Friday, June 26, 2009

Dwarf Mistletoe

From "Our Wildlife Heritage", Montana
1 May, 1962

by Lou Jonas

Here is a plant which makes it legitimate to kiss a pretty girl, furnishes a uniquely shaped wood used in Western furniture and building, and, on the scientific side, ejects a seed at about 100 times the launching speed of satellite rockets.

This is the only member of the mistletoe family known to Montana. It has been used in place of the much larger and showier American mistletoe to hang in doorways at Christmas time, but there are drawbacks. Most of these dwarfs are less conspicuous than the needles, so it may be necessary to carry a magnifying glass to prove your point.

Probably the most conspicuous sign of its presence is the "witches'-broom" which is frequently seen on evergreens. The "witches'-broom", in turn, is responsible for the peculiar malformed poles which are used in the manufacture of unusual furniture, and as supports for ceilings in many commercial places which desire a truly Western atmosphere.
A witches'-broom

The knotted Forest, extending through part of Montana and Wyoming, is a common source of this type of lodgepole log.

Scientists have timed the speed with which this plant ejects its tear-drop-shaped seed, and estimate it to be about 500 g. The initial acceleration of a typical satellite-launching rocket is between 5 and 10 g.

There are five species of dwarf mistletoe in Montana, most of them more prevalent in the western part. Each has a specific host on which is grows. The one which prefers lodgepole pine is fairly common in Bridger Canyon, near Bozeman, and, of course, in the Knotted Forest.

Another, which lives mostly on limber pine, is found only occasionally, but if one travels to the crates of the Moon, in Idaho, it came be observed on almost all the places in the monument. One species likes Ponderosa pine, another will be found on fir, and still another Western larch.

The leaves do dontain chlorophyll, so it is able to manufacture its own food, but obtains water and minerals salts from the tree. The flower is inconspicuous, and the fruits are tiny berries which cling to a limb, in case they are fortunate enough to land there, and then begin a new generation.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Porcupine

By L. Jonas
(Printed in a Montana newspaper in the early 1960s)

The blunt-nosed "quill pig" could hardly be mistaken for an "eager beaver." He moves rather aimlessly from tree to tree, and finally selects one which seems just the same as all the others.

When there is snow on the limbs to furnish drink for him, he is content to perch high above ground for weeks. He apparently is sensitive to temperature, as he seeks cover in caves or beaver holes when the temperature drops past 30 below zero.

His preferred food is the bark from all species of pine, but he will accept spruce, cottonwood or willow bark, and feeds willingly in a handy alfalfa field or corn patch, and also eats water plants.

His diet may include such delicacies as axe handles, plywood signs, aluminum pans, automobile tires and dynamite-anything, in short, which tastes even slightly of salt (Ed note: they also love rosebushes!).

Tasty Trees

Occasionally Porkie girdles young pines. Then the sugars, which are produced by the chlorophyll of the needles, are blocked above the scar by hardened pitch. This makes the area above old scars very tasty to him, as well as to squirrels and mice.

One porcupine is estimated to destroy as much as $50 worth of timber a year. In this respect, of course, he is a poor second when compared to careless hunters, with their cigarettes.

Cattle and horses sometimes attempt to investigate this creature at close range. Not fond of being handled (or nosed), Porkie wards off such unwelcome attention with a swift tail and erected body spines.

Only the fisher and big cats seem able to kill him with impunity, and they are his only serious enemies among the forest dwellers. When these predators are removed by trapping or poison, the numbers of porcupines increase greatly, and they become a threat to timber production.

One winter in Jackson Hole, from November till April, I shot 19 porcupines, in order to relieve the pressure on the pines and spruce in our area. Montana forestry officials have imported fishers to release in the north-western part of the state, to control the porcupines there.

Porcupine Meat

Woodsmen find porcupine meat a welcome change from the steady diet of venison, especially if Porkie has had access to alfalfa hay, or green water plants. If he has lived in deep timber, and eaten nothing but spruce bark, he tastes much like the tree itself, but he is still far from inedible, especially if the eater has been travelling on snowshoes all day long.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

"The Value of Quiet Lands"

By L. Jonas

Many people regard land as wasted if it isn't producing farm crops, or doesn't have factories or homes on it. One lady, in a letter to the editor of one paper, suggested that we clear all wilderness and other forest land, and plow them to feed the world's hungry people. Since we're not very efficient yet at growing crops on slopes, or at preserving topsoil, it would be more logical to spend the time, energy, and money on plowing up our level lawns and flower beds. If each one-or-two family dwelling was torn down, and the rosebushes, bluegrass, tulips, and flowering dogwoods were thrown away, then grain or vegetables could be planted. We'd then have more food to give to the Indians and Pakistanians, who are increasing so rapidly that they can't possibly keep up with the demand for food (It took Pakistan just 35 days to make up for the loss of the half million people who were lost in the big tidal wave of 1970. There are also persistent reports of the sewers in Pakistan being clogged with the corpses of unwanted babies.).

Of course, the greater size of fields under monoculture (The raising of one crop only) would lead to a greater probability of serious plant epidemics, such as the Southern corn blight. Since that blight has been known to attack other grain crops besides corn, it could easily be that a super-strain could mutate and wipe out ALL grain crops. In that case, we hope the Indians, Russians, and Chinese will have enough extra grain in storage to tide us over until we can switch to eating potatoes, rutabagas, or whatever plant isn't affected by the epidemic.

