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Winter plant identification gives a different perspective

Published: Mar. 29, 2021 at 6:41 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Taking a walk in the woods to learn about some of Alaska’s native plants might not seem like a winter activity but it does give a person a different view.

“It’s easier in the summer,” says Marilyn Barker, a retired University of Alaska Anchorage professor who calls herself “the plant lady.”

“It’s more of a challenge in the winter, more so because the characters are more hidden,” she says. “You don’t have a great big leaf to look at. You’ve got a little bud to look at.”

Barker teaches classes on plant identification and says, “everybody wants to know ‘what is this and can I eat it?’”

Wandering through the Alaska Botanical Gardens, she identifies plants with ease, pointing out prickly rose and fools huckleberry plants with ease. For her, learning about the plants around you builds respect.

“Because if you know them, you can kind of get a feel for what’s around and appreciate it more and perhaps protect it more,” she says.

She also points out that there are a number of “survival foods” in Alaska, like the high bush cranberry — which isn’t actually a cranberry, by the way.

“That’s a survival food so you could eat that now if you were in a survival situation,” Barker says. “What I do in my classes is I teach them the poisonous plants because there are very few of those and if you know who they are, anything else, the worse you’re going to get is a sick stomach.

“I think you’re more of a steward of your environment if you can be on a first name basis with it,” she says.

Barker will be holding a “Winter Plant ID” class on Saturday at the Alaska Botanical Gardens. More information is available online.

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