I’m dreaming of a bright Christmas—sunny with temperatures approaching the low 70s. The iconic “White Christmas” is so 1940s! Forget the fact that Bing Crosby’s version of Irving Berlin’s song is the best-selling single of all time. A white Christmas is a historical song from 1941. We must look on the bright side of global warming as it relates to “climate change.” We just need to change our perspective. Speaking with my 87-yr old dad in Maine, he remarked that as a kid, he and his friends were always skating by Thanksgiving. I reminded him, that we—his kids—were also skating by Thanksgiving! During my Maine childhood a white Christmas was a given. Now, ponds and lakes barely hold ice in some Maine winters. But of course, a Maine winter is why this Maine native lives in the Ozarks.
Every time I experience, feel, and see beauty in nature, I am humbled and awed. I love how water changes into myriad forms of beauty in ice. I also love each and every strand of evolving, changing, adapting, mutating DNA that is The creator’s building block of creation. I don’t believe in DNA, the stuff of The creator’s evolutionary magic. I don’t have to. It exists whether I choose to believe in it or not. Recent religious thought teaches us that the Earth is flat and the Earth is the center of the Universe. And “recent” I define as what historians calls the “early modern era” beginning about 1500. As one historian friend put it, “Anything that happened after 1500 is by definition current affairs.” I don’t believe in global warming. I don’t have to believe in it. Science has blessed me with a magic wand known as a thermometer. Burn me at the stake.
The beauty of snow, sleet and freezing rain
Which brings me to snow, sleet and freezing rain, and what differentiates them. Snow is created when a mass of cold, freezing air is uniformly below freezing from the Earth’s surface to the upper atmosphere. Sleet
is formed when the air aloft is like a sandwich. In this case, the upper levels of the atmosphere are below freezing and when it snows, the snow passes through an atmospheric layer above freezing, causing the snow to partially melt. It then passes through a relatively shallow layer of below-freezing air at the surface, creating sleet. Freezing rain forms when rain from warm air aloft reaches below-freezing surfaces at ground level, caused by a shallow layer of cold air at the surface. Expect to see plenty of all three types of frozen precipitation this winter—courtesy of global warming.
Hoar Frost Beauty
And I love the beauty that all that ice in it’s myriad form creates. Take hoar frost for example. We’ve had beautiful hoar frost (also known as hoarfrost this year. But what is hoar frost? I turned to the website of the National Snow and Ice Data Center for a definition “Hoarfrost: A deposit of interlocking ice crystals (hoar crystals) formed by direct sublimation on objects, usually those of small diameter freely exposed to the air, such as tree branches, plant stems and leaf edges, wires, poles, etc., which surface is sufficiently cooled, mostly by nocturnal radiation, to cause the direct sublimation of the water vapor contained in the ambient air.”
Hoarfrost, therefore, is like dew, except when it’s cold enough outside to freeze water (that is when it’s 32°F or 0°C), and there’s moisture in the air, then hoar crystals (flat crystals that interlock together), form from the moisture in the air when it comes in contact with the edge of the object that is below freezing (or vice versa?). So if you get up early enough, especially after a clear cold night, you can experience the direct sublime beauty of hoarfrost in all its simplicity.
Glorious Ice Ribbons
Another winter beauty phenomena I love is frost flowers and ice ribbons. Perhaps new to your natural history vocabulary, we can also call this phenomena “crystallofolia,” a term coined by Bob Harms of the Plant Resource Center, University of Texas, Austin, who has been investigating the phenomena we commonly call “frost flowers”— those beautiful ice formations that are produced at the base of only two native plant species in my Ozark home. Our two native plant species that exhibit this phenomenon are American dittany (Cunila origanoides) and white crownbeard or frostweed (Verbesina virginica) both of which are late-blooming wildflowers. Their frost flowers or twisted ribbons of ice appear for a few days (up to a couple of weeks) after the first hard freezes in autumn. These ephemeral sculptural beauties in ice appear at the base of the plant.
