Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Edible Goosetongue or Poisonous Arrowgrass?

It was so good to see the sun today! The lengthening days have me thinking of spring gathering, and that reminded me of a post that I didn’t get out to you last year. I’m fixing that today. So this year how about adding goosetongue to your veggie choices? It’s too early to harvest yet, but maybe this will take your mind off of the cement-like snowbanks lurking in your driveway.

Let’s go for a walk on the beach…

It is spring to mid-summer, the weather is pleasant, and things have greened up. A few seagulls are whining and looking aimless because the salmon haven’t come in yet. The eagle in the big tree on the point is watching you because, face it, you are the most interesting thing happening on the beach.

As you get close to the rocky point you notice goosetongue growing at the top of the beach. Some of it has bits of seaweed stuck in the leaves from the last high tide, but there’s some goosetongue above the tide line that looks pretty clean. Knowing that goosetongue is a tasty snack and delicious potherb you mosey on up to harvest some. A little tickle in the back of your mind tells you that there was something about a look-alike plant that is poisonous, though. Now what was it that the plant book said?

Well, let’s leave the beach for a bit so that I can show you some pictures of goosetongue and arrowgrass. Goosetongue is great food. Arrowgrass has a small part of the plant that might be edible in early spring, but the leaves are poisonous because they contain cyanide-producing glycosides. The two plants are similar enough that they do get mixed up. Worse yet, they often grow right beside each other.

Goosetongue and arrowgrass growing together

Goosetongue (Plantago maritima ssp. juncoides) is in the plantain family. It is also called sea plantain, seaside plantain, and ribwort. The less-used common name, ‘ribwort,’ makes sense to me because of the plant’s ribbed leaves and ‘wort’ meaning ‘useful plant.’

Goosetongue leaves and stems grow in a cluster from the ground. Each fleshy leaf has ribs running lengthwise up its back. The rounded, leafless stem has a dense flower spike at the top.


Okay, let's compare that to the poisonous arrowgrass.

Arrowgrass (top) and goosetongue (bottom)

Arrowgrass (Triglochin maritima) has fleshy leaves that are narrower and more rounded in cross section than goosetongue. Like goosetongue, arrowgrass has a leafless stalk with a flower spike at the top. Arrowgrass grows taller than goosetongue, so it is easiest to confuse the two in the springtime.

Arrowgrass leaves (top)and goosetongue leaves (bottom)

Arrowgrass (top) and goosetongue (bottom) have similar flower spikes.

A friend related to me that she was walking along the beach munching on greens one day and asked her companion, “What is this plant that tastes like bitter cilantro?” Right then her heart started to pound and she felt short of breath. She was lucky that her symptoms passed after some time. Arrowgrass can cause headaches, heart palpitations, and convulsions. It can be deadly to livestock.

Look for the ribs on the backs of the leaves and choose goosetongue.

Goosetongue leaves have ribs on the back.

Goosetongue is salty and succulent. It is very high in vitamin A, high in vitamin C, and a good source of iron. Best of all it tastes good! Goosetongue can be eaten raw, lightly steamed, sautéed, and can be preserved by pressure canning or by blanching and freezing. Munch it as a beach snack or gather some and add it to stir fries, salads, omelettes, and casseroles.

Goosetongue is best in spring and early summer. When the seed heads mature goosetongue leaves become stringy.

And that mosquito bite that you got on your neck while you were picking goosetongue? Crush a goosetongue leaf with your fingernails and apply the mash to the bug bite. Like other members of the plantain family, goosetongue will quiet the itchiness.

Goostongue is abundant in much of Southeast Alaska

A Trip to the North End of P.O.W.

Along the northern part of Prince of Wales Island is a road system that gives access to fairly remote places. The roads are a legacy of the logging activity in the last century. While the U.S. Forest Service is shutting a lot of the roads down, there are still many miles to explore. The 'main line' is Forest Road 20, running 124 miles from Hollis to Labouchere Bay. Miles and miles of side roads branch off of the 20 road.

I headed up there, stopping at the community of Whale Pass on the way. At the harbor in Whale Pass one of the signs of spring was in strong evidence. Currents have concentrated pollen from the trees that has landed on the water. There are times when a breeze lifts tree pollen off of a forested hillside in a greenish-yellow cloud.

Pollen on the water by the Whale Pass dock.

I made a stop at Cavern Lake to walk down the short trail and look at the lake's outfall creek coming out of a cave. A lot of the northwest portion of this huge island is limestone, creating wonderful features such as caves and fossil beds.

Then I stopped at the lake to fish up a bit of dinner. In just a few minutes a fifteen inch cutthroat trout hit the small Pixee spoon, and the fish was just the right size for dinner and breakfast.

Sport caught cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki) must be between 11 and 22 inches long. This one was 15 inches, and made dinner and breakfast for one.

Along with signs of spring like deciduous trees leafing out, flowers popping open, and the dusting of pollen coating the hood of the truck, the bucks are sprouting antlers. By fall those stubby nubs will be curving, finely pointed crowns of bone to use in challenging other bucks during the rut.

It is shedding season now, also, and tufts of deer hair litter the ground. Some birds use the deer hair in nest building. Speaking of birds, the bird watching was great fun.

At Memorial Beach I moved slowly, and the sandpipers allowed me to be close to them. They were so cool that I will do a separate post about them.

Sandpipers in flight

Sitka Blacktail buck (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) starting to grow antlers for the season.

