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A Travelling Botanist: #WorldSoilDay

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Guest blog by: Sophie Mogg

I’m taking a break from my travels to celebrate world soil day. World soil day celebrates the importance of soil in our natural environment and contributes enormously to human well-being through providing a place to grow crops and supporting all walks of life.

In many parts of the world soil is now contaminated with heavy metals and radioactive elements as a by product of mining and various other human activities. This renders the soil unusable and unsuitable for feeding livestock, growing crops and restoring natural habitats. However there are many plants, known as hyperaccumulators, that are able to absorb these heavy metals through their roots, often concentrating them in their leaves. This process is known as phytoremediation. These metals can be retrieved from the plants by burning them, a process known as phytomining. By using natural hyperaccumulators we can reclaim those areas affected by mining and hopefully restore some natural habitats in the process.

Here are some of those wonderful plants from our collection, enjoy!

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Advent Botany 2016 – Day 4: The Carrot — Culham Research Group

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My dog’s got no nose. How does he smell? Awful. To prevent olfactory problems with snowmen the traditional nose of choice is the carrot. To most westerners, the carrot is a bright orange tapering root vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked and that forms a vital part of Christmas lunch. To the allotment…

via Advent Botany 2016 – Day 4: The Carrot — Culham Research Group

#AdventBotany 2016 – Day 3: A sweet surprise! — Culham Research Group

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By Fi Young A Japanese Christmas Cake Happy birthday to me, Happy birth… hold on just a minute this is the 25 days Advent Christmas Botanical Calendar, so why the birthday? My birthday does indeed fall on the 3rd day and like anyone else I do love a cake. But the cake for today is…

via #AdventBotany 2016 – Day 3: A sweet surprise! — Culham Research Group

#AdventBotany 2016 – How do you create a Candy Cane Chrysanthemum? — Culham Research Group

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By Dawn Bazely Cany cane garden ornaments – ideal for midwinter! Peppermint candy canes are the North American equivalent of traditional British seaside rock. They are ubiquitous during the holiday season in Canada and the USA, showing up everywhere — on Christmas trees, as stir sticks in hot chocolate, on doughnuts (below), and as decorations on…

via #AdventBotany 2016 – How do you create a Candy Cane Chrysanthemum? — Culham Research Group

#Advent Botany 2016 – Today I bought a yodeling gherkin on Ebay — Culham Research Group

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The lucky yodeling gherkin as advertised on Ebay. Advent botany enters it’s third year to the sound of a yodeling gherkin; but why? It started with a list of the weirdest Christmas traditions in the Telegraph newspaper and resulted in me reading about a tradition that does not seem to be traditional or to have…

via #Advent Botany 2016 – Today I bought a yodeling gherkin on Ebay — Culham Research Group

A Travelling Botanist: Ricecapades

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Guest blog by: Sophie Mogg

I’ll soon be crossing the border into Southeast Asia and exploring the many wonderful plants there but there’s time for one last post!

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Oryza sativa

Oryza sativa, which translates to “rice” and “cultivated”, remains a staple for half of the worlds population. It is a widely cultivated plant, growing in over 100 countries and on all continents with exception of Antarctica. There are currently 40,000 varieties of rice of which over 100 of these are grown globally. Oryza rufipogon grows through South and Southeast Asia, it is the wild relative of Oryza sativa. The earliest recorded cultivation of rice has been documented to be in China around 6000 BC.

Within the species sativa, two subspecies have been classified: japonicaindica.
 Japonica varieties are short-grained and sticky, often grown in higher altitudes such as the uplands of Southeast Asia. Indica on the other hand are long-grained and non-sticky varieties grown in the lowlands and often submerged. Javanica, now known as tropical japonica, is a subgroup to japonica and is made up of broad-grained varieties grown in tropical conditions. However classification of rice has changed numerous times due to differing basis of classification such as the types of enzymes present or short sequence repeats in the DNA.

Oryza sativa can grow either 1M tall in dry conditions or 5M long in submerged conditions.  The stem is composed of several nodes and from each node grows a long, slender leaf. The seeds, like other grass species, grow on long spikes which have the tendency to arch over with the weight of the seed. It is the endosperm of these seeds which we consume. Whilst rice can be found in many colours such as white, brown, red, purple and black we commonly eat either the white or brown rice. White rice is typically polished (milled) to remove the bran layer, where as wholegrain “brown” rice has the bran layer intact. The bran layer, present in all cereal crops, is rich in essential amino acids, dietary fibre and antioxidants.

