Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Frank Lake's Dissertation

With a recommendation from Bob Zynbach and help from mmw, I've managed to find and read a disseration by Frank Lake, who wrote it for Oregon State University, and who is Karok. You can find the dissertation here. It's a very long document and I admit that I scanned over parts (especially the methods section), but I found several ideas and details making it worth the read.

About fire:

The starting of fires was considered a spiritual act capable of
serious consequences. Prayer formulas and other beliefs were associated with
burning. Once lit, fires were often spoken to as to how they should behave
and conduct themselves to achieve desired resource objectives of the igniter (p.

A picture of what much of northern California and Southern Oregon looked like:
Patches and fields were located along trails that typically ran adjacent to rivers
and streams, the coast, and along ridgelines, directly connecting communities, peaks,
campgrounds, waterfalls, springs, and other favored subsistence and ceremonial
locations. Fires were also used to clear and maintain trails; rejuvenate berry patches,
wild pea fields, root and bulb fields, and orchards; for hunting; for weed control; and
to cure large fields of tarweed (Madia elegans Lindley) and grass seeds ("Indian
oats"). Daily and seasonal trail clearing activities, combined with seasonal and
occasional brush clearing, hunting, seed curing, and sprout-inducing burns were nearly year-around activities.
There is an interesting series of photographs in the paper showing that many
meadows traditionally maintained by fire have been lost. One example is at Patrick's Point (between Trinidad and Big Lagoon). When Europeans took over the area, they kept the meadows open with fire and with their cattle. When it was made into a State Park and the ranchers were removed, the spruce and shrubs began moving in. Today I know that there is at least one meadow area that the state burns occasionally to encourage the native prairie

Indians used fire to clear brush and debris from riparian areas and marshes to
stimulate new grass, plant growth, and shrub and tree sprouts. Target
species were cottonwoods (Populus balsamifera spp. trichocarpa Torrey &
A. Gray), willows (Salix spp.), tules (Scirpus acutus Bigelow var. occidentalis
(S.Watson) Beetle), cattails (Typha latifolia L.), sedges (Carex spp.), and

At work, I’ve been harvesting bareroot Scirpus microcarpus and water parsley plants. There is quite a bit of grass thatch below, making them difficult to pull up. I use a garden fork and my hands to pull the thatch away from the base of the plants, then use the fork lift the plants. Burning the thatch would save a great deal of time. If it were my nursery and my patches, I might do some experimenting.

I liked hearing about their trails.

Trails were about two feet wide, worn into bare mineral soil, and served as fire
lines in many cases for low intensity surface fires.

There are also many interviews with elder men and women from local tribes. I'm still reading through some of them. But I really should have taken better notes, I know I'm leaving out some important things.

P.S. I'm currently reading Tending the Wild by Kat Anderson.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Boletes edulis

Found another edible. Boletes edulis. Actually, my coworker, Bill, found it. He followed me home to take some plant cuttings (mostly of Ribes sangineum) and to look at some of the mushrooms on the property. (We found many cool ones including a couple of huge black/purple ones.) We said goodbyes, he drove down the hill from our house, and then called me on the phone. He had found the largest patch of Boletes edulis that he had ever seen. In our yard! For more info about B. edulis check out wikipedia.

I've chopped them up (and cut away a few maggot-infested stems) and have them ready to sautee up tomorrow with a couple of wine agarics. I'll probably eat the mushrooms with pasta.
I promise to blog soon about something other than mushrooms. Probably Frank Lake's dissertation.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fungi Arise!

In the spirit of All Hallow's Eve, strange mushrooms are popping up in the yard. We have...

Eye balls

the Yellow-fanged Bolete

Pumpkins in the Patch (of thyme)

Bride of Frankenstein hair

Ghostly Hordes

And the Gilled Mutant Monstrosity

(diabolical laugh)
Happy Halloween....

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

First Edible Mushroom

Momentous occasion!

My first edible: the wine-colored agaric. Right in my backyard. I brought one to work today and Bill confirmed it. The wine-colored agaric has a ring, pale rosy brown gills, fibrous stuff on its stalk, and dark streaks on the top of its cap; features you can see below.

(I cut off the stalk, as opposed to just pulling the mushroom up because of some advice I'd read.)

Bill recommends cutting the mushroom strait down the middle to see if bugs have worked their way up from the stalk into the cap. Um, yes. But you know I'm eating them anyway. They're my first edible mushrooms and the damage isn't that bad (and the bugs are pretty small). Don't look too closely, though.

