Tag Archives: edible wild plants

fringe benefits

Back in the fall of 2011 I started collecting green wood from dump piles around town, and since I kept coming across new species I was soon gathering wood faster than I could use it.  In order to keep the green wood from checking before I could mill it or put it on the lathe, I took to stashing it in large plastic trash bags underneath the tables in my shop.  Some of that wood is still hanging around, including a section of figured maple that gave birth to this beauty:

My friends Garret and Sarah had come down to the shop for a tour one evening, and as Sarah rounded a table she asked, “Is that a mushroom?”  Indeed.  It had to have sprung up very quickly, as it would have been difficult for me to miss for more than a day or two.

As much as I love edible wild plants, I’ve always been timid about wild mushrooms.  But thanks to the distinctive morphology and complimentary spray of spores, I was able to identify these as Oyster Mushrooms– good eating!  I sampled a small section, and after no ill effects proceeded to fry up a plate full the next day.  I’d guess that the total weight of the harvest was about three pounds.  I gave half of it to my friends (finder’s fee!) and dried the rest for use in soups.


recent paintings

smoke-shaped forest, 22x 30, ink, shellac, and oil on paper, 2012

Last week I finished smoke-shaped forest, which continues a series reflecting on the simultaneous gains and losses associated with 200 acres of land being cleared adjacent to my parent’s property outside of Charleston, SC.  In such cases waste wood and plowed stumps are often stacked up and burned, and they create an eerily beautiful sight at dusk in that thick southern air.  Anyone who has ever sat around a campfire knows the seduction of staring into the coals, a kind of primal reverie of thought and thoughtlessness, comfort and fear, and the clear insistence of a light in the darkness.

broadleaf plantain with clover, 10 1/4" x 13 7/8", oil on panel, 2012

broadleaf plantain with clover is the first in what I believe will be a series of edible wild plant paintings, most of which can be quickly located in urban environments.  These are works about the act of foraging, which is another way of seeking a depth of experience outside of the dominant culture.  But they also raise questions regarding patterns of recognition and the problems associated with the indirect transfer of knowledge.  One of the classic problems of depicting plants is the method of depicting a “representative sample”.  That is, the collection or photographic documentation of a single plant does not account for the inevitability of variation, and this creates a reservoir of doubt.  Paintings are effective in communicating some types of specificity, but often at the expense of others.  The payoff of this more “scenic” method, in my mind, is that it describes more fully a set of relationships within a given habitat.  And just as my front lawn establishes criteria for fruitfulness, so does the limited context of my panel.

grackle with smartweed and clover, 14 1/4" x 17 1/4", oil on panel, 2012

grackle with smartweed and clover keeps up the thematic approach to ground-cover, and the act of looking down as a move out of the demands of the body and into the life of the mind.  Because the bird’s eye is denied to the viewer as a point of reference, the grackle straddles a space between life and death.

between oceans and rivers

tidal flats wedged between the ocean and the intercoastal waterway

the marsh, wedged between the ocean and the inter-coastal waterway

marsh wood blog

weathered salt (red) cedar trunk with perennial glasswort

While at the beach in North Carolina, I like to turn my back on the long row of beach houses and follow the winding game trails out into the marsh.  It is a type of selective experience not unlike the viewing of a painting– a decision to forget about what is behind you, and to be absorbed into that which fills your cone of vision.  The differences between distant observation and actual immersion are striking.  Everything is crisp and bristly in the marsh.  What seemed solid now compresses, and what seemed still now moves.  With each crunching step I play the role of mythic monster as thousands of fiddler crabs flee before me, comical in their bumping and stumbling.  The marsh is a subtle topography of low and lower, the subdivisions most noticeable in firmness of footing and shifts in flora.  Glasswort gives way to cord grass, which then inches up into black needle rush.  The plants tolerate varying degrees of immersion during tidal flooding, so small shifts in elevation can result in significant shifts in plant life.  The marsh is well stocked with edible plants, including the glasswort pictured above.  More seductive is the passion fruit, which unfortunately was not yet ripe. I saw passion flowers for the first time while living in Key West, FL.  Initially I mistook it for a fake flower, so strange and wonderful was the bloom.

a passion flower, in all of its ridiculous glory

a passion flower, in all of its ridiculous glory

passion fruit hanging from the vine

passion fruit hanging from the vine

a gulf-fritillary catepillar devouring the leaf of a passion flower vine

a gulf-fritillary catepillar devouring the leaf of a passion flower

Southern Fox Grape

Southern Fox Grape
Pindo Palm fruit

Pindo Palm fruit

Southern Fox (muscadine) grapes lined the marsh invasively, climbing over anything and everything available.  They ripen to a deep purple, but even the green ones can be refreshing in the heat of summer.  The fruit of the Pindo Palm is also quite good, and the tree is often used residentially for landscaping.

flora and fauna

dragon fly blog

wild carrot

wild carrot

sunfish blog

I’ve been spending a lot of time over in Forest Park as I continue to study our region’s edible wild plants.  We’ve managed to work in a few extra adventures, which included teaching Florence how to catch her first sunfish.  I’m not yet certain how to talk about the plant study in relation to my art-making, but it is something that I am working to clarify.  In the mean time I will pass along a poem by Louis MacNeice which I was fortunate to come across in the spring.  I shared it with my Painting Elective class as a description of their own journey from an the objectivity of an existence “above” art-making to a place down in it– the immersion of experience.

Under the Mountain

Seen from above

The foam in the curving bay is a goose-quill

That feathers… unfeathers… itself.

Seen from above

The field is a flap and the haycocks buttons

To keep it flush with the earth.

Seen from above

The house is a silent gadget whose purpose

Was long since obsolete.

But when you get down

The breakers are cold scum and the wrack

sizzles with stinking life.

When you get down

The field is a failed or a worth-while crop, the source

Of back-ache if not heartache.

And when you get down

The house is a maelstrom of loves and hates where you–

Having got down– belong.

Louis MacNeice, from Selected Poems of Louis MacNeice, Edited and with an introduction by Michael Longley