The delicate, elegant ice formations emerge laterally from the stem, just above the ground in the case of American Dittany, but from ground level to two feet up the stem in the case of white crownbeard. Why does this phenomenon only occur in a select few plant species instead of all plants? Speculation is that a combination of characteristics unique to the plant in combination with the external physical forces provides a perfect opportunity for the frost flowers to develop. The xylem, vascular tissue within plants that helps conducts water upward in the stem, is probably quite firm, with secondary rays at a right angle that is strong enough to conduct water during a frost event but its tensile strength reaches a point during the first cold frosts, that freezing water burst through the epidermis at a right angle to the stem. As it does so, it ever so slowly punches moisture into the freezing air extruding ribbons of ice. I love these beauties of nature.
Pennsylvania physician, William Darlington (1782-1863) seems to be one of the first to record observations of frost flowers in Cunila, or as he called it, Maryland Cunila. In the second edition (1837, p. 350) of his Flora Cestrica (an herborizing companion for the young botanists of Chester County, Pennsylvania) he writes: “In the beginning of winter, after a rain, very curious and fantastic ribbands [sic.] of ice may often be observed, attached to the base of the stems of this plant—produced, I presume, by the moisture from the earth rising in the dead stems by capillary attraction, and then being gradually forced out horizontally, through a slit, by the process of freezing. The same phenomenon has been noticed other plants.”
Predicting When Hell will Freeze Over
How do you survive a cold winter? Perhaps the best way, short of a long trip to a tropical location or being condemned to a mythical inferno, is to get a comparative perspective on someone else’s cold winter. In the English-speaking world we can turn to England, which has the longest series of monthly temperature observation datasets recorded back to 1659. This dataset is known as the CET (Central England Temperature), recorded in Celsius.
The winter of 1683-84 is believed to be the coldest winter since records have been kept, with a “great frost” settling in by mid-December for the UK and Central Europe. By January of 1684, the Thames River was frozen all the way up to London Bridge. The Thames itself remained frozen for over two months, with ice measured to a depth of 11 inches. In southwest England, in Somerset, it is said that the ground froze to a depth of four feet. Southwest England, has a relatively mild climate, tempered by the Gulf Stream in the winter months, and Azores high pressure systems in the summer. The winter of 1684 had thee coldest CET at –1.2 deg. C. This period of cold winters lasted for several centuries. From 1408-1814, the Thames froze over 24 times; sometimes the ice was deep enough to support “frost fairs” on the Thames (the last one in 1814).
This is all within a period known as “the Little Ice Age”, a phrase first used in the scientific literature until 1939. It is loosely defined as a period from about 1350-1850, with three particularly cold periods around 1650, 1770 and 1850. Attributed causes include low cycles of solar radiation, increased volcanic activity and variables in ocean circulation.
Fewer sun spots may cause cooling. The years 1645-1715 represent a period of weak solar activity (fewer sun spots) known as the Maunder Minimum period (in which only one-thousandth of “average” expected sun spots occurred). This solar lull is theorized to have trigged regional cooling in the Northern Hemisphere. Since 2008 we have been in a period of “solar maximum” yet only half of the sunspot activity expected has occurred. This has led some scientists to speculate that we could be heading toward a period of “cooler “solar activity within the next 40 years. Add that into the global-warming equation, and you still get climate change
Dispatch from County Cork, Ireland! Just returned from an Herbal Excursion to the Emerald Isle, sponsored by Cynthia Graham at Nurse Natural Path. Among the many things that I learned is that what you read into your own expectations may not be true. For example, I did not expect any place on earth at 53 degrees North latitude to be harboring palm trees and herbaceous plants from the Amazon. The warm clothes I brought with me proved mostly superfluous, a pleasant surprise, indeed, while basking in the comfort of temperatures in the low to mid 60°F range.
We visited Blarney Castle on 30 August 2015, famous for the Blarney Stone, which one kisses to gain the gift of eloquence and exposure to unknown microorganisms from tourist the world over. The first castle at the site was a wooden hunting lodge built in 1210, which seems old until you consider that some of the stone structures in Ireland were built a thousand years before the great pyramids in Egypt. The present Blarney Castle was built in 1446, so in Irish historical terms, it is a relatively new structure. Please forgive my lack of eloquence as I was too busy looking at the plants around Blarney Castle to stand in line to kiss the Blarney Stone, and as I wrote the intital draft of this article I was well into an evening draft or two of Guinness.
