Guest blog by: Sophie Mogg
Lycium chinese, and its close relative Lycium barbarum, are both native to China although typically found to the Southern and Northern regions respectively. Part of the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family, they are also related to tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, chili peppers, tobacco and of course belladonna. Both L. chinese and L. barbarum produces the goji berry, or among English folk commonly known as the wolfberry believed to be derived from the resemblance between Lycium and the greek “lycos” meaning wolf. Both species are decidious woody perennials that typically reach 1-3M tall however L. barbarum is taller than L. chinense. In May through to August lavendar-pink to light purple flowers are produced with the sepal eventually bursting as a result of the growing berry which matures between August and October. The berry itself is a distinctive orange-red and grape-like in shape.
In Asia, premium quality goji berries known as “red diamonds” are produced in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of North-Central China where for over 700 years goji berries have been cultivated in the floodplains of the yellow river. This area alone accounts for over 45% of the goji berry production in China and is the only area in which practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine will source their goji berries as a result of their superior quality. The goji berry has a long history in Chinese medicine, first being mentioned in the Book of Songs, detailing poetry from the 11th to 7th century BC. Throughout different dynasties master alchemists devised treatments centering around the goji berry in order to improve eyesight, retain youthfulness and treating infertility. However it must be noted that because of the goji berry being high in antioxidants those on blood-thinning medication such as Warfarin are advised not to consume the berries.
As a result of their long standing history in Chinese medicine and their nutritional quality Goji berries have been nicknamed the “superfruit”. Many studies have linked the berries being high in antioxidants, vitamin A and complex starches to helping reduce fatigue, improve skin condition and night vision as well as age-related diseases such as Alzheimers. However, there has been little evidence to prove these claims and the evidence that is available is of poor quality.
In the 21st century the goji berry is incorporated in to many products such as breakfast biscuits, cereals, yogurt based products as well as many fruit juices. Traditionally the Chinese would consume sun-drief berries with a wide range of food such as rice congee, tonic soups, chicken and pork. Goji berries would also be boiled alongside Chrysanthemums or tea leaves from Camellia sinensis as a form of herbal tea. How would you like your berries?
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This week I was called over to the offices of the finance team to take a look at their dwarf umbrella plant (Schefflera arboricola). It’s clearly received plenty of TLC and is thriving. However, in striving to reach the light it became too tall and very top-heavy. A bit worrying if you’re the one sitting below it! So it was time for some pruning and I’ll be taking the bits home to see if I can get some cuttings growing.
The finance team aren’t the only fans of this plant in the Manchester Museum. This beautiful little frog is a Lemur Leaf Frog; a critically endangered species which is part of the breeding programme in the newly refurbished vivarium.
The dwarf umbrella plant (S. arboricola) is a member of the Araliaceae (ivy) family and is a popular houseplant (especially in variagated forms). This specimen from our cultivated plant collection was collected in China by the plant hunter Augustine Henry (1857–1930). It is undated and was originally identified as a related plant, Heptapleurum octophyllum, but the identification has since been re-determined, as shown by the extra labels. The herbarium sheet is in our cultivated plant collection as the dwarf umbrella plant is native to Taiwan and Hainan, not the mainland Chinese province of Yunnan where this was collected.