It seems only right to devote the Christmas Day blog for Advent Botany to a plant that has brightened my winter garden for many years, Erica x darleyensis. This hybrid heath was first reported from a nursery in Darley Dale, Derbyshire in the late 1800s. It is a hybrid between the smaller winter heath, Erica carnea, another of my winter favourites, and Erica erigena, the Irish heath.
Why do I love it so much? Firstly it flowers through the winter when the garden needs brightening, secondly it is one of the easiest heaths to grow and thirdly it offers a good range of colours from very greeny white through to deep rosy pinks. It needs little attention although it gains from pruning back every couple of years to keep it dense and vigorous. Continue reading
Vernon and Christine Heywood (photo: Stephen Jury)
Dr M introduced to #adventbotany this year, #adventbotanists, botanists whose birthdays fall within advent. The first featured Erasmus Darwin a great botanical mind from a bygone age. Dr M’s second #adventbotanist features Vernon Heywood, born on 24th December 1927, widely recognised as a world authority on biodiversity and plant systematics, medicinal and aromatic plants, and the conservation of wild relatives of crop plants, and still very much active in his field.
Vernon Heywood was Professor of Botany and Head of Department at the University of Reading and in 1987 he left Reading (although still retaining the title Emeritus Professor of Botany) and became founder and director of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) where his work very much emphasised the essential mission of botanic gardens as allowing people to connect with plants. Continue reading
I’m not one for cream on my Christmas pudding, it just has to be custard or ice cream and so what I’m really admitting to is a love for vanilla. Vanilla is the quietest spice at Christmas but there is so much more to vanilla than merely two scoops of ice cream.
Natural vanilla is the fruit and seeds from a tropical, climbing orchid. There are other edible orchids (e.g. Dendrobium flowers and salep tubers), but it is certainly the most commonly used in food preparation. Some orchids are harvested from the wild to eat (such as Orchis mascula and O. militaris for salep), but given the demand, luckily this isn’t true for vanilla. There are over 100 orchid species in the Vanilla genus, but the most commonly cultivated species is Vanilla planifolia (more commonly known as Madagascan or Bourbon vanilla).
A longitudinal cross-section of tejocote fruit
Traditions are made by people. We do something at a certain time and then we repeat it when that time rolls around again. There are young traditions and old traditions, but the longer a tradition is around, the more it’s part of the culture and a holiday just doesn’t feel like a holiday without it. People eat certain foods, drink certain drinks, and enact certain rituals every year. Plants are parts of people’s traditions because plants are a natural part of where people come from. And when they emigrate, they often take those useful plants with them. Continue reading
Flowers of Cornus mas
More commonly known as the cornelian cherry, Cornus mas is a medium-large deciduous tree of the dogwood family. Linnaeus referred to this species as both Cornus mas and Cornus mascula, translating to “male” cornel in order to distinguish it from the “female” cornel, Cornus sanguinea. It is native to South Europe as well as many parts of South Western Asia. Continue reading
Figs reach their peak in summertime, growing fat enough to split their skins under the hot sun. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with a bountiful tree, and many a neglected fig is extravagantly abandoned to the beetles.
Beetles gorge on a fig
But here we are, halfway around the calendar in dark and cold December, and we feel grateful for the figs we managed to set aside to dry. Their concentrated sweetness is balanced by a complex spicy flavor that makes dried figs exactly the right ingredient for dark and dense holiday desserts. As we mark another turn of the annual cycle from profligate to provident, what better way to celebrate than with a flaming mound of figgy pudding?
Well, except that the traditional holiday pudding contains no figs. More on that later, along with some old recipes. First, we’ll unwrap the fig itself to find out what’s inside. Continue reading
Prince Albert, the father of the Victorian Christmas
Prince Albert, who moved to England from Germany, to marry the young Queen Victoria, led the Victorians in inventing much of today’s Christmas aesthetic that dominates Britain and North America. But, the Nativity is celebrated by diverse cultures throughout the world, and is much more than O Tannenbaum, and The Holly and the Ivy.
Many different local plants play important roles in Christmas traditions, and Alastair and Jonathan’s Advent Botany series has taught me a lot about them, along with the more traditional Middle Eastern, European and North American species that I regularly associate with my Christmas season. Continue reading