Monday, August 26, 2013

Plant Quiz: Where is Boston ivy, Egyptian cotton, Jerusalem artichokes and Russian sunflowers native?

  Plant names are endlessly fascinating to me. Especially when I learn they don't tell me what I thought they did.

 So today, a quiz: 

I don't have the right pictures, so I send you to the web to see pictures of the plants.

Where are the following plants native?

Boston ivy, Parthanocissus tricuspidata   Boston ivy

Egyptian cotton, Gossypium barbadense  Egyptian cotton

Jerusalem artichokes, Helianthus tuberosus Jerusalem artichokes and the flowering Jerusalem artichoke

Russian sunflowers, Helianthus annuus  Russian sunflowers

And the answers are:

Boston ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata is from Asia. Introduced to the West from Japan in 1869, it was soon widely planted in US. Alternate names for it include Japanese creeper and grape ivy (it is related to grapes, same plant family,Vitaceae). However, it is best known because it is grown all over walls in Boston, Massachusetts, including at Fenway Park. Consequently it is called Boston ivy. In its native China, P. tricuspidata is called pashanhu, mountain-climbing tiger. 

Egyptian cotton
Egyptian cotton
Egyptian cotton is native to northwestern South America. The cottons native to Eurasia are "short staple", with fibers that are 1/2 to 1" long. The cottons discovered in the New World, including Gossypium barbadense, had fibers about twice that length, making them much easier to spin. Consquently New World cottons were quickly brought to the Old World. Egypt has an excellent climate for growing cotton, so by the 16th Century, Egypt was a major producer of cotton, using long staple New World plants. European weavers recognized the quality of "Egyptian cotton."

The Jerusalem artichoke isn't from Jerusalem or an artichoke. It is a sunflower, Helianthus tuberosus and native to central North America. Apparently the name Jerusalem is a mispronunciation of the Italian word for sunflower, girasole. The edible "artichoke" is a tuber from the roots, not much like an artichoke, which is a flower bud. (Jerusalem artichoke picture).

Russian sunflowers
Russian sunflowers
Russian sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, are from central North America. Sunflowers were taken to Europe shortly after the Americas were discovered, and reached Russia in the 1700s. The Russians saw their potential and led the breeding of varieties for food and oil. Traded around the rest of the world, the name Russian sunflowers indicated the source of the improved seed. Read the details at: kuriositas

Comments and corrections welcome.


Heiser, C.B., Jr. 1995. Sunflowers, Helianthus (Compositae). pp. 51-53 in J. Smartt and N. W. Simmonds, eds. The Evolution of Crop Plants. Longman Press, London.

Mabberley, D.J. 1997. The Plant-Book. 2nd. ed. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Valder, P. 1999. The Garden Plants of China. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist
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