrazed pastures. Organic methods to suppress thistle growth involve using cover crops of clover or alfalfa combined with mowing.
In Estonia, there is a study presented at the 10th International Soil Conservation Organization Meeting held in 1999 at Purdue University, where Canada thistle was used with success to rehabilitate soil compacted by tractor use.
The thistle families are incredible and valuable plants, with many uses for us and with benefits for many of our insects, birds and animals. But because of our land use practices, it is difficult to control its spread. We do need to prevent this plant from invading our lands, but more importantly we need to adopt agricultural practices and land use practices that discourage this plant from being able to establish itself. We are all interconnected and we can learn how to control this plant safely and wisely, not with poisons but by improving our soil and managing our land with knowledge.
Today was a weed pulling day. I spent 3 hours pulling out every thistle and spotted knapweed I could find. Luckily it had rained 2 days ago, and the soil was still moist so the roots would yield. But it still the larger plants required considerable force. These plants are almost as tall as I am, and I need to wrap them several times around my gloved hand and pull with the full force of my weight with both hands. Sweat is pouring down my face and I can feel the prickles from the plants through the cowhide. Several times i need to rest and drink water. I hope these efforts will result in my neighbors allowing my property to grow trees and not be mowed.
But there is compensation for my efforts. There are bumble bees buzzing on the clovers and birds chirping in the trees of my neighbors. There are hundreds of small trees growing in the grasses, mostly Manitoba maples, but there are oaks...at least 5 and some other trees or shrubs. Some of my apple trees have made it as well as the alders. But the most wonderful thing of all was seeing frogs jump as I walked. Frogs are an indicator of ecological wellness. Their thin skins absorb toxins and they often are the first to disappear when water has been polluted. Their presence on my property gave me joy. I feel it is a sign from our creator that my efforts are not in vain. That there is great hope
photo credit By SriMesh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Manitoba Maple (Acer Negundo) Box Elder
it is critical and in many ways the “GREAT WORK “ of our time to find ways to restore ecological function on a planetary scale John Liu
This tree is a member of the maple tree family and is native to North America
Because it is a moisture loving plant, in the prairie biome, it grows on flood plains, in riparian zones, by rivers and where the ground water is high. It can grow i a wide variety of soil types and tolerate light shade especially when being established.
The Manitoba Maple tree supports a variety of insects such as the Box Elder gall midge and the Box Elder bug. Gall insects provide vital protein insects during the harshness of winter to birds like the Ruffled grouse that overwinter. The seeds persist on the tree during the winter providing winter food to many birds and small mammals. This is an important tree for the finch, the Evening Grosbeak. It is believed that the planting of the Manitoba Maples has caused the range of this bird to extend far east of its original range. Large Manitoba Maples provide nesting sites for songbirds especially for the Cerulean Warbler. Deer and rabbits browse on leaves and twigs. Even turtles feed on fallen leaves where trees overhang bodies of water.
This tree was used by native Americans. The Sioux and the Cree tapped its sap to make syrup. The Cheyenne used the wood to make bowls and the Dakota and Omaha people made the wood into charcoal
The wood of this tree breaks easily so it is not used for building or for furniture. It is a fast growing tree and is grown for shelter belts where it prevents soil erosion and protects livestock from wind and snow. It is being considered for use as fiberboard
Trees play a vital ecological role on earth. Not only do they provide habitat and food for wildlife, but they provide the oxygen we breathe. Through transpiration, they play a major role in the formation of clouds. Clouds are vital for production of rainfall. The loss of trees and forests is one the reasons deserts are forming. Trees sequester carbon and the clouds they produce, reflect back some of the sun’s rays, cooling the earth and protecting it from global warming.
Growing trees beside a ditch, stream or water body protects that water from agricultural pollutants such as chemical pesticides,herbicides, nitrogen and phosphorus. A forest buffer beside a water body has been shown to be the most effective and cheapest way to keep nitrogen and phosphorus out of major water bodies. Understanding the vital roles that trees play, help us to treasure and revere trees. For what can be more valuable that the air we breathe and the water we drink
The story of the Manitoba Maple
Several years ago, I bought a 7 acre property about 15 minutes drive from where I live, just north of Winnipeg, hoping to start an organic permaculture tree farm there. There have been a lot of challenges with this project....first and foremost my enthusiasm greatly exceeds my knowledge. I did not notice how wet the low lying spots were, or how many trees dislike wet feet. Or know how hungry the deer and other wildlife are, and how much they love to browse young trees. Several hundred dollars spent, lots of hard work and after planting hundreds of little trees over the last 3 years and some larger ones, very few survive.
But another foe of the tree seedling survival, is whoever has been mowing my tree plantation. Is it one of the neighbors or the municipality or the farmer who is tilling most of the acreage for planting crops? I don’t know and when I question each of the suspects...nobody knows. Truly I feel so annoyed, because I know that in a few years, as the normal succession occurs on this formerly river bottom land, the thistles and dandelions will disappear and give way to shrubs and trees. No thistle or dandelion lives in dense shrubs or forest,
Manitoba has a Noxious Weed Act and I do have lots of dandelions and thistles, some wild mustard and few others as well. So it is likely that there is someone who does not like my thistles and dandelions. I want to be a good neighbor. So I have been spending a lot of time hand pulling thistles(the dandelions have already flowered)
And I have noticed something extraordinary.....when there is a patch of thistles, growing in the midst, is a little Manitoba Maple tree. Could the thistles be protecting the little tree from being eaten by deer? Or are the deep roots of the thistle helping the maple tree get through the compacted clay soil? Or are the many beneficial insects attracted to the thistle helping protect the tree from insect predators? Maybe all of these. It struck me how amazing and perfect are the partnerships in nature! How little we know and understand of all of this.
Instead of poisoning and destroying the many plants on the Noxious Weed Act, we need to learn about and respect the ecological role these plants play. We need to understand and respect Nature ‘s wisdom.
Today I noticed that a poplar tree in the park just north of my property line had several dead branches on it. A storm with tornado like winds had uprooted that tree many years ago and it has remained leaning over our shed ever since, looking as thought it might topple over. I thought that I must phone the City of Winnipeg municipal office to have that tree removed. I turned to check our garden. The Haskap berries were already harvested and eaten. Our Evans Cherry trees were heavily laden with cherries but not yet ripe.
Then I heard a repeated rat a tat tat. Over and over again coming from the poplar tree. I turned around to look and there was a small grey and white bird hammering away on one of those dead limbs. It had a flat head and long beak and I watched it hammer away. It is my first time seeing a woodpecker and I was mesmerized. Watching that bird obtain its food...I realized that there must be insects in that rotting wood. And I was wanting to have that food source removed. The bird that could help stop the spread of the emerald borer as well as other borer insects.
Surely that bird a messenger from the creator of all life. To remind me of the importance of those dead branches in the web of life. To remind me as well of my ignorance of nature’s ways and of my place. The City will come to remove that tree when a worker notices its lifeless branches. But I will not call. By rights, that tree should fall and be a feast for insects, birds and fungi and return to earth with its nutrients to provide food for a myriad of life and to enrich the soil. Thank you woodpecker for your lesson! You have reminded me to be humble in my relationship with nature. May we all learn to live in harmony with you, for that is truly our only hope for a future on this planet
Kochia Bassia scoparia
by Jackie Braga
“What is a Weed? A weed is a plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Kochia is an herbaceous plant that has naturalized in America from Eurasia.
Around 1900 In the USA this plant was introduced as an ornamental. It is drought and insect resistant. It is able to grow in very poor even salty soils. The plant now grows throughout much of Canada and the U.S.
