Written by Molly Meehan, Community Outreach and Education Coordinator
As I journey into my third year working at the Accokeek Foundation and, essentially, my third year directing my attention toward our incredible local plant world in Southern Maryland, I am beginning to understand the mysterious and wonderful language of the local plants. The landscape is almost like one of those magic eye pictures. If you just turn your attention in a certain way long enough, relax into the view, you begin to see and understand things that weren’t apparent upon first observation. One could look at our incredible forests and gardens and just see a sea of green, different, indistinguishable shapes and sizes. These are the plants of my childhood and now, as an adult – and having been away from Maryland for nearly a decade, learning about plants in the southwest and Central America – I am thankful to have the chance to connect more deeply with the land and the plants where I am from.
This season, we have focused much of the stewardship programming on understanding the language of the plants, how to see past the sea of green, begin to observe, and to learn and connect with the incredible diversity of plant-life located within Piscataway Park. Holly Poole-Kavana, a trained botanist and herbalist from Little Red Bird Botanicals is facilitating a season long botany study course, as well as a couple of plant walks as part of this programming. Each month, we learn everything from the anatomy of a plant to the various traits and patterns of plant families. As we walk through the gardens and trails and learn practically what a compound vs. singular leaf is, toothed vs. entire leaves, alternating or opposite, we begin to understand the language of plants, and the tools to be able to continue to go deeper into plant identification and understanding the world around us. Along the way we learn amazing information including their edible, medicinal and practical uses. We have these natural supermarkets and “farmacies” that surround us! The Pawpaws, Jewelweed, Elderberry, Juneberry, Yellowdock, and Devil’s Walking Sticks all begin to pop out at you!
In the Gardening with Dan series we spend time in the Museum Garden and learn incredible strategies to integrate food, medicine, fiber, and more into small-scale plots. We begin to develop relationships with these plants. They become like old friends that greet you along the pathways, and even speak to you through their patterns, tastes, and scents. The intelligence of the natural world comes alive and at once awes and inspires. No matter what culture or background we are from, these are relationships our ancestors have developed with plants and animals over thousands of years. I believe these are relationships and instincts that are very much a part of each us to this day, that have been encoded as we have evolved living as part of our natural system. As we spend more time indoors, programs such as these offer us the opportunity to remember, to re-learn, and reconnect! Now the sea of green is beginning to come into focus!