Sunday, January 1, 2023

Botanical Tourism: Life Lists

Its a new year and we pause to look both forward and back. 


What if, in the new year, you made a plant Life List? Bird watchers keep Life Lists of all the bird species they've seen, with the goal of seeing a large number of the 11,000 species of birds. That's probably not attainable, but Europe has 540 species of birds and North America 2,059, so one could see a significant portion of those. 

How would that apply to plants? There's a similar problem of too many species worldwide: over 400,000. Even Europe is daunting with 9,875 plant species, while North America has over 20,000. 
But I met a couple that were trying to see each of the 19 penguin species in world. That was quite a challenge because some of them are confined to remote islands in the Southern Hemisphere, but a manageable number. 

So consider these Life List ideas for plant lovers:
How about seeing a plant in each of the 416 plant families, ideally growing wild? Travel in Arizona to score Krameriaceae and Fouquieriaceae.
ocotillo, Fouquieria, Fouquieriaceae
ocotillo, Fouquieria splendens, Fouquieriaceae

Or, see every plant in your state. The numbers and lists of species are generally available. That would not be a small project, though. Colorado has over 3,000 native plant species, Nebraska 1,500. The state flora will give you the list, descriptions, and a place to record your successes.

Colorado wildflowers
Colorado wildflowers

Figuring out the names of some of the small natives could be a major project, so an alternative is to focus on an easily-recognized group. See all 70 species of sunflowers, Helianthus. The sunflowers  are native to the Americas, so for more excitement, choose an internationally-distributed group. See all the magnolias (genus Magnolia): there are at least 210, distributed through the Americas and in China and southeast Asia. I'd be interested in a Life List of sages, both the spice sages, genus Salvia (1,000 species, some quite spectacular, from Asia to Europe and Africa and the Americas) and the sagebrushes, genus Artemisia (200-400 species, native to Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas). 

sage, Salvia species
red sage, Salvia coccinea

Here are some other ideas: 

What of a list of your favorite spices or herbs? Seeing parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and sage (Salvia officinalis) in a garden is pretty easy. Finding parsley and sage growing wild in Europe where they are native is more interesting. And, don't you want to see cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) and nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)? Those are tropical trees native to Asia. I made a list of some common spices: see List 1, below.

small cinnamon tree, Bali, Indonesia
small cinnamon tree, Bali, Indonesia

I'm mixing travel to see plants with Life Lists, but except for trying to find every plant in your county, Life Lists require at least some travel. Which I love.

One can quickly generate a list of favorite vegetables to see growing. If you find them in their homelands, this can be a gastronomic delight, because in many cases there are races and varieties native in the region of origin that are not widely grown, but absolutely delicious. See List 2, below. Or fruits, List 3. 

A different approach is to make a list of the iconic plants you've read about and plan to see them. For example, redwoods and mangroves and banyan trees... Some of the ones I'm interested in are in List 4.
banyan, Ficus, Hilo, Hawaii
banyan, Ficus probably F. benghalensis, Hilo, Hawaii
They get bigger; I could enjoy finding banyans all around the world

Finally, I've always wanted to find all the plants that are so special they have their own name. A personal name, not just the species name. Pando the quaking aspen, General Sherman the giant sequoia. No doubt there are more than I've identified. I'm working on that. I've seen General Sherman, but it was 50 years ago. I haven't seen any of the others on that list. 

Life Lists are kind of silly, but silly can be great fun.

So, with the dawning of a new year, these are some ideas of goals for botanical fun and enjoying plants generally.

Comments and corrections welcome.

List 1: 20 Common Spices to See Growing:
(I include the area of origin)
allspice - Central America
basil - Europe
bay leaf (laurel) - Europe
black pepper - southeast Asia
cardamon - India
caraway -Europe
chili pepper, paprika - tropical America
cloves - Indonesia
cinnamon - Sri Lanka
dill - Europe
garlic - Asia
ginger - Asia
horseradish - Europe
mint (spearmint, peppermint) - Europe
mustard - Europe
nutmeg - Indonesia 
oregano - Europe
parsley - southern Europe
rosemary - the Mediterranean
saffron - Europe
sage - southern Europe and the Middle East
sesame - East Africa or India
tarragon - Europe
thyme - southern Europe
turmeric - India
vanilla - Mexico
Seeing all of these in herb gardens will take a bit. To find them on their native continent in gardens is feasilble but some are no longer found in nature. The origin of others is poorly known and debated. 

