dinsdag 23 november 2010

The biography of the Evening-Primrose

Do you remember that scene from The Devil Wears Prada where the Prada-devil asks the intern why she is wearing what she is wearing? The intern responds with something like: O just something out of a sale, and the Prada-devil retorts fiercely with a compressed history of that particular colour-fabric, how Yves Saint-Laurent included it and it then trickled down into street fashion, where, at the end of its life, that silly nerd girl could buy it cheap as if it had fallen from the sky??

The Oenothera (the evening Primrose or the Teunisbloem) is a biennial yellow flowering plant that grows lavishly around my favourite cryptoforest. They were in fact so abundant that I seemed to have completely failed to make a picture... I just took them for granted but the species, as a common Dutch weed, has a long history,  a distant origin and an exciting future. Of the four species of Evening Primrose one is a hybrid unique to Belgium and the Netherlands.This is what I mean when I say it has a future.  

The genus is 70.000 years old and first emerged in Central-America from where it colonized the rest of America four times, following as many ice-ages. This explains the great genetic diversity; the genus counts 125 species. The first plants arrived in Padua, Europe in 1614. 

Initially they were a desired garden plant but as they prefer poor soils, they grow very well along rail road tracks, sandy dirt fields and disturbed soil in general. On richer soils they tend to be out-competed by other plants.

The entire plant can be eaten and it was a staple food in the diet of many native American people. In Europe it has been called Gambon Vegetal because the pink roots taste like ham.  There is lively trade in its oil. 

Forgive me for this second-hand wikipediasms of this page; I just try to instruct myself to remember that the weeds of our (urban) landscape came here because of very specific historical processes in various time-scales (from the geological to the human to the biannual).

The picture above shows the yellow flower (that yellow dot in the middle) of the Evening Primrose amidst a bunch of other weeds growing in a little derelict municipal plot near my house. This picture was taken last week (mid November). I never tried to take pictures of flowers before and it turns out to be damn hard.

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