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Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Teaching plant life-cycles with Bushcraft

Anual, Perennial, Biennial; there are lots of words to describe the life-cycle and life span of plants. Countryside management students need to have a knowledge of these terms and their meanings if they are to control certain invasive species, the control method may demand that they spray, pull or cut the plant at a certain phase of it's growth,  or plant species beneficial to local wildlife, such as cover crops, wild bird seed mixes or pollen and nectar plots for invertebrates. They will also need to be able to identify the plants at the various stages of it's life-cycle.

One method of illustrating this to students which works very well at this time of year is to take them out foraging for burdock. Burdock is a plant that they should all be familiar with and which they should be able to recognise. It illustrates perfectly the distinction between the first and second year of growth in a biennial plant. The end of the first years growth is the stage at which burdock should be harvested for it's roots and at this phase of it's growth it's leaves will be dying off leaving a large swollen root underground. Before the leaves disapear completely they can be used to locate the root which can then be dug up. During it's second year of growth the plant will have developed a long flowering stalk and will have produced the 'burrs' which give burdock it's name, if you were to dig up the plant at this phase you would find a tough shrivelled root underneth which would not be edible at all.

Foraged Burdock roots after a bit of scrubbing, ready to be baked in a campfire. All these roots came from relatively small burdock plants but as you can see they are quite large. Over the summer the root has become swollen and will provide the plant with the nutrients and energy it requires to survive the winter and continue into it's second year of growth next spring.

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