So I chopped up the two caps, washed the pieces in warm water, and left them to soak for a while, hoping that any lingering bugs would exit.
Whoa! Look how red the water stained after soaking them for a half hour or so. I don't know if this is the reason it's the wine-colored agaric, but it sure could be.
After they were sauteed with a bit of butter, they shrunk down quite a bit, into these black slug-like things. But they tasted good. Like an over-cooked button mushroom, but with a deeper flavor.
When I'm not cooking for anyone else, I tend to go for the bare-root sort of meals. Poached eggs and toast it is. The drink in the cup is warmed up unpasteurized (illegal!) apple cider from an unnamed apple orchard. I'm probably not the first to realize this, but an easy way to make it into hot spiced cider is to add a tea bag. Mine's ginger.
The black specks on the eggs are bugs from the mushrooms.

No. It's pepper.
Et Viola. A very satisfying meal.

A note on the top prize (golden chanterelles): A few days ago I found some mushrooms that I thought might be them, but Bill said that they were false chanterelles. Their orange was too bright and their stalks were too skinny. But I'm still deteremined to find some on the property.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I fell in love with hazel the first time I stumbled upon it in our forest. That was a few years ago, so my plant eyes were just developing. My father and I were cutting a trail and I said to myself, hey this isn't just another alder. No offense, I like alders too.

The leaves of hazel are downy soft, especially in early spring, are more finely toothed than alder, and more ovular. I also really like their arrangement on the skinny flexible stems. Hazels also have very attractive catkins in spring. I think I've seen some female flowers too (they may have just been buds), but I haven't seen any nuts. Never.

In fall, it's especially apparent that our sweet little hazel tree is really a gargantuan thicket probably many hundred of years old. Here's a look at one of it's "stools":

I say "stool" because it is a term associated with coppicing, a woodland management strategy where you cut a shrub or tree to the ground every so often to encourage new vigorous sprouts from the base. Here, I have to put it in quotation marks. Or maybe it should have been a question mark because this may have infact been a thicket coppiced by the Wiyot people at one time. I couldn't find any evidence of burning, but I doubt ashes would still be around because the soil is a mass of compost and moss. How can I tell? And the stools(?) are covered in moss themselves so I just don't know. But because of our land's closeness to the Bay, I think it is very likely their people lived here at one time.

As you can see above, the thicket is pretty extensive and there are at least four or five main stools, and they may be connected (it's difficult to tell because it's a real jungle in there). Which brings me to expressing a quandry I've had since reading Before the Wilderness. I confess that I am a bit on the romantic side about old, mysterious, "dark forest" things, and yet over the last few months, especially after reading BTW, Wendell Berry, and Noel Perry, I'm becoming more and more swayed to the management side. The solution, I know, is to manage some of it and to hang onto some of the truly amazing old things in the forest. Should I do something with this thicket or just enjoy the jungle?.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ethnobotanical Videos

Thanks to a comment on a post, I've been searching for information about research up in Oregon and stumbled upon these native plant tour videos from 2004. Go to the link for more info.

Humboldt Botanical Gardens

A few years ago, I heard that a botanical garden was being started in Humboldt County. So I went down to College of the Redwoods, who is leasing land nearby for the gardens, to check it out. They had large signs with a master plan of the gardens in front of a large cow pasture--the future site of the gardens. It wasn't much to look at, but the idea was exciting.

Well, I've been curious ever since about how the gardens are coming. And I have a secret desire to work there, but it's run by volunteers at the moment, I need money, and the driving distance, while not great, is enough to make me be careful about signing up to volunteer.

By chance, I heard the the HBG Foundation was giving a tour of the garden site Saturday (yesterday). It turns out that it was really only open to members, but they kindly let my friend and I tag along and even offered us food and drink. Seems like a nice group of people.

Here's a view of the HBGF meeting with snack table and new greenhouse:

We're walking..

Here's a main pathway leading to a sitting area overlooking the native plant garden.

Native plant garden (one of the few areas planted) with a drain running down the middle. I'm a little concerned that the plantings are too close, but I saw some cool plants down there...

Well, I've skipped over the Moss Family Temperate Woodland garden, which will be packed with rhododendrons (mixed feelings about this), and the Wildberries Riparian area, which is being funded mostly by the Coastal Conservancy to restore and preserve the native willows and such along the creek, to get to a little slice of land that could be most interesting. It's the gardens' coastal prairie. They've planted a bunch of bulbs and native grasses in this area and are trying to beat down the weedy annual grasses by careful mowing. I wonder if they've considered burning or even if it would help agains the weeds. Weedy grasses are tough to control in large areas like this, especially if you can't confidently tell them from the natives. While it's not on the masterplan, I think an area showing the use of native plants, besides purely ornamental, would be nice.

