Posts Tagged ‘plants’

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Sourcing Water from Plants

Some plants collect water for their own consumption and can provide the survivor with a really good fresh water supply. Other plants yield drinkable water or sap which can also be extracted and consumed.

As a general rule, DO NOT DRINK Milky or Coloured Sap or plant juices. There are two exceptions to this rule, which are: for the Juice of the American Barrel Cactus and of course, Coconut Milk both of which have been proven to be fine.

Water Collectors

Some plants have leaves which are cup-like in shape; such that they will collect pools of water in their leaves.
Plants which grow leaves directly from the trunk, like most palm varieties, some ferns and bromelaides (from the pineapple family, these are usually small plants which grow on the side of other, larger, trees), often have leaves which are designed to catch rain and channel it down to the base of the leaf, where it meets the trunk. The water pools there so that the tree can slowly absorb it. These kind of trees and plants are often, but definitely not always, found in tropical areas and can provide a useful source of water. One great example of this is the Traveler’s Tree (Ravenala Madagascariensis). This comes from the banana family and can hold up to 1–2 liters (2–4pt) of water which pools between the leaf stalks where they attach to the tree.

Banana plants hold a descent amount of water in their trunk. This can be accessed by either slicing off the trunk at about 30cm (1ft) from the ground or by inserting a tap into the trunk. To tap a banana plant, take a 20cm (8in) length of bamboo, about the diameter if your thumb, ensuring that it is hollow all the way through. Sharpen one end with your knife and insert the bamboo tap firmly into the banana plant at about a 70 deg angle to the trunk of the plant. This will allow the water to start running out of the trunk and down through the tap. Create a water trap underneath the end of the tap, by placing a large leaf or piece of plastic over a depression in the ground, for the water to drip into and leave it for a few hours before returning to have a drink. The water may taste like green bananas but it is drinkable.

Other water bearing trees are the Boabab tree (often known as the tree of life), found in Australia, Africa and Madagascar hold a very large amount of water in its trunk. This tree also provides shade and edible fruits.

Extracting Water from Tree Roots

It is possible to get water from the roots of some trees by removing the bark, cutting shavings into a pile and pulping the root shavings with rocks then squeezing the water out of the pulp and letting the water drip into your mouth.

The roots of some trees will yield more water than others. Some trees with a higher water content are: the blood wood, the water tree and the desert oak; all found in Australia.

This method works if you are desperate but uses a lot of energy for the yield.

Water from Bamboo

Bamboo will usually yield an excellent supply of water in the hollow stems, between the joints. Water can be located by tapping the stem about 7-10 cm (3-4 inches) above a joint. If you hear a dull sound then they will most likely have water inside. You can shake the stems and listen for water inside too. Aim for thick stem bamboo. Water is most likely to collect in older, yellower stems. When you locate water, cut a notch just above the bottom joint and the water will run out freely. This water will be clean and good to drink as-is.

Water from Vines

Some vines can yield a reasonable supply of drinking water. The general characteristics of such vines are rough bark and off-shoots of about 4-6cm (1-2in) thickness.

Always be weary of plants with a sticky, milky sap as this is usually poisonous. Vines are no exception so observe this when trying various vines for water.

To get water from a water-bearing vine, simply cut a deep notch in the vine, as high up as you can, (it is important to cut the top first or else the vine will act as a vacuum and suck the water back up the vine) then cut it completely through at the base. At this point the water should begin to run out. Check that it is not sticky & milky and then collect the water in a container or let it run/drip straight into your mouth. Do not put the vine in your mouth as some vines can irritate your lips.

When the water has stopped flowing, cut a section off the bottom end to release water still inside the main vine. Repeat this until all water has been released.

Water from Cacti

Whilst most cacti have a fluid content, not all cacti yield fluid which is safe to drink. Some cacti can be very poisonous; like the the giant Saquarro cactus found in the California and Arizona regions of North America and in Mexico. On the other hand, the Barrel cactus is an exception to the “Avoid milky sap ” rule. This life saver can yield around a liter (2 pints or 33oz) of drinkable sticky milky sap. The best way to handle cacti is to cut off a piece to expose the inner flesh, then either cut chunks out pf the center to mash or suck the moisture out, or to cut and mash the flesh, while still in the base, till there is enough liquid to collect or drink then repeat.
illustration of a barrel cactus


Always be very careful when handling cacti as you really don’t want to get the spines stuck in your skin as they can be almost impossible (especially the fine ones) to get out in a survival situation and if left, they can cause weeping sores which can quickly turn septic.

Cactus fruits such as prickly pears can also provide liquid.
The liquid in some cacti can be tasteless and sour in other varieties.

Water from Condensation

Moisture can be extracted from the most unlikely of places because of Evaporation and Condensation.
This process is happening around us all the time. For example, nature uses evaporation to make clouds and condensation to make rain.

For the survivor, this can be a double edged sword. Humans experience fluid loss through breathing, talking, sweating, digestion and excrement but guess what; we are not alone. Most living things, experience fluid loss in this way and the survivor can harness this to increase their chances of survival. Heating anything which holds water will cause the water to evaporate.

In fact, for the most part, water just keeps on cycling around being consumed by all sorts living things, serving it’s purpose and then being released back into the ground or air as evaporation.

This trick is in catching it so that it condenses and provides you with a decent amount to drink.
Thankfully, with some knowledge the number of ways to collect this are limited only to your imagination.

Evaporating water and collecting the condensation will remove any impurities so therefore this process makes it possible to extract fresh, drinkable water from urine, seawater, contaminated water, poisonous liquid and sap, mud, clay etc.

The survivor will often be presented with the situation where the only liquid they have access to is unfit for drinking such as Sea Water, Urine, Contaminated or Poisonous Water and Suspect Plant Sap. Thankfully, by distilling these liquids, in a Still, the survivor can extract water which is fit to drink. The same method can be used to extract drinkable liquid from substance such as Earth, Foliage, Blood, Feces etc.

Although all stills work on the same basic principle of using heat to evaporate the water content from a substance, catching the water vapor and cooling it to condense the water droplets before channeling this into some form of container for drinking, there are many different ways of approaching stills depending on where you are and what materials & heating/cooling options you have available.

Some of the methods for creating a still are listed, in detail, below. There are also inflatable solar survival stills on the market which would be an ideal piece of kit to keep on a boat.

If you have fire as a heat source, the still can be a very efficient method of desalination of seawater and or decontaminating of water; or extracting water from poisonous liquid such as milky sap.

The tricky bit, when using fire as a heat source, is catching the water droplets as they evaporate. This can be done with a large plastic bag, tarpaulin or hoochie (folded into a cone shape) provided that the fire is low intensity (so as not to melt the bag or tarp).

The method for this is to make a tripod by lashing three 5-6ft sticks together and positioning it over the top of the fire. The plastic bag is then placed over the top of the tripod creating a cap.

Before placing the bag, or tarp, over the tripod, the opening edge of the bag/tarp must be folded back up, inside the bag so that it creates a catchment for the condensed water to pool.

Put the pot or improvised container of liquid on the fire and wait for the water to pool.

An alternative could be to use a
large piece of fabric instead of a plastic bag. Once the fabric is saturated, replace if with a dry piece. Let the saturated piece cool for a minute or two before wringing the water out into a container to drink.

You could also use a large flat leaf (e.g. A banana leaf) fashioned into a cone shape and pinned with a stick to catch the water vapor as it evaporates. A smaller tripod (20-30 cm) could be placed in the water container which would suspend the leaf cone above. Bamboo split in half lengthwise could be laid around the fire to catch the condensed water as it drips off the edges if the leaf cone.

The solar still method involves using heat from the sun to extract drinkable water from the ground, mud, foliage or feces via condensation.

Dig a hole in the ground about knee to thigh deep.
Place a container in the center of the hole and place cut vegetation around the container (you can leave out the vegetation if you don’t have any. So long as the ground is damp in the hole moisture will be drawn from the ground).

Cover the hole with a piece of plastic, weight it down with rocks and seal around the edges with sand, dirt, stones or mud. Place a small stone in the center of the plastic, above the container. Leave for a few hours.

