From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on February 25, 2004

A Cornucopia of Horticultural Curiosa.

I'm an inveterate collector of data pertaining to the multiplicity of relations that occur between man and plants. Some are material and simple, some are emotional, some spiritual, some economic, and so on. I thought about using the word "trivia" instead of "curiosa" but I don't think of these as trivial. The listing is in no particular order and are but a smattering of a larger collection. I thought you might find them interesting. I expect some to evoke a "Yikes!" or 'What?". I imagine others will garner a knowing nod of either approval or familiarity or ... . Read on and see for yourself.

  • In the mid-1800s Tennessee brewers tried to make a beverage like champagne using ... tomatoes.

  • A valuable bacterium in use since 1997, Spinosad, and a trademark name, Naturalyte, is a very effective tool against agricultural insect pests while being harmless to beneficials. It was found in a rum distillery in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

  • Native Americans would boil the fruit of the butternut (Juglans cinera) tree, collect the oil that floated to the top and use it as butter. They also crushed the husks to use as fish poison.

  • Local gardeners who long to grow Bing cherries but know they can't, don't despair. A French hybrid wine grape, 'Marechal Foch', is extremely similar, hardy to -25 F, ripens early and is very pest resistant. You'll have only the birds to compete with. Stark Bros. carries them.

  • Sulfur has been used as a fungicide since biblical times with no apparent loss of effectiveness.

  • The closer to the equator, the more kinds of evergreens are found.

  • In the U.S. an estimated $ 30 billion a year is spent cultivating 50,000 square miles of lawn. That comes out to $ 937 per acre per year.

  • Dr. May Berenbaum in her book , "Buzzwords: A Scientist Muses on Sex, Bugs, and Rock 'n' Roll", declares grasshoppers" kosher".

  • The word "strawberry" is really a variation of "strayberry", which it was originally called, because of its habit of sending out runners causing it to "stray" from the parent plant.

  • A tea made from artemesia will repel slugs when sprayed on the ground in the fall, and aphids, too, when sprayed on fruit trees, vegetables and flowering plants.

  • The first jack-o-lanters were carved out of potatoes and turnips in Ireland and Scotland.

  • The power of penny-royal! Woven into the nests of hens, it protects them from vermin. Livery stable owners and farmers in the 1800s washed their horses and cows with extracts of penny-royal to spare the animals the annoyance of flies.

  • In 1858 the U.S. exported more than 350,000 pounds of dried ginseng roots.

  • The first U.S. patent issued was in 1790. Thomas Jefferson signed the patent issued to Samuel Hopkins of Vermont. It was for a potash fertilizer.

  • The magnetic power of a compass needle will be entirely altered once touched with the juice of an onion.

  • The Coca-Cola Company buys more sugar than any other company in the world. Vanilla, too.

  • Smoke was the first chemical additive used to preserve food ten thousand years ago by Neolithic man in Switzerland. Wood smoke contains formaldehyde, tars, alcohols and creosote, all of which kills or arrests the growth of microorganisms that usually speed up decomposition. The end result, even today, is delayed spoilage.

  • Human beings require about one pound of oxygen a day for respiration. An actively growing 50X50 foot lawn area releases enough oxygen daily for a family of four. So does an average tree.

  • In 1190 B.C. Ramses III, Egypt's reigning Pharaoh, commissioned more than 500 public gardens.

  • Two-thirds of the worlds eggplant is grown in New Jersey.

  • In 1810 a Paris confectioner named Nicholas Alpert sealed foods such as milk, fruits, vegetables, fresh eggs, meat and poultry in glass jars with cork covers. He bound them with wire and boiled them in water. He was awarded the equivalent of $ 250,000 by Napoleon I and was pronounced " ... the man who discovered the art of making the seasons stand still."

  • Once only, on January 30, 1946, every member of the U.S. Congress wore a white rose. The reason? It was Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthday. "Roosevelt" means "field of roses".

  • One teaspoon of compost-rich soil contains 600 million to 1 billion beneficial bacteria from 15,000 species. One teaspoon of chemically treated soil contains as few as 100 bacteria. (Source: Elaine R. Dugham, Ph.D., Soil Scientist, Oregon State University)

  • Inside the beans of the castor plant is a toxin seven times deadlier than cobra venom.

  • In 1902, an English artist and naturalist was the first person to demonstrate that lichens represent a dual organism -- a merging of two kinds of plants - a fungus and an alga. That person was Beatrix Potter, author of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit".

  • In 1653 the British Herbal Guide cautioned readers about orchids. "They are hot and moist in operation, under the dominion of Venus, and provoke lust exceedingly". In Victorian England, 200 years later, women of certain classes were prohibited from owning orchids. London's Kew Gardens was once raided by suffragettes bent on destroying what orchids they could find.

  • In 1901, after 17 years of work and 34 generations of breeding, Luther Burbank unveiled the "Shasta Daisy"

  • In 1784 the first seeds in paper packets in quantities suitable for home gardeners were sold by Shaker communities.

  • Egyptian workers who built the Pyramid of Cheops refused to work without their daily portion of garlic. Garlic was traded as a type of money. Among the treasures in King Tutankhamen's tomb were cloves of garlic.

  • Every pink grapefruit produced and consumed around the world has its origin in a single branch of a perfectly normal looking tree that inexplicably and with no warning produced an attractive and delicious variation. Thank an observant horticulturalist in 1913.

  • Manna is a form of food so ancient it is spoken of in the Bible. It is very sugary and found in crystals on or near plants especially in Egypt, Syria, and Israel. It is the "honeydew" secreted by aphids, scales and some other plant pests. It has been collected by people of the Middle East for thousands of years.

  • Apple pie was brought to America aboard the Mayflower by the pilgrims. But, it was the French who brought it to England in 1066. It had been France's favorite dessert for several hundred years. "As American as ...?" Not really!

  • The Aztecs raised fish in ponds. They grew plants in the same ponds, too. On rafts floating about, the pond surface was covered with plants gathering sunshine. Beneath the rafts dangled the plants' roots gathering nutrients supplied by the fish waste products. The rafts shaded the pond cutting down on the growth of algae. Hydroponics and aquaculture more than 500 years ago. Oh, those Aztecs!

to be continued ...


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on February 25, 2004

© 2004 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.