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.