If possible, you can place a piece of hose in the water container before sealing the hole so that you can drink the liquid without disrupting the still.
illustration of a solar still

 

 

Inflatable Emergency Solar Still

There are a number of inflatable solar survival stills on the market which are an ideal piece of kit for boats and life rafts and are highly recommended for any voyage out to sea. Essentially they are an inflatable pyramid which uses evaporation and condensation caused by the sun to convert seawater into fresh drinkable water. These pack up nice and small for easy stowage and are available from most fishing and boating stores.

This method of collecting water uses evaporation and condensation to draw drinking water from a branch of a tree.

Place a plastic bag over the end of a branch (pick a branch with as much foliage as possible) and tie the opening of the bag tightly around the branch of the tree to seal it off.

Ensure that the branch is not pushed too far into the bag so that it is jammed up against the bottom of the bag as this may inhibit the condensation running down to the bottom of the bag.

Leave this for several hours. The sun will heat up the air inside the bag and this will cause the moisture in the tree branch to evaporate. The water droplets will condense on the inside of the bag and run down to the lowest point in the bag creating a small reservoir of water which is good to drink.

Set up as many of these as you can so that you get a good supply.

illustration of a branch still

Like the solar still, the sweat bag still method can be used to draw drinkable water from foliage or contaminated water but without the effort of digging a hole.

Place a plastic bag (on it’s side) on the ground and brush the dirt off some stones and place them into the bag to form a small platform.

Place leaves, vegetation offcuts or foliage on top of the platform (this will keep the foliage up out of any water which pools at the bottom) and prop the top of the bag up with a stick to form a large hollow space filled with air. Ensure that you pad the top of the stick with fabric or a rock to stop it tearing a hole in the bag.

Seal the opening of the bag by tying and then just leave it to sit in the sun for a few hours.

The sun will heat the air inside causing the moisture in the foliage to evaporate and condense on the inside of the bag. The condensation will trickle down the inside of the bag and pool at the bottom.
This water will be good to drink.

You can also try substituting the foliage with a container of mud or urine.

Finding and Collecting Water

Water will always follow the path of least resistance so common sense should tell you that a good place to look for water would be low points in the landscape such as valley floors and gullies. When in any type of hilly terrain, these places are ideal places to look.

It is nearly always best to head down hill, when in the mountains, as you are likely to come to a stream which will run into a river which will, in turn, lead you to a road and/or civilization.

If there is no river, stream or pool of water on the valley or gully floor, look for places where clumps of green vegetation or trees are growing and dig there. You are likely to find water, or at least moisture, below the surface. Once you dig into the moist ground, leave the hole to rest for a few minutes which will allow the water to pool in the bottom for collection and drinking.

Water can also be found in dried riverbeds by digging on the outside bend. Chances of finding water in this situation are increased if there outside edge of the bend is protected by overhanging rock or log, or the area in which you dig is sandy; or has some form of green vegetation growing along the sides.

You should only need to dig about 50 – 70 cm (2ft) max. Any deeper and you run the risk of wasting precious body fluid through exertion. Survival is also about knowing when to cut your losses and continue you search elsewhere.

illustration of a dry riverbed

In coastal areas, digging about 100 mt (330ft) back from the high tide line will produce drinkable water. It will still be a bit salty but drinkable. The best results will come from sandy areas such as dunes.

Water seeping from rock walls (a seep) can easily be collected and can provide a reasonable amount of drinking water; ferns or vegetation growing out of a rock-face will often indicate a seep. The survivor can be almost certain to find a seep inside a cave or lava tunnel.

Collecting Water from a Seep

It is possible to sip the water straight from the rock, depending on how fast water is being released. Often there will only be a light seeping of water so you can also lay a piece if fabric or clothing over the seep until it is saturated and then wring the water out of it, either into a container or straight into your mouth.

Another method is to use a wick to divert the water into a container. To do this, place a container (cup, old discarded plastic bottle or even a broad soft leaf folded at the edges and pinned with twigs to form a container) securely near the seep (a man made container such as a discarded bottle could be hung from a string) lay a piece of string, cord, strip of fabric or shoelace across the rock where the water is seeping in such a way that it gets wet (this is the WICK). If the rock is vertical, secure the wick so that it does not fall off then put the hanging end in the bottle/container and leave it for a few hours. Before long, the wick will absorb the water to the point of saturation and the water will start to trickle nicely into the container. This method can be very effective and having a few of these set up can yield quite a good amount of water.

