Sunday, March 18, 2007

Extremely Sweet with Many Feet

This wonderful Big-Leafed Maple (Acer macrophyllum) is one of my favorites on my walk to the beach. It is only about two hundred yards from my place, and I always have to stop and admire its moss-covered branches which are festooned with the lovely epiphytic Licorice Fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza; aka P. vulgare). The Licorice Fern is called such because of its licorice-flavored rhizomes. I usually see it growing in the thick moss on the Big-leafed Maple, where it can be instantly identified by its distinctive pointed tips. The Indians of the area often chewed the rhizomes for their flavor, and they were used as a medicine for sore throats and colds.

These ferns are luxuriant during the rainy season, and I have seen them growing in great abundance on the eaves of an old shed. They shrivel up, however, during the dry months. The generic name, Polypodium, means many feet which apparently applies to the footlike appearance of their rhizomes. Glycyrrhiza means "sweet root" which refers to the fact that the rhizomes contain ostadin, a steroid, which is three thousand times sweeter than table sugar! No wonder that the people in this area used it as a sweetener also.

Read a detailed description here with a mention how these ferns have been involved in forming polyploid species. Instant speciation involving nondisjunction is a topic for later I think!

All the early spring flowers are pretty much in bloom now. Forsythia, flowering crab apple, and of course camellias are blooming. The camellias in this area are amazing with large bushes tall as the eaves of a house being common in the older sections of town, where they usually begin blooming about the middle of January. I am always disappointed in the camellias that I see, however, because they all seem to be touched with what I call the "brown blight" which causes the petals to turn brown and ugly. This is especially evident in the white camellias. Apparently this is caused by a fungus. The Great Northwest is a fungus heaven! I hope to photograph the many mushrooms this coming autumn.

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