Fall 2000

Old Dominion University


Lytton John Musselman

Regina Lynch

Call Number: 13166


  What will you learn in this course?

  Basically, this is a course in plant identification. I have selected only a few groups of plants so we can learn these organisms in more depth. This semester we will emphasize mushrooms (and other fleshy fungi), peat mosses, ferns, and trees. By the end of the course, you will feel confident in naming these organisms when you see them. Here is the official catalog description: BIOL 221. Field Botany. Lecture 2 hours; laboratory 4 hours; 4 credits. Prerequisites: BIOL 115N, 116N. A study of the classification, identification and natural history of those organisms traditionally included in the study of botany. Laboratory techniques include field collection, preservation techniques, identification and the use and preparation of keys. This course satisfies the department botany course requirement.

  This course may be much different from any other biology course you have taken because instruction will take place in the field! That means that we will have to examine, discuss, and take tests in the field! Because we are out-of-doors, it may not seem like a class experience. Remember, this IS your class time and in many cases we will have only one opportunity to view a mushroom or plant in flower.

  Here are my objectives for Biology 221:

 1. My chief objective is to train you in how to learn plants. This is much different from just being able to name plants although naming is the ultimate aim of the technique.

 2. To develop critical techniques of observation and description.

 3. Gain an understanding of the ecology of plants.

 4. Learn how local plants are used.

What supplies will you need for this course?

 1. Handout. Often, a species list will be provided you.

2. Identification manuals

3. Clipboard

4. Clippers or pruning shears or sharp knife

5. Hand lens (not essential, but helpful)

6. Plastic (not clear) and paper bags

7. Insect repellant

8. Sturdy shoes

9. Long pants

10. Old phone book (for pressing plants)

11. Paper (MUST be paper!) bags for mushrooms.

12. You MUST have an email address. Each ODU student is assigned one but you may choose to use another address. Just let me know.

  Tentative Schedule

Week Date

1 29 August The science of "botany"; logistics, introduction to the Blackwater Ecologic Preserve; identifying Sphagnum spp. and mushrooms.

 2 5 September Blackwater Ecologic Preserve

 3 12 September Merchant’s Millpond State Park, Meherrin River LONG TRIP

 4 19 September Great Dismal Swamp

 5 26 September Merchant’s Millpond State Park, Meherrin River LONG TRIP


 7 10 October Great Dismal Swamp

 8 17 October Nottaway River and Chub Sandhill Preserve LONG TRIP

 9 26 October Blackwater Ecologic Preserve

 10 31 October Collections

 11 7 November First Landing State Park

    1. 14 November Winter Botany
    2. 21 November Dismal Swamp

 XX 23 November!!! Thanksgiving!!!!!! Thanksgiving!!!!!! Thanksgiving!!!!!! Thanksgiving

Are YOU thankful for plants?Are YOU thankful for plants?Are YOU thankful for plants?

  14 3 November Great Dismal Swamp

  15 7 December Project presentations

Tentative Basis for Determining Final Grade in Biology 221

 Field quizzes (Eleven quizzes, 100 points each, drop one) 1000

Collection 300

Class participation 100

Dye or food project 100


Grading Scale

 Generally I use the following grading schedule: 91-1 =A, 86 -9 =B, 75 - 85 =C, 6 -74 =D, below 6 =F. Plus and minus grades may be given.

Why is Schedule and Grading Scheme Tentative?

 Registering for this course does not mean that we can control the weather! Field trips may need to be re-scheduled because of inclement weather or because of progression of the season. In other words, some plants may come into flower or be more available if the weather becomes warmer or colder. I may find it necessary to change the way I compute your final grade based on the overall background of the class and other factors. In no case will this involve more than 15% of the total final grade. 

Philosophy of Instruction

  This is a team-taught course but I am ultimately responsible for your final grade. This is a highly interactive class and may be quite different from others you have taken. Please, do not hesitate to ask for help. We will be spending many hours together and will have ample opportunity to talk. However, this is not intended to replace individual help outside class.


Tuesday 9-11

Thursday 9-11

 My phone is 683 361, fax 683 5283 and email: I will establish a class email list for announcements and general communication so please give me your account number. Include it in on the form on page 7 (information form).

Attendance Policy

 You are not required to attend any class but you are required to know everything covered in class. This includes announcements, schedule changes, quizzes, and tests.

Posting of Grades

 Grades, if posted, will be on the door of MGB 110 and listed by student number. Grades may be sent by email. 

Academic Dishonesty 

My policy on cheating and other forms of academic dishonesty will follow the university's recently revised guidelines. However, the first step is direct discussions between the purported offender and myself.



Most safety concerns are common sense, ie, safe driving. But there are some special concerns in this class which are noted below. This is not an exhaustive list.

 1. Vehicle safety. The same regards you should have in your personal vehicle apply here.

 2. Insects, snakes. If you are hyperallergic to insect bites, please let me know. Always check yourself after a field trip for ticks and remove them immediately. It is virtually certain that we will encounter cottonmouth water moccasins. Always look before you step! Local hospitals of any size carry anti-venom.

 3. Other health concerns. Inform me if you are epileptic or diabetic so we will know how to deal with an emergency.

 4. Mushrooms. We will collect mushrooms. But never, never eat an unknown mushroom!

How are Plants Determined?

  "Determining" a plant means recognizing it and giving it a name. It is synonymous in many ways with identification. Please give some thought as to how you recognize organisms. It may seem esoteric but will ultimately aid you in putting a name on the hundreds of plants you will see if this course. I suggest the following are important.

1. Character states. This would include the physical aspects of the plant-morphology, color, smell, etc. What is the shape of the plant and its parts? A subset of this would be the process of contrast/comparison by which we consciously or unconsciously compare the plant with other plants we know and thus eliminate some names.

 2. Habitat and associated species. This is perhaps the most subtle of the techniques we use and becomes of value only when we know the ecology of a particular region.

 4. Other.


 Preston, R. J. Jr. and V. G. Wright. 1976. Identification of Southeastern Trees in Winter. 113 pp., illus. North Carolina Agr. Extension service, Raleigh. An excellent guide with good introductory material and workable keys.

 McQueen, C. B. 1990. Field Guide to the Peat Mosses of Boreal North America. University Press of New England. This 138-page book dealt with the moss genus Sphagnum, often considered one of the most difficult moss genera to identify. But peat mosses are also one of the most important group of plants in several kinds of wetlands, especially bogs. Some species are very habitats specific and therefore are valuable habitat indicators. This book emphasizes peat mosses of the northern United States and adjacent Canada but also has a key to all Sphagnum species in the United States. You will be spending a lot of time with this little book!

 Arora, D. 1986. Mushrooms Demystified. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. Outrageous is probably a good word to describe this valuable book. The author's humor comes out in places where you would expect technical terms and explanations. It remains the best single book to identify mushrooms in North America.

 How to know the trees. Berkeley: Nature Study Guild.

 How to Know the Ferns. Berkeley: Nature Study Guild. I was introduced to these marvelous little books as an undergraduate in a plant ecology course and have used them ever since!

Web Site 

I have established a web site that will eventually hold my 7000+ slides. The URL is: Familiarize yourself with the site. Plants includes all vascular plants, except Isoetes which has its own entry. Mushrooms and Mosses will eventually be very helpful for this course. The list of links is especially useful. Note that the first on the list is the most comprehensive list of plant web sites, the amount of information available is staggering. You will also find a sidebar with checklists of all the sites we will visit. These will be updated after each field trip. A category called courses will be added. This syllabus will be included. Please bear in mind that this site is under construction!!

  Course Components


Projects should be enjoyable! Through your project, I want you to gain an appreciation of how plants are used--whether for food, dyes, or paper. Choose a simple, workable, project. See pages 24-28.


The emphasis of these quizzes will be on the recognition of organisms. You will need to know the scientific name, properly spelled, for each. There will be eleven worth 100 points each. One quiz will be dropped.


You will prepare collections of mushrooms and peat mosses. These will be turned in at the end of the course with each specimen properly labeled. It is not yet possible to say how many of each organism you will need because the abundance of mushrooms will depend on the weather. Collections will be returned to you but will be disposed of if not claimed by the end of the semester. 

For mushrooms and peat mosses, turn in your collection in paper bags. We have a supply of these. Turn in your tree and fern specimens taped to paper. Remember, the purpose of the collection is to learn the plants. I do not want you to expend unnecessary time and expense on this.






I. Number of credit hours in biology.




II. Expected year and semester of graduation.




III. Chief reason for taking general botany.





IV. Previous botany/plant courses (if any).


V. Your email address:



Note! You must have an email address to receive notices for this course. Grades will also be distributed via email. Each ODU student is assigned an email account but you must activate it. Or, you can use another email system.

Peat Mosses–Species of Sphagnum

Some of the most frequently encountered wetland plants are peat mosses, species of the genus Sphagnum. Yet they are virtually never included in reports or studies as species, only as Sphagnum sp. This despite the fact that peat mosses are highly site specific and could be excellent indicators of environmental factors. For this reason it is important to know how to identify local species. Unfortunately, we do not (yet) have a suitable, simple key for our species. However, there are only about a dozen species in the Tidewater area and with a little effort it is possible to recognize these in the field. Page references are to the book by Crum.

Structure of Sphagnum

If available, examine living specimens of a peat moss. Place a plant under the binocular microscope. Locate the following structures: capitulum, stem, fascicle, spreading branches, pendant branches, leaves, stem leaves. Reproductive structures may be present but these are not usually essential to species determination. These features characterize the genus. It is not difficult to determine the genus even in the field. Species determination is another matter! At least initially, you will have to depend upon microscopic structures to determine species. For this work you will need the following equipment/supplies:

 Binocular microscope

Compound microscope


Slides and cover glasses (inexpensive plastic coverslips are fine)

Forceps with fine point

Teasing needle

Watch glasses

Soup or tablespoon!

Bunsen burner


Methylene blue stain

Crystal violet stain

Razor blades (double edge razor blades are best and also inexpensive)

 After reviewing the structure and morphology of peat mosses in your book (pages 22-25), review these features using Sphagnum perichaetiale which is in the section Sphagnum.

Obtain a few plants. Locate the capitulum. Remove a capitulum with a few fascicles and place it in a spoon with enough water to cover it and boil. Locate the fascicles, remove a few branches from the fascicle. Using the binoc, place the branch on a slide and remove leaves. I do this by holding the branch with the forceps and scraping off the leaves with a teasing needle. Place a drop of water (without stain) on the slide and cover with a coverslip. Examine with low power and locate the branch. The branch consists of a central parenchyma region surrounded by "sclerenchyma" tissue. The outer layer of the branch is called the cortex and is one cell layer thick. (In contrast, the cortex of the stem is several cell layers thick.) Note the conspicuous spiral markings in the walls of the cortical cells. This feature places this species in the section Sphagnum.

