HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

New To Me

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Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis)

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:

Mosses

Fungus

And

Ferns

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.

Callous & Callus

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Callus wood forms around an injury on this tree.

On a recent hike on the anniversary of a day significant to me for the trauma I experienced on that day I was thinking a lot about scars.

5 years ago, to the day on this day of my hike, I learned that you can feel your heart break. This may sound insane to some people and lucky you for not knowing or not having had the experience. Those of us who have experienced this we know it certainly is a thing. And while I do not know if my heart looks any different from when it did before that moment (I suspect not, but still I wonder), I feel like there is a scar there along the place where it broke. My heart physically feels like it changed forever, but I know it continues functioning and supporting me, still able to love, forgive and care and still moving blood and oxygen around this body.

Incomplete wound healing

As I traveled along the trail I started noticing scars on trees. As I have mentioned, you cannot always see the damage a tree (or a person) is dealing with from the outside. But sometimes, you can.

I noticed, like us, they have scars for two types of wounds – the intentional and the accidental. Like us, regardless of how the wound got there, the tissue created to protect and heal the wound is the same.

Callous can describe a person. It certainly can describe the person who caused this heartbreak. This usually means they are insensitive or unfazed by emotions, empathy or sentiment. I think of it as meaning that they are hardened from these emotions, perhaps because of something that happened to them, perhaps because they never witnessed those emotions in action or felt those emotions personally, who knows.

Callousness can be a protection from getting too close, from feeling emotions.

A callous can also be a protection. You may know the raised, hardened bumps of skin on palms and fingers that speak to the work you do and the hobbies you have. I have callouses from splitting firewood, from raking leaves, from shoveling snow, from gardening and from kayaking. These callouses form over time after repeated damage or irritation to protect the skin in the future.

Though spelled differently, callus wood forms on trees as protection.

Compartmentalization of decay in a tree

Trees naturally compartmentalize damage to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the tree. Part of this process is the creation of callus tissue, the process of which begins the moment the tree is damaged. These undifferentiated cells, called parenchyma cells, grow quickly and spread to cover the wound before insects or diseases can enter. These are also the cells that create burls on trees. Eventually as these cells grow, woundwood forms and covers the wound like a scab covers and protects the wound.

In order for the process to work, the area of the tree that forms the cells to create callus tissue must not be damaged. If it is damaged, incomplete healing occurs ensuring continued damage to the tree.

We can think of callus wood on a tree like scar tissue, a different, smoother type of tissue than the surrounding tissue. Like scar tissue which is stronger because the arrangement of cells is more dense and arranged in a way that makes it strong but less flexible.

When a surgeon operates on us, the cuts are intentional and created to heal as well and as fast as possible with little scarring and complete healing. When our wounds result from unintentional accidents or are the result of the callousness of another human the scarring may be worse, the wound longer to heal and in some cases may not heal at all.

Many completely healed wounds on this American Beech.

The same is true of trees, when storms damage trees the callus and woundwoond may not be able to form, leaving the tree susceptible to further damage. If a well trained and knowledgeable arborist is pruning a tree, they know to cut properly so the wound can heal completely.

I suppose when our hearts break there is no way to know if we heal completely. I like to think that my heart has healed completely. While I do not know if there is physical evidence of the damage, I know I will never forget the feeling, and I am certain it is vulnerable to being broken again, but it is stronger and different and functioning just fine, despite the damage.

Wounds are an inevitable part of a tree’s life, just as they are an inevitable part of ours. How we, and they, heal from them depends as much on the circumstances that created them as the tools within to heal.

Lots of scars and even a heart-shaped wound, but this tree survives.

Roots: Tripping Hazard or Erosion Control?

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Muddy Boots and Exposed Roots

Spending 2 full days watching the E! Sex and the City Marathon has me reading the title above in Carrie Bradshaw’s voice and imagining it being typed across a pixelated computer screen. Not that Sex and the City ever focused on nature or that Carrie Bradshaw would be caught dead in hiking boots. But thinking about the duplicity of something in a particular circumstance certainly was Carrie Bradshaw’s forte. This binging happened to coincide with the 10th anniversary of me moving into my home sweet home.

Roots and the Reservoir

This anniversary of setting down roots, my surprise at being in one place this long and recent reflections on impermanence had me thinking differently about the roots I encountered on a recent hike in Maryland and along a trail I was walking for my annual participation in the first day hike. Really I cannot think of one trail I have hiked that didn’t have exposed roots along the way.

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