Category: plants

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What’s Blooming this Week: Tulips

Nothing says "spring" like a cheerful tulip! This week, we're featuring a colorful planting of them from the Mizzou Botanic Garden.  These can be found on Lowry Mall, just off the northwest corner of Ellis Library.  In the photo, you're seeing the iconic dome of Jesse Hall and the windows of Tate Hall in the background.

Tulips are native to the Mediterranean and Asia, and they were introduced to Western Europe around the end of the sixteenth century.  They were (and still are) prized for their bright, showy flowers, and they became a symbol of status and luxury.  You've probably already heard about the tulip craze in the Netherlands during the seventeenth century, during which tulip bulbs sold for exorbitant sums to speculators.  The tulip market reached a bubble in 1636 and crashed in 1637. 

Unsurprisingly, tulips play a major role in one of the finest works on flowers published in the Netherlands during this period.  Crispijn van de Passe's Hortus floridus (1614) is a florilegium, a book on flowering plants that discusses their ornamental, rather than medicinal uses (as we saw last week).  Hortus floridus illustrates each plant at ground level, as it would have grown in a garden, and the plants are arranged by their bloom season.  The beautifully detailed engravings were meant to be hand-colored, with descriptions noting what colors to use.  Striped tulips, seen in the engravings below, were the most highly valued during this period.

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MERLIN catalog record

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What’s Blooming this Week: Lenten Rose

For this last week of Lent, our featured plant from the Mizzou Botanic Garden is helleborus orientalis, or Lenten Rose.  You'll find them blooming on the west side of Ellis Library.  The plants in the photo are just outside the entrace to Ellis Auditorium.

Lenten rose

Helleborus orientalis is native to Anatolia and was not introduced to European gardens until the mid-1800s.  It is grown primarily for its ornamental value. However, there are several other species in the hellebore family, and they were used medicinally in Europe for thousands of years.  In Medical Botany (London, 1790), William Woodville provides illustrations of two hellebores related to those growing on campus: Helleborus foetidus, or Bear's Foot, and Helleborus niger, or Christmas Rose.

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Woodville’s book is a work on plants, but he’s primarily interested in their medicinal uses.  Woodville writes that Helleborus niger was introduced in England in 1596, while Helleborus foetidus was “constantly used in medicine from the time of Hippocrates [and] was the only species of Hellebore known in the Materia Medica of our pharmacopoeias.”   He notes:

The smell of the recent plant is extremely fetid, and the taste is bitter, and remarkably acrid, insomuch, that when chewed, it excoriates the mouth and fauces; it commonly operates as a cathartic, sometimes as an emetic, and in large doses proves highly deleterious.  (54)

Of course, the Helleborus orientalis growing on our campus may have different properties than its cousins H. foetidus and H. niger.  It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: the information provided here is most certainly not meant to provide any form of medical advice!

Many thanks to David Massey, a research specialist at Landscape Services, and to Pete Millier, director of the Mizzou Botanic Garden, for lending their wisdom for this post.

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What’s Blooming this Week in Special Collections

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. 

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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.

scan0014 scan0011 scan0016 scan0017 scan0013Apologies 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.

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