Small Wonders

Due to storm Xavier, I nearly missed my author reading of «The English Botanist» in the North of Germany last week. With luck and the help of my publisher and the bookstore, I nevertheless made it there (and back home) – and after quite an odyssey, I had one of the most wonderful author readings ever. A charming old lady in the audience even had something special for me: the seed pod of one of her camellias.


Tea, the Other Way Round

Roughly 170 years after Robert Fortune took up the tea’s trail in China, unlocked its secrets and established the tea of Darjeeling with smuggled seedlings, this story now takes the other way round.

In Cornwall, an English gardener has managed to cultivate Camellia sinensis, and the manufactured tea is exported as far as … China.

The British gardener who sells tea to China: CrowdScience – BBC World Service

A unique microclimate is helping Britain’s first tea plantation to thrive




Peony Season

The peony is one of the oldest flower symbols in Asian culture; together with the plum blossom, it is even the traditional floral symbol of China. The queen of all flowers and the flower of the Emperor. The flower promising riches and honour and allegory for the beauty of woman.

The shapes and colors of the peonies flowering in our gardens at the moment originate from the peonies found in China and brought to Europe by Robert Fortune.



Tracking the Secrets of Tea

After five years’ work, scientists of the Kunming Institute of Botany in China have published a first draft of the genome of the tea shrub Camellia sinensis: more than four times the size of the coffee plant genome and much larger than most sequenced plant species.

The results of this and further research aim at learning more about what makes this plant so special – and at decoding the secrets of tea on a genetic basis.

“My” botanist Robert Fortune would be thrilled.

Researchers Read the Genome in the Tea Leaves

It’s massive€ – four times that of coffee …



Easter Bells

Daffodils are just a part of Easter as colorful eggs and bunnies; in German, they are even called “easter bells”.

Originating in southern Europe, especially on the Iberian Peninsula, they spread to North Africa. But one species, Narcissus tazetta, also can be found in China, probably brought by Arabian merchants on the Silk Road and described by Robert Fortune during his travels there.

Compared to chrysanthemums or peonies, daffodils are of minor importance in the art of Chinese gardening, but they are nevertheless considered a lucky symbol.

Happy Easter!


Pride and Beauty: Magnolias

Every spring I’m especially looking forward to magnolias flowering – to their exquisite beauty, their exotic allure, the infatuating scent. It’s only truly spring when magnolias are in bloom.

Pink: representing the feminine, friends and love

There are about 210 species of magnolia in the world. Originating from East and Southeast Asia as well as from the Americas, they can be found today on almost every continent, naturalized for their beauty. Traditionally, magnolias have been associated with the Southern United States; the magnolia is the state flower of both Mississippi and Louisiana.

White: representing the moon and any lunar goddess

Magnolia is an ancient genus, probably one of the first flowering plants on the planet. Fossilized specimens of Magnolia acuminata have been found to be dating to 20 million years ago, and specimens of plants identifiably belonging to the Magnolia family date to 95 million years ago. Magnolias have even been longer around than bees, and their flowers are thought to have evolved to encourage pollination by beetles, hence the robust carpels.

Purple: associated with royalty nobility since Roman times

The magnolia’s blueprint has hardly changed over all this time: our magnolias today resemble closely the magnolias flowering in prehistoric times, and some magnolias even flower for a full century.
Which turns the magnolia into a symbol not only of gracefulness but also of persistence – even through millions of years.