 But for species determination more work is needed! Again, take one of the capitula that has been boiled and place it on a microscope slide under your binoc. Using a razor blade slice off the

thinnest possible sections by cutting across the capitulum. Save the sections, remove the capitulum and mount the sections in a drop of water with a coverslip. Examine under low power with the

compound microscope. Locate sections that are cross sections of the leaves; these will appear "V" shaped. Switch to high/dry (45X) and locate the green cells. Remember that the leaf of Sphagnum is one cell thick. The larger cells are non-living at maturity and termed hyaline cells. One of the features used to distinguish among species is the relationship of the green cells to the hyaline cells. For example, in S. perichaetiale the green cells are narrow, with thickened end walls that extend to both surfaces of the leaf. In other species, the green cells may be entirely included or exposed at only one surface. Some green cells are trapezoidal in shape. It is important to learn how to distinguish these cells as they are an important diagnostic feature of peat mosses.

 The next steps involve staining. I prefer methylene blue but both this stain and crystal violet are available. Take a few branches that have been boiled and place them in a watch glass with a drop of stain. Rinse off the stain. Place the branch on a slide under the binoc and remove branch leaves. While doing this, locate the stem leaves. These are leaves attached to the branch and not in fascicles. Usually, stem leaves are different in shape and structure than the branch leaves. Remove all but a few leaves of a branch. Mount the branch axis and leaves in a drop of water with a cover slip and examine under low power. Notice the general shape of the cells. In this section of the genus, leaves are described as being cucullate or hooded. Carefully distinguish between leaves that are curved on both sides but are not cucullate. Cucullate leaves must be hooded, that is, there is a distinct, curved hood at the end of the leaf. Find the tip of the leaf with the minute teeth.

 The stain will help you to see clearly the arrangement of the cells in the leaves. Notice that most of the leaf is composed of hyaline cells. The green cells are sandwiched between hyaline cells. Hyaline cells may have distinct ornamentation in the form of spirals. Locate the pores. In S. perichaetiale these are located at the corner of the cells.

 Now, examine the axis of the branch. Note the cortical cells. You will once again see the spirals characteristic of the cortical cells in species of this section. Locate the pores in the branch cortical cells.

 Next, take a stained stem and place it under the binoc. Locate a few stem leaves. Compare their shape and structure to that of the branch leaves. Pay particular attention to the tip of the leaf and to the type of cells that are found on the margin of the leaf. 

Taxonomy and Sections of the Genus Sphagnum 

Your text (this refers to the book by Crum which you will have as a reference) has an excellent, workable key to the sections beginning on page 221. Use it in conjunction with this handout. 

Sphagnum (page 222 in text) 

Species in this section have cortical cells of the stem with spiral thickening. These are seen by making hand sections of the stems and mounting in water or stain. 

Sphagnum magellanicum. This is the characteristic peat moss of hummocks in northern bogs. I have not seen it in our area but it has been collected in bogs and at the margins of swamps. 

Sphagnum perichaetiale. Common in our area in burned areas (such as the Blackwater Ecologic Preserve) and in ditches. Often, the stem is very dark. 

Sphagnum palustre. Also a very common peat moss.

Sphagnum henryense. This and the above species are easily confused. They are separated, in part, on the character of the green cells of the branch leaves. This moss is named after Cape Henry and is frequent in our area.

Sphagnum affine. Found at Blackwater Ecologic Preserve. This species often forms extensive mats rather than mounds or hummocks. 

Section Rigida (page 225) 

In our area, represented by only the following species. This has very small leaves, hence the specific epithet. Compare the size of the stem and branch leaves. 

Sphagnum compactum. This is perhaps the "driest" of our peat mosses.

Section Cuspidata (page 228)

Plants in this section are usually found in wet depressions and are occasionally aquatic. 

Sphagnum cuspidatum. One of the most common aquatic peat mosses in our area (and throughout much of Eastern North America). Abundant, for example, in the ditches in the Dismal Swamp during the winter. When dry, it resembles "wet kitten fur", a very apt description. It can be confused with the following, which is much less frequent. 

Sphagnum torreyanum. This is a handsome moss and illustrated in Crum (figure 8-75, page 245). Note the relatively large buds and distinctive green color. Examine the cortical cells of the branch to find the retort-like pores. Large populations are found at the Zuni Pine Barrens Preserve. This is our largest peat moss. 

Sphagnum recurvum. Less frequent than the above, but also known from the preserve. 

Section Subsecunda (page 233) 

Leaves in this section are often sub-secund, that is, inconspicuously turned to one side. 

Sphagnum lescurii. See figure 8-75 on page 245. This is a widespread species. I have seen it in swamps throughout the Southeast. It usually forms small mounds. The branches of the capitulum typically bend down. 

Section Isocladus (page 226) 

Crum calls this group of mosses "Distinctive in the extreme..." There is only one species, Sphagnum macrophyllum which I have only seen in the Dismal Swamp. It is an aquatic moss with very large leaves. 

Section Acutifolia (page 236) 

The three representatives of this section have been collected at the Blackwater Ecologic Preserve. I find species in this section to be the most difficult to identify. 

Sphagnum capillifolium. Often with a red capitulum, this moss is common at the preserve. 

Sphagnum molle.

Sphagnum tenerum.

Sphagnum bartlettianum.


With just a little experience, it is possible to determine species in the field and to see the very specific niches they occupy. This is best done on a field trip so we shall examine as many different populations at the Blackwater Ecologic Preserve as possible. 


We are fortunate to have the collections made by Gisela Grimm who devoted the latter years of her life to studying the local bryoflora. Her specimens are in the ODU herbarium. Their value is enhanced by the fact that they have been examined and annotated by Lewis Anderson of Duke University. 

This is intended as guide to all the ferns and fern allies of the Tidewater area. I have followed Flora of North America (FNA) for nomenclature. FNA is available on-line. See the ODU Plant Photo Site for the link. 

Ferns and fern allies may be homosporous, producing one type of spore or heterosporous, producing two types of spores that are morphologically distinct. Megaspores are larger and produce the female gametophyte. Microspores are much smaller and produce the male gametophyte. 

Fern Allies 

The term "fern allies" is a sort of "catch all" for plants that have a fern like life cycle but are not true ferns. Put another way, they produce spores from which gametophytes and gametes arise. Botanists consider these to be the most primitive of all vascular plants. In previous geological epochs, they were the dominant land vegetation. 


Psilotum nudum Whisk fern. Not known from Virginia but reported from Chowan County, North Carolina, from a hardwood swamp with an immense population of Dryopteris ludoviciana. Should be looked for in the Tidewater area. See Perry, J. P., III and L. J. Musselman. 1994. Psilotum nudum new to North Carolina. American Fern Journal 84 (3): 12-14. 


The generic names of many of the club mosses have been revised, based on recent studies. See FNA for notes and comments. 

Lycopodiella appressa Appressed bog club moss. This is distinguished from the following species by having a strobilus not much wider than the upright shoot. In this genus, there are horizontal stems that creep along the ground. From these arise the leafy upright stems. 

Lycopodiella alopecuroides Foxtail bog club-moss. Found on moist sand in open areas in the Coastal Plain. 

Pseudolycopodiella caroliniana Some populations of this still exist in Sussex County.

Selaginella apoda Meadow spike-moss. Resembling a moss, this diminutive plant is found in a variety of moist habitats but is often overlooked. Heterosporous.


This family consists of the single genus Isoetes. We are studying the southern species and have all growing in containers in the herbarium. Examine fresh material. Quillworts, as species of Isoetes are known, are one of the least studied groups of fern allies and perhaps one of the least studied of all vascular plants in the southern United States. They are all listed as obligate aquatic plants but few are actually true aquatics. Rather, they are adapted for habitats that are inundated and then dry out. Quillworts are probably much more common than generally realized. They are heterosporous. In general, mature megaspores are necessary to determine species. You will be provided with handouts that illustrate spore features. The following species are common in our area. Isoetes engelmannii Engelmann's quillwort. 

Isoetes saccharata These two quillworts are virtually indistinguishable in the field and often grow together! They may be found in any freshwater habitat. Isoetes saccharata may be a complex of several species. It is the characteristic quillwort of freshwater tidal marshes. Pertinent literature includes: Musselman, L. J. and D. A. Knepper. 1997. Chesapeake Bay Quillworts. Wetland Journal 9(1): 3-6; Musselman, L. J., R. D. Bray and D. A. Knepper. 1997. Isoetes ×carltaylori (Isoetes acadiensis X I. engelmannii), a new interspecific quillwort hybrid from the Chesapeake Bay. Canadian Journal of Botany 75(2): 31-39; Musselman, L. J., R. D. Bray and D. A. Knepper. 1996. Isoetes ×bruntonii, a new hybrid quillwort from Virginia. American Fern Journal 86(1): 8-15; Musselman, L. J., D. A. Knepper, R. D. Bray, C. A. Caplen and C. Ballou. 1995. A new Isoetes hybrid from Virginia. Castanea 6(3): 245-254; Musselman, L. J. and D. A. Knepper. 1994. Quillworts of Virginia. A merican Fern Journal 84(2): 48-68. 


True ferns are divided into two large groups: leptosporangiate and eusporangiate. The eusporangiate ferns have sporangia that develop from both superficial and internal cells. Sporangia are large and contain large numbers of spores. Leptosporangiate ferns, on the other hand, have sporangia that develop from surface cells. Their sporangia usually contain 64 spores or a multiple of that number. There are only two families of eusporangiate ferns in our flora. 

Eusporangiate Ferns 


Botrychium simplex Least moonwort. With a wide ecological amplitude, this common fern is occasionally found in wetlands. 

Ophioglossum petiolatum Stalked adder's-tongue. This tiny fern has been reported from Virginia Beach but I have not seen it any closer than Chowan County, North Carolina. It appears in mid-winter and dries by Spring. 

Ophioglossum vulgatum Southern adder's-tongue. In early Spring this is a frequent component of the flora of damp woods and along intermittent streams. Probably more common than realized and seldom collected in our area. 


Osmunda cinnamomea Cinnamon fern. Common in a variety of moist situations in our area but generally in drier sites than the following species. Osmunda is unique among the ferns we are considering in having green spores. 

Osmunda regalis Royal fern. A common and attractive member of our wetland flora. 

Leptosporangiate Ferns 


Dennstaedtia punctilobula Hay scented fern. Including this as a wetland species is sort of a 'reach' but it does occur at some moist sites in the Dismal Swamp and elsewhere. The circular indusium is unique in our ferns as is the odor of fresh cut hay when the frond is crushed. 


Thelypteris noveboracensis New York fern. Common in Tidewater in a variety of habitats. Often found in drier sections of swamps and along streams. 

Thelypteris palustris Marsh fern. Common in freshwater marshes in our area. Our plants are var. pubescens as var. palustris occurs in Eurasia. Compare the lower pinnae of this species

with T. noveboracensis.

Phegopteris hexagonoptera Broad beech fern. Infrequent in our area in moist woods and along rivers. 


Woodwardia areolata Netted chain fern. One of our most common wetland ferns. Note the dimorphic fronds. The vegetative fronds are often confused with those of Onoclea sensibilis. An easy way to distinguish them is by examining the leaf margin. The margin of Woodwardia has minute teeth that form a "www" like margin. This is in contrast to the margin of Onoclea that is smooth, like "ooo". Some authors have placed this species in the genus Lorinseria.

Woodwardia virginica Virginia chain fern. Dimorphic fronds are not found in this wetland species. In general, I associate the Virginia chain fern with wetter situations than the netted chain fern. This species may be confused with Osmunda cinnamomea but the chain-like venation on the abaxial surface is diagnostic. 


Asplenium platyneuron Ebony spleenwort. Not typically a wetland species but aggressive and sometimes invading (but not persisting in) wetlands. 


Onoclea sensibilis Sensitive fern. The common name refers to the susceptibility of the leaves to even a light frost even though the fern occurs as far north as central Ontario. Dimorphic, the vegetative leaves of this fern are confused with those of the netted chain fern. Common in our area in ditches and margins of streams. 

Athyrium filix-femina Lady fern. Two varieties of this common fern of wetlands are found in our area. They are: A. filix-femina var. angustum with indusia not glandular and yellow spores and A. filix-femina var. asplenioides with indusia glandular (or not!) and dark brown spores. 

Dryopteris-Log Ferns

This genus is one of the most diverse and intriguing group of vascular plants in the Dismal Swamp. Note the chromosome numbers and hybrids found in the swamp. Hybrids are characteristically intermediate between their parents. Some pertinent literature includes: Nickrent, D. L., L. J. Musselman, L. A. Pitchford and D. W. Sampson. 1978. Distribution and ecology of Dryopteris in southeastern Virginia and adjacent North Carolina. American Fern Journal 68: 45-51. Wagner, W. H., Jr. and L. J. Musselman. 1979. Log ferns of the Great Dismal Swamp. pp 127-139 in: P. W. Kirk, Jr., editor. The Great Dismal Swamp. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. 427 pp xiv; Wagner, F. S. and L. J. Musselman. 1982. The occurrence of the southern woodfern, Dryopteris ×australis (Wherry) Small. Castanea 47: 182-19; Musselman, L. J. 1984. Dryopteris hybrids in the Great Dismal Swamp. National Geographic Society Research Reports 17: 619-624. 

Sexual Taxa

Dryopteris intermedia Fancy fern. Compare the morphology of this species with the following, paying particular attention to the features of the innermost pinnules of the lower pinnae. Fancy fern is also characterized by its glandular hairs on the indusia and, when young, on the rachis. 2 n=41.

Dryopteris carthusiana Spinulose wood fern. This is more common in the Dismal Swamp than the fancy fern but superficially resembles it. 2 n=82.

Dryopteris celsa Log fern. First described from the Dismal Swamp where huge populations are still found. Like all our species in this genus, the log fern is evergreen. 2 n=82.

Dryopteris ludoviciana Southern wood fern. For many years we searched the Dismal Swamp to find this species because some of the hybrids found in the swamp had the southern wood fern as

one of the parents. About ten years ago, a population of several thousand plants were found in a swamp in Chowan County, North Carolina. This northernmost population may explain the involvement of this species in Dismal Swamp hybrids. 2 n=82. 

Dryopteris cristata. Crested wood fern. With erect narrow fronds, this species is very rare in our area. A small population persisted in the Dismal Swamp for many years. Crested wood fern is at the southern edge of its range in our region. 2 n=164.


The proper way to note hybrids is by the placement of a multiplication sign before the specific epithet. This is not always possible with all word processing. Dryopteris × australis. The hybrid between D. celsa and D. ludoviciana. 2 n=123.

Dryopteris ×separabilis. Certainly the most beautiful of all the Dismal Swamp log ferns, this has a chromosome number of 2 n=123. 

Dryopteris cristata X D. celsa. This hybrid has never been formally named and is apparently very rare. 2 n=164. 


Azolla caroliniana Azolla. Unique among our fern flora in being a free floating plant. The fronds contain the cyanobacterium Anabena azollae. I use this fern as a source of the microorganism for class. 



Athyrium filix-femina var. angustum

Athyrium filix-femina var. asplenioides

Asplenium platyneuron

Azolla caroliniana  

Botrychium simplex 

Dennstaedtia punctilobula 

Dryopteris australis

Dryopteris carthusiana

Dryopteris celsa 

Dryopteris cristata 

Dryopteris cristata X D. celsa

Dryopteris intermedia

Dryopteris ludoviciana

Dryopteris separabilis

Isoetes engelmannii 

Isoetes saccharata 

Lycopodiella alopecuroides 

Lycopodiella appressa

Onoclea sensibilis

Ophioglossum petiolatum 

Ophioglossum vulgatum

Osmunda cinnamomea 

Osmunda regalis

Phegopteris hexagonoptera

Psilotum nudum 

Selaginella apoda 

Thelypteris noveboracensis

Thelypteris palustris var. pubescens

Woodwardia virginica

Woodwardia areolata 




Winter botany is used to refer to plants, chiefly woody plants, in their dormant condition. In our flora, this occurs in the winter but in some climates the dormant season is the dry season. Plant identification principles for winter botany are the same principles used during the growing season. This means that conservative features, ie, those not strongly influenced by the environment, are the most dependable to use. The entire classification scheme of angiosperms is based more or less upon the characters of the flowers which are conservative structures. For winter botany, we use mainly characters of scars.  

Two points regarding winter botany need to be emphasized. I am calling these scope and resolution. By scope I am referring to the scope number of plants within our flora which can be accurately identified in their winter condition. The scope of winter botany is much narrower than that of the growing season. In general, woody plants are easier to identify in winter condition than herbaceous plants. But with some experience you can learn to identify grasses by such things as ligules, etc. You won't find these features in any book dealing with the plants of our area! They are features which you must learn for yourself. Remember, the characters you discover may be as accurate, though less familiar, as other characters. I am using the term resolution to refer to the different level of resolution accuracy of species determination in winter botany. For example, it is always possible to determine which group (white or red and black) an oak belongs to, but in some cases it may be impossible to accurat ely determine the species from twigs alone. 

Some References to Works Dealing with Woody Plants in Winter Condition

 Blakslee, A. F. and C. D. Jarvis. New England Trees in Winter. Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin no. 69. 1911. (Dover Reprint, 1972) Storrs, Conn. Excellent descriptions and photographs. 

Harlow, W. M. 1942 (Dover Reprint 1957). Trees of the Eastern and Central United States and Canada.288 pp., illus. Dover Pub. Co. Contains descriptions of trees and includes pictures of bark and winter twigs. Interesting notes on uses are included. 

Harlow, W. M. 1941 (Dover reprint 1959). Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs. Dover Pub. Co. This is perhaps the best key for woody plants in winter condition, profusely illustrated. 

Harrar, E. S. and J. G. Harrar. 1946 (Dover reprint 1967). Guide to Southern Trees.70 pp., illus. Dover Publications . Illustrations for all species are not included but winter twigs are shown for many species. Winter keys not included.  

Jacques, H. E. 1946.How to Know the Trees. Wm. C. Brown Co., Dubuque, Iowa.166 pp., illus. Winter twigs are included with most illustrations.  

Muenscher, W. C. 1946 (Reprinted 1963). Keys to Woody Plants.108 pp., illus. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, N. Y. This handy little volume is essentially a collection of keys to woody plants. It is especially helpful in keying plants to species.  

Petrides, G. A. 1958.A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs. Peterson Field Guide Series.431 pp., illus. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. A separate winter key is included in the appendix.  

Preston, R. J. Jr. and V. G. Wright.1976.Identification of Southeastern Trees in Winter.113 pp., illus. North Carolina Agr. Extension service, Raleigh. An excellent guide with good introductory material and workable keys.  

Rogers, W. E. 1935 (Dover reprint 1965). Tree Flowers of Forest, Park, and Street.499 pp., illus. Dover Pub. Co. This book is beautifully illustrated with photographs and exquisite line drawing of winter silhouettes of trees.  

Trelease, W. 1931 (Dover reprint 1967). Winter Botany.396 pp., illus. Dover pub. Co.This classic volume has excellent keys and diagrams.  

Watts, M. T. 1970.Winter Tree Finder. Nature Study Guild. Berkeley: Nature Study Guild, Box 972, Berkeley, Ca. 94701.This cleverly designed pocket sized booklet features "picture keys" to most trees in winter condition.  


Virtually all cordage material (that is, material used to make ropes and similar devices such as cords, etc.) was derived from plants until the advent of synthetic fibers. Even now, the best ropes for certain purposes are prepared from plants.  

The purpose of this exercise is to prepare cordage from a native plant. Following are some examples of cordage from student reports. They will help you understand the process of making cordage as well as submitting similar reports on the plants you work with. 

Scirpus americanus (Swordgrass)  

Process: Fresh stems, which are sharply triangular with internal hollow spaces, were cut and then flattened between two blocks of wood. This collapsed the stem and made it more pliable. Originally stones were tried for flattening, but they damaged the tissue. The ends of three flattened stems were tacked to a surface to keep them taut while braiding. After being allowed to dry for over a week, shrinkage made the braid loosen, so all the strands were undone and re braided tighter. Knots in the material itself were used to tie off ends.  

Making Cordage from Yucca

Step 1. Cut the leaves from the Yucca stem. The leaves should be green and not rotten.

 Step 2. Pound the leaves rigorously with a blunt instrument, such as a hammer, until the leaf material loosens from the fibers.

 Step 3. Using a wire brush, carefully comb the leaves in one direction to separate the plant material from the fibers. Repeat this step for the opposite side until all the fiber is separated.

 Step 4. Place the fibers in chlorine bleach for 1-15 minutes and rinse. This step is not absolutely necessary if chlorine bleach is not readily available.

 Step 5. Repeat steps 1 through 4 for two more Yucca leaves, for a total of three bunches of fibers.

