Balanophora fungosa

Balanophora fungosa is a parasitic plant growing on the roots of rainforest plants. The flowering structure is shaped like a toadstool but consists of a globe covered with thousands of tiny female flowers. The globe is surrounded at its base by a much smaller number of male flowers. In flower, the plant emits an odour resembling that of mice.”

Young male inflorescences, flowers still unopened. 1600 m in montane cloud forest. Mt. Samkos (Pursat Province) in the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia. (Photo Nov. 2010 by Jeremy Holden.)
Young male inflorescences, flowers still unopened. 1600 m in montane cloud forest. Mt. Samkos (Pursat Province) in the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia. (Photo Nov. 2010 by Jeremy Holden.)

Balanophora fungosa

red parasitic plant on the forest floor in cambodia

Balanophora fungosa: a flowering plant that parasitizes roots of trees, and is entirely lacking in green pigments. Balanophora fungosa obtains water and nutrients from the host plant it is attached to. […] This species inhabits coastal forests in Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan (Ryukyu Islands), New Guinea, Philippines, Australia, and Pacific Islands.

Photo credit: Jeremy Holden

Locality: Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)

Ecology

Pipsissewa is an evergreen, so it has green leaves year-round (meaning it can complete photosynthesis throughout the year). However it also meets a substantial portion of it’s nutritional needs through symbiotic relationships with fungi that live in the soil (that is, it is a partial myco-heterotroph) around it. This makes it extremely difficult to cultivate, since the fungi it naturally grows with are needed for it to do thrive …

Cluster of Pipsissewa in a moist, shady, disturbed cedar grove ... note how it grows in clusters, low to the ground.
Cluster of Pipsissewa in a moist, shady, disturbed cedar grove … note how it grows in clusters, low to the ground. Also look at the way that the leaves meet the stem.

Nomenclature

“Pipsissewa” is a Cree name meaning “It-breaks-into-small-pieces”. This is due to it’s use as a treatment for kidney stones.

“Chimaphila” is derived from the Greek words “cheima”, for “winter” and “philos” for loving — this is due to the fact that it is an evergreen.

 

Edible Uses

* Leaves are tasty to nibble on.

* Both the leaves, and roots make a delicious tea.

* It was a primary ingredient in root beer, long ago.

Close-up of leaves -- note dark green coloration, "waxy" texture, and sharp teeth on edges. Then put them in your mouth, chew them up, and notice how tasty they are!
Close-up of leaves — note dark green coloration, “waxy” texture, and sharp teeth on edges. Then put them in your mouth, chew them up, and notice how tasty they are!

Medicinal Uses

* Pipsissewa was used as a medicine for a variety of ailments, by tribes ranging throughout N. America, and is still used today by modern “mainstream” medical practitioners.

* The Flathead and Kutenai Indians used it primarily as an eye medicine. Kutenai Indians also used a tea made from this plant for kidney trouble. [[usfs — idaho panhandle]]

Photo of stem and leaves -- once again, see how the leaves meet the stem -- note the angle at which they attach, and the way that they form a whorl around the stem. Also look at the color of the stem -- light greenish.
Photo of stem and leaves — once again, see how the leaves meet the stem — note the angle at which they attach, and the way that they form a whorl around the stem. Also look at the color of the stem — light greenish.
Side view of seed heads -- almost like miniature purple/pink pumpkins. Note the reddish stem they are attached to.
Side view of seed heads — almost like miniature purple/pink pumpkins. Note the reddish stem they are attached to.
A later photo of the seed heads, as they begin to split open ... note the blackish "button" on top. This one was taken later than the last, and the stem they are attached to is no longer red.
A later photo of the seed heads, as they begin to split open … note the blackish “button” on top. This one was taken later than the last, and the stem they are attached to is no longer red.

References / Bibliography

Also try using the full species name “Chimaphila umbellata” as a search phrase in the Native American Ethnobotany Database.

Bearberry / Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Description

Low, creeping, evergreen herb … red berries … waxy oval leaves. Take a look:

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) - Closeup of berries and leaves
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), closeup of berries and leaves … The berries are edible, but rather bland and mealy. They are best when added to other foods that have a richer flavor texture.

