This morning, I set out to post a different photo until I was reminded that it is St. Patrick’s Day, a day I most often associate with clovers. Technically oxalis and clovers aren’t the same thing, but they are often mashed together around this particular holiday. In truth, I’m going through a rather rabid oxalophile phase (am I the first to coin this term?) and don’t really need an excuse to post a photo of anything oxalis, or clover for that matter.
I found this particular oxalis growing in an area of Dominica called Giraudel, right beneath the nipple fruit, in fact. The plant is used locally as an herbal tea for sore throats and has the local name ‘Malgoj.’* I saw it several times throughout the island, and later in St. Lucia as well.
This is what the leaves look like.
* Source: “Caribbean Wild Plants and Their Uses” by Penelope N. Honychurch.
Until recently I was unaware that witch hazel is cold tolerant in my climate. Here’s the evidence: a large witch hazel tree in full bloom just this morning in my friend’s garden.
We’re experiencing a warm and sunny spell here in Toronto that is lifting our collective spirits. Suddenly things are in bloom as if it is spring. But it isn’t really quite spring and I keep reminding myself that while all signs point to it, we could have another blizzard ahead of us just yet.
March is a deceptively soft and cuddly lamb, for now.
More witch hazel:
This is a tricky one as I haven’t yet properly identified it. Perhaps you can help? I took this picture at Papillote Gardens in Dominica. The tag read, “amomum cardamomum”, but both are actually words for cardamom and together do not make a botanical name. It was definitely a type of cardamom or at the very least, something in the ginger family. It turns out that there are a lot more ginger family plants than I ever imagined so my claim to knowledge in this area is forever humbled.
My best guess is that this is some kind of black cardamom (Amomum subulatum) or Amomum subulatum fresh off the plant. I have searched high and low but have been unable to find a photo of the plant with fresh pods to confirm its identification. My other thought is that it could be some kind of related, inferior (or false) cardamom that I’ve never heard of.
And so I put it out to you. What do you think it is?
As Davin was holding the open pod, the purple colour staining his skin (which I might add he picked and opened without encouragement from me) he kept saying, “I hope this isn’t poisonous.” I suggested that if there was any doubt, he should wash his hand immediately and refrain from sticking it in his mouth anytime soon. And then, you know, hope that skin contact doesn’t act as a good delivery system for this particular poison. Two months later he is still alive so apparently it wasn’t.
The life of a botanical hand model is wrought with peril.
UPDATE: Polly Pattullo of Papillote Press (who also happens to live nearby to the garden where this photo was taken) has updated me to say that the plant was identified as Renealmia alpinia, a common member of the Ginger Family (Zingiberaceae). Apparently, the leaves are used for cooking fish, and she has been pounding the seeds and roasting for use in cooking.
Way back when, I wrote about Broadleaf Thyme and Cuban Oregano (Coleus amboinicus) and (Plectranthus amboinicus) and wondered about the proper identification for the different plants. At the time I concluded that Broadleaf thyme was the one with smaller leaves, and Cuban Oregano is the one with bigger leaves. And within that there is also the variegated variety. Well, this botanical garden here in the Caribbean is identifying the big leaved type as Broad-leaved Thyme, blowing my identification.
Yesterday, I also saw the small-leaved type in person for the first time but it did not have any identifying marks. It smelled heavenly, by-the-way. Deliciously sweet and pungent. I think I prefer it.
I also saw this interesting variety, that I would really like to have.
Have you ever heard of sea cabbage, a wild cousin of the domesticated brassicas? Did you know that edible bananas are a primitive plant thought to be related to some of the first trees of the primeval forest?
I didn’t either until this weekend when I was finishing up an article on unusual vegetables and decided to fact check some long-ago gleaned historical knowledge against books in my personal library. What began as a quick check turned into a much longer read.
The first book I pulled out is called The Origins of Fruit and Vegetables by Johnathan Roberts (in case you’re wondering mine cost $22US, not $472 YIKES). I think I’ve had this book in my possession since it was first published in 2001, and while I have flipped through the pages of historical prints and food-based artwork more than once, I’m not certain of just how much I have actually read. If you’re interested in plant history and ethnobotany, this book is a great place to start. It’s not exactly a definitive tome on the subject but it’s a beautiful book that provides just enough insight to draw you into searching out more. It also gives you something to talk about in mixed company. Now if only they’d make a gardener’s trivial pursuit for geeks like me.
Next week I am off on a month long journey to The Caribbean. As you can imagine I am extremely excited about food and plants. One of the plants I am most stoked about seeing up close and personal is the vanilla orchid. I have actually seen the vining plant growing in the greenhouse of a botanical garden, but I have never seen one growing outdoors and in bloom nor smelled the scent of its flowers. Or touched a green pod straight off the plant for that matter. Everything about the vanilla from its history to the process of growing and fermenting the beans fascinates me to no end. I found a book at a used bookstore last week that indulges everything one could want or need to know about vanilla. I plan to read it during the first part of my trip to get in the mood to see vanilla towards the end. Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World’s Favorite Flavor and Fragrance, written by Patricia Rain, the self-proclaimed Queen of Vanilla is indeed what I would call a definitive tome on the subject, covering everything including a sampling of interesting new ways to use vanilla in cooking. If the beans are affordable and customs allows me to bring some back, I plan to get a whole bunch as gifts for friends. I’d also like to try my hand at making homemade vanilla extract to give as gifts. I am after-all going to be visiting places known for both decent rum and vanilla production. I should be able to produce a quantity of excellent extract affordably. I think I’m going to need bigger luggage.
A third book, one that I have gone to many times and have even posted about here is Herbal: The Essential Guide to Herbs for Living by Deni Bown. I bought my copy back in 2002 after much deliberation. At $58.00 the book is not exactly cheap but I promise you it is worth the dough if you are curious about the historical background and usage of the herbs you like to grow or are seeking inspiration to try a few exotics. The book does contain some growing information but is not meant as a gardening primer. I’d suggest Exotic Herbs by Carole Saville, or New Book of Herbs by Jekka McVicar if you’re looking for more definitive growing considerations for a wide variety of common and unusual herbs.