 Step 6. Braid the three bunches of fibers together. This step requires attaching one end of each bunch to a fixed point, such as a nail in a board.

 Step 7. The rope is now complete and can be left to air dry.

 Needle rush, Juncus roemarianus

The native plant our group chose to use for the cordage project is the "Needle Rush" plant. This plant was found along a marshy area in Knotts Island. A sharp knife was used to cut down the base of the plants. When making the larger piece of rope, several bands of the plant were cut and allowed to dry for a couple of days. The next step was the braiding of the three bands of the plant. After that, three sections of the braided pieces were then braided and intertwined with each other.

When making the smaller piece of rope, a fresh-cut band from the plant was taken and divided into three pieces and then braided. The smaller piece has a smoother texture and seems to be more durable. It was also easier to braid the smaller, fresh-cut piece than the piece that was allowed to dry for a couple of days. Both samples made an excellent rope that could be used for various reasons.


Use a string tag to identify your rope. On the tag place your name(s). On a separate sheet of paper indicate your name(s), the name of the plant, and how the cordage was prepared. Be precise in your description of the process. Your rope will not be returned to you, so if you want a sample of your work make extra rope.  


We will use three steps in preparing the yarn and dye: scouring, mordanting, dyeing. 

1. Scouring. This is a thorough cleansing of the fiber to be dyed and is especially important in cotton thread as oil is often present; this oil will interfere with the fiber's ability to take up mordants and dyes. For cotton-place the skein in about a gallon of water with a teaspoon of washing soda and a small quantity of detergent (Ivory Liquid is advised). Boil gently for a minimum of two hours. Remove, rinse thoroughly with water of the same temperature and mordant immediately although the cotton may be dried and used later. If you are using linen, the solutions are the same but do not boil, just simmer and repeat the process twice. Mordant or dry. For wool, use detergent (no soda is necessary) in hot water. Pour over the wool and leave overnight. Silk is placed in detergent water and simmered until it no longer feels slimy. 

2. Mordanting. We will try four mordants: tannin, alum, basic alum, and alum tartar. Some of these mordants work better on some fibers than others but will shall try all for each fiber. 

A. Tannin. This is prepared by dissolving 1 ounce of tannic acid in a gallon of water. Soak the fiber for up to 24 hours (try overnight). Tannin can also be derived from the bark of many different plants. 

B. Alum. Two ounces of alum in a gallon of water. Soak for about two hours. 

C. Basic alum. This is prepared by mixing two solutions, alum and soda. Alum is prepared by dissolving 8 ounces of alum in a gallon of hot water soda by using 1 ounce per pint. These are labeled on the containers. Mix equal parts before using. Place the fiber in the mordant as soon as bubbles have stopped. Leave overnight. 

D. Alum tartar. Use 22 g alum in one gallon of hot water. After this has dissolved, add 7 g cream of tartar and stir until dissolved. Simmer for about one hour, remove the fiber and blot but do not dry completely. 

Remember to always use non-reactive vessels when mordanting and dyeing. Always take care to cover the fiber with the solution. 

Plants and Specific Instructions 

1. Yellow. Golden rod. Solidago spp. Collect twice as much (by weight) of flowers (upper leaves and stems can be included) as wool being dyed. Place flowers in cold water. Boil one hour. Strain. Use an alum-mordanted wool while liquid is lukewarm. Simmer one hour. Rinse.

2. Yellowish to reddish brown. Sumac. Rhus glabra - Not to be confused with poison sumac, Rhus vernix, which has white berries. Pick berries in fall. Use one pound for each skein of wool. Boil 1 ˝ hours. Strain. Use alum-mordanted wool. Simmer one hour or longer. Rinse. Can also be used to dye cotton. 

3. Red to Pink. Pokeweed. Phytolacca americana. Use an equal amount of berries as wetted wool by weight. Pick berries in early fall. Boil one hour. Wash. Strain. For deep red, add ˝ cup vinegar (4% acetic acid) per gallon of dye bath. Add wetted wool. Simmer 1/2 hour or longer depending upon shade desired. Rinse. For pink, use above, but omit vinegar and use two tablespoons alum per gallon of dye bath. 

4. Dark brown-light brown. Walnut. Juglans nigra. Collect fruits in fall. Let dry. Remove outer layer of fruit; discard seed. Soak overnight. Use 1x-15 fruits per skein of wool. Boil two hours.

Strain. No mordant is necessary since material contains tannic acid. However, alum will result in greater color fastness. Strain. Use wetted wool. Simmer one hour or until desired shade is reached. For darker brown, a few sumac berries can be added. 

5. Orange. Onion. Allium cepa. Use skin from one pound of onions. Boil 30 minutes. Strain. Use alum-mordanted wool. Simmer one hour. Rinse. 

6. Red to yellow-brown. Apple. Pyrus malus. Use 1/2 pound of outer bark. Soak overnight. Boil two hours. Strain. Use alum-mordanted wool. Simmer one hour. Rinse. 

7. Yellow. Tomato. Lycopersicon esculentum. Use two plants per skein of wool. Chop plant into small segments. Boil two hours. Strain. Use alum-mordanted wool. Simmer one hour. Rinse. 

8. Dark yellow. Dock. Rumex obtusifolius. Use ˝ pound of roots only. Soak overnight. Boil one hour. Strain. Use alum-mordanted wool. Heat to boiling. Simmer one hour. Rinse. 

9. Pink. Prickly pear cactus. Opuntia compressa. Use fruits only. It is advantageous to use gloves when collecting fruits. About ˝ quart of fruits are needed for a skein of wool. Place fruits in large bowl and wash. Add wool and warm water. Allow material to ferment for ten days. Rinse well. 

1. Bright yellow. Dodder. Cuscuta spp. Use entire plants but take care to remove bits of host material. Boil two hours. Use alum-mordanted wool. 

11. Purple. Purple loosestrife. Lythrum salicaria. Use the flower stalks of this noxious weed which is causing so much damage in freshwater wetlands. Boil; reduce heat and add wool. Leave overnight. The addition of ferrous sulphate (add enough to make water black) will intensify the dye. 

Dyeing Assignment 

Should you chose to do a dye project, use at least two different fibers: wool, linen, or cotton.

Try at least three mordants tannic acid, alum, basic alum, and alum tartar as well as no mordant.

Turn in your samples mounted on stiff boards (the kind that are used for posters) cut to a size no larger than 12 x 18 inches (preferably smaller). Include detailed instructions on the plants you used, their origin, how they were prepared (including storage), mordants (including times), and dyes. On a separate piece of paper, give the details of preparation of the dye. 


Are you guilty? Not a pretty sight. Decapitated bodies. Broken parts strewn carelessly. All are victims of violent, senseless abuse. I witness it on campus at the end of the summer and the beginning of the new semester, especially when it is hot and humid. 

Mushroom abuse--a little known form of violence on the ODU campus. 

How can we stop this? How can we show that mushrooms need to be cared for, not kicked? Do we need mushroom sensitivity training at Preview? Is this the sort of program fraternities could take on? We are fortunate at ODU to have a diversity of mushroom species. Perhaps as many as thirty occur on campus, a valuable resource for my mushroom course. And their presence adds diversity and intrigue to our campus. Apart from mushroom devotees, however, they are not only unappreciated but positively reviled. 

Why? Perhaps people think mushrooms are intrinsically evil, because they seem to appear suddenly from the nether world and disappear below ground just as suddenly. Or, mushrooms may be associated with a drug subculture. Or they are feared for their toxins. Our campus mushrooms are neither psychedelic nor evil. Some are toxic, but so are some common plants which are valued. They are only doing their job of recycling organic material. In fact, their appearance is dependent on nothing less mundane than weather. 

Hot, humid weather brings on the most spectacular mushroom displays on campus. Mushrooms are mainly water. Using hydrostatic pressure, mushrooms enter campus life literally pumped up only to be met with disgust and jeers-- and violence. 

The largest of the late summer/early fall mushrooms is the green gilled lepiota, Chlorophyllum molybdites. Often these mushrooms form a nearly perfect circle on the lawn called a "fairy ring," another image from the supernatural. Their growth and development are a marvel of nature. First, a drum stick shaped brownish white structure emerges from the grass. On the second day the cap expands, sometimes to a radius of 8-10 inches. Ghostly white, the cap resembles a summer parasol. It may have light brown scales on the cap. Overnight its appearance changes, especially if the weather is hot and dry. It becomes brown and the edges of the cap turn up. From a drum stick, to a parasol, to a pagoda in four days or less! 

If you remove the cap at the parasol stage and place it on a sheet of white paper for a few hours, an intricate pattern of sordid green spores is deposited. These green spores give the mushroom its common name and its scientific name. Chlorophyllum means green leaf. Molybdites is from molybdenum, a trace metal that forms compounds that are green. The green gilled lepiota is toxic if ingested. Symptoms include serious gastrointestinal distress. NEVER eat an unknown mushroom! Remember the old adage: There are Old mushroom hunters and there are BOLD mushroom hunters but there are NO OLD BOLD mushroom hunters! 

Edible mushrooms also grace our university campus. Right here within sight from my office in Mills Godwin are several populations of the delectable mushroom French chefs refer to as champignon, a close relative of the commercial mushroom. Not available in stores, this fungus has a distinct flavor---a combination of filet mignon and black walnut. Just last week I collected ten caps walking across campus to my house in Larchmont. Sauteed in butter, they never saw the light of another day and will never return to their nether home. A form of abuse? No, a form of use! 

I wonder if abusers think the organism's life is snuffed out by a football kick. Hardly. As any student of mushrooms knows, the visible above ground part of the fungus is only a tiny part of the total organism. Almost the entire mushroom is underground, hidden from view and safe from abuse. Mushrooms are the largest of all known creatures. Bigger than blue whales, redwoods, and even dinosaurs. Scientists reported one mushroom in Upper Michigan that spanned more than a county! 

Mushroom abusers take note--your flailing at these defenseless, fleshy denizens of the lawn is futile. Pick on someone your own size! 

MUSHROOM POISONING Is There Really High Morbidity and Mortality? 


Mushroom exposures can invoke anxiety in the lay public and even in the most experienced physicians. The typical exposure scenario may involve a curious child who elected to harvest and sample a mushroom found in the yard. The child eventually tells a sibling, caretaker or parent about the episode which prompts an urgent call to a poison information center or physician or results in a hurried trip to an emergency department. Both the physician and parent are reminded of the anecdote about mushroom poisoning:

"There are OLD mushroom hunters...

There are BOLD mushroom hunters...

But there are NO OLD-BOLD mushroom hunters!" 

