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wild man seeds

Wild man seeds

WHAT IT IS: The leaves of this plant taste like lettuce but with more oomph. Eat them raw or cooked.

Jewelweed Sprout – Note the succulent, translucent, unbranched stalk and the pair of roundish, notched leaves, very different from subsequent leaves.

Prevalence: Common Native

Poor Man's Pepper (Lepidium virginicum)

Garlic mustard, also called Jack-by-the-hedge and sauce-alone, defends itself from insects by smelling like garlic, which insects don't like. Of course, if a swarm of Italian insects finds it, the plant soon becomes extinct.

Sassafras Sapling

Finally, the Great Spirit created a new berry growing along the ground, and she slowed down to try one. It was so good, she stopped to pick more. That was how the first man finally caught up to her and apologized. They made up, and the strawberry is still shaped like a heart because it symbolizes the love of The First Man and The First Woman. And Native people call it the heartberry.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Black Walnut Tree

Shred the leaves of this invaluable, very common, widespread, lawn and garden "weed", and you can cure new mosquito bites by repeatedly applying the juice for 15 minutes. It also helps heal poison ivy rash and relieve virtually any skin irritation.

The vast majority of wildflower seed comes from commercial seed suppliers who import it from abroad, mainly Europe, and then supply farmers as well as horticultural industry, garden centres and supermarkets. Whilst the majority of seed is sold to farmers for agricultural use (i.e. forage varieties of grasses and legumes) there is increasing demand for native wildflower seed and this is being by met by a small number of commercial companies, some of whom specialise in supplying seed of native provenance. These suppliers regularly harvest small amounts of seed mechanically or by hand from wild British populations and then cultivate plants in large quantities. These are then sold as native provenance ‘plug-plants’ or seed. An alternative to sowing commercial seed is to recreate habitat using seed harvested from semi-natural habitats either as brush-harvestings or green hay (Natural England, 2010).

Annually a huge amount of wildflower seed of 100s of native species is being sown across Britain and Ireland by a wide range of private individuals and both commercial and public bodies. Even our remotest mountain tops are not immune, with seed mixtures having been used to re-vegetate bare ground on ski-slopes and around radar domes at high altitudes (Corner & Robinson, 2001). The main increase, however, has been the sowing of wildflowers for landscaping purposes as part of road, rail, housing, industrial and commercial developments and to revegetate ex-mining/extractive industrial sites. Since the 1980s seed sowing has been increasingly used for conservation to recreate wildflower-rich habitat on agricultural land in order to reverse long-term declines in both habitat and associated wildlife such as pollinators and farmland birds (Vickery et al., 2006; Nowakowski & Pywell, 2016). Similarly, in urban areas native wildflower seed mixtures are being used to create wildlife-rich habitats in private gardens and in public green spaces. In some cities even ‘seed bombs’ are being used by the general public to create wildflower-rich communities on derelict land to improve people’s interaction and enjoyment of nature in urban environments (http://www.guerrillagardening.org/).

Wildflower seed sowing is becoming increasingly popular as a way of increasing floral diversity and food and habitat for other wildlife. Wildflower seed ‘packets’ are available to buy in just about every supermarket and garden centre and articles on creating wildflower meadows feature prominently in gardening and wildlife magazines. In parallel there has been increasing use of native wildflower seed for large-scale habitat creation and restoration schemes. However, the widespread use of generic seed mixtures has led several conservation organisations (e.g. Plantlife, Wildlife Trusts etc.) to express concerns over blanket sowing and to promote more eco-friendly alternatives such as natural regeneration and green hay (Dines, 2016; Plantlife, 2016). Although the issue has been raised a number of times in BSBI’s in-house periodicals (Walker, 2016; Millar, 2017; MacIntyre, 2017; Trudgill, 2017) the Society has not yet offered any of its own advice or guidance on what has become a major factor affecting many species’ distributions. Here we set out some of the pros and cons and the reasons why seed sowing matters from a botanical perspective.

Species sown

There are around 150 native wildflowers that are regularly sown in mixtures for a variety of purposes. These are mainly common grasses and wildflowers of meadows, pastures and downland (neutral and calcareous grasslands) on soils with intermediate and high soil pH such as Knapweed Centuarea nigra, Oxeye Daisy Leucanthemum vulgare, Bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus, Cowslip Primula veris, Red clover Trifolium pratense and Golden-oat grass Trisetum flavescens. There are also quite a number of wildflowers of hedgerow and broad-leaved woodland and wetland habitats (fen, marsh, swamp) that are also frequently sown but only a few associated with river and open water, urban and improved grassland. There are also a number of archaeophytes that were formerly common as weeds of arable land that are now very rare in that habitat due to modern farming methods, but are now frequently sown in ‘cornfield’ wildflower mixtures, and frequently now turn up as ‘casuals’ in disturbed habitats (e.g. Corncockle Agrostemma githago, Cornflower Centaurea cyanus, Corn marigold Chrysanthemum segetum).

If you ask a room full of botanists for their views on wildflower seed sowing you are likely to get a range of responses. At one extreme there will be the ‘traditional view’ that sowing should be discouraged because it ‘muddies the waters’ of native distributions, apart from introductions carried out for conservation purposes. The BSBI has a policy on this published in 1988 which states that conservation introductions should only occur after permission has been sought and within known historic ranges (Donald, 1988). However, a minority of botanists might argue the opposite: that sowing seeds is essential to help restore floral diversity even outside of historic ranges if we are serious about helping wildflowers to adapt to major threats such as climate change (Trudgill, 2017). Whatever your view, seed sowing is likely continue unabated and so what are the pros and cons from a biogeographic, ecological, conservation and societal perspective?

Types of seed sowing

Wild man seeds

He sent the seeds back to the Michigan lab, Avomeen Analytical Services, for more thorough tests. About nine months and some $20,000 later, Krakauer published results in the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine in March showing that the seeds did indeed contain a toxin. But it wasn’t beta-ODAP. It was another amino acid, L-canavanine.

The Alaskans who’ve questioned Southard and Kraukauer’s paper fall into two categories: state residents who’ve long grown tired of the McCandless saga and chemists.

A paper from 1960 had found the same toxin in a few species of the plant. “So, scientifically, it’s a really small finding. We’ve confirmed something that was already in the literature,” adds Southard. The controversy, he says, “has to do with the story, not with the science. And people in Alaska seem to have very strong viewpoints about this.”

When Edible Plants Turn Their Defenses On Us

But after more back and forth from the scientific and non-scientific community in Alaska, Krakauer realized the only way to prove his point was to jump into the world of academic peer-reviewed publishing. Obsessed? Maybe.

The journal entry, referencing the seeds of the Eskimo potato plant, has nagged Krakauer enough to inspire a series of hypotheses about the toxicity of the said seeds, a protracted debate with Alaskan chemists and multiple book revisions.

The Salt

The debate about how this young man died will likely continue. There’s no way to know exactly how many of the seeds Chris McCandless ate in that two week period leading up to his death. And there isn’t much research on what eating the seeds does to the human body. But Krakauer’s research confirms the presence of this toxin in the plant. It’s the same toxin in alfalfa and jack bean, which, Krakauer writes, may have permanently paralyzed 100,000 people in the 20th century.

“Through all these twists and turns, now, finally, I think we have figured out what is in those plants,” says Southard. “There’s millions of plants out there, and they make lots of strange compounds that we don’t know about yet.”