Patterns in the Leaves

When I began learning about foraging this weekend, I didn’t think the first lesson would be about leaves. It’s such an obvious element, and it’s something that I barely pay attention to, but after a few hours applying my knowledge, I can’t unsee the way I see trees and plants.

I still have no idea what this is

It mostly began when I found this plant at my parents’ house up north from Montreal. I decided that this would be a great way to apply some knowledge. I sat down with my new survival book to begin.

Now it turns out that there are 3 fundamentals to identifying plants. Branch pattern, leaf margins and vein “patterns”.

There are 6 different branch patterns and the plant I found is along the vein (heh) of ‘alternate branching’

As illustrated, you can see that the leaf stems at seemingly random points along the branch. Compound leaves would see the leaves growing directly across each other on the branch. Referring back to the first image now, I learned that the leaf margin is what is called ‘serrate’. Its sharp edges are what helped me settle on serrate rather than say, crenate; which is more rounded.

Now the final part is using the leaf’s veins. Firstly, while I always visually saw that leaves had veins, it never really registered with me. It makes perfect sense, of course, but I never put two and two together on plant construction.

Venation, however, is trickier for me to identify. The book doesn’t go into too much detail and the similarities between Pinnate and Palmate veins aren’t clear. It’s something I need to put more effort in.

I’d love to put in more time and research into this subject. Perhaps this serves as a foundational post, and a Part 2 is a more comprehensive, practical blog post? Food for thought, please let me know yours.

I continued looking at the plant through the light and settled on Pinnate only because the leaf used in the book looked like the ones I was holding. To sum up, the 3 characteristics of my plant were the following:

  1. Alternate branching
  2. Serrate margins
  3. Pinnate veins

Using this information I tried various databases, and I encountered a new roadblock. In the same way this blog post perhaps left the impression that these were the 3 main identifying characteristics, there are SO many others. A person can go as granular as possible to find the exact plant. For example, this website gives me many more filter options, but I suspect this is to be used for a more experienced individual that has specific scientific mandates. This one offers really cool filters like pH soil selection.

Anyways the point is, I failed to identify this one plant. I’m not discouraged, I’m simply more aware of serious I need to be if I want to acquire these skills, and the effort it will take.

If any of you are wondering why it was so important for me to find the name, it’s for two reasons. Firstly, the exercise was a good first step in learning, and then applying. I didn’t put in as much time as I’d have liked, but a step is a step. Secondly, knowing the common name, and scientific name are very crucial for foraging. The guide explains that many plants can look similar, nearly identical, even. One will offer you nutrients, and the other, well…It could kill me. That’s a very harsh reality I need to contend with. So developing my database of floral knowledge will come from separating common names, and properly knowing scientific names so I can understand what I should, and should not, eat.

So while I still have a lot to learn, I’m really happy that I can already get to work in my day to day life. I know there’s a plant waiting for me at the office and I’ll look at it for a few minutes while consulting the book to try and figure out its 3 characteristics. I can only improve from here.

That’s it for this blog post! It was a great first step, and I’m seriously considering putting together a more knowledgeable post in the future. Once the weather clears up, I’ll also start vlogging my outdoor adventures. Hope you stick around for more!