Thoughts of the child's survival immediately come to mind. The child's "stomach is pumped" and furious efforts are made to identify the mushroom from the gastric lavage returns by trying to compare the remnants to pictures of mushrooms in a mycology reference text. The parents are sent home to find samples of the mushroom that may have been eaten. The emergency department staff attempts to locate an individual who can identify the mushroom to determine if exotic antidotes must be administered.  

This exercise in futility and anxiety occurs daily throughout the United States. In reality, there are poisonous mushrooms but the typical exposure involves the ingestion of an "LBM" - Little Brown Mushroom! No symptoms develop, the child is fine and life goes on. In fact, only 14 mushroom-related fatalities (out of 85,556 documented mushroom exposures) have been reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers over the last eleven years! This represents a fatality incidence of only 0.016% compared to a 23-fold greater incidence of 0.37% following antidepressant over dosage. 

Nearly 75% of mushroom exposures involve children less than six years of age. It is rare for a fatality to occur in this age group. Most fatalities involve adults who forage for delectable mushrooms and fail properly to identify the mushrooms before consuming them. Other tragic cases involve individuals who seek hallucinogenic mushrooms, but unknowingly pick a mushroom with potential to produce a profound hepatotoxicity. While there are only a limited number of very toxic mushrooms, the best advice is to purchase mushrooms from the grocery store unless the individual is adequately trained in mushroom identification 

Only exposures involving highly suspect mushrooms or in symptomatic patients necessitate absolute identification of the mushroom. Locating a mycologist to identify the mushroom is often a difficult task. Poison information centers usually have consultants available to assist in mushroom identification in the rare circumstance when that is necessary. To reiterate, most mushroom exposures do not result in the development of symptoms and require no heroic intervention. However, there are several common classes of poisonous mushrooms which have general toxidromes, knowledge of which may be useful in the diagnosis and treatment of mushroom poisoning. This issue will provide an overview of the salient features associated with each class. 


Despite the fact that most mushroom exposures involving children have a favorable outcome, it may be advisable to induce vomiting with syrup of ipecac if the exposure is recognized within approximately one hour of the ingestion. Emesis may be induced in the home. If there is a substantial delay and no symptoms have developed, observation maybe sufficient. Activated charcoal administration is a suitable alterative in patients who have sought assistance in an emergency department. It is prudent to save a sample of the mushroom placed in a paper bag and in the refrigerator for possible future identification in the unlikely event that the patient becomes symptomatic. This is not always fail-safe since poisonous and nonpoisonous mushrooms may grow side- by-side. 

As a general rule, if symptoms develop within approximately two hours of the ingestion, it is unlikely that the mushroom is one of the potentially fatal hepatotoxic varieties. There is often a delay of several hours, usually over six hours, before symptoms develop if a very poisonous mushroom has been ingested. Once again, caution must be exercised since an individual may ingest poisonous mushrooms which produce early but not life-threatening symptoms, in conjunction with hepatotoxic mushrooms which produce a delayed onset of symptoms-the delayed symptoms falsely may be assumed to be associated with the less toxic variety. These problems reinforce the need to seek mushroom identification in patients who become symptomatic. Some symptoms associated with mushroom poisoning are identical to those observed with food poisoning. Be aware that food poisoning may be the etiology of the illness. A careful history of the patient's illness and information about others who may have eaten the same meal and possible mus hroom identification may resolve this dilemma. All individuals who become symptomatic following the ingestion of a possibly poisonous mushroom should be referred to the emergency department for evaluation. Good supportive care, symptomatic treatment and fluid and electrolyte replacement are adequate therapy in most mushroom poisoning cases. 


Cyclopeptide Poisoning 

No group of mushrooms instills more fear or is more toxic than those containing cyclopeptide amatoxins. The synonyms for the mushrooms which contain these are indicative of their morbid potential-"Death Angel," "Destroying Angel," "Death Cap." The Amanita species [sic] is responsible for most of the cyclopeptide-related fatalities and small amounts can be profoundly toxic. Members of the Galerina species [sic] are generally smaller mushrooms and contain less amatoxin per gram of mushroom. While they are very toxic and have the potential to produce death, they are less often associated with fatal outcomes. 

These mushrooms contain numerous cyclopeptides, but amatoxins appear to be the predominant toxins responsible for the hepatic and renal destruction which may accompany the ingestion of the mushrooms. Hepatic necrosis, similar to that produced by acetaminophen over dosage, is the primary toxic manifestation. In general there is a delay of 6-12 hours (it may be longer) before the onset of severe gastrointestinal toxicity. The delay is pathognomonic of exposure to amatoxins. Therefore, if a patient has a late presentation of symptoms following mushroom ingestion, cyclopeptide poisoning should be considered in the differential diagnosis. The initial symptomatic period may be followed by a period of subjective improvement for 1-2 days. Thereafter, the manifestations of liver and kidney failure become apparent. 

The management of Amanita or Galerina mushroom poisoning is often fraught with confusion and indecision. Since the onset of symptoms is delayed, gastric decontamination is of little value unless subsequent servings of the mushrooms have been ingested. Activated charcoal may be used if the gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting, do not prevent administration. There is no approved antidote available in the United States. Thioctic acid was touted to be lifesaving after early reports from Europe in the 1960s. However, clinical studies have not confirmed the efficacy of thioctic acid. Penicillin G in huge doses of up to 1,000,000 Units/kg/day has been demonstrated to be effective in animals by preventing the uptake of amatoxins by the liver. The data are encouraging but there is insufficient human experience to confirm its benefit absolutely. Cimetidine, as a P450 system inhibitor, has been studied in mice on the rationale that the amatoxins require metabolic conversion to produce the toxic m etabolite. Positive outcomes ensued, but there is no human data to demonstrate efficacy. The most promising agent is silibinin, an extract from the milk thistle plant. It is not available in the United States, but European experience in toxic patients is good. Silibinin allegedly prevents amatoxins from penetrating hepatocytes. 

The best therapy is good supportive care and symptomatic treatment. Penicillin and cimetidine use may be justified given the lack of other options. Hemodialysis is ineffective in eliminating the toxins but is used to treat the sequelae of the liver and renal damage. Orthotopic liver transplantation may be the only option in severe cases. 

Monomethylhydrazine Poisoning 

The Morel mushroom is one of the most highly-sought edible mushrooms. It is conical in shape and porous, resembling a sponge. The novice mushroom picker may pick the "false morel" which is hollow like the morel but convoluted and not porous. These mushrooms are represented by the genus Gyromitra and contain gyromitrin which is bioconverted to monomethylhydrazine (MMH), which is also a component of rocket fuel. 

Like the cyclopeptide-containing mushrooms, those which contain MMH do not produce symptoms for several hours (6-12 hours), and these poisonings are often mis diagnosed as Amanita or Galerina poisonings. However, the mushrooms are so different in physical appearance that the identification can usually be made from the history alone. The initial symptoms include profound gastroenteritis and flu-like symptoms which may continue for days. Central nervous system effects of vertigo, in coordination and seizures may occur. Hepatotoxicity and hepatorenal syndrome may develop in severe cases. 

The delay in the onset of symptoms and the extreme nature of the gastrointestinal manifestations often preclude the use of any type of gastrointestinal decontamination. Supportive and symptomatic care with emphasis on fluid and electrolyte replacement will suffice inmost cases. Pyridoxine in doses similar to those used to treat iso-niazid toxicity (5-20 gm) is sometimes used to treat the central nervous system toxicity since gyromitrin is a pyridoxine antagonist which ultimately influences GABA formation. 

Coprine Poisoning 

The "Inky Cap," named as such for the black fluid which elutes from the cap of the mushroom when it matures, is a common yard mushroom which often grows in "fairy rings" or circles which outline where tree stumps are decaying below the soil surface. Some mushroom hunters consume these members of the Coprinus species [sic] but they must avoid the consumption of ethanol for several days since this mushroom, in conjunction with ethanol, is infamous for producing a disulfiram-like reaction. 

The reaction may include a headache, flushing, vomiting, palpitations, paresthesias, chest pain and other clinical findings consistent with a disulfiram reaction. Onset of symptoms may occur within minutes to 2-3 hours of ingestion ethanol and the symptoms may persist for 1-2 days in extreme cases. An index of suspicion and a good history can solve the diagnostic predicament which is often diagnosed as food poisoning, an allergic reaction, or Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. 

Supportive and symptomatic care are the cornerstones of therapy.  

Muscarine Poisoning 

An age-old treatment recommendation for mushroom poisoning was the prophylactic administration of atropine. This was based upon the cholinergic symptoms which developed after ingesting some mushrooms. This recommendation was inappropriately extended to the treatment of all mushroom poisoning cases. The Inocybe and Clitocybe species have very high concentrations of muscarine which results in cholinergic poisoning-salivation, lacrimation, urination, defecation, miosis, bardycardia, diaphoresis, etc. 

The presentation of symptoms, which includes nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, is within minutes to two hours after the ingestion. The rapid onset of symptoms essentially rules out the cyclopeptide and MMH groups of mushrooms from serious diagnostic consideration 

Gastrointestinal decontamination using emesis or activated charcoal may be useful if the symptoms do not prevent the administration of either ipecac or charcoal. Fluid and electrolyte needs should be monitored closely. Atropine administration may be necessary if warranted by the cholinergic symptoms. 

Ibotenic Acid and Muscimol-Containing Mushrooms 

The colorful Amanita muscaria, with the orange to red cap speckled with white flecks (often referred to as warts) which are remnants of the protective veil covering the mushroom as it protrudes through soil, frequently adorns the covers of mycology books and is often portrayed in many fairy tales, including "Alice in Wonderland." Many hear only "Amanita" and conclude that death is imminent, when in actuality there are few bad outcomes following the ingestion of this mushroom. 

Psychoactive compounds, ibotenic acid and muscimol, produce distortions of reality. The symptoms may be manifest within 30 minutes(once again separating this variety [sic] of Amanita from those containing cyclopeptide), persist for hours, and produce a state of inebriation (in coordination, euphoria, confusion, drowsiness). Fever and seizures can occur as manifestations of severe intoxication.

 The name of the most common representative of this type of mushroom, Amanita muscaria, provides the misconception that the mushroom contains muscarine and should accordingly be treated with atropine. Muscarine is not present in pharmacologically relevant amounts and atropine should not be used. As with many other mushrooms, treatment is largely supportive and symptomatic. 

Hallucinogenic Mushrooms  

"Funny mushrooms," as they often are called due to their psychoactive properties, primarily include members of the Psilocybe and Paneolus species [sic]. For abuse purposes, the mushrooms are eaten fresh or dried, generally in large quantities to produce hallucinogenic effects. 

