Tag Archive | Botany

Once in a lifetime opportunity: The Corpse Flower in Bloom

20150819_191204The Denver Botanic Gardens was lucky enough to have one of their Corpse Flowers (Amorphophallus titanum) bloom this week. You may have heard. Not only was it all over the local news, a quick search turns up articles in the New York TimesUSA Today, The Washington Post, and one in Mental Floss highlighting “Stinky”, DBG’s name for the thing.

Friends and I all waited with bated breath while watching the 24 hour live web cam days in advance, for the first signs of blooming. I was checking the live stream at all hours of the day, and night, at work, at home and anywhere I had an internet connection, when about 7:30 pm on Tuesday night we saw the first of the petals begin to unfurl. DBG planned to be open until midnight the night of the bloom, however there was a concert scheduled at the gardens that evening, so very few people got to see it. They say the stink of the bloom only lasts about 10 hours, so, of course, we wanted to go see it right away.

Wednesday morning I had to teach a class, and couldn’t line up at 6am with the flock of people all excited for this momentous occasion, but picked up my son (my junior botany enthusiast) from home at around 12:30 after class to drive the hour and a half down to Denver. I figured it might take us an hour or two to wait in line, see the flower, and we’d still have a little time to look around the rest of the gardens before heading back home for back-to-school night.The line behind us at about 3 hours

Boy was I ever wrong! When we walked into the DBG the atmosphere was excited and people were happily buzzing around like bees everywhere. So I bought our tickets and went to stand in the line to see Stinky. The friendly volunteer manning the entrance to the line informed us that it would be about a 3-4 hour wait to see the flower. Woah! OK, so we won’t get to see the rest of the gardens today, and we’re going to have to hurry back to get to the school on time; surely 4 hours is a bit of an over estimation. We happily chatted with the nice lady in line behind us, and munched on a sandwich as the line seemed to be snaking along rather steadily. We passed the time identifying the flowers and plants we passed, watched some unusual bugs pollinating some unidentified asteraceaes and taking in the the gardens around us, which are fantastic this time of year with almost everything in bloom……for 3 hours or so this kept us somewhat occupied and content. Contentment quickly began to wane. At about the 3 1/2 hour mark I realized we weren’t going to make it back home in time for back-to-school night, but we couldn’t give up now…we were so close! Almost 5 hours after we arrived the enormous flower came into view and a bit of enthusiasm returned. We were up next! As we approached everyone in line began to sniff the air and speculate if that subtle smell or this one might belong to the corpse flower. I caught a whiff of something like rotting fruit; that might be it.

They had taken down the glass of the greenhouse in front of the flower so you could get good pictures and maybe get a smell of the notorious odor. Pictures taken quickly and air sniffed thoroughly we were herded along, around the corner where the air in the greenhouse was vented for a better aromatic experience. I saw the thing, now I wanted to smell it! On the back side of the greenhouse you could feel the air blowing out into a small room which clearly isn’t usually open to the public. It smelled a bit like mildewy air filter and dirty laundry, I don’t think that’s what the flower is supposed to smell like. So I did see it, I’m not sure if any of the scents that reached my nose belonged to Stinky or not.

Finally!

Finally!

In conclusion: That was the longest line I’ve ever waited in in my entire life, I got to see something pretty cool, briefly, but I still don’t know what a blooming Corpse Flower actually smells like.

Afterword, we stopped at one of our favorite Vietnamese restaurants on the way home and found a much simpler but more satisfying experience in drinking from fresh coconuts and and eating exceptional food too late at night the day before school started.

The coconut was worth the wait!

The coconut was worth the wait!

I hope when my son’s new teacher asks “how did you spend your summer vacation”, he doesn’t say, “I waited in line for most of it” , and instead he says, “I had a once in a lifetime experience, and saw a blooming Corpse Flower.” I just don’t know which part he’ll remember more.

Want to know more about the Corpse Flower? Look here:

http://www.botanicgardens.org/our-gardens/whats-blooming/corpse-flower

http://www.livescience.com/51947-corpse-flower-facts-about-the-smelly-plant.html

How about a little Corpse Flower fiction or poetry?

The Corpse Flower By Bruce Beasley

Corpse Flower By Rosemary Harris

Corpse Flower By Gloria Harris

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Meet Your Friendly Neighborhood Weeds

Wednesday evening I was invited to speak at a local community garden. I was so excited to share with the community some of my herbal knowledge, and thought the people might like to learn more about about the plants they are growing… unintentionally. The weeds! To a botanophile, there are no bad plants, just misunderstood plants.  In this post my goal is to help you all understand those poor unloved weeds. I’ll briefly profile just a few of the most common and disliked.