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Oryza sativa field

96% of the rice that is grown worldwide is consumed by the same countries that grow it however these countries also suffer from Vitamin A deficiency. Scientists have tried to improve the nutritional quality of rice by introducing  enzymes from other plants via genetic modification that are needed to synthesise beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is converted into Vitamin A in the intestines. The Golden Rice Project aims to reduce the incidence of Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) syndrome which is prevalent in these countries.

Generally rice is steamed or boiled however it can also be used to produce several other products. Rice can be pressed in order to produce rice milk, which is an excellent alternative for those avoiding dairy products who may also have a nut allergy however it is rich in carbohydrates and low in protein and so is not necessarily the best option for diabetics or the elderly. In Japan, sake is made from brewing milled rice somewhat similar to beer however the conversion of starch to sugar and then sugar to alcohol occurs simultaneously. Sake is customarily sipped from a small cup known as a sakazuki on special occasions.

Rice is also used in many traditional medicines such as Ayurveda such as in the treatment of diarrhea. Rice would be boiled and then strained, allowing the water to cool. The patient would then drink the rice water which would stop the diarrhea or ease the stomach upset as well as re-hydrating them. Congee is a traditional dish made using a single grain, often brown rice, and slowly cooking it on low heat with a 1:5 or 1:6 ratio of rice to water. Congee is said to be very beneficial to those with low energy and issues regarding weight loss/gain and is made across India and China. Several studies such those using rice callus and extracts have shown that rice also has anticancer properties by inhibiting growth of human cancer cells.

If you have any suggestions for the types of plants you wish to learn about please fill in the poll below or if you have any specific queries please leave a comment.

 

If you are interested in learning more about rice follow the links below:

Oryza sativa 

Rice association – varieties 

Oldways whole grain council – types of rice (with pictures)

Brown rice in medicine 

Vitamin A Deficiency syndrome (VAD)

A Travelling Botanist: International Year of the Pulses

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Guest blog by: Sophie Mogg

2016 marks the international year of the pulses, decided back in 2013 at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The Food and Agriculture Organization nominated pulses in the hope that this would raise awareness of their importance in providing a sustainable source of plant protein.

Throughout the the year there have been many conferences, discussions and workshops held in order to promote a better understanding and public awareness on topics surrounding sustainable food production, food security and nutrition as well as improvements in crop rotation and how we can work towards improving trade connections of pulses and utilization of plant based proteins. Whilst none of these events are taking place in the UK many resources are available online at their website including recipes and videos for you to watch.

As with all my other blog posts I have found some specimens within our collection to show you.

The Chick Pea (Cicer arietinum)

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Cicer arietinum

“This interesting little leguminous plant has been an object of cultivation from time immemorial & grows wild at the present day in the cornfields”

C. arietinum is one of the earliest cultivated legumes dating back around 7,500 years ago in the Middle East. Production is rapidly increasing across Asia as superior cultivars are developed and released. Many country farmers depend upon this legume for a source of income however legumes also enrich the soil through the addition of nitrogen.

This small plant, reaching heights of 20-50 cm, may not look like much but the seeds pack a punch. Approximately 100g of these seeds provides ~20% of protein, dietary fibre and other minerals needed, thereby providing a cheaper alternative to those who cannot afford meat or choose not to eat it. Leaves are also consumed providing essential micro-nutrients which are significantly higher than in cabbage and spinach.

A study has also shown that the chickpea can also be used as an animal feed, with many groups of animals benefiting.

The Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan)

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Cajanus cajan

The pigeon pea often grows between 1-4M tall with a tap root reaching around 2M. This legume is also a major source of protein for those living in South Asia and has been consumed across Asia, Africa and Latin America since it was first domesticated in India around 3,500 years ago.

It is a perennial plant that is harvested for between 3-5 years however after the second year the yield drops and so annuals are more often used as a means to harvest the seed. Like the chickpea, the pigeon pea is also able to enrich soils with nitrogen and its leaves are often used to feed cattle whilst the woody stem is used for firewood.

 

 

 

 

Black Lentil (Vigna mungo aka Phaseolus mungo L.)

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Vigna mungo

Vigna mungo can be found in various forms ranging from a fully erect plant to one that trails growing between 30-100cm. It produces large leaves which are hairy and seed pods that are approximately 6cm long.

It is very popular in India where the seed is split and made into dal.  The Black Lentil is very nutritionally rich containing 25g of protein per 100g of seed as well as many other important micro-nutrients and therefore plays a huge role in the diets of those from India.