Not far from the false indigo we featured last week, just outside the west entrance to Ellis Library, there's a beautiful red valerian in full bloom. The scientific name for this plant is Centranthus ruber. It's also called Jupiter's Beard or spur valerian.
While red valerian is a member of the family Valerianaceae, it's not really a valerian. True valerian is known scientifically today as Valeriana officinalis. Its roots were used medicinally and were thought to have a sedative effect. Centranthus ruber has no known medicinal uses, although some sources claim it's edible. I didn't try it, and I don't advise you to, either!
In the past, Centranthus ruber and a few other members of its genus were thought to be closer relatives of true valerian than scientists believe they are today. In 1816, the plant was published in Curtis's Botanical Magazine with a list of various other Valeriana species. The plant pictured here, identified as Valeriana montana rotundifolia, is now known as Centranthus calcitrapa. It is a hardy perennial, native to southern Europe.
This post wraps up our weekly series celebrating the connections between our collections and the Mizzou Botanic Garden – for now, at least. I'll continue to use Special Collections to research the plants around us periodically over the summer and fall. Have you seen a plant on campus or elsewhere that you'd like us to feature? If so, let me know!
We're visiting the west entrance of Ellis Library again this week to see what's blooming in the Mizzou Botanic Gardens just outside our doors. This week, it's the spiky blooms of false indigo, or Baptisia. We have two different varieties growing here on campus, yellow and blue. Both types of false indigo were once used to make dye, but they aren't related to true indigo, which yields a very dark blue dye.
Baptisia australis, the blue-flowering species, is native to the southeastern and midwestern United States. It was illustrated in Curtis's Botanical Magazine in 1800, and there it was listed under the names Sophora australis and Podalyria australis, along with the following note: "It is a native of Carolina, and an old inhabitant of our gardens, having been cultivated by Mr. Philip Miller in 1758." By the time the white-flowered species was illustrated in 1808, the genus Podalyria had been separated from Sophora. The yellow false indigo we have here is a hybrid cultivar, but Curtis also includes a couple of other Baptisia species native to the Midwest: a yellow false indigo now called Baptisia tinctoria, and a white species, Baptisia alba.
It's been unseasonably chilly here in Columbia this week, but that means the irises blooming all over town have been an even more welcome sight. There's a beautiful planting of Iris pallida 'Argentea Variegata' near the west entrance to the library, and I captured it on my walk into the building this morning. There are many different species of iris growing across the northern hemisphere. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, Iris pallida is native to Croatia and the southern Alps, and it has a sweet fragrance. The variegated subspecies growing on campus here has striped leaves of pale green and cream.
In 1542, the physician and botanist Leonhart Fuchs included a different iris species in his herbal, De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes, which is part of a long tradition of books that describe plants and their medicinal uses. Although Fuchs wasn't interested in the plants' ornamental value, he hired three professional artists to illustrate the herbal to the highest degree of naturalism. Fuchs wanted physicians to be able to use the book to identify medicinal plants, and the resulting publication is filled with detailed, hand-colored illustrations that depict species both familiar and exotic. Iris germanica, illustrated below, is probably native to southern Europe, and it is the ancestor of most garden irises today.
Right across Lowry Mall from the tulips I posted a couple of weeks ago, and under the magnolias that kicked off this series, there's a beautiful bed of columbine in full bloom.
Columbines are part of the genus Aquilegia and grow wild throughout the nothern hemisphere. The ones in the Mizzou Botanic Garden are derived from the species Aquilegia vulgaris, also known as European Columbine. This week's illustration is from Johann Theodor de Bry's Florilegium renovatum et auctum (1641), an updated version of his Florilegium novum with engravings by his son-in-law, Matthäus Merian. Some of the flowers on this page have double blossoms, and you can still find this type of hybrid columbine under cultivation. The recognizable spurred bloom of the columbine appears right in the middle of the page.
Merian's daughter, Maria Sybilla Merian, would go on to become an accompished artist and naturalist herself. Check out Julie Christenson's blog post about her for more information and some beautiful images.
One of the great things about Ellis Library, apart from the fact that it's the largest research library in the state, is that it's surrounded by beautiful flowering trees courtesy of the Mizzou Botanic Garden. This week we're featuring the weeping crabapples next to the north entrance of Ellis Library, the redbuds in the lawn in front of the State Historical Society, and the dogwoods across from the northwest corner (just adjacent to that bed of tulips I wrote about last week).*
Two of the featured trees this week are native to Missouri. Cornus florida, or flowering dogwood, and Cercis canadensis, or Eastern redbud, grow wild throughout the eastern United States. The dogwood is also our Missouri state tree. Crabapples are members of the genus Malus, along with their cousins the domestic apple; various species are native to North America and Europe. While the fruit is edible, its bitter taste and woody texture mean you probably wouldn't want to eat it.
The illustrations featured here are by Mary Vaux Walcott, an artist who specialized in botanical illustration. In 1925, the Smithsonian published reproductions of her watercolors of American plants in five portfolios entitled North American Wild Flowers. Our copy was originally part of the government documents collection and is now in the closed shelf collection. Of the dogwood, Walcott writes,
Dogwood grows abundantly in the favored regions which it inhabits. When the tree is in bloom in early spring, the profuse blossoms appear like a crowd of great snowflakes falling through the interlaced branches.
*While the photos of the redbuds and dogwoods are from this week, I'll admit it: the photos of the flowering crabapples were taken over a week ago. Some years, the flowers don't last long.
Did you know that Mizzou is a botanic garden? Our campus is gorgeous all year round, but it's particularly outstanding in the spring and summer. We're celebrating the natural beauty around us with a new series that links Mizzou's campus gardens with the herbals, botanical books, and gardening manuals in Special Collections.
We didn't have to go far to find inspiration this week. These magnolia trees on the Ninth Street side of Ellis Library are show-stoppers every spring. Daffodils of several varieties provide a cheerful shot of yellow underneath.
We found images and descriptions of these plants in Curtis' Botanical Magazine, a publication that started in the late 1700s with the aim "to unite systematic knowledge with the pleasures of the flower-garden." William Curtis includes several types of narcissus throughout the publication; the ones illustrated here are only a few. About the magnolia, Curtis writes,"There is a magnificence about the plants of this genus which renders them unsuitable subjects of representation in a work the size of ours." We have to agree; in person they're really amazing.
Apologies for my fingers; these volumes of Curtis are really tightly bound! Special thanks to Arthur Mehrhoff at the Museum of Art and Archaeology. Be sure to check out his Pride of Place website, which provided an inspiration for this series.
June is prime time for gardeners in Missouri, and it’s also a great time to take a look at the rare and historic horticulture and gardening books in Special Collections. Since MU has a long history as an agriculture school, Special Collections has a great collection of these early texts on plants, gardening, and landscape design.
The Edible Garden
The last decade has seen a renewed interest in local and sustainable food, including vegetable gardening and heritage or heirloom varieties. The absence of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and modern machinery in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries meant that kitchen and market gardeners had to be experts in the care of a wide variety of food crops. Advice for gardeners from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries contains information on historic plant varieties as well as natural solutions to problems with climate, soils, and pests.
The Flower Garden
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the introduction of a number of new flowering plants as botanists and nurserymen identified foreign species and developed hybrids. Although color publications such as Curtis’s Botanical Magazine remained popular through the period, most gardeners learned about new flowers through descriptions or black and white plates. Botanical gardens such as the Royal Gardens at Kew became popular spots for the public to see exotic and colorful plants in person.
Garden design has changed dramatically from the formalized symmetry of Italian and French gardens to the informal plantings of today. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, English gardeners began to break away from the geometrical patterns of Renaissance knot gardens and Baroque parterres. Instead, the new garden style focused on creating picturesque, naturalistic views. Landscape architects during this period sought to shape the landscape without the outward appearance of control, creating “natural” scenery too perfect to exist in nature.
Search for Gardening, Fruit, Botany, or Landscape architecture in the MERLIN catalog. Limit your search to Special Collections to find more primary sources on historic gardens and gardening practices.