Botany Unbound part 2: Ancestral ᛏᚱᛖᛖᛊ

These are about specifically important ancestral trees. They are those native born, steeped in myth and medicine and have been

cultivated  in the four corners of our mother terra. All of these are specifically important to me, and I wish to describe their value, both practical and natural. The biology/botanical jargon, their sometimes edibile purposes, the means of them used by tribes, the symbolism/totemic stature, and their beauty…

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California Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) and Wolf Lichen (Letharia vulpina)

:Called by the Concow tribe hö’-tä, the incense tree grows from Baja to the tip of Mexico in the west of North America is a host for the wood wasp (which is considered a living fossil species) to lay its eggs in the smouldering bark after a forest fire. It also is home to a parasitic type of mistletoe (Phoradendron libocedri) that can often be found hanging on its limbs. It is from the Cupressaceae and cultivated now in Great Britain. The wolf lichen grows in western/continental Europe, Pacific Northwest where I took this photo, and the Rocky Mountains. It was used as a dye and for making paint by indigenous people and the Achomawi tribes made poison darts from it.  The lichen contains a yellow pigment called vulpinic acid which is poisonous to mammals except mice and rabbits, and has been used for hunting foxes and wolves. The lichen was stuffed into deer carcasses with powdered glass. The glass would destroy the inside of animals organs and make the poison infused in their system. It was also used as a poultice by Plateau Indians for swelling, and drunk after boiled to stop bleeding. The Indians of the Klamath river soaked their porcupine quills in the extract and used them to weave baskets.

American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
:From the Plantanacea family, and grows in the Eastern United States and southern Ontario/Quebec. It was brought from Europe in the 17th century but grew wildly in the Tertiary and Cretaceous periods in Greenland and Arctic America. The mottled exfoliating bark that resembles a natural camouflage. Growing to massive proportions of normally 40 metres. It survives transplanting, and therefore imported as an exotic species to many other countries. The leaves are a delicacy of the sycamore leaf beetle, unfortunately a pest to the tree. Agriculturists are considering using it as a biomass crop.

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Pacific Redcedar (Thuja plicata)
:In the Cupressaceae family. The pollen and carbon dating give it a colonization birth of about 6600 years old, and was about half of the vegetation of the Fraser Valley for 500 years. It is riparian meaning it grows between land and a river/stream. A chemical called Thujaplicin is produced in mature trees is a natural fungicide. They can lie for up to 100 years after being felled or fallen without rotting. The wood is used to make beehives and kayaks in Europe and by indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest for constructing totem poles and masks, and the roots for clothing. They also held this tree as a totem for their people because of their dependability on it. The oldest ever tree of this kind was sadly burned by vandals and fell to the ground creating ‘Giant’s Grave’. Artistic carved antlers (as tools) have been found be archaeologists 8000 years ago, which may have suggested the use of the tree by Indigenous people. They offered propitiation to the trees spirits when they were felled, as well as the surrounding trees.

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Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
:In the Pinaceae family, it is the most vast species of tree in the Cascades and prominent in all forest types and soils. Its symbolism has become iconic as well for conservation and used in protest movements for the Cascadian Independance movement. The botanist who discovered has introduced this and many other species to Europe. It has attained heights of 120m. Native Hawaiians used to build waʻ kaulua (canoes) from the trees that drifted ashore. Also it has been used in mast building and boat construction because the growth rings are closer together, meaning the wood is stronger. It is a moth attractor, preyed on by the larvae of at least 5 species.

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Willow (Salix)
:Hippocrates knew willow bark could ease pains and reduce fevers. It has long been used in Europe, China and Egypt. The bark is often macerated in ethanol to produce a tincture with a blood red color. The very popularly cultivated strain is the Weeping Willow which is a hybrid between an Asian and European species. The trees can take root from cuttings or twigs that have fallen on the ground. There is a legend about the England’s willows descending from one tree, of which had taken root from a couple twigs tied on a package from Spain to an English poet. The bark and leaves were medicinal to the Assyrians, Egyptians and Sumerians. The chemical inside resembles aspirin. Willow wood is used heavily for all handicraft and building purposes like; chairs, charcoal, flutes, poles, sweat lodges, paper, rope and wands. The catkins are edible. The willow branch is part of the bodhisattva of compassion in Buddhism and are also the sign used by the Mandan tribe of Dakota to commence to Oh-Kee-Pa ritual.

Ginkgo Tree (Ginkgo biloba)
:living fossil tree native to China and Japan, that existed in the Permian Age 270 million years ago. It is from the divison pre-dating Angiosperms (flowering plants) and descending from seed ferns. They are unique in that some trees are male and some are female, ‘dioecious’, so the sperm is motile. It was thought once to be extinct, but had secretly been preserved and planted by Chinese monks for 1000 years! This is from the genetic diversity found in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. The leaves inhibit a re-uptake at the serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine transporters. Meaning they cause the neurons to absorb these chemicals in the body. It is traditional medicine and food in China and they apparently have nootropic effects. Some of the temple trees are 1,500 years old, and others had survived in the vicinity of the Hiroshima bomb, still living today.

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