Hey y’all! My name is Judson Collin s and I’m a rising Junior at Centre College, where I’m majoring in Environmental Studies. Everything about the things I study interests me, but I’ve especially fallen in love with plants! Plants have pretty much taken over my life in the last few years, and I intend for it to be that way for the rest of my life. In addition to being an avid sustainable gardener, I also run an online plant business called Pin Oak Tropicals where I sell and ship rare and interesting plants to fellow phyto-enthusiasts across the country!
Recently, I began selling some of the plants I grow in my hometown at the City of Whitesburg / Letcher County Farmers’ Market. Interacting with folks there has been a nice change of pace, especially after having been in an almost total lockdown situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Meeting new people, letting them know a little about what I do, and helping to teach people about my more unusual plants has been a greatly engaging experience. Market attendees that stop by my tent often chat with me at length about their past experiences with some of the plants I sell, or how the kinds of plants their grandmothers grow look similar to ones on my table. Even without selling anything, I still enjoy exchanging knowledge from the passerby.
Plants are a part of everyone’s lives whether you’re aware of it or not. The food we eat, trees lining the road, and wildflowers in a vase on your kitchen table, all of these things sustain us and bring us a little joy. Often, people don’t know how to appreciate plants as the individuals they are, and lump them all together and call it “greenery” or “foliage”. This is actually a real psychological phenomenon called “Plant Blindness”. I think one of the most important things you can teach someone is how to identify plants. You don’t need to be a botanist or a naturalist to be able to tell one tree from the next, or the weeds in your garden from unintentionally planted edibles. All you really need is a desire to learn and the internet or a field guide! Why is it important to be able to tell plants apart? For starters, it’s good to know what’s edible from what’s not in case you need to find emergency food (or if you’re just feeling a little adventurous!)
Another reason is to be able to identify the family or even the genus of plants that are common in your area, so that you know what kinds of food crops that are related to those wild plants. If a close relative of a certain food crop does well in unmanaged areas, then chances are your food crop will do well in that climate too! For example, Queen Anne’s Lace, which is the undomesticated version of the carrot Daucus carota, grows in large quantities and very vigorously in much of Kentucky, and thus many Kentuckian gardeners have great success with their carrots! The same can be said of Phaseolus beans, which are closely related to kudzu (Pueraria montana, of the family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae), and I’m sure we’re all well acquainted with the “vine that ate the south”.
Most of plant identification can be done just by looking at the morphology, or physical characteristics, of the plants in question. Leaf shape and growth habits can be good traits in identifying, but usually the key sign in the identity of a plant is its floral structure. Knowing more about plants can help you understand how to take care of them, how to propagate them to share with others, and learn a little about what that plant does for the other organisms it interacts with, like the bees that may pollinate them, or the caterpillars that may eat them.
Plants are the basis of almost all life on earth, and deepening our knowledge about them is important so we know how to take care of them and conserve them, should the need arise. Everyone loves a garden, food on your plate, a walk through the woods, or a bouquet of roses, so let’s help each other learn how to make our gardens, farms, and forests thrive!
Thanks for reading!
If you’re interested in ordering from my online stores, this link will navigate you there: https://linktr.ee/SlightlySwirly