Are quiet lands of any value? By quiet lands, we mean a spot where a person can go to get away from city traffic, the roar of jets, and other such afflictions. How important is a white oak, a magnolia tree, or a mountainside full of rhododendron in bloom? Are they of less importance than the Louvre, and the art galleries of Washington, D.C.? Or less important than the Smithsonian?

It depends upon whom you ask.I don't mind supporting art galleries with part of my taxes, even though I've been in one only twice in my life, and could have been quite happy if I had skipped those times. I'm willing to support the art galleries and the museums, because I'm convinced that culture is the big difference between humans and other animals. I'm happy to support parks, wilderness, and quiet country roads, because they are also needed by the truly cultured person. As Justice Wm Douglas said about wilderness, "Roadless areas are one pledge to freedom. . .The logistics of abundance call for mass production. This means the ascendancy of the machine. The risks of man's becoming subservient to it are great." We agree, that men and women are more important than the technology they have created.

(Ed. note: The rest of this unpublished article seems to be missing. Dad certainly had some interesting ideas on things!)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Serviceberry Worth "Taming"

By Lou Jonas, Bozeman
(Printed August 19, 1965)

The serviceberry, alias sarviceberry, alias juneberry, alias shadbush, has been a friend of man through many centuries. Indians dried the berries for winter use, and crushed them to form a cake, from which they broke off pieces to add to soup or vegetables.

Pemmican was made of ground-up berries and dried meat, with animal fat added. If a backpacker wants a nourishing, lightweight food, there's probably nothing which can beat this. Indians are also said to have made an eyewash from the boiled green, inner bark.

The white man has made much use of the berries in pies and puddings. In our family, we can as many quarts of serviceberries as we can pick each year, alawys hoping to get 100 before the season is over. Our two little children prefer them, with cream and honey, over most other fruits. Their daddy has gained energy enough to travel over a great many miles of the Rocky Mountains by eating these juicy black berries.

Lou's grandchildren enjoy serviceberries, too!

Moose, Deer, Elk, and domestic goats, and probably most other herbivores, relish the twigs, buds, and bark of the serviceberry, and ruffed grouse seem to feed on the buds more than on any other food, in winter, at least. The moose wintered so low here in our area and fed in the serviceberry patches to such an extent that it will be a pleasant surprise if there is any crop at all this summer.

Serviceberries are easy to recognize, growing as a shrub of three to twelve feet high in most of the Rockies, with an oval leaf with slightly serrate edges. The rounded mass of white flowers bloom some time in May, in Montana, a week or two ahead of the chokecherries.

There is a great difference in the sweetness and size of the serviceberry fruit, due partly to location, but also due to a difference in varieties. It would appear sensible for some horticulturist to choose the best of these varieties and develop them commercially.

A trim, attractively-flowering plant like this, with its healthful fruits, appeals much more to many of us pragmatists than a privet hedge which yields mostly exercise, and a place to spend one's leisure hours, with pruning shears in hand.

If I were going to develop the serviceberry for commercial purposes, I would investigate the patches which grow in various canyons near Bozeman, and also those growing in the Flathead Valley, along some of the gravel roads which run from Montana to Idaho. On one road there we saw the prettiest and most plentiful crop of serviceberries we have ever been fortunate enough to observe.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Comfrey-Man's Best Friend?

By L. Jonas
(First printed in the Piedmont Virginian)

What plant will heal colds, infected sores, and other ailments; is good food for humans, chickens, and livestock; is insect and disease-resistant; can stand hot weather, and weather down to -40F.; is drought-resistant, and can compete well with weeds, growing well in full sun or semi-shade?

Apparently the best candidate for this position is the comfrey, also called Russian comfrey, which has been raised for human food, as well as stock food, for hundreds of years.

It produces prolific growth and needs to be cut several times per growing season in Virginia, to prevent it from going to seed.

It is rather bland, so that it is best used for mixed salads or as a pot herb, mixed with something like beet greens, spinach or poke salad. It pays to separate the roots each year, since the younger plants have more tender leaves; the older plants tend to have rather stiff bristles on them, which greatly detracts from its appeal in a fresh salad.

I had been interested in comfrey for a long time, having read of it in many places. I finally got some from C. E. Ellwanger, near New Baltimore, who has raised it for quite a few years. The roots grew amazingly well, so that it didn't take long before I had a lot of salad material.

But the thing which most impressed me was its great healing powers. Last winter, our family had more skin infections and respiratory ailments than we had in the entire nine preceding years. One severe burn on my son's hand refused to heal, though we had every salve we could buy, including triple-antibiotic ointment.

In desperation, I decided to try the old ways, so I dug up a root (no leaves were available in February), crushed it and poulticed the sore. In one day the improvement was noticeable, and the sore was well-healed in a few days.

Then, since we had bad coughs most of the winter, I began to pick the tender comfrey sprouts as soon as they appeared in early spring, and divided them up among those of us with the worse coughs. In a few days, the persistent coughs had almost stopped.

Now, this is not enough proof as yet for me to say that comfrey is the greatest herb of all, but it is good enough evidence for me to pay almost any price to keep comfrey growing around the place.

Comfrey has been analyzed, and apparently it is the allantoin in it which is such a good healing agent. The herbalists are said to use comfrey in case all other treatments fail.

Comfrey-man's best friend?
Ed. note: I well remember being fed pureed apricots and comfrey as a child, as well as lots of comfrey "Orange Julius". Comfrey is one of the first things we put in the ground, whenever we move into a new home.