Depending upon the presence of other food in the stomach, the quantity of mushrooms ingested and the concentration of the hallucinogens such as psilocybin, the toxic and hallucinogenic manifestations begin over a period of 30 minutes to three hours (the symptoms should rule out cyclopeptide ingestion). Inappropriate behavior, confusion, disorientation, visual hallucinations, dilated pupils and blurred vision may occur. Gastrointestinal irritation including nausea and vomiting also are relatively common. There have been reports of fever, coma and seizure activity following the abuse of these mushrooms 

Most patients report to the emergency department several hours after exposure for treatment of the dysphoric aspects of toxicity and gastrointestinal component. The symptoms usually resolve within a period of six hours and supportive care is the cornerstone of treatment. 


Mushrooms may not be a nutritional powerhouse like broccoli or carrots, but they are not just a tasty decoration. A 3.5-ounce portion (about 1.5 cups) of raw Agaricus bisporus, the common cultivated mushroom sold in supermarkets, supplies 25% of an adult's niacin needs (plus other B vitamins), more than 10% of the iron needs, more potassium than an orange, and some fiber and protein, yet only 25 calories and no fat or sodium. (Canned mushrooms are less nutritious and are loaded with sodium and, sometimes, butter.) 

Many markets now also stock exotic varieties, such as orange- colored chanterelles, delicate enoki, and intensely flavorful shiitake mushrooms have slightly more calories but fewer minerals than the ordinary variety. Dried shiitake mushrooms have highly concentrated calories and minerals by weight, but because of their strong flavor they are used in much smaller quantities. Dried mushrooms must be soaked before cooking. 

When buying button mushrooms, pick those with firm, plump, tightly closed caps for best texture and flavor. Avoid those that are shriveled or bruised. If the gills show, they should be pink or tan, not dark and spongy. Store loose mushrooms unwashed in a paper bag in the refrigerator-a sealed plastic bag will hasten deterioration-and use as soon as possible. Store packaged mushrooms unopened. Dried mushrooms will keep for up to six months in a cool, dark place. 

The stems of fresh mushrooms are just as good to eat as the caps; trim the stems only if they're woody. Before cooking them, wash the mushrooms quickly; don't soak them. They don't need to be cooked in oil or butter; instead saute them in a little chicken broth, or broil them. Don't throw out the flavorful and nutritious liquid they yield when cooked-use it for cooking grains or vegetables. There's no need for fatty toppings, which will overpower their delicate taste. 

Raw mushrooms contain potentially toxic substances called hydrazines, some of which have been shown, in large doses, to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Many hydrazines, including the most harmful types, are highly volatile and are destroyed by heat. Drying has a similar effect. 

Most people don't eat large quantities of raw mushrooms. In any case, the amount of hydrazines contained in a serving of raw mushrooms is apparently small. Practically all plant foods contain natural substances that protect the plants against predators. Some of these have been shown to have adverse effects on animals, but few effects on humans. Hydrazines appear to be among this group. Still, if you eat mushrooms often, eat them cooked, not raw. There's another reason to cook your mushrooms: cooking actually makes some of the nutrients more available to the body by breaking down the fibrous cell walls and destroying some nutrient-blocking compounds. 

Abbreviated Guide to some Edible and Poisonous Plants of the Tidewater, Virginia Area


This treatment is not exhaustive and the listing or non-listing of a species here does not attest to its palatability or toxicity. The guide is in eight parts. Part one deals with precautions in collecting and using edible wild plants. Be thoroughly familiar with this material! The second part is the universal taste test which should only be used under emergency listing of some edible plants including the most common and how they are prepared. The fourth deals with teas and the fifth with fall fruits and nuts; some of this material is also covered in part two. The sixth part is a collection of recipes for elderberry fruits and flowers as this common shrub is at its peak of flowering during the course. The last part summarizes features of some of the more important toxic plants. Section seven deals only with plants which cause internal poisoning; and section eight deals with dermatitis causing plants. 


PESTICIDES. Unfortunately there is a good possibility that some of the plants you harvest, especially those that are weeds in agricultural crops, or along roads may have been sprayed with some toxic substance. More disconcerting is the fact that there is no way that you can determine if the plant has been sprayed. As a precaution, do not collect where it is obvious that spraying has occurred. You may be able to determine this by checking for "burning" on the leaves of trees and shrubs. Secondly, thoroughly wash whatever you collect. This is always a good idea. Obviously, in remote areas there is less likelihood that plants have been sprayed.  

FUNGAL TOXINS. Some fungal toxins are extremely poisonous substances and are carefully screened for in commercial food production. Of these, aflatoxins are perhaps the most serious. To lessen the chances that these toxins are present, collect only .fresh. seeds and fruits, not those which have been on the ground for some time. Moist conditions will promote the growth of these organisms. 

ERGOT FUNGUS. This is Claviceps purpurea, an Ascomycete and very poisonous. It was the cause of the "St Anthony's fire" of the middle ages when people were poisoned by eating flour contaminated with ergot. It is found on several native grasses. The sclerotium, an overwintering body of the fungus, forms in the developing ovary of the grass so that the fungus and the grain are mature at the same time. The sclerotium is a hard, black structure extending horn-like from the grain. Examine any wild grasses very carefully for this dangerous fungus! It often forms impressive infections on salt marsh cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora in our area. 

NATURAL VARIABILITY IN THE PLANTS. Native plants, including weeds, are more variable than cultivated plants. Thus, some individuals may contain more or less toxic or sub-toxic compounds than other plants of the same species. There is, of course, no way to predict this as both environmental and inherent genetic factors may be involved. One example is the foliage of the common chokecherry. Some plants have high concentrations of cyanide compounds, other plants have low concentrations of the same compounds. 

NATURAL VARIABILITY IN PERSONS. Some people are simply more susceptible to gastric upset from plants than other people. If you are sensitive, avoid unknown wild plants or, if you wish, taste only a very small quantity. If you are extremely sensitive to poison ivy, avoid products from this family including drinks made from sumacs (genus Rhus which makes a delicious cooling drink!), mangos, and cashews. 

POISON PLANTS THAT LOOK LIKE EDIBLE PLANTS. The great culprits here are the parsley family (Apiaceae) and the nightshade family (Solanaceae) although there may be others. Both families are well represented in our local flora. If the plant has finely dissected leaves and an umbel or ball-shaped inflorescence and you are uncertain as to its determination, avoid eating it as it could be the deadly poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), water hemlock (Cicuta maculata), a species of Angelica or another genus containing poisonous species. Likewise, the fruits of some nightshades are edible and delicious including-in addition to the well-known tomato and eggplant-species of Physalis which have fruits which superficially resemble those of the toxic nightshades (genus Solanum). 

BITTERNESS IN WILD PLANTS. Many wild plants including acorns, water lily rhizomes, some wild grains and a diversity of other plants may have high concentrations of very bitter substances. These are not harmful in small quantities but they do interfere with the palatability of the plants. Boiling in several changes of water will help remove these substances which are usually tannin compounds. 

OXALATES IN PLANTS. There are many plants that have high concentrations of oxalate compounds. These are very bad on the kidneys. Boiling usually destroys these. In fact, there are many valuable wild foods that contain oxalates. Don't eat them raw, however. Oxalates will usually produce a sharp burning sensation in your mouth. 

COMMON SENSE. This is a very desirable attribute in the pursuit of edible wild plants. Know the plant you are dealing with. Be certain of its identity. Know which parts are edible and how they are prepared. Be very cautious about experimenting by yourself! If you are a serious wilderness camper, know which plants are suitable emergency foods. Be familiar with the literature on edible wild plants. 

PERMISSION TO COLLECT. Be certain that you have permission from the land owner to collect specimens. 


This outline is adapted from one used by the military in survival courses. It is to be used only under emergency conditions because you are at risk from ingesting potentially toxic plants. 

1. Test only one part of a potential food plant at a time. 

2. Break the plant into its basic components-leaves, stems, roots, buds, and flowers. 

3. Smell the food for strong or acid odors.Keep in mind that smell alone does not indicate a plant is inedible. 

4. Do not eat for 8 hours before starting the test. 

5. During the 8 hours you are abstaining from eating, test for contact poisoning by placing a piece of the plant part you are testing on the inside of your elbow or wrist.Usually 15 minutes is enough time to allow for a reaction. 

6. During the test period, take nothing by mouth except purified water and the plant part being tested. 

7. Select a small portion of a single component and prepare it the way you plan to eat it. 

8. Before putting the prepared plant part in your mouth, touch a small portion (a pinch) to the outer surface of the lip to test for burning or itching. 

9. If after 3 minutes there is no reaction on your lip, place the plant part on your tongue, holding it there for 15 minutes. 

10. If there is no reaction, thoroughly chew a pinch and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes.DO NOT SWALLOW. 

11. If no burning, itching, numbing, stinging, or other irritation occurs during the 15 minutes, swallow the food. 

12. Wait 8 hours.If any ill effects occur during this period, induce vomiting and drink a lot of water. 

13. If no ill effects occur, eat a half cup of the same plant part prepared the same way.Wait another 8 hours.If no ill effects occur, the plant part as prepared is safe for eating. 

CAUTION: Test all parts of the plant for edibility, as some plants have both edible and inedible parts.Do not assume that a part that proved edible when cooked is also edible when raw.Test the part raw to ensure edibility before eating raw. 


1. Common Name: Water lily

Scientific Name: Nymphaea odorata 

Description: These water plants have a thick, fleshy rhizome that grows in the mud and large leaves that float on the surface of the water. The large flowers are white and fragrant.

Edible Parts: All species have large quantities of starch.

Preparation: Peel off the tough outer portion to obtain the starch in their rhizomes.

2. Common Name: Sassafras

Scientific Name: Sassafras albidum

Description: You can recognize this shrub or small tree by the different leaves borne on the same plant. Some leaves will have one lobe, some two lobes and some no lobes. Flowers are small and yellow and are borne early in the spring. The fruits are dark blue. Sassafras can be found at the margins of roads and forests, usually in open sunny areas.

Edible Parts: The young twigs and leaves can be eaten fresh or dried. The underground portions of the plant can be used to make a refreshing drink.

Preparation: Dig the underground portions, peel off the bark and let it dry then boil it in water to prepare sassafras tea. The dried young twigs and leaves can be added to soups and can be purchased in stores as gumbo filee.


3. Common Name: Sand nettle

Scientific Name: Cnidoscolus stimulosus

Description: Herbaceous plants with a five parted-leaf. The leaves and stems are covered with stinging hairs which cause dermatitis.

Edible Parts: The underground storage organ is a good source of starch.

Preparation: Dig the tuber (it may be a foot or more underground). Boil and eat.


