Today we celebrate the man who wrote the Flora of North America from across the pond in London much to the chagrin of American botanists.
We’ll learn about the Dutch botanist who discovered the phalaenopsis orchid and the coleus on the island of Java.
Today’s Unearthed Words review some sayings about the month of February in the garden.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book that helps us grow African violets.
I’ll talk about a decorative item for your garden, deck, or porch,
and then we’ll wrap things up with National Carrot Cake Day and the history and recipes of this favorite dessert.
But first, let’s catch up on a few recent events.
"Bring sunny color into the pollinator garden with ‘Hello Yellow’ milkweed! Asclepias tuberosa (ah-SKLEE-pee-iss TOO-burr-OH-sah) is usually orange, but this yellow beauty was found in Colorado."
“A single organism of Sarracenia purpurea, collected by botanist/bryologist William Sullivant - 1840 - one of the few documented pitcher plants that grew in central Ohio.”
Now, if you’d like to check out these curated articles for yourself, you’re in luck, because I share all of it with the Listener Community in the Free Facebook Group - The Daily Gardener Community.
There’s no need to take notes or search for links - the next time you’re on Facebook, search for Daily Gardener Community and request to join. I’d love to meet you in the group.
1814 The English botanist Aylmer Lambert wrote to his peer, and the President of the Linnean Society, Sir James Edward Smith.
Lambert was giving Smith a heads up that Frederick Pursh’s Flora Americana was published.
Five years earlier, Frederick had been working for Benjamin Smith Barton in America. Barton was supposed to process the plants from the Lewis & Clark expedition and prepare a catalog for publishing. For some unknown reason, Barton never got around to doing the work. When Meriwether Lewis realized that Barton hadn’t started much of anything, he hired his employee Frederick to do the work.
By May of 1808, we know that Frederick had completed all of the tasks that Meriwether Lewis had assigned him. He was eager to get paid the $60 he been promised by Lewis, and the $80 Barton owed him for helping with his herbarium. He was also excited to keep going with the Lewis & Clark project. It seems the mission of sharing the botanical discoveries of the expedition with the public had captured his heart.
This is where Frederick’s story gets a little murky. It’s not clear if he was ever fully paid by Lewis or by Barton. It’s not entirely clear why Lewis & Barton couldn’t seem to keep the project moving forward. But records do show, that over the next 18 months, two key things happened that caused Frederick to leave America with the Lewis and Clark specimens in tow: Meriwether Lewis died and Frederick Pursh began to despise his boss, Benjamin Smith Barton. For his part, Barton may have grown tired of Pursh’s drinking. He wrote of Pursh, “Drinking is his greatest failing.”
When Frederick Pursh arrived in England at the end of 1811, he reached out to both Sir James Edward Smith and Alymer Lambert about putting together the Flora of North America. Lambert became his botanical fairy godfather; he had a huge personal botanical library, herbarium, and funding. That said, Lambert also provided something Pursh desperately needed: discipline.
Pursh was kind of a rough and tough guy with a swarthy complexion and reputed alcohol addiction. Historians say that Lambert made arrangements in the attic of his house, creating a workspace for Frederick. Once he got Frederick up there, Lambert would lock him in for stretches at a time to keep Frederick focused on the project. It was an extreme way to deal with Frederick’s demons, but it worked.
Now, Smith and Lambert didn’t do all of this out of the goodness of their heart. They were enormously interested and what Pursh had brought with him from America: portions of the specimens from the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Even with Lambert’s resources and lock-ins, it took Frederick two years to complete the Flora of North America. The whole time he was racing to get it published before Thomas Nuttall, who was working on the exact same project back in America. American botanists felt Pursh had pulled the rug out from under them when he took the expedition specimens to England.
On December 21st, 1813, Pursh won the race when his 2-volume masterpiece describing all of the plants of North America was presented to the Linnaean Society.
In the introduction, Frederick was forthright about his time in America and how he had come to possess the expedition specimens. Giving credit to the work of Lewis and Clark, Frederick created two new genera - Lewisia (loo-WIS-ee-ah) and Clarkia (CLAR-key-ah) for Lewis and Clark. In all, Frederick had received 132 plants from Meriwether Lewis, 70% were brand-new species that were named by Frederick. Today roughly 30% of the Pursh-named plants named in his Flora Americana are still recognized as valid.
Lewisia is a little evergreen Alpine plant with a beautiful bloom. They like well-drained soil and are native to the northwest. Lewisia is a perfect pick for a rock garden.
Clarkia is a little wildflower primrose that can be grown from seed after the last spring frost. Clarkia prefers to be direct-sowed, and they are perfect for use in mixed borders and Rock Gardens. Today Clarkia hybrids are grown for cut flowers.
1862 Today is the Anniversary of the death of the German-Dutch botanist with the perfect last name - Carl Ludwig Blume. Born in Germany and orphaned by the age of five, Blume proved to be a bright little boy and a successful student. He studied at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands - a place that would become his Northstar. When he died in Leiden, on this day in 1862, he had become a naturalized Dutch citizen.
Scholastically, Blume went the path of most botanists. He first became a physician and he ran an apothecary. In short order, he started botanizing in the Dutch East Indies, specifically on the island of Java, where he was the director of the Botanic Garden. Blume wrote a spectacular book on the collection of orchids that were available on the island. The title page is stunning and it features three native women from Java performing a ceremonial dance. The mountains of Java in the village are in the background, and a garland of orchids frames the stunning portrait. This publication is considered one of the finest works of scientific literature during the early 1800s.
In 1825, Blume established the Dendrobium genus of orchids. The genus name is derived from the Greek; "dendron" for tree and "bios" meaning life. The name refers to the epiphytic habit of orchids to grow in trees. Thus, the combination of those two words, dendron and bios, meaning tree-life.
And, here's a great story about Blume. During his time in Java, Blume saw what he thought was a group of moths flying in a motionless fashion by a tree. It was an odd vision. But, when he got closer, Blume realized what he thought were moths, were actually orchid flowers. Blume named the species Phalaenopsis amabilis (fayl-eh-NOP-sis ah-MA-bo-lis). In nature, the stems of the phalaenopsis orchid are not clipped to a bamboo pole like they are in when we buy them in the supermarket. Instead, they arch away from the tree they are attached to and sway easily with the Wind. It was the motion of the Orchid flowers swaying in the wind together, that lead Blume to believe he saw an insect and not a blossom.
The etymology of the word phalaenopsis comes from the Latin word "phal", which means moth - which is why this Orchid is commonly referred to as the Moth Orchid.
Phalaenopsis orchids are native to Southeast Asia. Their popularity has steadily grown because they are so easy to grow and because they bloom indoors all year round. This makes them one of the most popular house plants in the world.
Now, should you be tempted this summer to move your phalaenopsis orchid outside; think twice. Just because they are a tropical plant, doesn’t mean they want full sun. Phalaenopsis orchids grow in the shade of trees under the tree canopy. They like indirect light, and if you put them in full sun, they will get sunburned. If you are going to move them outside, make sure to put them in a place where they will not get direct sunlight. Sometimes I’ll put mine onto my north-facing covered porch.
In 1853, Carl Ludwig Blume discovered another popular plant in the mountains of Java: coleus. Coleus bluemei was named in his honor until it was changed in 2006 to Coleux x Hybridus in recognition of all the new hybrid variations. As of 2012, the botanical name for coleus is Plectranthus scutellarioides (Plek-TRAN-thus SKOO-til-air-ee-OY-deez).
And, coleus are in the mint or Lamiaceae family. They have that signature square stem and opposite leaves - along with other popular members of the mint family: basil, peppermint, oregano, Salvia, Swedish ivy, and thyme. An early nickname for coleus was painted nettle or flame nettle.
