A summer ode to black raspberries and columbines
In Colorado last week my wife and I enjoyed the ponderosa pines, fields of pink morning glory interspersed with white exotic mountain flowers like shooting stars, old man’s bear lichen adorning the trees, mountain roses and lupins.
Almanac for plant lovers: More about the bugs and the bees
Back in Ohio, the black raspberries were ripening in our garden, a sad loss for us, almost a reason not to travel, although a visit to granddaughter June sealed the deal.
Luckily we have friends in Northeast Ohio who harvest these black raspberries. No red raspberries, most people’s favorites and wonderful, and no juicy and sweet blackberries, no blueberries, which are the focus of the most exquisite coffee cake with a blueberry buckle, but to my taste – the best early summer berries, the essence of the forest – black raspberries. Have fun friends.
columbines (columbine). While camping in the mountains of Colorado, we came across one of the most spectacular wildflowers you will ever see, the Rocky Mountain columbine (Aquilegia caerules), a lavender-white creation with large open flowers with long, backward-facing, nectar-bearing spurs.
There are over 60 species of columbines, members of the buttercup family, including a reddish version, Aquilegia canadensis, which is often found in Ohio woods. Hummingbirds love nectar and some moths feed on columbines. Columbine leafminers and sawflies love to feed on columbines. Plant garden columbine hybrids and species in partial shade, colors come in yellow, white, blue and purple, red and lavender.
Rocky Mountain columbine was voted the favorite flower of schoolchildren there in the 1890’s and later became Colorado’s state wildflower. There is something to see but not to eat; Columbines contain a number of toxins, particularly in the roots and seeds.
aspens and poplars (Populus spp.). Aspens are found in Ohio; in woods and come down to the Secrest Arboretum for example, and they are a delight due to their constantly quivering, quivering nature, chirping in the wind due to the architecture of their leaves.
The flat leaf blade is perpendicular to the petiole (petiole), making the leaf particularly susceptible to movement in the slightest breeze. poplars (Populus deltoides) are considered somewhat coarse: larger, with larger leaves, powerful trunks and large branches, and of course all that poplar fluff, a mass of seeds, fruit capsules and cotton fibers.
Nonetheless, poplars and all aspen species are closely related, in the same genus – population. Do not believe me? If you’re out west with lush groves of aspen, note the fluff—not just on poplars, but their aspen cousins as well.
Origin of Apple. No, not Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak: I’m talking about “an apple a day“.
It all started in the Tian Shan region of Kazakhstan, the “Heavenly Mountains” separating China and Central Asia. Due to genetic evidence, it is now generally accepted that the ancestor is our domesticated apples Malus sieversii. This story is well told in a short chapter in the book Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them (2021) by Dan Saladino. Apples were spread to America via the land bridge and to Europe through trade.
Saladino on these Tian Shan apples: “Each tree is unique and so is the fruit; Some apples are as big as tennis balls, others as small as cherries. Some are striking light green, others are soft pastel pinks and purples. One could be sweet and honeyed; another spicy with hints of aniseed or liquorice; others so pungent and astringent you want to spit them straight out.”
As Saladino notes, apples were known in the Roman Empire and the goddess Pomona presented Hera with a golden apple on her marriage to Zeus. “Pomona” is the Latin name for “orchard”.
A golden light struck me as I read this: As a crab apple lover, I know that apples are referred to as “pome fruit,” meaning “fleshy fruit without a stone; with a row of seeds in a separate chamber in the center of the fruit,” as do other members of the rose family such as pear, quince, medlar, hawthorn, and rowan. But Pom-ona! How cool.
Then our American John Chapman/Johnny Appleseed saga. Although it was known to graft desired apple varieties onto a separate rootstock, Chapman traveled to Ohio and elsewhere with canoes full of “pits” or seeds. Seeds yield variability, but not necessarily the best apples.
Why, Johnny, why? This was because he was a follower of the Swedenborgian religious sect founded by Emanuel Swedenborg after the first of his “revelations” in 1750. Chapman believed that plants suffer and therefore making these grafting cuts was not right. Ironically, he later became a vegetarian: suffering was one thing, eating plants was apparently sacramentally healthy.
Saladino details the history of the derivation of where apples evolved: it was clarified in part by the work of Nikolai Ivanovich Vasilov, the Russian geneticist who studied the world center of origin of many crop species, including the Tian Shan apples. Saladino’s essay refreshed my memory of learning about Vasilov’s colorful career during graduate school.
Vasilov has received worldwide praise but is a cautionary tale about the politicization of science. In the 1930s and early 1940s he came into conflict with Joseph Stalin and his loyal Trofim Lysenko, who declared genetics politically incorrect and favored the Lamarkian theory of “acquired traits”, trained these plants to become better and adapted of revolutionary Soviet propaganda on the perfectibility of nature. Because of his adherence to actual truth, Vasilov was sentenced to the Gulag in 1941 and died there in 1943. Logic and science, and Vasilov, fell victim to propaganda! truth counts!
Finally, it is interesting to note the three ways of propagating apples. Diversity comes from seed, a great boon for the development of novel and wonderful new strains; There are as many species as there are apple seeds, especially in the now endangered Tian Shan area of Kazakhstan. Then there’s grafting, which is asexual reproduction, which involves taking cuttings that are essentially clones of one another, with each “shoot” identical to the next. Third, there is hybridization: sexual reproduction of different parents, followed by cloning of the desired outcomes (flavor, shelf life, color). Fuji and Gala are the result of such crossings.
Ultimately, it is this combination of sexual and asexual reproduction, as well as nature and nurturing, that serves our horticultural and culinary interests. As Rachel Carson observed in Silent Spring, “Nature has brought great diversity to the landscape, but man has shown a passion for simplifying it.” Both good and bad.
Jim Chatfield is a horticultural educator and professor emeritus at the Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden or anything else, write to [email protected] or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number when you write.
Almanac for Plant Lovers:A little bit about bad bugs, rot and blooms