Thursday, April 19, 2012

Flowers Resembling Wisteria

"Among all plants, vines are the most vivid examples of nature's playful spontaneity. When they decide to grow, they grow without knowing where to grow to. They never miss an opportunity to engage themselves in a playful act with whomever they meet.The movement of the vine dutifully records the memory of its adventures."

Although my wisteria is stunningly lovely this year, I have posted enough about wisteria. So, instead, I thought I’d use this post not so much as an excuse to show off my white wisteria, but to write about flowers that look like wisteria. Clever how I did that, eh?

Have you ever thought you saw a large white wisteria tree? I have. We were both wrong. What we saw was a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). The flowers bear a remarkable resemblance to white wisteria, especially from a distance. Upon closer inspection, they are clearly not wisteria.

The picture on left below is wisteria. The picture on the right is a black locust. Close resemblance, but clearly not the same.

An intriguing fact is that all three plants - the black locust, the mescal and the wisteria - are not only drought tolerant, they all have similar foliage: pinnately compounded leaves. My personal theory about these similarities is that this is simply further evidence of  a conspiracy by Mother Nature to keep me from ever learning any serious botany.

A more intriging flower, for me, is found on a tidy bush, intriguingly called Mescal bean (Sophora secundiflora, or Calia secundiflora), also known as the Texas Mountain Laurel. All three pictures on the left are of the mescal flower, bush and seed pods. The seeds inside are bright orange-red.

It surprised me to learn here that mescal beans “are also not related to the highly intoxicating beverage called ‘mescal’ or ‘mezcal’, made from the fermented and distilled juices of several North American species of Agave, including A. americana and A. atrovirens. Incidentally, the fermented juice is called pulque, and the highly-alcoholic distilled products include Mezcal and Tequila.” Good to know.

It also surprised me to read that that the mescal bean is not related to the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), although  “The poisonous seeds contain the alkaloid cytisine, and were once used in the intoxicating, vision-seeking ‘red bean dance’ prior to the widespread use of the "less-life-threatening" peyote cactus.” So, peyote is less deadly than mescal. Also good to know.

The politically incorrect plant sign on the mescal bean in the LA Arboratum where I took these photos this month explains, “The wood yields a yellow dye. The bright orange-red seeds were sacred to Indians and placed in burials. Now they are made into jewelry.” A depressingly succinct summary of how native culture has been misunderstood and corrupted by descendants of European settlers.

We may no longer do the red bean dance, but at least we can now buy our intoxicants in clearly labeled bottles at the Booze Barn; and we don’t have to keep all the details straight about what might kill us. More importantly, we can simply enjoy these beautiful flowers for their appearance and not their chemical make up.

No comments: