Archive for the ‘Subshrub’ Category

Tomato Issues

Blosson End Rot

Blossom End Rot – Photo by A13ean Use licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution

Last year when we planted our tomatoes we had high hopes of having sufficient fruit to make a ton of spaghetti sauce to get us through the year. What we didn’t know is that the soil we had was not good enough. Our plants grew tall, almost 6 feet. They were full and bushy with tons of small fruit and flowers. But before the fruit could grow full size and ripen…the bottom end, the blossom end furthest from the stem developed a black, sunken, leathery patch!

Upon research I learned that the condition is known as Blossom End Rot. This is most commonly caused by soil lacking in calcium and lack of consistent watering. It can also be triggered in the earliest set fruits if the soil is too cold or the plant is not sufficiently hardened off.

There are all kinds of chemical fertilizers to handle this issue, and if that is the route you want to take then please ask questions of the people at your local nursery or plant store. They should be able to direct you. But for me personally, I do not eat anything I cannot pronounce (meaning applied to the plant, absorbed by the plant, then consumed by me) or known to be chemical (man made).

What I have done is to dig the hole for the plant slightly deeper than is normal. At the bottom of the hole I added powdered milk, lime, and crushed eggshells. About ½ inch of dirt was then placed above that, and then the plant. Around the base of the plant I sprinkled crushed eggshells to slowly leach additional calcium into the soil with each additional rainfall. The crushed eggshells also have the added benefit of stopping slugs from approaching the stem of the tomato plant, as they do not like the feeling of slithering over the sharp edges of the shells.  Through the season I can add powdered milk to the surface of the soil if it looks like even more calcium is needed.

To help combat the water end of the issue we have installed a sprinkler system (not perfected yet) and deeply mulched all the tomato plants to help protect the moisture from evaporating. As I write this we are in a heat spell with temps over 95 degrees Farenheit. The plants are looking great, the mulch and watering system seem to be working well. Our fruits are nearing full size and not one sign of the blossom end rot is here so far!

Check out my previous post on Tomatoes – Solanum lycopersicum

Christmas Star – Euphorbia pulcherrima

Christmas Star
Christmas Star

Red leafed flower with poignant history
Reminds of life’s passion at Christmas time
Symbolic of seasonal light, glory

 

By Stephanie Eve Kane Arado

 

This plant, indigenous to Mexico is probably the most recognized flower associated with the Christmas season. It was held in such high esteem by Montezuma, the emperor of the ancient Aztecs that he had the plants potted and brought into the mountains where he reigned. The plant did not do well there (it does not tolerate below 50 degrees Fahrenheit), so had to be brought in frequently!

The Poinsettia has been referred to as the Christmas Star because of the resemblance of the bracts that surround the true flowers to stars. The bracts (or leaves) are pointed and circle the center yellow flowers in a radiant pattern. Among the Aztec the flower represented purity.

 

In Mexico there is a sweet story of how the Poinsettia came to be. According to the legend a young girl was on her way to celebrate the Christ child’s birth, but she was too poor to afford a gift. So she picked a bunch of scraggly green plants to present to him. She placed these before the alter and they blossomed with bright crimson star shaped flowers. This was a reminder that the most humble gift, given in love is perfection.

 

Among the Mayan people (at one time) these flowers were considered sacred. The Aztecs used the red bracts to produce a red dye. As a folk medicine it was used to treat skin issues, warts, and toothaches.

 

There is one other myth that needs dispelled. This plant is not a toxic killer…to people or pets!

In 1919 an urban legend was born after a child died after ingestion of the plant. The cause of death was never proven, but it never happened again! The latex of the plant can cause issues for those sensitive to it causing irritation to the skin, eyes and mucous membranes. If sufficient quantity is consumed it can cause nausea and vomiting, but NOT death.

Red Birds in a Tree – Scrophularia macrantha

Red Birds in a Tree fruit
Red Birds in a Tree fruit

‘On the mainland the figwort is known for its medicinal properties,

and in the islands for its magical powers.

