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At-Risk Tool presented in Texas!

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The Powers of the Prairie and the Texan Inmortal aka Asclepias asperula….
This Texas milkweed, a uniquely beautiful Asclepias, is commonly known as “inmortal” for its seriously strong medicinal value. The milkweed’s name, inspired by the Greek physician who became known as the “father” of medicine, makes sense when thinking of the value of pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa), another potent medicinal milkweed. I was taken in by this native prairie medicine while exploring the LBJ grasslands in Texas, since I had never heard of the “inmortal”. The dried root is noted for being used in small doses to assist in stalled childbirth and to treat enlarged, or congested hearts. Highly toxic as well, this BIG medicine is not for the inexperienced. Milkweeds are known not only for their medicinal value, but also as critical food for various pollinators and their unique role in the prairie ecosystem.
Asclepias asperula….

This brings me to my visit to the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, known to most as BRIT (www.brit.org). I was thrilled to be able to visit the state of the art LEED certified solar powered, native prairie plant roofed botanical library and herbarium collection that has become globally famous for its innovation. BRIT is famous in my neck of the woods as the publisher of the newly printed and long awaited Flora of Virginia. No other publisher wanted to take on this task, and those that turned it down should feel some regret considering the first run of the book sold out in just a few months. It’s refreshing to visit an institution that values sustainability and the role of native plants in the ecosystem. In the evening I attended Kelly Kindscher’s talk on Medicinal Plants of the Prairie, and the unique program Kelly oversees at Kansas University, referred to as the “Native Medicinal Plant Research Program” (www.nativeplants.ku.edu). Students go out in the field and collect large amounts of certain plants species that have been identified as having key ethnobotanical uses. These plants are then dried, processed, and tested for certain chemical characteristics that might lead to potentially new drug development. One promising plant that has shown real potential in the fight against cancer is the fruit of the wild Physalis longifolia, commonly known as wild tomatillo. This is one plant you may want to grow, eat and enjoy—those wild tomatillos!

Next Spring UpS will be gathering in Kansas to celebrate the medicine of the prairie, with a Planting the Future Event scheduled for June 14th, 2014.

The reason I was able to go botanizing at the LBJ grasslands and drop in to check out BRIT was that I was in Texas to present with Kelly Kindscher and Lisa Castle the “At-Risk” tool as a new methodology at the annual gathering of the Ethnobiology Conference. Not only did we present UpS funded research, but in addition Lisa Castle presented a poster of using the tool as a teaching guide, and one of her students, Zella Classen, presented a poster on using the tool to assess the vulnerability of native plants to over harvest. Overall the tool was well received. A journal article will be published soon, as well as UpS placing the tool on the website.

Click on images below to see pdf image of posters.

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