Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Clove Gillyflowers: A Botanical Ramble

As with our eviction from Eden (a botanical story in itself, it turns out), it all started with an apple. At a historical symposium recently, we were talking about an old apple orchard that survived on a historic homestead in Westminster, Colorado. Do you know the name of the apple?, I asked, and the answer led me into temptation.

Apple image by Abhijit Tembhekar from Mumbai, India, source: Wikipedia.

"Sops-in-wine," I was told. Oddly, I had just read that very name in American Household Botany, a useful compendium of botanica I'm currently reading. But the name, sometimes known as "Sops-of-wine," was not applied (in the book) to heirloom apples. Off we go then!

What are sops? The noun, we understand, refers to "a piece of food dipped or steeped in a liquid," from the Middle English, soppe, and allied to, of all things, sopaipillas, which derived from sopa, or food soaked in milk, apparently of Germanic origin. About the only use of the word I can think of nowadays is in the adjective form, sopping wet. (Except for a friend of mine, whose 17 years in old Mexico taught her to make a mouth-watering sops of bread in red chile sauce.)

Sops of Wine is described by Big Horse Creek Farms as an "excellent early summer apple which grows well in all regions of the South. Its exact origins are unclear, but Beach (1905) says it is an ancient English culinary and cider apple. Fruit medium to large, slightly conical, with greenish-yellow skin covered with dark red faint red striping. Flesh is yellow and often stained with pink"—just as if it had been sopped, or soaked, in wine. Whether it actually was ever sopped in wine is, I suppose, another story.

Another plant truly was sopped in wine: the Clove Gillyflower, to which the name "sops in/of wine" is also applied. We've all seen these flowers, we just know them by another name: Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus and others). John Parkinson described “gilloflowers” in 1629, in his “Paradisus Terrestris.” He notes:

To avoid confusion, I must divide Gilloflowers from Pinkes and intreats of them in several chapters, of those that are called Carnations or Gilloflowers as of the greater kinds in this Chapter; and of the Pinkes as well double as single, in the next. But the number is so great that to give several descriptions to them all were endlesse… I account those that are called Carnations to be the greatest, both for leafe and flower, and Gilloflowers for the most part to bee lesser in both…”

Parkinson thereafter names some nineteen types of Carnations and 29 of Gillyflowers, not including the small wild gillyflowers he calls “Pinkes.”

Dianthus, literally from the Greek, means “divine flower” (dios plus anthos). It is in the family Caryo-phyllaceae, and the specific epithet of Gillyflowers, D. caryophyllus, adopts the family name. The carnation is also linked to cloves, and was once called “clove pink” for its scent and frequent use as a substitute for the expensive imported spice.

The clove tree, dried buds of which are the familiar spice, was Caryophyllus aromaticus L. (caryo meaning nut, and phyllus, of course, leaf). (It is not, however, in the Caryophyllaceae, but in the Myrtaceae, where it is now known as Syzygium aromaticum (L.) Merr. & L.M.Perry. Go figure.)

The English name Carnation is often thought to be derived from the Latin for flesh, as in carnal or carnage, which many of us associate with the color red. In fact, according to Webster’s, the carnation was originally “flesh-colored but now found in many color variations.” An old alternative, dating to the 16th century, connects the word to “Coronation,” in reference both to its common use in “weaving crowns or chaplets for the head, or as Lyte has it, from the flowers dented or toothed above—like to a littell crownet.”

Whence "gillyflower"? Wikipedia suggests this one is a corruption of the French giroflée, which translates the original Greek karyophyllon. Which puts us back to cloves again.

Should you not wish to adulterate good wine by soaking carnations in it, this same Wikipedia article offers a recipe for making wine using only gillyflowers, if you happen to have a peck of them on hand.

An old recipe for gilliflower wine is mentioned in Cornish Recipes Ancient & Modern dated to 1753:

“To 3 gallons water put 6lbs of the best powder sugar; boil together for the space of 1/2 an hour; keep skimming; let it stand to cool. Beet up 3 ounces of syrup of betony, with a large spoonful of ale yeast, put into liquor & brew it well; put a peck of gilliflowers free of stalks; let work fore 3 days covered with a cloth; strain & cask for 3-4 weeks, then bottle."

These days, it's a challenge to find carnations that smell like cloves or anything else. I suspect our modern "gillyflowers" would not make a very fragrant wine. Maybe the apples would work instead!

——More References
A Sales Manual on Colorado Carnations, by the Colorado Flower Growers Association, Inc. circa 1960s (includes an extensive history chapter on this flower, quoted above; online at Colorado State University).

Cloves, Picotees, and Sops in Wine, a nice essay on Cottage Gardening by Barbara M. Martin.

American Household Botany: A History of Useful Plants 1620-1900, by Judith Sumner. 2004. Timber Press, Portland and Cambridge. 396 pages.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spring-worthy Weather?

It's a truly glorious morning today, after days of hail, rain, tornado warnings, and other assorted delights. All of which (okay, some of which) have been deeply appreciated after our lack of serious snowstorms here in the lower foothills these last few months. Still some white on Mt. Morrison, but a rosy dawn and clear skies highlight the greening we have at last.

And, just this a.m., the most spectacular frost patterns we've had all winter, right there on my car windshield! On May 20th, such visions are ephemeral indeed!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

April Showers Bring... a New Berry!