On the mainland the leaf of the plant is applied to cuts and bruises,

and the tuber to sores and tumours.

In the islands the plant was placed on the cow fetter,

under the milk boyne, and over the byre door,

to ensure milk in the cows.’

 

In  Carmina Gadelica, Volume 2, by Alexander Carmicheal, [1900]

 

This native plant of New Mexico has become rare in nature, growing only in a small area of New Mexico. It carries the common names of New Mexico Figwort and Mimbres Figwort for that reason. It is usually considered Rare or Endangered. A relatively new interest has been given this plant and the nursery industry has assigned the new name of Red Birds in a Tree to it. The new name is due to the striking red flowers it bears from July to October in its native habitat. Here on the east coast I have seen this plant happy and flourishing in the University of Delaware’s Botanical Garden. I saw it in August and the flowers seemed done, but it had great seedpods growing profusely.

 

The Yavapai people of Arizona had at one time used the leaves as spring greens and ate them boiled. No other reference to this variety of figwort being consumed could be found.

 

The genus name, Scrophularia is based on the word scrofula (tuberculosis of the lymph nodes found in the neck) which members of this genus have been used to treat. Although there is no mention of this specific member having been used for anything medicinal!

Carolina Nightshade – Solanum carolinense var. carolinense

Carolina Nightshade fruit
Carolina Nightshade fruit

This native of the southeast North America has spread to cover most of the United States. It is known to be weedy and invasive spreading through seeds and its underground rhizomes. It is extremely deep rooted, and if the entire root is not removed it will regrow being a perennial. Of the 44 states in which it grows, 7 of them have listed it as a Noxious weed…Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Iowa and Nevada. Even though this plant is list as a noxious weed it cannot be listed as invasive, since it is native of this land.

 

Another reason for the aversion to this plant is that all green parts, but especially the unripe berries carry an alkaloid (solanine) that is very toxic. It has been shown toxic to horses, cattle, sheep, and humans. The symptomology of poisoning is abdominal pain and may potentially cause circulatory and respiratory depression. If sufficient quantity of the plant is consumed it can be deadly.  Although the unripe berries are toxic, the ripe berries are consumed safely by pheasants, quail, prairie chickens and wild turkeys.

 

The fruits have also been consumed by humans safely although it is not recommended. In times past the ripe berries (after turning yellow) have been used in herbal medicine to treat epilepsy, and to work as a sedative and an anti-spasmodic. In fact the Genus name (Solanum) is taken from the Latin, meaning quieting! According to Foster & Duke (A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants Eastern and Central North America Volume 40: Peterson Field Guides) the berries have been use to treat epilepsy and pain, as a diuretic, antispasmodic, and aphrodisiac.

 

The Cherokee Indians used it in their Herbal medicine. Often referred to as the bull nettle, the ripe, yellow berries were used to treat nervous stress and as a mild sedative. It was also used for treating asthma, and all sorts of bronchial conditions. The Cherokee also used the crushed leaves mixed with sweet milk as a fly poison. In another use the root would be strung on a thread or piece of leather latigo and hung around a teething babies neck to easy the pain!

Pineapple – Ananas comosus

Pineapple
Pineapple

Pineapple, pineapple the elixir of life
Pineapple, pineapple cut open with a knife
Pineapple, pineapple the sensitive fruit
Pineapples are awful cute…

 

By Unknown

 

This herbaceous, perennial plant originates in South America. It is believed to have been first cultivated by the Guarani Indians of northern Paraguay. Well before the Spaniards arrival the natives of southern Paraguay and Brazil had spread the plant through South America, and into the Caribbean. When Columbus hit the Indies in 1493 (his second voyage) he “discovered” Pineapples and returned them to Europe (specifically Spain).

Since then it has spread to Hawaii, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, and Guam. The first commercial plantation was started as early as the 1860’s. These same natives introduced the Spanish, and therefore the Europeans to the use of the Pineapple motif as a symbols of hospitality and friendship. The Caribbeans placed the whole pineapple or the crown of the fruit outside their door; while the Europeans chose to carve it into lintels over doorways, and furniture.