Ecology

Bearberry is a “pioneer” plant. This means that when a mature, stable ecosystem is disturbed (such as when a timber company comes in and destroys a forest), bearberry will be one of the first species to move in and establish itself.

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) - Growing in a mat on a rock
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) – Growing in a creeping mat on a rock (the dark green groundcover with the red berries)

Edible Uses

Berries can be eaten, but are dry, mealy, and bland. They aren’t bad though — try mixing them in as nutritious “filler” with one of your stews.

Medicinal Uses

Bearberry is one of the most effective herbal treatments for urinary tract infections, and was used by numerous Native American tribes for this purpose. Chemically, a compound known as hydroquinone (which is present in high amounts in the leaves of bearberry) is responsible. Hydroquinone is strongly antiseptic and antibacterial — and is especially effective against all of the small group (~5 to be precise) of organisms which are normally responsible for causing urinary tract infections.

The hydroquinone in bearberry, however, is contained within a compound called arbutin, which is essentially hydroquinine with some attached sugars. In order for the hydroquinone to act on your body, you need alkaline urine to ensure that once the bonds attaching the sugars to the hydroquinone have been broken, that it will remain a free molecule that can float around in there and kill those nasty infectious little beasties … That is, the hydroquinine will still detach from the sugars if your urine is not alkaline, but it will quickly combine with other chemical compounds, and pass out of your system without doing anything.

How to get alkaline urine? Simple: consume a lot of basic (as in high pH) food/drinks such as milk, cheese, etc. And avoid foods/drinks that contain large amounts of vitamin C and acids — no coffee, orange juice, or key lime pie for you!

Like any other strong medicine, bearberry has a few cautions. First off, pregnant women and children should not be treated with bearberry. It has the effect of reducing bloodflow to the fetus of pregnant women, and is somewhat harsh on the liver, which young kids have a hard time handling. Also, it should not be used for longer than a week — if it still burns when you tinkle after a week of it … you should probably try something else!

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) - Closeup of leaves and stem
The medicinal part of bearberry is the leaves, which contain hydroquinone – highly effective at treating urinary tract infections.

Other Uses

This plant was smoked by a large number of Native American tribes along with or instead of tobacco and other smoking mixtures.

Also used to make yellow-red dye …

Commonly planted as an attractive & edible groundcover in yards and gardens.

Nomenclature

The name means “bear grapes”, derived from Greek arkto (bear) and staphyle (grape). [[wiki]]

Often called uva-ursi, from the Latin uva, “grape, berry of the vine”, ursi, “bear”, i.e. “bear’s grape”. [[wikipedia]]

References / Bibliography

* Plants for a Future — Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
*
Wikipedia — Bearberry
*
Wikipedia — Arctostaphylos

* Botanical.com — Bearberry

* Effects of Bearberry — Uva-ursi for urinary tract infections

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)

Description

Perennial shrub, up to 2.5 m tall, but usually 1 m or less in my experience. Five petalled white flowers … leaves …

Here's my good friend Marvin hanging out behind a thimbleberry bush ...
Here’s my good friend Marvin hanging out behind a thimbleberry bush …


Ecology

Edible Uses

Delicious berries! One of my favorites … They are high in vitamin C as well.

You can also eat the shoots when they are still young and tender — just peel them, and either eat them raw, or cook them up like you would asparagus. These too are high in Vitamin C.

The white flowers can be eat raw as well — put them on a salad to make it all nice and pretty!

A cluster of ripe, red thimbleberries, with one on the cluster that is pink and unripe
Here are some of those delicious fruits (one of my favorite summer snacks) … the pink ones are not ripe yet.

Medicinal Uses

The leaves are antiemetic, astringent, blood tonic and stomachic. An infusion is used internally in the treatment of stomach complaints, diarrhoea and dysentery, anaemia, the spitting up of blood and to treat vomiting. [[pfaf]]]

Leaf and flower of thimbleberries

Other Uses

The large, soft leaves make an excellent toilet paper. Something about the non-waxy, ridged texture grabs the poop well. And the leaves are nice and big so you don’t get poop all over your hands!

And you can make soap by boiling the bark …

Resources / Bibliography

* Plants for a Future — Rubus Parviflorus