Monday, July 30, 2012

Samara... newsletter of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership

Last week I reblogged an excellent post from the Millennium Seedbank Blog here . This week I'm sharing the MSB Newsletter SAMARA ... available online and in several languages going back over a number of years. With partnerships all around the world articles in this newsletter cover a lot of ground and make for interesting reading... and not just for specialists necessarily.

Samara cover


The newsletter of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership
From website: "Samara aims to provide information, and inspiration for MSBP partners and a flavour of the successes of the Partnership for other interested recipients. It is available as a pdf.
Read the Latest issue here.

Detail of violet tree seed pods
The seed pods have a ‘wing’ making them
a ‘dorsal samara’ type of seed moctar )
2004 Samara
2002 Samara

Seeds in a petri dish
in the lab:

Specimen and note book

documenting material:

2005 Samara

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Seed Morphologist Wolfgang Stuppy on Nuts!

Wolfgang Stuppy's posts on the Millennium Seed Bank blog are always worth reading but this post will surprise many who may never have seen how cashews grow, nor read about this much loved nut.

All text and images are the IP of Stuppy and KEW Millennium Seed Bank. I have reblogged this from the July 24 post on this page.

NB: I was privileged last October to work and live onsite at the MSB over three weeks where Wolgang was the contact person for the residency period, so this is not the first time I have posted on his work or that of the many wonderful people at the MSB. Please visit the page highlighted above to read more of the MSB blog posts and gain comprehensive overview of the entire project through hundreds of pages of links.


Love nuts? Love seeds! But which one is the tastiest of all?

By: Wolfgang Stuppy - 24/07/2012

After previously exploring colourful, enigmatic, poisonous and sadistic seeds, in his new blog, Wolfgang goes nuts about nuts.

I absolutely love nuts! They are healthy, taste great and being a Seed Morphologist, I obviously have a very special relationship with them. This last is fueled by the strange awareness that every time I eat a nut, I eat an embryo. Yuk? Well, read on!
To me, the most delicious nut of all is the cashew. No other nut can match its fine flavour and soft creamy texture. If you are also nuts about nuts, you will undoubtedly know cashews, even if you (incomprehensibly) prefer macadamias, pistachios or Brazil nuts. I wonder, though, how many people know the plant that cashew nuts come from and about the unusual and amazing appearance of the actual fruit they are borne in. Hence this blog. . .   
Cashew fruits
The vibrantly colourful fruits of the cashew tree, Anacardium occidentale

 Cashew apples and cashew nuts
Cashew nuts grow on trees with large, beautiful, bright green leaves. Nowadays cultivated and naturalised almost all over the tropics, the cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale, Anacardiaceae) is originally native to the coastal plains of north-eastern Brazil, where it forms part of the so-called restinga* vegetation. Long before European colonisation in the sixteenth century, Brazilian Indians relished the delicious fruits. Called ‘acajú’ by people of the Tupi tribe, the name was converted by the Portuguese into ‘cajú’ which eventually became ‘cashew’ in English. 
Cashew Tree
A cultivated cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) in Brazil

Cashew flowers
Young cashew fruits with their stalks starting to swell, top right: flowers 
From very humble, tiny, first white, then pink, flowers rather large, brightly coloured (there are orange-red and yellow varieties) and somewhat weird-looking fruits arise. When ripe they resemble a very soft pear with a hard, kidney-shaped nut tucked in at one end. The pear-like part, also called ‘cashew apple’ (whoever came up with that name has never seen an apple next to a pear!) is extremely juicy and easily squashed which is why you can’t find them in our supermarkets. In Brazil I have seen them offered at roadside stalls where they were carefully displayed in egg trays. 
Cashew fruits on the tree
Ripe cashew fruits on the tree  
Cashes fruits in egg tray
'Cashew apples' are so soft, they need to be treated like raw eggs (here in a roadside stall in Lindóia, Brazil) 
Hard sell methods aside, what’s most unusual about the cashew fruit is that the fleshy bit is not formed by the swollen ovary of the flower as in ‘normal’ fleshy fruits. Rather, the cashew apple is formed by the hugely swollen stalk of the flower which is why you wouldn’t find any seeds in it. If you want to find the seed you must open the fertile part that is formed by the ovary of the flower, namely the hard, kidney-shaped ‘appendix’, better known as the ‘cashew nut’.