4. Common Name: Prickly pear cactus

Scientific Name: Opuntia compressa and other species.

Description: These cacti have flat, pad-like stems that are green and covered with abundant round furry dots that contain collections of sharp pointed hairs. They are found in arid and semi-arid regions and dry sandy areas of wetter regions.

Edible Parts: All parts of the plant are edible.

Preparation: Peel the fruits and eat fresh or crush to prepare a refreshing drink. Take care to avoid the tiny pointed hairs.

Medical Uses: Split the pads and apply to wounds to promote healing.

Other Uses: The pads are a good source of water but you must take care to peel them so as not get the sharp hairs in your mouth.


5. Common Name: Pokeweed

Scientific Name: Phytolacca americana

Description: Pokeweed grows to a height of as much as 1 feet. The leaves are elliptic and up to 3 feet in length. Many large clusters of purple fruits are produced late in the season. It is found in open, sunny areas.

Edible Parts: Collect the leaves and stems early in the season while they are still tender and can easily be crushed. The fruits are reported to be edible if cooked. I advise caution.

Preparation: Boil the young leaves and stems twice, discarding the water from the first boiling.

Poisonous Parts–CAUTION!!: All parts of this plant are poisonous if eaten raw! Never eat the underground portions of the plant as these contain the highest concentrations of the poisons.

Other Uses: For dyeing cloth, mix equal parts of berries and water. Bring to a boil and soak the cloth in the mixture at a full boil.


6. Common Name: Persimmon

Scientific Name: Diospyros virginiana

Description: Persimmons are deciduous trees with alternate, dark green leaves with entire margins. Leaves are elliptical in shape, and the flowers are inconspicuous. You can recognize the fruits by their orange color, sticky consistency and several seeds. It is a common forest margin tree.

Edible Parts: The leaves are a good source of vitamin C. The fruits can be eaten raw or baked.

Preparation: A tea can be prepared by drying the leaves and soaking them in hot water.

Poisonous Parts-CAUTION!! Some persons are unable to digest persimmon pulp.


7. Common Name: Nut sedge

Scientific Name: Cyperus esculentus

Description: Recognize this very common plant by its triangular stem and grass-like leaves.The flowers and developing fruits are brown. This important survival food can be looked for in moist sandy areas and is often an abundant weed in cultivated fields.

Edible Parts: Dig the plant and locate the swollen bases.

Preparation: These can be eaten raw, boiled or baked to provide a nutritious food.

Other Uses: I have seen dried tubers sold in West Africa for burning as a mosquito repellant.


8. Common Name: Cattail

Scientific Name: Typha latifolia and other species

Description: Cattails are grass-like plants with strap shaped leaves 1/2 to 2 inches wide and growing up to 6 feet tall. There are several species but you can easily recognize all as cattails.

The male flowers are borne in a dense mass above the female flowers. These last only a short time leaving the female flowers which develops into the brown cattail. Pollen from the male flowers is often abundant and bright yellow. Look for cattails in full sun at the margins of lakes, streams, canals, ditches, rivers, and brackish water.

Edible Parts: Collect the young tender shoots and eat them either raw or cooked. The rhizome is often very tough but is a rich source of starch. The pollen is also a source of abundant starch.

Preparation: Pound the rhizome to remove the starch, use as a flour. When immature and still green, the female portion may be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob.


9. Common Name: British soldier's lichen

Scientific Name: Cladonia rangiferina

Description: This is a very common lichen in much of North America. It is a low growing plant only a few inches tall and grey green in color. This lichen does not flower but does produce bright red reproductive structures. Look for this lichen in open dry areas.

Edible Parts: The entire plant is edible but has a crunchy brittle texture when dry.

Preparation: Soak the plant in water with some wood ashes to remove bitterness. Then dry, crush and add to milk or other food.


1. Common Name: Blackberries, raspberries, and dewberries

Scientific Name: Rubus species

Description: These familiar plants have alternate, usually compound leaves and frequently are armed with sharp prickles. The fruits may be red, black, yellow, or orange in color. These plants prefer open sunny areas in a diversity of habitats at the margin of woods, lakes, streams, and roads.


Edible Parts: The young stems are edible when the hard outer covering is peeled off. The fruits are a good source of vitamin C when eaten fresh.


11. Common Name: Indian potato (Eskimo potato)

Scientific Name: Claytonia species


Description: All species of Claytonia are somewhat fleshy plants only a few inches tall with showy flowers about an inch across. Some species occur in rich forests where the flowers are conspicuous before the leaves develop. Western species are found in sagebrush or alpine meadows.

Edible Parts: The tubers are a good, tasty source of starch.

Preparation: Dig the plant and follow the delicate stem to the underground brown tuber. The tubers should be boiled before eating. They resemble potatoes in their texture and taste.

Caution: Uncommon in our area. Do not destroy. But often abundant in the mountains and further north.


12. Common Name: Japanese knotweed

Scientific Name: Polygonum cuspidatum

Description: This is a shrub-like plant with leaves that are heart shaped and up to 18 inches long. The flowers are bright pink.

Edible Parts: Both the underground portions and the young stems can be eaten.

Preparation: Collect the stems when young and boil them. The young rootstocks can also be prepared the same way.

Medicinal Parts: CAUTION!!! large quantities of the plant may have a laxative affect.

NOTE: There are related species which can also be eaten.


13. Common Name: Spatterdock, yellow water lily

Scientific Name: Nuphar luteum

Description: Flowers are 1 inch across, yellow and develop into bottle shaped fruits. The fruits are green when ripe. Leaf shape is somewhat variable. Leaves are up to 2 feet long with a triangular notch at the base. It is found in shallow water (usually never deeper than six feet) that is quiet and fresh.

Edible Parts: All parts of the plant are edible. The fruits contain several dark-brown seeds which can be parched. The large rootstock is filled with starch.

Preparation: Parch or roast the seeds, then grind into flour. Dig the rootstock out of the mud and peel off the outside. Boil the flesh. Sometimes the rootstock contains large quantities of a very bitter compound. Boiling in several changes of water may remove this.


14. Common Name: Sorrel

Scientific Name: Rumex acetosella

Description: These plants seldom are more than a foot tall. They have alternate leaves often with arrow-like bases, very small flowers and frequently reddish stems. Large quantities of plants are often found growing in a small area. Look for them in old fields and other disturbed areas. (This plant should not be confused with many other unrelated plants called sorrel).

Edible Parts: The plants are edible raw or they can be boiled and eaten as a vegetable.

Poisonous Parts-CAUTION!! They contain oxalates which could be damaging if eaten in large quantities. Cooking apparently destroys this compound.


15. Common Name: Arrowleaf

Scientific Name: Sagittaria latifolia

Description: Arrowleaf is recognized by its arrow-shaped leaf, up to 18 inches to 2 feet long and 8 inches wide. The flowers are white with 3 petals. The plant bears potato-like tubers at its base late in the season. Look for arrowleaf in ditches, marginsof streams and lakes, and in marshes.

Edible Parts: The tubers are edible.

Preparation: Dig the tubers and boil them. The raw tubers contain a milky substance which may be bitter. Cooking destroys this.

Poisonous Parts-CAUTION!! There are several aquatic plants which have leaves similar to those of arrowleaf. Be certain the plant lacks prickles, has milky juice, and white flowers before eating.


16. Common Name: Pigweed

Scientific Name: Amaranthus species

Description: These plants are abundant weeds in many parts of the world. The flowers which are very small and not easily seen are borne in dense clusters at the top of the plants. However, by

shaking the tops of older plants you will be able to tell if seeds are present. The seeds may be brown or black. All Amaranthus have alternate simple leaves; some red color may be present on the stems. Look for Amaranthus as weeds in crops, roadside plants, or in disturbed waste areas.

Edible Parts: All parts are edible but some species may have sharp spines which should be removed before eating. The young plants or growing tips of older plants are an excellent vegetable. The seeds are very nutritious.

Preparation: You can eat the seeds raw, boil them, or grind them into flour. Simply boil the young plants or eat raw.


17. Common Name: Lotus

Scientific Name: Nelumbo lutea (New World); N. nucifera (Old)

Description: There are only two species of lotus; one with yellow flowers and the other with pink flowers. The flowers are large and very showy and for this reason have been widely planted throughout the world. The leaves may float on the surface of the water or be emerged and may become very large, often reaching five feet in radius. The fruit is a distinctive structure, flattened and containing up to 2 hard seeds. Lotus are found in quiet freshwater.


Edible Parts: You may eat any part of the lotus plant raw or cooked. The underwater parts of the plant contain large quantities of starch. Collect the young leaves or seeds which have a very pleasant flavor and are nutritious.

Preparation: Harvest the fleshy portions from the mud and bake or boil them. Boil the young leaves and eat as a vegetable. The seeds may be eaten raw, or parched and ground into flour.


18. Common Name: Broad leaf lawn plantain

Scientific Name: Plantago major, P. rugelii

Description: These are readily recognized by their broad leaves, over 1 inch across, which are borne close to the ground. The flowers are on a spike which arises from the middle of the cluster of leaves. Lawn plantains are common weeds in lawns and along roads.

Edible Parts: The young leaves are a good source of food.

Preparation: Collect the leaves and eat them raw as a vegetable or boil them. Select the very youngest leaves, however, as strong fibers develop in the older leaves.


19. Common Name: Dandelion

Scientific Name: Taraxacum officinale

Description: This is a well known and often abundant weed. The leaves grow close to the ground and are seldom more than eight inches long with a jagged edge. The flowers are bright yellow.

The juice of dandelions is milky, this is normal and does not mean the plant is poisonous. It can be found in open sunny locations.

Edible Parts: There are several species of dandelion and all are edible. All parts of the plant can be eaten.

Preparation: The leaves are easily gathered and can be eaten raw although they tend to be bitter. The roots can be boiled and eaten as a carrot-like vegetable but they may be bitter. For a coffee substitute, dig the roots, wash and roast until dark brown.


2. Common Name: Rock tripe

Scientific Name: Umbellicaria species

Description: Look for this plant forming large patches with curling edges on rocks and boulders. The top of the plant is usually black. The side near the rock is lighter in color.

Edible Parts: You can eat the entire plant.

Preparation: Scrape the plant off the rock and wash to remove the grit. The plant may be dry and crunchy; soak it in water until soft. Rock tripes may contain large quantities of bitter substances and soaking or boiling in several changes of water should remove the bitter material.

Poisonous Parts-CAUTION!! There are some reports of poisoning from rock tripe so apply the universal taste test. Use only in an emergency.


21. Common Name: Wild Rose

Scientific Name: Rosa species

Description: Roses are shrubs with alternate leaves, sharp prickles, showy, usually fragrant flowers, and a red, dry fruit.

