Friday, March 20, 2020

Observations of nature in relation to COVID-19

  It's a beautiful spring day.  The sun is shining, birds are singing, flowers blooming and yet the world is somehow in a state of madness.  I just returned to my office from a walk in the nature preserve that is behind my house and office.  For those of you practicing 'social distancing' there is no better way to do it than a nice walk in the woods.  Even others that you encounter on the trails are not going to be closer than six feet by the very nature of the place.
A Redbud blooming on the edge of the woods
  Today there were more people on the trails than usual, but not nearly as many as you would have expected.  I saw many of the regulars, and I also saw many families with kids who are finishing their first week of not being in school because of COVID-19.  It was obvious that the vast majority of those families and those children had never been to the preserve before.  They were busy looking at trail maps and trying to guess how long and difficult the trails were.  With leaves just emerging there was plenty of sun reaching the trails and kids were getting to revel in it.  Think of the immune system boost they got from that additional vitamin D!
   Maybe there is a real silver lining in the panic created by this virus.  First off, it is forcing people to slow down from their usual frenetic pace.  They have to be introspective because they cannot be lost in a crowd.  Here people are actually getting a chance to slow down and look at the wonder of spring marching forward all around them.  Children who might otherwise have spent the day in a classroom receiving instruction completely separated from the world around them are getting a chance to see and experience what they have been disconnected from while in school.  Previously they have been missing the fiddle heads of the ferns emerging from their dormancy, trout lilies and understory trees blooming, small creatures going about their day and birds flitting through the trees.
  Many of the families carried sheets of paper as parents were trying to make this a teaching experience.  I had to chuckle as a group passed me and the Mom told her kids to sing out when they saw a flower.  I told them to look up; they were passing under a Cherokee Crab in full bloom.  No one had noticed.  It takes time and exposure to see the treasures in a forest.  They are much more subtle than those in a garden.   I hope this family decides that they like this experience and comes back into the woods many times in the future.  It is only with exposure that these kids will really come to appreciate the world within the forest, and it is only through that appreciation that they will understand the importance of protecting the world they live in.
  I made a couple of other observations as well though.  Children mirror what their parents do and how they respond to their environment.  The majority of the visitors today were fairly respectful of the place.  There were a couple of families that were decidedly not.  These families seem to have parents who felt that it was perfectly alright to wander way past the established trail.  Thus many young, tender and newly emerging plants were being trampled by a handful of inconsiderate and destructive people.  Flowers others were looking to see were destroyed by people who did not even bother to look at them.  One family group had a woman who was even going so far as to pick up and move logs leaving them far from their original location and disrupting the organisms that had developed a community under them.  Signs throughout the preserve asking people to stay on the trails apparently did not apply to these people.  Their children are learning to disrespect the world around them.
  One final observation needs to be mentioned.  It is spring in NC.  Pollen is a very real presence in our lives this time of year.  Coughing, sneezing and watery eyes abound. That stuff that looks like a layer of yellow snow can really wreak havoc.  Please understand that.  Don't feel a need to panic and run when you encounter someone in the throes of allergy woes.
  Go out!  Social distance and enjoy the world around you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Where have all the bugs gone?

