Sunday, May 18, 2014

Poisonous Plants

Poisonous plants are the bane of natural horse care. There are two problems in dealing with these plants. The first problem is in identifying them. The second is in eradicating them.

One of the most peculiar aspects of our legacy of slavery and segregation is that in many regions of the south even the most experienced of woodsmen can properly identify anymore than a handful of the plants around them. Of course, racism involved more than hating another race. At its most virulent, it required the hatred of everything associated with that race.

Africans and Indians used wild plants both as medicine in the way that we think of medicine now and as a source of magical power. Knowledge of such plants was something scorned by white society. In fact, this phenomenon is not to be found is in Appalachia, where the fewest number of slaves were found anywhere in the South.

For much of the rest of the South whites did not learn the names of any but the most commonly used trees. The most bizarre aspect of this child  of Jim Crow is that everyone felt perfectly free to make up their own names for different plants.

"Grandaddy, what kind of tree is this?" was very often met with a response such as, "That is what your great uncle called a Swamp Gum." Families living on adjacent farms for 150 years often had completely different names for the same tree.

I am trapped by this aspect of my history. Around the horse lot there are many examples of what Grandaddy called a Fence post oak or a bitter berry plant, or a brier bush. Who knows what the rest of the world called them?

Looking at pictures of plants does little good. They look too much alike.

But here is the bottom line for coastal Virginia. Wilted Red maple might be the only wilted maple leaves that will kill a horse--but pick up every broken maple limb as son as it hits the ground. No need to risk it. We have four different kinds of wild cherry plants here. The bark does not seem poisonous. In fact may horses love it. The wilted leaves of all seem to be dangerous.

I have read that 'butter cups" cause problems. In the past fifteen years a yellow plant that looks like a butter cup has taken over open pastures here. Some goats and a few horses seems to enjoy it. Most avoid it and wait for it to disappear in mid summer. I have never known it to bother an animal.

I have also been told that this plant is not a butter cup but a variant of mustard. In any event, the only hope to eradicate it is herbicide and I have avoided the use of chemical poisons to date.

Eradication is the biggest problem for all of these plants. Red Maple is one of the most common trees in our region. When sawed down it quickly puts out new shoots. It can only safely be cut down in the winter if one is to avoid putting wilted leaves on the ground. Perhaps removing the bark in the winter will lead to permanent death of the tree. I hope to give that a try this winter.

I try to keep cherry trimmed back from the horses reach and have not had a cherry problem yet.

Many of my nightmares involve a limb broken from a maple tree only to fall within reach of the horses. In about 12 hours in the sun it turns into a lethal threat to the horses. Worst of all, some horses seems to enjoy the flavor of wilted maple (most horses love to eat living maple leaves and I am not aware of a living leaf being any problem for horses.)

To top it all off, using black walnut shavings as bedding can colic or founder a horse. Now how is anyone supposed to intuitively know that? 

No comments: