Ancient Seeds Can Still Bear Fruit

Herodotus, Galen, and Pliny the Elder, names from the ancient Greek and Roman world that are familiar to the classical scholars among us, all praised the fruit of the Judean date palm. But in the centuries after the heydays of the Greeks and Romans, the date groves fell into decline and the distinctive Judean date palm plant disappeared — until now, thanks to the efforts of some Israeli scientists. And the reappearance of the plants tells us something noteworthy about the sophistication of the ancient farmers who grew the plant and, potentially, the hardiness of seeds.

The scientists located ancient seeds of the long-lost plant in caves and the ruins of a fortress built by King Herod and have used the 2,000-year-old seeds to grow thriving plants, like the one shown in the photo above. From hundreds of seeds that were collected, scientists selected a few dozen of the best candidates, soaked them in water and fertilizer, and then planted them — and, amazingly, six plants sprouted. The scientists then used the grown plants to conduct a genetic analysis that showed that the Judean date palm contained elements of African date palms and Middle Eastern date palms.

In short, the Judean farmers of long ago had engaged in careful breeding programs to try to produce the most succulent dates — which is why many people in the ancient world praised the Judean date for its large size, sweetness, and long storage life, as well as claimed medicinal benefits. Those findings suggest that ancient farmers knew what they were doing as they crossed different plants, hoping to enhance specific, desired qualities of the fruit.

The successful regeneration of the Judean date palm, centuries after its disappearance, from seeds that have sat, unused, for millennia may teach us something about the longevity of seeds, and may mean that other lost plants of the distant past can be recultivated. As for me, I’d like to try one of those famous dates — after the scientists that rescued the variety from oblivion are done experimenting with them, of course.

Elephants’ Ears

The gardeners at Schiller Park always come up with interesting floral arrangements, but this year might just be the best yet. I love the enormous green-leafed plants that I walk past every morning at the Third Street entrance into the park. I look at them and inevitably think of elephant ears, and it makes me smile. Who doesn’t like thinking of an elephant first thing in the morning?

The Growth That Consumed German Village

img_2893We’re reaching the end of the growing season in Ohio — at least, I think we are.  You wouldn’t know it by the bright green growth spilling out of one of our planters.  This spectacular botanical specimen has long since exceeded the natural boundaries set by its terra cotta home, and now is growing like crazy in every direction:  up and across the steps, along the side of the house, on the bannister, and around all of the other planters.  You wouldn’t know that the plant is in a pot that is perched on a bench, which is now completely covered by the rapidly growing green leaves.

I’m getting to the point where I wonder what the house will look like when I get home at night — or even whether any house will be visible at all.

Bold And Beautiful

One of the great things about a visit to the Bahamas this time of year is the welcome contrast in colors.  In the northern U.S., except for Christmas lights and decorations, it’s drab and dreary, a study in shades of gray from the sky to the ground.  Here around Freeport, however, the tropical plants are blooming in an explosion of colors, all of which are cast in sharp relief by the bright sunshine.  The effect is stunning.

On Poison Ivy Patrol

I used to weed our beds with joyful, reckless abandon, pulling out the offending plants by the handful.  Then, about 10 years ago, during one of the high summer months, I got a bad poison ivy rash for the first time, and my gardening life changed forever.

My hands touched the poison ivy as I was kneeling and weeding the beds on the side of the house, seating heavily as I worked in the summer sun.  This turned out to be most unfortunate for me.  When I mopped my sodden brow the diabolical irritants on my hands were able to get into the open pores on my face and were splashed onto my arms and chest and legs.  By that evening, it was clear that I was in trouble, and by the next morning my rash — technically a case of contact dermititis — was comically bad.  My face was bright red and so swollen that my eyes were slits.  I also was dealing with multiple patches of misshapen red bumps on every limb that cried out for a vigorous itching.  When I went to a dermatologist and took off the sunglasses I was wearing to cover my alien-looking face, the he burst into laughter and said it was the worst case of poison ivy he’d ever seen.  The boys found my appearance equally amusing.

Eventually the patches went away, after days of trying to avoid the overwhelming impulse to scratch like a dog with fleas, but ever since I have been especially sensitive to any poison ivy exposure.  Apparently this is common.  So now, when I weed, I keep my eye out for anything that looks suspicious and treat it with utmost care.  On the Poison Ivy Patrol, our motto is “Leaves of three, let it be.”