nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘wetland

keeping watch for dragons #6 – Water Dragon

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The last full week in May, we took a day to drive the Plaster Rock-Renous Highway.  This is an isolated, but paved, stretch of road, called Highway 108, connecting the sides of the province through a large, unpopulated area.  The highway runs from Plaster Rock in the west, to Renous in the east and traverses three counties, Victoria, York and Northumberland.   It takes you across more than 200 km of wetland, hardwood, and mixed coniferous forest, some privately owned, and some Crown Land.  A large part of the area has been clearcut, but the road also passes through some wilderness of the Plaster Rock-Renous Wildlife Management Area and the headwaters of some of our most beautiful rivers.

From the east, the highway first runs along the waters of the Tobique River, across the Divide Mountains, and into the drainage of the Miramichi River, crossing the Clearwater Brook, and running along the South Branch of the Dungarvon River and the South Branch Renous River.

Along the way, we stopped at a boggy pond next to the road between Clearwater Brook and the Dungarvon, to listen to the bull frogs croaking.  There among the ericaceous vegetation filling most of the pond was a dragon for my collection.

look closely near the center of the photo… the single white spot is the spathe of a Wild Calla or Water Dragon

Water Dragon, more commonly known as Wild Calla or Water Arum, was present in the shallow, more open waters of the pond, appearing as startling white spots on an otherwise uniform backdrop of green and brown.

Wild Calla (Calla palustis L.) is also known as Female Dragons, Frog-cups, Swamp-Robin and, in French, calla des marais, arum d’eau, or aroïde d’eau.  It lives in wet, cold bogs, or along the margins of ponds, lakes and streams.

The Wild Calla belongs to the Arum family, along with Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema Stewardsonii Britt.) and Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Nutt.).  These plants have tiny flowers along a thick spike known as a ‘spadix’.  The spadix is enclosed by a leafy bract called the ‘spathe’.  The spathe of Wild Calla is bright white, ovoid and abruptly narrow at the tip.  The leaves are glossy green and heart-shaped.  The flowers growing among them are often overlooked.  On the pond, there were about ten visible spathes, and likely many more hidden among the plentiful leaves.

The various parts of the Wild Calla are considered poisonous since they contain crystals of calcium oxalate.  These cause severe irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten.  However, there is a twist to this story of a poisonous plant.  Scandanavian people, in times of severe hardship, prepared flour for ‘Missen bread’ from the dried, ground, bruised, leached, and boiled seeds and roots of Wild Calla.  Do I have to warn you not to try this at home!!!!????

Warning:
1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

Linnaeus, the botanist who invented the binomial (Genus + Species) method of naming plants, described the laborious process the Swedish people used to remove the poisonous crystals from the Water Dragon in order to make flour.  To read Linnaeus’ account, see Mrs. Campbell Overend, 1872, The Besieged City, and The Heroes of Sweden (William Oliphant and Co., Edinburgh), page 132 and notes  (http://books.google.ca/books?id=IAsCAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA222&lpg=PA222&dq=missen+bread&source=bl&ots=ZO8cl_2nBl&sig=Gtr5Lq6PvG3DXV_l-kfECNuhWfo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=gGLFT-79B4OH6QG1m-nOCg&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=missen%20bread&f=false Accessed May 29, 2012).

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desperate harvest

‘… they can be satisfied with bark-bread, or cakes made of the roots of water-dragon, which grows wild on the banks of the river…’

– Mrs Campbell Overend, 1872

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the pond beside the road

simmers, a kettle

of frog-croak and leather-leaf

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spathes of Water Dragon

hug their lamposts, glow white

lure the desperate to the pond

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bull-frog song deepens the shallows

the way voices lower when they speak

of trouble, of famine

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people so hungry, harvest so poor

they wade in the mire

grind roots of Wild Calla for flour

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needles to the tongue

burns to the throat

crystals of calcium oxalate, poison

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worth the risk –

the drying,

the bruising,

the leaching,

the boil,

the painful test to know

if poison has been neutralized

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the toughness of

the Missen bread

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©  Jane Tims  2012

Warning:
1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

Purple Violet (Viola cucullata Ait.)

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The Purple Violet is the floral symbol of my life.  It is the official flower of the province where I live.  It is one of the many species in my lawn, and the theme for my guest room.  Every card my Mom and Dad ever sent to me has an image of violets.

Purple Violets are loved by many people.  In New Brunswick, they were adopted as the Provincial Flower in 1936, at the request of the provincial Women’s Institute.  The violet is also the State flower of Illinois, adopted in 1907 by schoolchildren in the State.

The Purple Violet ((Viola cucullata Ait.) is also known as the Hooded Blue Violet, the Marsh Blue Violet, the Long-stemmed Marsh Violet, and, in French, violette cucullée or violette dressée.  The Latin species name means ‘hooded’ from the inrolled young leaves.

The Purple Violet is a low-growing perennial preferring wetlands, or low wet areas in mixed or coniferous woods.

The leaves are simple, with a long stalk.  They are often heart-shaped, with rounded teeth.

The Purple Violet blooms in May.  The flower is held on a long peduncle (stalk) above a basal rosette of leaves. The flower is dark blue, purple or occasionally white, with five petals darkly veined towards the center.  The lower petal is short and spurred, and the two lateral petals are bearded.  Bearded petals have clusters of tiny thick hairs, rounded at the tip.

The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, used as a thickener in soup, or to make a tea.  The flowers can be added to a salad or used for edible decoration.  My salad is made with Purple Violet leaves, Dandelion greens, chives from our garden and my own sprouts.  I added three flowers for their delicate taste and decoration.  Always be sure of your identification before you eat anything from the wild!

Although I do not advocate the wanton dismemberment of flowers, the violet holds a charming secret for children of all ages.  If you gently pull down the ‘upper’ two petals from the flower, you can see a little lady with a white head and orange gown, sitting against the backdrop of her purple throne.

Purple Violet holds a royal lady… in this flower, you can barely glimpse the lady against her throne. She is upside down. You can see her white head and the top of the skirt of her orange gown.

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Marshland Rule

                Viola cucullata Ait.

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within the perilous

limits of the rimless marsh,

disguised in woodland green,

spurred by deep viola speak

and crowds of envious hearts,

the hooded ranger guards

the tiny queen, long stemmed

tenderness, slenderness hid

by the folds of her orange gown,

seated against her purple throne,

flanked by wise men

bearded,

eager to advise

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Warning:
1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.
 
©  Jane Tims   2012
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