August 18, 2011

A Couple of Poisonous Plants & One Useful One

M. and I went looking for mushrooms on Monday, which was a bust. Although there were puddles on the dirt road leading to it, our favorite area was mushroom-less. Both edible and inedible species were missing, so it's not that someone else came in and cleaned it out—evidently the modest rains of the last few days up in the high elevations (about 10,000 feet) were not enough.

False hellebore pods
So we did what we the last time that happened and went looking for wildflowers, of which there were a few: a small stand of monkshood (in the hellebore family) managing to keep its feet damp,and also also some false hellebore (locally called "skunk cabbage," but not the same as the Northeastern plant of that name).

Rather than photograph the showy striped leaves, which you can see at the link, I snapped one of the pods. Too bad I did not catch it in bloom—but you can see blooms here too.

Monkshood, also known as wolfbane, has poisonous roots and leaves. The man who taught me to identify it was surnamed Bane (which means slayer, poison, etc.), so he got a kick out of that.

False hellebore is poisonous to sheep in particular.
The whole plant is poisonous, containing highly toxic alkaloids that affect the heart and nervous system."

Sheep which eat false hellebore while during the first trimester of pregnancy have lambs with severe abnormalities of the brain and face (known as Cyclopia).
This area is elk range, but apparently they are not bothered. One article I found while browsing suggests that deer, if not elk, not only eat some plants poisonous to livestock but follow the approach of "a little bit won't kill you."

Continuing our walk, we came to stand of firs that were a real Usnea (old man's beard) plantation, both live trees and dead ones.

M. wanted some for an herbal wound powder that she is making, so we partly filled what was supposed to have been a mushroom sack with Usnea.

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