Fung Lum

Acer robustum, Chinese maple?

Fung Lum was an architecturally imposing Chinese restaurant in Campbell years ago. It was more famous for the facade of the building than for the food. Although the food was purportedly excellent, not everyone ate there. Everyone in town knew the building though. It was prominently situated right on Bascom Avenue, at a time when the region was still somewhat suburban.

The meticulously pruned and groomed landscape in the minimal space between the ornate facade and sidewalk was mostly rather low so that it did not obscure the architecture. The tallest features were strategically situated to be unobtrusive. Except for only a few of what seemed to be big, sprawling but low profile Japanese maples, there were no other significant maple trees.

‘Fung Lum’ means ‘maple grove’. Commercials on the radio said so. When I was a kid, I therefore expected to see at least a few maples that grew as trees rather than low sprawling mounds in the associated landscape. I figured that the maple grove must be out back where the parking lot was. I sort of wondered if their maples were Chinese, and what Chinese maples were like.

I probably should have been content in believing that the mix of holly oaks, flowering pears and other common trees in the neighborhood were maples. No one else noticed a discrepancy. For all I know, the name referred to a maple grove in China. Maybe the Japanese maples out in front were the grove. They could have been Chinese. Maybe I put way too much though into this.

Now, I actually work with what is purported to be some sort of Chinese maple, perhaps Acer robustum. It really does resemble a Japanese maple. It produces the foliage that can be seen to the right in the last (sixth) picture that I posted early this morning. If it really is a Chinese maple, I would not be surprised if cultivars of this species were what lived in front of Fung Lum.

This is the sixth picture from this morning.

Horridculture – Dried Plums?

Dried prunes are experiencing something of an identity crisis.

Nomenclature used to be more predictably standardized than it is now. When I write about how it works, I compare it to the names of cars. For example, ‘General Motors’ is just a family. ‘Buick’ is a genus. ‘Electra’ is a species. ‘Limited’ is a variety. Well, my Sebring was labeled as a Chyrsler but made by Mercedes Benz. Modern horticultural nomenclature is no more accurate.

With all the promiscuity going on nowadays, it is impossible to know who the parent of some of our favorite plants are. Many are interspecific hybrids. Some are intergeneric hybrids. Some are so complicated that their species names are merely omitted; and no one seems to notice! That is like driving a Mercury LS without knowing or caring if it is a Grand Marquis or a Lynx.

So, now we can grow such aberrations of traditional stone fruit as as aprium, apriplum, pluot, plumcot, nectaplum, pluerry and peacotum. The first half of the names supposedly indicate who the promiscuous maternal parent is. The second half refers to the male pollinator. Parents who contributed fewer letters to the name were supposedly already hybridized prior to breeding.

For example, an apricot pollinated by a plum creates an aprium; and an aprium pollinated by a plum creates an apriplum. The apriplum gets an extra letter from plum ancestry because it is %75 plum and %25 apricot. A plum pollinated by an apricot creates a pluot; and a plum pollinated by a pluot creates a plumcot. There are, of course, many other complicating combinations.

Sure, the resulting fruit is very good; but is it any better than what it was bred from? If everyone could have tasted the simple, traditional and exemplary stone fruits that formerly grew in the vast orchards of the Santa Clara Valley, there would be no need for all this hooey. Besides, why is there all this interest in creating new and weird fruit while eliminating some of the old?

Prunes and plums, as I explained earlier, are two distinct types of fruits. Japanese plums are the richly flavored and typically more brightly colored fruits that were more popular in home gardens than in orchards, since they are not easy to transport. European prunes are the sweeter but mildly flavored freestone fruits that grew in orchards, generally for drying and canning.

Apparently, the name of ‘prunes’ was not appealing enough . . . or was actually considered to be unappealing. Almost twenty years ago, prunes were consequently reclassified as plums. Dried prunes are now known as dried plums, as if they are dried versions of the classic ‘Santa Rosa’ plums that so many of us grow in our home gardens. Some of them just might be! Who knows?!

Plum juice could be extracted from Japanese plums, which actually make excellently rich juice, but is more likely from fresh (not dried) French or Italian prunes. However, there is still such a beverage that is known as prune juice. It is extracted from, of all things, rehydrated dried plums . . . or dried prunes. These unfortunate fruits get dehydrated, rehydrated, and then juiced!

The juice of rehydraded dehydrated plums or prunes might be the only remaining application of the word ‘prune’. At least it is useful for that; in the sense that it designates the source of the juice as rehydrated dehydrated fruit of some sort, rather than fresh fruit of some sort. Whether such fruit is a plum or what was formerly known as a prune remains something of a mystery.

Anatomically Correct Horticulture

P71026Certain fruits and vegetables were so much more palatable before studying botany. Knowing what they really are sort of puts a damper on things.

Real fruits, including those known as vegetables, are no problem. We all know what they are, and they have the seeds to prove it. Just like flowers reward pollinators with nectar, many plants use fruit to get animals and people to disperse their seeds. Therefore, the fruit is designed to be eaten.

The majority of vegetables are fine too. It seems natural to eat leaves, stems, roots and even flowers. Things get a bit weird with petioles of rhubarb, celery and cardoon, since the leaves are not eaten. Cinnamon bark and saffron stamens also seems a bit odd. What about maple syrup? Is it a vegetable too?

Then there are fruits and vegetables that are not what we think they are.

You will never look at a potato the same way knowing that it is a subterranean stem known as a stolon. If it is looking back at you, it is because it has eyes, which are actually modified axillary buds, which only stems are equipped with. It it were a modified tuber or or a tuberous root like most of us think it is, it would not have these eyes.

Pineapple might be watching too, with its many eyes. Each eye actually represents a flower. What we think of as a pineapple fruit is actually a densely crowded collection of distended and fused flowers. Does that mean it is a vegetable like broccoli or cauliflower?

Strawberry is sort of fruity; but only what we think of as strawberry ‘seeds’. They are actually single seeded fruits known as ‘achenes’. Really, those little black things are outfitted with everything that they need to be classified as fruit. The red part of the strawberry is only a ‘receptacle’ for the achenes.

Everyone knows that fig trees do not bloom. So, how do they make fruit? Well, they technically don’t make any visible fruit; but they do bloom. What we think of as a fig fruit is actually a weird inside out inflorescence, with minute flowers on the inside. Each species of fig is pollinated by a particular species of minute wasp that enters the inflorescence through a very small hole at the end. Minute achenes about the size of strawberry achenes are the crunchy bits in ripe figs. To make figs even more unappealing, some wild figs contain the eggs and larvae of the wasps that went inside to deposit their eggs before dying there. Yum. Most garden varieties attract the wasps, but lack the necessary floral parts for the wasp to want to leave their eggs there. They therefore do the job of pollinating without dying inside.