Plant Facts: From the Fountain of Useless Information

| 8/22/2011 6:28:58 PM

A photo of Cindy MurphyThroughout years of gardening, I have gathered a lot of information about plants.  Much of it is stored in my head, gathering dust because it has no practical application.  Though I think it’s interesting information, it doesn’t help me in my job at the nursery, or make me a better gardener.  It’s, quite frankly, useless information.         

I am convinced that this useless information is hogging valuable brain space that could better be used for important things like phone numbers or where I left my car keys.  All I need to do is set it loose, and instantly my mind will be uncluttered, thus making me a less chaotic and more organized person.  So let me free up some space in my head by passing along to you a small sampling of what’s stuck up there.  You, in turn, can use it to amaze your family, friends, and neighbors….or in the least make them wonder if you’ve stayed out in the sun too long.  Here we go with eleven things you may not know about plants….

1.  The white or pink flowers of dogwood aren’t really flowers at all; they’re called “bracts,” which are modified leaves.  The actual dogwood flower is the knobby green ball in the center.

Kousa dogwood flowers and bracts 

2.  The silk from milkweed pods has had many uses over the years.  It’s been spun into candle wicks, netting, and fringes, and used as stuffing for pillows and mattresses.  The silk is warmer then wool and 6 times lighter, along with being 5 times more buoyant than cork.  During World War II, people collected milkweed pods from the wild, and shipped the dried pods to collection stations all over the country.  Large operation milkweed farms sprung up across the nation, as the weed suddenly became valuable.  The reason?  It was discovered just a few pounds of the fluff stuffed into life jackets could support a 150 pound man, and aviator suits lined with the floss were warm and buoyant, keeping downed pilots afloat until they could be rescued.

3.  Another common plant with a multitude of uses is one naturalist and stalker of the wild asparagus, Euell Gibbons, called the “supermarket of the swamp”:  cattails.  Cattail leaves have been woven into mats and baskets.  The woolly inflorescences were once used as fillings for quilts, pillows, mattresses, upholstery, baseballs, and life-jackets.  And if that’s not enough, all parts of the plant are edible.  Young sprouts are used as salad or cooked greens; the green, unripe bloom is cooked and eaten like corn on the cob; root stocks are ground into flour, and cattail pollen is a nutritious additive to meals, but reported to be especially tasty in pancake batter.  Good to know if you visit your local box store and find the shelves empty.  Just head on down to your local swamp instead.

Cindy Murphy
9/7/2011 8:02:17 AM

Yep, Dea Mae, I wonder all the time who first discovered what…like how we learned what parts of plants are poisonous, and what is edible. Some ancient dies from eating a plant; why would another then try a different part of the same plant. Just to see what happens? “Let’s see…Augustus, Flavius, and Bob died after eating the leaves last week. How about we try the stalks this week.” “I’m not gonna try it; you try it.” “I’m not gonna try it.” “Hey, let’s get Mikey. He'll eat anything.” Ok, so it probably didn’t happen that way, but it’s still fun to wonder. Thanks for your comments, and enjoy your day.

Cindy Murphy
9/7/2011 7:46:06 AM

Terry, say it isn't so! You mean I can't expunge brain clutter by passing it along? Drat! There goes my plan to erase all those horrid lyrics from 70s pop songs stuck in my head, (Muskrat Love comes to mind; what me to sing a verse or two). And I do agree - nothing is actually useless if one can glean something from it, or apply its principles in any way. Thanks for stopping in, (even if it does mean I've learned Muskrat Love is gonna have to stick with me forever).

Dea Mae
9/6/2011 8:23:33 PM

Hi...Oh, I so love the "fluff" of plant info. Did you ever wonder who figured it out first? An example...who guessed it would be the inner bark (scrapped off the outer bark) of the choke cherry that when heated made a good cough fixer...Did they try the outer and discard it, not the leaves because...why...Keep up the great blog...and Thanks.

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