April 24, 2012

Artemisia tridentata

            I remember as a child, going with my mom down to an area called “The Point”.  The Point is a fishing spot used by the Shuswap nation of Esketemc for centuries.  This fishing spot is along the Fraser River in the lowland grasslands that cover much of the Fraser Canyon.

My mother would take me here every June to pick the Sage plant that grew close to the Point.  Being so young, I never knew the purpose of those afternoon trips to the arid grasslands.  I always thought I just went to get baked in the hot June sun.  I would get bored of picking sage within a half hour or so and begin hunting down the crickets that hopped around beneath the sage canopy.  I had a lot of fun in pursuit of these big black insects until I actually caught one.  I made it to catch a cricket and it latched on to my hand and wouldn’t let go no matter how hard I flung my hand around and screamed.  To this day I have a cricket phobia.   Memories like these are engrained in my head because my mother was teaching, me the way most First Nations cultures do: by example. The lesson that was being taught was the importance of the shrub Artemisia tridentata.

As I grew older and began to understand, I realized how important this plant is to First Nations people, the environment, and animals.  Growing up I learned about the cultural uses of Artemisia tridentata, but it wasn’t until I attended university that I learned the scientific side of this plant and understand the cultural importance of it as well.

The shrub we were looking for was easy to find in the arid area.  It stands well above any other plant in the grassland, standing up to as high as 2 meters tall.  It’s also one of the only plants in the grassland to produce woody material.  The bark is a dusty dark brown color, with some parts that peel off.  The leaves of this plant are very light green and have three pointed “teeth” at the apex of the leaves.  This leaf feature helped give the shrub its scientific name: Artemisia tridentata.  The leaves also appear to always have a light coloured powder or dust on them, but this dusty look is created by very small hair extensions of the leaves called trichomes.  By producing trichomes on the leaves, the sage shrub protects itself from the drought conditions experienced in the bunchgrass zones.  Without trichomes the leaves would dry out, as a result of desiccation.  I never took much interest in sage before, but now I find the plant fascinating because it defends itself without even moving.

I always questioned why we would go and pick sage during the one of the hottest months during the summer.  My mom told me we had to pick them before they flower in late July to August.  Like many other members of the Asteraceae family, Artemisia tridentata produces many small flowers.  The flowers come out at the middle of July and make it hard to harvest the leaves by themselves.  This is also a management practice to not disturb the reproductive structures of the sage plant.  It was also important not to defoliate the shrub to the point where it wouldn’t be able to photosynthesize anymore.  Artemisia tridentata is sensitive do disturbance and will respond in different ways depending on the type of disturbance.

            A. tridentata faces different sources of disturbance and A. tridentata finds itself in a battle against several opponents.  Sage faces grazing pressures, invasive species, and grazing pressure on the grassland battlefield.  A. tridentata does well against grazing pressure.  Sage is considered an increaser when faced against grazing ruminators.  Its populations increase when the area is heavily grazed by cattle, this is due to the taste and scent of foliage of the shrub.  Cows will select to eat the grasses before they will eat the sage plant.  While the populations of grasses drop the numbers of A. tridentata rise.  A. tridentata stands victorious against grazing.

Bromus tectorum (Cheatgrass) is a more formidable adversary against A. tridentata.  B. tectorum is an annual invasive grass that will make its way onto the grassland battle field.    The annual grass will set down deep roots every spring and soak up the spring moisture that is so important for A. tridentata’s survival.  It is a war of attrition against B. tectorumB. tectorum dies quickly, but it brings in back up: fire.  B. tectorum produces lots of dry material even when it is still green.  B. tectorum also produces thick stands of itself, so all of the fallen B. tectorum soldiers leave lots of dry organic material.  The dry organic material will increase the risk of fire coming into the site.  Once fire comes in, A. tridentata is considered a decreaser when B. tectorum and fire enters the grasslands.   This is because sage is a slow growing perennial shrub compared to B. tectorum, which grows quickly from seeds and seedlings every year.  Increased populations of B. tectorum will increase fire fuel every year and increase fire frequency which will cause A. tridentata populations to submit and let B. tectorum to take over and rule the grassland.  B. tectorum will raise its tillers victoriously.

