Discover more from The Weekly Dirt with Jessica Damiano
20 fascinating, little-known gardening facts
How many of these do you know?
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I’ve collected a lot of information about plants over the years, and it occurs to me that some of the facts floating around in my brain aren’t necessarily common knowledge. So here are some lesser-known plant and gardening tidbits that might knock your Crocks off («That’s a good one, right? 😂)
1. Poinsettia flowers aren’t flowers at all. They’re bracts, which are modified leaves.
2. The strawberry is the only fruit with seeds on its outside.
3. Herbs come from a plant’s leaf; spices come from the seed (or other parts). For instance, coriander is the dried seed of the cilantro plant.
4. The world’s most expensive spice, saffron, comes from the stigma of the Crocus sativus flowers.
5. Vanilla beans are the seed pods of the Vanilla orchid.
6. The scales on asparagus stalks are the plant’s leaves.
7. Tree foliage doesn’t turn orange, red or yellow in fall. As the weather cools, leaves lose chlorophyll, the green pigment that masks their true colors in spring and summer.
8. Baby carrots from the grocery store aren’t immature or even dwarf versions of full-size carrots. They’re distorted or marred standard carrots cut into bite-sized, carrot-shaped pieces to appeal to consumers. If you’d like to grow actual miniature carrots, seek out Little Finger, Short n Sweet, Mini Adelaide, Thumbelina or Babette varieties.
9. Each sunflower seedhead comprises 1,000-2,000 tiny individual flowers.
10. Sunflowers start the day facing east, then follow the sun as it moves across the sky to the west.
11. Phyllostachys bamboos are the fastest-growing plants in the world, with some growing more than 1.5 inches per hour.
12. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, pumpkins, squash and cucumbers aren’t vegetables. They – and all crops that contain seeds inside of them -- are fruits.
13. Apples and plums are in the rose family.
14. Corn is technically a grass.
15. The bananas we eat today differ from those consumed before the 1950s. Although not entirely extinct, the Gros Michel cultivar was nearly completely destroyed by a fungal disease in the ’40s and ’50s. The Cavendish cultivar found in grocery stores today replaced Gros Michel for the mass market. A variation of the same disease now threatens the Cavendish.
16. The smell of a freshly cut lawn is a distress signal the injured grass sends out to warn nearby plants and attract beneficial insects. Some plants, such as corn, respond by producing bad-tasting chemicals that make them unappealing to predators.
17. Milkweed plants are the only food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars.
18. Figs are technically not fruits but groups of inverted flowers inside a bulbous stem. And, except for some cultivated varieties, those flowers need to be pollinated by a species of Agaonidae wasps that crawl inside to get the job done and then die.
19. Psyllium husk laxatives and fiber supplements are made from the dried seed husks of the common lawn weed broadleaf plantain.
20. Oak trees don’t produce acorns until they are at least 20 years old.
📬 Ask Jessica
DEAR JESSICA: I have had three variegated gardenias in my yard for nearly 3 years. They have never bloomed. They get a lot of sun, with very hot days in the summer. Is there such a thing as too much sun, and could this be why they’re not blooming? — Barbara Lamm, North Carolina
DEAR BARBARA: Gardenias are beautiful spring-flowering shrubby plants (and sometimes trees) that produce gorgeous, heavenly scented flowers. Their blooming could be affected by several factors:
They do like the sun, but you know what they say about too much of a good thing! Gardenias may drop buds and fail to bloom during extended hot, dry spells if they aren’t deeply watered once weekly.
If you pruned them last summer or fall, you might have inadvertently removed flower buds as they were forming. Gardenias don’t typically need pruning, but if you find it’s necessary, do so right after they bloom in late spring or early summer, but no later.
Flower buds may be deformed (and not develop properly) if your plant doesn’t get enough sunlight, and cold spells could damage them. Neither seems to be the case, but they’re worth mentioning.
Confirm that the plant isn’t crowded by trees or plants that might be stealing its nutrient and water resources.
Another possibility is too much fertilizer. Even if you haven’t fertilized the tree — but have fertilized a nearby lawn — that could be the source of the problem.
Finally, I recommend you test your soil’s pH. Gardenias are acid-loving plants and require a level between 5.0 and 6.5. Test kits are widely available at nurseries and online. If the pH is too high, amend it with elemental sulfur; if it’s too low (unlikely), incorporate ground limestone into the soil to raise it. Follow package directions for the size of the bed.
💡 If you do one thing this week…
Get your garlic into the ground. Here’s how.
Instead of in their usual bed, I planted mine under my new peach tree earlier this week because garlic protects against peach leaf curl disease and chases away many types of pests (and I didn’t break a sweat, thanks to my RotoShovel). The new location frees up one of my raised beds for — I’m not sure what yet (but I am open to suggestions!)
👏 Sunday shoutout
Reader Libby Sloan of France (just outside Paris) shares this enchanting photo of “one of my favorite areas this time of year. The sous-bois (forest floor) is covered in wild cyclamens.”
De toute beauté, Libby!
Send in your photo, and you could be featured next (bonus points if you’re in the picture!)
Don’t forget the poetry contest is still open!
Compose a garden-themed poem — it can rhyme or not; be free verse, sonnet, limerick, slam; an ode to your lawn, your pruners or your blight-stricken tomatoes; a poignant reflection on gardening as a metaphor for your life or whatever moves you when you put pen to paper (or strike those keys) — it’s up to you, just keep entries to a maximum of seven lines.
A selection of the best submissions will be published here in The Weekly Dirt, and my absolute favorite will receive a copy of the “Leaning Toward Light” anthology, edited by Tess Taylor (Storey Publishing).
Email your poem, along with your full name and full mailing address (only your name and hometown will be published), to jessica@jessicadamiano with “Garden Poetry” in the subject line.
Submissions must be received by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 15 (tonight!)
📰This week in my Associated Press gardening column
I write a weekly gardening column for the AP, so you might have seen my byline in your local paper (or news website) — wherever in the world you happen to be. In case you miss it, I’ll post the most recent here every week.
You can read all my AP gardening columns here.
📚📺🎵 Random things I enjoyed this week
I’ve been flat on my back these past couple of days after getting my sixth Covid-19 vaccine. It’s not something I enjoyed, obviously, but I have enjoyed not having contracted the virus yet (I hope I didn’t just put the whammy on myself)! 🤞 Shingles and flu shots are next!
I spent all day yesterday wrapped in a blanket on the couch watching the reboot of Quantum Leap, one of my favorite TV shows from the late ’80s and early ’90s. The new version is just as good! I also broke into the Halloween candy (I had a fever — I deserved it!)
And I’m learning how to spackle walls — necessity is the mother of invention!
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I welcome your comments and suggestions, so please send them along — as well as any topics you’d like to see covered and questions you’d like answered in the Ask Jessica section.