Nasturtiums are a wonderfully colorful and useful annual addition to any garden and they are easy to grow. It has a pleasant peppery taste and has become a favourite world over. The showy flowers come in shades of fiery red, oranges and yellows. The flowers can be single or double.
Sow the seeds in Spring in a sunny spot. It does best in sandy soils, but any well drained soil will do. Interestingly, the poorer the soil, the more flowers the plant will produce. Once they are established they will reseed themselves year after year.
Nasturtiums are wonderful companion plants. Plant them near roses, cucumbers, cabbage and other plants.
All parts of the plant are used. Eat a leaf at the first sign of a sore throat, another an hour later and a third leaf an house later. Nasturtiums have a high vitamin C content, as well as being a natural antibiotic. It is also used to treat bladder and kidney ailments,coughs, colds, flu, sore throats and bronchitis.
The flower has most often been consumed, making for an especially ornamental salad ingredient.
While installing a vegetable garden in Claremont, I noticed this Pride of India in full flower. What a stunning sight to see.
Lagerstroemia speciosa is a small to medium sized tree with smooth flaky bark.
It is a native to Southern tropical Asia. It is primarily grown as an ornamental.
Pride of India has a long history of folkloric medical applications that include blood pressure control, urinary dysfunctions (helps ease urination), cholesterol level control, treatment of diarrhea, facilitates bowel movement, diabetes and as an analgesic
A bumblebee visits a flower, drawn in by the bright colours, the patterns on the petals, and the aromatic promise of sweet nectar. But there’s more to pollination than sight and smell. There is also electricity in the air.
Dominic Clarke and Heather Whitney from the University of Bristol have shown that bumblebees can sense the electric field that surrounds a flower. They can even learn to distinguish between fields produced by different floral shapes, or use them to work out whether a flower has been recently visited by other bees. Flowers aren’t just visual spectacles and smelly beacons. They’re also electric billboards.
“This is a big finding,” says Daniel Robert, who led the study. “Nobody had postulated the idea that bees could be sensitive to the electric field of a flower.”
Scientists have, however, known about the electric side of pollination since the 1960s, although it is rarely discussed. As bees fly through the air, they bump into charged particles from dust to small molecules. The friction of these microscopic collisions strips electrons from the bee’s surface, and they typically end up with a positive charge.
Flowers, on the other hand, tend to have a negative charge, at least on clear days. The flowers themselves are electrically earthed, but the air around them carries a voltage of around 100 volts for every metre above the ground. The positive charge that accumulates around the flower induces a negative charge in its petals.
When the positively charged bee arrives at the negatively charged flower, sparks don’t fly but pollen does. “We found some videos showing that pollen literally jumps from the flower to the bee, as the bee approaches… even before it has landed,” says Robert. The bee may fly over to the flower but at close quarters, the flower also flies over to the bee.
This is old news. As far back as the 1970s, botanists suggested that electric forces enhance the attraction between pollen and pollinators. Some even showed that if you sprinkle pollen over an immobilised bee, some of the falling grains will veer off course and stick to the insect.
But Robert is no botanist. He’s a sensory biologist. He studies how animals perceive the world around them. When he came across the electric world of bees and flowers, the first question that sprang to mind was: “Does the bee know anything about this process?” Amazingly, no one had asked the question, much less answered it. “We read all of the papers,” says Robert. “We even had one translated from Russian, but no one had made that intellectual leap.”
To answer the question, Robert teamed up with Clarke (a physicist) and Whitney (a botanist), and created e-flowers—artificial purple-topped blooms with designer electric fields. When bumblebees could choose between charged flowers that carried a sugary liquid, or charge-less flowers that yielded a bitter one, they soon learned to visit the charged ones with 81 percent accuracy. If none of the flowers were charged, the bees lost the ability to pinpoint the sugary rewards.