Memorial Beach has sandy/gravelly stretches interrupted by limestone outcrops with intriguing tidepools. Beachcombing here is more than pretty pebbles and shells. Curious mink worked the rocky areas at low tide.

Interesting beach pebble

Mink (Neovison vison) look for food in the seaweed at low tide on Memorial Beach, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

While I was enjoying the sunset at Memorial Beach, a cruise ship was just to the north in Sumner Strait. The passengers must have been enjoying the beautiful evening, too.

Since I was full up on fish I didn't try out any of the many streams that the road bridges, but did stop to enjoy their beauty. Red Creek, Big Creek, Alder Creek, Buster Creek, and more look very inviting.

Red Creek still has the bridge support from the old road.

Calder Mountain, a great, gray, bald peak, is a major limestone landmark. It is not far to Labouchere Bay from where Calder Mountain is visible. Lab Bay is at the end of the 20 road, and used to be a large timber sortyard. The sortyard is empty now, and mostly grown over. There is a place to drive down and see a nice sunset across Lab Bay if you get there in the evening.

A little road to the north of the old sortyard goes to a spot where people from Port Protection and Point Baker skiff across to the road system. It is a long, long drive from there to the grocery and hardware stores in Thorne Bay, Klawock, or Craig.

Calder Mountain on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska

The geology of this island is fascinating, and bits of it are evident in the rock pits and road cuts. On the north end I found calcite crystals, interesting conglomerates, and fossils.

Calcite crystals in the face of a rock pit.

There are various colors of metaconglomerate stone on POW.

Brachiopod fossils look similar to cockle shells, but were a different creature.

I was told about the location of some brachiopod fossils. I didn't find any of the beautiful whole 3.5" specimens that others did, but was happy to find a few partially exposed brachiopods. Thanks for the tip, Cliff!

Holding a 400 million-year-old brachiopod makes me aware that I can't even fathom that amount of time...even if the younger generation thinks that I was there when those fossils formed.

Three times as I drove along I caught glimpses of bears. As soon as each one saw the truck it turned and kicked up gravel while running into the woods. The bears here get hunted and they know it.

You know the sarcastic old question -  Does a bear poop in the woods? Send the next smarty pants that pops off with that one to this site for the answer: NO. The bear goes on the logging road, and by mid summer the road is dotted.

There has been a lot of timber taken off of Prince of Wales Island, so it may sound like the place has been mowed. It is the third largest island in the United States, though, after the Big Island of Hawaii and Kodiak Island, so there is lots and lots of old growth standing.  Being in the midst of giant trees inspires feelings of awe and reverence...and smallness. There is also a calmness to deep timber, that seeps into my being. I wish I could take every one of you into the woods to breathe good air and get to know the place.

Huge spruce and hemlock trees reach for the sun.

The north end of Prince of Wales Island calls to me. On the way back to Thorne Bay I was already feeling the pangs of being away. While there I gathered field mint for tea, violet leaves and flowers as snacks, other greens to eat, and photos of wildlife, plants, and scenery. It was more than that, though; the chatter of everyday life faded and I gathered peace of mind. It was a good outing.

Wishing you the peace and beauty of natural places,

Alaska Beachcomber

More around Prince of Wales Island:

Other posts with critters: An Alaskan Porcupine, The Doe Report, Long Tailed Ducks

Eight Mile Beach

There are daffodil leaves pushing determinedly up through last week's snow because the sun has shone for a few days. The higher hills still look like this...

Uh, no, you don't want to snowboard that slope.

Sun's out, snowline's retreating, that 'stuffy' winter feeling needs to go away. TIME TO GO TO THE BEACH!

A spring outing to Eight Mile Beach peels away some of that layered-in-wool, guarding-against-cold, breathing-too-much-indoor-air feeling from the last four months. Just walking twenty steps from the parking lot to this beach changes the world. It is a cool day, but not cold. The sun has a little bit of power, a touch of warmth, sweet spring nectar.

Eight Mile Beach

A-a-ah. The world is perfect now.

What is on the menu here? Shell collectors won't find much here. Maybe a little bit. Maybe one clam shell.

Clam shell among the pebbles.

There's one! A perfect skipping stone!

This beach is about activities. The rope swing tugs at my inner eight-year-old. My older, fuller thighs are holding out for a tire swing, though.

Hidden in plain sight is the perfect activity just begging to be freed. "Please," they cry out, "Let us fly!"

Skipping stones!

Leaping and flying.

Stone freedom

In another month Eight Mile Beach will invite families for picnics. The kids will wade and swim till their lips turn blue. Moms and Dads will hand out snacks and then turn their faces upward to take in the pure joy of a blue sky over the rainforest. Dogs will chase a stick into the water, bringing it faithfully to a waiting youngster before shaking a doggy-scented shower all over them.  Marshmallows will meet their fate over glowing coals.

Right now, though, the ripples shloosh-shloosh-shloosh rhythmically on the beach, an eagle lands on the branch of the big tree, and there is thrumming of a boat engine in the distance.

Skipping stones practice touch-and-go's on the glassy water.

Finding an even more perfect skipping stone is better than finding a restaurant that serves the best pizza in the state.

What? You want to see the eagle? Okay.

Bald eagle in a spruce tree.

Closer? Okay.

Mature bald eagle

And the boat. You want to see the boat, too, right?

I do.

Wishing you a perfect spring day, a deep breath of new air, a light breeze that doesn't freeze.

Alaska Beachcomber