Prior to maturity and seed production (less than 18 inches tall) kochia has good forage value and results in good livestock performance. Unfortunately when the plants are drought stressed, nitrate toxicity may occur. Also as the plants approach maturity marked toxicity to animals that ingest Kochia can occur. The seed head is the most toxic part of the plant containing high levels of oxalates and saponins. Oxalates absorb into the livestock’s circulation and bind with calcium to form insoluble calcium oxalate. If consumed rapidly and in very high quantities, it can lead to hypocalcemia, liver and kidney failure resulting in death to the livestock.
According to the Alternative Field Crops Manual, published by Wisconsin and Minnesota Extension, livestock should not graze kochia for more than 90-120 days to prevent oxalate toxicity. Rotational grazing with non kochia-infested pastures can also help prevent potential toxicity.
Medicinal uses of both leaves and seeds include antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-neoplastic (anti-cancer), astringent, cardio tonic, and diuretic properties. Uses include heart, kidney, gastrointestinal, urinary tract, and dermatological applications. However toxicity as noted above can occur with use.
Because kochia is an annual plant, as long as it does not set seed, it will not propagate. Even when Kochi does produce seed, the seed is short lived and performs poorly with competition. The conditions when Kochi is successful are where most other plants are unable to grow, such as high salinity, alkaline soils and in drought. We need to be much more educated and savvy in our approach to reducing and eradicating unwanted plants.
Especially plants like Kochia, where although it does produce abundant seed, and has a tumble weed method of seed dispersal allowing it to spread, it really is an indicator plant of poor soil conditions and poor farm management. And Kochia is resistant to many herbicides requiring the use very toxic, long-lasting and multiple herbicides. Application of poisons for control of unwanted plants causes many problems such as
a) Damaging non target plants so as to decrease biodiversity and especially to affect seed production of non-target plants.
b) Damaging agricultural land by harming beneficial insect species, soil microorganisms, and worms which are responsible for soil fertility and which naturally limit pest populations and maintain soil health.
c) Exposing people to increased health risks such as increased leukemia and lymphoma cancer rates in farmers or increased autism spectrum disorder rates in the children of women exposed to organophosphates.
If we really care about the long term future of the fertility of our soil, our ecosystem, our health and our children's health, we need to use solutions to our pest and weed problems that are nontoxic. We need to change our cultural methods of agriculture and not pull the pesticide/herbicide trigger.
Kochia is classified as noxious or invasive, but why not see Kochia as an ally - a wild plant that can be used as food, fodder and medicine.
By WildBoar (Own work) [Public domain], <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKochia_scoparia_01.JPG">via Wikimedia Commons</a>
Today I attended a fundraiser for the Misericordia Eye Centre in Winnipeg. In the Silent Auction was a print by Robert Bateman of a raccoon half hidden in the grass. Normally I never bid for artwork at the these events but I was drawn to the lifelike portrait and natural setting of this wild animal. I was really happy to win this wonderful print. The artist’s name, Robert Bateman, was familiar so I had to research him.
His website brought me to tears. I am a visual person and his lifelike depictions of nature left me in awe. His portrayals of animals in wilderness settings somehow captured their beauty, strength and vulnerability. His essay about “How to Have a Happy Life” captured my own ideas that I have only recently come to believe. Especially helpful are his ideas about not worrying, and how to overcome that. As someone who despairs at the destruction of the natural world, from the ignorance and apathy of our government,leaders and many individuals, it was calming to read about how Robert Bateman deals with this issue. Robert’s love for nature, and his winning attitudes have created a place where we can truly be motivated and sustained. “Inspiring a Passion for Nature” is the statement on the Bateman Foundation website page, and that truly is Robert's legacy. Thank you Robert for your lovely print that now is on my bedroom wall. Thank you especially, for your contribution to the preservation of the natural world.
