Dr. Elisha Mitchell

While scanning the shelves of a rare bookstore in Asheville several months ago, I happened upon a regional volume by Elisha Mitchell I’d been seeking for many years. Titled Diary of a Geological Tour by Dr. Elisha Mitchell in 1827 and 1828,

In living colour

Cedar waxwings and American holly are with us year round. The waxwings wander around a lot in extended family groups, but they can be spotted in any season here in the Smokies region. Holly trees don’t wander around, of course, but they are evergreen and — unlike deciduous trees — present the same general appearance all of the time. But waxwings and holly don’t really — in my opinion — come into their own until winter. The birds are so named because sexually mature males and females display a waxy-like red spot on each wing that juveniles lack. The first part of their common name indicates their fondness for the fruits that cedar trees bear.

The second soul, that of physiological life, is located in the liver, and is of primary importance in doctoring and in conjuring. This soul is a substance, is not anthropomorphic in any, has no individuality, and is quantitative, there is more or less of it. Its secretions are yellow bile, black bile, gastric juice, etc. Destruction of the liver substance produces lassitude, the “yellows” (jaundice or hepatitis, or cirrhosis) or the “black” (deep depression or gall bladder attacks or acute pancreatitis). Exhaustion of the liver substance (absence of the soul) produces physiological death. This soul may be attacked by the conjuror, producing false “yellows” or “black” as “simulation diseases,” reproducing the symptoms of witch-attack, or it may be actually consumed by witches to produce the standard form of liver-gall-pancreas diseases. The witch lengthens its life by extra supplies of liver-soul.

— Frans M. Olbrechts, editor, “The Swimmer Manuscript” (1932).

A plant’s purpose

There are more than 300,000 plant species in the world. Some are edible, some can be used for their medicinal properties, and many are poisonous. The latter category is defined by Nancy J. Turner and Adam F. Szczawinski in Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America (Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 1991) as “plants and parts of plants that contain potentially harmful substances in high enough concentrations to cause chemical injury if touched or swallowed.”

A honey of a locust

Every few years, there will be a bumper crop of long flat strap-shaped honey locust pods, many up to two inches wide and a foot or more in length. Hanging in abundance along roadsides, they always bring back childhood memories.

Rocking out

Here in the southern mountains there are magical habitats to be explored in every direction and at every elevation. Periglacial boulderfields are among the most unique of these. I learned about them some years ago when I happened upon this description in Charles E. Roe’s A Directory to North Carolina’s Natural Areas (Raleigh: N.C. Natural Heritage Foundation, 1987):

The gall

The various relationships that exist between plants and animals are fascinating. My view of wildflower ecology is dominated by the specific pollination requirements of a given plant. Insect pollination is usually a two-way exchange in which the insect benefits as much as the plant. One achieves fertilization while the other obtains precious energy stores.

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