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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June Apples

June Apples

A few days ago Blind Pig reader David Templeton left the following comment: 

Tipper, when we were kids back in East Tennessee (way east, Tri-Cities) there was a very common apple tree, we called them "June apples" or "June Apple Trees".  Lots of people had them and they were ... well, everywhere.   The apples were yellow, of varying size, kinda like some apples that are called "transparent" apples, but yellow ...  pale yellow.  This time of the year they should be everywhere but I have not seen a "June Apple Tree" anywhere.  Maybe it's not soon enough, yet this year.

Do you know "June Apple Trees"?

I had never hear of June Apples until I started writing here on the Blind Pig. Not sure which commenter shared their memories of June Apples with me first, but over the years there has been several readers mention them.

Because of those comments I've kept my ears and eyes out for anything about June Apples.

A couple of weeks ago a friend at work had several apples sitting on her desk. When I asked about them she said a fellow at the gas station had given them to her that morning, said he told here they were really something special that they were June apples.

My friend could see the interest in my face and told me I could have all the apples that she didn't want them.

I happily walked off with her apples, but truthfully they weren't no where close to the best apple that I've ever had, in fact they weren't that good at all. I'm not sure the apples donated by the gas station attendant were even really June apples. They were not the yellow color that David described.

Here are several comments shared by various Blind Pig readers over the years about June Apples.

Ed Ammons: My grammaw had a big June Apple tree in her pasture. She forbade us to eat them until after the 4th of  July. She couldn't even see the tree from her house but we respected her orders and the ones that fell off before the 4th were consumed by the cows. Some of the apples did ripen in June but most waited until the middle of July.
Some of the apples had candy in the center. They looked just like the rest but the more you ate the sweeter they got and the harder they got. Near the core the flesh was almost clear and as sweet as sugar. Only a small percentage were "candy apples" and there was no way to predict them. I wonder if anybody else has experienced them.

Ethelene Dyer Jones:  Comment 1: Fruit--apples--from early June apples until the last of the fall crop was wrapped by individual apples and stored in a barrel to eat at Christmastime, we had apples (fruit) in Choestoe. And then, until they came in again with the June apples--dried fruit and canned fruit, apple cobbler from sliced canned apples, and fried fruit pies. Bounty, indeed! Comment 2: June apples getting ripe meant stack cakes made from the June apple sauce. Then came drying apples (we had to put the slices in a screened-wire flat cage to keep the bugs off while they dried in the sun! In the wintertime it was still stack cakes and the sauce between layers was made from the coooked, sweetened to taste and spice-up dried apples. Yum!

Bill Burnett:  The favorite apples of my youth were June Apples which came off a tree beside Licklog Creek on the edge of my Uncle Pearson Dehart's place as they ripened first and Horse Apples from my Grandpa Andy Dehart's place up on High Lonesome as they turned Glassine with sugar when ripe and made the best Apple Sauce and Spiced Apple Cakes and Fried Pies I ever tasted. Sadly both of these trees are gone but their memory lives on. 

Kerry in GA:  I love June apples. Up until a few years ago I had access to 2 different trees. They make the best apple sauce and my kids loved it when they were babies.

Gary Powell: My favorite apples were the June apples that ripened on the tree beside my Granny's house. For some reason it grew on about a 45 degree angle before it straightened up, I guess the wind blew it over when it was small. I could get a running start and run up the trunk far enough to reach a limb. If one of the apples fell off the old hens would run as fast as they could to try to beat me to it.

Brenda S 'Okie in Colorado: Growing up and raised by my Granny, she had pear, June apple, peach, mulberry trees. She raised a garden, canned, helped her neighbors gather their garden and can, she searched the country roads and creek banks for poke. I remember how she would wash that mess of poke about 5 times to get the sand out, boil it twice, then sauté it in bacon fat. A lot of work for a little mess of poke, but, wow, was it good with corncakes, fresh garden green onions and tomatoes.


So to answer David's question, no I don't know June Apple Trees, but a whole lot of Blind Pig readers know them. 

If you have memories or knowledge about June Apples please tell us about it in a comment. 


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Gravel Weed - Trailing Arbutus

Gravelweed trailing arbutus

gravelweed noun The trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). Same as Easter flower 1.
1943 Stupka Through the Year 274 However, on making my way back to the valley, the unexpected discovery of the first trailing arbutus flowers of the year brought ample reward. For me these white and pinkish waxy blooms, as delightful in their fragrance as they are humble in their growth ("gravelweed," the mountain people call the plant), always serve to mark a significant period in the chronicle of the year. 

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


Trailing arbutus or gravel weed

Trailing Arbutus is a wildflower that grows throughout the eastern part of North America. Since it grows so closely to the ground it can be difficult to see. In the spring of the year, the easiest way to find it is to follow your nose. The little wildflower may only grow to an inch or 2 above ground, but it's fragrance fills my entire yard.

The flowers are a combination of white and pink, the leaves are green, brown, and leathery feeling. 

I've read Trailing Arbutus can be used as a medicinal plant to aide in symptoms associated with the urinary tract and kidneys. I've never heard it called gravelweed have you?


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Bear Corn

Bear corn
Conopholis americana is a small parasitic plant that typically grows near oak trees. It is commonly called bear corn, cancer root, squaw root, squaw corn,  or bear cabbage. 

Bear corn squaw root cancer root

According to this page bear love to eat the plant so I guess bear corn is a good name for it. I've seen it while hiking in Swain and Haywood counties but have never seen it near my house until a few weeks ago. Whether it's rare in this area or I've walked right over it for years I couldn't tell you. It is an interesting little plant. Have you ever seen it?


p.s. A lot of folks have been asking if The Pressley Girls have any shows booked for this summer. The answer is YES! You can see the list on their website here. If you make it out to one of the shows please come up and say hello, we would love to talk to you. 

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Wild Iris

Wild Iris

These tiny Iris grow prolifically around my mountain holler. Their shades vary from pale blue to a deeper purple. Wild Dwarf Crested Iris can be found growing from New York to Florida and as far west as Arkansas.

Miniature iris

Their leaves are the same sword like shape found on large Bearded Iris-just in miniature form.

Wild iris growing in appalachia

Dwarf Crested Iris usually grow in small clumps, you can see the rain we had last week almost washed the blooms right off these. Wild Dwarf Iris are like Bloodroot in the sense that by mid Summer they've completely disappeared waiting till next Spring to make their presence known again.

Dwarf crested iris in wester nc

Years ago when The Deer Hunter and I moved into our house I transplanted a few clumps of Wild Dwarf Iris into my flower beds. My Uncle said they'd never live, but he was wrong they're still going strong all these years later.

There are also Wild Dwarf Crested Iris that have white blooms, although I've never seen any in my area. 


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