Instead, at Blarney Castle, I spent most my two hours at the site in the Poison Plant Garden, which is the only one of its kind in Ireland. I was somewhat amused by the selection of plants in the garden, which included our Ozark native mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) and skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora). While mayapple has legitimate claims to toxicity, black cohosh and skullcap themselves have no real safety issues except for products bearing their names that have been adulterated with toxic imposters. Nevertheless, by association in the absence of a complete understanding of the literature, the casual observer might think that they have some toxicity. There was a display of our native eastern North American poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) imprisoned in a cage with thick iron bars that a grizzly bear looking for a honey-rich beehive could not break-through.
One of my fellow travelers beckoned, “Steven, look at this.” And there at the other end of the garden, beneath what appeared to be a repurposed geodesic dome playground monkey bar were caged marijuana plants. The warning sign was boldly emblazoned with skull and cross bones, a warning of the potential danger of the plant. Hmmm, I thought. A playground structure as a make-shift cage for marijuana plants? This can only be Irish humor.
I will be conducting a day-long photo workshop at the American Botanical Council’s Case Mill Homestead headquarters in Austin on December 6th. See this link for more information.
We admire them, we love them, we use them. Do we really know them? A great way to consciously spend more time with plants is to photograph them. With photography, what you see is not necessarily what you get. There’s a few things to know about what makes a good photograph, and how to capture it. It doesn’t matter if you are using an iPhone or hauling around 20 pounds of camera equipment. How do we see plants in a way that helps us to better understand them? There’s plenty of information to learn from books, but spending time with plants is a great way to gain more knowledge and understanding of plants and how to see them. Photography is only a tool that allows us to slow down to spend time with plants. Ultimately you photograph what you feel, not just what you see.The great American photographer, Ansel Adams wrote, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” The objective of this workshop is to give you confidence with your ability to see the plant world through the eye of the camera to produce good photographs.
Photography is about understanding simple concepts such as light and timing—being in the right place at the right time, and patience. Like anything worth doing, photographing plants requires practice, and that gives us the opportunity to learn more about plants at the same time. Learning to keep your photography simple and understanding the equipment you have will enhance the quality of photography and the intrinsic value of your time with plants.
Topics Covered: The focus will be on techniques and ideas for improving photographic skills with practical hands-on fieldwork. It’s more about understanding simple concepts—lighting, being in the right place at the right time, and patience. And like anything worth doing, practice, practice, practice. We will explore working with ambient natural light and making the most of the equipment you have. Nature presents special conditions for photographing in the environment.
One key to successfully capturing images is to know and understand your equipment. I’m an equipment geek, so I would recommend a decent digital camera body, close-up lens (macro lens or a diopter for a fixed lens). When people ask me what “my secret” is to getting great plant photographs, I can attribute it to one piece of equipment my a tripod. Photographing plants may require relatively long exposures, so besides the camera itself, a decent sturdy tripod and cable release is very helpful for plant photography. One other very essential piece of equipment is the camera manual. Read, re-read it and read it again until you begin to understand all of the features available and understand your camera’s basic operation. If you don’t have an array of equipment, don’t worry. You can take great photographs with your mobile phone.
As George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak put it, “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
We will cover essentials helping to understand photographic concepts such as depth of field, focus, exposure, composition, making the most of ambient light, and macro techniques. This is a hand-on experience.
Greetings from the Southern Maine Coast, as I contemplate my personal and family history in a be-here-now moment. My parents, married in 1951, have lived in the same house since. They are both in their mid-80s and mentally-sharp. “Going home” is going home, to the house in which I was raised.
I turn to memories of vegetation as is my obsession. In the past week I’ve been scanning old family photos. Amongst the files was a long-forgotten newspaper interview with me from the Portland Press Herald published in 1990. The accompanying photo has me ankle-deep in dandelion blossoms on what we called the side lawn at my parent’s home. My dad, Herb, reminded me that my grandmother, Lena Foster, went out every spring and harvested dozens of dandelion crowns—the rosettes of leaves obvious before dandelion flowers. I fondly remember eating my grandmother’s boiled dandelion greens with a dash of vinegar. In his 65-years of maintaining, mowing and improving the side lawn, my dad has proudly managed to turn the entire lawn into a monoculture of neatly mowed grass. “All of the dandelions are gone!” I exclaimed. “Good,” my dad, Herb replied.
