Mallows

Who doesn’t like marshmallows? Floating in your cocoa, shaped into a peep, or toasted over a campfire and smashed into a s’more, we all love the squidgy sweetness. I have always wondered where the name came from. What’s a mallow, and what is it doing in a marsh?

Turns out, Malvaceae is yet another family of plants, and one that most gardeners will recognize.

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Shhh… the Plants are Listening!

Corn silks_LAHQ: What has ears but cannot hear?
A: A field of corn.

Q: Why is corn such a good listener?
A: Because it’s all ears!

Q: Why shouldn’t you tell secrets on a farm?
A: Because the potatoes have eyes, the corn has ears, and the beans stalk.

Are you groaning yet? We make (bad) jokes about ears of corn, but it appears that plants might really have ears.

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Deadly? Or Delicious?

Devil’s Trumpet (Datura sp.)
Devil’s Trumpet (Datura sp.)

Eating just a few leaves or berries will leave you writhing on the ground. Your mouth dries, your pupils enlarge, and you run a fever. Within minutes, you gasp as painful cramps turn into vomiting and diarrhea.  First your pulse races, then it slows, as does your breathing. Your head pounds, and then the hallucinations start. You’ve become paralyzed.

But soon, none of that matters any more—because you’ll be dead.

Happily, if you do manage to get to a hospital in time, there’s a good chance you’ll recover, although the symptoms can last up to three days. Eating an unidentified plant is never a good idea, but if it happens to be one of the more dangerous members of the nightshade family, it could be fatal. Continue reading “Deadly? Or Delicious?”

Beautiful Buttercups

Buttercups. The word brings to mind a field of yellow flowers, or perhaps a young girl sniffing the flower and dusting her nose with pollen. And indeed, some of the flowers in this family, the Ranunculaceae, do make you think of a little cup filled with bright yellow butter. And some don’t.

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pH for Gardeners

To a gardener choosing which plants to grow, pH is an important consideration. While the pH of most soils falls somewhere between 3 and 9, the majority of common landscape plants prefer a pH slightly on the acidic side, say 6.2 to 6.8. However, some plants, such as blueberries and rhododendrons, prefer an even more acidic soil (with a pH in the 5 to 6 range) and other plants, green ash trees and clematis, for example, do best under more alkaline conditions, with a pH above 7.

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Campanulaceae: Beautiful Bellflowers, Lovely Lobelia

Campanulaceae is a family of plants with members ranging from the towering palm-lobelias of Africa to cottage garden flowers with names from a child’s book of fairytales: Canterbury bells, Cup and Saucer Vine, Harebells, and Fairy’s Thimbles. Two familiar genera, Campanula and Lobelia, are members of this family.

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Meet the Mustards

Broccoli and cabbage, mustard and turnips. Radishes, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Kale and kohlrabi. Asian vegetables such as daikon radishes, bok choy, and gai lan (Chinese broccoli). Never has a plant family had so many tasty members.

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