Geena Zebrasky – Features Writer
Springtime brings color and life back to campus, just in time for finals. Right when we need a pick me up, we can walk around campus and see the different colors, smells and sights that plants are producing. With all the new growth, you might be wondering just what those little blue flowers might be, or what that fragrant tree next to Jackson Campus Center is. Wonder no longer, because this week’s Features article takes you through some of the early spring blooms that are brightening up the campus gardens.
Right next to the campus center are the showy fragrant magnolia trees. Even with a mask on, you can smell the blossoms on your way to get food from the Caf. While you’re at it, you could munch on a couple blossoms—magnolia blossoms are actually edible! However, their flavor is very strong, and they’re not often eaten raw. Instead, they are commonly pickled or used to flavor things like rice and tea. Magnolia trees are actually a very ancient plant, with fossils dating back to times before bees even existed. It’s thought that they evolved to have a flower that encourages pollination by beetles, and as a result of this, produce lots of pollen rather than nectar.
On your way to Confer/Vickner, or perhaps your dorm room in Pittman or Sohre, you might notice a scraggly looking bush littered with white blooms in the little garden area by Anderson. These belong to a shrub called a serviceberry. This bush also belongs to the rose family, which is such an interesting family because it includes many of the fruits we love to eat. Just like its family members, you can eat the fruits this bush will eventually produce in June. Too bad we won’t be around to beat the birds to the berries! These bushes are important to more than the birds and us, as pollinators and other herbivores love the blooms and berries just as much as gardeners do.
Another early springtime favorite, tulips belong to the genus Tulipa, of the same family as lilies. After their bloom time, tulips become dormant until next spring. Originating in mountains of Asia, tulips weren’t introduced until the “tulip mania” of the 17th century. During this time, Dutch merchants were growing rich through their imperial endeavors with the Dutch East India Company and had a lot of extra money to spend. So, when the tulip was introduced over a short period of time, the price rose rapidly until it crashed back down a short time later. At the peak, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled artisan. Interestingly, the variegated varieties of tulips (the ones with multiple colored petals) arose during this time. It’s actually a virus called the tulip break virus that causes these differing streaks of colors in tulips.
Dandelions belong to the Taraxacum genus, which belongs to the same plant family as sunflowers. The common name comes from the French phrase “dent-de-lion,” which means “lion’s tooth,” after their interesting shaped leaves. Many people consider these plants weeds, and they can have damaging effects on crops as they readily spread. However, as yard inhabitants, they’re really not much of a worry. They can even help loosen compacted soil with their taproots. If anything, the weed killers that are often used to rid yards of them are more of a worry. We all know that dandelions are edible, but they really are a great source of nutrients, especially their leaves. They’ve been used widely (worldwide!) because of their high amounts of vitamin A, C, iron, calcium, and potassium. Scientists think that the common dandelion, which isn’t native to North America, was brought to Europe on ships (as a lot of species were, including many of our invasive species) because of the medicinal use of dandelions. Today, you can still find dandelion products sold in grocery stores, in supplements and teas. The entire plant is edible, and there’s so many different foods you can make with it!
Scilla forbesii (Forbes’ glory of the snow)
These little blue flowers can be found covering the ground underneath the trees around Christ Chapel and in the garden in front of the library. These perennials are really good at spreading, so they form blue blankets easily wherever a few bulbs are planted. From the mountainsides of Turkey, this plant will go back into a more dormant state until next spring after a couple weeks of blue. You might have noticed these before all other blooms because they’re one of the earliest flowers to open up in the spring—sometimes as early as late February!
I’m sure we’ve all seen the daffodils on campus, as their bright yellow petals stand out. Perhaps a bit insensitive to the times, the cup-like structure of the flower that makes a daffodil so easy to identify is called a corona. The daffodil’s genus is also one of people’s favorite: Narcissus. It’s actually uncertain where this name comes from. Some ideas include that it originates from the Greek word ‘narkao,’ which means ‘to be numb,’ because the bulbs are poisonous to animals, or that it’s from the Greek mythology tale about the boy Narcissus and daffodils grew along the river from this story. These plants produce alkaloids, as many plants do, but interestingly, they produce galantamine—a compound used to treat patients with Alzheimer’s. As a result of this, they’ve been cultivated in some places just for this compound.