I have a goal to hike 250 miles this year. I figured this averages out to about 5 miles per week and that felt like a realistic, yet challenging, goal for me.
As of today I am 127 miles in and have been hiking at least weekly since January.
Hikes serve many purposes in my life: meditation, relaxation, connection, reflection, exploration, and education.
Here I share some of my trail education. I am always looking at the plants along my hikes, naming them if I can, and trying to figure out who they are if I can’t. Some of us call this process botanizing.
These are new-to-me plants I encountered on some of my hikes this year. Nearly every time I go out on a trail I run into a plant I have never noticed, never learned, or have long forgotten. I don’t typically take a field guide with me on the trail. I take so long taking photos on these hikes already I am afraid adding the potential for dive into a field guide around every bend would keep me from getting very far at all. So my process is to take photos of the new-to-me plant and then figure out who it is when I get home.
The photos I take are of the habitat (where it is growing); the habit (its overall form or shape); the flowers if it is blooming (close ups from top, side, bottom and front , making sure to capture the pistils and/or stamens if present); the leaves (the entire leaf, a close up of the leaf margin, the underside and a close up of the leaf veins); and the stems (focusing on color and hairs, both leaf stems and flower stems); if it is a woody plant I will also take photos of the bark and the twigs (including leaf scars).
I then come home and consult a field guide depending on the type of plant. I know there are apps for this. But I like this process of documenting the details and then when I get home from a hike diving into these details and solving my personal mystery using a book, with pages and an index. I find when I do this, these plants stick with me and I remember them forever.
Of course, this is not a fool-proof system and sometimes I need to revisit the plant (aw shucks… another hike) to gather intel on some teeny tiny detail that separates one species from another.
Here are a few of the new-to-me plants I did figure out and will now know forever:
Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis)
Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius)
Pennywort (Obolaria virginica)
One-flowered Cancerroot (Orobanche uniflora)
A little parasitic gem. No leaves, just these 5 petaled flowers. Wondering about the name? It is also known as Broomrape. Check out this excellent New York times article about this weird little plant with the unfortunate names.
Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum)
Some things still remain pretty consistent mysteries to me:
But eventually I will develop a system for identifying these too and they will stick with me, in the meantime I am ok with the mystery.
May 24, 2021 at 9:25 pm
Hi Kathy – I enjoyed reading your posting. I have only (knowingly) seen Deerberry once, at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s facility on the NY/NJ line. I do run into Dwarf Ginseng (fyi – its botanical name is Panax trifolius – see https://gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org/species/panax/trifolius/) at least 1x/year. I have tried to propagate it by seed, which is a challenge, not the lest of which is collecting its seed, which is ripe and available on the plants for only a very short time.
May 24, 2021 at 11:16 pm
Hi Russ! Great to hear from you! Thanks for catching that scientific name mistake. That deerberry was so cool to see – not sure how I missed it all these years. Can’t wait to see the fruit later.
May 24, 2021 at 12:51 pm
Great article…love hearing about your process…thanks for sharing!
May 24, 2021 at 12:53 pm
Thank you for reading!