As I’ve become more familiar with Bay Area plants over the years, it
is difficult for me to go hiking and not think to myself, “Yum, blackberry—oh look, bay laurel—I didn’t know horsetail grew around here.”
If you go hiking with me, I will inevitably make you touch or smell some plant along the trail whether you want to or not—I guess that is the teacher in me.
And as a teacher, I learned that if you just show a kid a plant, they may not remember the name of it; but if you tell them an interesting fact about it, or how it relates to their lives, there is a better chance that knowledge will stick.
So what sort of interesting facts and stories might the plants of a redwood forest tell us? If you were stranded in a redwood forest, would you be able to survive?
First let’s think about food—you need to be able to eat. There are many berry plants you could snack on, including huckleberry, blackberry and
thimbleberry. Additionally, you could go through the complicated process of gathering and shelling acorns from oak and tanoak trees; or pick a few hazelnuts from the California hazelnut plant. If you happen to find some miner’s lettuce, that would be great to munch on as well. (Thimbleberry and hazelnut would also make great toilet paper, as their leaves are soft and fuzzy!)
If you happen to get sick or injured, red alder—which contains salicin, a chemical similar to aspirin, in its bark—may be able to help you. The pungent California bay laurel was used by natives to help with headaches and stomach pains. Put a rolled-up bay leaf in your nose and your headache is gone!
When nighttime comes, you will want to pile up some sword ferns to create a nice bed inside a cozy redwood tree goose pen.
This is by no means a complete list to the many plants in a redwood forest which can be useful to you in a time of need, but hopefully this gives you at least one interesting story to tell a friend next time you are hiking together. And remember, many forest plants look alike—don’t ingest any wild flora without being absolutely sure of what they are!