Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Plant Called "Bottles of All Colors"

If you enjoy A Natural History of Selbourne, then go here to read a delightful journal of natural history that was kept from June 11th to July 13th in the year 1819 by Dr. T. Forster.  Dr. Forster was visiting near Tunbridge Wells at the time.

It came to my notice because, in June he notes -
(June) "20th. — Fine warm weather has at length succeeded the cool. The hay is down, and in some places stacked. The Yellow Lily is in full flower; as are likewise the Pike Geranium, the White and also the Blue Fraxinella, and numerous Roses. Peony is already casting its petals to decay. A variety of Centaurea Cyanus, almost white, is common here." 

From Encyclopaedia Londinensis, Volume 4 comes the words that identify the Centaurea cyanus as our Bottle of All Colors...(a larger version of the plate to the right where you can read the small script is below).

"Perennial blue-bottle is now become a common plant in large gardens, from the facility with which it is increased. The roots indeed creep so much, that it is apt to become troublesome. It will grow in any soil and situation.
There are great varieties of colours in the flowers of the common annual blue-bottle, and some of them are finely variegated. The seeds are sold under the name of bottles of all colours. They will rise in any common border, and require no other care but to be kept clean from weeds, and thinned where they are too close, for they do not thrive well when they are transplanted. If the seeds be sown in autumn, they will succeed better, and the plants will flower stronger than those which are sown in spring.
 Centaurea cyanus, or corn centaury, annual bluebottle: calyxes serrate; leaves linear, quite entire, the lowest toothed. Stem one to two feet high, angular, slightly tomentose, branched at top. It is a common weed among corn, flowering from June to August; the wild flower is usually blue, but sometimes white or purple.
Our old English writers, besides Blue-bottle, which has commonly obtained, have the names of blue-ball, blue-blow, corn-flower, and hart-fickle. In the Booke of Husbandrye ascribed to Fitzherbert, it seems to be called hadods or haudad. 
Some modern agriculturists speak of it under the name of huddle, which is evidently nothing more than a corruption of bottle. Dr. Stokes informs us, that it is called batchelor's buttons in Yorkshire and Derbyshire; but this is a name given to many other flowers. In Scotland it is called blue bonnets; in German, Dutch, Swedish, and Danish,korn-blume; in French, bluet; in Italian and Portuguese, ciano; in Spanish, aciano, azulejo. 

The expressed juice of the central florets makes a good lake; it also stains linen of a beautiful blue, but the colour is not permanent in any mode hitherto used. Mr. Boyle says, that the juice of the central florets, with the addition of a very small quantity of alum, makes a lasting transparent blue, not inferior to ultramarine." 

It is always fun to find notes hand written in books...

This later edition of Mrs. Loudon's book was clear enough to read the fine engraved script. 

And isn't the cover of this book wonderful?!

Below is something I did not expect to find.  The questioning mind...what fun! 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Horns...Dolichos bicontorta?

I am not 100% sure this is THE "Horns" offered for sale in early flower seed list from 1726...but it sure deserves to be!  What a bizarre symmetrical pod arrangement this is!  Very nice...add a blob of wool under the horns and you have a ram puppet that would keep the kiddies amused and happily running around like a little crazy flock of sheep for the rest of the day.  Definitely worth growing in the days before TV and books for all.

A seed list that identifies Dolichos bicontorta as the plant calls it Ram's Horns.  This book is from 1778, Beauties of Flora, by Swindon.  I can't find it online so far :-(
See review of Beauties of Flora just below this quoting of Swindon's book by Loudon in his 1824  An encyclopedia of gardeningcomprising the theory and practice of horticulture, floriculture, arboriculture, and landscape-gardening, including all the latest improvements. a general history of gardening in all countries, and a statistical view of its present state, with suggestions for its future progress in the British Isles.
 By the way, check out his use of our other oddball plants from previous posts!
 I see another weird one to look up.

 Sowing hardy Annual Flowers
Any time this month (March) , that the ground is in good condition, you may sow in the borders and other flower compartments, a variety of hardy annuals, such as large and dwarf annual sunflowers, sweet pea of every kind, larkspur, flos-adonis, persicaria, Tangier peas,  Nigilla, Venus's looking-glass, Venus's navelwort, double dwarf poppy, Label's catchfly, dwarf-lychnis, snails, horns, hedgehogs, caterpillars, mignonette, china-aster, horse-shoes, belvidere, candytuft, honey-wort, convolvulus-minor, cyanus, china-hollyhock, lavatera, curled mallow, winged pea, china pink, ten weeks stock, and many other sorts, (see list of annualswhich will flower better if sown early, than if delayed to a late period; though every of the above will succeed very well if sown in the beginning of next month.   From The American Gardener's Calendar, 1806,  By Bernard M'Mahon

Another of my favorite, more normal, Dolichos is the Dolichis lablab.  I first saw it growing all over a picket fence on Statin Island.  It was lovely and lush.  Then I found out it could survive and thrive in a school...which isn't easy.  The flowers are nice and the purple pods are colorful and cheery.  It is sort of poisonous, so an elementary school maybe isn't quite the place to grow it, BUT it isn't that poisonous.  It would be nice in an office!

An encyclopedia of gardeningcomprising the theory and practice of horticulture, floriculture, arboriculture, and landscape-gardening, including all the latest improvements. a general history of gardening in all countries, and a statistical view of its present state, with suggestions for its future progress in the British Isles - John Claudius Loudon, 1824

Dolichos bicontorta     Ram's Horn plate

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Hedgehog Plant

Another pair of plants sold for their amusement value is Horns and Hedgehogs!  (See this older post.)

