Want to adapt to changing conditions? Pay attention to perennials in your area.

GANG 6.21.13

Looking over the pond from the side entrance to the Green Acres Neighborhood Garden (GANG) about ten days ago, early morning.

As we work to identify “weeds” that are growing like wild (so to speak) in our rain-soaked GANG garden this year, we’re looking for edibles. Perennial edibles. The ones that nature provides free and easy and surprising — with no work on our part and, most likely, more nutrition, too. After all, what is adapted, year-round, long-term, must have something that our precious, tenderly-cared for annual edibles lacks, right?

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cana lilies

Take canna lilies, for example. I got a couple of bulbs a few years ago from a friend, so they aren’t really wild. Or are they? And you DO have to dig up the bulbs and put them with a little dirt in containers for the winter. Last fall I dug up at least ten of them (they do keep spreading), kept them in the basement, and as usual, forgot about them until spring. No water needed. Are canna lilies edible? I just googled it. Yes! We can eat the starchy roots. Wow, like many flowers, these are not just beauty, but nutritious, too.

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Just as I’d bet on a coyote’s longevity in the wild over a domesticated dog, so too with perennial over annual plants. But it takes getting used to. My eyes still go to the plants that we grow from scratch, rather than the ones that spring up alongside them, untended, uncaring whether or not we feed them. I still want to “weed” — snip these wild varmints or pull them up by the root.

Damn! So yes, I do still tend to prefer the aesthetic of a “tidy,” weeded garden. Why? Habit. Conditioning. The way my mother raised me. Whatever! Who knows why I still cling, given that my better nature knows that perennial plants are the ones that we really need to pay attention to, because they show us how to adapt to changing times. After all, that’s what they do, year after year after year.

I remember watching my canna lilies in the garden last year. (Sorry, forgot to take pics!) Everything else was wilting in the hot arid sun of that severely droughty season. Unlike my annual vegetables, they hardly noticed. This year, in wet conditions, they’re coming up again. As usual, without a care in the world! IMG_5282

BTW: This particular plant I forgot about. I had brought the many containers of canna lily bulbs up out of the basement in early May and planted all but these. They sat in their little pots for weeks, unnoticed. I finally planted them. And then forgot to water them! Not even to get them set in the soil some. Today I checked them. Six weeks after they were planted. Voila!

Another thing I noticed last year was how the prairies that are allowed to grow wild, with a great diverse profusion of “weeds,” thrived, even in the drought! Close together, they shaded each other and held whatever little rain did fall. Yep, unlike our carefully tended home gardens — and unlike our giant big ag GMO soybean and corn monocultures — the wild prairie meadows did just fine.

Here’s a three-page pdf of wild edible plants for the midwest area. I just printed it out. Will now start learning to identify all the plants visually. My permie housemate Jim tells me there is a great app for the iphone that will identify any plant if I take a picture of it. I’ll have to find out what that app is. Maybe if I really commit to learning about edible and medicinal perennials my mind will release its obsession with “weeding,” tidiness, and preserving only the oh-so-familiar edible annuals.

Wild Edible Plants of the Midwest

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