Robin's Plantain

Robin's Plantain growing in WNC

I discovered a wildflower I've never seen, or at least never noticed, in my backyard last week. At first glance I thought it was Fleabane, but a closer inspection showed the petals were a lovely lavender color instead of white.

Fleabane growing in western nc
I grabbed my Wildflowers & Plant Communities book and discovered I was right in the first place, the plant is a member of the fleabane family. I didn't realize fleabane can range from white to the pale lavender of the plant I found.

Robin's Plantain is one of the common names that belongs to the plant. All fleabane is said to ward off fleas but I've never tried using the plant for anything.

The lovely grouping of wildflowers sprung up at the edge of the backyard near Wilma, our beloved beagle's grave.

Wilma was the dog we had before Ruby Sue. She's been gone nearly 15 years now. She was a true beagle and lived to chase rabbits. One evening when no one was at home the coyotes waited on her while she ran her favorite rabbit trail out the ridge from the house. I took her to the vet but there was nothing he could do, she died before morning. 

Wilma would never eat if someone was watching her. You could lay a steak beside her and she'd just sit patiently until you left before she picked it up. After the coyotes got her we were all so upset and even Pap said he ought to lay in wait till they came back down that trail. 

Funny how a group of wildflowers can take you down a road of remembering. 


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be performing Sunday April 30, 2017 @ 11:00 a.m. Hayesville Church of the Nazarene - Hayesville NC

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The Maple Trees Are Wearing Their Spring Garments

Maple trees wear spring garments

Every spring of the year I look for the red blush of color that happens when the Maple trees trot our their pretty garments to welcome the reawakening of the world.

In my mind I think about the trees like this: Maples start the year with pretty garments of redish pink blooms and end their growing season with leaves deeper in scarlet color but no less beautiful than the spring garment they started out with.

There's a small set of woods in one of the pastures I pass on my last quarter of a mile home. The group of trees draws your eye because over the years cattle have kept their undersides all trimmed to the same height and the road curves just as you pass the fence that lines the area. Right in the middle of the small copse of trees is a towering Maple. Each year the blush of Maple leaves grabs my eye as I come from work reminding me that spring really is here.

Maples blooming in western nc

I took the photo above from my front porch. I added the circles to highlight the Maple garments I can see sprinkled throughout the woods on the ridge across from us. The large circle surrounds a towering Maple that grows right beside Pap's big garden. It's roots grow deep in the Stamey Branch gathering the moisture it needs to complete its circle of life as the seasons change in this Appalachian holler. 


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Do You Like Ramps?


ramp noun A wild leek (Allium tricoccum) having a pungent taste and smell. Considered a delicacy by some, it is celebrated each spring in the Ramp Festival held near Crosby TN. It is sometimes eaten for its tonic effect.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Ramps have a garlicy onion taste-only with a more intense flavor and smell. Generally they can be found at higher elevations on the north side of mountain ridges from South Carolina all the way to Canada.

In Appalachia, ramp hunting in the spring takes on a celebratory air. Crosby TN isn't the only place hosting annual Ramp Festivals. You can find them throughout the mountains. Murphy has hosted one for several years. 

In our immediate area there aren't many if any ramp patches because we live slightly below the elevation they are usually found. The patches in the higher areas are kept top secret by the people who know where they're at.

How to eat Ramps

When The Deer Hunter was young, Papaw Tony and him went camping every weekend during the spring to trout fish, ride horses, and dig ramps. I can't remember Granny and Pap ever eating ramps. I do recall people at school complaining about the smell of kids whose family partook of ramps in a large fashion.

The whole ramp is edible although folks typically use the lower stem and bulb. The growing season is short, but you can freeze them for later use.

I've read you can use ramps in any recipe that calls for onion or garlic, but the most common way to eat them in Appalachia is fried with potatoes. Folk also like to eat them raw or scrambled with eggs.

Be sure to drop back by next Monday for a story about eating ramps from Charles Fletcher. 


