Day: March 7, 2022

I Have Mustard Up the Energy for More Botanical Mischief

Miserable Midgardian history is repeating itself. That is, the human female is back at work on the BBBB (Big Book of Boring Botany). This time, her beady eyes are turned toward the Brassicaceae or Mustard Family.

She thinks this is going to be much easier than the Asteraceae or composites were. It’s a much smaller family, for one thing, and the salient features of each species are generally much larger than those of the “stoopid daisies” (her words, not mine.)

Poor, foolish mortal.

What she doesn’t know is that I identify with the mustards in a way I didn’t with the composites. Many of the local species are Not From ‘Round Here (said with a Texas drawl). They’re aliens, like myself. A good few are considered weeds, unloved and unappreciated for their many fine qualities. Many also contain sulfur compounds, which gives them a mischiefy, peppery taste. Oh, yes. I think I can do a lot with these!

Take, for example, this very handsome Rapistrum rugosum.

When it first showed up in Texas a few decades ago, folks thought it was just another variety of Brassica, the genus that includes all the cultivated cole crops (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, Brussels srpouts, etc.) By the time they had figured out that– nope!–it was a highly prolific invader, it was too late. It’s everywhere in the spring. Miles and miles of yellow roadside. I like this plant! It’s hearty and obnoxious and hard to get rid of. It’s even called bastard cabbage! In fact, I like it so much that I’ve taught it how to flower in the fall as well, just to look at it some more and get some more seeds into the soil. It does resemble Brassica, though, so the human female is going to have to go through every sheet of Brassica to see if there are any Rapistrum lurking among them. Spoiler: There will be…

Actually, she has to look at all the Brassica sheets anyway, because what used to be B. kaber is now Sinapis arvensis, so those will all have to be annotated. Oh, and half of everything that used to be its own species is now just a variety of B. rapa. To separate the species of Brassica, one has to look at the leaf bases (are they auriculate or not?) and peer at the hairs under a microscope. It goes without saying that I have instructed a cadre of herbarium-specimen-eating beetles to nosh freely on some of the sheets so that the parts she needs won’t be present. Amazing, isn’t it, that the chemicals in mustards that are feeding deterrents for pests of live plants act like magnets for dry-specimen munchers? It’s one of the things I like most about this planet—there are so many organisms that I can always find one to do my dirty work!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Brassica starts with “B“. She’s got to start with “A“, so today she’s looking at Arabis. (Not to be confused with Sibara, which is Arabis backwards. Oh, those rascally nomenclators!) Ehehehe! And…Here we go! She has just stumbled on to another of my fun little surprises.

This is Arabis canadensis:

Or IS it???

Arabis canadensis is now in the genus Borodinia, so that would require an annotation on the sheet and a change to the specimen database. EXCEPT, Mister Mike Henderson, you misidentified your plant from the get-go. The human female isn’t 100% sure what it is at the moment, though she suspects it belongs to Cardamine. She has started a folder labeled “Brassicaceae Problem Children“, where it will languish until she gets to Cardamine and sees if her hunch is correct.

And that is not the only problem with this specimen. The record in the databse is flagged in red because this location is impossible. Texas has two hundred and fifty-four counties, but De Soto isn’t one of them. But there is a De Soto, Texas. Now she’s got to stop and try to figure out where this thing is actually from, with nothing to go on but road numbers.

(so much later) Google Earth to the eventual rescue. It’s from DeSoto Parish in Louisiana. At this rate, she’ll be a good deal older and grayer by the time she hits “C“.

But first there is the rest of “A” to deal with. I had a word with the Brassicologists (Cruciferists?) and convinced them to move a bunch of other species of Arabis to Boechera. Boechera is a lovely little genus, with one hundred and nine species in the North American Flora. Of course, finding two botanists who agree on just which Arabis need to be moved—or even whether Boechera is a good genus at all–is impossible. The human female is left to plod through journal articles with such lovely titles as “Boechera or not? Phylogeny and phylogeography of eastern North American Boechera species (Brassicaceae)”

(later still!)

After much wallowing, she has amended the database to reflect current generic and specific placements.

Anything in green has been changed. Want to know the fun part? She fell down this Boechera rabbit hole and none of these records represent plants in the area the BBBB is meant to cover. The database has been improved and nomenclature brought up to date on the herbarium sheets, but the endeavor has contributed nothing to the book!

Oh, my magnificent mustards, I do love you so!

>|: [