In spite of this week’s blizzard, spring is almost here, and soon we’ll be seeing bright yellow flowers filling the lawn or growing in a crack in the sidewalk. Dandelions—you either love them or you hate them, but it’s hard to ignore them.
What do carrots, cilantro, celery, and poison hemlock have in common? Think like a botanist. How do the leaves look? What shape is the root? What about the flowers? Yes, they’re all members of the Apiaceae (aka Umbelliferae) family of plants. So are caraway, anise, parsley, parsnips, and a whole host of other familiar species.
Members of this family are relatively easy to distinguish. The most obvious feature is in the way their flowers are arranged—like an umbrella, with a stalk and a cluster of flowers on stems all springing from a central point.
Why do we always seem to gravitate toward things that are rare? Precious stones, one-of-a-kind art objects, limited edition car models—we always seem to want most what’s hardest to find.
Gardeners aren’t exempt. We’re continually on the lookout for unique cultivars, with odd shapes or unusual colors. While lots of flowers are yellow, peonies usually come in shades of white, pink, and red. Yet, I have a good friend who paid a lot of money to get a yellow peony. Why? She thought it was “interesting.”
I love Asian cooking, or at least the American version of it. (I didn’t recognize anything on the buffet at the hotel in Bangkok!). Anything with plenty of onions, garlic, and ginger makes my mouth water. I’ve grown onions and garlic before, when I had more room for such things. But living in the cold part of Zone 5, any ginger I planted would have to be in a pot so I could bring it in for the winter. And at the rate I use ginger, it just didn’t seem to be worth the trouble.
After the storm earlier this week, snow blankets the fields, hiding most signs that anything ever grew there. But interspersed with the even white blanket and occasional dried grass leaves are spikes, sticking up like posts in the empty landscape. We’re finally noticing the dead and dried flower/seed stalks of Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus).
When Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) first appeared on the scene, I jumped right on the bandwagon, extolling its virtues and recommending it for Colorado gardens. I even planted it in my own yard. And yes, this hardy perennial lived up to my expectations. It was tough, drought-tolerant, and the deer and rabbits left it alone. On top of that, late summer brought a wealth of gorgeous lavender blossoms that covered the plant’s ferny, silvery-gray foliage. What’s not to like?
I’ll tell you. The plant is a thug.
Corn pudding and hush puppies, cornbread stuffing and succotash. If anything qualifies as authentic American cooking, it surely involves corn. We eat it fresh—still on the cob, creamed, and as the critical ingredient in corn chowder. We eat it dried and ground into cornmeal—in corn pone and muffins, as fritters and johnnycake. Domesticated for millennia, corn has come a long way from its teosinte roots.
Today have six types of corn, five of which are the result of selective breeding: pod corn, flint corn, popcorn (this could be considered a subset of flint corn), flour corn, dent corn, and sweet corn. (Pod corn is a mutant that forms leaves around each kernel, and isn’t commercially useful.)