plant


Wild mint (Mentha arvensis)

This forb is distinctive and reminds many people of refreshing rejuvenation during hot summer days. A crushed leaf releases a sharp mint smell, and cooking with the leaves of wild mint adds a sharp fresh taste to your food. Keep your eyes open for this strong smelling plant as you walk through moist lowlands or the edges of riparian areas.

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Why they Matter to Us

  • Wild Mint is edible and is a useful foraging food for humans. The compound responsible for it’s distinct smell and taste (Menthol) is used in many products.

  • Because mint can flower throughout the growing season, it is important food for pollinators.

  • Mint leaves can be used as a natural treatment for minor ailments from headaches to anxiety.

  • The Mint plant or its leaves can be used as a natural pesticide or air freshener, and make a nice ground cover in gardens.

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How You Can Help

  • Leave wetlands in their natural state. This will ensure that there is always habitat for Wild Mint to grow in.

  • Plant Wild Mint in your garden using a cutting from a native plant. Be aware that they grow vigorously!

  • Support protected areas such as those conserved by EALT!

  • Avoid the use of pesticides. Some pesticides can reduce the growth of native and beneficial plants and insects.


How to Identify

To identify wild mint, look for these distinguishing features:

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  • All plants in the mint family have square stems, so this is an easy place to start identifying this plant.

  • Wild Mint can reach 1-2 meters in height.

  • The leaves are opposite, and the direction that each pair of leaves face alternates along the stem. The leaves are toothed, and have prominent veins and a hairy underside.

  • To differentiate it from others in this family, it has pale purple flowers cluster on the stem near each pair of leaves. Each flower has 4 petals and one petal is lobed.

  • Finally, to differentiate Wild Mint from other plants in its family, the easiest distinction from other plants in this family is to crush the leaves or stem. Wild mint will smell strongly of mint.


Where to Find

Mint is found across North America in wet or moist areas. Examples of places you could find Wild Mint include lowlands, wetlands, and edges of riparian zones, in areas that get at least some sunlight. It spreads effectively by rhizomes, and may cover a large area of ground where it is established.

Weidemeyers Admiral by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble

Weidemeyers Admiral by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble

Food Chain

  • Wild Mint are primary producers and create food through photosynthesis. They require soil full of minerals, water, and sunlight.

  • Wild Mint provides food for certain insects including spider Mites, Aphids, Flea Beetles, some butterflies, as well as slugs and snails. This in turn provides food for other forest creatures

  • Wild Mint also provides an important food source for bees and other pollinators. They collect and use the nectar of the mint flowers to feed their young. Mint can flower throughout summer providing a reliable food source.

Illustration of Persephone, Goddess of the Underworld and wife of Hades. Photo by sandpaper_tiger at flickr.com

Illustration of Persephone, Goddess of the Underworld and wife of Hades. Photo by sandpaper_tiger at flickr.com

Fun Facts

  • There is a Greek myth behind the naming of the mint genus, Mentha. The story goes that Persephone, Hades wife, turned a nymph named Minthe into a mint plant so that Minthe would not be seduced by Hades.

  • Historically Mint has been used by a variety of groups to help with a number of ailments including stomachaches, headaches, digestive issues, flatulence, cramps, and stress.

  • Mint is a deterrent for many animals and insects, including deer, mice and other rodents, mosquitoes, ants, flies, fleas, wasps, hornets, cockroaches, and moths. Either grow a live plant or place crushed leaves where you want to deter insects. Crushed leaves need replacing every few days.

  • Mint is edible and can be used in many foods, such as jelly, as a herb in many dishes, in sauces, teas, and in other drinks. The Mojito is an Cuban alcoholic drink that normally contains mint.

  • Menthol is the compound that gives this plant its characteristic aroma and taste. It is added to many items today including chewing gum, toothpaste, lozenges, and cosmetics.


Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia)

Saskatoon bushes are a shrub with tasty edible berries that is common in the Edmonton region. In the past, Indigenous people used the berry to make pemmican, which is preserved dried meat, and in today’s world, the berry is used to make many delicious foods including pies and jams.

Photo by Patrick Kyle

Photo by Patrick Kyle

Photo by Andrew Malone

Photo by Andrew Malone

Why They Matter to Us

  • Saskatoon shrubs have a long history of human usage both in the past and present. The berries are edible and provide important nutrients including Vitamin C and iron.

  • The presence of Saskatoon shrubs indicates that the area receives a significant amount of moisture as the plant will not grow in areas with less than 350 mm of annual precipitation.

  • As Saskatoon bushes typically grow in thickets, this shrub provides good wildlife habitat, preventing exposure of mammals and nesting birds to predators or bad weather.

  • Saskatoon berries are an important food in fall and winter for any wildlife, including especially birds.

How You Can Help

  • Avoid using pesticides as they can harm the bees that pollinate Saskatoon flowers. Saskatoon shrubs can self-fertilize but if bees pollinate the flowers, more berries are produced.

  • Plant Saskatoon shrubs in your garden instead of other non-native shrubs.

  • Support protected areas in the Edmonton area such as those conserved by EALT!

Photo by Patsy Cotterill

Photo by Patsy Cotterill

How to Identify

Saskatoon bushes are a shrub, meaning they have woody growth, with young stems being red-brown and older stems being gray. Their alternately-arranged oval leaves are distinctive with toothed ends and smooth sides.

Flowers bloom in clusters of snowy white with each head containing 5 petals. They produce small purple/blue clusters of berries that taste similar to blueberries.

Where to find

Saskatoon shrubs can be found almost anywhere across Canada, from British Columbia to Ontario. and north in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It prefers areas with high levels of organic matter and well-drained soils

Photo by Doris May

Photo by Doris May

Food Chain

  • The Saskatoon is a primary producer utilizing photosynthesis to create food. It requires sunlight and nutrient and water-rich soil.

  • All above-ground parts of the Saskatoon are food for wildlife. Branch tips and leaves serve as winter and summer foods for moose, elk and deer. The flower buds are fed on by sharp-tailed grouse in the spring and winter. Birds, bears, chipmunks, squirrels and other animals all feed on the berries and help spread the seeds through their scat.

Fun Facts

  • This shrub’s name comes from its Cree name “mis-ask-quah-toomina” which was shortened to “Saskatoon” by early settlers.

  • This shrub goes by many common names including serviceberry, Indian pear and juneberry.

  • After a fire, the Saskatoon shrub may lose its branches, leaves and flowers but the roots will typically survive if the soil is moist. It has been observed there is even more Saskatoon growth after a fire.

  • Indigenous usage of the Saskatoon included food, arrow shafts and medicine for liver trouble and intestinal issues.


Sources

  • Nature’s Nourishment. 20 Recipes Featuring wild native plants found in the Edmonton Region, from the Edmonton and Area Land Trust

  • Saskatoon webpage from Alberta Plant Watch


Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Stinging Nettle is a fitting name for this plant, because it has formic acid in its leaf hairs. However, this plant was used for many medical uses, including abdominal issues, and is still eaten today! You can safely touch this plant if your skin is covered.

Photo: H. Zell

Photo: H. Zell

Why They Matter to Us

  • Has long been utilized by Indigenous people to treat various medical conditions

  • Is full of vitamins important to human health

  • Has a strong association with human habitation and disturbance

  • Can indicate if the ground is frequently wet because the Stinging Nettle thrives in moist soil

Indigenous Uses for Stinging Nettle

  • Indigenous people used fresh leaves to treat acne, eczema, diarrhea, intestinal worms, and urinary tract infections

  • Nettles were boiled into a tea and drank as a childbirth aid by increasing milk production, hastening labor and relaxing the muscles

  • Stinging nettle leaves were used as a food and nutrient source including chlorophyll, carotene and Vitamin C

  • The plant’s long fibers were transformed into cord and fishing line

Photo: Patrick Kyle

Photo: Patrick Kyle

How to Identify

  • Stinging nettles can be up to 3 m tall with opposite leaves that are jagged-toothed in shapes ranging from spear-like to oval.

  • Stinging nettle flowers are tiny, numerous green-ish and grow in drooping clusters on the plant.

Where to find

Stinging nettle is found throughout Canada except Nunavut. They prefer areas with moist, rich soils such as riparian areas and moist woodlands.

Food Chain

  • Stinging nettles are primary producers which means they create their own food. To create their own food with photosynthesis, they required mineral-rich soils, water and sunlight.

  • Due to the stinging nettle’s natural protection, this plant is avoided by most animals, except the larvae of various butterflies and moths.

