August 27 – National Banana Day, Maria van Oosterwijck, Edwin James, Emil Christian Hansen, Brian Lawrence Burtt, Alice Waters, Sarah Orne Jewett, Nueva Salsa by Rafael Palomino, Tall Herbs, and Cut Flowers with Ruth Cameron

Today is National Banana Lovers Day.

Botanically speaking, the banana is a berry - a many-seeded fruit.

And, banana trees are not trees. The banana plant is a giant herb. Inside the guts of the banana tree trunk is a white tube. It may be cooked and tastes like bamboo shoots.

Under a black light (ultraviolet or UV), ripe bananas glow a beautiful bright blue. Scientists believe this is a signal to banana eating animals like insects and bats that can see UV light.

In 1690, the first shipments of bananas reached Salem, Massachusetts. They tried boiling them with pork. Needless to say, it took another 200 years for bananas to catch on in North America.

Today, the average U.S. banana consumption is almost 30 pounds per year.

Until the early 1800s in Hawaii, most banana varieties were 'kapu' - forbidden for women of Hawaii to eat, under penalty of death.

Banana's are facing a massive threat in the form of a pathogenic fungus called Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4) or Panama Disease. TR4 was first discovered in Taiwan in the 1990s. It has slowly made its way around the world. Just this month, on August 8th, researchers confirmed that TR4 is infecting banana plants in Latin America - Columbia declared a national state of emergency. This may seem extreme or over-reactive to people who don't realize that the fungus, TR4, lives in the soil for decades, making the land unlivable for future banana crops. TR4 first attacks the roots before spreading through the rest of the plant. Unfortunately, fungicides do not work against the disease.

Thanks to Sir Joseph Paxton, the English gardener, architect, and politician, who cultivated the Cavendish banana - who named it after William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire who fancied them. In November 1935, five years after receiving a specimen imported from Mauritius, Joseph Paxton's plant finally flowered, and by the following May, it was loaded with more than 100 bananas, one of which won a medal at that year's Horticultural Society show.

Today, bananas still grow on the Devonshire estate, and the Cavendish banana is the most-consumed banana in the western world - it accounts for 99.9% of bananas in the western world - it accounts or 99.9% of bananas traded globally. It replaced a tastier variety, which was wiped out by a fungal disease in the 1950s.

Today, work is underway to create a Cavendish banana replacement. Although, earlier this month, a scientist predicted, "Eventually, it will not be possible to produce the Cavendish banana variety for international trade."

We eat the variety of banana known as the Cavendish banana.




#OTD Today is the birthday of Maria van Oosterwijck who was born on this day in 1630.

Oosterwijck was an incredible Dutch Golden Age painter, specializing in flower paintings and still life. Her art was rich, vividly, detailed, and incredibly realistic. Her still lifes of flowers in ornate vases were often set against a dark background and featured flowers like sunflowers, roses, carnations, hyacinths, parrot tulips, berries, and her most famous paintings included a red admiral butterfly.

In her 40's, her studio was opposite another flower painter by the name of Willem van Aelst. He attempted to woo Maria, but her heart belonged really only to her art. When he kept asking her, she finally agreed to marry him if he could prove that he could match her work ethic - he needed to paint every day, for 10 hours a day, for a year... only then would she marry him. Well, he couldn't do it, and Maria remained single throughout her life.

Oosterwijck's paintings were purchased by Kings and Emperors after she smartly secured an agent to market her work.




#OTD Today is the birthday of the botanist Edwin James who was born on this day in Vermont in 1797.

As a young man, James compiled the very first Flora of Vermont plants.

James went on one of the first expeditions of the American West from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains. He discovered the mountain Columbine, Aquilegia caerulea, which ultimately became known as the Colorado Blue Columbine and the State Flower of Colorado.

An account of James' climb of Pikes Peak on July 13, 1820, states:

"A little above the point where the timber disappears entirely, commences a region of astonishing beauty . . . covered with a carpet of low but brilliantly flowering alpine plants. . ."

James' phrasing, "a region of astonishing beauty," became the title of a 2003 book on the botanical history of the Rocky Mountains by Roger Lawrence Williams.

After the expedition, James married and settled in Burlington, Iowa. His home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. James died in 1861 after an accident. A monument to James was installed on Pike's Peak, and the Des Moines County Medical Society planted Rocky Mountain Blue Columbine on his grave in the Rock Springs Cemetery. Newspaper accounts said the location was in the most picturesque part of southeastern Iowa.



#OTD Today is the anniversary of the death of the botanist Emil Christian Hansen, who died on this day in 1909.

Prior to Hansen, brewing was a volatile experiment, and batches could easily get infected with disease. Hansen forever changed the brewing industry with his discovery of a way to separate pure yeast cells from wild yeast cells.

