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.
I first came upon this incredibly strange ginger (Zingiber spectabile) while touring a wonderful garden and wilderness retreat in Dominica called Papillote.
Two years ago I wrote about my disappointing experience eating fresh cacao in Cuba. Cacao (Theobroma cacao) is the tree that chocolate comes from. The fruit is a big pod that forms directly on the trunk and older growth of the tree. It kind of looks like a squash and smells like one too.
Chocolate is made by fermenting, sun drying, and sometimes slow roasting the little beans that form inside the pod. However, a sweet, white, and sticky flesh grows around the beans that can be eaten fresh out of the pod. Eating that fresh flesh was on my list of things to do before I die; however, my first attempt was thwarted by an over-ripe pod that was neither sweet nor sticky and kind of tasted like a giant eraser for BIG mistakes.
When we were planning this trip I knew that we would come into contact with fresh cacao again and that I was not going to miss the opportunity to have a proper do-over. Still, I thought trying cacao in Dominica would mean making a special trip to a cacao plantation, but it turns out that cacao trees grow practically everywhere on the island. The tree grows well in mountain regions where the weather is humid and shaded by taller forest trees. That pretty much describes the entire island of Dominica, save the city where we stayed and a handful of dryer areas on the west coast.
Most flights come into Dominica on the east coast and it’s about an hour and half drive through the interior to get to the capital, Roseau. I must have spotted a million cacao trees along the route, although we did not stop to pick one on that day. I had hoped I could buy one from the market, but while I did purchase several unusual items there I never did see a cacao pod for sale. I think that may be simply because it is so easy to come by. Why buy one at the market when you can pick a pod right off the tree growing in your own yard?
I’ve seen torch ginger (Etlingera elatior) flowers in floral shops and thought they were interesting, but it’s quite another thing to see the waxy flowers in amongst the massive leaves and stalks of a 20 foot plant. As our friend David pointed out, It’s amazing how much plant it takes to support the flowers.