Monday, 13 June 2011

Seasons and antipodes

I like to walk from Wellington city to the VUW Kelburn campus via Salamanca Road for two reasons.  First, if you could drill straight down through the Earth, you'd come out in a field in Spain just off the A62 highway, where the nearest town is Salamanca.  That's cool.  Secondly, on (rare) still sunny winter days like today you get to walk past a flowering wintersweet in someone's front garden.

You smell it before you see it, a heavy sweet perfume; look around and there it is, just over the front fence.  Chimonanthus praecox, wintersweet, is a native of China and a member of the basal angiosperms.  That is, although it's a flowering plant, it's neither a monocot nor a eudicot.  It's classified in the family Calycanthaceae and the order Laurales, in the Magnoliid complex.  There's a clue to that: the twigs smell peppery from ethereal oils, a group of chemical compounds that are characteristic of many Magnoliids and some other basal angiosperms.  These oils give us spices like pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  If you're in Wellington, take a walk past and have a sniff.  Enjoy, but please don't pick any; I'd hate to be the cause of the shrub being ravaged by my horde of readers.

No comments:

Post a Comment