     I have noticed that spring is much more still than it used to be.  The flowers still eventually bud out and bloom, but there is less commotion and I miss it.  What happened?
     When I was growing up the air was literally buzzing from March through November.  Lightening bugs lit up the air all night with their small flashes of light, bees of all sizes and kinds covered flowering things, playing with (moving to other trees and generally enjoying having them walk all over you) caterpillars was an obsession easily satisfied because they were everywhere and catching grass hoppers to stare into their marble eyes and get them to hop a part of summer.
     It is mid April and I have not see a lightening bug yet.  Perhaps it is too early.  Last summer I really only saw a handful of them though.  I have see a handful of caterpillars but very few, and I have seen one grasshopper so far this year.  As for bees, only a few lonely carpenter bees have been around.  Gone is the hive that called the snag in my side yard home.
     Growing up, I remember that my mother judged her home to be clean if it had no bugs.  I can hear her in my mind saying, "Oh, their house was so dirty.  They had a ROACH!"  Was that really a sign of the home being dirty?  She has an exterminator who comes out every time she sees a bug of any kind.  Is her home any cleaner?
     She was not alone in her phobia of bugs.  I remember spray trucks rolling through the neighborhoods pouring out massive fogs of insecticide.  People saw this as a good and helpful thing.
I played tennis with a doubles partner who was terrified of bugs.  I remember once coming to a tennis tournament and meeting up with her mixed partner in the parking lot on the way to check in.  He wanted to know if I knew where she was.  Just as he was asking me, we heard a blood curdling scream.  We had our answer.  It was evening and they had just turned on the lights, which of course drew the bugs.
     I have a neighbor who years ago signed a contract with a 'landscaper'.  This company seems to think that chemicals will save the world.  They spray herbicide multiple times a year, fungicide throughout the summer and insecticide at will.  They have the 'perfect lawn' - nice and sterile and not a weed in sight.  Too bad it is really so ugly.  Yes, I said ugly!  Grass does not grow as a monoculture in  nature and a healthy landscape has plants with holes in their leaves and plenty of bugs.
     It seems as though people fail to realize this though.  Bugs are the ever constant villain.  Even in horror films or science fiction movies, the really terrifying element is usually some larger than life creature that closely resemble a bug.
     What most people fail to see is that that bee or grasshopper or millipede or wood roach or whatever bug you like has a purpose and a function in this world.  Some, like bees, pollinate flowers allowing them to reproduce.  Thus they are very important in allowing trees to produce fruit and plants to provide food.  Others, like the cricket, the millipede and the wood roach help break down organic matter so that it can be utilized to create a more fertile soil.  That additional organic matter in the soil acts to hold that soil in place and thus prevent erosion; it also acts to hold stormwater in the soil preventing it from running off.  They perform both the function of making plant growth better through the soil and removing debris that would otherwise simply continue to accumulate until there was no place left that was not covered.  Even bugs that people identify as having little or no purpose like mosquitos serve to feed other organisms.
     Many people claim to be patriotic and to venerate the military.  They are our 'first and most obvious means of national defense'.  What happens if we fail to have enough food to feed our nation?  What if we run out of water because the freshwater from storms has all run off or been fouled by chemicals and soil from erosion?  What if we lose our plant material because it cannot reproduce or the birds all die off because they need to eat bugs when it comes time to lay their eggs?  What if the fish disappear because they need mosquito larvae for their young?  These things may sound extreme, but if we kill off all of the insects, they could become the new reality.
     We need bugs, all bugs.  We as humans need to understand this and stop our deliberate genocide of insects.  If we fail to realize this and reverse our actions many kinds of bugs will be lost forever.  Without them we will also be lost.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Compost Day

