April 12, 2019 Plant Tags, Licorice, Zina Pitcher, John J. Audobon, Thomas Nuttal, William Kent, Dr. Edward G. Voss, and Peter White

I was looking at the cute brass plant labels on the Target website the other day - I was trying to find the link to that adorable garden tote I was telling you about, and I thought about the evolution of a gardener when it comes to using plant tags.

First, you start out needing the labels - is that dill? What does basil look like again?

Then you label only the newcomers or the look-alike parsley or cilantro - who can tell without smell?

Sometimes a new gardener will visit. Or you’ll have people tour your garden. Folks appreciate knowing what they are looking at.

Pretty soon, you realize you’re labeling as a kindness to your garden guests.

If you’re like me, no matter how long you’ve been gardening, cute, or clever plant labels are always a lovely find.





#OTD Today is National Licorice Day.

The botanical name for licorice means “sweet root,” and in Dutch name, it's zoethout, (“Zoot-Howt”), which means “sweet wood.” The secret to the flavor (which is 50 times sweeter than sugar) is hidden in the very long roots and rhizomes of the plant. Thus, children who grew up chewing on licorice root would suck out the sweet sugars and spit out the pulp.

The licorice plant is actually a perennial shrub in the legume or pea family. Don’t confuse it with the annual trailing dusky licorice plant that gets popped in containers.

The glycyrrhetinic acid in licorice causes the body to hold salt and water. Throughout history, armies would give licorice to soldiers and horses when water was in short supply. Licorice is used as a remedy for coughing - Hippocrates used it that way. It regulates digestion - Napoleon used it for tummy troubles.




#OTD It’s the birthday of Zina Pitcher (April 12, 1797, in Sandy Hill, New York – April 5, 1872, in Detroit).

He managed to pack a lot of living and incredible relationships into his 75-year life.

He established the Detroit public school system. He taught at West Point. He was Michigan’s most prominent doctor and became a president of the American Medical Association He was mayor of Detroit; twice. He was a tireless member of the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan and was praised as the longest-serving and hardest working of the 12 original regents.

As regent, it was Pitcher’s vision that made him an early advocate of acquiring John J. Audobon’s“The Birds of America” for the U-M Library.

An amateur botanist, Pitcher had discovered plant species, including a thistle - now called Pitcher’s Thistle (Carduus Pitcheri or Cirsium Pitcheri) in his honor. The white-to-pale-pink flowering thistle is familiar to beachcombers throughout the Great Lakes.

While he was a regent, his love of horticulture came in handy when it was time to hire professors. The name Asa Gray floated to the top of their list. Gray was mentored by the nation’s top botanist: John Torrey. When Gray arrived in Michigan, his first stop was at Pitcher’s home in Detroit. Accepting the job, Gray needed to push back his start date by one year to finish his studies in Europe. This would give the University time to get building facilities on campus. In the meantime, the regents asked Gray to buy books for the school while he was abroad. How fun! Gray shopped his bachelor buttons off, shipping over 3,700 books back to Ann Arbor.

Sadly, when his year in Europe was over, Gray never made it to Michigan. Harvard stole him away. But his ties to the University and all those books he bought helped create the school library and a fine reputation to attract young scholars.

Today, the street, Zina Pitcher Place in Ann Arbor, is named in his honor.




OTD, 1810, Thomas Nuttal, just 24 years old, left Philadelphia by coach.

He had recently immigrated from England, and Professor Benjamin Smith Barton of the University of Philadelphia wanted him to spend the next two years studying the flora of the Northwest.

Given a salary of $8 per month plus expenses, Nuttal set about collecting and writing detailed accounts of the flora he discovered. By July 29, he jumped in a birch bark canoe with Aaron Greely, the deputy surveyor of the territory of Michigan, and they paddled to Mackinac Island, arriving two weeks later on August 12. Nuttal spent several days on Mackinac - He was the first true botanist to explore at the flora of Michigan, and certainly of Mackinac Island. He documented about sixty species - about twenty were previously unknown. One of the new Mackinac discoveries was the dwarf lake iris(Iris lucustris), which became the state wildflower of Michigan.




Unearthed Words

#OTD On this day in 1748 William Kent (Books By This Author) died.

A pioneer of the English landscape garden, it was William Kent who said,

Nature abhors a straight line.

All gardening is landscape painting.

Garden as though you will live forever.

A garden is to be a world unto itself, it had better make room for the darker shades of feeling as well as the sunny ones.

William Kent wrote a cute little ditty about the origin of the Inigo Jones gateway and how it came to be moved to Chiswick.

The story goes that in 1621, the arch was created for Beaufort House. When his friend Hans Sloane was demolishing the house, Lord Burlington spied the arch and wanted it for himself.

Ho! Gate, how came ye here?
I came fro’ Chelsea the last yere
Inigo Jones there put me together
Then was I dropping by wind and weather
Sir Hannes Sloane
Let me alone
But Burlington brought me hither
This architecton-ical
Gate Inigo Jon-ical
Was late Hans Slon-ical
And now Burlington-ical



Today's Book Recommendation: Beachcombers and Explorer by Dr. Edward G. Voss  

If you are interested in other early naturalists of Michigan, there is a terrific book by Dr. Edward G. Voss entitled  Botanical Beachcombers and Explorers: Pioneers of the 19th Century in the Upper Great Lakes published in 1978 by University of Michigan Herbarium.


Today's Garden Chore

You can grow plants with hints of licorice scent in your garden by growing:
Anise (it tastes just like licorice) and Little Adder Anise or Hyssop is a charming plant with beautiful flowers.

In fact, when there’s no licorice available, anise oil can be used as a substitute.

Purple Ruffles basil is fun to grow, offers rich color contrast, and adds a hint of licorice to the sweet basil flavor.

Another herb, fennel, has a mild licorice flavor. You can think of sliced fennel and add it to salads. The stems can be made into a pesto. Something new to try this season.

Finally, chervil offers that licorice or aniseed flavor and is perfect for damp, cool spots in the garden. It is best in spring and fall.




Something Sweet

Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

In the early 1840s, a boy with a badly broken arm had been brought to Detroit from northern Michigan. Untreated, his condition had grown so grave that the doctor he saw prepared to amputate.

At the last minute, when the boy was strapped down for surgery, Dr. Zina Pitcher was consulted. After a careful examination, he asked if he might try to save the arm. Pitcher’s intervention succeeded.

The boy, Peter White, grew up to be a regent of U-M himself, and long afterward, he saw to it that Zina Pitcher’s grave in Detroit was planted with blossoming flowers every spring.




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