This post is about the plant I decided might have been the Hedgehog. 
The Hedgehog Medick, Medicago intertexta, is it as far as I am concerned. 
I based my choice on the fact the common name of this plant includes the word Hedgehog and it is very cool looking! A child would love it.  

I also found this in a book from 1855, "M. mactilata (Spotted Medick)....
The Rev. C. A. Johns says that this plant, which is in Cornwall called spotted clover, is there considered very injurious to the pasturage. The coiled and prickly seed vessel is very curious, and many of the Medicks have seed vessels still more so.
The Snail-shell Medick of the South of Europe,  (Medicago scutellata),  has a large seed vessel formed of numerous coils; and the still more singular legume of the Hedgehog Medick, (Medicago intertexta),  has led to the frequent culture of this plant in our gardens. "                      From:  The flowering plants and ferns of Great Britain, Volume 2, By Anne Pratt

Above photo by Franz Neidl 

 By the way, it is a nitrogen fixing plant.

This is one of the the Linnean herbarium images. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fun With Fake Worms

 Astragalus hamosus...the jokester's "worm" to drop in your salad!

The seeds are rectangular!

Hooker looks like a cool guy. He isn't really connected much with "worms" but his book had them illustrated and he is worth knowing.

The clincher that this is the plant called "Worms" is the last paragraph below :-)

Above: The Field and Garden Vegetables of America ... with Directions for Propagation, Culture and Use ... Illustrated , Fearing Burr

This is a plate from Hooker's botany book.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

eek!! Scorpiurus vermiculatis!

Boys have been having fun for hundreds of years trying to scare the girls with these fake caterpillars.

Who could resist?  This is a fantastic seed capsule!!

From all the photos I have looked at of the different species I see that the trick is to get the pod at just the right time...which seems to be  before it is mature.

The above herbarium specimen from

Article to the right: The Vegetable GardenIllustrations, Descriptions, and Culture of the Garden Vegetables of Cold and Temperate Climates,  J. Murray, 1885

Gardening for Fun
In these days, when so great effort is being expended to to do away with worms and their kind, it seems strange that anyone should grow plants for the sole reason that their pods resemble worms and snails; yet such plants are grown, and the resemblance is great, as the accompanying engraving will testify. This is not an attractive dish, I fancy, to most of us, but I grew its contents in imitation of French gardeners. These plants are grown for no other reason than that they are curious, and for the inimitable pleasure of dropping them into your wife's soup, or laying them beside her plate at dinner time! At least, these are the only uses yet recorded for them. But they are interesting plants,nevertheless. They set a-going a whole series of speculations as to how and why these pods ever came to imitate crawling things so closely. It would be interesting to know if birds mistake them for worms, and thereby scatter the seeds, or if the quirls and wrinkles are only so many means of catching hold of passing animals. These plants are of several kinds, all belonging to the pea family. Three kinds are shown in the accompanying cupful. The round, snail-like specimens are Medicago  scutellata, and they are technically known as Snails. The larger and fatter worms are Scorpiurus vermiculutus, and the small, slender ones, which have crawled to the top of the cup, are Scorpiurus subvillosus: these two are appropriately called Caterpillars or Worms.—
Liberty Hyde Bailey,   from American Gardening, 1892
Above: from Dobies of Devon "Scorpiurus muricatus Seeds - Curly Whirly"

This great photo below is from
Scorpiurus muricatus is Scorpiurus  subvillosus.  

I found Smart Seeds on Etsy sells these seeds for around $3.00.  A highly color edited photo there makes them neon purple!

Nice link:  Great Medicago photos....

Monday, March 31, 2014

Medicago orbicularis, perhaps?

Found it!  At least I found "the Snail".  It was known in England so I think it probably is the most likely candidate.  Commonly called the round-fruited medick, it is found all around the Mediterranean.  It is a nitrogen fixing pea clover.   (See yesterday's post.)

 Medicago orbicularis.  Lovely.

Photo by Franz Neidl, from interesting discussion 
in the forum at

The plant has migrated around the globe, with this specimen from a field in Texas.

Now, it could have been the Snail Medick,  Medicago scutellata, (see below) but that plant isn't as "snail-ish" to my eye!  Who ever saw a hairy snail?

Next, the hunt for the Caterpillar plant that was sold with the Snails!  I want to grow Snails, I wonder if J. L. Hudson has the seeds?  Later - Nope, they don't.
I did find a page with great photo documentation of the plant, however, and they do sell seeds...but they are around 15 EU....more than I would want to pay.  Great photos though!

Turner Seeds, Texas, has bushels I think.  In modern trade it is used for land reclamation as it is a nitrogen fixing legume.  It is also commonly called Button Clover nowadays.  

Perhaps Ebay is where to look as the plant is a common "weed" anyone could gather seed from.  In Malta it is within the laws to sell it...and in Texas it is legal.  It sounds like a seed that is in the trade in many places. New South Wales in Australia promotes its use in  pastures.

Well, I checked out Ebay and found nothing.  But somehow I bumped into a set of buttons (button clover search) that I just had to buy!!  They are charming, made from mother of pearl in a crude flower shape. :-) I think they could make a nice necklace, or pin, or...buttons!