By Janelle Eklund
It was a sunny warm day – one of those days to give you pause – to breath in and enjoy the trees shimmering in their new summer bright green dresses - to absorb the vibrancy of plants big and small. Visiting my friend, she led me to the end of an open slope where a patch work of purple/pink calypso orchids nodded their heads in the late afternoon breeze. We carefully made note of where we stepped, so as not to disturb the delicate balance of life inherent in these small beautiful fairy-like slippers. Yes, they do remind one of fairy slippers, another name commonly used. The lower lip of the plant has an open mouth resembling an open-heeled yellowish/white slipper lined with purple stripes. Protruding from the mouth of the slipper is a cluster of golden hairs with purple spots at their base. The ‘toe’ of the slipper is decorated with purple petals and sepals providing shade over the ‘slipper’. It can grow up to nine inches.
These little jewels are far and few between, making their debut in spring. They are so fragile that the slightest trampling or picking will kill the plant. Because they thrive off the soil fungus of their natural habitat they do not survive being transplanted.
These sweet little flowers give a sweet aroma which varies greatly from plant to plant, and changes as time flows by. Because of their wonderful color and variances in their sweet perfume, insects are attracted to them. But the insects are in for a surprise because these orchids do not produce any nectar. Bees must get very frustrated and discouraged as they go from plant to plant thinking the different smells will bring them sweet nectar. They haven’t gotten any personal satisfaction but what they have unknowingly done in their fruitless efforts is most likely cross pollinated one or more of this showy little plant.
Since these are rare and delicate plants I encourage you to step with care around them when you do come across them, and enjoy them in their home habitat. Survey the area with a microscopic eye before stepping. Find a place where you can sit or stand out of their harm’s way to observe. Get out your sketch pad again, or your camera, and transpose their beauty through your mind’s eye, or just sit, enjoy, and give thanks for them gracing you with their beauty.
From my light to yours-
By Janelle Eklund
Little clumps of grass like leaves pop up throughout the forest and along the roads. As the season progresses stems emerge from the clumps reaching two feet toward the sky. The tops of the stems develop clusters of creamy greenish-white flowers with six petals.
This beautiful plant is deadly poisonous and is appropriately named Death Camass. It has an alkaloid that causes salivation, vomiting, muscular weakness, decreased body temperature, impaired breathing, coma, and usually death.
The distinct leaves are long, narrow and flat. Being in the lily family, the bulbs look very similar to wild chive bulbs but don’t have the onion smell of the wild chive or onion. Wild chive and wild onion flowers look like one umbrella like clump sitting atop its stem bathed in a pinkish-purple dress. A good way to tell the difference between death camass and wild chive and wild onion is that wild chive and wild onion have the distinct ‘onion’ odor from the bulb when the leaves and buds are bruised. Death camass leaves and bulbs don’t have the ‘onion’ odor; and the flowers are very distinct from the wild chives and wild onions. The leaves of the wild chive are round and hollow. Wild onion has similar leaves to death camass but the flower is an umbrella like bud like the wild chive.
Since the flowers of these two plants are good identifiers it is critical to positively identify them when the flowers are not visible in spring or fall. It doesn’t take too long in the spring for the buds to form on top of wild chive. One year on June 3 the wild chive at our cabin at Silver Lake formed some buds. When I crushed the round hollow leaves, the aroma of onion floated out. So I know they are not death camass and the leaves are ready to eat.
Wild chives are packed with iron and give a spicy flavor to spring salads, soups, egg dishes, potatoes, and any other dish. Just use them like you would an onion.
Troubled with aphids in your garden? Planting chives next to plants that attract aphids helps repel them. Want to get rid of those pesky mosquitoes dive bombing your body? Crush some chive or onion and rub it on your skin as a repellent.
If you have a wound you can disinfect it by applying juice from the chive or onion bulb, as it is an antiseptic.
Got chickens or turkeys? Chives added to their feed can be healthy for them.
Preserve chives for year round use by chopping and drying them in the oven at 200° until completely dry.
Remember to positively identify any plant before consuming, and then when safe, enjoy the fruits of Mother Nature.
From my light to yours-
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.