Fun Facts

  • In Europe, the chlorophyll from this plant is used commercially as a food-safe green coloring agent (E140)

  • Stinging nettle leaves, which have a peppery zing or spinach like taste, are perfectly edible, BUT blanch the leaves thoroughly for safe eating first!

  • When the hairs on nettle leaves are broken, formic acid is released, causing a stinging on the skin.

  • Formic acid is used by humans for preserving livestock feed , household cleaning products and to protect pipes against corrosion


Sources


Aspen Poplar (Populus tremuloides)

Also known as Trembling Aspen or Quaking Aspen

This tree is essential to the Aspen Parkland, the ecoregion where Edmonton is found. Tall, straight, with powdery white bark, you can hardly miss this lovely tree. The trembling aspen gets its name from the unusual flat petiole, or leaf stems, which cause the leaves to flutter, or “quake” in the slightest breeze.

Photo by Roxy Hastings

Photo by Roxy Hastings

Why they Matter to Us

  • Trembling Aspen have a long history of human use. They are an important source of lumber, presently and historically.

  • These trees are representative of the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion, where Edmonton is located.

  • Trembling Aspen provide food for porcupines, beavers, deer, moose, snowshoe hare, ruffed grouse, and black bears. They also provide homes for birds including songbirds, woodpeckers, and owls.

  • Trembling Aspen regenerate quickly in response to fire or other damage.

How You Can Help

Snag providing habitat for many creatures

Snag providing habitat for many creatures

  • Leave dead or dying trees standing (rather than knocking them down) in natural areas and green spaces. They provide food and valuable habitat for woodpeckers, songbirds, insects, and mammals.

  • Plant trees. Whether you are in a natural area (with permission) or your backyard.

  • Support protected areas such as those conserved by EALT!

  • Be careful not to start fires. Put out your campfire throughily, and don’t throw cigarette butts on the ground.

  • Don’t hunt carnivores such as wolves. There is a chain of impacts on an ecosystem when top predators are removed. When there are few or no wolves, deer become extremely plentiful, and they can eat all the young aspen shoots, preventing regeneration.


How to Identify

To identify the Aspen Poplar tree, look for these distinguishing features:

Male Pileated Woodpecker by Doris May

Male Pileated Woodpecker by Doris May

  • Aspen trees have white, powdery bark. Aspen is similar to balsam polar, with bark that is often slightly more grey and usually more wrinkled and rough, especially at the base.

  • Aspen tree are most often tall and straight.

  • Aspen leaves are petite and heart shaped.


Where to Find

Aspen is found across North America. It can be found in slightly drier areas (upland) than other tree species, but still needs some moisture. Examples of places you could find Aspen include pasture, uplands, and rolling hills.

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Food Chain

  • Aspen are primary producers and create food through photosynthesis. They require soil full of minerals, water, and sunlight.

  • Aspen photosynthesize even with their bark. This means that they can provide valuable winter food for porcupine, moose, black bear, beaver, ruffed grouse and rodents. These animals may eat the bark and/or leaves of aspen trees.

  • Aspen also provide food for a wide variety of insects and fungi. Insect larvae and adults may eat the leaves or rotting wood, and fungi may decompose the tree as well. This in turn provides food for other forest creatures, and the rotting tree will eventually provide nutrients to other trees in the forest.

Fun Facts

  • What is a tree? Some scientists think that an aspen grove connected by a root system may be a single organism. Aspen are known for “suckering” or producing new trees from their root system if adult trees are damaged. The roots stay connected, and all trees that are connected, known as a "clone" will grow leaves or lose their leaves all at the same time. If aspen responds in this way, can each tree still be considered a separate organism?

  • The oldest known aspen clone has lived more than 80,000 years on Utah’s Fishlake National Forest.  This clone has lived for 13 times as long as civilization as we know it today!

  • Aspen wood has many uses such as matches (not very flammable), saunas (doesn’t splinter much), and lumber.

  • In the past, aspen has been used as a painkiller. It contains salicylates, which are similar to aspirin. today salicylates are also used to treat acne, warts, dandruff, and ringworm, because the acid form can remove the outer layer of human skin. It can even be used also as a food preservative and as an antiseptic! Like any chemical, it can be harmful in too high a dose.