Earth Day and Arbor Day are both more than a week past, and May Day is well underway as this late-breaking edition of the Berry-Go-Round plant carnival hits the streets. It's time to find out what those April showers have brought us. Some entries below came straight to me, others I tracked down in the wilds of the web, looking for signs of spring and plant life. Enjoy these offerings!

It's All About Trees

First up, grab a shovel and join Jade at Brain Ripples , who brings an early entry of 15 Celebrations in Spruce and Birch to kick off our thoughts about trees with reasons to celebrate and, of course, plant trees! Link-rich, this post is a carnival in itself, and well worth a visit.

Over at the Digital Botanic Garden, we find delicious walnuts, along with a little reminiscence about the walnut-shell boats of childhood. In the spring theme, Phil also brings us a favorite showy flowering shrub. Nice for me, as we don’t get to see these much around here. Back in March, Phil also explained the language of love, floral edition, by outlining how two fictional romances might have—or have not—taken place. A must read! (bookmark it for Valentine's Day)

Step-by-step spring from Sarah at Musings from Dave whose written musings... on the gradual onset of the green season are as charming as her photographic accompaniment. Second installment here. And earlier fabulous time-lapse close-ups all help us see spring as it happens!

Tai at Earth, Wind & Water explores the virtues of Red Filbert, a new one to me, but most attractive!

Please welcome Georgia’s first submission to BGR from Local Ecologist, as she combines history and ecology to chronicle changes in the urban tree canopy on Broadway north of Columbus Circle between 1901 and 1912. What happens to trees when New York City builds a subway? Great sleuthing, Georgia—we hope to hear from you again.

Ted at Beetles in the Bush brought us the spectacular ceibo, also known as cockspur coral tree. It's the national flower of both Argentina and Uruguay, so we appreciate the lengths he went to for these gorgeous photos!

As we are speaking of trees, The Nature Conservancy undertakes to Plant a Billion, in its efforts to restore the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, the lungs of the planet—and much more. Meet a few tropical trees, watch their seedlings grow on the home page at this site, and see if you can help this critical project.

Lest we forget that much of our planet is treeless, FF's companion blog, Small Wonders, provides an opportunity to rethink Arbor Day in favor of prairies where appropriate, along with a review of this holiday's history.

On to Spring's Wildflowers

Puca at Anybody Seen My Focus? invites us to join a hike on the Bradley Mountain Trail in the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve in DeKalb County, Georgia. Parts two and three of the hike follow, with fascinating terrain and natural "dish gardens" (a new phrase to me) that hold two outstanding wildflowers: the Elf Orpine (Diamorpha smallii) and the Oneflower Stitchwort (Minuartia uniflora).

Comment1 at Real Monstrosities offers an inventive look at pitcher plants from someone who “decided to rekindle my love of creepy crawlies and years of avidly watching David Attenborough documentaries and create this, Real Monstrosities. Life at it's most bizarre. A collection of creatures strange in body or habit.” Thanks for joining us this month!

At Hill-stead's Nature Blog, Diane tells us how to feed the hungry, especially birds, butterflies, and other picky eaters who depend on native plants for sustenance! This story of winter's deprivation offers a thoughtful look at an important side effect of the spread of invasive exotics and a valuable reminder of another good reason to go native in your landscape.

Mary, the Accidental Botanist, takes us on a visit to her local library, the internet and shows how we as individuals can contribute. It’s a reference collection where any and all of us can make a difference!

Jeremy and Luigi at Agricultural Biodiversity bring us a coconut imposter and cautionary tales about germplasm documentation. Jeremy adds "the comments add a lot to the discussion... [comments are] one of the best things about having a blog, and one reason to submit to BGR is to encourage new readers and potentially useful new comments." So, don't forget to comment—it's important!

Dave at Osage Orange dropped by with another reminder in the year of the Juniper, this time an essay on proper pruning and other spring garden chores.

Some "wildflowers" can fool us, and beauty is always in the eye of the beholder! Kate at Beyond the Brambles discovered a way to turn the tables (and fork) on those who outgrow their hospitality. She found the invasive Japanese knotweed to be Tangy, Fibrous, and Slightly Sweet. Who knew? We should be eating more of these! Kate just discovered BGR and plans to host in July—welcome aboard!

A few more gleanings...

Ellen, the Adirondack Naturalist, has been transplanted to Michigan, where she found a seasonally appropriate story of resurrection to post.

The Phytophactor has produced no less than 65 posts since the last BGR, and, it being spring, at least half of them are about plants. You'll find lots more there, but I simply have to point out one little ditty he calls Plant Porn. Must-see video! Sex and archegonia bring to life what we read about in college botany but never got to see happening!

At Botany Photo of the Day, I picked out skunk cabbage among this spring's offerings. You'll find much more to explore there as well.

Nina at Nature Remains goes Searching for Spring, as she brings us a tiny harbinger, Draba verna (favorite research subject of my friend Julie). On a spring wildflower trip with the Midwest Native Plant Society, the rare Draba brachycarpa also puts in a welcome appearance. If you're still hungry for spring wildflowers, Nina will help, with little men of the spring woods, a delightful frolic, and time with trout lilies.

Tell them Berry-Go-Round sent you

Lots to keep you busy! Thanks for stopping by! Please enjoy these authors and give them feedback. We hope you'll spread the word about Berry-Go-Round by linking back if your post was included, or even if you just enjoyed this edition. Next month's adventures in botany will be hosted by Matt at Sitka Nature.