The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas, and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.
On Sunday I took a hike out into my woods to look for morel mushrooms. I found one. I might have harvested many more had I not been startled by a “spreading adder” snake, Heterodon platirhinos that I almost tread upon. I knew it was a spreading adder because of the way it reared up, acting all fierce, looking like a cobra until I did the Arkansas two-step, backwards. I then perched on a boulder to see what my dogs and cat would do when they caught sight of it. I think my cat smelled it first because, though she was many yards away, she suddenly growled and raised her fur, doubling her size. My dogs were oblivious for several minutes until Snoop finally heard it rustle the leaves. He came to attention, snarled and barked but did not approach the snake. The cat snuck up on the reptile and stood guard over it until everyone finally lost interest and went separate ways.
Spreading Adders do not have a toxic bite. They will head butt anything that is not scared off by their attitudes. They feed on amphibians, especially toads. The one that resides in my woods is grey on top, lacking patterns and has a yellow belly. Also known as a hognose snake, one can tell a spreading adder by its upturned snout. As a gardener, I wish this snake would not need to eat toads, as these creatures eat a whole lot of pests that bother the plants.
Continuing the hunt for the elusive morel, I noted spring beauties and toothwort in bloom and trout lily leaves carpeting the wet forest floor. The new trees leaves will soon mask the damaged crowns broken by the big ice storm several years ago. I experienced a quiet acceptance of both the joy that new spring growth brings and the sadness of the destruction left by that terrible storm. I also got my first tick bites of the season and removed dozens of them from my clothing with tape. If only I had found as many morels.
Elder shrubs are leafed out, both in the woods and in the herb garden! In the Heritage Herb Garden we are excited to have a whole lot of elder cuttings making roots as well. These will be on sale to plant in your garden, as soon as we have them potted up. Elder is Herb of the Year 2013®. The flowers and berries provide good and prolific wild food and beverage ingredients. Medicinally, both the flowers and fruit help to ward off and will shorten the duration of the flu virus. Little wonder that the International Herb Association would honor this useful plant. A book of the same title is available at the Herb Shoppe, inside the Craft Village along with other Herb of the Year publications. Each Herb of the Year contains in-depth information on the featured herb, from cooking to medicinal remedies and chemistry to growing requirements, written by experts and passionate herbal hobbyists.
This week there is so much to do between thunderstorms. In your garden and mine, the henbit, dead nettle and chickweed have gone to flower and need to be removed from the garden beds and fed to the compost pile. Mulch the freshly weeded soil with finished compost. It is time to make space for new plants! I hope you will pay a visit to the Ozark Folk Center to see our selection of herb and native plant starts.
Get out into the woods to enjoy this wet and cool spring. If you are out in the wild, be sure to wear insect repellent. Speaking from Sunday’s experience, I can testify that the ticks are numerous and hungry! Bring your field guides to be sure to know the identity of the mushrooms before eating them and to give the spreading adders a break. If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture!