Photo by Karen Andrews
They say that you should never judge a book by its cover. Walter C. Blasdale’s ‘Cyclamen persicum: Its Natural and Cultivated Forms’ is an unassuming, concise volume that normally sits in the restricted access section of the University of Reading Library. In an age of print or e-books laden with full-colour, blousy photographs, this 1952 edition looks puritanically modest with its black and white prints. It is a gem – just like the flower it describes.
A single tree of the brazil nut
Filling your lap with the sharp fragments of nut shells as you work through a bowl of shell-on nuts is one of the pleasures of Christmas. Less fun is later treading on the sharp fragments that have pinged across the room unnoticed. The, sometimes, superhuman effort of cracking open the nuts is a sure sign the plant didn’t really want you to eat them. One of the most challenging nuts to crack is the Brazil with it’s tough shell and almost no air space inside to allow movement.
Brazil nuts were the most exotic of the standard selection of mixed nhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4065611.stmuts seen for sale each Christmas in the UK. Hazel, walnuts and almonds can all be grown in the UK and around much of the rest of Europe however the Brazil nut really does come from Brazil and it has a fascinating biological story. The pecan has now replaced the brazil as the exotic nut of choice for a standard supermarket bag of mixed nuts due to fear of aflatoxins in the shell-on nuts but this is a poor second choice in my opinion. Shelled brazils are still readily available. Continue reading
With Christmas approaching quickly, many of you are braving the cold and crowds to complete your Christmas shopping. If you do have time for a break you may enjoy one of the most popular lattes on the high street, a Chai latte. Before we go off at a tangent and start debating how much of the high street product actually deserves the name (we are very picky with our beverages here… But we do love Meera Sodha’s Massala Chai), we want you to take a minute and appreciate the star of today’s Advent Botany Blog, the Queen of Spices: Cardamom. Continue reading
This deep dive into pineapple anatomy is our contribution this year to the very fun Advent Botany essay collection, a celebration of plants that are at least somewhat tangentially connected to the winter holidays. In previous years we’ve contributed essays on figs, peppermint, and sugar.
December is the time to bring out the fancy Christmas china, polish the silver pitchers, and . . . bedeck your best bromeliads. In 2017, as in 1700, no proper hostess can be without a pineapple for her centerpiece. Here we unpack the botany of pineapple, which is as complicated and fabulous as its cultural history. A proper hostess, after all, should also be able to dazzle her guests with tales of tropical fruit morphology.
A pineapple in flower (Uni of Reading)
The developing fruit of pineapple (Uni of Reading)
Nutmeg in fruit (Photo Nandhu Kumar)
On 23rd December 1616 Nathaniel Courthope came into view of Pulo Run, an island situated in the Moluccas (Indonesia), which have been known as the Spice Islands of the East Indies, and is the region from which nutmeg originates. Courthope was the Captain of a trade ship who had been sent by the East India Company to make friends with the fierce locals and get them to agree to trade nutmeg (Milton, 1999). Continue reading
Imageries of the of the Mother and Child are often used in traditional Christmas cards but our modern versions seem to omit a fruit that has Christian symbolism. The pomegranate was often featured alongside the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus in artworks from the 15th century, with many famous artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli creating numerous art pieces that explore this theme. The Italian Renaissance painter, Sandro Botticelli, painted the ‘Madonna of the Magnificat’ and the ‘Madonna of the Pomegranate’. In both paintings, mother and child hold a split pomegranate revealing its blood red seeds. The National Gallery in London holds ‘The Virgin and Child with a Pomegranate’ by the same artist. Continue reading
My childhood in New Zealand was punctuated every autumn by a bounty of a sweet, fragrant fruit called feijoas. Our garden, like many of our neighbours’ contained a couple of non-descript evergreen shrubs. Every summer they would develop a display of small white flowers with fleshy petals and brilliant red stamens, promising a bumper crop of egg-shaped green fruit for the coming autumn, as long as its pollinators: bees and small birds, do their job. When autumn came, the fruit would drop to the ground, where I’d have to be quick to harvest them by the bucketful every few days before they began to rot.
This is Dr M’s contribution to #AdventBotany for 2017 the fourth fantastic year of this true botanical original originating from the School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading! The 2017 edition is curated by Dr M’s colleague Dr Alastair Culham.
For day 11, ironically as I wrote this post it is snowing here in deepest darkest urban Berkshire, and was the timely inspiration for my title!
Two glasses of sloe gin
Sloe gin is an increasingly popular festive drink. Its astringent, alcoholic, delicate yet complex sweetness and rosy red colouration, make it a winning combination as a festive beverage finding a worthy place amongst the tinsel garlands and mince pies, guaranteed to warm the cockles of the heart on the frostiest of Christmas days!
In the family Rosaceae, Blackthorn and Sloe are two vernacular names for Prunus spinosa as it is scientifically known. In common with plants everywhere, the Sloe has many stories to tell us. Continue reading
At this time of year, there is always that one person who is impossible to buy a gift for. What do you get a botanist who has everything? Well, how about some microscope slides?
As we’ve been working our way through Manchester Museum’s 15,000 microscope slide collection, I can’t help but imagine some of these as presents. For starters, there’s all that beautiful paper; no gift is complete without the careful wrapping. Early microscope slides were wrapped in paper to keep the coverslip in place on top of the specimen. Other methods for attaching the coverslip were developed, but some slide preparators continued to use the papers for decoration.
Glasgow Botanic Gardens. Kibble Palace. William Goscombe John (1860-1952), The Elf, marble, 1899
Who would have thought that the author of Little Women
could have had such a significant role in today’s advent blog about plants… For it was Louisa May Alcott who first introduced us to the elf, maker of our beloved Christmas presents and immortalized in the names of over 100 ornamental plants.
In the 1850s Louisa May Alcott, the American novelist, abolitionist, feminist and jogger (yes, really) first wrote about elves in her unpublished book Christmas Elves. Her elves, based on our modern notion of small male humans robed in green onesies, pointy hats, medieval pointinini style shoes and enslaved in Father Christmas’s toy workshop may have evolved from the Scandinavian pagan belief that elves were house gnomes who guarded their places of residence from evil. Continue reading