I see their absence as a symptom of a greater evil—our society’s insatiable appetite for mowing and mowing machines. The fields surrounding the property, less than 2 acres, are mowed a couple of times during the growing season. Grass takes over a field once thick with wildflowers, such as common milkweed food of monarch butterfly larvae. Oh that pesky word “weed.”
“Why did you have that field cut now?” I asked my mother. “Why? she replies as if I’m daft, “Because the grass was too tall.”
My childhood memory banks flash back to scenes of crouching amidst the un-mowed thicket of common milkweed, aflutter with monarch butterflies. The colors and movement were punctuated by the random symphony of polyrythmic insect buzzes, hums, and chirps.
When I was born in 1957, mowing was done with non-motorized push mowers. The cut was rough, but only a small area was mowed. Tractor-mounted mowers were used only to harvest hay. Now Americans are obsessed with every manner of hand-held, self-propelled, riding, and undoubtedly soon, robotic mowing machines. A Professor at the University of Massachusetts Plant Sciences Department, Lyle E. Craker, reminds me that the best high-paying jobs available for graduates in plant sciences is in the field of “turf management.” I haven’t mowed my yard this year. Interesting mix of grass species going to seed.
“Hey Dad, maybe you should change your name from Herb to “Turf.”
In honor of Jim Duke’s 85th birthday (April 4th, 2014), and the release of the 3rd edition of our Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants: Eastern and Central North America (release date: April 8th, 2014). A personality profile first published in Otober 2001, updated April 4, 2014,
Jim Duke leaned over to me and warned in his Alabama drawl, “You’re going to get the tropical bug.”
My forehead stiffened with a worried glance. I pulled out my immunization card. ”What do you mean? I’ve got all of my shots. And here’s my malaria pills.”
“No,” Duke comforted, “I mean, after you come here once, you will want to come back as much as you can. If it wasn’t for the fact, that I can’t get Peggy [Jim’s wife] to live down here, I would move here myself.”
We were on a flight from Miami to the humid, heat-laden air of the ancient rainforest city of Iquitos, Peru. You may remember the main character in the 1993 new age mystery novel TheCelestine Prophecy “driving” to Iquitos. The fact is, there’s only two ways to get there — by air or via the Amazon River. There are no roads to Iquitos. “capital of the Amazon.” I was traveling to the Amazon for the first time with the American Botanical Council’s “Pharmacy from the Rainforest” program in the fall of 1995. Since our group numbered over 100 people, the instructors got bumped-up to first class. I sat next to Jim Duke, who had made the trip too many times to count (up to ten times a year). It was my first trip to the real tropics, besides a short stint in Guatemala during the dry season. The flight was rough. The flight attendants plied us with drinks, and our conversation lasted the length of the flight. Duke treated me like he was leading a kid to a candy store.
On the four-hour flight, he told me story after story, and prepared me for what lie ahead. “Every ten feet you walk, you will see something different,” Jim explained. “The diversity is incredible. Near my home in Maryland there are about 30 species of woody plants per hectare. In the Peruvian rainforest there are over 300 woody species per hectare. This unbelievable diversity must be must be experienced to be believed. Words can’t describe it.”
After a night in Iquitos, the 120+ participants loaded into boats and went down the Amazon River to Explorama Lodge, a rustic, but comfortable facility featuring all the creature comforts a rainforest camp can offer (with emphasis on “creature” as a tarantula-sized spider crawled across my room). “You get it out,” I told my roommate Larry Wilson, the herpetologist on the trip. You’re the animal guy. I’m just a plant guy.” He grudgingly obliged. Explorama Lodge served as the main camp for the trip. Two other locales were featured, Napo Camp, and ACEER Camp, up a major Amazon tributary—the Napo River.
