Tendrils: the 'floating' greenhouse at RHS Wisley

Hello! Welcome to Tendrils, my weekly round-up of well-rotted plant material suitable for feeding your brain soil. We’ll start this week with a sweet treat – a recipe for strawberry tree jam. Arbutus unedo won’t fit in my garden, which is a shame because it is a pretty tree with edible fruit. It is used in public planting in the UK, though, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that you’ll find one with fruit ripe for plucking. It ripens over several weeks in the autumn, and obligingly (if you have your own tree) falls to the ground when entirely ripe. Fruits take a year to mature, so you get to enjoy the unusual spectacle of a tree in flower and fruit at the same time. There’s plenty of advice on how to grow strawberry trees in the UK. They do suffer from the strawberry tree curse – being named after a fruit that is both easier to grow, and more to people’s liking! It’s a case of not living up to expectations, when they should be judged on their own merits instead.

Whilst we’re on the topic of berries and fruit picking, you really should take the time to read The harvests of Chernobyl, which is a fascinating article about the economic activity of berry pickers in Polesia, a Ukranian region affected by the radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl disaster 30 years ago. It may give you yet another reason to grow your own….

And from the forest to the flora of the future, examining the botanical diversity of cities. I love the way it describes chain-link fences and vacant lots as specialized habitats – which, of course, is what they are from a plant’s perspective.

“Purslane (Portulacca oleracea) with its strong taproot and prostrate growth habit is preadapted to growing in sidewalk cracks and being stepped on.Purslane. [It] is an annual plant of uncertain origin that grows everywhere — in the tropics as well as the temperate zone — and everywhere it grows, people eat it. Specifically, people use the foliage, which is a little mucilaginous, for thickening soups; and because of its high omega-3 oil content, it’s very nutritious. Obviously this is a plant that was originally brought here for culinary purposes and has managed to escape and spread on its own.”

I’ve previously mentioned research that shows that street trees are good for air quality and the urban environment generally, so it only seems fair to mention a new report that says trees may increase air pollution on city streets. A report by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence explains that: “Leaves and branches slow air currents, causing pollutants to settle. They may also act as sinks for particulates and chemicals that may have direct or indirect effects in air quality. Air quality [under trees] may deteriorate at street level near vehicles”

But I think we should still all be in favour of urban street trees 🙂

How far can you push a consumer’s concept of what kale is, before it’s not kale anymore?

Apparently the breeding of new varieties of kale has focused on agricultural qualities such as drought tolerance and disease resistance, rather than those that make it popular with consumers, such as taste and appearance. So scientists are working with a small band of kaleblazers, keen kale consumers, who lived and breathed kale for several weeks to really get to know half a dozen varieties. What the researchers uncovered was that consumers would really like kale to be … less like kale.

And from one plant that gets bad press to another…. The Chia Cafe Collective is “a grassroots group of southern California tribal members and collaborators committed to the revitalization of Native foods, medicines, culture, and community”, and in Indigenous Cooking: Stinging Nettle Tea Medley they’re offering up tips on nettle harvesting and a recipe for a tea that actually looks quite tasty 😉

Organic Gardener has the low-down on black garlic, including instructions on how to make this treacly, umami treat. But even if you start now, it won’t be done in time for Christmas….

But you do have time to make your own Tudor Christmas bough, which isn’t as tasty but is far easier to hang on walls or over doorways as a gesture of goodwill to welcome guests into the home.

I’ll let you get on with that (feel free to send me photos of your finished wreath!). Enjoy your weekend and I’ll be back with more exciting plant news in Tendrils next week!

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