This image is licensed from Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Are you on Santa’s Naughty or Nice list this year? If all you’ve discovered in the toe of your stocking this morning is a lump of coal, it might not be as terrible a present as you think. Look closely, and you might find that Father Christmas has brought you a fossil plant or two!
Coal is formed from dead and only partially decayed plant material. Essentially it is peat that has been subjected to heat and high pressure changing it from the soft brown material widely used in gardening into the hard black coal. Continue reading
Neither my partner Ben nor I actively celebrate Christmas. We prefer to hide away from the crazy world that Christmas has become and endeavour to find ourselves as far away from humanity as we are able. Previous years Christmas avoidance techniques have seen us winter climbing on a mountain in Snowdonia, snowed in in a bothy on an off-grid peninsula in Scotland and searching for Narcissi in the driest parts of the highlands of the Negev desert. Last year we found ourselves, on Christmas day, in a little explored valley on a mountain in South Africa; an adventure that I will tell you about forthwith. Continue reading
Photo © Claire Smith
As children I’m sure we’ve all sprinkled far too much glitter onto a pine cone and hung it from the Christmas tree… but have you ever wondered where your festive pine cones come from?
Well, you could have a look through this Forestry Commission 1966 “Know Your Conifers” booklet with cover art by Charles Tunnicliffe. If you’d prefer a paper version to the PDF, The MERL have both the 1966 and 1970 editions in their library. You can phone the The MERL on 0118 378 8660 if you’d like to make an appointment to have a look. Their collections also include further examples of Tunnicliffe’s artwork, including the seasonal “What to Look For…” Ladybird books.
Thymus in flower
Sage and onion stuffing seems to be the norm for stuffing a Christmas turkey, but what about using thyme? A Google search produced 9 million results! A quick look through the first five pages of the search shows that thyme can be mixed with a variety of plants. The most common are : onions, parsley, apple, lemon, orange and chestnuts.
But what exactly is thyme?
Thyme or to provide its correct botanical Latin genus name: Thymus vulgaris L.  is a member of the Lamiaceae (mint family) and according to Mabberley  thyme is distributed from the West Mediterranean to South East Italy. Continue reading
With four previous years of Advent Botany I was surprised that none of us have so far covered coffee. OK, it’s not a Christmassy spice, or a festive decoration, but by this time in the year I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling more than my usual need for this botanical pick-me-up. As we reach the shortest day of the year a good cup (or several) of coffee is pretty much all that’s keeping me from attempting to hibernate. Continue reading
I am still pondering why a pagan spirit of the dead, or, more recently a demoted angel, should play such a big part in Christmas – for Christmas certainly wouldn’t be the same without a fairy at the top of the tree or strings of fairy lights illuminating more than you thought humanly possible. Continue reading
So, it’s Christmas time. You’re having a bit of food with your friends and family. Well, a lot of food. It’s Christmas, isn’t it? It’s all very convivial and jolly and all that.
Suddenly, there’s a commotion at the door. A big chap has come in. He’s on a horse. He’s a really big chap. He challenges the room for one to come forward for a game. A Christmas game. It seems to involve a big axe. A really big axe. What do you do? Do you accept the challenge? This guy looks like he can handle himself in a fight. This guy and his horse are, incidentally, both, completely, from top to toe (hair, mane, beard, tail, clothes, and skin), completely ‘enker grene.’ Yup: enker grene. Bright green. Continue reading
Dawn is one of our long-standing contributors and has contributed: poinsettias, cranberries, red-osier dogwood, amaryllis, white cedar, balsam fir, paperwhites, ivy, candy cane chrysanthemums, and less traditional plant species associated with the British festive season, such as arctic cotton grass and willow, and gourds. This year, to celebrate the 5th Anniversary of #AdventBotany, she has branched out into the tecnology of the VLOG! I’m impressed to see the qualtity of local produce she has access to in local stores.
Dawn mentions Pine cones in her Vlog and we have an advent blog coming later that features the various types of pine cones. For tree species used as Christmas trees see The Christmas Tree.
Here are some links to further information kindly provided by Dawn.
Mississipi State University Extension Service YouTube Video on arranging with magnolia leaves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xEz0m526cw
Decorating with magnolia leaves during the holidays: http://confettistyle.com/decorating-with-magnolia-leaves/
Science Buddies. 2016. Unlocking the secret of pine cones. Scientific American blog: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/unlocking-the-secrets-of-the-pinecone/
Pinus lambertiana at the Gymnosperms database: https://www.conifers.org/pi/Pinus_lambertiana.php
Encyclopedia Britannica — The 7 Best Pine Cones: https://www.britannica.com/list/the-7-best-pinecones-really
Wikipedia: Strobilus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strobilus
Today’s blog is the second by a Botanist in the Kitchen, this time Katherine. It is a revisit of the sweet chestnut, last featured in 2015 when we heard about the devastating chestnut blight. In today’s blog we hear tell of the rather grown up flavour of the chestnut and a need for lowered expectations.
The sweet chestnut of Europe is a true chestnut (Castanea sativa), not the beautiful but toxic horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), which so famously covers Paris with its pink-eyed blossoms in April. They are not very close relatives, as the last common ancestor of sweet Castanea (Fagaceae) and showy Aesculus (Sapindaceae) is estimated to have lived about 100 million years ago. I have happily returned to Paris many times in the summer and fallen in love with its horse chestnut trees. In that frozen moment in December, however, the spell of Christmastime in the City of Lights was broken for me when I realized that I could live happily without any more true Castanea chestnuts. Continue reading
Dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, the plant for today’s blog is Symphoricarpos albus, the Snowberry. It’s a member of the Caprifoliaceae or Honeysuckle family, native to North America. It was originally described in Linnaeus’ Species Plantarum in 1753 as Vaccinium album L. (Ericaceae). Since 1914 it has been referred to as Symphoricarpos albus (L.) S.F. Blake. The generic name refers to the compact cluster of fruits. It derives from the Ancient Greek συμφορεῖν (sumphoreîn), meaning ‘to bear together’, and καρπός (karpós) meaning fruit. Continue reading