If A. tridentata’s battle is lost, this will present great challenges for ungulates that feed on it during the harsh winter months in the grasslands.  I didn’t think that any animal would feed on A. tridentata because of its strong smell, but I have seen that some animals actually do feed on its foliage that it keeps through the winter while out hunting.  I was glassing some fields looking for mule deer near Alkali Lake and to my surprise these deer were feeding on the foliage of the sage brush.  Later in University, I learned that not only do mule deer browse the sage, but Big Horn Sheep also will feed on it in the winter.  I found this odd because the volatile oils contained within the foliage of the bark can be poisonous if high amounts are consumed.  But, these two ungulates are able to deal with the volatile oils by making the oils increase good bacteria in the intestinal tract the Mule Deer and Big Horn Sheep.  Mule deer and Big Horn Sheep digestion is actually improved with the aid of the volatile oils in A. tridentateA. tridentata is very important for in the grasslands because of the cover and food that it provides for the animals.

Hunting is a very important part of not only my life and without Artemisia tridentata hunting could be made much more difficult.  Through hunting and university I have learned that Artemisia tridentata is an important plant to manage for.  Proper management techniques need to be implemented to prevent invasive populations from growing and proper grazing habits would prevent A. tridentata from completely dominating the site.  Grazing cattle in the early spring would increase survival rates of A. tridentata because the cow would choose sage’s adversary, B. tectorum, before A. tridentata.  The early grazing would weaken the populations and growth rates of B. tectorum and give A. tridentata a better chance at being the victor on the grassland.  Then the cattle could be taken off of the field later in the spring when the native grasses like Agropyon spicatum (Bluebunch Wheatgrass) begin to sprout and grow.  A healthy balance of A. tridenta and native grasses, forbs, and shrubs can be attained through proper management measures.

Management of A. tridentata is very important not only to the animals, but to the people as well.  Sage has been used by First Nations people for centuries.  The terpenes contained throughout have many healing properties that have helped out First Nations people.  These terpenes would cause blood clots to stop internal bleeding from injuries and bleeding in women after giving birth.  The teas made from the foliage and twigs would also be used as an astringent to clean up cuts and infections.  This plant has assisted in the survival of some First Nations tribes.

This plant has played a major role in my ancestors’ lives and my life as well.  A. tridentata is entwined into First Nations culture as well.  First Nations have burned the leaves of sage while praying and singing.  The smoke produced by the sage leaves has a potent scent and is used to bring the prayers and songs up to the Creator.  When somebody seeks assistance while going through rough times during life they often burn sage to ensure that the request for help reaches the creator.  If the person comes out of the hard situation well, they will again burn sage and give thanks for the assistance received.  It is also of Shuswap culture to leave something for the environment when harvesting resources.  Sage is often left to give thanks for the item that was taken out of the environment.  I will leave sage after I harvest an animal to give thanks to the animal for giving itself life up for my sustenance.  I give thanks to the animal because it had a life and soul just like I do.  I leave sage to let the creator and animal know that I am thankful and have respectful of them both.

Artemisia tridentata is tied into the environment and lives of animals and humans in many ways.  The importance of this plant to the grasslands, to people, and animals should be understood.  Like many other plants, it should be properly managed to keep populations healthy.  Having this plant in the grassland increases biodiversity and helps many individuals out.  Artemisia tridentata has a very intricate history with First Nations people and continues to play a big part in our cultures today.



Jacobson J.  1983.  Insecticides, insect repellants, and attractants from arid/semiarid-land plants.,5&as_vis=1.  Accessed 2012.\

žNagy JG, Tengerdy RP. 1967.  Antibacterial actions of essential oils of Artemisia as an ecological factor. Applied and Environmental Microbiology[internet]. [Feb. 16, 2012].  15(4):  819-821.




Food to Mind Connection

April 13, 2012

100 Mile Diet

Smith, A. and J.B. MacKinnon. 2007. The 100-Mile Diet. Vintage Canada, Toronto.