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The Bloodroot is Blooming

Bloodroot growing in western nc mountains

Bloodroot is a common spring wildflower found in the Southern Highlands of Appalachia. The flowers typically grow no higher than 6 to 7 inches high.

Wild bloodroot

The white bloom stands out against the starkness of early spring.

I fell in love with bloodroot shortly after The Deer Hunter and I were married. After all these years, I still have a hard time deciding if I like the blooms better or the green lobed leaves that grow bigger and bigger after the blooms are gone.

The wild plant progresses in an amazing way.

In the beginning you see little white heads poking their way through the ground. Seemingly overnight the flowers open wide with their cheery faces looking towards the heat of the sun with their leaves hugged up close to keep them warm from the cold spring wind.

Harbingers of spring in appalachia

The pretty blooms don't last long. One day they're there-the next it's like a small creature came along and picked each white petal off, leaving only the pointy stamen behind to show where the flower grew.

The lobed leaves grow larger and larger after the blooms fall away, but by mid summer there isn't a trace of Bloodroot left. The entire plant dies back to sleep till next year's spring awakens it again.

Bloodroot for dye and medicine

Bloodroot gets it's name from the red liquid found in it's roots and stems. In days gone by the plant was used in medicinal remedies. 

I look forward to the beauty of bloodroot every year. I marvel as it's petals fall off and it's leaves open wide in welcome of spring of the year.

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Broom Sage

Broom sage in appalachia

Broom sage (Broomsedge) has made a comeback in my area of Appalachia. Pap said when he was a boy he thought a field of waving broom sage was one of the prettiest sights he'd ever seen.

As change and development came to the mountains here, many of those broom sage fields from Pap's youth were destroyed. But in recent years broom sage has been making an appearance again.

Several fields of the swaying brown grass can be seen between my house and the folk school. I can even see a few clumps shining through the trees across the creek on the ridge where they pushed a logging road in several years ago. 

Broom sage grows in abandoned areas and unused pastures and fields. I have no idea if it is a nuisance to farmers and ranchers...but I totally agree with Pap a field full of swaying broom sage is a beautiful sight indeed. 

Here's some comments from when I mentioned broom sage a few years back here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn:

Shirla: Broom sage grows everywhere around here. I don't recall ever hearing anyone say if it was good for anything. It is a pretty sight, but I'm anxious to see some wildflowers or anything with color that might have survived underneath all the snow.

Ron Banks: I see some here and there but not an abundance of it. Mother told me they made brooms from it for sweeping and they even had one for sweeping the yard. Up in the hills they didn't have pretty green lawns to mow. They had chickens running around and they had to sweep the yard to clear the droppings.

Ken Roper: Tipper, Walking thru a big field of Broomsage is a sight to behold, especially when the wind blows. It will remind you of the Meritta Bread commercial that use to bring on The Lone Ranger. Some of my fondest memories of youth was rabbit hunting in Emmet's Meadow. When our fiests jumped one, a deadly giveaway was watching for the parting of the broomsage just ahead of the dogs. Broomsage fields provided us a great place to play Cowpasture Football too. Didn't hurt as bad when you got tackled on it either. We'd have to hurry to catch up on our chores for this...Ken

Ed Ammons: We used to make kites out of broomsage, newspaper and tied together string from the tops of feed sacks. Yeah, plenty of broomsage in my upper yard. Its the only thing sticking up through the snow. It just stands there and waves at stray leaves that skate by.

TimMc: We use to play in it as boys, it grew thick in pastures where I was raised, but I remember one time we were dove hunting and I walked across a field of young "sage-grass"it was still green, just about knee to waist high, and I got the worse case of chiggers I ever had in my life, they must have been having a family reunion and they all congregated on me, you couldn't put you finger on one spot of my body I didn't have a chigger, the next 2 weeks was pure ****, well, it was bad..

