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Get growing: New website offers handy wild-plant guide

Close-up of jack-in-the-pulpit plant

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Carrying multiple field guides on a hike fills your backpack, but now you can access on your IPad an interactive website that should help you identify most wild plants found in New England. The website is www.newenglandwild.org/gobotany and it was developed over the past four years by the New England Wild Flower Society with a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

Elizabeth Farnsworth, a botanist with NEWFS who helped create the website, was the guest speaker two weeks ago at the annual meeting of the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association. Her computer lecture explained how to use the website and the response was enthusiastic.

Using the site is simple. You answer a series of questions about habitat, growth habit, leaf patterns and stems. This narrows down your options and the computer will display possible answers in full color. You can select one species at a time to investigate further. By process of elimination you should be able to identify the plant. Naturally, the website works on your home computer as well so you can take pictures in the field or bring home a specimen to study at leisure.

Obviously in winter you are limited to woody plants, especially those with evergreen leaves, but in the growing season, you can have a marvelous time. It’s a great tool for adults but also fun for children to learn how to use botanical keys to identify plants. There is a special section on the website for teachers and the society offers workshops for teachers this year in how to use the website.

With the growing emphasis on using native plants in our gardens, this tool should be helpful to gardeners who see a plant in the wild and wonder whether it would thrive at home. By learning its growth pattern and its habitat requirements — as well as its identity — you can then look for it at a nursery, such as Nasami Farm or a commercial nursery, and plant it with confidence in your garden. Of course, if it is endangered — which the website will tell you — or invasive, also noted on the website, you won’t want it in your garden.

Farnsworth is a contributor to the Gazette’s ecology column prepared by the Hitchcock Center for the Environment and did the impressive botanical illustrations for the new “Flora Novae Angliae” by Arthur Haines, published last year by Yale University Press under the auspices of NEWFS.

WINTER FARES: There are Winter Fares tomorrow in both Greenfield and Amherst. In addition to the usual farmers markets there will be workshops and a barter fare at each location. Amherst’s is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Regional Middle School and Greenfield’s is 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Greenfield High School, 1 Lenox Ave. Workshops in Greenfield include: cheese making, backyard sugaring, winter gardening, extending the season and worm composting. Amherst workshops are building deep immunity with herbs, getting your body ready for spring gardening, needle felting and worm composting. Northampton’s Winter Fare was last week.

ORCHID GROWING DE-MYSTIFIED: Nancy Goodman will explain how to grow orchids in your home tomorrow at 10 a.m. at Annie’s Garden & Gift Store, Route 116 in North Amherst. Learn which orchids species will tolerate home conditions, how to care for them and problems to avoid. And remember the annual show staged by the Amherst Orchid Society is Feb. 23 and 24 at Smith Vocational Agricultural High School in Northampton. It is free, but registration is encouraged. Call 549-6359 for information.

INJURY PREVENTION: Enthusiastic gardeners every spring complain of sore muscles after a winter of inactivity. Learn “Injury Prevention for Gardeners” tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the Hadley Garden Center, Route 9 in Hadley. Lydia Irons of The Flexible Farmer will demonstrate exercises you can do now to avoid muscle strain in March. Get in shape for gardening. The workshop is free. Call 584-1423 for information.

SILENT SPRING: The second part of the “Silent Spring Reading It Together” lecture-discussion series is tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the Greenfield Public Library. Emily Monosson, environmental toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts will lead a discussion on “The Relevance of Silent Spring After 50 Years.” The free series is sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association. Registration is strongly recommended due to space limitations. Register at wmmgasilentspring@gmail.com. The final program will be Feb. 16 at the Jones Library in Amherst.

HOUSEPLANT SMACKDOWN: Three well-known plant experts will lead a workshop on house plants tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. Tovah Martin, author of several books on house plants, David Burdick and Rob Gennari will lead the workshop. Bring a house plant to be repotted or for evaluation. There will be a sale of plants. The fee is $85. Register by calling 298-3926 or online at berkshirebotanical.org.

PERMACULTURE: A film on “Permaculture: The Cutting Edge” will be screened at the Sunderland Library on Wednesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. It is free.

HIDCOTE GARDEN: Tickets are now available for the annual winter lecture sponsored by the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Glyn Jones, head gardener of Hidcote Manor Garden in the Cotswolds of England, will speak about “Back to the Future: The Garden at Hidcote.” The lecture is at Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington on Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. The fee is $42. Tickets sell out fast so order by calling 298-3926 or online at berkshirebotanical.org.

GARDEN PLANNING WORKSHOPS: Sharon Gensler and Pru Smith of Wild Browse Farm in Wendell offer a series of garden workshops every other month beginning next Saturday. The first topic is “Getting Started,” which includes site evaluation and seed starting as well as use of floating row covers, cold frames and other methods of season extension. The workshop is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The fee is $25 or $100 for the five session series. Call 978-544-6347 or email wildbrowsesustainability@gmail.com.

ORCHARD WORKSHOP: Alan Surprenant of Ashfield is offering four seasonal workshops on orcharding at Brook Farm Orchard beginning next Saturday. The fee is $85 per workshop and includes lunch. To register call 625- 9615 or email him at alansurprenant@hotmail.com.

Cheryl Wilson can be reached at valleygardens@comcast.net.

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