Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kiwi or Kiwifruit?

Hello! It’s week five of the first month of our blog. Today we’ll talk about the West and West Coast and the flowers and vines you might find there. When I glanced over my list and further researched each item, kiwifruit stood out. Why?

First, I didn’t know the true name was kiwifruit. Kiwi is actually a nickname. My research further revealed that kiwifruit is grown on a vine, like a grape, and cultivated in a similar manner. Did you know kiwifruit is the most nutrient dense fruit? Kiwifruit is rich in vitamin C and potassium.

If you’re allergic to latex, you could be allergic to this fruit, because of its unique enzymes. Some of these enzymes break down milk and gelatin, so it is unsuitable for many desserts. Kiwifruit is great either raw or made into jam. Recipes are available at http://www.kiwifruit.org/recipes/
Christina, Betty, and I have learned a lot on our “plant” tour of the United States and we hope you have also. Now you know where to go when you need a flower for a bridal bouquet, fruit tree for a historical, or a strangling vine for a murder mystery. June will feature writing prompts, thoughts and ideas concerning weather so make sure to stop by each week and add to your creative wordlists. See you then!
Writing prompt for the week: He wrenched the kiwifruit from Anna's hand, and...

Flowers of the West
 Mountain heather
 Thistle sage
 Tolmie star-tulip
 Buttercup/Coyote’s eyes
 Rabbit brush
 Bitter root
 Mountain lady’s slipper

Western Flowering Vines and Parasitic Plants
Japanese Honeysuckle

Flowering Trees
Horse chestnut
Silk Tree/Mimosa
Indian bean tree
Judas tree
Flowering dogwood
Chinese lantern tree
Crape myrtle
Tulip tree
Southern magnolia
Crab apple
Japanese cherry

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Jewel of Autumn - Punica Granatum (Pomegranate)

GFDL by Kurt Stueber, also PD-US
GFDL by Kurt Stueber/PD-US
Punica refers to Phoenicians; granatum - garnet, referring to the color. The common name, “Pomegranate” comes from Pomme garnete, which is literally, “seeded apple.” Also called a Chinese Apple. Some scholars believe it to be the famed “forbidden fruit” in the Garden of Eden.

The first pomegranate tree planted in the southwestern United States hitched a ride on a Spanish ship (along with oranges) in the late 1700’s. If you use this tree in your writing, you’ll need to know that its normal season is October to January. The Pomegranate is indigenous to Persia and the Western Himalayan Range. You’ll find many mentions of the pomegranate in the Bible. It likes a dry, hot environment. As you can see in the photo, the flowers of the pomegranate tree are quite beautiful.

If your southwestern historical novel characters are ill and in need of a cure, you can include the pomegranate fruit and tree in your “medicine chest.” The rind and the bark were traditionally used to remedy diarrhea and dysentery. The juice and seeds are thought to heal heart ailments and sore throat. The flower juice was used to stem bleeding and tone the skin. Just think of the possibilities! 

Stan Shebs
PD/Photo by Stan Shebs
Eating a pomegranate: the seeds are contained in a juice sac. You can eat the seeds, or ream a halved pomegranate like an orange or lemon to remove the delicious juice. The seeds make a nice addition to any salad. You can find dozens of recipes on the internet, ranging from soups to syrup (grenadine) and wine. The rind is tough and woody, but it is sometimes consumed. Many use the attractive fruit in arrangements on their Fall table. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Southwestern Splendor

What’s a western story without a picturesque field blooming with fiery Red Indian paintbrushes? Combine this flower with the Texas bluebell and the contrast of color, shape, and texture will bring your tale to life. I love to picture fields or pastures thriving with flowers, weeds, and grasses I push aside as I walk through them in my mind. The sage grass waves like wheat while I’m careful to avoid the prickly thistles and their attractive purple flowers. Indian paintbrushes beckon to be examined, while a wild turkey calls somewhere in the background.
Add to that the Indian usage of many flowers and trees for medicine and your story now has depth. The flowers of the Indian paintbrush were boiled into tea and consumed to ease the symptoms of menstruation. An early day form of Midol? The flowers of the Ocotillo plant were dried and made into herbal tea. Yum!
So the next time one of your story characters tries to influence you in a visit to the southwest, let him or her go. Allow them to walk through a meadow of wildflowers and let your imagination paint the picture.
Prompt of the week: John glanced from the burnt orange sunset to the blush of the Indian paintbrush in the meadow below before his gaze settled on…
Flowers of the Southwest
Texas bluebonnets
Scarlet four o’clock
Winding Mariposa lily
Prickly pear
Wind flower
Mexican tulip poppy
Barrel cactus
Indian paintbrush
Texas bluebell
Sacred Datura
Ghost Flower
Southwestern flowering vines and parasitic plants
Rambling Milkweed
Dutchman’s pipe
Cardinal creeper
Fingerleaf gourd
Lilac vine
Cornelian cherry

Southwestern trees
Pinon Pine

Friday, May 18, 2012

Silphium laciniatum

I just love Latin, don't you? If only I could pronounce it.

I was excited to find out I got the privilege to write a post on flowers during Midwest week. After all, I'm a Midwesterner. Yep, straight out of Kansas. And would you believe it if I told you that I have a poster of Kansas Wildflowers, Native Grasses & Shrubs right in front of my desk? Well I do. It comes in handy when I need a quick visual reference while writing.

