In The Weeds: White Snakeroot

“Weeds are flowers too,” said Eeyore, “once you get to know them.”

A few weekends ago, my boo, Isa, and I went on a walk in Prospect Park. She’s an avid birder (is there any other kind?) and I love plants more than cheese, new shoes, and lots of other Very Good Things. It was my first time in the park in the fall and I was amazed that even in October, there were fat, speckled berries on the trees and a rainbow of flowers along every path.

Although birders keep lists for big days (Isa’s that day had a pin warbler, a dark-eyed junco, a clark’s nutcracker, and 9 others), most plant people want more. We like to know where a plant comes from, how people have used it, how it grows, where it got its name, and at least three fun facts to foist on a friend who never asked us to identify it in the first place.

All of which is a long way of saying that it’s high time for a weekly series where we learn everything we can about weeds. I’m starting with intrigue; this weed’s story is a heady mixture of animal husbandry, deadly contagion and, of course, a good dose of misogyny and white supremacy.

As we walked through Prospect Park, every trail seemed to be bordered with clumps of small, white flowers. I identified them as white snakeroot, but didn’t think much of the nondescript blooms until we left the woods. The same white flowers were peeking from under every tree on Isa’s street and had even colonized a pot on her front stoop. Suddenly, like pumpkin-spice in October, white snakeroot was everywhere.

White snakeroot grows in shady, wet places.

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Decoding Botanical Language


Reproductive flower parts

  • Stamen – the sperm or pollen producing parts of a flower
    • Pollen – sperm that travels to other plants on insects, animals, and air
    • Filament – the thin strand that supports the anther
    • Anther – the pollen-producers
  • Pistil – the egg or seed producing parts of a flower
    • Stigma – the sticky landing pad for pollen
    • Style – the tube that pollen grows a tail down
    • Ovary – the enclosure where seeds grow
    • Ovule – an egg that grows into a seed

Flower sexuality

  • Bisexual / Perfect / Monoclinous (one bed) / Hermaphrodite / Androgynous / Synoecious (together house) – a flower with both stamens and pistils
  • Unisexual / Imperfect / Diclinous (two beds) / Incomplete / – a flower with only stamens or only pistils
    • Monecious (one house) – a single plant contains some flowers with only pistils or some flowers with only stamens.
      • Pistillate – flowers with only seed-producing parts
      • Staminate – flowers with only pollen-producing parts
    • Species with both bisexual and unisexual flowers on the same plant
      • Andromonoecious – a plant with both staminate flowers and bisexual flowers, but no pistillate flowers
      • Gynomonoecious – a plant with both pistillate flowers and bisexual flowers, but no staminate flowers
      • Androgynomonoecious / Polygamous / Polygamomonoecious / Trimonoecious / Triecious – A single plant that has staminate flowers, pistillate flowers, and bisexual flowers
    • Polygamodioecious / Subdioecious – Species that have mostly pistillate or mostly staminate flowers, but some other types
      • Subgynoecious – a species with mostly pistillate flowers, but some staminate or bisexual flowers on one plant
      • Subandroecious – a species with mostly staminate flowers, but some pistillate or bisexual flowers on one plant
    • Dioecious (two houses) – the flowers with stamens are on separate plants from the flowers with pistils
      • Androecious – a plant with only staminate flowers
      • Gynoecious – a plant with only pistillate flowers
      • Species with both bisexual and unisexual flowers, but on different plants
        • Androdioecious – staminate flowers are on separate plants from bisexual flowers
        • Gynodioecious – pistillate flowers are on separate plants from bisexual flowers
        • Trioecious – bisexual, pistillate, and staminate flowers are on different plants
    • Dichogamous – a plant or flower with sexes that develop at different times. The flowers may be bisexual or unisexual.
      • Protandrous – a plant or flower with staminate parts developing pistillate seed parts
      • Protogynous – a plant or flower with pistillate parts developing before staminate parts

Seedless reproduction


The perianth is the group of sepals and petals. When the sepals and petals are undifferentiated, they’re call tepals.

Sepals are modified leaves that protects the flower before it blooms. The outermost group of sepals is called the calyx. Petals are modified leaves that attract pollinators and protect the flower’s reproductive parts. The group of petals is called the corolla.

Bracts are modified leaves that usually appear just below a flower. A series of bracts is called an epicalyx. A flower can connect directly to a stem — sessile flowers — or can be attached with a Pedicle.

A group of flowers on a single stem is called an inflorescence. Sometimes, what appears to be a single flower is really a group of tiny flowers. This “flower” is called a composite flower and is common in the aster family, which includes daisies, chrysanthemums, and sunflowers. The center of the flower is really made up of hundred of tiny, tubular, reproductive flowers called disk flowers. The petals are flat, long, non-reproductive petals called ray flowers

Flowers can be characterized by them symmetry. Flowers like daisies that are symmetrical no matter where you draw a line have radial symmetry. Flowers like lavender that are symmetric only along one line have bilateral symmetry.



  • Blade / Lamina – the widest part of the leaf and what we usually think of as the leaf.
    • Simple – a leaf made of single leaf blade or leaflet.
    • Compound – a leaf made of multiple blades. The main stem of a compound leaf is called a rachi. The multiple blades are called pinnules.
      • Palmately compound – a compound leaf with blades radiating from one point.
      • Pinnately compound – a compound leaf with two rows of blades coming from a central axis.
      • Doubly compound – the leaflets are arranged along a secondary vein, which is one of several veins branching off the middle vein. The leaflets are called pinna.
  • Vein – a tube that brings water, nutrients, and water to the plant
    • Venation pattern
      • Reticulated – veins form a network
      • Parallel – veins don’t intersect
      • Dichotomous – veins branch symmetrically in pairs
      • Palmate – veins diverge from a single point
      • Pinnate – veins are opposite across the midrib
    • Midrib – the vein that runs down the center of the leaf. In leaflets, it’s called a midvein.
  • Margin – the edge of the leaf blade
    • Entire – the margin is smooth
    • Toothed – the margin has points

    • Lobed – the leaf has an indentation or indentations that go less than halfway to the leaf’s midrib
    • Parted – the leaf has an indentation or indentations that go more than halfway to the leaf’s midrib
  • Petiole – the stalk that attaches the leaf to the stem. A plant with no petiole is called sessile.
    • Stipule – an outgrowth at the base of the petiole


  • Phyllotaxy – the arrangement of leaves on a stem
    • Opposite – two leaves come from the same node on opposite sides of the stem

    • Alternate
    • Whorl – three or more leaves come from the same node
    • Spiral


  • Deciduous – leaves fall after the growing season
  • Evergreen – leaves are retained throughout the year, sometimes for several years
  • Fugacious – leaves last for only a short time
  • Marcescent / Persistent – dead leaves, calyx, or petals don’t fall off


  • Node – the point where a stem, leaf, or flower comes off a stem
  • Internode – the space between two nodes


  • Primary – the first root to emerge from the seed as it germinates
  • Secondary – roots forming off of the primary root; often called branch roots
  • Fibrous – roots that are thread-like and tough
  • Fleshy – roots that are thick and soft, normally made up of storage tissue
  • Tuberous – roots that are thick and soft and are typically thick and round
  • Taproot – a primary root that grows downward into the soil
  • Root Hairs – very small roots, often one cell wide
  • Root crown – the place where the roots and stem meet
  • Adventitious – roots that form from a plant part other than the root, usually from the stem or from leaves
  • Aerial – roots growing in the air


  • Herbaceous – plants with green, soft parts above the ground. They die back in harsh weather and may regrow again in the spring.

  • Woody – plants that produce wood as their structure. They are typically perennial.

  • Monocots
  • Dicots

Life cycle

  • Annual – plants that live, reproduce, and die in one growing season
  • Biannual – plants that need two growing seasons to complete their life cycle, normally completing vegetative growth the first year and flowering the second year
  • Perennial – a plant that lives longer than two years

Beginner’s White Wheat Sourdough Boule

You’ve made your decision. You’ve prepared for days. You’re rough and ready. It’s time… to make your first loaf of sourdough bread!

Take a deep breath; this recipe is so un-fussy that even the least experienced baker can get it to work. We’re working with 100%  white wheat flour so that even if something doesn’t go quite right, you’ll still end up with a really nice loaf of bread.

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Making and Baking a Sourdough Loaf

You’ve got a starter, some math knowledge, and all your ingredients and materials pulled together. It’s time to learn the final step: how to build and bake a loaf.

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Rounding Up Sourdough Ingredients and Materials

When I start reading bread recipes, I was intimidated by all the special tools baking required. A peel? Sounds like something that should be on an orange. A lame? Rude.

As it turns out, baking bread requires little more than flour, water, and salt. Plus all the fancy stuff can be replaced by things you probably already have in your kitchen.

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Baker’s Math Practice Problems

Now that your starter is bubbling away and you’ve learned how to write a recipe, let’s rest and take a day to practice some Baker’s Math. The answers and detailed explanations are at the bottom, so print out the worksheet, grab a pencil and a calculator, and see what you can figure out.

Inspired by practice problems from the Wild Yeast blog.


1. Convert each recipe to mass

A. Focaccia with 550 g Flour
100% Flour
73% Starter
86% Water
10 % Olive oil
1 % Salt

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Calculating Recipes with Baker’s Math

Last post, we talked about all about the science of starters. While you’re nurturing your culture, let’s take some time to talk about all the recipes you’re going to tackle once you’ve for a healthy starter going. Ladies and germs (or, I should say, lacto-bacteria), may I present: Baker’s Math.

If you’re a math person, get ready to learn a new kind of percentages that just might drive you crazy at first. If you hate math, consider this a chance to finally master something that wrecked your GPA in high school.

Recipes for bread (and beyond) are often written in “Baker’s Math,” “Baker’s Percentage,” or “Flour Weight.” While it initially looks baffling, it’s actually a great way to convert recipes between English and Metric mass systems (ounces and grams) and increase or reduce the amount of bread you’re making.

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