I spent the afternoon gathering the edible (and medicinal) pollen cones of Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus). I visited a special grove of large pines which had some branches low enough to reach and were absolutely laden with bright yellow cones at the perfect stage of growth for foraging.
In just a few days, many of the cones will start to release their pollen. Rather than trying to capture the pollen itself, I harvested the entire pollen bearing cones prior to their opening.
Most people are familiar with the female seed-bearing cones of this tree. But the tree also has these yellow male pollen-bearing cones, which are smaller and easier to overlook.
Because the cones are tedious to pick individually, I snapped off entire branchlets containing tender stalks, young needles at the tips, and the yellow cones.
Later, I removed the cones by pinching the young needles with one hand and stripping the cones with my other hand. It took a bit of practice, but after a hundred or so, I'd found a rhythm. With the cones removed, I had a pile of pine discards to gift to my garden.
Below is just a small handful of the end result. I nearly filled a one gallon bag which I've placed in the freezer. I'll add them to meals over the next few weeks and probably tincture some of the cones for medicine.
To learn about the many health benefits of pine pollen, check out these videos from Arthur Haines: The Protective Benefits of Pine Pollen (part 1 & part 2). Arthur also covers Eastern White Pine is his foraging book, Ancestral Plants.
If you missed this year's pine pollen crop, you can purchase high quality pine pollen products from SurThrival.
Update: In 2013, I gathered Pitch Pine pollen cones.
Inspired by David Allen Sibley's recent post titled "Trees in their spring colors", I took this photo of a landscape near me. What species do you see? (Photo taken 5/17/12)
The evergreen trees that take up much of the frame are Eastern White Pines (Pinus strobus), a species that often establishes itself in open places, with sandy soil. The trees visible in the top center are Big-toothed Aspen (Populus grandidentata). Their slim profile, silvery young leaves, and light bark are helpful clues. Colonies of aspens also tend to grow on open, sunny sites.
The final species, in the bottom left, has small pines and aspens growing near it. The dark bark and flower bud clusters, visible as hundreds of white finger-like projections among the leaves, help to identify this sun-loving species as Black Cherry (Prunus serotina). I've included a close up of a few flower clusters (technically called racemes) in full bloom.
Time to dust off your field guides and identify the following tree. Here are three photos (taken in Plainville, MA) to help you narrow it down.
Note the leaf shape and arrangement:
The bark of a young tree:
And finally, the bark of an older tree:
Leave your guess in the comments below. The answer will be added to the Quiz Answers page next week.
While biking this afternoon, I passed this butterfly on the sidewalk. No longer pulsing with life, this fragile body of this Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) will now return to the earth, to feed the source of all beauty.
I recently spent some time exploring a section of the Warner Trail in Wrentham. The section skirts a major shopping center, passing small brushy-edged retention ponds, extensive powerline cuts and dirt access roads. Not what most people think of as wilderness, but it nonetheless offers plenty to discover and appreciate.
Take this Bird-foot Violet (Viola pedata, below), for example, which I found growing in small clumps along the wood's edge. Nearby, Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) was blooming -- a plant that always warrants a closer look. While I snapped photos, an Indigo Bunting began singing nearby. The all-blue bird is about the size of an American Goldfinch, and my eyes never tire of seeing it.
Further along, I found a variety of birds that favor open, brushy areas -- including Field Sparrows, Prairie Warblers, Eastern Towhees, Gray Catbirds, and even a fairly uncommon Brown Thrasher. Scanning a roadside pond, I noticed several Canada Goose families, a group of male Mallards, two Killdeer, and a single Spotted Sandpiper.
It's not necessary to travel a great distance to see a diversity of life -- in this case, I simply walked 20 minutes from my home.