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Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013
ForsythiaPosted Thursday, March 8, 2012, at 8:42 AM
Photo by Steven Foster For photo prints, go to www.stevenfoster.com/prints.html
They are such a common part of the American landscape that they are taken for granted by most, and few people ever consider the plant's origins.
Forsythia originates from East Asia and is a member of the olive family. The common name and scientific genus name are one and the same.
The genus Forsythia includes seven species, six which are native to East Asia, with one species from Albania, in southwestern Europe. Forsythia suspensa is the wild progenitor of our forsythia hybrids, named in 1804 by Danish botanist Martin Vahl (1749--1804). Forsythia is named in honor of William Forsyth (1737--1804), a prominent Scottish horticulturist/botanist.
The famous Scottish botanical explorer, Robert Fortune (who seems to keep popping up in my column), is credited with taking forsythias from China to Europe in 1844.
In those days, trips from China to England had to go around "The Horn," and the journey took four to five months. It was extremely difficult to transport seeds, and especially plants, under the adverse, unrefrigerated storage conditions of sailing vessels of the day. Fortune used Wardian cases (solariums) to transport the plants.
Before setting sail, scions or plants were placed in soil within the solarium, then they were sealed in glass, and put into a protected hold in the ship, where they would not be subject to salt spray.
In his writings, Fortune stated that "large vessels with poops," were the best means of transportation from the Orient. The "poop," or deep holds, helped protect the plants from the elements.
The dried fruiting capsules of forsythia are the Chinese traditional medicine lian-qiao first mentioned in the ancient herbal Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, attributed to the Divine Plowman Emperor, Shen Nong, thought to have lived about 5000 years ago.
Forsythia fruits are used in prescriptions to remove heat and inflammation in cases of abscesses, and inflammatory conditions of the lungs, kidneys and acute infections. As you enjoy the yellow spring glory, remember that forsythia's value is more than meets the eye.
Steven Foster is a world renowned botanical photographer. He has published many books, including 2 for National Geographic
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