Image 007_Cashew apple section
A longitudinal section of a 'cashew apple' proves its origin from the flower stalk; there are no seeds, just flesh 

Ever had to stuff your mouth with a cotton ball soaked in milk?

Sounds delicious but here’s a word of warning to those who love to travel in the tropics. If you ever encounter a fruit-laden cashew tree, restrain your enthusiasm, at least for the ‘nutty’ bit. Whilst the amazingly succulent cashew pear, err... apple, is harmless and best enjoyed by sucking out the sweet juice and discarding the stringy-fibrous residue, the shell of the cashew nut is poisonous owing to an acrid phenolic oil, called urushiol. Urushiol causes dermatitis which is why the cashew nut was once also called ‘blister nut’. The same nasty oily chemical is found in other members of the Anacardiaceae. Among these close relatives of the cashew tree are notorious plants such as the poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) and poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens & T. diversilobum) but also mango (Mangifera indica; urushiol is found in the sap and fruit peel!).

If you try to crack a fresh cashew nut with your teeth, you will soon be blessed with a painful blistering rash in and around your mouth (if it’s any comfort, the pain can be soothed by stuffing your mouth with a cotton ball soaked in milk). That’s also the reason why you will never find unshelled cashew nuts on supermarket shelves whereas other nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and pistachios are quite often sold ‘whole’. 
Image 008_roasting cashew nuts
How to prepare 'home-grown' cashew nuts: roasting the nuts in a fire destroys the poison and the charred shells can easily be removed

 Why cashew nuts are expensive
Because of the problems caused by the toxic shell of the nut, Latin Americans, West Indians and West Africans have long used only the succulent ‘cashew apple’ making it into wine and refreshing beverages, similar to lemonade, such as the Brazilian ‘cajuado’. However, on a worldwide scale the seed of the cashew tree is still the main commercial product, despite the laborious cleaning process that makes cashew nuts one of the most expensive of all nuts (although in the UK macadamias cost a lot more than cashews). The safest way to enjoy ‘home-grown’ cashew nuts is to roast them in a fire and then remove the charred shell as shown in the pictures above.
In the wild, the brightly coloured, 5-10 cm long cashew apple acts as a tasty reward for the animals it needs for seed dispersal. Fruit bats, monkeys and bats pick the fruits to feed on the yellow- to scarlet-coloured apple but discard the poisonous nut, leaving the seed inside unharmed. 
Image 009_bag of cashew nuts
Cashew nuts off the supermarket shelf as we all know and love them

About eating embryos
Every nut contains a seed and as such, logically, also an embryo (i.e. a little baby plant that ‘hatches’ from the seed upon germination). Therefore, every time you eat a nut, you eat an embryo. But this is not like eating a microscopically small embryo when you eat a chicken egg. The edible part of the nuts we eat as nibbles consists of nothing else but the embryo. Here’s an experiment for you that proves my point: next time you eat a cashew try pulling it apart and you will see that it splits into two halves, the cotyledons of the embryo. There is even a tiny shoot axis with miniscule leaves in between them! 
Cashew nut in half
A whole cashew nut, botanically an embryo, and one split in half, revealing its true nature: a baby plant with two leaves (cotyledons) and a shoot axis

Oh, one more thing....