List 2: Favorite Vegetables and their Homelands
asparagus - North Africa, southern Europe
avocado - Central America
broccoli, same plant as cabbage
cabbage - northern Europe, especially the coasts
carrots - Europe, especially the Netherlands
cauliflower - same plant as cabbage
celery - Europe
corn - Mexico
cucumber - India
eggplant - southern China
green beans - South America
lentils - Turkey to Afghanistan
lettuce - southern Europe
oats - Middle East
onions - Middle East (but see the Pyramids in Egypt and think of the workers snacking on onions)
peas -Europe and the Near East
potatoes - Andes of South America
peppers (red, green) - Central and South America
radish - Europe and Asia
rice - southeast Asia
spinach - southwest Asia (Iraq)
squash - US South
tomatoes - Mexico
wheat - Middle East
Seeing all of these in gardens on their native continent will take a bit. Some are no longer found in nature. The origin of others is uncertain. 

List 3: Favorite Fruits in their Homelands
apple - eastern Europe to the Middle East
apricot - China
banana - southeast Asia
blueberry - there are species native to northern Europe (Scotland, Scandinavia, Russia) but the commerical blueberry is from northern US and Canada
citrus (orange, tangerine, lemon) southeast Asia
cherry - Eurasia
coconut - Indian Ocean islands
kiwi - southern China 
melons - Africa and the Middle East
papaya - Central America
peach - China
pear - Middle East
pineapple - Central America
strawberry - native species all over the world, current commercial strawberry is a hybrid of a North and South American species
watermelon - subtropical Africa
You probably have other favorites. Seeing all of these in gardens on their native continent will take a bit. Some are no longer found in nature. The origin of others is uncertain. 

List 4: Iconic Plants to See Growing and especially, See Growing Wild
American chestnut - largely extinct, check eastern US
American elm - largely extinct but surviving in isolated spots like rural Nebraska
auracaria - southern hemisphere conifers - Australia and New Zealand
bamboo - lots of species worldwide, but especially extensive forests of bamboo in SE Asia
banyan - India
baobab - Africa 
eucalyptus forests in Australia
giant waterlily - Victoria waterlily - central South America
giant sequoia - California
mangroves - tropical coastlines
mistletoe - forests of northern Europe, though there are other species around the world
mountain ash - tallest tree after redwood, Australia
orchids - almost anywhere in the world, but you have to be alert to spot them, most are rare
palms - tropical and subtropical regions; especially Africa and Asia
redwood - California
sacred lotus - southeast Asia
saguaro cactus - sw United States, mainly Arizona
Seychelles coconut - largest seed in the world, native only to the Seychelles
tree ferns - tropical forests, e.g. Costa Rica
welwitchia - southern Africa

List 5: Plants with Individual Names 
(the internet will give you lots more information on these plants)
Centurion - swamp gum, Eucalyptus regnans - tallest hardwood in world - Tasmania
El Arbol del Tule Tree - a cypress believed to be the widest in the world - Oaxaca, Mexico
Pando - huge quaking aspen in Utah
General Sherman - giant sequoia - California
Goethe palm - oldest palm in Europe, planted 1585, Italy
Hildeshelm Rose - oldest rose, since 815- Germany
Hyperion - redwood, world's tallest tree - California
Methuselah - bristle cone pine - 4,845 yrs old - California
Old Tjikko - Norway spruce - 9,550 yrs old - Sweden
Prometheus - bristle cone pine - 4,900 yeras old -  California
Sri Maha Bodhi - bo tree, Ficus religiosa planted 288 BC. Sri Lanka
The Tree that Owns Itself - white oak - Athens GA

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist

1 comment:

  1. I used to visit and map as many banyans as I could visit. Cool tree...almost as cool as grasses ;-) Nowadays my list includes some of the weirder and more rare Poaceae, such as Orcuttia and Swallenia.