Jim Casada: Tipper--Broom sedge is indeed an inhabitant of worn-out land, and it especially thrives on highly acidic soils. Also, along with dewberries, it is one of the first plants to appear on pieces of ground which have been scraped bare or have eroded. I don't know that it is good for much of anything, other than slowing erosion and being a favored bedding place for cottontails on sunny winter days, but hillsides covered with it gave me many a fine day of fun as a boy. In late fall and winter dry broom sedge is slick as a mole's rear end, and it will give you about as good a ride as a snow-laden slope. Our sleds were big pieces of cardboard. You couldn't do much in the way of guiding them, but my would they fly. I wonder if any of your other readers did similar "sedge sledding?" 


Appalachia Through My Eyes - A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

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Gathering Moss for Christmas

Moss in western nc

We never knew about Gallackin but we did gather moss and boxwood cuttings to sell to florists. Way back in the woods, in deep dark damp hollers where the sun never shines, the thick moss on big rocks can be peeled off like taking covers off a bed. I have seen pieces as big as 4 to 5 feet square. We would roll them up and put them in a tow sack. Boxwood is a domestic plant so we found it around homes and old house sites. One year in November we waded across the Little Tennessee above Loudermilk to get to an old homestead. I wasn't being careful about where I was putting my feet and stepped into a hole that put me completely under. I got out, shook off and kept going. Coming back across we had to put our tow sacks on our heads to keep them dry but we made it unscathed.

-Ed Ammons

Ed's comment sent my mind on a whirlwind of memories. I've never gathered moss to sell like Ed, but I did gather it to furnish my playhouses with. I didn't know the correct names for the different types (I still don't), but I did know what worked best for my needs in the pretend world I created in Granny and Pap's backyard.

The moss like in the photo above worked best for chairs. It has the texture of an ancient worn out carpet in an old house. At least that's how I always thought of it.

Then there is the lush deep thick green stuff Ed was talking about. A blanket indeed. It grows in abundance at the edges of Pap and Granny's yard. It only takes a small tug to lift entire pieces from the ground. Underneath you'll see a wrinkled shriveled looking area and perhaps a few scurrying bugs as they head for the nearest moss blanket that hasn't been disturbed by a small skinny girl. Or by a skinny young mother. 

When The Deer Hunter and I first moved into our humble abode we had no landscaping-in all actuality we didn't even know what landscaping was. Wanting to make my backyard look neater I gathered small creek rocks and made a flower bed bordering the edge of the house. Being impatient for green plants that I didn't have, I climbed the ridge and threw down pieces of moss that grew under the towering pines. I laid the moss along the rocks and in no time my little flower bed looked as old as the hills-which is exactly what I wanted. 

Using moss to decorate with

My kitchen table has been a Christmas crafting frenzy mess for the last few weeks. Once we start crafting we don't even clean it up until we're totally sure we're finished with every little thing we want to make. An old sheet from one of Paul and Steve's twin beds is thrown across it and there are so many crafting materials on the table that there's hardly room to craft. 

I've been trying to make a snow globe out of a mason jar, but I couldn't get anything to look right. Ed gave me the exact inspiration I needed. I ran down the hill to Pap's and carried a handful of thick moss back up the hill. I loved how it looked immediately. Just the green moss alone looked lovely captured in the upside down jar.

Moss christmas decorations

Once I knew the idea was going to work I added a small amount of cotton for snow, an Angel that fell off an old Christmas ornament, and a piece of dried lichen I stuck in my coat pocket on a recent hike with friends.

Christmas snow globe from mason jar

I am so pleased with how the project turned out. It was made from items I had on hand; I can use the jar for it's intended purpose again come canning season; and every time I see it sitting in my kitchen I'll think of mine and Ed's childhood memories and the magic of moss.


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Decorating for Christmas with Running Cedar

A few days ago Blind Pig Reader George asked about using Running Cedar at Christmas: 

Yes, the Holly trees really come into their own once the deciduous leaves have fallen, which seems to have happened unusually late this year. Does anyone gather "running cedar" anymore? It's that cedar-looking evergreen ground vine that grows in patches on certain low slopes of wooded hillsides. Many years ago people made it into wreaths and other Christmas decorations.

