Bark-sniffing? Check. Mushroom-licking? Yep. Indumentum-licking? Not yet, but maybe next time. Apparently, the hairs on the underside of the leaves of northern Labrador tea give a buzz when licked (see the indigenous knowledge section), which opens up an entirely new way of experiencing rhododendrons that I hadn’t considered before. Perhaps I should add it to the duties of the work-learn student who is helping with documenting our rhododendron collections at UBC this summer…
It is doubtless that the toxicity and effects of licking rhododendron leaves is understudied, so please don’t do it until some enterprising graduate student safely investigates. The toxic compounds in rhododendrons are well-known: sixty or so neurotoxins classified as grayanotoxins. Two of the early onset symptoms of being poisoned by grayanotoxins are “change in conciousness” and paresthesia (tingling or numbing sensations on the skin), so it seems likely it is one of these compounds involved in leaf-licking’s buzz. While human fatalities due to grayanotoxins are apparently extremely rare, there is an arm’s length list of symptons and effects. For an approachable article on grayanotoxins and rhododendrons, read Grayanotoxins: Of Rhododendrons and Mad Honey via Nature’s Poisons (“Mother Nature is out to get us”).
Even if I desired to add indumentum-licker to the list of words I use to describe myself, it will be some time before I am once again in the presence of Rhododendron tomentosum subsp. decumbens. This is a species of (northern) Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Eurasia, growing in “bogs, muskeg, tundra, raised beach ridges“. The plants in today’s photographs are growing at the lowest parts of the alpine-tundra environment surrounding Pink Mountain’s peak in northern British Columbia.
They are also mirroring the decumbent part of their name, i.e., spreading along the ground, with the extremities held upright.