Dr. Duke was the perfect host. One afternoon he took herbalist Amanda McQuade and me to visit a friend of his who lived on the Amazon’s banks. The farmer grew sugar cane, which he turned into a sickly sweet version of white lightening in a battered old copper still. “Rum”, Jim called it. The farmer’s wife made drinks for us — half fresh-squeezed ginger juice and half “rum”. It sure took the cares away, and cured the tourista, too. Why, if an Anaconda had swam by in the nearby rushing waters of the Amazon, I might have just hopped on its back and taken a ride to our next day’s venue — ACEER.
ACEER— the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research— was a couple hours away by boat (followed by a 30-minute hike through the primary rainforest. ACEER is Jim Duke’s home away from home, now that he is “retired”. At ACEER, Jim Duke, along his local shaman colleague, Don Antonio, freely share knowledge on the ethnobotany of Amazonia. Duke’s infectious love of the Amazon, its people and flora inspire all who travel there, as he tromps barefoot through the jungle, seemingly oblivious to the ants, swarms of insects, and occasional reptile that might lurk beneath the understory. For those who know Jim Duke from North American venues such as scientific conferences, herb gatherings, or a North Carolina bluegrass stage, you know that his is really at home — where his heart is — when you see him in the primary rainforest of the Amazon.
Duke was right about his prediction. I did get the tropical bug. Since traveling to the Amazon with him, I am committed to taking a trip to a tropical location at least once a year. I thank him for that.
I met Jim Duke in the autumn of 1978 long before his fame had traveled from the halls of relative academic obscurity to herbal celebrity. We met in the backyard of Paul Lee PhD who had been unceremoniously dismissed from a teaching position at Harvard (along with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert aka Ram Dass) after publication in the Harvard Crimson of an exposé on LSD experimentation co-authored by an undergraduate student later to become guru of alternative medicine—Andrew Weil, M.D.
Jim had just walked to Paul’s house from his hotel, with notebook in hand, documenting varieties of opium poppies (Papaversomniferum) whichgrew as ornamentals in people’s yards. At the time I was 21 years old. I had just left the Sabbathday Lake Maine Shaker Community where I had been for four years. Having grown up in Maine, that trip to California, was my first trip west — west of New York City. Here, I was meeting some of the giants of medicinal plant research for the first time. We were attending an international herb symposium at U.C. Santa Cruz organized by Paul Lee.
First impressions are everything. I didn’t even know how to start a conversation with someone of the stature of Jim Duke. He was one of the few medicinal plants researchers at the time, and certainly the only scientist in the Federal government researching herbal medicines (at least clandestinely if not officially). At the time he was Chief of USDA’s Economic Botany Laboratory in the Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland.
Humility rarely follows success. Duke, as he refers to himself, turned out to be a Southern gentleman first, a famous scientist second. His interest in poppies grew out of his second stint with USDA starting in 1971, which took him to Iran to study species diversity in opium poppies as part of his professional role in researching crop diversification and medicinal plants in developing counties. His passion for how humans use plants as medicine, rolled from his tongue like a kid licking a lollypop. At once, he put me at ease. Here was a man who was more interested in what I might have to say to him than in what he might have to say to me. He stood next to a Mullein plant in Paul Lee’s garden. I snapped a photograph as Jim Duke recited a poem.
The photo of him I took that day along with the poem on mullein, are in one of Duke’s more obscure of over thirty books, Herbalbum-An Anthology of Varicose Verse, published in a staple-bound photocopied edition in 1985 — a collection of over 400 herbal poems and a couple dozen songs set to bluegrass melodies. In case you are wondering how the syllables breakout for pronunciation, that’s “herbal-bum” for the poems. The songs were released under the same Herbalbum title, but in this case pronounced “herb-album”— a vinyl record of bluegrass songs written and performed by Jim Duke and his bluegrass buddies (later released on tape and CD).