We botanists use the term ‘nut’ in a very different and much more rigorous sense than ‘ordinary people’ do in their everyday language. For the food industry, chefs and 'regular' consumers who enjoy a tasty nibble, any large edible kernel that requires forceful liberation from a hard shell before consumption is unscrupulously addressed as a ‘nut’. In a botanical sense, a ‘nut’ is only a nut if it consists of nothing but the mature ovary of an indehiscent (= non-opening) fruit with a hard, dry shell, usually harbouring a single seed. This is true for hazelnuts (Corylus avellana, Betulaceae), walnuts (Juglans regia, Juglandaceae), pecan nuts (Carya illinoiensis, Juglandaceae), acorns (Quercus spp., Fagaceae), and unshelled peanuts (Arachis hypogaea, Leguminosae), though peanuts often (and annoyingly to botanists!) contain more than one seed. Other culinary ‘nuts’ are, in fact, the stones of drupes (= stone fruits), such as unshelled almonds (Prunus dulcis var. dulcis, Rosaceae), pistachios (Pistacia vera, Anacardiaceae), and, in all honesty, also cashew nuts (Anacardium occidentale, Anacardiaceae). I didn’t want to make things too complicated but, working for Kew, I finally have to break the truth about the cashew nut. Although hardly recognizable as such, the shell of a cashew nut does indeed display the three defining layers of a drupe: an outer skin, a very thin, quick-drying but nevertheless soft middle layer, followed by the dominating hard, woody stone.
As a final blow to the culinary nut-concept, it has to be unveiled that unshelled Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa, Lecythidaceae), macadamias (Macadamia integrifolia and M. tetraphylla, Proteaceae), ginkgo nuts (Ginkgo biloba, Ginkgoaceae) and pine nuts (Pinus pinea, Pinaceae) are purely seeds in a botanical sense because their shell consists of the seed coat.
- Wolfgang -
All photos by Wolfgang Stuppy
*Restinga: a distinct type of tropical and subtropical forest found on acidic, nutrient-poor soils at the the Atlantic coast of Brazil.

Related links

I think you can appreciate what a brilliant insight this is into something we might buy from supermarket shelves entirely without thought for what is behind this item.

Thank you indeed to Wolfgang Stuppy for this wonderful post.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Seed catalogue archives tell interesting stories...

Ive had a huge time in the studio of late... so posting here has been all too rare.

This morning I came across these seed catalogues from US Archives from as early as 1823... and it got me thinking and off I went on a whole lot of tangents....

Linnaean Garden, William Prince Catalogue of American Trees, Plants, & Seeds
Linnaean Garden, William Prince
Catalogue of American Trees, Plants, & Seeds

Flushing, Long Island, NY

Peter Henderson & Co.'s Manual of Everything for the Garden
Peter Henderson & Co.'s Manual of Everything for the Garden
New York, NY

Japanese Nursery and Seed Trade Catalogs 
Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library houses a wide variety of seed catalogs from Japan from 1892-1955. Many of the Japanese seed catalogs in the collection were produced by the Yokohama Seed Company, Ltd., which was a consortium of Japanese nursery owners who worked together to export seeds and plants from the 1890s through the early 1920s. The catalogs are treasured for their artistic beauty and are still used by researchers today as evidence of the Japanese seed trade at the turn of the last century. The following catalogs have been digitized in their entirety. Click on a thumbnail to view the englarged image and navigate through each page of the catalog.
Iris Kaempferi 18 Best Var.
The Yokohama Nursery Co., Ltd.

Published: Japan
Date: n.d.

Iris Kaempferi 18 Best Var., n.d., The Yokohama Nursery Co., Ltd., Page 5

Lilies of Japan, 1899, The Yokohama Nursery Co., Ltd., Page 3
The Yokohama Nursery Co., Ltd., 1914, Front Cover

FROM WIKI - Pomology (from Latin pomum (fruit) + -logy) is a branch of botany that studies and cultivates pome fruit, particularly from the genera MalusPrunus and Pyrusbelonging to the Rosaceae. The term is sometimes applied more broadly, to the cultivation of any type of fruit. In the latter case, the denomination fruticulture—introduced from romance languages (from Latin fructus and cultura) —is also used.
Pomological research is mainly focused on the development, cultivation and physiological studies of stone fruit trees. The goals of fruit tree improvement include enhancement of fruit quality, regulation of production periods, and reduction of production cost.
Pomology has been an important area of research for centuries. During the mid-19th century in the United States, farmers were expanding fruit orchard programs in response to growing markets. At the same time, horticulturists from the USDA and agricultural colleges were bringing new varieties to the United States from foreign expeditions, and developing experimental lots for these fruits. In response to this increased interest and activity, USDA established the Division of Pomology in 1886 and named Henry E. Van Deman as chief pomologist. An important focus of the division was to publish illustrated accounts of new varieties and to disseminate research findings to fruit growers and breeders through special publications and annual reports. During this period Andrew Jackson Downingand his brother Charles were prominent in Pomology and Horticulture, producing The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America (1845).[1]
The introduction of new varieties required exact depiction of the fruit so that plant breeders could accurately document and disseminate their research results. Since the use of scientific photography was not widespread in the late 19th Century, USDA commissioned artists to create watercolor illustrations of newly introduced cultivars. Many of the watercolors were used for lithographic reproductions in USDA publications, such as the Report of the Pomologist and theYearbook of Agriculture.
Today, the collection of approximately 7,700 watercolors is preserved in the National Agricultural Library's Special Collections,[2] where it serves as a major historic and botanic resource to a variety of researchers, including horticulturists, historians, artists, and publishers.
One involved in the science of Pomology is called a Pomologist. The science of Pomology has somewhat dwindled over the past century, with the number of accredited Pomologists at less than 200 worldwide, 12 of whom are in the US.

The USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection documents fruit and nut varieties developed by growers or introduced by USDA plant explorers around the turn of the 20th century. Technically accurate paintings were used to create lithographs illustrating USDA bulletins, yearbooks, and other series distributed to growers and gardeners across America. 

Fast Facts:
  • Time period: 1886 to 1942, with the majority created between 1894 and 1916.
  • Content: 7,584 watercolor paintings, lithographs and line drawings, including 3,807 images of apples.
  • Fruit origins: The plant specimens illustrated originated in 29 countries and 51 states and territories in the U.S.
  • Fruit_watercolorsArtists: The paintings were created by approximately twenty-one artists commissioned by USDA for this purpose. Some works are not signed.
  • Reproductions: NAL can provide, for a fee, high quality prints and digital files of the images. Please refer to the "Buy Rare and Special Collections Products.".

Punica granatum: Pomegranate

Arnold, Mary Daisy, ca. 1873-1955
Scientific name:
Punica granatum
Common name:
Physical description:
1 art original : col. ; 17 x 25 cm.
Notes on original:
From fruit stand
Date created:
Use of the images in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection is not restricted, but a statement of attribution is required. Please use the following attribution statement: "U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705"

Two interesting stories come with these catalogues found at EDIBLE ETHICS TUMBLR. 

2. D. Landreth Seed Company

The recent troubles of the D. Landreth Seed Company, America’s oldest seed companies, were documented by my TreeHugger colleague, Colleen, in the post encouraging you to help save one of America’s Heirloom, Non-GMO Seed Houses.
The company’s financial situation is getting stronger and they’re still a good source of seeds. In particular, their African American Seed Collection, which highlights the culinary history and contributions to American cuisine by the African Diaspora.
Print Catalog: Yes. $5.00. Online ordering: Yes.

3. Kitazawa Seed Company

The Kitazawa Seed Company was founded in 1917 by Gijiu Kitazawa in a storefront located in downtown San Jose, California. The business was shut down from 1942 to 1945 due to WWII and the family’s internment in Relocation Camps.
After the war the seed company was reopened, but by then many of the company’s customers had relocated across the United States and the company started mailing seeds across America to their customers. Today Kitazawa is a source for many fine Asian varieties of vegetables and herbs. Their simple seed catalog is a pleasant contrast to the glossy and ornate seed catalogs you’re accustomed to and even provides recipes so you can prepare dishes from your harvest.

As for finding catalogues from other parts of the world... I found that a challenge.

Via here
I'll look out for catalogues from other countries... and if you find any... do send word.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Rainforest fruits, seed pods and findings from the Wet Tropics of North Queensland

This what I brought back from Cairns in far north Qld last week. I found a large platter I serve fruit on and filled the tray completely with this abundance of collected items... from the blue quandongs flicked up off the ground at the Cairns Botanic Gardens to black bean seeds pods from the Daintree River Ferry area.


My imagination is well and truly fired up by all that I saw up north. These are destined for the studio... some of them Ive already taken time to draw...

I'm due to return north for a month from September 18th to undertake a 4 week residency with an exhibition following. Stay tuned on  this and read more at the website, on  my blogs or Facebook page... all links are in the right sidebar! 

For now I am gearing up to run workshops and a course, paint and invite the public to view the work at my studio...all part of a program to see that this next phase of work is communicated and funded. 

Email me here if you wish to have this program sent to you!  When it gets hugely busy one does find it difficult to find enough time in keep posting on blogs and so on.... but its wonderful to share the stories and hear from others so I will do my best!
       Best wishes all!
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