Since George asked, I thought it would be a good time for me to re-publish a post I wrote back in 2013 about running cedar. Hope you enjoy it!

Running cedar

A few weeks ago Blind Pig reader Carol Stuart mentioned using running cedar as Christmas greenery when she lived in West Virginia. I was glad Carol mentioned running cedar because I often overlook what's right under my nose. 

Running pine

Running cedar is also called running pine, Christmas green, creeping pine, ground pine and ground cedar. The ground hugging plant grows near our house. It's been creeping down Granny and Pap's bank for the last 40 years till it's almost reached the bottom. The Latin name of the plant is Lycopodium digitatum. You can see from the photo-it grows along a small running vine which makes the plant perfect for draping or circling Christmas decorations. 

Greenery for christmas

The pretty evergreen really doesn't need any further decoration. It already has the look of Christmas about it which makes it easy to see why some folks call it Christmas green. 

Using greenery from your yard for christmas

But I thought I'd give a technique B.Ruth described recently in a comment a try. I placed a small amount of flour, barely a tablespoon, and a sprinkling of glitter into a plastic bag. I wet a piece of running cedar lightly, placed it in the bag, and while holding the top closed tightly, I shook the bag around a few times. 

You can see from the photo how the dusting of white shows the delicate details of the plant and gives it a snowy look. I read ground cedar was endangered in some areas of the country, but it seems to be thriving here in Western NC.


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Christmas Holly

Christmas Holly

Holly trees and their bright red berries have long been associated with Christmas. From songs to decorations-holly is all over Christmas. The woods surrounding my mountain holler are chock full of holly trees.

For years The Deer Hunter has told me the biggest holly tree he's ever seen is up the creek in the Tom Cove. I've always meant to get him to take me to see it, but somehow we never seem to get around to it or don't think of it when were out and about in the woods in that area. I wonder if it's still there.

A few years ago I told you about three of my favorite holly trees:

There are three holly trees on my road that never fail to catch my eye during the holiday season. Each tree is only a hop skip and a jump from the other. In fact as I write this I do believe you could draw a diagonal line between the three and it would be fairly straight. 

The first tree is in the yard of the first house on my road a big white farm house, by far the oldest house on my road. I've known the folks who live there my entire life. First the elder couple, then their grandson, and now their great grandson. As I think upon where the holly trees grow, I wonder if the first tree was left by chance or if Clarence and Ruby, the elder couple, loved the red berries as much as I do and made sure the tree grew unhindered.

The second holly tree is just up the road, but out in the pasture. A little set of woods that breaks up the large pasture is home to that very large holly tree.

The third holly tree is a little further up the road around the curve. It's not as large as the first two trees and it grows just outside the fence-all close up to the barb wire like it wishes it was in the pasture too.

Two of those three holly trees have disappeared since I first told you about them and there are new folks living in the old white farmhouse-folks I've never met, but hope to someday.

The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English talks about he holly and she holly.

he holly noun The male of the American holly tree (Ilex opaca), which bears no berries. Cf she holly

1957 Parris My Mts 248 Guess you didn't know there was he-holly and she-holly. Well, there is. Only she-holly has berries. 1964 Reynolds Born of Mts 84 In North Carolina even the holly is given sex, there being a He Holly and a She Holly, for how else could the last-named have berries, the other having none. 1995 Montgomery Coll. (Cardwell, Ledford, Norris, Oliver).

I never heard about he holly and she holly when I was growing up, but I remember Pap tromping through the woods to find holly branches dotted with red for Granny to decorate her house with. Sometimes he let me ride on his back as he made the trip up the creek other times Paul and I were left to scamper along behind in his boot prints. 


