If you like your spices gold-colored and expensive, find some fresh Crocus sativus flowers and grab ‘em by the…disproportionately large female reproductive organ. Small hands might work best, though it might turn your skin orange. Saffron is probably from the Middle East. If that bothers you, you may want to ban it from your spice shelves, however ill that bodes for the quality of your cabinet. After all, there is a stigma against that sort of thing.
The most expensive oversized reproductive organ in the world
A pile of dried saffron stigmas (“threads”). Photo from Wikipedia
You may know that saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. A Spanish farmer sold his crop of high quality saffron this year for four euros per gram, which is a ninth of today’s price of gold (36 euros per gram). Saffron is expensive because its production requires a huge amount of labor and land. Saffron production is labor- and land-intensive because saffron is a botanically unique food item that defies mechanical harvest and accounts for a miniscule proportion of the plant that bears it. The saffron threads sold as spice are the dried stigmas of the flowers of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus, family Iridaceae). Recall that the stigma is the part of the flower’s female reproductive organs that catches pollen. Pollen travels from the stigma through the style into the flower’s ovary (collectively, the stigma, style, and ovary comprise the pistil). Continue reading
Posted in Botany Lab of the Month, Education, Flavor, herbs, Recipes, The basics
Tagged anatomy, carotenoid, climate change, Crocus sativus, flower, Jeanne L. D. Osnas, pollination, saffron, spice, stigma
Hummingbirds and ancient bees are responsible for the color and shape of nasturtium blossoms and have a unique view of them, explains Jeanne over salad.
Nasturtium flowers cut into tomato salad with parsley
Fall frost hasn’t yet claimed our nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus; Tropaeolaceae family). The large, colorful blooms amidst the round leaves are still spilling over planting boxes. All parts of the plant are edible and boast spicy mustard oil glucosinolates, betraying the plant’s membership in the order Brassicales, along with the cruciferous vegetables and mustard in the Brassicaceae family, capers (Capparaceae), and papaya (Caricaceae; try the seeds, as suggested here). I’ve heard that the immature flower buds and immature seed pods can be pickled like capers, but I haven’t tried it yet. Mostly I use the flowers, throwing a few in a salad or chopping them coarsely with other herbs and stirring them into strained yogurt or butter to put on top of roasted vegetables or lentils. In addition to the mustardy kick, the sweet flower nectar adds to these dishes. Continue reading
Posted in Flavor, herbs, The basics, Uncategorized
Tagged Brassicales, flower, Jeanne L. D. Osnas, Nasturtium, nectar guide, pollination, symmetry, Tropaeolum, ultraviolet, zygomorphy
Corn silks are annoying, but they’re also amazing. The longest styles on the planet don’t make it easy for corn pollen to do its job. Gain new respect for your corn on the cob.
Corn plant. Tassels with male flowers on top, ears with exposed silks in the middle
Fresh corn (Zea mays, Poeaceae) is a summertime treat. Shucking corn silks, though, can be a pain. Corn silks, however, are amazing, and maybe knowing why will ameliorate their annoyingness. Formally corn silks are the style, the part of the female flower that intercepts pollen. Female flowers of many species have a stigma, a sticky pad, atop their styles to intercept pollen, but corn silks are lined with sticky trichomes (like hairs) that essentially do the same thing. Corn silks are incredibly long styles. Can you think of another plant with a flower appendage that could rival it? I can’t. Continue reading
Posted in The basics, Uncategorized, Vegetables
Tagged corn, corn silk, fertilization, Jeanne L. D. Osnas, Poaceae, pollen, pollen tube, pollination, style, Zea mays