Hansen's method was created while he was working for the Carlsberg Laboratory. But, Carlsberg Labs did not patent the process. Instead, they decided to publish it; sharing all the details with brewers around the world

Hansen named the yeast after the lab – Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis – and samples of Carlsberg No. 1 (as it was called) were sent to breweries around the world by request and free of charge. Within five years, most European breweries were using Carlsberg No. 1. By 1892, American breweries, Pabst, Schlitz, and Anheuser-Busch, were manufacturing their beers with pure yeast strains.

Emil Hansen was a renaissance man. In addition to his work in botany, he attempted careers, an actor, a portrait artist, a teacher, an author (he wrote under a pseudonym). And it was Emil Hansen who made the first Danish translation of Charles Darwin’s Voyage of The Beagle.



#OTD Today is the birthday of the English botanist Brian Lawrence Burt who went by "Bill."

Burtt died in 2008. He is remembered for his contributions to the family Gesneriaceae, the family that includes African violets.

When Burtt started going on and plant expeditions in 1951, the Gesneriaceae family was poorly represented. Thanks to his work, plants were sent to Edinburgh which became the hub for the family. Burtt's collections started trends in England, making both the African violet and the Streptocarpus household plants. The common name of Streptocarpus or "Streps" as they are called is the Cape primrose.

#OTD Today, in 1971, restaurateur and local fresh food activist Alice Waters opened California’s Iconic Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California.

Waters never intended to be a chef or to start a revolution. She just wanted to open a nice little restaurant that served fresh, good-tasting food.

When the restaurant opened on this night in 1971, Alice Waters personally greeted her customers at the door.

Unearthed Words

"This was one of those perfect New England days in late summer where the spirit of autumn takes a first stealing flight, like a spy, through the ripening country-side, and, with feigned sympathy for those who droop with August heat, puts her cool cloak of bracing air about leaf and flower and human shoulders."

- Sarah Orne Jewett, The Courting of Sister Wisby, 1887



Today's book recommendation: Nueva Salsa by Rafael Palomino

Rafael Palomino is a world-famous chef, restauranteur, and cookbook author. This cookbook, Nueva Salsa, was published in 2003.

Salsas offer tremendous flavor, variety, and spice. They are quick and easy to make at home. Nueva Salsa features over 60 fantastic recipes, including tomato-based versions, as well as salsas that are Asian-inspired. There are a decadent Fruit Salsa and Three Berry Salsa, which is the perfect accompaniment to desserts, shortbreads, and ice creams.

You can get used copies of Nueva Salsa on Amazon using the link in today's show notes for a little over a dollar!




Today's Garden Chore

Incorporate more tall herbs into your garden by utilizing the area in the back of your beds.

Herbs like dill, comfrey, hyssop, fennel, and lovage work great in the back of your ornamental beds.



Something Sweet
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart

One hundred ten years ago today, a little article appeared in The St. John Weekly News out of St. John, Kansas. It was titled "Making Home Attractive," and Ruth Cameron wrote it.

Here's what it said:

"There ought not to be such thing as an unlovely home outside the city the next two months.

For all the threadbare, barren spots of the poorest home may be covered and healed by the beauty brought in from outside.

It takes but a very little time to bring some of the flowers that bloom In the fields and gardens into the house.

And yet many a time I've seen the garden gay with rose and poppy, pansy and nasturtium, and the house flowerless or maybe illy decorated with one or two bowls of half decaying flowers.

You haven't just the little time necessary?

Then make it the children's daily 'task to keep the flower vases freshly filled.

Teach them to have pride in it. Remember occasionally to comment in their presence to a visitor on some tasteful arrangement they have made, and you need never have an empty vase as long as the flowers last.

And not only will you have beautified the house thereby, but you will also have curtailed Satan's proverbial chance of hunting up mischief for idle hands.

If you can possibly manage it - and It's worth while to try to make the time even if you have to leave a few specks of dust on the mopboard behind the bookcase - go out occasionally with the children and help them gather the flowers.

Teach them harmony of color and grace of arrangement.

Perhaps in doing the latter, a principle [that] an artist friend taught me may help:

"If possible never rearrange flowers," he said. "Just as you gather them is nature's arrangement and it Is best."

And if you do manage to make some of these morning excursions with your children into the garden or field, the chances are that you will bring back to your work something even better than flowers.

Don't be satisfied with a few vases. Have two or three in every room.

Not just in the dining room and living room, but in every chamber and the kitchen for good measure.

A vase of nasturtiums over the sink or a bowl of pansies on the kitchen table isn't going to make it any harder to do the dishes or fill the lamps.

So many vases cost, you say?

How much? For ten cents you can get a slim, tall glass vase that, filled with your peonies or roses, would be a fit ornament for a duchess' piano.

For eleven cents you can buy a blue Japanese bowl that overflowlng with your nasturtiums, wouldn't look bad on a queen's breakfast table.

And when you are picking the flowers that probably you've had too many of to half appreciate, don't forget the people who are unlucky enough to know how to appreciate a single flower.

Probably, there is a flower mission handy ready to take anything you may give to these who need.

If there isn't, try at least once or twice this summer being a flower mission to some poor shut-ins all by yourself."



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"For a happy, healthy life, garden every day."

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