On the many talents of plants

Rebecca Desnos provides an entire series of resources for those who wish to use plants as dyes. There are probably about a billion other resources but she has an email list so I hear from her (so to speak) regularly. She recently sent a link to the Instagram account for samorn_sanixay, who has recently completed a project to create a map of Australia colored by dyes created from eucalypt leaves from throughout the country. I’ve included the map here plus here’s the link to the post, which includes an explanation of what was done and a bit on how the project came about.

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Nature Bingo

Thanks to the County of Fairfax (Virginia) for making these cool nature bingo cards available. And to The Good Trade for including the link in their daily email. The 5×5 cards include things that can be found wherever you live – clouds, benches, butterflies – to name a few. Perfect for kids of all ages. And the Fairfax County Park Authority has a helpful tip to put the card inside a plastic sheet and use a dry erase marker so that you and your kids (and friends) can reuse the cards. Of course, once I started looking, there are any number of websites and etsy stores that offer such cards for sale for reasonable prices. For example, a single free card can be downloaded from the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. A quick search on ‘nature bingo’ will find all sorts of options for you.

I can imagine making more focused cards for bird watchers, geologists, and native plant seekers that would be specific to regions. As I think, I think of yet more possibilities – herbalists, invasive plant seekers, archaeologists, ethnobotanists, architects, …  What an adventure!

And, a little update. My previous post was about the health and safety disasters that can result from following the advice of AI. A September 7 article in the Gastro Obscura section of Atlas Obscura (a truly wonderful website and rabbit hole…) reiterates and expands on this warning.

Some basic advice from foraging experts is to search (online) before you buy. Amazon is not reliable but search engines should turn up some trustworthy evidence about the credentials of the author. Perhaps the red flag warning that has come up recently is the AI guide insisting that a good way to tell if a mushroom is edible is to taste it. Such text should warn you away immediately – many delicious edible plants have poison look-alikes, some of which the Atlas Obscura article mentions.

Where do these books come from anyway? The Atlas Obscura article posits some likely possibilities on that.

And if it’s AI, should you run screaming from the room? Nope. The article points out that apps like iNaturalist do use AI technology. The difference is that there are identifiable experts associated with the product and AI is not given free rein to fill in words based on probability of word association. I don’t know about you but my phone likes to help me by guessing the next word in a text I’m writing. I presume, whether I like it or not, it is learning from what I actually type in next. So, if you wonder about what AI selects, just watch what it selects when you type a text…

Some things AI is likely NEVER to get right…

Wild mushrooms in a field

Image: Some of the books refer to smell and taste as ways to identify mushrooms, which experts say ‘should absolutely not be the case’. Photograph: Justin Long/Alamy. https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/1cc07792071f10976ab59070d30c6a1bbdf934e8/0_612_4095_2459/master/4095.jpg?width=620&dpr=2&s=none

This Guardian article titled “Mushroom pickers urged to avoid foraging books on Amazon that appear to be written by AI” which follows more or less hotly on the heals of the rather science-fiction-like story of the Austrailian woman who was recently found to have a live parasitic worm in her brain (oh yum…), thought to have been acquired from foraged greens, are colorful and shocking reminders a) that eating is and has always been something of a risky business, and b) to be very, very careful about where you get your information from.

In yet another recent article (“Supermarket AI meal planner app suggests recipe that would create chlorine gas”), the store, hopefully with good intentions, was using AI to help shoppers create recipes from leftovers. Which is fine but with something less that discrimination, the app will happily throw together something that includes bleach, for example. The … odd … recipes also include cheery commentary: “Serve [the chlorine gas producing recipe] chilled and enjoy the refreshing fragrance.” Yes, well. I see a whole new genre of murder mysteries. “But, Officer, how was I to know that adding bleach would be poisonous. The recipe called for it. It’s not my fault.”

I think back as well to some of the older science fiction that intimated that robots would perhaps not be our friends…