Posts Tagged ‘hellebore’

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lungwort

Cowslips of Jerusalem, or the true and right Lungwoorte, hath rough, hairie, & large leaves, of a browne greene colour, confusedly spotted with divers spots or droppes of white: amongst which spring up certain stalks, a span long, bearing at the top many fine flowers, growing together like the flowers of cowslips, saving that they be at the first red or purple, and sometimes blewe, and oftentimes of all these colours at once.

—John Gerard, The Herball, or General Historie of Plants, 1597

Lungwort

The common lungwort or pulmonaria, growing under one of the veteran quince trees in Bonnefont garden. Native to central Europe, but widely naturalized, the early blooming lungwort is a denizen of damp, deciduous woodlands and hedgerows. The characteristic silvery-white spots scattered on its leaves were a sign of its medicinal value in treating lung complaints. Lungwort was already a common garden plant by the sixteenth century and many ornamental cultivated forms are now grown. Photograph by Carly Still

Read more »

Friday, August 3, 2012

Open, Sesame!

Sesame Flowers Sesame Pod

Sesame, also known as “benne,” is a tender, large-leaved, Asian annual grown here in Bonnefont garden. Sesame has been cultivated for some five thousand years and was known to many cultures in antiquity. Although the plant is somewhat rangy and coarse in habit, the tubular flower (above, left) is attractive. The immature green pods (above, right), which will split and spill out their seeds when ripe, contain one of the world’s oldest domesticated oilseeds. The seeds also have a long history of use as a seasoning. Photographs by Carly Still.

A cultivated plant of fabulous antiquity, sesame (Sesamum indicum) is known as simsim in Arabic, susam in Turkish, sesam in German, sésame in French, sesamo in Italian, and sesame in Spanish. Called sesemt by the ancient Egyptians, it was also grown in Ethiopia in very early times. Sesame seeds were taken from West Africa to America by slave traders; the name “benne” derives from the West African benni. Sesame had long been grown in India and Persia, and was introduced to China by the end of the fifth century A.D. Read more »

Monday, April 12, 2010

Long live the hellebores . . .

Helleborus niger Helleborus seed capsules Helleborus  

Above, from right to left: The showy stamens of the hellebore will shrivel and drop off, but the flowers will be attractive for many weeks more; the long-lasting sepals and the seed capsules they surround provide a second phase of beauty and interest; the sepals and seed capsules darken in color as they mature. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt.

Hellebores are among the earliest flowers to come in our gardens, but they are slow to go, unlike the snowdrops that bloom only for a short while in late winter and early spring. The hellebore flowers that appear in February-March lose their showy stamens in April, but the persistent sepals and the ripening seed capsules are beautiful and will last for many weeks longer.

There are some twenty species of Helleborus, native to Europe, Turkey, and the Caucasus, and many crosses have now been made between them. Since these cultivated forms are beautiful, various, hardy, undemanding, vigorous, and drought-tolerant, they have become very popular garden plants. Hellebores are now being bred to bear more upright flowers, so they can be more easily admired, and a wide variety of colored and freckled forms, including blue and black-flowered cultivars, are available to collectors. For information on hybrid forms, see “Hybridizing Helleborus niger (PDF)” on the Royal Horticultural Society website.

These winter-blooming plants are dormant in summer, and cope well with dry shade; they require little maintenance beyond the removal of old foliage in fall or late winter. They self-seed freely and are easily propagated by division. For comprehensive information on knowing and growing them well, see Hellebores.

For a history of  hellebore species used in ancient and medieval medicine, see “Hell Flowers,” March 24, 2010.

—Deirdre Larkin

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hell Flowers

Helleborus foetidus Helleborus niger Helleborus orientalis

Above, from left to right: Detail of stinking hellebore, Helleborus foetidus, the first to bloom of the three hellebore species grown in Bonnefont garden; detail of the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, in blossom; detail of the flowers of the Lenten rose, Helleborus orientalis.

The name “hellebore” does not derive from the Anglo-Saxon word “hell,” although hellebore might well be described as hellish in some of its actions and associations. Some older sources derive the generic name of the plant from the Greek elein (to injure) and bora (food), indicating its poisonous nature. However etymologists now conjecture that hellebore is derived from ellos—a young deer—and bora, meaning “the food of fawns”. I’ve asked Alain Touwaide, a classical scholar and an authority on ancient medicinal herbs, whose work on an important medieval medical text is featured on the Science at the Smithsonian website, to comment on this derivation.

The magico-medicinal character of hellebore, a poisonous member of the Ranunculaceae, a botanical family which includes other deadly species such as aconite, was established in Greek antiquity. Read more »