Saturday, August 23, 2014

Potentially Problematic Plants

True Story:
As a young confident college freshman, I made my first genuinely certifiably stupid mistake with plant identification. Pride was my downfall. I thought that since I'd studied nature from an early age, been a card carrying member of the Audubon Society since I was 9, that I was pretty well qualified to know what was what when it came to plants.

Yeah, not so much.

Turns out that the central Florida region  where I was going to college, sits on the border between subtropical and temperate climates. This means there is a staggering variety of plants. Plus, many times, plants themselves have a wide variety of appearances, for instance; check out all the different ways that "Virginia Snakeroot" can present itself in FL. I find it hard to believe that all of these plants are from the same species, but then again, don't we show the same sort of variety within the human species? Also you have look alike plants that are not related. Some more than others, especially when it comes to things like say, for instance, castor beans and marijuana.

There I was, innocent, trusting, confident and eager to prove myself, on the way back to my apartment from a shopping trip in St Cloud, when I caught a glimpse of a plant out of the corner of my eye: was that weed?
Murrrrwana, Mary Jane,  Cush, Endo, the Wacky Tobacky.
Growing on the side of the road.
So I thought.
I pulled off the side on highway 192 and backed up. I must confess, I don't have much experience with Cannabis, never have used the stuff, never grown it, and I generally avoid people who do. Rule #1 in my life is "Don't invite The Man into your life", and one of the quickest ways to invite the man into your life is to smoke something The Man says "Don't smoke".
I called the Osceola county sheriff non emergency line and they sent someone right over. I waited on the embankment where the Florida Turnpike crosses over highway 192. The deputy arrived, and I said "I think this is weed"
She says to me "It's not, it's castor bean"
Well that was embarrassing. 
Since then I've learned the clear difference between weed and castor bean.
Any time I find myself wondering, "what is it?" I immediately remember this incident from my college years, and the lesson I learned, take time to know what you see.
Recently, in my own back yard, I had a bit of identification drama while preparing the yard for mowing. Two of my children know the Stinging Nettle plant from experience, and along the back fence a plant grows, and it has a very suspicious appearance.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Urtica species, they are among the most useful and tasty plants to have around, I just wanted to make sure the kids knew what was what and where. I picked the grass and weeds from around the plant, being careful not to touch, then took a picture:
Note Stem hairs and on leave

top of the plant

over all plant structure.
The only picture I have of a local Urtica is very blurry, I didn't have the Canon to shoot it with so I used the potato camera on the phone. At the time, I had a kid who was crying because it stung her, so I just pointed, clicked, and then began first aid.

I decided that the best way to id this plant was to go ahead and let it sting me. After brushing against it, it was clear, no sting, no pain at all. What else could it be?
I picked the leaf and crushed it up, no noticable smell, but the closest thing I've seen that doesn't sting is lantana. I picked off a woody part of the plant, and aha! there's that lantana smell!
So it is lantana, probably planted by a mockingbird.

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