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  • Tricia Edgar

What's That?


In the community of nature educators, there's a lot of discussion about naming plants and animals. Should you focus on finding the name of a plant or animal? Does this open up avenues for further connection, or does that give you a false feeling that you understand that plant, simply because you know its name?


To me, knowing a name of a plant is like knowing the name of a person. A name can be part of my relationship with that plant, a shorthand for some of the wonderful properties that make up that plant. However, I don't assume that because I know the name that I know everything about the plant. I am always amazed by how much more there is to learn.


I like to get to know plants by connecting with them over time. Sit next to a plant and observe it up close. Learn how animals, other plants, and fungi interact with it. Make something with it, if it can be used in that way. Get to know that plant through the senses.


I also get to know plants by learning their names, because that way I can learn more about them from other people, in addition to my own observations.

Today, get to know a plant. Choose a plant that's close to your home so that you can visit it often. Observe it closely. What do you notice about its colours? Its leaves? Can you see any animals visiting the plant? Where does that plant like to live? The nature educator Joseph Cornell has many suggestions for questions that you can ask the plant. You can also simply sit with the plant and see what it might want to tell you!


If you'd like, you can also learn your plant's name.


If your local bookstores are doing book drop-offs, you could order Plants of Coastal BC (Pojar and McKinnon) or Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples (Nancy Turner). These are two of my favourites as they have excellent descriptions of plants' growth habits, habitats, and uses, and they also have wonderful photos and diagrams. Strong Nations is one of my favourite online book stores, and they have the truly wonderful Pacific Northwest Plant Knowledge Cards.


If you're relying on web-based resources, take a look at these online sources:

  • The Royal BC Museum has videos and written resources about coastal plants.

  • Washington State University has information about specific plants in the Pacific Northwest Bioregion.

  • Apps like PlantSnap use facial recognition technology to determine what plant you're looking at. Be aware that the way you're holding a leaf and the leaves around it could potentially lead to misidentification.

  • This video describes the plant identification methods used in the book Botany in a Day.


However you choose to get to know your plant, I hope that you make a close connection with a new being today!


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