Dr. James A Duke, a key figure of the “herbal renaissance,” a phrase coined by Paul Lee, is a renaissance man in the broadest sense. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, April 4, 1929, Jim Duke was a bluegrass fiddler by age 16, even appearing at the Grande Ole Opry. An interest in plants was not far behind his interest in music. In 1955 he took a degree in botany from the University of North Carolina. In 1961 the same institution conferred a doctorate in botany upon him. Postgraduate work took him to Washington University and Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. It was there where he developed what has become to this day, as he puts it, “my overriding interest — neotropical ethnobotany.”
Early in Duke’s career with Missouri Botanical Garden his work took him to Panama where he penned painstaking technical descriptions of plants in eleven plants families for the Flora of Panama project, published in the Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. During his years in Panama he also studied the ethnobotany of the Choco and Cuna native groups. The Choco are a forest people who lived scattered along rivers. The Cuna live in villages. Another fruit of these years was his first book — Isthmanian Ethnobotanical Dictionary, a 96-page handbook describing medicinal plants of the Central American isthmus.
In 1963, Jim Duke took a position with the USDA in Beltsville, Maryland, focusing on tropical ecology, especially seedling ecology. From 1965 to 1971, he worked on ecological and ethnological research in Panama and Colombia for Battelle Columbus Laboratories. Jim Duke doesn’t talk much about this work. However, if you put some of the pieces of the puzzle together, his more obscure scientific publications of this era reveal the focus research.
Many of his publications were prepared for his employer on behalf of the former Atomic Energy Commission. The work was akin to environmental impact statements on the effects of radiation on tropical organisms. President Kennedy had an idea. He initiated a feasibility study to widen the Panama Canal, or perhaps excavate a new canal to accommodate supertankers. The project was called the Atlantic-Pacific Interoceanic Canal. America had a tool that would easily accomplish the excavation work —nuclear devices— nuke the Central American isthmus to create a new canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific! Duke’s studies may have helped to show that the excavation technique may not be such a good idea.
After that stint, Duke returned to USDA in 1971 where he worked on crop diversification, creating a database called the “Crop Diversification Matrix” with extensive biological, ecological and economic data on thousands of cultivated crops. His interest in medicinal plants never waned no matter what unrelated tasks government bureaucrats pushed his way. In 1977 he became Chief of the Medicinal Plant Laboratory at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland, and then Chief of USDA’s Economic Botany Laboratory. At the time, USDA was under contract with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to collect plant materials from all over the world for screening for anti-cancer activity.
One NCI scientist with a vision to explore the plant world for potential anti-cancer compounds was the late Dr. Jonathan L. Hartwell (1906-1991). His pioneering work on the common mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) resulted in the isolation of podophyllotoxin and several other compounds known as lignans, which eventually led to the development of drugs used in chemotherapy for the treatment of testicular cancer and small cell lung cancer. In July 1960, a contract was established with NCI for USDA to begin collections of plant materials for screening potential new anticancer compounds. Over the next twenty-years, about 35,000 species of higher (flowering) plants were screened for activity against cancer. About 3,000 of those demonstrated reproducible activity. A small fraction of these (including mayapple and yew derivatives) were eventually chosen for clinical trials. Jim Duke supervised these collections in the later years of the program.
On October 2, 1981, the Board of Scientific Counselors, Division of Cancer Treatment at NCI decided to abolish its plant-screening program — not enough new drugs came from the research. Later in the 1980s new automated laboratory technologies emerged, with better cell lines targeted toward human cancers resulting in the NCI reforming its natural products screening program. This time, however, collection contracts were given to major botanical institutions such as Missouri Botanical Garden and the New York Botanical Garden, rather than USDA.
Jim Duke continued his work at USDA as Chief of the Germplasm Resources Laboratory, collecting data and plant material on food crops from around the world. He continued his association with the National Institutes of Health and the NCI working on potential anti-cancer and anti-AIDs drug leads. Later, from 1990-1992, he consulted with NCI’s Designer Food Program (to document plants with potential cancer-preventing activity) under the direction of the late Dr. Herb Pierson. During the Reagan Administration, he was also charged with the unenviable, and as Jim Duke himself admits, “impossible” task of finding a replacement crop in the Andes for coca, the ancient Inca stimulant and source of its abused alkaloid, cocaine.
