Since ancient times, all cultures have used plants as a source of medicine, from a European willow tree that produces the active ingredient in aspirin to the Pacific yew, the source of the cancer fighting drug Taxol. Many of these plants straddle a fine line between helpful and harmful.
A few years ago it was discovered that flowers in the genus Narcissus, also known as the cheery yellow common daffodil, contain a compound that may help combat dementia. But, as anyone who has ever battled garden pests will tell you, one of the reasons that daffodils are common and beloved by gardeners is because they contain a toxic compound that keeps critters at bay, so you certainly do not want to walk out to your backyard, dig up a bulb and take a bite out of it in order to gird your brain against future memory loss.
I don’t know if you have ever encountered a nettle while out on a walk, but I certainly have, and there is one experience in particular that leaps to mind. While out with friends on a botanizing excursion, I managed to stick my hand straight into a huge patch of nettles (Urtica dioica). A big mistake, as you can probably guess.
We spent the rest of the walk searching fruitlessly for broad-leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius) to relieve the itching, swelling, and burning caused by the nettle’s stinging hairs. My arm was on fire. But the glassy hairs themselves were not the driving force behind this irritation, nasty as they are. That blame lies squarely with the formic acid and histamine released as the spiny hair pierces the skin.
Luckily, there are several wild cures to the nettle’s sting that the natural world offers. Weeds can be useful, even though gardeners view them (often rightly so) as a nuisance. Broad-leaved dock is just one example. To counter the effects of nettles, the dock’s leaves can be collected, torn into pieces, and pulverized until they produce a green sap. This juice will offer near-instant relief from the nettle’s sting. read more »
Rosa rugosa is one of the first roses to bloom in the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. The species name comes from the Latin for “rough” in reference to the plant’s nearly-pleated leaves. It is also a tough plant, willing to grow in some pretty harsh habitats to the point of becoming a weed in places. And yet it is delicate and beautiful and smells amazing, like the finest of perfumes.
In telling the tale of one of the great Amazonian explorers, C.V. von Martius, I wrote that, “… Martius was carrying with him 20,000 botanical specimens which served, and continue to serve, as the basis for countless botanical studies, including Flora Brasiliensis which remains the only published complete Flora of Brazil to this day.” To clarify, I was not suggesting that Flora Brasiliensis contains all Brazilian species, but that it is the only Brazilian Flora that included all documented plant species in Brazil at the time of its writing. In fact, there are at least twice as many species known in Brazil today as there were back then!
Examples of new information resulting from botanical exploration in French Guiana: A/B. New species Byttneria morii C. Monopteryx inpae, previously known only from central Amazonian Brazil D. Miconia cacatin, placed in the wrong genus when first published
“What’s that vine?” is a question I overhear frequently when strolling near the Herb Garden. Do you know what it is? Here’s a hint: Mmmmmmm … beer! Yep, that’s right, it’s none other than Humulus lupulus, aka hops, the bringer of tasty bitter flavors and preservation to one of mankind’s favorite beverages.
Tomorrow marks the opening day of our summer exhibition, Wild Medicine: Healing Plants Around the World! This very exciting exhibition has several elements spread throughout our 250 acres. Wander through the 11 galleries of the historic Enid A. Haupt Conservatory to explore the story of how plants help keep us healthy, happy, and beautiful. Exhibition elements inside the Conservatory include tasting stations, informative signs, and two entire galleries dedicated to The Italian Renaissance Garden, a reinterpretation of Europe’s first botanical garden, the teaching gardens at the University of Padua established in 1545. Outside in the Conservatory Courtyards, Four Seasons features sculptures by Philip Haas, inspired by the works of Giuseppe Arcimboldo. You will also find additional tasting stations featuring tea and tropical juices alongside the beautiful waterlily pools in the Courtyards.
In the Library Building, the LuEsther T. Mertz Library is hosting The Renaissance Herbal in the Rondina and LoFaro Gallery. Explore rare books and manuscripts known as herbals that demonstrate the evolving role that plants have played in medicine and history since antiquity. Weekends feature a rich repertoire of the music and dance of the Italian Renaissance period. On view in the Ross Gallery, Nature’s Pharmacy features photographs of medicinal and beneficial plants taken by professional and amateur photographers from around the world as part of the prestigious International Garden Photographer of the Year contest. Select weekend home gardening demonstrations will offer gardening instruction on how to cultivate and enjoy healing plants at home.
We’ll miss the cherry bloom now that it’s passed, though the pink petal carpets dotting the Garden are riotous reminders. Meanwhile, the Azalea Garden is in peak bloom and we’re checking our watches over the roses as they mull the idea of waking up. The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden usually hits peak in the early days of June, but Peter Kukielski assures us the color explosion is just around the corner. Of course, we don’t leave gaps; not far from the Rose Garden, opposite the mad-monikered tree peonies, lilac blossoms by the thousands fan that quintessential spring perfume.
We had someone ask us on Tumblr the other day if they’d already missed out on this year’s lilac bloom, so I puzzled together a few shots of the collection taken over the past week to put anxious hearts at ease. That said, no, these white and purple puffs are still very much en vogue and smelling delicious. read more »
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