100 Mile Diet takes the readers through a journey/experiment that Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon decided to try out.  They would only consume food that could be obtained within a 100 radius of where they lived.  They meet up with local farmers and attend many farmers markets to get their food.  Through their 1 year long experiment they came to realize how detached people have become from the good they eat.  Many people will just eat food from the supermarket without any questions.  Questions like where did it come from?, who grew it,  were chemicals used on this plant? cannot be answered with most food bought from supermarkets.  I liked how they realized, through their 100 Mile Diet, that with their foods came the stories of how they got the food.  They remembered where, how, and who they got the food from.  I connected with this because I do a lot of hunting and fishing.  Before I move back to Kamloops for school I will usually have my freezer full of fresh sockeye salmon and meat, as well was preserved foods such as berries and canned salmon.  When I would eat a deer steak or sockeye fillet I would reminisce about how I got the animal or the fish.  I remember exactly where, how the day was, and all of the hard work to bring it home and prepare it to take to Kamloops.   Not only would the hunt or fishing trip be remembered, but I would also remember how much fun I had with my friends while out in the boonies.  I always miss hunting and fishing while I am in school, as I usually do not have time to go home and hunt or fish during the weekends.  After reading this book I realized the connection I had with some of the food I eat.

Sadly, this connection is not the same for any vegetables I eat.  I always just go to Save-On or Costco to get everything else I eat.  I realized how disconnected I am from the plants and vegetables that I eat or can eat.  I never really grew my own food because I knew how much hard work would have to be put into up keeping a garden or going out into the bush to find wild foods.  I know I am part of the lazy generation described by some of  the interesting characters that Alisa and James met on their 100 Mile Diet adventures.  I now wish that I could have similar memories like my hunting and fishing trips with the plants that I eat.  I remember my grandmother telling me many stories about berry picking and how lazy people were now.  Now I would like to learn more about growing my own food.  Hunting and fishing pretty much cuts any cost of meat out of my budget, which is a lot, from what I hear from people who buy all of their meat.  I think about how growing and gathering my own plant and vegetables would also cut down on the food bill.

I enjoyed reading the 100 Mile diet because of the connections these two shared with their foods.  I would like to start gathering more of my own foods not only to cut down costs, but to see what it may have been like for my people who survived off of the land for centuries.  I know it wouldn’t be the same, but I would just like being more connected to the foods that I eat.

Environment= Cure All?

March 18, 2012

Nabhan, G.P. 1990.  Gathering the desert.  University of Arizona Press.  Pg: 3-19.

Local plants have sustained indigenous populations for many years.  Nabhan writes about how certain desert plants have aided the health and survival of desert aboriginals peoples in ” Desert Plants as Calories, Cures, and Characters”.  Nabhan not only addresses how people have strayed away from using traditional plants recently, Nabhan also questions why people to turned to store bought foods and medicines.  Everyone has switched over to buying sustenance from supermarkets rather than getting foods from the local environment.  This has resulted in the degradation in the health of many aboriginal populations.  High rates of obesity, diabetes,  and substance abuse are seen in many first nations communities.  Nabhan suggests that the shift in attitude towards native foods and traditional harvesting practices has caused the change in lifestyle and health of aboriginal communities.  I agree with Nabhan because I come from a reservation where a lot of traditional knowledge and harvesting of local plants is lost or not practiced any more.  Don Manuel’s relative referred to the younger generation as “lazies”, I agree with this because I even get lazy to go out and pick berries or sage.  I always feel like a lazy bugger because the work is not that hard it just takes a long time.  Picking is half the work, first you have to find what ever it is you want to pick, harvest it, and then preparing the berries or what ever you picked.  A lot of people in Alkali rarely do this, I’m not dissing my people, I just see that people rely heavily on the supermarket rather than the traditional foods.  Not only do I see the laziness, I also see the degraded health of first nations people.  I have a really basic knowledge of what some plants were used for in my area, but I have no idea when or how to harvest and process many of the plants.  When I was reading this paper I could picture some of the medicinal plants I know of and I wanted to find out how my people used these plants.