The Spanish found the locals in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico) soaking slices of the pineapple in salt water before they consumed them. This practice is no longer being followed. The fruit of the Pineapple is still enjoyed with relish, it is often eaten fresh with just the crown, rind, and eyes removed. The flesh may be cut and added to salads, in desserts, compotes, cooked in pies, cakes, puddings or as a garnish on ham. It can be made into sauces or preserves. In Malaysia it is added to curry and used to accent meat dishes. While in the Philippines they ferment the fleshy fruit pulp to make nata de pina. The most common way pineapple is found today is canned as slices, chunks, crushed, or as juice.

The fruit, peel and juice have been used in the treatment of corns, tumors and warts. In some areas it was used to induce abort, labor or menstruation. The juice of unripe fruits will cause vomiting, aiding in clearing the system of poisons. The fruit is often used in Mexican healing rituals. It has long been used as an aphrodisiac, and is used in a homeopathic formula for impotence. An easy use for an aphrodisiac is to place a pineapple spear or ring into a rum based drink (this may not work as an aphrodisiac, but it just may relax fear of inadequacies!)

There are many myths and folkloric tales surrounding Pineapple. Folktales relate that sea captains at one time would place a pineapple outside their door upon returning home to signify their return from the sea. Some people had beds with removable pineapples at the ends of the bedposts, when the guest overstayed their welcome the pineapple carving would be unscrewed from the end and removed!

In the Philippines the myth surrounding the origins of Pineapples is to teach children to always obey their parents, but it is also to teach the parents to treat their children with love and to take care in how they handled them. While the Peruvian legend has the dead arising from their graves and eating the fruit of wild Pineapples!

American Spikenard – Aralia racemose

American Spikenard edible berries beginning to ripen
American Spikenard edible berries beginning to ripen

While the king sitteth at his table,

my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.

A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me;

he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.

 

Song of Solomon 1:12-13 The Christian Bible

 

This native of eastern North America can be found on wooded slopes, and in rich, moist woods. You will often find it growing with other woodlands plants such as Jack in the Pulpit, Wild Ginseng, Bluebells, Trillium, Bloodroot, Christmas Fern, Dutchman’s Breeches, and many others. In Rhode Island it is listed as of Special Concern, and must be treat with care.

 

The roots are very aromatic, with a spicy scent. It has been used to treat all types of lung ailments including coughs, TB, and catarrh (inflammation of the mucous membranes). It has also been used for female complaints such as leucorrhea (vaginal discharge), Prolapse of the uterus, and chlorosis (a form of anemia).

 

The native American Indians used this plant extensively…Potawatomi used the root to make a poultice for treatment of swellings; and the Cherokees drank a decoction of the root for backache. Today it is oft used as an alterative.

 

The roots were often used for making early root beers!

 

In magic use spikenard is grounding, balancing and calming. It is known as ‘herb of the student’ because it increases mental clarity, helping the student to learn, remember and recall more easily the lessons at hand.

Japanese Aralia – Fatsia japonica

Japanese Aralia leaves
Japanese Aralia leaves

 This evergreen plant is a great choice for shady gardens or planted in containers. The leaves have been described as ‘huge, indestructible, palmately lobed leaves, like vast outstretched, capable hands’. What an apt description. It is often used as an architectural statement in the garden, doing well behind other plants, setting off smaller, brighter plants.

This native of the coastal woodlands of Japan and Korea can grow as far north as zone 7 in protected, well mulched situations. But beware it hates freezing, so offer good protection…such as an area protected on 3 sides. It was first introduced to North America in the 19th century as an ornamental. To protect and ward off evil spirits, the people of Japan traditionally planted these on the north side of the house.

A suggested legend explaining part of the name is of Ara, a forest nymph, companion of Cynthia. Ara was sent to live among people, and she was to teach them the art of magic. She was called upon when a penalty was to be inflicted on a person!