Coleus is easy to propagate from cuttings. You can simply pop them in a glass of water, and in a few days, roots will start to form. To encourage your coleus to grow in a more compact fashion, keep pruning them before they bloom.
You might remember that the National Garden Bureau made 2015 the year of the coleus.
Here are some sayings about our new month - February:
February brings the rain,
Thaws the frozen lake again.
― Sarah Coleridge, English author, and translator
Why, what’s the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?
— William Shakespeare, English author, poet & playwright, Much Ado About Nothing
The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February.
— Joseph Wood Krutch, American writer, and naturalist
February is the border between winter and spring.
― Terri Guillemets (gee-ya-MAY), quotation anthologist, Years
February is a suitable month for dying. Everything around is dead, the trees black and frozen so that the appearance of green shoots two months hence seems preposterous, the ground hard and cold, the snow dirty, the winter hateful, hanging on too long.
― Anna Quindlen, American author, and journalist, One True Thing
Grow That Garden Library
The subtitle of this book is: The Official Guide Authorized by the African Violet Society of America, Inc.
Kent and Joyce Stork have grown violets for over 30 years. From 1991 to 2004, they wrote a column in the African Violet Magazine, which became the foundation for this book. Kent and Joyce are married and live in Fremont, Nebraska, where they own a business specializing in African violets.
Kent and Joyce Stork killed their first violet too! They soon mastered the skills for growing the plant and eventually wrote for the African Violet Magazine, the official publication of the African Violet Society of America, Inc. for over ten years. Their column For Beginners explained the basic elements of growing violets in an entertaining and straightforward way that anyone could understand. Now, these columns have been adapted and edited to provide even the most novice grower with a step-by-step guide, whether the goal is simply to keep violets alive or to exhibit the plants in competitive shows.
Great Gifts for Gardeners
Easy to read - The outdoor thermometer decorative easily keep track of the temperature from a distance with bold black dial graphics.
Celsius and Fahrenheit - This garden hygrometer digital simultaneous Celsius and Fahrenheit temperature display.
Real glass lens - This room indoor thermometer real glass lens, accurate between -40 and 120℉/-40, and 50 °C to accommodate all climates.
Amazon’s Choice & Amazon Prime
Today’s Botanic Spark
Today is National Carrot Cake Day.
Every February 3rd, National carrot cake day is observed. And, you might say it’s a great excuse to have our cake and our carrots, too.
Akin to banana bread, carrot cake is similar in preparation and texture. It's made, like many quick breads, by separately preparing the wet ingredients and the dry ingredients and then mixing those together. And, carrot cakes generally include ingredients like cinnamon or nutmeg, raisins, or nuts.
Carrots are, of course, a root vegetable. They are made up of 88% water, 7% sugar, and a percent each of protein, fiber, and ash.
The Greeks and Romans ate carrots, but their carrots were different colors like purple or white. It wasn’t until the 17th century that carrots started appearing predominantly as orange. Why? Because the Dutch initially bred the carrot to be orange in order to honor the Dutch royal family - also known as the “House of Orange” in the Netherlands. The orange carrot became so popular that the color became synonymous with the carrot.
As for carrot cake, the earliest mentions of it in the newspaper appear in the early 1900s - around 1910. These early carrot cakes were more like little crab cakes - only they were made with carrots, flour, and butter, sweet milk, and so on.
By 1912, the San Francisco newspaper, The Call, featured a carrot cake recipe and it advised that only very young, tender carrots be used - along with 2 cups of sugar, a cup of butter, 2 cups of flour, a cup of carrots that were boiled and mashed very finely, a cup of grated chocolate, a cup of chopped walnuts, 1/2 a cup of sweet milk, 4 eggs, 1 teaspoon each of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
By the end of November, in 1913, newspapers were running an article called “Carrots and Cakes.” It said:
“The little carrot, of the plebian vegetable family, moved high last week in the social scale and was in such demand on the grocery orders of so many families that stores ran out entirely, says the Minneapolis Journal.
