Friday, 24 August 2012

Keeping it in the family...

Towards the end of summer there is one plant family above all others that provides the final foray of colour, the daisy family: Asteraceae.

There are c. 27,000 species in this family assigned to 1,765 genera, making it one of the largest plant families. The diversity of this group is pretty staggering, with representatives found worldwide, only absent from the Antarctic mainland.  From annual herbs and arctic alpines to the narrowly endemic and threatened, arborescent Dendroceris of Chile.

We represent a reasonable amount of this diversity at the Botanic Garden, both in the Glasshouses and the Gardens. Here are a few:

Rudbeckia maxima
Rudbeckia maxima from the central and southern USA is a fine garden plant. It grows to about 1.8m, has sumptuous, glaucous, ornamental leaves and does not need staking. Grown as a repeated element through plantings it provides a very natural effect.

Dahlia 'Moonfire'
The Dahlias are now in full bloom, somewhat delayed by the weather. We cultivate a large number of cultivars at the Garden, mostly within the Autumn   Border. These are bedded out each June, following on from the spring flowering tulips and forget-me-nots. They are then lifted in late October and the tubers protected over winter in deep frames in the nursery. The best of the bunch include: 'David Howard', 'Moonfire' (right), 'Grenadier', 'Twinings White Chocolate' and 'Dovegrove'.

Bartlettina sordida
The Glasshouses hold a range of interesting species. Including the spiny shrub Barnedesia caryophylla from South America, Bartlettena sordida (left) from Mexico, which is vaguely reminiscent of Eupatorium and the endangered Centaurea akamantis from Cyprus.
Centaurea akamantis

As well as all these striking ornamental members of the family, it's also worth mentioning that many of them are familiar and important food crops. Both kinds of artichoke, Jerusalem (Helianthus tuberosus) and Globe (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) are in this family. The former has edible tubers containing inulin, broken down by bacteria in our large intestines yielding the familiar and rather antisocial side effects of eating these tubers!

Globe artichoke

Pop into the Botanic Garden over the next few weeks to see this family at its best.

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