Did you know?
There’s a lot more to our gardens and much-loved plants than we realise — amazing secrets are lurking everywhere in our gardens. Here are some super interesting facts that you didn’t know about plants — until today. Try them out at your next trivia event.
A sunflower is not just one flower. The sunflower is a huge flower, but the head or fuzzy brown centre actually contains 1000–2000 individual flowers. Each of those individual flowers will produce a sunflower seed.
■ There are more microorganisms in one teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth. It’s aliiiiive! Okay, in all seriousness, that fact might make you uncomfortable, but microbes are important for keeping your soil full of nutrients.
■ Plants really do respond to sound. Talking to plants to help them grow is a well-known old gardeners tale, but studies have shown vibration (like music, or perhaps even the sweet sound of your voice) can affect plant growth. Plus, the Myth Busters (in an admittedly not-so-scientific study), compared a silent greenhouse to one where they piped in a voice soundtrack, and found that plants in the latter grew more.
■ Butterflies might be more attracted to your weeds than your flowers. Colourful blooms aren’t the chief reason these insects love your garden — it’s more about the fragrance and nectar. According to the Smithsonian Institute, new cultivars of popular flowers have been bred for enhanced colour and size, but have often lost their fragrance in the process. So everyday weeds, like dandelions and clovers, might actually be the most appealing things in your yard to butterflies (they hate pesticides, too). Taking care to choose heirloom flower seeds can get them to also fly your way.
■ Some of your favourite fruits are actually in the rose family (Rosaceae). Apples, peaches, and pears — oh my! Plus cherries, raspberries, strawberries and more are rosaceae, making them relatives to the long-stemmed Valentine’s Day variety.
■ The right orchid combination can smell like your favourite dessert. Delicious, so did you know that the vanilla bean comes from an orchid varietal? And it’s not the only sweet-smelling kind: “An oncidium hybrid called ‘Sharry Baby’smells like chocolate,” says George Hatfield, president of the Santa Barbara Orchid Show. “Its ‘baking cookie’ aroma has made it a winner.” And that’s not all: The cymbidium ‘Golden Elf’ smells lemony, and Phalaenopsis violacea has a cinnamon scent. “Just like you’d combine jelly beans to create new flavours, you can combine orchids to create a garden that smells like a dessert buffet,” says Hatfield.
■ Wishbone flower is real. Torenia, a shade-loving annual, is called the wishbone flower. Look for tiny wishbone-shape stamens inside the purple, blue or burgundy petals.
■ The world’s tallest-growing tree is the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens),which grows along the Pacific Coast of the United States, mainly in California. Interestingly enough, it’s not the world’s oldest-growing tree; that award goes to a bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata).
■ What is the fastest-growing woody plant in the world? Bamboo! It can grow about 88cm in a single day.
■ Where did making wine originate? Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that grapes were grown to make wine about 8000 years ago in Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq), although the ancient Egyptians were the first to record the process of making wine about 5000 years ago.
■ What flower was once more valuable than gold? During the 1600s, tulips were so valuable in Holland that their bulbs were worth more than gold. The craze was called tulip mania, or tulipomania, and caused the crash of the Dutch economy. Tulips can continue to grow as much as an inch per day after being cut. Does this mean money really does grow on trees/bulbs?
■ What do vanilla and corn have in common? Vanilla flavouring comes from the pod of an orchid, Vanilla planifolia. Though the pods are called vanilla beans, they’re more closely related to corn than green beans.
■ What fruit is from the bromeliad family? The word pineapple comes from European explorers who thought the fruit combined the look of a pinecone with flesh like that of an apple. Pineapples are the only edible members of the bromeliad family.
■ From a botanical standpoint, avocados and pumpkins are fruits, not vegetables, because they bear the plants’ seeds. Rhubarb, on the other hand, is a vegetable.
■ Where did Poinsettias originate? They were natives of Mexico and were brought to the United States in 1825 by the first US minister to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, for whom the plant is named.
■ Why do cranberries float? Small pockets of air inside cranberries cause them to bounce and float in water.
■ What is the largest flower in the world (and the stinkiest)? The flower of the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanium) is the largest unbranched flower in the world and can reach up to 4.5m tall. The bloom produces a smell like that of rotting meat, giving it the common name of corpse flower. A similar smell comes from Rafflesia, another plant that hails from the rainforests of Sumatra. Both plants developed their scent so they could be pollinated by flies; they don’t compete with other blooms for butterflies and hummingbirds.
■ All parts of the oleander (Nerium oleander), a beautiful Mediterranean-native flowering shrub, are poisonous. Ingesting oleander leaves can cause gastrointestinal, cardiac, and central nervous system problems and possible death.
■ Random fact — Angiosperm is the scientific name for flowering plants and refers to the seeds being borne in capsules or fruits. Nonflowering plants, like pines, spruces, firs, junipers, larches, cycads, and ginkgoes are called gymnosperms.
■ What flower resembles a Ddragon? It’s the beloved snapdragon flower! If you squeeze the sides, the dragon’s mouth will appear to open and close.
■ What is the difference between nectarines and peaches? Nectarines don’t have fuzzy skins. You can graft peach branches onto a nectarine tree or nectarine branches onto a peach tree so you have both types of fruits.
■ What fruit has seeds on the outside? The average strawberry has 200 seeds. It’s the only fruit that bears its seeds on the outside.
■ Why do we cry when cutting onions? Sulphuric compounds are to blame for cut onions bringing tears to your eyes. According to the National Onion Association, chilling the onion and cutting the root end last reduces the problem.
■ One of the oldest living tree species is the Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba); it dates back to about 250 million years ago. Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is another ancient species; it dates back about 150 million years. Both were known in the fossil record before they were found alive.
■ Trees are the longest-living organisms that exist on earth.
■ A nut is not a nut. Peanuts are not nuts, but legumes related to beans and lentils. They have more protein, niacin, folate, and phytosterols than any nut, according to the National Peanut Board in the US.
Courtesy of Yates