For more info on the gardens, check out this link.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Here in Humboldt County, when mushroom collecting is mentioned people giggle. Ah...what kind of mushrooms?


I'm interested in mushrooms I can eat without hallucinating or going to the hospital, so let's set the record straight. So last night I attended the Humboldt Bay Mycological Society meeting with my coworker, Bill, who knows his mushrooms well, to have a look at table displays of various fungi.

These are oyster mushrooms. They grow on dead and dying alders. Could be in our yard...

These are Golden Chanterelles. They have ridges instead of gills. Bill found gallons of them around where he lives, and is making up a big batch of cream of mushroom soup (and he's bringing some into work). He tends to find them growing near spruce trees under evergreen huckleberry and sword ferns. Could be in our yard...

Below are "Lobster Mushrooms." The red color is actually a mold that grows on other mushrooms and I guess it makes them taste good. You just have to be sure that the host is an edible mushroom! Don't know where these grow.

Bill regularly collects about six species of mushrooms and the only one besides the ones above I can remember him collecting is the Chicken of the Forest (sorry, no picture). This is a bright orange frilly shelf fungi that grows on hemlock and doug firs. Only the tips of the frill are soft enough to eat.

Other tips from Bill: Wash wild (and edible, make sure they're edible) mushrooms well under warm water and cook before eating. Steer clear of mushrooms with white gills and rings.


Well, I know these are in our yard.

From left to right: Strobilurus trulisatus, Pholiota terrestris, and the last two are some species of Lepiota. The scientific names of these are sketchy because the handwriting on the labels were pretty bad. (I brought in the mushrooms and had them identified). The Photinia was growing in the coastal prairie. There are also tons of what Bill calls LBMs or Little Brown Mushrooms (not easy to identify).

Well, hopefully tomorrow I'll have a chance to scrounge around the forest to see what I find. Top prize: Golden Chanterelles!

California Fungi

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Before the Wilderness

I've mentioned the book before, but now I'm actually reading it. "Before the Wilderness," compiled and edited by Thomas C. Blackburn and Kat Anderson, is a collection of scientific papers and essays about how native Californians managed the land and how their management altered California and promoted diversity.

While there is much to learn in the book about all parts of California, I've narrowed in on my part, namely, the redwood region, home of a few peoples including the Wiyot and Yurok.

Here are some of the things I'm finding noteworthy (most of it around p. 100):

  • Unlike most of CA, tribes of the redwoods relied more on salmon than on agriculture.

  • The redwood forest was (and still is, I might add) impenetrable in parts because of massive logs and thickets.. But the natives kept some areas open by burning. And maintained paths connecting these areas. They were also careful about not getting lost in the forest.

  • At least one record showed that these open prairies were incredibly valuable for food. Plants with edible seed, such as Wyethia longicaulis, were concentrated in these areas. (I remember seeing swards of Wyethia along the roadside while I was driving to Petrolia. I don’t know what species this was, but this makes me want to collect seed and add it to my coastal prairie). Another account says that these open areas were covered with shrubs, wild oats, edible bulb plants, and clover (springbank clover probably). The largest of these areas were .25 mile by about .75 mile long, and most were much smaller. These areas were frequented by elk and deer too. It’s cool because by maintaining these open patches, elk and deer were drawn to these patches for good forage. So the food came to them.

  • Jepson (CA botanist mostly responsible for the Jepson Manual) once said that “There is today more wooded area in Humboldt County than when the white man came over a half century since.” And that is the case because of fire supression.

  • "In almost every case aboriginal subsistence involved hunting and gathering in two or more vegetational belts." Edges are where you'll find the most diversity, and I guess the most humans.

  • Large scale burning, in contrast to patch burning, reduces the total amount of plant and animal production.

  • There were, on average, 3-5 people per square mile where I now live.

  • Some native people cut the caps off of mushrooms, leaving the “stems behind.” Anderson says that this leaves the mycelia intact, ensuring future production.

  • Soaproot is more abundant in areas where it is cultivated. Cultivation can be a valuable tool for conservation.

  • “There is a common feeling among elders that plants want to be used,” says Anderson.

  • “Karok and Wiyot burned to make hazel and willows grow better for manufacturing baskets.”

  • One way to burn an individual coppice stool is to cover it with leaves and set the pile on fire. I wonder if this helps keep out pathogens from eating at the stool. I know one technique of preserving wood posts is to lightly burn the ends.

  • Fire is good for huckleberry production (because the shrubs resprout with vigor?)

That's all for now. I recommend the book to anyone interested in native american culture, California, and land management.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Well, this young blog certainly seems to be going in an environmental direction. It has been and will continue to be a place where I settle myself into the garden/farm/ecosystem complex. I'm in love with the idea of diversity and good stewardship. Where the land, sky and water, and everything in them, belong to us, and we, in turn, belong to them. Let's take care of each other.

Monday, October 8, 2007


Rushes are plants that most people call grasses, but they're in their own family (Juncaceae), so they're not true grasses (Poaceae). You could call them graminoids (grass-like plants). Most of them live in wetlands, but not all. Here are a few of the kinds growing in the garden.

Juncus balticus has fine wiry bright green culms and tiny dark brown flowers that give the garden a speckled look (which I happen to like very much). It grows well in clay and in the coastal prairie.

(in front of tufted hairgrass)

Juncus ensifolius, which has bright green iris-like foliage and black balls of flowers. I sometimes call it Poodle Rush after my mom's little black poodle. It's very ornamental, but can get a bit weedy looking toward the end of the season. It may need to be cut down to the ground each year (I did that laster year and it helped) and it's spreading may also need to be controlled (easy enough in the bog).

This bluish rush is called Juncus patens, or the California Grey Rush. This has a very dark appearance in the landscape and is very rigid and upright. It's flowers are in brown clusters with touches of red and orange.

Then there is Juncus effusus, the softstem rush. This one looks like a more rubust and upright J. balticus, and can get much taller (four feet max?). These bareroot clumps are just sitting in the fountain for the time being, so they're not much to look at.

As you can see in this cross sectional comparison, the culms of J. effusus are also much thicker than J. balticus.

One day I was reading in one of my favorite books, The Once and Future King by T.H. White and he mentioned a "rushlight." Looked it up on wikipedia and read this magazine excerpt and it turns out that old Brits used the pith of J. effusus (yes, it's also native to the British isles) as a wick for candles they called rushlights. Read the magazine excerpt for details. I'd like to try my hand at making rushlights, but I don't have a supply of household grease or bees wax. Not yet anyway.

The green tissue is easy to peel from the pith. The pith, by the way, feels and looks like a spaghetti noodle made of plastic packing foam.

Also in the yard are annual Toad Rushes that are weedy and hairy wood rushes (Luzula spp.) that are also in Juncaceae.

My hope is to encourage everyone to look a bit more closely at "grasses" because there's tons of diversity there. I haven't even gotten to the other graminoids such as the bulrushes, spike rushes, and sedges.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

"Keeping it Living"

Here is an excellent article, "Keeping it Living." that describes some of the native traditional horticultural practices of British Columbia.

Here's an excerpt about pruning:

"Pruning and coppicing of individual berry and
hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) bushes was also
practiced, both on the coast and in the interior:
another means of “keeping it living,” since this
process took advantage of meristematic tissues
at the bases and nodes of the stems of shrubs
that allow them to regenerate easily. The
breaking of the branches of berry bushes has
been little documented, but like other practices,
this may be in large part because people
had not been asked about such practices.
California First Peoples are known to coppice
their basketry plants to produce better, longer,
and straighter shoots (Anderson 1993). In the
interior, too, Plateau peoples talk about increasing
the productivity of their saskatoon
bushes (Amelanchier alnifolia), chokecherries
(Prunus virginiana), soapberries (Shepherdia
canadensis), and huckleberries (Vaccinium
spp.) by breaking the branches off during or
following the harvest. On the coast, this seems
to be a widely known but little publicized
practice. Chief Adam Dick, as soon as he was
asked, started to talk about it: “Especially that
gwadems [red huckleberry, Vaccinium
parvifolium], when they finished picking the
gwadems, you know, they pruned them. They
chopped the tops off. Salmonberries [Rubus
spectabilis] too. So, when the qwasem it’s
done, after you pick... after they get all
tl’axwey’ then we all break the tops off.” [“Oh,
and that makes them grow better?” NT] “Yes.
My grandma tell me that if you let it grow this
high [above your head], then it doesn’t produce
much berries. You know. But when you keep it
down and, she says, the water, it’s hard going
up there, I guess, when it’s too tall.”

Trifolium wormskioldii, the clover I introduced to my garden, turns out to be a species that was cultivated in fields alongside Pacific silverweed. Rhizomes from both plants were actively propagated, harvested, cooked, and eaten by peoples of British Columbia. (Yes, I would like to try preparing the rhizomes, but I need to let my plants grow for a while.)

The article also documents how plants were transplanted and traded by native peoples, raising interesting questions about the native/nonnative dichotomy AND helping to deepen the idea of sustainability, the idea of "keeping it living."