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bindweed (Convovulus arvensis): Also known as wild morning glory. Ahh, the despised nemesis of gardeners everywhere. The young shoots and leaves are actually a popular green often eaten in Vietnam, India and Turkey. Medicinally the flowers have laxative properties, the roots and leaves are a topical haemostatic and have even been used to treat spider bites and poisoning. The latest research on this plant looks promising for cancer treatment by limiting blood flow to tumors. Opening in the morning and closing at night, they can be awfully pretty too. Got a bindweed problem? Why not plant Vinca vine or a decorative species of morning glory with it, and you’ll have a beautiful viney flower garden.

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense): Also known as creeping thistle, lettuce from hell, and even cursed thistle you know this one is unloved! All Cirsium species are edible cooked or raw. You can eat the center stalks, the young leaves (tastes a bit like celery), older leaves stripped of spines, the root, the seeds and the flower. Medicinally it has been used to treat mouth conditions, poison ivy and intestinal parasites. Its pollen is a favorite of honeybees. Save the bees! And the weeds!

It was hard to choose just a few, there are so many wonderful and hated weeds out there. But this next one, I have always particularry disliked… until I discovered it’s virtues.

Siberian Elm (Umlus pumila): Also known as Asiatic elm, dwarf elm and Chinese elm. Medicinally Siberian elm is a promising substitute for the over harvested, and endangered slippery elm (Umlus rubra). It is also resistant to Dutch elm disease which has decimated most native elm populations. The leaves are edible, and quite good as a tea. The bark and leaves are used medicinally like the slippery elm for sore throats, weak digestion, skin lesions, UTI’s, coughs and malnutrition. It starts out as an ugly shrub, but I have seen them grow into rather beautiful shade trees.

Maybe now you see the weeds from my point of view? In the words of  that lovable donkey, Eeyore….

Want to know more about useful weeds? Here are a few books I’d recommend:

Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives by Timothy Lee Scott

Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat by Ellen Zachos

Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging, with Easy Identification of 60 Edible Plants and 67 Recipes by Sergei Boutenko

My first book review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Welcome to my first real post! In considering what to possibly write I decided I should focus on whats important to me. I am a Certified Master Herbalist and a librarian, and have, for so many years been seeking out books that have to do with plants, herbal medicine and the history and folklore of healing. I thought why not focus on that unique, little genre of fiction? You can look up all the great herbal resources out there on any herbalists website. But if you’re like me and love a good story, you want more than a dry text book. You want to feel apart of another world, become immersed in your learning in every way possible; something I think can only be accomplished through reading fiction.

So, I hope you enjoy reading my reviews and recommendations!

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I wanted to start off this blog by briefly reviewing a book that I think will appeal to a wide variety of readers, Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest novel, The Signature of All Things. It is a story about life and love, suffering and beauty.

This is the story of the life of Alma Whittaker. She is born into a life of science. From an early age she is encouraged to study the world around her, and to engage in conversation with great men of science and discovery. Her world is the huge estate she grows up on, and it’s impressive library and greenhouses. Alma is not the kind of character which you can imagine yourself in her shoes, but she is still relate-able enough to gain your sympathies. Through her lifetime you will follow her on her journey of self discovery, and then onto self actualization and appreciation.

Like her heroine, Gilbert’s writing is filled with stoic grace and dignity. She conquers the topics of botany, evolution, and theology, reaching those not just looking for a good story, but also those interested in these sciences and the history behind them. I loved it because it introduced me to the real world history of the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Captain Cook, and the plant hunters that made botany what it has become today. It touched on the history of botanical illustration, the roots of evolutionary theory, and the first western contact with Tahiti and the surrounding islands by missionaries and naturalists. I found myself heading to Google more than once to find out more about a subject Gilbert mentioned in passing. This is the kind of story I enjoy because I went into it with a little knowledge of the subject, and came out inspired to find out even more.

Interested in reading more about the ideas explored in The Signature of All Things? Try these non-fiction books:

The Plant Hunters: The Adventures of the World’s Greatest Botanical Explorers

The Golden Age of Botanical Art

The Gardens at Kew

The Heretic in Darwin’s Court: The Life of Alfred Russel Wallace

Enjoy!