I agree with the message behind this reading.  First nations people have adapted to the plants they used like the grasshopper evolved to digest the Larrea shrub.  Many first nations people are lactose intolerant because they never had milk again after they were born.  We also cannot deal with high sugar foods like in the grains that are staples in so many peoples diets like bread, pasta, and rice.  These foods have only been introduced to us within the last few hundred years and first nations people have not developed the intestinal tract to process new foods.  I think people should start using the foods that we originally relied of before the supermarkets spoiled us.  I like the statement “… the desert can cure” because I feel that the environment can cure a lot of problems that first nations people have now.  I enjoyed this reading because it hit so close to home, I can remember my Kye7e (grandmother) talking about how lazy people were now.  I understand how she viewed the younger generation now that I am a little older.  I believe first nations people should try and revive the knowledge about local traditional plants.

Another history lesson of a Plant and Native Plant Management

March 12, 2012

Michel Pollan explains the life and history of the apple trees in “The Apple”, a chapter out of Pollan’s book ” The Botany of Desire”.  He tells the story of how the apple became “Americanized” like the European settlers had.  Pollan describes how the native plants were brought over and established with the aid of John “Appleseed” Chapman.  He explained how the apple trees were allowed to adapt and develop to the new continent they now occupy.  He explains how “sweetness” also aided in the spread of the apple trees in America.  The apple pioneers selected and bread many apple varieties based on sweetness.  A certain acid within the apple tree’s fruit played an important role in making the pome sweet.  Another quality that was selected for was the aesthetics of the the fruit.  Beauty and sweetness have allowed the apple to spread worldwide.

I didn’t really like reading this chapter on the apple by Pollan at first.  It seemed that the history of the apple really dragged out, but I was entertained by the image of a goofy looking man wearing a burlap sack and a pot for a hat.  I would have found it very to take this man seriously if he ever showed up at my door, let alone consider him a mythological apple god.  Before this chapter I have never given much thought to the apple and how it developed and where they originated.  I have always eaten apples to every day.  The reason I like eating apples is the same reason to why apples have spread from Kazakhstan, first to America, and later to the rest of the world.  The sweetness of apples is how I get my sugar craving fix, little did I know that the sweetness is the trait that changed the apples a lot.  When Johnny Appleseed grew the apple trees the pomes produced were very different from the apples I consume today.  They apples from Appleseed’s trees were considered as “spitter” due to their very bitter taste.  I also didn’t know that eating the apples was a secondary use for the apples.  During the early colonization of America the apples then were used for cider.  I see now that society has changed another plant to suit the population’s desire for sweetness.

The sweetness trait of apples was developed through a process called grafting.  New varieties of apples were made by grafting the cuttings of a apple tree onto a parent apple tree of a different species.  This process skipped over sexual reproduction for the apple trees.  The apple trees would not get their genes mixed up and increases the risk of a devastating pathogen like “potato blight” infecting the apple crops.  Pollan explains how the apples are at risk from pathogen, but I was pleased to read the there is some apple management being performed to help preserve the ancestral genes of the apple trees.  The apple management also aims at mixing up the genes to the apple trees to lower the risk of a pathogen sweeping through apple crops.

Pollan related the ancestral apple trees to Johnny Appleseed very well.  Both the native fruit and Johnny were very odd looking.  I like the fact that Johnny had a bond with the Native American people during the times when the natives were at war with the Europeans.  It seems to me that he was one of the first people to break the race barrier between natives and Europeans.  Johnny also shared a lot of the same attributes that natives had.  He believed that everything was tied to a higher being.  He also had a very strong connection and respect for the Earth and its biodiversity.  He had so much respect for the inhabitants of Earth that he punished himself for squashing a earthworm, slept in the snow to let bear cubs sleep in a hollow tree, and would rather be cold that burn mosquitoes with a camp fire.  This is a respect for the environment that I doubt anyone has today.  Sure I looked at Johnny Appleseed as a goof, but as the I read the chapter I liked his character more.

