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.
This is a long one. I suggest you make a cup of tea and a snack before starting.
“And now listen carefully. You in others-this is your soul. This is what you are. This is what your consciousness has breathed and lived on and enjoyed throughout your life-your soul, your immortality, your life in others. And what now? You have always been in others and you will remain in others. And what does it matter to you if later on that is called your memory? This will be you-the you that enters the future and becomes a part of it.”
- Boris Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago)
Back in December 2009 my partner Davin and I took a month long trip to the Caribbean. We spent 4 days in Barbados, 3 weeks in Dominica, and one week in St. Lucia. Since that time I have posted on and off here with photos and short stories depicting my botanical experiences through that month. There are still so many gardening and plant related stories left to tell. Every single day was loaded with new plants, flowers, food, sights, and sounds. We went on hikes into the rain forest, up mountains, and to a Boiling Lake. We got to see a place that felt like witnessing the birth of the world. We stayed on an organic food farm and picked ginger flowers that would be made into centerpieces for rich people. We visited an organic farm that specializes in traditional herbal medicine. We went inside an ocean-side cave. We touched walls covered in more ferns than I have ever seen in my life. We walked among grasses and cacti. We saw plants I will probably never be able to identify. We spoke with humble gardeners, visited massive backyard farms, and met an incredible 99 year old woman. We found new friends to whom I feel a great deal of gratitude. It was pretty much awesome.
As you can see I have barely scratched the surface here and hope to get a chance to tell you some of these stories over time.
This morning I set out to find a bright and cheery photograph that might bring some colour to our day. But this soft and fuzzy echeveria called out to me.
I took this picture a few weeks back on my trip to speak at the Montreal Seed Fair. I first noticed the plant in the Botanical Gardens store and coveted it right away. The leaves are soft, plush and invite you to touch. There were even little pups growing alongside. I had to have it! But as my friend Gwynne remarked, “We can’t give in to all of our desires. Then where would we be?”
And so as not to become a giant ball of id, I decided this was one botanical desire that would remain a nice memory.
On my second day at the Seed Fair, I ducked out for a bit and went into the cactus and succulent greenhouse. And there it was in a big mass of soft leaves and long, gnarled, messy stems.
I immediately made a beeline back to the store and bought it.
I first came upon this incredibly strange ginger (Zingiber spectabile) while touring a wonderful garden and wilderness retreat in Dominica called Papillote.
Last week I traveled to Montreal to speak at the Montreal Seed Fair and sign copies of the “Grow Great Grub” book in support of the collective food gardening group, Action Communiterre.
Toronto’s Annual Seed Fair is coming up this Sunday and is expected to be packed to the gills. I find it difficult to shop at this event since I am a vendor and need to focus on working, so I took the opportunity to get some seeds for myself at the Montreal event.
Shopping for seeds in French turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. Here in Canada we are taught French in the public school system, but despite years of lessons, none of it has stuck. I can say, “I don’t speak French” and ask “Where’s the bathroom?” and that’s about it. Most seed packets had the Latin botanical name on them so that helped. But they were often organized according to the common name, which was in French.
I basically felt like a total idiot most of the time, especially when I launched into Spanish when I meant to reply in French. I’m nowhere near fluid in Spanish (I speak it on an infant level) but the language seems to come more naturally to me. As you can probably predict, mistakes were made. For example, I bought morning glory seeds thinking they were something else. I won’t tell you what that something else was — it’s too embarrassing.
That said, I did come out with some good stuff, even if most of it wasn’t on my mental list for this year. Not that I had a mental list, or any sort of list at all for that matter. Year after year it is always the same with me. Try as I might, I am not a planner. I am an experimenter. I pick and choose for the season based more on impulse and the possibility of an interesting experiment than planning. Sometimes plants choose me. For the most part I just go with what comes.
And then I try to stick it all somewhere appropriate in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. Below are the items I bought that I will be attempting to stick somewhere this spring.
Top Row (left to right):
- Seed Potatoes ‘All Red’ – I was amazed by how many vendors sold potatoes at this event. Thank you! I bought this small bag of seed potatoes for $3. I’m a small space gardener — I don’t require pounds and pounds of seed potatoes. So every year I buy my potatoes in the quantity I want from a local organic produce store that I know carries decent stock. The only drag is that some of those potatoes probably come from… who knows where, and aren’t adapted to this climate. These seed potatoes were produced in Quebec. Close enough. And now, I FINALLY get to grow the ‘All Red’ variety that I’ve had on my list for years. Hooray!
- Jerusalem Artichoke ‘Red’ – I bought this red variety because I was under the impression that I have only been able to grow the yellow variety. I’m not so sure now. I guess I’ll find out in the spring when the soil thaws. These were also $3 a bag.
- French Shallots – As you can imagine, several vendors in French Canada had shallots for sale. This is something I rarely see in Toronto so I bought a bag for $3.
Middle Row (left to right):
- Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfolita) – Residents of California will think it strange to purchase claytonia seeds since it grows like a weed there. Here in Toronto claytonia is a rare sight in edible gardens.
The next four packages were bought from La SociÃƒÂ©tÃƒÂ© des Plantes who happen to make very nicely designed packages. I didn’t REALLY need more claytonia seeds but I will eventually… and look how nice the package is! That’s my excuse. I showed someone the packages and her response was, “Does that matter?” Hell, yes! Not only does it show that they have great taste but demonstrates that they put an extra bit of effort into their product. Some might say that’s just superficial, but I think it is Classy (with a capital ‘C’).
- Shungiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium) – Shungiku is an edible chrysanthemum that I have grown a few times. You can eat both the tender leaves and the flowers. The flavour is hard to describe but I’d say pungent and a bit how chrysanthemum flowers smell.
- Purple Plantain (Plantago major ‘Purpurea’) – One day I’ll tell the story of plantain and what it means to me, but in the meantime I’m very excited about this purple variety.
- Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea) – Embarrassing mistake. Let’s never speak of it again. I’m going to give these away or trade.
- Chufa Nuts aka Tiger Nuts (Cyperus esculentus) – The description of this plant is so interesting I couldn’t help being intrigued. The seeds are tiny little tubers that grow into a grassy, sedge plant. At the end of the season the tubers are dug up and dried. Apparently they taste like coconut and can be made into a Spanish drink called Horchata that is different than the Mexican rice drink of the same name. I think this will do well in medium-sized containers.
- Red and Black Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor gr. Saccharatum Ã¢â‚¬ËœBlack AfricanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢) – I first came across black sorghum last year on a trip to the Montreal Botanical Gardens so how fitting that I bought seeds there less than a year later. I was told that the red variety grows to be as tall as 12 feet while the black variety is much shorter. I’m planning to try growing these in the street garden. If they don’t get destroyed or urinated on, I might just try pressing out the juice for homegrown sweetener. I also recommend the film “Red Sorghum” by Zhang Yimou.
Bottom Row (left to right):
- Morelle de Balbis (Solanum sisymbrifolium) On the night before the event, my friend Gwynne was telling me about her experience growing this plant on her farm and I was intrigued. The next day I found seeds! It reminds me of naranjilla, but even thornier and more dangerous looking. Do you think this might keep the urinators out of the street garden? If you’re looking for seeds, Solana Seeds carries a wide variety of interesting and exotic tomato family plants.
- Blue Flowers – These were from the trade. They were listed as “fleurs bleues” and can’t for the life of me recall the name. The flowers eventually turn to seed pods that look like tiny Chinese Lanterns.
Does anyone know the name? Update: Thanks to Dan of Ferme CoopÃƒÂ©rative Tourne-Sol for identifying these as Shou Fly (Nicandra physalodes).
- Ginkgo Biloba – This is the third time someone has given me ginkgo seeds. If I believed in The Secret and manifesting from the Universe and all that jazz I would be getting the distinct message that I am supposed to grow this plant. I will admit that it is a gorgeous tree and if I had the space I would indeed grow it. Who doesn’t love ginkgo leaves? But I don’t have space, so growing one is not likely to happen anytime soon. I’ve got to find a spot for that 12 foot red sorghum first! I’ll happily send these to the first person in the comments who is interested in growing them. Bonus points for making it this far down in the post.