Duke not only continued his personal interest in medicinal plants — increasing his database to include over 80,000 plant species — but began a flurry of publication activity which continues unabashed. Works from this era include many of his important scholarly books such as the CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, (CRC Press 1985), a standard technical reference, yet still a good read for the layperson.
After more than 30 years of service, Dr. Duke retired from USDA in September of 1995. “Retirement” is hardly a word that applies in the traditional sense. It was more like a coming out party. What retirement meant for the herb world was that Jim Duke could write what he wanted to write and say what he wanted to say—no more government sensors. Retirement for him, by fate not design, was the beginning of a new career as America’s herbal guru, tempered by a dose of Alabama charm.
Ten years ago Dr. Duke lecture circuit included about 100 venues a and he led nearly 100 trips to the Amazon. He now spends most of his time at his rural farm in Maryland — Herbal Vineyard — with wife of many decades, Peggy Duke, a noted botanical illustrator and teacher in her own right. There you will find “the barefoot doctor” pulling weeds in his vast organic herb garden, perhaps the largest private medicinal herb garden in the country, with over 80 plots of plants arranged by disease condition, representing hundreds of species of medicinal herbs.
Many of the databases he produced during his decades as USDA, such as Father Nature’s Farmacy, are available on-line at (http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/). There, you will find a wealth of information on the phytochemistry, ethnobotany, and biological activities of thousands of medicinal plants.
How do you write a story about someone you’ve known for 23 years [now for 36 years] who’s been profiled by everyone from People Magazine to the New York Times (and more than once in each) without sounding glib? When I started writing this profile, I decided to go through my Duke files. That search netted a pile of correspondence, articles by him or about nearly two feet tall. Sometimes having too much is worse than having too little!
At a seemingly ageless 85 years young , Jim Duke is still in producing new books. My library is arranged by subject; except for two authors — famed nineteenth century Cincinnati pharmacist, John Uri Lloyd and Dr. James A. Duke — both the only authors in the medicinal plant field prolific enough to warrant their own shelves. Duke has some catching up to do, though. My shelf of John Uri Lloyd books is three feet wide. My shelf of Jim Duke books is a mere two feet wide. I expect Jim Duke will make up the difference, and I hope one of the titles that fills that space will be a Jim Duke memoir [hasn’t happened yet].
The Duke Lexicon up to 2001
Duke, J. A. 1972. Isthmanian Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Fulton, Maryland: Author.
Duke, J. A. 1972. Lewd Latin Lexicon. Fulton, Maryland: Author. [A dictionary of colloquial slang in various Central American languages and dialects]
Duke, J. A. 1981. Handbook of Legumes of World Economic Importance. New York: Plenum Press.
Duke, J. A. 1981. Medicinal Plants of the Bible. Buffalo, New York: Trado-Medic Books.
Duke, J. A. 1985. Culinary Herbs: A Potpourri. New York: Conch Magazine, Ltd., Publishers.
Duke, J. A. and E. S. Ayensu 1985. Medicinal Plants of China. Algonac, Michigan, Reference Publications, Inc.
Duke, J. A. 1985. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, Florida, CRC Press, Inc.
Duke, J. A. 1985. Herbalbum: An Anthology of Varicose Verse. Fulton, Maryland: Author.
Duke, J. A. 1986. Handbook of Northeastern Indian Medicinal Plants. Lincoln, Massachusetts, Quarterman Publications, Inc.
Duke, J. A. and A. A. Atchley 1986. CRC Handbook of Proximate Analysis Tables of Higher Plants. Boca Raton, Florida, CRC Press, Inc.
I think it’s great that the Eureka Springs City Council is proposing Ordinance No. 2201, which aims to “update and expand City beautification and to eliminate health and safety issues.” Citizens asked the Council to update the current code so as to “keep privately owned areas clean and safe. . . .” Good idea?
The proposed ordinance includes item “A” of Section 1, which involves my specialty “plant vegetation.” When human nature is compelled to legislate Mother Nature, I think God puts his hands on his hips, raises an eyebrow, frowns and shakes his head in disbelief. “How am I going to explain this to Mother Nature?” God muses. “She’s not going to like it.”