“The Apple” started slow but I like ended up liking the read once I got through it.  I never thought that apples could be at risk because of the abundance of apples that I see in the stores.  But these apples are monocultures of genetically the same apple trees and are risk of a pathogen like “potato blight”.  I now know that apple tree genetics need to be managed properly to prevent a pathogen from destroying the crops.

Driving Force Behind Worldwide Change

February 6, 2012

Diamond, J. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. p. 85-113, 131-156.

I found Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel chapters 4,5,6, and 8 hard to read due to the informative style.  When I was finally through a chapter, I was annoyed to find that I could have read the last couple paragraphs and had the main idea of the whole chapter.  I found that he used long drawn out examples to get very simple points across.

Diamond goes through and explains the origins of domestication of various crops and animal species.  He explains how domesticated species are different from their wild ancestors and how people before agriculture led different lifestyle to post-agriculture societies.

Diamond explains how agriculture spread throughout the world in certain steps from the “Fertile Crescent”.  Diamond talks about how the knowledge of agriculture migrated to world in these steps and how many people have come to rely so heavily on agriculture.

A point I found interesting was how domestication of plants shaped and changed societies.  Even more interesting is how I found that plants seemed to have a lot of power to drive communities, technology, and economy in the more recent years.  The plants had the power to shift pretty much the whole planet away from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agriculture based society.  Crops made hierarchies in some areas and in other places it converted hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural societies.  It was also interesting that agriculture called for new technology to be made.  Cultivation needed certain tools to help process the crops into edible food and it also needed different techniques to store the extra food.

He also talked about how people ended up choosing certain wild plants to domesticate.  He explained that the people had a very wide knowledge of native plants in the area.  He found this out while he was doing research in New Guinea when he didn’t trust to eat wild mushrooms that his native guides had picked.  The natives were offended when he wouldn’t eat the mushrooms and gave him a lecture on the many native mushrooms that were edible in the area.  This showed him that people long ago must have had lots or even more knowledge on native plants.  The people only chose plants that would benefit themselves the most either by producing big seeds are reliable crops.  They also chose plants based on the kind of work they would have to do to receive a good return for all of the labour.

I like how Diamond talked about agriculture not catching on in some communities for a long time.  The native americans stayed hunter-gatherers for a long time even when many other communities in close proximity were growing crops and  doing well.  The hunter-gatherer style of living would be very busy and would not permit a whole lot of time to start experimenting with something that could change the whole community’s lifestyle.

In the perspective of North America, this reading gave me better insight into how the birth of agriculture changed aboriginal societies.  It showed me how agriculture drove colonization and changed First Nations people.  I feel that a lot of knowledge of native plants has been lost.  Before colonization and technology first nations people knew how to cure headaches, indigestion, and relieve pain with many plants.  I feel that first nations people have also lost a lot spirituality along with the loss of plant knowledge.

GMO spud? or Chemical Spud? or Organic Spud?

January 27, 2012

Pollan, M. 2001. The Botany of Desire. Random House. p 183-238

Pollan starts the chapter off with a very intricate history of how the potato developed into many different varieties through cultivation.  He explains how humans cultivated potatoes for certain traits like size, taste, color, and even texture.  The process was still somewhat natural because desirable traits were only passed on through cultivation.  Recently humans started actually altering the genetics of plants.  This broke the Charles Darwins theory of natural selection because the genetics of the species was actually changed.

I never knew much about genetically modified crops until I read Pollan’s chapter on potatoes.  At first I kind of agreed with GMO potatoes because they almost seemed safer than modern “monoculture” crops that are doused  with chemicals.  Pollan traveled to a couple corporate farms to observe modern crops and discovered chemical corporations are controlling farmers by selling them tonnes of chemicals to keep their crops free of any pathogens.  I was disturbed when Pollan talked about his visit to a modern potato field because he said the plants had white powder all over them and the soil was gray from all of the chemicals they drown the plants with.  He explained how some of the farmers wouldn’t even eat the potatoes out of their own fields.  One farmer even grew a separate patch with less chemicals because he wouldn’t eat a potato off of the gray field.  Not only do these chemicals enter our diet, they will also leach into the environment and destroy soils and pollute water.  I think corporate agriculture is really unsafe and unsustainable.

