Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Asparagaceae (13 MAR 2012)

There are some things through life that are certain, as sure as eggs is eggs : first eaten half-boiled served with toast soldiers, then poached and perched on baked beans, egg 'n' chips, eggs benedict, fried sunny-side-up for full english breakfast, and now back to half-boiled with toast  ... or asparagus spears, simply but carefully steamed, for a special occasion.  If I had known that I would never taste a more flavourful, richer, vibrant, voluptuous sauce during the rest of my life, I might have been less inclined to wrinkle my nose, let my breakfast slip onto the floor and watch the yellow goo drip onto the carpet. These days my preference would be to eat a half-boiled egg every morning, except the instruction "no more than three eggs a week" rings in my ears. The only question is what to dip into this rationed treat.
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Caution : It's now recommended that young children, the elderly and pregnant women should not eat raw or partially cooked eggs.
                                                                          every morning while I can that is ...

Gardening is my thinking time, and as I build up an appetite, it's usually food that's on my mind. Last week, I was inspecting a hyacinth plant in bud when I was suddenly overcome by an urge to run into the kitchen and pop an egg into some boiling water - to my eye, it appeared to be an asparagus spear sent from heaven. After a little research, I discovered that hyacinths and asparagus have been classified in the same family Asparagaceae since 2009, however not all asparagus species are edible and common hyacinths are poisonous.


 
Common hyacinths are poisonous













T
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Other members of the family Asparagaceae are :

Lily-of-the-valley and ...

Muscari (grape hyacinth) is in flower now
and ...
Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) about to flower in the Woodland

also, maybe more surprisingly,  hosta, agave, yucca and ...


my houseplant Dracaena - hasn't flowered so far

I find it difficult to fathom that according to the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group III (botanists with the unenviable task of classifying all flowering plants),  it has been proven down to a molecular level that this plant family evolved from a close common ancestor. Visually though, it is difficult to identify characteristics which set them apart from other plants. Until 2003, they were grouped in the formerly miscellaneous lily family, Liliaceae. Since then Asparagaceae has been limited to a few species (in sensu stricto) and then broadened (in sensu lato) in 2009, with a diversity ranging from habitats in arid deserts to shady woodlands. Botantists continue to debate ...

Meanwhile, I'm no closer to finding something in my garden to dip into my egg. I'll have to resort to toast soldiers.

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Carol Klein shares her thoughts on the Asparagaceae family ...
and here are the other plant families in her series if you're interested.

Even though plant classification may seem complicated, once you get into it, it's fun to guess if plants are in the same family. Understanding how plants evolved and how they are related to each other (or not) adds a new dimension to gardening. If you look up any plant in wikipedia, the family that it belongs to is shown in the box on the right of the page - that's how I started to recognise the relationships.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.com/2012/03/asparagaceae-13-mar-2012.html

20 comments:

Crystal said...

Yes, I agree, it's fascinating discovering which families plants belong too. Trouble is, the botanists keep moving plants around, so you can't be eggsactly (see what I did there) sure what they are related to.

Nell Jean said...

If you were in the American South and had someone to point out pokeweed Phytolacca americana to you, you might spread your half-boiled egg over some well-boiled greens with the cooking water drained.

I saw some pokeweed this week, just the right size for eating. Mama used to delight in 'foraging' for edibles, usually some she had the foresight to plant earlier but sometimes something in the wild. I remember eating poke salet. I don't remember the taste but the consistency was that of spinach.

Courtyard Gardener said...

Really interesting, thank you! Have you been to the Chelsea Physic Garden? They have many plants organised by family (thought I think it is historic, so probably doesn't reflect the latest developments). There are still some really surprising groupings though - definitely worth a look! Thanks for the interesting post...

HolleyGarden said...

It always amazes me which plants belong to what family. Most I would never guess, and when I find out, sometimes I think "oh, that's why it does well in my garden (or not)".

Stacy said...

b-a-g, this was not the post to read right before dinner time when I'm all hungry... Some days botanists must wake up and curse Linnaeus or whoever it was for starting this whole classification business to begin with. What a complex task.

(Thanks for the intro to Carol Klein!)

Andrea said...

Hi b-a-g, it is really amazing that Dracaena and yucca are included here because they seem to morphologically look very different. I opened your links and that Wikipedia link is very difficult, i think only the taxonomists will really appreciate that. I took 2 botany subjects in undergrad and the basic concepts are really very difficult to understand, especially when history is included. However, i get good grades because it was so interesting for me, but i didn't get it as my major field. Systematics is difficult although interesting. I thought Horticulture maybe more relevant.