The ordinance contains well-meaning and ambitiously ambiguous definitions of broad categories of vegetation that grow where you live (property ownership not required!)—“owner(s) or occupants(s) of property” within Eureka Springs will be required to “maintain, cut, and/or remove weeds, grass and/or any other non-cultivated plant(s) (flowers, shrubs, vegetable plants etc.), which exceed the height of eight (8) inches. Bamboo may be cultivated with in the city limits, but should not encroach upon another citizens/city property or become an obstacle to vision while driving.”
I have to cut “any non-cultivated plants to a height under 8 inches?” Is the Council aware that trees are plants? I am thoroughly confused about the bamboo provision. Bamboo is a grass—a member of the Graminae or Poaceae—the very clearly defined grass family. But grasses are already covered elsewhere in the ordinance. Does the bamboo provision in the absence of a definition pertain to plants to which the common name “bamboo” is applied, such as Nandina domestica, commonly grown in Eureka Springs and known as “heavenly bamboo”? It’s not technically a bamboo therefore not a grass; it’s just called “heavenly bamboo.” Maybe the Council really meant hellish bamboo for purposes of the ordinance. Heavenly bamboo like hellish bamboo is an “obstacle to vision while driving.” What’s with the blatant discrimination against bamboo as “an obstacle to vision?” What about all of the other plants that are obstacles to vision while driving?
In the Building Inspector’s job description, I ask is he or she qualified or competent to distinguish grass from bamboo, heavenly bamboo from hellish bamboo, non-cultivated plants from cultivated plants, weeds from weed?
Thank you City Council for providing my comedic introduction for a summer lecture tour on how humans relate to plants.
You can find the draft of the proposed ordinance at the official City of Eureka Springs website. Just click on the “Ordinances” menu tab, then click on “Proposed Ordinances.” Whoops—that link doesn’t work — “sorry for any inconvenience.” Seems like updating the website has gone the way of updating the street sweeper.
As Mother Nature said to God, “You created this human problem. Please fix it.”
What do the Ozarks and Ukraine have in common? Echinacea—a genus of nine species native to central and eastern North America. Three species are used in commerce, one of which is the common Echinacea purpurea grown as a garden perennial, but it also occurs wild in and is native to the Ozarks. Echinacea purpurea root is the most commonly used herb in the Ukraine, both in terms of commercial production and as a home-grown medicinal herb.
In the 1980s I collected seed of wild-growing Echinacea in the Ozarks and in 1984 produced what was at that time the most comprehensive literature review on Echinacea. The work came to the attention of researchers at the Academy of Science of Ukraine. A steady flow of letters arrived from several scientists in Poltava, a city about 200 miles southeast of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. Seed of wild-collected Echinacea purpurea from Izard and Stone counties in Arkansas was supplied to agronomists in Poltava. By the early 1990s, the progeny of that wild Ozark Echinacea purpurea was cultivated in the Ukraine on a large scale.
My correspondence with botanist Viktor Samorodov and agronomist Sergei Pospelov of the Botany Department, Academy of Science in Poltava, and Victoriya F. Pochernyayeva, professor of clinical pharmacology, with the Public Health Ministry of Ukraine, began a few months after April 26th, 1986, the date of the catastrophic nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. Ukraine was still part of the former Soviet Union. The Chernobyl disaster prompted scale-up of commercial cultivation of Echinacea after research by Dr. Pochernyayeva showed that extracts of Echinacea purpurea have a protective effect on free radical damage of organs and tissues exposed to ionizing radiation, a protective affect on the male reproductive system (from radiation exposure), and were useful in treatment of mouth and gums lesions (also associated with radiation exposure). In relatively short order they developed various preparations and modes of delivery. One of the flagship products was an Echinacea vodka.
In June of 1999, an International Echinacea Symposium, hosted by the American Herbal Products Association, was held in Kansas City. I helped arrange for my three Ukrainian colleagues to come to the symposium as featured presenters. Following the Symposium, they piled into my car and came back to my home in Fayetteville, Arkasas and spent a week in the Ozarks. My Ukrainian friends dubbed me “the king of Echinacea in Ukraine.” I trust they will survive the current crisis another chapter in Ukraine’s turbulent history.