Saturday, May 29, 2010

Important Contributions from Spanish Botanists

Jose Celestino Mutis born in 1732 in Cadiz was the author of 'The Botany of Spain'.  He trained as a doctor of medicine and was also a botanist and trained in anatomy, physics, mathematics and astronomy.  His contribution as a botanist was extensive from his time on the South American west coast.  He was in extensive correspondence with Carl Linnaeus and his letters were brought together in a book by Sir James Edward Smith.

For a simple overview of his importance in the field look at

I have found 144 plants credited to him as author in the International Plant List and this quote:
'The herbaria of Mutis's collection are prudently estimated at from 20,00 to 24,000 specimens representing some 5000 distinct species.'

His studies into quinine for pharmacological use were extremely important in the fight against malaria. What an ambassador for Colombia he was! He died in Bogota, the Viceroy of New Granada now known as Colombia in 1808   see images of him and some of his drawings and statues in gardens of  Bogota  see

Hippolite Ruiz left Spain from Cadiz in 1777 for the southern parts of South America. principally Peru and Chile His journal allows us to the continuing relevance of what he saw and wrote for today's world in the face of continuing rape of naturally occurring crops for profit with little concern for its impact on the balance of nature and climate.  For instance he watched what was occurring to the harvesting of the quina tree (from which comes quinine - so vitally important in the treatment of malaria worldwide).  He was appalled at the exploitation and waste of the leftovers after that which had commercial value had been removed. Is this a comment applies to 21st century South America still, the Globe?
'Since the ignorance and greed have led to the production of much soft impure or burned extract with its effective activity much reduced and its medicinal properties changed. This abuse should receive the government's most    . that it can be corrected; otherwise this business so interesting for Spain and so important for mankind will be lost.'  Ruiz too died in Bogota in 1808. The quina tree is the National Tree of Equador and is one of the symbols representing   nature in the shield of Peru.

The Malaspina expedition of 1789 - 94

The Malaspina expedition of 1789 led by an Italian Alessandro Malaspina who worked for the Spanish Navy was carried out under a spanish commission and was a scientific expedition whose collected data surpassed that of James Cook's.  For complex political reasons Malaspina fell out of favour with the Spanish Government and the importance of the expedition was never fully given recognition by the world.

Antonio de Pineda, Luis Nee and Thadeus Haenke were the three scientists commissioned by Carlos IV for the expedition. They all made their contribution to the botany and gardens of Spain.

 But the fate of these men is another story or ten....
At least give them a thought if you ever get to the Real Jardin  Botanico in Madrid

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb.....

Having managed the near impossible and got my rhubarb seed up to 2'' my recent visit to Carinthia again (see..The Austrian Garden) I found myself with a dilemma looking at something which had appeared over winter. Was it by any chance a self seeded rhubarb plant? Looks more like dock leaves.... no it can't be...! Well....... back to the research books and the history of rhubarb begins to unfold.

A resume

The first mention in any literature of rhubarb (genus rheum)is in China nearly 5000 years ago. when it is used there for its purgative properties. There is an interesting Rhubarb Compendium elsewhere which gives some examples of its 'miracle powers" as medicine. However the same article gives two bits of more modern information.
The first is the recorded planting of rhubarb was in Italy in 1608 and then more generally in the rest of Europe about 30 years later.
The second is in 1778 where rhubarb now has taken on a new function of as for pie fillings.

It seems to have got to Maine North America around 1800 where a grower was known to be selling plants to other gardeners. has some nicely illustrated types of rhubarbs - Turkey, English and Monk's. But it is the synonyms of the English rhubarb where the light bulb begins to flicker in our heads....

Synonyms: Garden rhubarb, Bastard Rhubarb ans Sweet Round leaved Dock.

Reading on, later we find that the English rhubarb has red veins .and further on in the Culpeper's description for Monks rhubarb it is referred to a s a dock used for its purgative powers. So have we come full circle? Here is some information on DOCKS.

''The name Dock is applied to a widespread tribe of broad-leaved wayside weeds, having roots possessing astringent qualities united in some with a cathartic principle, rendering them valuable as substitutes for Rhubarb, a plant of the same family.'' from

So still I dont know for sure what is growing in her garden as it is red veined but with unusual spade like leaves but I do know a lot more about nrhubarb.

I have discovered

a cordial called ZUCCA made from rhubarb roots and used as a basis for cocktails

the French grow it as a pot herb

At shows the are seen in the vegetable section not the fruit section 

 The chinese at the time of the Opium Wars were more worried about their rhubarb commodity being taken over by the british merchant foreigners

A health problem can come from oxalic acid contained within rhubarb - could cause kidney stones a most horrible illness

A quite extraordinary plant then, which I was addicted to whilst carrying my first child - the owner of said garden.  and since this is meant to have a literary value value as well as a gardening value here is a definition of 'rhubarb, rhubarb...'

  1. (italbrac, theatre or film) (italbrac, mainly UK) Background noise of several "conversations", none of which are decipherable since actually all the actors are only repeating the word rhubarb (chosen because it contains no very sharp or recognisable phonemes) or other words with similar attributes. In UK use there is no implication that the "conversations" are intended to be angry, though they may be

For background information of all sorts: