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Natural History at Ragged Chutes
~ page 2 ~

~ Leatherwood (Dirca palustris) ~

    Along the trail, Ted stopped periodically to identify and discuss many of the plants and their relevance to the forest food chain, as well as their traditional uses by man. The first of these plants was a Leatherwood (Dirca palustris), a slow-growing shrub with smooth, tough bark. The strong but pliable bark could be removed and made into strips for use in tools and other objects (For further information, see page 2 of the PDF document, "Dirca palustris" by Zasada, et al.) As can be seen from the leaves of the plant in this photo, this Dirca was also host to some form of leaf-mining insect -- most likely a species of Diptera, a small, colourful, woodland fly species that lays its eggs between the two leaf layers.

    ~ Groundnut (Amphicarpa bracteata) ~

    The Hog Peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata),which is often found along forest trails and roadways, yields two kinds of fruits. The above-ground vines produce seeds, while below ground, its tuberous root system yields small, potato-like enlargements growing on fibrous strands just below the earth. The seeds are eaten by birds, while the tubers are eaten by forest mammals. Native peoples also consumed these fruits, either raw or cooked (for further reference, visit MuseumLink Illinois' page on People in Forests).

    ~ Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis) ~

    Often encountered along forest trails, the Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis), posseses hairs which impart a painful sting to the unwary. However, its young leaves are edible when cooked, and its fibers, when stripped from the stems, can be twisted into twine for various uses (see several references to human use of Laportea canadensis on Southern Illinois University's online ethnobotanical page Nettles For Food and Medicine by Aimee Trojnar). Insects must also derive some benefit from the Wood Nettle, as demonstrated by the riddled state of the leaves in these specimens.

    Continued on Page Three.