We gathered around a table at the Garden View Café the other day to taste something that only one of us had ever tasted before: powdered orchid roots.
A traditional winter drink in the cafés and restaurants of Turkey, salep is made from the tuberous roots of orchids—specifically, terrestrial orchids in the genus Orchis. Dried and powdered, the resulting flour is combined in a drink mix with other ingredients, much as hot chocolate or chai spices would be: sugar, cornstarch, powdered milk, cinnamon, and vanillin (the main flavor component in vanilla) are added.
The instructions are hot-chocolate simple, too: mix 1½ tablespoons of powdered salep into 6 ounces of steamed or boiling milk. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve in small cups.
Our lesson in salep came from the one person who had not only tasted salep before but had grown up drinking it—horticulturist Ayse Pogue, who hails from Istanbul.
Salep is not readily available in America; it arrived here courtesy of Ayse’s mother, Figen Ormancioglu, who kindly brought it with her on a recent visit. (The family surname translates as “son of the forester”—Ayse’s love of botany is in her blood.)
What does salep taste like? “Chai,” “junipers,” and “I’ll have another glass,” were three answers; the flavor is hard for American taste buds to define. Sweet and savory and spicy all at once, there’s a note of bark or tree in it—Ayse explains that gum arabic, made from the sap of the acacia tree, is also an ingredient, one more familiar to eastern palates than western.
And what is served with salep? “Good conversation,” Ayse says, as is true of all café drink orders. Heading to Istanbul? You’ll spend $4 to $5 on a cup of salep in a city café.
We’ve been talking a lot about edible orchids recently, especially with vanilla as a prominent part of this year’s Orchid Show. While vanilla is, by far, the most well-known food produced from orchids (it’s the bean-like fruit of the vining orchid Vanilla planifolia), other orchids are eaten in different ways around the world.
- Chikanda is a Zambian food made from pounded orchid tubers and thickened to the consistency of jelly, then served in slices.
- Olatshe is a daily dish in Bhutan, where Cymbidium orchids are cooked with spices and cheese.
- Some Dendrobium flowers are edible, and the bamboo-like canes are ingredients in Asian stir-fries and sauces.
- Turkish ice cream, or dondurma, is also made from salep; some dondurma is so chewy and elastic that it can be sliced and eaten with a knife and fork.
©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
It may be 5 degrees Fahrenheit outside right now, but that’s not stopping the Dwarf Conifer Garden from shining.
In fact, many of the conifers are at their peak during the coldest weather. While other plants have gone dormant for the winter, various conifers are lighting up the landscape in shades of blue, yellow, bronze, plum, and more.
Arborvitae (Thuja sp.) are among the best evergreens for bright winter color. Cultivars such as Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’ provide a burst of gold while other varieties turn shades of bronze or deep green.
Pines (Pinus sp.) also provide a winter show with species such as Pinus sosnowskyi and Pinus sylvestris showcasing powder blue needles and beautiful brown bark. Others, such as Pinus virginiana ‘Wate’s Golden’ turn to a soft yellow hue that lights up the garden.
Among my favorite evergreens for winter interest are the firs (Abies sp.). Korean fir (Abies koreana) has needles that curl upward tightly, showing off silvery undersides and giving the plant a clean, tidy appearance. They also grow into a classic pyramid shape with little to no pruning, making them great for low-maintenance settings. Other firs have long, upturned needles that catch large amounts of snow. Some are the most clean, bright, silvery blue, and others have beautifully deep green foliage all winter long.
Other groups of conifers such as larch (Larix sp.), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga sp.), yews (Taxus sp.), and more each have their own unique growth habits that provide valuable winter texture and create strong focal points. Some of them (such as larch), lose their needles for the winter, leaving you with skeletons of copper-colored branches, while others (such as Douglas fir), are laden with unique cones. Still others (such as yews), that spent all summer providing a nice green backdrop are suddenly a sturdy focal point where your eyes can rest as you view the landscape.
The Dwarf Conifer Garden is full of dozens of varieties and species of conifers in all shapes and sizes. While the rest of the Chicago Botanic Garden slumbers under a thick layer of snow, this one is at its peak, waiting to show off shapes and colors that almost don’t seem real.
©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
The first half of the week has focused on the mounting and verification of more voucher specimens. These have been collected and identified by the previous Seeds of Success interns, some of whom obviously had a greater proclivity for the process than others. Luckily, verifying these specimens at the University of Nevada’s pristine and spacious herbarium provided many of our group members with an excellent opportunity to further their knowledge of ideal voucher specimen collection techniques. The herbarium curator, Arnold Tiehm, was exceedingly knowledgeable, helpful, and encouraging. He even invited us to attend a 2 day workshop on grass identification later next month.
As the week has progressed, our team has been focusing on furthering our knowledge of ArcGIS. Some of us are more familiar with the program than others, but we can all agree on the fact that it is an extremely powerful and indeed indispensable suite of software for environmental conservation. Another unexpected benefit to this program is that tons of these GIS training classes are offered to us free of charge. Many of these online classes typically cost hundreds of dollars!! An added kicker is that our access to these tutorials persists for a year after we have enrolled in them, affording us the opportunity to continue our studies of the material post internship!!
As the week has begun winding down, our supervisor has begun to assign team leads to several of the specific projects we have been working on. Since my MSc was in Ethnbotany I have been put in charge of collating the existing ethnobotanical data for a couple hundred plants in the region. Documenting the various indigenous usages of different species has always allowed me to commit them to memory much more easily than mere rote memorization. I am extremely excited to encounter more of these species in the field once the warm weather has arrived!
Until next time,
I am so close to being finished with my short-term CLM internship project. The project ended up consisting of an all-inclusive lichen checklist for the four southern-most National Forests of Region 5 aka California. Those National Forests are the San Bernardino, Angeles, Cleveland, and Los Padres. It is a very exhaustive list with all records referenced by the Consortium of North American Lichen Herbaria or publication by an expert lichenologist. My last few hours of my internship will be spent reviewing the checklist and making any necessary corrections with my mentor and the regional botanist who funded this project. After doing this I feel like I know all the southern CA lichens by name, but I still have yet to learn them by sight!
This position actually ended just in the nick of time because I just got hired with a timber company in northern CA doing rare plant surveys. The timber regulations when it comes to conservation are very strict here in California, so surveying usually needs to happen in critical habitat before action is taken on a timber harvest plan. I’m looking forward to experiencing work as a botanist in the private sector. It will be interesting to compare that experience with all of my prior experience working for the Forest Service.