It is easier for taxonomists now to delineate strict classification because of the emergence of molecular methods. It is funny as the common tomato has changed 3x already in my lifetime.

Donna@GWGT said...

You almost always have a really informative post. I was surprised at the various family members. My Dracaena never flowered either. As for eggs, I can not even stomach them so I never though about running in to boil one, lol.

alberto said...

I'm always fascinated by these botanists and how they classify plants. Discovering bluebell is an asparagus' relative is a real twist to me as I always believed it was of the lily family.
I always keep in mind that botany is a human invention and it's used to classify plants because we need them to be classified. However, at the end of the day, nature does what she wants and we are desperately trying to run after her and her apparently fussy choices.

As for eggs I don't like them, thinking of them for breakfast makes me sick but I could try to boil my yucca stems, next time it tries to bloom... ;)

Mark and Gaz said...

It's amazing how many varied looking plants actually belong to the same family. Loads of gorgeous plants there that are related! Interesting post!

croftgarden said...

Life is too short for systematics; although I admit looking at taxonomic groups can be informative for the gardener.
As much as I love asparagus - toast soldiers get my vote every time

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

I can see the hyacinths and muscari and even the lily of the valley but not sure about the others...botany is so interesting and confusing to me...I am resigned to gluten free toast with my eggs

b-a-g said...

Thanks for the egg pun Crystal!

Thanks for the recipe Nell Jean - I like the combination of egg and spinach, like in egg florentine or greek spanakopita.

Thanks Courtyard Gardener - Good suggestion, I haven't been there yet.

Thanks Holley, Mark & Gaz - Asparagaceae is a difficult family because the similarities aren't obvious.

Thanks Stacy - I've read articles on the web which suggest that Aristotle was the first person to have the idea of classifying organisms. Linnaeus developed the system.

Thanks Andrea & CroftGardener - Life is too short for systematics ... I'll take your advice as you both know more about this subject than me. On the other hand, I'm still trying to figure out what horticulture is - you can probably tell by looking at my garden.

Thanks Donna GWGT - I've googled draceana flowers, they look like hosta flowers.

Thanks Alberto - Remember that not all members of the asparagaceae family are edible.

Thanks Donna GEV - Really admire your perseverance with the gluten-free regime.

linniew said...

I love eggs and love asparagus. (Eggs best.) Good research b-a-g. Now when I see the terrible grape hyacinth (comes up everywhere) I will think of its asparagus cousins and feel better. Especially if there is quiche to eat.

Alistair said...

I love Asparagus even though it was much later on in life when I tried it. My mother was of the opinion that anything other than carrots, turnip and cabbage was some foreign stuff not suitable for our palette. Mind you I like eggs even more and I am pretty sure that recent research has shown that the type of fat in them is actually good for you, perhaps you can move on from your three per week.

Carolyn @ Carolyn's Shade Gardens said...

As I understand it, plants are classified primarily by their flowers and the plants you mention do have similarities that might make even a non-botanist group them together. however, I am very disconcerted by all the name changing that is going on.

debsgarden said...

I agree with Carolyn above; I wish they would leave the names alone! By the way, before I started reading your post, I was thinking that I was hungry and had a taste for an egg, and the very same advice about no more than three a week came to mind! But I think I may go eat one anyway.

PatioPatch said...

you must be having an Easter moment b-a-g. Muscari surely belong to the Vitis family.
p.s. and what a tolerant Mother having an egg sliding son at the table!

Elephant's Eye said...

I grew up with boring history lessons about Jan van Riebeeck and his vegetable garden for passing sailors at the Cape. Was fascinated when we walked in the Karoo National Park, to learn that asparagus fern was planted as one of his crops. Bit too tiny for me to have ever tried it.

Malar said...

If i were to study botanical, I would fail the exam! hahahha.... very bad in identifying the plants! But I agree it's interesting!

b-a-g said...

Thanks Linnie ... for reminding me of quiche. How could I have left that off my list ? - maybe it deserves a post of its own.

Thanks Alastair - I'm now picturing you as a young boy sitting at the dinner table with a plate of cold vegetables in front of you. I've heard about good cholesterol, but it's hard to get the mantra out of my head.

Thanks Carolyn & Deb - I excuse the botanists for moving plants around as they fit together more pieces of the evolution puzzle. On the other hand, I understand that it does mess up catologues, which probably affects you Carolyn.
Hope you enjoyed your egg Deb!

Thanks Laura - A few weeks ago that joke would have gone right over my head.

Thanks Diana - good idea not to eat it, as some web-sites say it's edible some not.

Thanks Malar - I'm not good at identifying plants either, but I just ask other bloggers, as in my next post.

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