Over the Christmas break I read three books (!), none of which was directly course-related although they were all about ethnobotany. Hopefully I will be able to find the time to tell you more about them in due course, but for the moment I am back at uni and as a class we spent the last two days at Kew Gardens. We had sessions on yams, grasses, the coffee family and the myrtles (or the Dioscoreaceae, Poaceae, Rubiaceae and Myrtaceae). Our days at Kew are quite full, and it’s rare that we have much time to wander through the gardens, but on our way to dissect some grasses we found ourselves wandering through the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

Desert plants

The first of the books I read was Gary Nabhan’s Gathering the Desert, which is a fascinating read about the people of the Sonoran Desert region and their native food plants. And so I was thrilled to find myself in a cactus-rich environment.

The ethnobotanical labelling explains the correct way to eat a prickly pear…

Prickly Pear

…and talks about the barrel cactus:

Barrel cactus

A painted backdrop brings the scene to life.

Desert scene

Nabhan refers to the Saguaro cactus as the indicator plant for the binational Sonoran desert, so I was thrilled to see one in person, even though it’s only a baby.

Baby saguaro

And around the corner was a nice example of air layering, a means of propagation that involves wounding an aerial part of the plant and wrapping it in a growing medium to encourage it to grow roots. Once it has, it is severed from the parent plant and planted up. The plant being propagated here is Bencomia moquiniana, from the Canary Islands.

Air layer

The true meaning of the phrase “just deserts” has become clouded over time as the common usage of ‘deserts’ has changed, but it is explained nicely by The Phrase Finder.