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Wild Apricots are Maypops

Wild apricots in appalachia sometimes called maypops

Wild apricot noun A tall vine (Passiflora incarnata) having large, flesh-colored flowers and smooth, yellow fruit. Same as maypop, passion flower. [1913 Morely Carolina Mts 68 In some parts of the mountains the people call the maypops "apricots" and eat them, though they belong principally to the age of childhood.] 1937  Thornborough Great Smoky Mts 22-23 The strange, symbolic purple passion flower, the former state flower of Tennessee grows in profusion and its fruit is prized by the mountain children who call it wild apricot. 1970 Campbell et al. Smoky Mt Wildflowers 66 Also known as wild apricot and maypop, [the passion flower] is a vine up to ten feet in length. [1971 Krochmal et al. Medicinal Plants Appal This plant...has been used to reduce blood pressure and to increase the rate of respiration.] 1982 Stupka Wildflowers 69 The fruit is a many-seeded berry the shape of a lemon. When ripe it is yellow and edible. The fruit accounts for the alternate names "wild apricot" and "maypop." 1996 Montgomery Coll. = passion flower, the fruit of which was sometimes made into preserves (Cardwell). 

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


May pops grow wild in appalachia

At the end of last summer Chitter had me searching through tall weeds around the edges of Pap's big garden for wild apricots. We never found one even though they've grown there in years past. She did finally find some over the mountain in Pine Log while visiting friends. She saved her some seeds and planted a few of them in the end of one of our tomato beds. As you can see from the photos the girl raised herself some dandy wild apricots.

Wild apricots in appalachia
The fruit looks like more of an egg shape to me than the lemon shape mentioned in the definition. Wild Apricots are edible, but there really isn't much to eat. They sort of remind me of pomegranates-you know how you basically have to suck the good stuff off the seeds. 

Pap taught me to call the fruit wild apricots and he had fond memories of eating them as a boy out playing in the fields and woods. If you stomp one with your foot, clap it in your hands, or throw it hard enough at something, the fruit will make a pop sound. I guess that is where the maypop name comes from. 


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Ever Ate a Ground Cherry?

Growing ground cherries

All my life I heard Pap talk about ground cherries. He told me they grew wild alongside most everyone's garden and that they made a tasty snack for children who were working in the garden or playing close by.

There are several varieties of ground cherries, one of which is native to North America. Some folks call them husk tomatoes or tommy toe plants.

Ground cherries in western nc

The plant usually grows fairly low to the ground, but this year mine are taller than they've ever been before. Once you have a plant you're bound to have more the following year. Ground cherries are self sowers and one plant turns into many many volunteers in the years to come.

Tommy toe plant - ground cherries 
The cherries are covered with a husk. Once the husk has dried and turned a light brownish color they are ready to eat.

Growing ground cherries to eat 
This is what they look like once you remove the husk. I've read a variety of different descriptions about how they taste-everything from citrus to pineapple. There's a sweetness to ground cherries along with a note of acidity or tang.

A few summers ago, Jim Casada asked if I had ever heard of ground cherries. I said "Yes, but I've never seen them or tasted them."

Jim packaged up a box full and mailed them to me. I was so excited to open the box and see what Pap had been talking about all those years. And after Jim explained to me I could grow my own the following summer by simply throwing a handful or two out in the garden I was doubly excited. Jim's explanation was right and every year the ground cherries spread farther around my garden. 

Have you ever had a flash of a memory that is so real yet so fuzzy you just can't put your finger on exactly where or when it took place?

As soon as the first ground cherry rolled out of Jim's box into my hand I had a flash of memory.

I was in the garden with Big Grandma (Pap's grandmother Carrie-my great grandmother) and she handed me a little round yellow ball and encouraged me to eat it, but I refused, at least I think I did. I would only have been 3 or 4 years old. Big Grandma died before I started school.

Funny all those years I listened to Pap's memories of ground cherries-when my own ground cherry memory was hiding somewhere deep down inside just waiting for Jim's generosity to bring it to light.

Have you ever tasted ground cherries?


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