Edible Parts: The flowers and fruits are edible.

Preparation: The flowers can be eaten raw or boiled. Soaked in water, they make a refreshing drink. The fruits add a good flavor to hot drinks. In an emergency, the young shoots can be peeled and eaten. Fresh, young leaves can be made into a tea. Medicinal Parts: The fruit is an excellent source of vitamin C.

Poisonous Parts-CAUTION!! Eat only the outer portion of the fruit as the seeds of some species are quite prickly and can cause internal distress. Also, the leaves have the potential of a slight toxicity so should be used only after the universal taste test. Use only in an emergency.


22. Common Name: Orach

Scientific Name: Atriplex species

Description: You can recognize this plant by its vine-like growth, and leaves up to 2 inches long, shaped like arrowheads. Orach species are entirely restricted to salty soils and are thus one of a few plants that provide food in these habitats.

Edible Parts: All of the plant is edible and tasty. The seeds are a good source of starch.

Preparation: Eat orach raw or boiled.


23. Common Name: Purslane

Scientific Name: Portulaca oleracea

Description: Purslane grows close to the ground, seldom more than a few inches tall. The stems and leaves are fleshy and often tinged with red. Leaves are paddle-shaped and 1 inch or less long and are clustered at the tips of the short stems. Flowers are yellow or pink. The seeds are tiny, black and produced in large numbers. Look for it in cultivated fields, field margins and other weedy areas in full sun.

Edible Parts: All parts of the plant are edible and are rich in vitamins. In the Nile valley and the Middle East this plant is grown as a crop known as rigla in Arabic.

Preparation: Boil the plants after washing for a tasty vegetable or eat the plant raw. The seeds can be used as a flour substitute or eaten plain.


24. Common Name: Oaks

Scientific Name: Species of the genus Quercus 

Description: These are familiar deciduous or evergreen trees with alternate leaves and acorn fruits. There are two main groups of oaks--red and white. The red oak group has leaves with bristles and smooth bark in the upper part of the tree, acorns take two years to mature; white oak leaves lack bristles, have rough bark in the upper portion of the tree, and acorns that mature in only one year. Oaks are found in a diversity of habitats; they often are the most abundant trees in the forest.

Edible Parts: All acorns are edible but often contain large quantities of bitter substances. The white oak acorns are generally better in flavor than those of the red oak group. The live oak, Q. virginiana, has especially tasty acorns.

Preparation: Gather the acorns and shell them. For the red oaks, you will need to soak the acorns in water for one or two days to remove the very bitter substances that characterize the acorns of the red oak group. Or, to speed up the process, soak the acorns in water to which some wood ashes have been added. The acorns can be eaten or boiled or ground into flour or baked. Acorns which have been baked until very dark can be used as a coffee substitute.


25. Common Name: Pines

Scientific Name: Pinus species

Description: Pines are easily recognized. The leaves are needle-like and grouped in bundles. Each bundle may contain 1-5 needles, the number varies among species. The odor and sticky sap of the tree are a simple way to determine its identity. This will readily distinguish pines from very similar looking trees with needle- like leaves. Pines prefer open sunny areas.

Edible Parts: The seeds of all species are edible but some are very small. The young male cones, borne only in the spring of the year, can be collected as a survival food. Young cones with no tinge of yellow, indicating pollen, are best although they are edible at any stage. The bark of younger twigs is edible. In my opinion, Pinus strobus (white pine) has the most tasty young twigs--the only ones which do not taste like turpentine!

Preparation: Boil or bake the young cones. Peel off the bark of thin twigs. The juicy inner bark can be chewed and is rich in sugar and vitamins, especially in the spring when the sap is rising.


26. Common Name: Juniper

Scientific Name: Juniperus species

Description: Junipers, sometimes called cedars, are trees or shrubs with very small scale-like leaves which are densely crowded around the branches. Each leaf is less than 1/2 inch long. All species have a distinct aroma resembling the well-known cedar. The berry-like cones are usually blue and covered with a whitish wax. Look for them in open, dry sunny habitats.

 Edible Parts: The berries and twigs of the juniper are a source of survival food.

Preparation: The juniper berries can be prepared in several ways. Eat them raw or roast the seeds for a coffee substitute. The dried and crushed berries are used as a seasoning for meat, especially wild game. Gather the young twigs to make a tea. Boil for a few minutes, then drink. This tea is rich in vitamin C.

CAUTION!! Many plants are called cedars which may be no relation and which could be harmful. Always look for the berry-like structures, needle leaves, and resinous fragrant sap to determine that the plant you have is a juniper.


27. Common Name: Foxtail grass

Scientific Name: Setaria species

Description: Foxtail grasses are of various sizes with dense furry heads. They prefer open, sunny areas and you can find them along roads and paths, margins of fields, and around homesites. Some species occur only in wet marshy areas; some are grown as crops.

Edible Parts: The grains are a valuable source of emergency food.

Preparation: Harvest the small grey or brown grains from the grain heads. They may be eaten raw or cooked, but the taste is improved by removing as much of the covering of the grain as possible. You can do this by grinding or simply rubbing them in your hand.


28. Common Name: Nettle

Scientific Name:Urtica dioica

Description: These plants grow to a height of several feet. Leaves are opposite and usually toothed. The flowers are small and inconspicuous. Nettles prefer moist areas along streams or at the margins of forests.

Edible Parts: The young shoots of nettles are a good source of food. I believe there are one of the best wild edibles. Nettles also have the peculiar quality of curdling milk.

Preparation: Boil the young shoots and eat as a vegetable. To make a yogurt, simply crush some of the plant and place it in milk.

CAUTION!! These are stinging plants! However, their effect is NOT like that of poison ivy and is only temporary.

Other Uses: Nettles can also be a source of weaving material. In order to use them for this purpose, the stems must be crushed and kept in water until all but the strong, long fibers are rotted. These are then removed, washed and dried.


29. Common Name: Wild rice

Scientific Name: Zizania aquatica and Zizaniopsis milacea

Description: This is a tall grass up to 15 feet. The grain is the edible part of the plant, and is dark brown or blackish when ripe. Wild rice grows only in very wet areas where it may form dense stands.

Edible Parts: The grain is very nutritious

Preparation: Beat the grain off the plant and eat raw or cooked. 


Just about any non-poisonous plant can be made into a "tea." The following are a few native plants of the Tidewater region which can be made into pleasant testing teas. Collect young and tender leaves and allow to dry until crunchy. In general, it is necessary to use about two teaspoons of dried leaves per cup of tea. Of course, this may vary with taste and time of year the leaves are collected. Allow the tea to steep for at least one hour. Unused leaves may be stored indefinitely in a closed jar or tin. 

1. Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria). A very common shrub in the Tidewater area and all along the South Atlantic Coast. The young leaves turn black upon drying.Yaupon tea has a robust, distinct flavor- perhaps the closest to black tea.Another species of Ilex (I. paraguarinesis), called maté in Spanish, is a popular drink produced commercially in South America. 

2. Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). The persimmon tree provides the makings of many foodstuffs ranging from simmon pudding to simmon beer. The leaves are used to make a tea and are reported to have a high vitamin C content. The taste resembles sassafras. 

3. Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana). Prepare as above. This is a pleasant tasting tea. 

4. New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus). According to tradition, this tea was in great demand during the American Revolution. It takes a large quantity of leaves to make the tea. Steep for at least one hour. 

Musselman’s Choices


After years of eating wild edibles, I have come to the following conclusions about being lost in the woods. First, climb a tall tree and look for the Golden Arches. Eating most of these things is ghastly and you are guaranteed to lose weight fast!. Second, if time allows, look for a good BBQ place using the important key characters of unpaved parking lot, pickup trucks in the lot (70% or more should have gun racks), tile floor (no rug), and plastic dishes. 

BUT! If you want to eat some wild plants, I recommend the following based on the preceding list, there are others that are more tasty but have limited distribution or are difficult to identify or are seasonal. These are plants I actually collect and eat.  

Cattails are a good choice and they are tasty. The young shoots can be sauteed or, used raw in a salad. They have the taste and texture of palm hearts but are a better choice because harvest of palm hearts kills the palm tree.  

Nettles. I consider these the finest wild greens. 

Live oak acorns. Unlike many acorns, these actually taste good! However, they are only produced in large quantities in mast years. They can be eaten raw. I suppose they can be cooked but I don’t see the advantage considering the excellent taste. 

Claytonia tubers. These taste like potatoes. When you find a large population, it only takes a few minutes to collect enough for a meal. 

Teas. None of these excite me. The best of the bad lot is yaupon.

Master Checklist for Biology 221 Fall 2000

Master Checklist for Biology 221 Fall 2000



Armillaria mellaea

Cantherellus cibarius

Cantherellus cinnabarinus

Chlorophyllum molybdites



Grifola frondosa




Lepiota lutea


Pleurotus ostreatus





Tremella mesenterica 

Peat Mosses 

Sphagnum capillifolium

Sphagnum cuspidata

Sphagnum henryense

Sphagnum macrophyllum

Sphagnum torreyanum 


Trees and other woody plants 

Acer rubrum

Asimina triloba

Betula nigra

Callicarpa americana

Carpinus caroliniana

Carya aquatica

Castanea pumila

Chamaecyparis thyoides

Clethra alnifolia

Cornus florida

Fagus grandifolia

Fraxinus pensylvanica

Ilex opaca

Juglans nigra

Juniperus virginiana

Liquidambar styraciflua

Liriodendron tulipifera

Magnolia virginiana

Myrica cerifera

Nyssa aquatica

Nyssa biflora

Nyssa sylvatica

Ostrya virginiana

Oxydendrum arboreum

Persea borbonia

Pinus echinata

Pinus palustris

Pinus taeda

Pinus serotina

Platanus occidentalis

Populus heterophylla

Prunus serotina

Quercus coccinea

Quercus falcata

Quercus laevis

Quercus margaretta

Quercus laurifolia

Quercus lyrata

Quercus michauxii

Quercus nigra

Quercus pagoda

Quercus phellos

Quercus stellata

Quercus velutina

Rhus radicans

Rhus toxicodendron

Rhus vernix

Salix nigra

Symplocos tinctoria

Taxodium distichum

Ulmus alata

Ulmus americana 


Asplenium platyneuron

Athyrium asplenioides

Azolla caroliniana

Onoclea sensibilis

Osmunda cinnamomea

Osmunda regalis

Phegopteris hexagonoptera

Pleopeltis polypodioides

Polystichum acrostichoides

Pteridium aquilinum

Woodwardia areolata

Woodwardia virginica