Sunday, January 30, 2022

Plant Story--Tasty Goji Berries, Chinese Wolfberries, Lycium species

The familiar fruits of the U.S. are only a small portion of the fruits eaten around the world. One that appears increasingly in the U.S. is the goji berry. As with many new fruits, they have lots of names, few  in widespread use. They're called Chinese wolfberries, Chinese box thorn, Barbary box thorn, and matrimony vine. Two species are sold commercially, Lycium chinense and L. barbarum.  The Chinese name is gojizi or, in some transliterations, kouchi, which often becomes goji berry. There are other Chinese names for the fruit, such as yang-ju, and specialized Chinese names for leaves and stalks, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

goji berries, Lycium, for sale in China
goji berries, Lycium species, for sale in China

As dried fruit, goji berries are sweet but not very sweet. One of my books says they taste like licorice. I can detect what he thought was licorice but to me that's a very minor part of the taste. Fresh, they look like small cherry tomatoes, but are sweeter than tomatoes and lack that distinctive "tomato" flavor. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

A Plant's View: Plants in History

"Seriously," said Junior the Christmas cactus, wise in the ways of humans after decades as a houseplant, "What humans call history is just a list of past attempts to capture plants. You tell it as if heads of state or armies that were responsible, but, really, possessing particular plants is what has always motivated humans."

"Huh?" I said. 

Christmas cactus named Junior
Junior, a Christmas cactus

"Where should I start?" they asked. "The key to what you call civilization was agriculture. From that came cities and countries. Tell me that isn't all about plants?"

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Plant Story--Eucalyptus in Northern California, Eucalyptus globulus


Operator: "911. What is your emergency?"
Man: "I need an ambulance; a guy here is hurt."
Operator: "What is your location?"
Man: "I'm on Eucalyptus Street."
Operator: "Please spell that for me?"
Man: (long pause)
Operator: "Sir? Sir? Are you there?"
Man: "I'm just gonna drag him over to Maple Street. Call you right back."

eucalyptus, Eucalyptus globulus
eucalyptus, Eucalyptus globulus

Sunday, January 9, 2022

A Glimpse of Phoenix, Arizona

My husband and I traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, in early December; the goal to get away for a few days. Mostly we went to museums and ate out. But we were in Arizona because it is mild in the winter, and even in a musuem trip, I couldn't miss the distinctive plants. 

hillside with saguaro cacti, Arizona
Hill of saguaro cacti

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Plant Story: Poinsettia Update

This December, it was easy to encounter posts pointing out that Poinsett, from whom poinsettias take their name, was a racist. Consequently, say these posts, we should use the Aztec (Nahuatl) name, cuetlaxochitl (ket la sho she) instead. I do not think it is that simple.  

poinsettia/ cuetlaxochitl/flor de la noche buena, Euphorbia pulcherrima,
poinsettia/ cuetlaxochitl/ flor de la noche buenaEuphorbia pulcherrima,

Most people have no idea of the history of the plants around them. Plant species go back thousands of years, so they will have interacted with dozens of human cultures over time and space. Individual humans learn the name of familiar plants from a relative or friend and are rarely taught about its history. 
I learned poinsettia as a name, struggled a bit to remember and spell it, but never, before writing a blog post six years ago (link), wondered what a poinset was.