Podcast 246 – Botany in a Day Review Part 1

Published 11 years ago in Permaculture , Podcasts , Review , wild foods - 0 Comments

Summary prepared by Julia Winter

Paul and Neil Bertrando get together to review “Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification” by Thomas A. Elpel). This is the first of several podcasts all covering this one book. Paul wanted to cover this book via multiple podcasts because he’s owned this book for years and he’s had a hard time really grokking botany with the latin names and such.

The first part of the book was surprisingly accessible–Paul was worried, but it was easy to read. He’s been meaning to read it for some time, having been given a copy long ago. Neil thinks that this book is going to continue to be useful because of the way it is set up–the pattern focus is helpful, and it has great info about herbal uses.

A couple of quick notes: Neil won one of the tickets to go to south Florida for a workshop on financial permaculture. The idea is to get permaculture folks together with people who would like to invest in repairing the planet. Also, Neil will be teaching his fourth PDC (seventh including those he’s taught with others) in March (2013) in Reno, Nevada. Paul and Neil discuss their PDC preference for more technical versus more spiritual PDC activities.

Thomas J. Elpel lives in Montana (yea!) so Paul is especially happy about that. He then notes that there’s a lot of alignment between Montana (intermountain west) and England (?). Neil notes that he has the 5th edition and the book has been adding more species and more information to cover more of North America. A quote: “This field guide is designed to give the reader the big picture of botany and medicinal plant properties. It deals more with patterns among related plants than with the details of specific plants. Because the style of the book is broad, the coverage is also broad.”

Paul has video footage right now of about 140 different species of plants, and knows he needs to start putting more of it out. Neil shares Thomas J. Elpel’s websites: www. hopspress.com and www.wildflowers-and-weeds.com . Neil and Paul hope YOU will go visit those websites (you can check out other books by the same author) because if Mr. Elpel has a big increase in web traffic, then maybe he will share some of his DVDs with Paul for viewing and subsequent podcast-reviewing!

Botany in a Day emphasizes learning plants in family groups, versus some other field guides that might list plants alphabetically or grouped by flower color. If you learn plants in terms of their families, you can learn about shared characteristics and shared functions. If you learn the scientific/latin names of plants, then you will always know which plant you are talking about, even if you are talking to somebody who speaks another language (like Sepp!!). Paul and Neil chat about the awesomeness of Sepp Holzer and what he’s doing in North America with his own unique course of Holzer style permaculture.

“Nobody really cares how you pronounce the words, so just stumble through them however you can.” Paul really likes this quote and plans to use this as defense against pedants. Neil points out that the scientific name of a plant (genus, species) will often give you useful information about the plant. Beyond species and genus there is family, and beyond family there is order, then class, then division. Knowing where a plant stands in this nested hierarchy will also give you useful information. Sometimes families are divided into subfamilies, and sometimes classes are divided into subclasses.

Evolution of plants: “99.9% of everything that ever lived is now extinct.” Wow. When you really start to consider the scale of time for evolution, it’s a little mind blowing. It’s also interesting to learn that 90% of plants are living in symbiosis with fungi. 80% could not survive without their fungal partners! The relationships between plants and particular animals are also fascinating.

Hmm, Neil says a lot of algae are not plants, they are photosynthetic bacteria. Lichens are associations between algae and fungi. They have bright colors from the acids they use to etch into whatever they are on, be it rock, wood or building. Paul has a cool story about symbiotic fungus and pasture grass.

Mosses have no vascular system and reproduce with spores. Sphagnum moss is so acidic, it has antibiotic properties. You can use sphagnum moss to dress a wound (although I’m thinking that would sting) and it is less likely to get infected. (This is a cool thing about this book–he gives lots of practical uses for plants as you go along.)

Ferns have a vascular system and reproduce with spores (also horsetails and club mosses). Back in the day there were horsetail plants 100 feet tall. (!)

Conifers have naked seeds, also the gingko tree and cycads. They are all wind pollinated. Then you get into the flowering plants, more complicated–some are wind pollinated, others are pollinated by a critter. Flowers that depend on animals to pollinate them have incredibly elaborate features to attract the correct critter and then make sure it gets coated in pollen.

Monocotyledons and dicotyledons are usually called monocots and dicots, but that’s just an abbreviation. Monocots have parallel leaf veins and dicots have branched leaf veins. Monocots have fibrous roots and dicots have taproots. A classic monocot is grass, but palm trees are also monocots! A daisy or a tomato or an oak tree are all dicots.

Neil points out that monocots are a good choice for planting on the dam of a pond–the fibrous root system is not going to give you trouble like a tree’s roots could. And with that, the first part of this multi-part book review is done.

You can discuss this podcast on this thread at Permies.