Edible Farm Weeds: Common Purslane

For several weeks now, I've been gathering edible weeds at White Barn Farm – an organic farm and CSA located on 1A in Wrentham, MA. While the farmers wait for rows of peppers and tomatoes to ripen, the same rows are already yielding pounds of wild vegetables. One of my staple greens right now is Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), a warm weather plant that really takes off by early July. In some cases, a single plant can fill a salad bowl.

Photo of Common Purslane

Common Purslane has crisp stems and fleshy leaves that are widest near the tips. The plants often have several branches originating from a common point, and unless neighboring species help to prop it up, it sprawls out horizontally on the ground. If the plants are fresh and green, I'll simply snap off branches, rinse them, and chop them up for salads. Occasionally, funky leaves or portions of stems need to be discarded, but the vast majority of plants I'm finding right now are in prime condition.

Dragonflies of Fuller Pond

Last weekend I spent a few hours watching dragonflies hunting over Fuller Pond. Back at home, with my scribbled notes, some decent pictures I captured, and the library's copy of A Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Massachusetts, I was able to identify most of the winged creatures I found.

The largest dragonfly I saw was the Common Green Darner (Anax junius).  I couldn't find one perched for a photo, but several kindly hovered near me so I could observe them with my binoculars.  Their all green abdomens and large size make them quick to pick out.  They seemed to spend much of their time chasing other dragonflies from their airspace.

The second most visible was the Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta). I found numerous males perched on small dead twigs and pond-side vegetation -- making them accessible to photograph. They are a bit smaller than Common Green Darners and the male has a distinctive all dark-blue body.

Photo of Slaty Skimmer (male)
Slaty Skimmer (male)

Male and female Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) were also on the pond. They perched in similar locations to the Slaty Skimmers.  Side by side, the Blue Dashers were noticeably smaller.

Photo of Blue Dasher (female)
Blue Dasher (female)

Further from shore, I watched several red-tinged Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera) hunting close to the water and landing frequently on emergent plants.

Photo of Eastern Amberwing
Eastern Amberwing (male)

Along the shore, I noticed this female Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) perched vertically on a yellowed-leaf of Climbing Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara).

Photo of Eastern Pondhawk (female)
Eastern Pondhawk (female)

But the award for daintiest creature on Fuller Pond goes to a damselfly that I found resting on a small twig poking out of the water.  Unlike dragonflies, damselflies typically hold their wings back over their bodies when at rest.

Photo of Damselfly

Amazing little creatures they are.

Foraging Wild Teas: New Jersey Redroot

During the last week of June, I discovered a single clump of an unfamiliar shrub.  After identifying it using a few reliable plant guides, I was confident that I'd located New Jersey Redroot (Ceanothus americanus), also called New Jersey Tea.  As the latter name suggests, the leaves of this shrub can be used to make a caffeine-free tea substitute -- a use reportedly popular during the Revolutionary War.

New Jersey Redroot

New Jersey Redroot is a small shrub, which I probably would have overlooked had it not been flowering when I passed it.  It prefers dry, sandy sites. Continue reading Foraging Wild Teas: New Jersey Redroot

Foraging Fragrant Leaves: Small Bayberry

I often recognize plants by look alone, but sometimes my nose can help nail down an identity. Such is the case with Small Bayberry (Morella caroliniensis).

Photo of Small Bayberry immature fruit

Distinctive bluish waxy fruit -- which ripens in the fall, but can remain on the shrub into the following spring -- can often be found along the twigs of this shrub, below the most recent year's green growth.  In early summer, the tiny fruit is green and forming, but it is still a solid field mark.

Photo of Small Bayberry branch

The resinous leaves provide another clue.  Rubbing them gently with my fingers releases their pleasant aroma.  Last week, I dried some Small Bayberry leaves to use as a food seasoning, similar to the culinary bay leaf.

This shrub grows in many Plainville locations, often thriving in poor soil conditions. I often find it along roads, power-line cuts, and in old fields.  Small Bayberry also grows in many coastal locations, and is frequently used in landscaping.

Check out my related posts: Foraging Fragrant Leaves: Sweetfern and Foraging Fragrant Leaves: Sassafras.