     Today was compost day!  I know that March 25 is Greek Independence Day and the day in which Earth Hour is observed, and I realize that compost day is not a holiday, or even a special day, recognized by anyone except me.  In fact it is not even observed on the same date each year.  It simply happens on the last Saturday of March.  It has for the past twenty years.
     When I first moved into this house, it was newly constructed; in fact it was built to my specifications and following my design.  The site was also treated, more or less, to my specifications.  The site was originally heavily wooded and I chose to keep much of that forest intact.  In the front, it was actually a part of the passive solar system designed into the house and site.  In order to get an initial green, I requested that the contractor plant all areas that were no longer wooded and had been disturbed with a seeding of annual rye grass.  This allowed us to pass the final inspection and get our certificate of occupancy.  It was not a permanent grass.
     Actually, nothing planted on this site at that point would have been a permanent grass.  When the house was completed and the final grading done, any topsoil was long gone and there was nothing left but good, red Triassic Basin clay.  You know, the stuff that Carolina red bricks are made of.  Unfortunately, bricks do not grow healthy plants.  At the most I might have gotten a month out of any seed that germinated and plants put into this rock hard delight would likely have simply continued to grow in their little root ball area as if they were still in a pot.
     What my soil needed was organic matter.  It needed to be taken from purely mineral to an actual living soil.  That first year I had a truckload, think the size of a semi-trailer, of compost delivered from the only locally available compost supplier in the area at the time.  Thus it came from the closest County dump once the Health Department had deemed it completely composted and safe.  The truck pulled up to the front and dumped a huge steaming pile of black stuff said to be primarily yard waste compost.  I then spread it out over all areas that I intended to plant with either shrubs or grass.  It was about two inches deep over all of these areas when I was finished.  I borrowed a tiller and tilled all of this area with a six inch blade.  The top of my soil turned from a hard red brick to a much softer and fluffier soil with a brown tone.  I had a created six inch layer of topsoil on top of my red brick.  Then I planted it.
     What I got was good growth from the new shrubs and perennials and a nice green lawn.  That first year I planted a hybrid dwarf Bermuda grass and then after it was established I sprigged Zoysia grass.  My lawn areas went from green to a checker block of two shades of green and then eventually to a lush thick green grass.
     I committed early on in the process to not use any chemicals on my site.  Thus I was not intending to use fertilizer nor was I going to use insecticide, herbicide or fungicide.  To date, I have been able to stay within those self-prescribed limits.  I've planted things that aid naturally in bug control and used beneficial bugs to get rid of the ones that cause problems, hand weeded (with the understanding that I will not have a complete monoculture) and have used things like milk baths to keep fungus outbreaks to a minimum.  As for the greening of the site, I have my annual compost day.
     After that first massive compost endeavor, I have merely needed an annual booster shot.  I do not need or want to have a two inch layer placed on the site or a six inch till job.  What I need is a little boost.  Thus, I place a thin layer of about a half inch of compost on the beds and grass.  It filters through mulch and grass and makes its way to the soil in a week or two and then is carried into the soil by worms and other soil macrobes.  Once a year is all it takes and because it is not as much being put down, I no longer buy it by the truck load.  In fact, I "make" some of it from my own yard waste.  Once the grass greens up and I start mowing it for the year, I leave the clippings and they also fall through the grass and further help the soil.
     For anyone wanting to go natural, I would like to point out that certified compost is now widely available and you can likely find a local supplier for that initial application.  For subsequent years, you can probably get by with a few bags of prepackaged compost from a garden center.  Yesterday for compost day I got ten fifty pound bags of composted cow manure.  It was stacked and ready for me to place out this morning.  If you are trying this for the first time, I suggest that you purchase one bag and spread some of it out to see what that brand is like.  You want compost that has very little smell (indicating that it has completed the breakdown that makes compost), and a nice black color (indicating carbon).  That color should remain after the compost has had a chance to dry out.  It should not have bits of plastic or pieces of sticks and wood in it.  It should crumble easily in your hand.  Once you have a company that you can trust, buy enough to cover your entire area and spread it out.  I tend to empty each bag into a wheel barrow and then spread it out with a pot.  There is really not wrong way and any inconsistencies in placement are really not a problem.  Macrobes will help get it more evenly spread over time.  Make sure that you DO NOT fertilize.  The compost is enough - for the year.
     As for why I make the last weekend in March compost day, I take my cue from the grass.  By the last weekend in March it is just beginning to green up.  This gives the compost the opportunity to fall through to the soil before I need to mow while making good use of the warming nights and soil to get worms and others out and helping.  You can choose any day of the year that works for you.  In fact, if you have a cool season grass like fescue, you will likely want to make that day work with when that grass is not growing.  That might not be early spring.
     Welcome to the world of organic gardening!   It is actually a lot easier than you think.  After all, you will be using the natural world to do what it does best.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Our Spring Points to Global Warming!

     It is the end of March, almost Easter and it is eighty degrees today here in North Carolina.  This has been another roller coaster weather year.  We had an exceptionally warm December and a colder than average January and February.  The end result is a warmer than average winter for this area.  We have already had several very violent masses of storms pass through the state causing wind and tornado damage. 
     This is not only true for here in central North Carolina, as it turns out.  It is also true for the world.  The World Meteorological Organization announced recently that 2015 was a record hot year.  Both world ground surface and ocean bottoms have been measured as having increased in temperature.  This week NASA announced the February 2016 was on average 2.43 degrees warmer.  This was attributed in part to global warming (1.44 degrees) and in part to El Nino (0.45 degrees) as well as some warming due to unexplained causes (0.54 degrees).  The country has been rocked by several massive fronts that generated violent weather and dramatic changes.  Just this week Colorado experienced weather in the seventies and than a day later two feet of snow.
Daffodils photographed on Feb. 16, 2013.  These same bulbs had not even emerged on Feb. 16, 2016
     What does this really mean to us?  I have kept photo and written records of the advances of the season in my area for years.  Here it seems to have translated to an accelerated advance of the season.  In this area the red maples are typically the first obvious trees to bloom.  That usually happens toward the end of January.  On the ground, daffodils normally begin to bloom in mid February.  By mid April we have obvious leaf emergence and azaleas are in bloom.  This year the red maples began blooming in early February, nearly two weeks late.  Daffodils were also an average of two weeks late beginning.  Once they started blooming, however, the length of time that they were in bloom was extremely short with many bulbs only lasting a couple of days.  This was because we had cold below freezing temperatures until the end of February and then the first week of March we suddenly heated up - hitting the eighties by March 8.  This weekend, the leaf emergence is significant and the azaleas are in bloom.  They are three week earlier than they would be for a normal year.  Thus we have compressed seven to eight weeks of a normal spring into three to four weeks.

