The Wacky World of Gardening

By Paul James

Bermuda grass isn’t from Bermuda. Jerusalem artichokes aren’t from Jerusalem (they aren’t even artichokes!) The eastern red cedar seen throughout Green Country isn’t a cedar at all. And cauliflower has been described as “cabbage with a college education.” Oh, how I love the wacky work of gardening. But wait…there’s more!

All in the Family

Poison ivy is in the cashew family. Keep that in mind the next time you get an itch for those tasty nuts (which by the way aren’t nuts in the botanical sense – read on). Also in the family are pistachios, mangos, sumacs, and yes, even smoke trees. Wacky, huh?

Hops, a key ingredient in making beer, are in the same family as marijuana. So is our native hackberry tree.

Nearly all the fruits we commonly grow (and eat) are in the rose family, including apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, peaches, pears, and raspberries. Even almonds are in the rose family, because they’re basically itty bitty peaches before their outer flesh is removed to reveal the nut, which – you guessed it – isn’t a nut!

Fruits and Nuts

A true nut, botanically speaking, is a hard-shelled pod that contains both the fruit and seed of the plant. Examples include chestnuts, hazelnuts, and acorns. Walnuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, and almonds are actually a type of fruit known as a drupe. But peaches, plums, and cherries are also drupes. In the case of the former, we eat the seed, and in case of the latter, we eat the flesh and discard the seed.

Peanuts aren’t nuts either. They’re legumes, like beans and peas. The “nut” we eat is a seed.

And to mess with you even more, in many cases what we call vegetables are in fact fruits. The word vegetable is a generic term rooted in culinary tradition, not a botanical one. It’s used to describe plants that produce edible leaves (lettuce), stems (rhubarb), stalks (asparagus), bulbs (onions), flowers (broccoli) and roots (carrots).

But while you may also think of squash or okra or beans as vegetables, they are technically fruits (beans, of course, being the most melodic of them all). And some common “vegetables” are technically berries, among them tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant. Even grapes and bananas are berries. But, strange as it may seem strawberries aren’t berries at all (they’re known as aggregate fruits).

Confused? Of course you are! You’d be nuts if you weren’t. But I’m not done yet.

Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts are all the same species of plant, but they’ve been so selectively bred over the years that they hardly resemble one another. Perhaps that’s why Samuel Clemens described cauliflower as “cabbage with a college education.”

And that takes us back to my first paragraph. Bermuda grass is from Africa, not Bermuda. It arrived in the U.S. as a result of the grass being used as a bedding material on slave ships. Jerusalem artichokes are actually native to this country, and are a type of sunflower. The Italian word for sunflower is girasole, and through several slips of the tongue over the years, girasole became Jerusalem. And finally, the eastern red cedar is, in fact, a juniper. No matter what you call it, however, farmers and ranchers tend to despise it as a weed tree.

Oh how I love the wacky world of gardening!