But the bees can do more than just tell if an electric field is there or not. They can also discriminate between fields of different shapes, which in turn depend on the shape of a flower’s petals and how easily they conduct electricity. Clarke and Whitney visualised these patterns by spraying flowers with positively charged and brightly coloured particles. You can see the results below. Each flower has been sprayed on its right half, and the rectangular boxes show the colours of the particles.
The bees can sense these patterns. They can learn to tell the difference between an e-flower with an evenly spread voltage and one with a field like a bullseye with 70 percent accuracy.
Bees can also use this electric information to bolster what their other senses are telling them. The team trained bees to discriminate between two e-flowers that came in very slightly different shades of green. They managed it, but it took them 35 visits to reach an accuracy of 80 percent. If the team added differing electric fields to the flowers, the bees hit the same benchmark within just 24 visits.
How does the bee actually register electric fields? No one knows, but Robert suspects that the fields produce small forces that move some of the bee’s body parts, perhaps the hairs on its body. In the same way that a rubbed balloon makes you hair stand on end, perhaps a charged flower provides a bee with detectable tugs and shoves.
The bees, in turn, change the charge of whatever flower they land upon. Robert’s team showed that the electrical potential in the stem of a petunia goes up by around 25 millivolts when a bee lands upon it. This change starts just before the bee lands, which shows that it’s nothing to do with the insect physically disturbing the flower. And it lasts for just under two minutes, which is longer than the bee typically spends on its visit.
This changing field can tell a bee whether a flower has been recently visited, and might be short of nectar. It’s like a sign that says “Closed for business. Be right back.” It’s also a much more dynamic signal than more familiar ones like colour, patterns or smells. All of these are fairly static. Flowers can change them, but it takes minutes or hours to do so. Electric fields, however, change instantaneously whenever a bees lands. They not only provide useful information, but they do it immediately.
Robert thinks that these signals could either be honest or dishonest, depending on the flower. Those that carpet a field and require multiple visits from pollinators will evolve to be truthful, because they cannot afford to deceive their pollinators. Bees are good learners and if they repeatedly visit an empty flower, they will quickly avoid an entire patch. Worse still, they’ll communicate with their hive-mates, and the entire colony will seek fresh pastures. “If the flower can signal that it is momentarily empty, then the bee will benefit and the flower will communicate honestly its mitigated attraction,” says Robert.
But some flowers, like tulips or poppies, only need one or two visits to pollinate themselves. “These could afford to lie,” says Gilbert. He expects that they will do everything possible to keep their electric charge constant, even if a bee lands upon them. They should always have their signs flipped to “Open”. Gilbert’s students will be testing this idea in the summer.
Many animals can sense electric fields, including sharks and rays, electric fish, at least one species of dolphin, and the platypus. But this is the first time that anyone has discovered this sense in an insect. And in the humble bumblebee, no less! Bees and flowers have been studied intensely for decades, maybe centuries, and it turns out that they’ve been exchanging secret messages all this time.
Now, Robert’s team is going to take their experiments from the lab into the field, to see just how electrically sensitive wild bees can be, and how their senses change according to the weather. “We are probably only seeing the tip of the electrical iceberg here,” he says.
A short distance from my home up the mountain can be found this wonderful eye-catching colour of endemic plants growing wild, surviving sandy soils and harsh wind and full sun.
The Wild Malva (Pelargonium cucullatum) is growing profusely. When crushed the leaves of some forms emit a strong, sweet scent. The flowers are faintly scented. Sunbirds, butterflies, long-beaked flies and moths have all been observed visiting the flowers.
Traditionally this pelargonium was used medicinally to cure colic, kidney ailments, diarrhoea, coughs and fevers. The leaves were used as a poultice for bruises, stings and abscesses. In the nineteenth century it was used as a hedge-row ornamental in Cape Town. It is also useful as a cut flower as the branches last for many weeks in water.
Vygies – Mesembryanthemum (meaning “midday flowering”) is a genus of flowering plants native to southern Africa. Thriving in hot conditions, Mesembryanthemum creates a ‘Magic Carpet’ and simply loves poor, dry soils where most other plants would fail.