Azaleas photographed on April 19, 2009.  This same shrub is currently in bloom - March 25, 2016
     We have all heard about the terrible consequences of global warming on a global scale.  Ocean levels are predicted to rise, ice caps to melt, animals to be pushed out of their normal territory, plants and animals to be pressured and even to be pushed to extinction.  What few people are even considering is what does this do to the human population.
     As ocean levels rise, people are going to be forced to move to higher ground.  This is going to exacerbate an already volatile over-population problem world wide.  We have also experienced more violent and more frequent storms.  On a human level, this is likely not only to create issues of food shortage and health problem increases, it is also likely to exacerbate issues of violence and terrorism.  This has hit home to me this week as I have listened to reports of the bombings in Belgium.
     People who deal with global and local land planning know that two things increase the incidence of violence among the population.  The first is an increase in temperature.  People have a hard time dealing with warmer temperatures.  The higher the temperature the more aggressive people tend to become.  This is an issue that has been receiving a great deal of scientific study over the past several years.  The second issue that leads to greater violence has to do with density.  The closer that people are packed into a place the greater the amount of violence.  We need our space as living creatures or we tend to get on each others nerves. 
     Global warming is having a lot of odd effects on our lives.  We all are beginning to experience it whether we as humans are willing to admit that the problem exists or not.  We all have experienced more erratic weather with obvious changes of our seasons.  That weather has become increasingly more violent.  These changes serve as a subtle reminder of other effects that we also are all being subjected to experience, namely increased violence.  This is a problem we have all contributed to and a problem that we all need to work to fix.  It will not go away by itself and our abbreviated spring is a local subtle reminder of this problem.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Trees! Yes, They Have a Great Deal of Value!