Natural Springs

Springs occur where a flow of underground water breaks (or springs) through the grounds surface.
A spring can yield several hundred liters of water per day, even during a heavy drought, and can be a lifesaving find for the survivor.

Areas where granite rock bands or shelves break through the surface of the ground, and rocky cliffs should be searched for the presence of a spring. Look for the direction that the bands of rock are layered. Any spring water will actively move underground along the lines determined by the rock bands. This will give you some idea of where to look. A spring could look like a flow of water coming from a point in the rock or ground, or it could just look like a boggy patch of ground. In cliffs, it is worth investigating any areas where there is an excess of green vegetation growing.

Collecting Dew

At night or early morning, dew drops usually cover smooth surfaces such as leaves, grass, tree bark & and man made waste such as glass, tin/ iron and plastic. This can be an excellent supplementary source when collected. You can either soak this up with fabric or clothing or, if you are confident that it is safe, lick it directly from the source. Be careful though not to cut your tongue and some leaves are irritants and can cause your mouth to swell.


collecting dew by wrapping clothing around the legs and walking through dew soaked grassA reasonable amount of water can easily be collected by tying clean clothes around your legs and walking through long, dew soaked, grass at night or in the early morning. The liquid can then be wrung out into the mouth or a container.














dew trapDew traps can be created by digging a hole in the ground about shin deep and placing a sheet of plastic, tarpaulin, leather or vinyl from a car seat or large leaf over the hole so that it sits in the hole and makes a depression. you will probably need to weigh down the edges with logs or stones. Leave it overnight and you will often find a pool of water in the morning.


Collecting Rain Water

When water is in short supply it is important not to overlook the small sources. Lots of little bits add up to a lot and these small water sources can greatly improve your chances of survival. Look for:

  • Hollows in the fork of a tree, rock or ground where rainwater or dew may have pooled
  • Trees, ferns and palms where broad leaves join the trunk as rain water or dew will often collect there
  • Leaves which are shaped such that they hold small reservoirs of water

Rain traps are essentially the same as the dew trap however and can be used to catch and pool rain rather than dew, however when it is raining, any large smooth surface should be exploited (Tarpaulins, Plastic, Bamboo roofing, Large leaves etc) should all be fashioned in a way that they catch and channel rain from a wide area into the rain trap. Large sea shells, bamboo halves, sliced lengthwise also make good rain traps.

All rain water, no matter where you are in the world, is good to drink, as is.

If you are injured and cannot move, wrap a piece of fabric, like a strip torn from the bottom of a t-shirt, around the base of a tree and insert the loose end into the opening of a bottle or cup. The fabric will draw in moisture released by the tree and, once saturated, start dripping into the bottle/cup.

Watching for signs of water

There is a lot to be learned from watching animals as they go about their daily business I’m their environment. If you know what to look out for, you can pick up on tell-tail signs which will lead you to water, give you early warning if wild fire is near, help you to find salt and many more useful things.

Birds
  • Birds flying low and fast are usually heading toward a water source.
  • Birds flying from water are usually full and will often fly from branch to branch; fluttering and zig-zaging.
Bees

Honeybees nesting in the wild choose nest sites close to water supplies. Honeybees cannot survive without water as they use water to cool the hive, maintaining a temperature of around 35dec (C) or 95(F) preventing the wax from melting, water is mixed with pollen and honey to feed the young and to dilute their own food supply when the sugar levels are in excess of 50%. In hot climates, bees will require up to 2lt (2.1qts) per day. Bees will build their hive within 500mtrs of a sustainable watersource which could prove to be valuable to the thirsty survivor.

Honey is also a valuable survivor food which is rich in vitamins and a great energy source. Honey can be smeared over cuts providing protection from dirt and germs and properties which will hasten the healing process.

Tracks and Trails
  • When you find converging game trails, following them, in the direction of the arrow that they make where they meet, will lead to water.
Man Made Objects

In the desert you should always look underneath any man made objects you may come across such as a sheet of iron or the like, it may have been placed there on purpose to cover the entrance of a well or bore. This is common practice amongst locals in arid places.

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