Plant facts that will sur­prise you

Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District - East Kent Property - - OUTDOORS -

Did you know that birds can gorge on chill­ies, obliv­i­ous to the taste? Or that there is a plant named af­ter Darth Vader?

These and other amazing facts have been col­lated by Kew Gar­dens ex­perts Christina Har­ri­son and Lau­ren Gar­diner for their book, Bizarre Botany.

Christina said: “We are fas­ci­nated by plants, but we are also ex­cited by how many unusual and fan­tas­tic new plant sto­ries we hear all the time, from bizarre uses of plants to dis­cov­er­ies of strange new in­ter­ac­tions be­tween plants and an­i­mals, in­sects or fungi.”

For ex­am­ple, did you know bulbs can al­le­vi­ate de­men­tia? Ex­tract of some species of snow­drop and daf­fodil con­tain galan­tamine which has been shown to help nerve cells in the brain com­mu­ni­cate with each other.

The ginkgo biloba tree, com­monly known as the maid­en­hair tree, is ex­traor­di­nar­ily re­sis­tant to forces that would kill most other plants. Six such trees grow around a mile from the cen­tre of Hiroshima, Ja­pan, hav­ing sur­vived the 1945 atomic bomb­ing.

Al­most ev­ery­thing else liv­ing died in­stantly, but the burnt trees sur­vived, re-grew and are still grow­ing to­day.

Plants can be masters of dis­guise. Drac­ula or­chids that grow in the cloud forests of Ecuador lure in fruit flies as pol­li­na­tors by pre­tend­ing to be mush­rooms.

Their petals re­sem­ble a mush­room and they also emit a mush­roomy scent.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, nat­u­ral­ist Sir David At­ten­bor­ough has a num­ber of plant name­sakes.

There’s a Welsh mem­ber of the daisy fam­ily called Hieracium at­ten­bor­oughi­anum and a genus in the An­nonaceae fam­ily called Sir­da­vidia.

More sur­pris­ingly, a black be­go­nia is named af­ter Star Wars char­ac­ter – Be­go­nia darth­vade­ri­ana.

Lastly, there’s hot com­pe­ti­tion among grow­ers to pro­duce the hottest chilli on record.

In 2013 the Carolina reaper be­came the cur­rent Guin­ness World Record holder and ethno-botanist James Wong es­ti­mated that a sin­gle one could be used to make 500 litres of curry. Yet only mam­mals are af­fected by a chilli’s heat. Birds can gorge them­selves, com­pletely un­af­fected.

The hottest chilli, the Carolina reaper; Bizarre Botany by Christina Har­ri­son and Lau­ren Gar­diner is pub­lished by Kew, priced £10

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