     In this period of renewal where trees are beginning to bud out and new leaves are imminent, I am once again stunned by the various attitudes that people have toward the large woody organisms around them.  The range of reaction goes from people to understand the importance of trees and staunchly defend them all the way to the opposite side of the fence - people who find them to be something to be feared loathed and removed.
     Two conversations in the past week have struck a chord.  Both concerned trees to be cut down on private property.  The conversations were polar opposites and as such were cause for a good deal of thinking.
     The first was with a client.  She has a historic home downtown and is in the process of developing part of her property for additional residential use.  Her home is a beautiful Victorian home several stories tall and contains several large oak trees in the front yard.  Most of the trees are in great shape, but one is in decline.  It has reached old age!  It is also a 'champion' tree as defined by Town Code.  As a result of aging, it is beginning to lose back and the smaller outer branching.  Her development and the proposed Town street improvements will further stress this tree and will most likely be the straw that breaks the camel's back.  She is now needing to decide whether it is important to her to attempt to save this tree, which does greatly define her front yard, or to remove it because it is rapidly becoming a potential hazard.  This is a difficult decision for her because she has fought for this tree for years.  Her husband felt that it was a hazard a number of years ago.
     The second conversation was a bit more stunning.  One of my neighbors waved me over and began talking about removing trees from their site.  They have a half acre of mature oak trees in great shape and are currently in the process of removing them one by one.  It has been sad and sickening and tragic to see them cut these trees down.  In this case, she was busy arguing that the trees were a nuisance and that she wished that they were all cut down.  "They're dangerous!", she exclaimed.  "We had thirty thousand dollars worth of damage from trees when Fran came through.  I don't want that to happen ever again."
     It is true that many people had roof and house damage when Fran, a Category 1 hurricane when it came through this area,  ploughed its way inland.  We also had damage to our house.  But Fran came through nineteen years ago.  Hurricanes pushing their way this far inland are extremely rare.  You cannot create a situation of absolute safety.  People live in areas that are completely devoid of trees and still lose homes to hurricanes and to tornadoes that either spin off from the hurricanes or are spawned by severe thunderstorms.  As I pointed out to her during that same conversation, I had ten thousand dollars of damage to my roof five years ago due to my next door neighbor's house fire.  That was actually worse than the Fran damage because the hurricane damage was covered by homeowners insurance.  The fire was caused by my neighbor who after nine months of argument had themselves declared 'not legally liable'.  Thus neither my insurance nor their insurance covered it.  I paid for my damage out of my pocket; she paid for her damage with an insurance check.
     What my neighbor is missing is that those trees that she is busily cutting down are more valuable to her than the potential damage that she is seemingly avoiding.  Each one of those mature oak trees is worth - in crass dollars and cents - $5000 to $10,000 in the overall value of the property.  They have already reduced her property value by $40,000 to $50,000 just by their actions this past year.  That will take twenty to thirty years to recover and only if they replant immediately.
     Those trees also provide a aesthetic that it is impossible to place a value on.  Trees are wonderful to look at and help to improve mood.  Scientific study has proven repeatedly that trees create a sense of well-being and calm that is not present in an open area, even one that is planted.  That is one of the reasons why the more recent push to plant trees in school and public spaces.  That calming effect lowers the crime rate and increases the ability of a person to concentrate.
     Those trees also greatly improve the micro climate of a site.  Trees provide much needed shade which is hugely helpful in a location like ours which gets extremely hot in the summer.  Those trees that they removed were likely lowering the temperature of their house by at least ten degrees in the six months of summer that we experience here in North Carolina.  They were also acting to remove water from the soil, they have repeatedly complained about the wet soil in their back yard which is actually riparian buffer around the creek braiding that runs there.  That water is put back into the air as a result of transpiration and further acts to cool the air in the summer months.  This year their back yard will be considerably hotter and the soil much more mucky.  This same process also acts to greatly improve air quality in the vicinity of the tree.  Trees take in air - including pollutants - and expel oxygen minus the pollutants which are then sequestered within the wood of the tree.
     Finally, this neighbor has been violating Town Code.  The trees that they cut down were 'champion' trees.  They should have been removed only after having obtained a permit from the Town.  The reason for this is that the Town has come to recognize the importance and value of trees.  This kind of code is rapidly showing up all over the country.  Trees are a natural resource that effect more than the immediate property owner.  These neighbors are placing their personal choice over that of the public and breaking the law in the process.
     Trees are more than just pieces of wood sticking out of the ground.  They are living breathing organisms that provide valuable improvements to a property and to the surrounding community.  Their removal needs to be considered carefully and their loss should never be taken lightly.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Better Late than Never - Spring at Last!

     Every year I make note and mark the timing of certain landmark changes in the advance of spring. This year was an especially bad winter and as expected things were especially late in blooming and breaking their winter dormancy.  This is a somewhat unscientific averaging of observations of when I notice what I see to be landmark plant responses to the spring.  The observations have been taken over a period of twenty years and have shown an interesting trend.
Rose Cane and woods - Feb 13, 2014
     First of all, the landmark start times have varied wildly over the years with some years having very early starts and some being quite late.  This year was later than any that I have observed.  Yes, Virginia, it really was a very long and cold winter.  You were not dreaming that or exaggerating your suffering.
      The scientist in me is always fascinated to note that the dates always manage to converge to a common start time by May.  No matter how bad, or mild, the winter, at some point the plants begin their start at roughly the same date, and that point in the years seems to be early May.  That indicates that weather and temperature definitely impacts the breaking of early spring dormancy, but at some point in the year the diurnal period (the length of the day) takes over.  This year is no exception.
     The following is a listing of what I have noticed over the years:

          Red Maple - Average blooming start Jan. 20 - 2014 blooming start March 1
           - 1.5 months late
          Daffodils - Average blooming start Feb. 15 - 2014 blooming start March 15
           - 1 month late
          Oak / Pine - Average blooming start March 25 - 2014 blooming start April 7
           - 2 weeks late
          Azalea / wild iris -  Average blooming start April 20 - 2014 blooming start April 25
           - 1 week late
          Wild and hybrid rose - Average blooming start May 15 - 2014 blooming start May 12
           - on time

     It is interesting to notice this for more than just the fact that eventually the plants manage to right themselves and reach a predictable state.  It is also interesting because there is so very much debate concerning climate change.  I have listened to many poorly informed people this year claiming that this year was a perfect example of the fact that climate change is a hoax.  What they are ignoring is that one of the symptoms of climate change is just what happened this year - wildly variable and extreme temperatures.  This year Alaska had a number of days during the winter that were actually warmer than we were experiencing here in North Carolina.  We had a cold winter due to arctic air moving down into the middle of the country rather than remaining in the north where it is normally expected.  This is not a normal event.  I have noticed other things in the past twenty years.  We have greater extremes in rainfall.  We have had several years of drought and then followed them with excessively wet years.  I realize that twenty years of observations are a very short period of time in comparison to the life span of the earth and that one weird year does not indicate a trend.  However, I also am alarmed by the rapid change that I am seeing.  You cannot keep track of the advances of the year and not see an overall change.