He later visits an organic farmer, and the contrast between the organic farm and the monoculture farm is astounding.  The organic farm was crawling with life and color, whereas the monoculture crop just seemed dismal and dead.  I think I will start buying organic foods now because I don’t trust regular produce or fruits anymore.  The organic crop had a lot diversity and was just more natural.

I thought genetic modification was a really precise and careful process until Pollan said sometimes bullets laced with bacteria are simply shot into the plants with hopes of some the genetic material penetrating the plant cells.  He also said they they flood the cells with genes or bacteria and hope the plant will pick up the desired gene.  One researcher even called it a “genetic shot in the dark”.

Of course big companies are going to look for ways to make money, so researchers have developed a potato that will produce its own pesticide.  This is very appealing to modern potato farmers because it would cut down on the cost of chemicals.  I was skeptical of this pesticide producing potato right away because I know there is a pretty good chance that the pesticide would travel up the food chain.  I was shocked when Pollan said there was very little research done on the effects of GMO species.  I think this can be detrimental to the environment because the potato has the potential to harm non-targeted species.  The modified species may also be able to pass the modified genes into wild species.

Even the fast food industry has gained a lot power through controlling what their producers grow. Fast food industries have almost given the potato their own culture.   The McDonald’s fry are the picture perfect fry just like how we have unrealistic models and celebrities portraying the ideal image.  I thought it was pretty ridiculous that McDonald’s wouldn’t accept potatoes with brown spots in them.  He also explained how chemical companies are also involved in the power struggle for power.   control the farmers by saying they need a different chemical for every little pest or threat to their crops.  The amount of pesticides and herbicides they have to buy to keep their crops free of any other species, pest, or pathogen causes the farmers to earn almost no money.

I think I’ll pay a little extra money now to buy organic produce and fruits after reading this chapter.

Have We Been Taken Advantage of by Plants???

January 20, 2012

Michael Pollan’s “Botany of Desire”(BOD) and Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” (GGS) explained how humans have changed plants through domestication.  Both explain the same thing, but from two different points and from in very different writing styles.  BOD was more catchy to me because it was written with more emotion, whereas, GGS was a more factual style of writing.

Pollan put a different spin on plants for me.  I am used to reading really dry and blunt text books, but Pollan made the process of plant domestication very interesting and easy to read.  He compared humans to bees, in that we are being manipulated by plants.  He went as far as saying that plants have understood our needs and behaviors and have taken advantage of us.  I am open to a lot of different views, but plants controlling us is a little extreme for me.  I also didn’t agree with this statement “… even the wild now depends on civilization for its survival” (xxiii).  Plants have been here way longer than us and I think they would be better off with out us.  I enjoyed BOD, but I don’t believe plants have total control over us.  I don’t think plants would let us set up mines in the landscapes, clear hectares of forest, and destroy many environments if they had control of us.  Plants have done amazing things from getting us intoxicated, poisoned, and  even collecting sunlight to make their own food, but I do not believe they can control us.

I am used reading more factual books that just state processes and have not put much thought into plant behavior.  Pollan’s intro made me think about how plants have evolved along with many other organisms.  Even though I don’t believe plants have total control over us, I now think about how plants interact with many other organisms.

I found GGS a little boring to read, but it had good information.  Diamond explains the history of how plants were first domesticated through trial and error.  I never knew that so many plants have been modified from being harmful edible, through domestication.  In “How to Make an Almond” Diamond explains how humans picked the less bitter mutant almond plant to breed out the chemical in the almonds.  He also explained how plants were changed through cultivation.  Humans changed the plants for more desirable traits.  He also implies that modified plants are now weaker than their wild ancestors.  I believe that we have made plants weaker by spoiling them with perfect growing conditions and now most would have a difficult time establishing themselves in the wild.

Both books showed different views on domestication and cultivation.  Pollan’s view is that plants have a lot more control over humans that we think, and Diamonds view is that humans controlled the modification of many species.