Brass Buttons (Cotula). Annual herb growing up to 30 cm high, with finely divided leaves, with white or yellow rays and a yellow disc. Native to South Africa (Western Cape and Eastern Cape) where it is found in sandy and disturbed places.
Watsonia borbonica is magnificent will tall spikes of “Pink” flowers. Watsonia borbonica is pollinated by large, solitary bees, mainly of the family Apidae: subfamily Anthophorinae. The bees visit the flowers in the early morning, seeking nectar and collecting pollen from flowers that have just opened. The styles of the flowers only unfurl later on their second day and become receptive, and at the same time the nectar levels rise. The bees visiting for the nectar transfer some of the pollen collected earlier from the freshly opened flowers. By noon there is no more nectar or pollen and the bees move away. Goldlatt 1989 and John Manning (pers.comm)
- Understanding the Role of the Worker Bee in a Hive (adoptahive.wordpress.com)
- O B (aristonorganic.com)
composite flowers, flower, Flower garden, Flowers, garden, Lost gardens of Heligan, plant, plants, showy flowers, South Africa, South African endemic plant, Southern Africa, The Lost gardens of Heligan
- Although it is the end of Summer in the UK, we were still able to see many flowers in the flower garden at The Lost Gardens of Heligan.
- Rudbeckia still as bright as ever, distinguished for their long flowering season.
- This Melianthes (Kruidtjie roer my nie) caught my eye. It is a South African endemic plant. On a sunny day the sun-birds feast on the nectar dripping from the flowers, but any one touching those attractive leaves is in for a surprise. With a strong unpleasant smell, it warns all that it is highly toxic.
- Echinacea commonly know as “Cone-flowers, have large, showy heads of composite flowers, blooming from early to late summer. The generic name is derived from the Greek word, meaning “sea urchin,” due to the spiny central disk. Some species are used in herbal medicines and some are cultivated in gardens for their showy flowers.
- This flower is a mystery, could someone please help me identify it.
- This Sedum or Stonecrop leaves are edible.
Pelargonium species are evergreen perennials indigenous to Southern Africa, and are drought and heat tolerant, but can tolerate only minor frosts. They are extremely popular garden plants, grown as bedding plants in temperate regions.
The Purple flower is Dissotis princeps, another South African endemic. This handsome species is fast, easy and rewarding to grow provided it is planted in fertile, well-watered soil in a sunny position
A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King.
Babiana sambucina – the Baboon flower
Baboons love to eat the corms.
Mesembryanthemum (meaning “midday flowering”) or Icicle plant
a mixed display of Spring flowers in Namaqualand
Gold Spurge or Geel melkbos (Euphorbia mauritanica)
The naked earth is warm with Spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun’s kiss glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze.
Jasmine is native to the Himalayas and Asia. Jasmine is considered to be a sacred flower to the Peoples of these areas. The Hindus strung jasmine flowers together to form garlands and presented then to their most honored guests. Jasmine is the sacred flower of the Hindu love god, Kama. A fragrant emblem of love, jasmine flowers are often entwined into bridal flowers at Indian weddings. This custom is said to promise the bridal couple a deep and lasting affection for eternity. Jasmine is known as ‘moonlight of the grove’ in India due to its ghostly pale flowers. It is also known by the names of Jessamine, Yasmin and the King of Flowers. Jasmine oil is known as ‘the King of oils.’
An ancient Indian myth of a princess who fell in love with the sun-god SuryaDeva attempts to explain why the jasmine flower will only open its petals at night. According to the myth, the sun-god rejected the princess’s love and she was so heartbroken that she killed herself. Her ashes were scattered to the ground, and from the ashes the beautiful jasmine grew. Since the sun-god was responsible for her death, the jasmine flower would only open and release her perfume at night.
Throughout history, jasmine has been revered for its aphrodisiac qualities, and known as a plant of love with a great influence on both males and females.