Honey-locust – Gleditsia triacanthos

Honey-locust trees are not native to North America’s west coast, where I hail from, and as I haven’t spent much time in the eastern or central US, I hadn’t seen one in the wild before. I first came across a honey-locust tree at the the Botanical Garden of the University of Hamburg (Botanischer Garten der Universität Hamburg) in Germany.

It is an imposing thing, with its tall, monolithic bole, many thorns swarming around the trunk in fiendish clusters. They are long, rigid, cruelly sharp, and difficult to break off. Certainly not a tree I’d like to stumble into unawares! Continue reading “Honey-locust – Gleditsia triacanthos”


Thimbleberry – Rubus parviflorus


It was at age eight that I proudly declared to my mother, “Mom, when I grow up, I’m going to be a thimbleberry farmer!”

My dream was to have a huge thimbleberry farm, and grow enough that I could make jams and pies and eat my fill as often as I wanted. Ever practical, my mother informed me that farmers don’t make a lot of money, and anyway I didn’t have any land on which to start a farm (or capital with which to acquire land). This deterred me somewhat, though to this day I secretly harbor a desire to popularize this delicious fruit, with its unforgettable flavor and texture. Maybe one day I will be able to retire to a large, sunny plot with an ample water supply and breed thimbleberries which prolifically bear large and flavorful fruits. Continue reading “Thimbleberry – Rubus parviflorus”

Hyacinth Orchid – Bletilla striata

I first encountered hyacinth orchids at a friend’s house in southern California. The air there has little humidity with which to retain temperature, so even in summer the evenings are cool. Her house had a wide patio with broad terra cotta tiles that radiated heat long after the sun had set. An outdoor oven held a prominent position near the center of the patio, and I spent many a night sitting round a fire there, conversing in low-key contentment. The back garden was home to several large ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa), whose fragrant resin perfumed the air as headily as any incense. Continue reading “Hyacinth Orchid – Bletilla striata”

Meadow Buttercup – Ranunculus acris

I suspect that a great number of people share the childhood memories of holding a buttercup flower under one’s chin to ‘see if one likes butter’. The yellowness that buttercups reflect is striking, but it is a pale imitation of their sunny faces. I remember picking fistfuls of buttercups as a child (albeit a different species) and putting them into a little ceramic vase my mother had. They looked so cheerful on a windowsill, brightening up the whole room, and even on cloudy days they were brighter than the slightly worn gilt on the rim of that impeccably white little vase. Continue reading “Meadow Buttercup – Ranunculus acris”

White Bryony – Bryonia dioica


One sunny day last year, I was standing on a carpet of freshly raked out wood chips in a clearing at Wrest Park. Wrest Park is located in rural Bedfordshire, England. It is a very old garden, dating back to at least the 13th century, and it was owned by the same family for over 600 years. The last of that household, the DeGrey family, sold the house to an American diplomat in 1917, after which it changed hands serval times. It is currently owned and operated by English Heritage, a nonprofit organization which is perhaps better known for its historic stonework (including several castles and, notably, Stonehenge). However, they also run some very interesting gardens – Wrest Park being a particular example. Continue reading “White Bryony – Bryonia dioica”

Bone Apple – Osteomeles schwerinae


In the spring of 2015, on a visit to a garden in California, I saw a plant (pictured above) which was unfamiliar to me and took a photo. Two years later, as I was idly flicking through a book of edible plants, its name jumped out at me, and I decided to do a little research. Continue reading “Bone Apple – Osteomeles schwerinae”