Miss Lilla Frich, supervisor of domestic economy in the public schools, has been telling how carrots may be used for what they are or as substitutes for other things, notably, that carrot pulp makes a good egg substitute in making cakes and hundreds of women who formerly have scorned common truck farm products have been buying them.”
In the early 1980s, when Pillsbury launched its “Carrot and Spice Cake Mix,” they held a contest to discover the earliest published carrot cake recipe, and they were also looking for the best Heritage recipe.
Joyce Allen of Wichita Kansas won $100 for sharing her recipe from the 1929 Wichita Women’s Club cookbook, and Ethel Amsler of Waco Texas also won $100 for creating a new recipe with Pillsbury’s new carrot cake mix. She was riffing off an old family recipe. That old family recipe had been handed down through four generations. She said they didn’t have it but twice a year.
Ethel’s old family recipe for carrot cake calls for white raisins soaked in brandy in addition to adding a cup of black walnuts.
If you’d like to get a copy of Ethel Amsler’s Heritage Carrot Cake recipe, along with her modern version, I’ve added them to today’s Show Notes, which are available on the website for the show over at thedailygardener.org.
ETHEL AMSLER’S HERITAGE CARROT CAKE
1 cup brandy
1 cup of water
1 ½ cups sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 cups grated carrots
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cloves
1 cup chopped black walnuts
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
At least two days before serving, in a medium saucepan, soak raisins in brandy overnight at room temperature. The next day, add water, sugar, butter, carrots, and spices. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally; simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat; pour into a large mixing bowl. Cover; let stand at room temperature 12 hours or overnight.
The next day, heat oven to 275 degrees. Grease and flour 10-inch angel food tube pan or 12-cup fluted tube pan. Add walnuts, flour, baking powder, soda, and salt to carrot mixture; mix thoroughly.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake for about 1 ¾ hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before serving.
ETHEL AMSLER’S HERITAGE CARROT CAKE (Modern Version)
1 package Pillsbury Plus Carrot N Spice Cake Mix
¾ cup of water
½ cup dairy sour cream
⅓ cup oil
2 teaspoons brandy extract
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
Heat oven to 390 degrees. Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan. In a large bowl, blend cake mix, water, sour cream, oil, brandy extract, and eggs until moistened; beat 2 minutes at highest speed. Stir in raisins and walnuts. Pour into a pre-prepared pan. Back at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool upright in pan 25 minutes; Invert onto a serving plate. Cool completely. Sift or sprinkle powdered sugar over the top. 16 servings.
Finally, during the 1970s, the Los Angeles Times featured a popular recipe for their 14 Carat Cake. That recipe incorporates crushed pineapple and walnuts. I’ve included it in today's Show Notes, as well.
14 CARAT CAKE
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups of sugar
1 ½ cups oil
2 cups grated raw carrot
1 (8 12-oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained
12 cup chopped nuts
Add Cream Cheese Frosting (see below)
Sift together flour, baking powder, powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add sugar, oil, and eggs and mix well. Stir in carrots, drained pineapple, and nuts. Turn into three greased and floured 9-inch layer-cake pans or a 13x9-inch pan and bake at 350 deg. 35 to 40 minutes until the top springs back when touched lightly with a finger. Cool a few minutes in pans, then turn out onto wire racks to cool. (Or loaf cake, may be frosted in the pan, especially handy if the cake is for a potluck or picnic.) For layers, spread tops and sides with frosting and stack.
Cream Cheese Frosting
½ cup butter or margarine
1 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1 lb. Confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Combine’ butter, cream cheese, and vanilla and beat until well blended. Add sugar gradually, beating vigorously, if too thick, add a small amount of milk to thin to spreading consistency.
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