Sunday, January 17, 2021

Dye Plant--Annatto, Bixa orellana, the Lipstick Tree

Most dye plants are subtle. To get red from madder (Rubia tinctoria), the greatest red dye plant, you have to dig up the roots, cook them for an hour, and add a mordant. Annatto, known as lipstick tree, and achiote (Bixa orellana in the plant family named after it, Bixaceae) has big spiny red fruits that if you open them, smear red all over your hands. Not a bit subtle. Of course people tried it as a dye.  

annatto Bixa orellana seed pod
annatto Bixa orellana seed pod,
about 2" long

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Travel Story--La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, California

 Sometimes travel shows you unexpected wonders. I took a tour of art museums and gardens in the area of Los Angeles, California, in 2013. The tour took me to see Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Right next to it is the La Brea Tar Pit Museum. The tour surely mentioned it, but I didn't notice. Consequently I stumbled upon it. 

La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, CA
View across tar pit at La Brea Tar Pit Museum

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Plant Story--the Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo

I was a tourist in Portugal and only caught the end of the guide's tale, "...strawberry tree." 

Strawberry tree?! Strawberries don't grow on trees! 

And, that's true, strawberries don't grow on trees, but there is very definitely a tree whose English name is strawberry tree.

strawberry-tree fruit, Arbutus unedo
strawberry-tree fruit, Arbutus unendo

It is Arbutus unedo, generally called the strawberry tree in English. It is in the heath family, Ericaceae, related to rhododendrons, blueberries, and cranberries, not at all closely related to strawberries, which are Fragaria species in the rose family, Rosaceae.