Rose Canes and woods - May 12, 2014
    I am also impressed by the resiliency of nature to right itself.  Eventually the plants do bloom, leaves do come out and grow.  On years that the winters are especially cold and long, I have noticed that growth moves quickly to catch up.  Leaves that emerge early in mild springs seem to mature much more slowly than leaves that emerge later in the year due to a cold spring.  They seem to reach maturity at roughly the same time.  I have also noticed through the years that on years when spring came early, blooming was spread out over a longer period of time with less actually blooms at any particular point in time.  On cold years, blooming appears to be later but with more things blooming at one time.  Somehow, the passage of spring manages to even itself out.
     Let us all hope that nature can do what we as people cannot seem to be able to do.  We must work to stop the actions that we as humans have done to initiate climate change.  Maybe, if we can do that, nature can take over to right the wrong that we humans have caused.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Poke Salad Annie Had Good Reason to be Mean

     I was out for a run one nice morning this past fall - going my usual slow pace.  Two much younger and fitter women passed me and kept on going.  They were carrying water bottles and they stopped ahead of me and nipped into some green, healthy vegetation; popping out minus the water bottles.  I know the greenway that we were running on well and the plants that grow along side of virtually every inch of it.  So, I called out to them to stop and wait for me.  When I got to them I explained to them that they needed to retrieve those bottles and then run straight to the nearest public bathroom, about a quarter of a mile and wash the bottles and themselves well with soap and water.
     Without realizing it, those two had walked into a vary healthy patch of pokeweed and used it as a place to store their water bottles.  That's right poke weed as in poke sallet, and famed in the song 'Poke Salad Annie'.  Why, you might ask, would that be a problem.  After all, don't people eat it?  While it is true that people do eat it, touching it can be a real problem.
     Pokeweed is a common native plant found throughout much of the United States and eastern Canada.  Only a handful of western states and western Canada do not support this plant.  It is a large perennial herb that can reach eight to twelve feet tall in a single growing season.  It is commonly found growing in open woods, roadsides, damp thickets and clearings.  The plant itself dies down to the ground with a hard freeze, but the root remains viable and regenerates in the spring.
     The plant can be easily identified by its large smooth-edged leaves that can reach up to a foot in length and its thick fleshy stems that range in color from green to red.  Flowers are found in long clusters.  They are small white five-sepal flowers without petals.  The fruit emerges as long clusters of green berries that eventually ripen to a dark purple.
     The entire plant (flowers, berries, roots, stems and leaves) is poisonous.  Among the chemicals that the plant contains are water-soluble triterpene saponins including phytolaccigenin.  The plant also contains phytolaccin and phytolaccatoxin.  These can be broken down by cooking - thus the making of poke sallet.  Cooking requires boiling and multiple water changes.  However, if not properly cooked, they can cause abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and in sever cases convulsions and death.  Toxin amounts are greater in the berries and roots.  Thorough cooking breaks down these toxins, and that along with the plant's ready availability explain why it was a favorite food source among especially the poor in the eastern part of the country. 
     Most country people know that the plant can be eaten if cooked, but few people know is that it is not safe to collect.  Besides the toxins listed, the plant also contains a type of protein lectin that can cause serious blood cell abnormalities and an alkaloid, phytolaccin.  Serious cases of poisoning can cause anemia, heart rate and respiration changes, convulsions and death from respiratory failure.  The juice of the plant can be absorbed through the skin making it a serious dermal toxin.  It is more dangerous if the handler has any cuts or breaks in their skin.  Because of this, it should never be handled with bare hands.  Ironically, the heart and respiratory symptoms from poisoning can cause brain damage and subsequent mood changes.  Thus, Poke Salad Annie might really have been a mean enough to make 'the alligators look tame' because of eating poke weed.