Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Cactus Family, Cactaceae

Is this plant cute?
Opuntia polyacantha

"Of course it is," my prickly pear cactus replied. "We cacti grow well in pots, have beautiful flowers, and survive if the dumb human forgets to provide water for weeks. We're awesome!"

cactus, Majorca
Cactus in pot, Majorca, Spain.
"Ah," I replied cautiously, "then how come some people hate you, clearing you out of their pastures?"

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Dye Story--Cochineal Reds

The big prickly pear cactus had white deposits. So unsightly! And yet, the source of fortunes!

Opuntai with cochineal

Humans love red, but red dyes are few in the natural world. Europe from prehistoric times raised madder (Isatis tinctoria) which makes a strong brick red. But though they loved madder, Europeans liked colors that were almost purple even better, and those were harder to produce. The Phoenecians, Greeks and Romans made them from small molluscs (murex, link  link) gathered in the Mediterranean. That was the source of the rare royal purple of Roman togas, a red-purple. The snails were over-harvested and when Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, the technology was lost until the 19th century.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Common Names--Too Many Shared Names

Calthus palustris
Calthus palustris  Do you call it cowslip or (marsh) marigold?
Nobody regulates common names. That's one of the reasons for scientific names. The rule on scientific names is: each organism has one and only one name, not shared with any other organism. 

Common names don't obey either of those rules. I wrote previously about multiple common names for the same plant. (linkThat is annoying, because sometimes you don't recognize that someone is talking about a plant you know only because they're using a different common name. 

I think the same common name for different plant is even more unfortunate. In this day of using words on the internet to learn about things, shared common names lead to at best, time wasted working out which plant you want, and at worst, possible poisoning because one plant with that name is toxic and one isn't. 

Primula vulgaris
another cowslip Primula vulgaris
marigold, Tagetes
another marigold, Tagetes sp.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Visiting Singapore--Gardens by the Bay

We stood astonished. Huge metal "trees."  This was Singapore. On the Equator, with lush plants but also industrialized and high-tech. So: a tree-like metal framework for tropical vines.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Here is how they looked from a distance, from a second or third story walkway.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Plant Story--Marigolds from the Americas

So, who are the marigolds, genus Tagetes?

marigolds, Tagetes
marigolds, Tagetes
The previous post (link) was about calendulas, called marigolds, now more properly called pot marigolds, important plants through much of European history. In the 1500s, a different group of flowers, species of the genus Tagetes (sunflower family, Asteraceae) were introduced to the Old World from the Americas. People loved them, called them marigolds and presently they became the plants people recognized as marigolds, not the Eurasian calendulas.

Marigolds, Tagetes, were not wildflowers when they were brought to Europe (by 1520). The Aztecs and other Native American groups had been growing them for centuries.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Plant Story--Marigolds in History-- Pot Marigolds (Calendulas)

marigolds, Bali
marigolds, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Marigolds and calendulas are mixed up in the literature (previous post). Both are plants with yellow to orange flowers in the sunflower family, Asteraceae. Calendulas, Calendula officialis, are from southern Europe or the Near East, and over the last 1000 years were called marigolds or pot marigolds in the European literature. Marigolds, species of Tagetes, are native to the New World and were introduced to the Old World in the 1500s. Lacking English names originally, they were initially called French marigold (Tagetes patula) and African marigold (Tagetes erecta) in England. Today the Tagetes species are generally called marigolds and the calendulas (pot marigolds) are much less well known.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Plant Confusion -- Marigolds and Calendulas

The marigold has conquered the world. Marigolds are common enough that we don’t pay them much attention. Look: marigolds in Bali:

marigolds, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

and Taiwan
marigolds, Taipei, Taiwan
marigolds, Taipei, Taiwan
In Asia, they are very much loved...and a long way from home.