Importance of Riparian Zone
Riparian Zones are the areas bordering on streams, lakes and wetlands that link water to land. Most of Manitoba's ditches drain directly into steams, lakes or wetlands. In essence, Manitoba's ditches are water courses. One could almost view them as small streams. Because ditches are wet for at least the spring season, they can be characterized as wetlands. These areas support a diversity of species. As a minimum, most of Manitoba's ditches should be regarded as riparian zones. Riparian Zones are considered especially important for clean water and healthy ecosystems. Protecting riparian zones means water is cleaner and fish and aquatic life are not exposed to lethal chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. Chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides degrade water quality, are hazardous for your health and can be deadly for fish and other aquatic life.
Riparian zones are important for soil conservation, habitat biodiversity and the influence they have on aquatic ecosystems. Well managed riparian zones benefit all of us. Riparian zones act as a biofilter, protecting aquatic environments from excessive sediment, polluted surface run off and erosion. Riparian zones protect fish habitat by providing cleaner water, providing insects and vegetation for food for fish. Protecting riparian zones means ground water and surface water is better quality. A well managed riparian zone is beautiful, can act as a carbon sink, and provide oxygen.
The Noxious Weed Act threatens Manitoba's Water quality
Many of the so called noxious weeds in this act are water plants such as bulrushes, cattails and sedges. If the herbicides applied, are not designed for riparian zones, they can be very long lasting and poisonous to fish and other aquatic organisms. It is especially important that ditches be considered sensitive areas because of their direct link to water ways in Manitoba. The fish populations as well as other aquatic organisms are threatened by the application of inappropriate herbicides. If a herbicide needs to be used, it should not be toxic to aquatic life and it should not be persistent
Photo credit: SriMesh (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Common
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
Frank Lloyd Wright
This fruiting tree like shrub is a member of the olive family( Elaegnaceae) and is known to be thicket forming . It can attain a height of one to six metres high with crown widths of five to six meters. It rarely reproduces by seed since its seeds have low viability, but it is known for its suckering ability. There are separate male and female plants and both are required for fruit development
This plant is a particularly important winter food for wildlife due to the persistence of its fruits. The berries of this plant is one of the most important food source of the sharp tailed grouse over winter and in many places their survival over winter is dependant on these berries. (As well as sage, snowberry and rose) The flowers of silverberry appear early in spring and provide an early source of nectar and pollen for pollinators and bees during a time when floral resources are scarce. Therefore, silver buffalo berry plays an important role in the survival of bees and other pollinators. The young shoots are good browse for deer, rabbit and hare. Once it reaches two years old, it develops thorns which make it difficult to be browsed. The large thorns of this plant provide birds and other small animals with good cover and protection from predators, making it an ideal nesting site for song birds. It is also an important food for bears and elk.
This shrub is capable of fixing nitrogen, so it enriches soil allowing more plants to grow. This ability to fix nitrogen allows it to grow in poor soil where other plants would not be able to. Because of its ability to tolerate salty soils, it was widely distributed and planted as a shelter belt tree by the PFRA. This tough plant is being studied and used for reclamation projects in soil contaminated by acid or heavy metals such as mined land.
First Nations ate the berries fresh and used them for cooking into sauces and dried them for winter use and for some , it was a staple food. Some tribes added the berries into medicinal mixtures and used it as a laxative or for stomach troubles. The shredded bark was used for making laces
When this plant grows on your land, it enriches you soil with nitrogen, it provides food for pollinators, ensuring the fertilization and productivity of your vegetables,seeds and fruits , as well providing food and shelter for a myriad of wildlife. So often we take for granted the marvels of the natural world. We really need to treasure and revere this plant for its importance in supporting the soil and the life that sustains us
Manitoba is where I was born and where I have spent most of the five and one half decades of my life. I lived on the outskirts of the town of Portage La Prairie at a time when tadpoles and frogs inhabited the ditches and ponds, when there were many Monarch butterflies each summer along with dragon flies and grasshoppers. Redwing blackbirds perched the cattails of the ditches. As children we picked dandelions for bouquets and made wishes before blowing dandelion seed heads. We searched clover for lucky four leaves and rolled on the grass…there was no concern of poisonous herbicides. The grass was thick. Wherever we dug…there were earthworms