Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ferula communis

This plant hosts Anise Swallowtail butterflies at the UC Botanical Garden, or so I have been told. It is closely related to the fennel that they use all over the bay area and beyond, so it is no surprise. What surprised me is the long history of this plant. It is mentioned in Biblical and Roman myths. "Ferula" means rod in Latin, and it is easy to see how a stem of this plant could be broken off and used to stir boiling soup or to help someone walk. It was also used to beat children, I am sorry to say. The sticky resin of Ferula is still used in food and herbal remedies. Have you ever noticed that the inside of the stem of fennel is hollow? This plant has a hollow stem as well. Prometheus hid fire inside and smuggled it to humans. I don't quite see how that would work, seems like it would burn up, but hey, it's a myth! In another myth, Dionysus carries a staff called a thyrsus made with Ferula communis covered with vines and leaves and topped with a pine cone. Some say this is a phallic symbol, and I can see why. Another species of Ferula, Ferula gummosa, is referred to in the Bible as Galbanum. It is mentioned in Exodus as an ingredient in incense.

Today is free day at UCBG. Come up, have a look at the Titum Arum that is blooming today, and take a walk around the garden. There are many treasures such as Ferula communis in the Garden.

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