However, it wasn't until I came across a diary filled with all kinds of useful information that I began to see the real value of some of these native Kansas wildflowers.

Check out this entry from Kansas: Its Interior and Exterior Life by Sara Robinson published in 1856.

18th. -- The morning sun never shone more brightly than now. We found everything in the house damp, but had taken no cold. The cholera patient was doing well. The gentleman of the house assured me he slept well, but it was a mystery to me where he found a dry nook. Had a fine ride home in the early morning light, which gives to every object a double value. "Old Gray" nibbled at the "compass plant," which always points northward in these prairies, occasionally cropping its bright yellow flowers with a satisfied air as he trotted along. The rattlesnake weed was also blooming in profusion. Nature is ever mindful of the needs of her children, and provides an antidote against the bane of rattlesnakes, and a sure guide over the wide prairie in the compass plant. When I reached home, found the doctor gone to attend upon a broken limb. A man, in rafting logs down the river, had met with this misfortune. The doctor has many calls professionally, and, though he assures them all that he is not now a practicing physician, he looks in upon many to advise them.
How cool is that? These diary entries are filled with all sorts of information that could be used in almost any research. I think they're the best resource for writing historicals, and of course, they can lead to other resources as well.

Here are a few notes on the compass plant.

1. The picture came from Oklahoma Biological Survey.

2. I have found several occasions where pioneers often believed off the wall tales, or remedies. Like how tying a raw chicken to your abdomen would draw rattlesnake venom from the body after having been bittern. So when I saw the little tidbit about the compass plant always pointing north, I had to investigate further. And they were at least partly right. The leaves, not the flower, do point in a north-south direction. Most of the time.

3.  It is harmless to livestock.

4. Native Americans have used this plant for teas.

5. The sap was often used as chewing gum.

6. (I love this one and can't wait to use it in a story) Native Americans wouldn't camp near the compass plant. It was believe, as you can see here, that lightening was attracted to the compass plant.

Compass Plant Fact Sheet
Kansas Native Plants- excellent pictures
Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses-Compass Plant

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Red Maple

All writers, from one that writes a high-school essay to the veteran novelist, need depth, color, and background to make their story stand out. I love to throw in either magnificant trees or showy flowers to liven up my scenes. I've written about flowers the last two weeks, so this week I'll introduce a broadleaf tree. You can’t go wrong with the red maple, especially if your story takes place in the northeast. This week I decided to list a ton of fun facts about the red maple to strengthen any tale, from comedy to historical.

Leaves of my red maple

Did you know…
The red maple is the state tree of Rhode Island?
The red maple is used commercially on a small scale for maple syrup production?
The red maple yields medium to high quality lumber?
The red maple is best known for its deep scarlet foliage in autumn?
The largest known living red maple is located in Michigan and is 125 feet high?
The red maple is one of the most abundant and widespread trees in eastern North America?
The red maple can live up to 150 years?
The red maple is used as a food source by elk, white-tailed deer, and some species of butterflies and moths?
The leaves of red maple, especially when dead or wilted, are extremely toxic to horses?
Story ideas abound. A maple syrup romance. A historical centered around the largest red maple, destined by our villain for firewood. A suspense where horses are fed red maple leaves. So friend, the next time you take pen in hand, consider the red maple, and let your imagination take root. J
Our writing prompt for the week: He grasped the lowest branch of the stately red maple, and tugged until…

Flowers of the Midwest
Michigan lily
Prairie ragwort
Indian blanket
Evening primrose
Prairie smoke
Prairie mimosa
Yellow goat beard
White prickly poppy
Blue wild indigo

Midwestern Flowering Vines & Parasitic Plants
Black-eyed Susan vine
Redberry moonseed
Black dog-strangling vine

Box elder
Japanese maple
Red maple
White Birch
Red gum
Common beech
Weeping fig
Red/White oak
Mountain Elm

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Ethereal Snapdragon

Snapdragons "Snapped" by Betty Owens

I’ve always loved snapdragons. Their bright beauty in my spring garden always makes me smile. Mine winter over, since our climate is mild, so they tend to bloom early. I wait and watch, wondering what colors they’ll reveal this year. They put on quite a show.
Native to the Mediterranean regions, the perennial snapdragons easily naturalize. Imagine an entire field of multicolored flowers in the spring. In ancient times, they were believed to have mystical powers to protect from witchcraft. Kind of like the garlic provided protection from vampires. Women believed the flower could restore youth and beauty. Hide one in your bodice to be perceived as fascinating or cordial. 
As a child, I used to play with the snapdragon flowers, squeezing their throats between my thumb and forefinger to make the snapdragons “talk.” Most of those were yellow, but they come in every shade except blue and in three different sizes. Miniature, medium and large. 
Friday’s sentence prompt:  Natalie tucked a scarlet snapdragon into the ribbon of her hat, hoping to....


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Connection Between the Trout Lily and You

There is a strong connection with the trout lily—what? You’ve never heard of the trout lily? If not, you’re probably wondering how you relate to this flower native to the northeast. This week’s list of flowers and vines point to the northeastern United States, and during my research I discovered Erythronium, the trout lily.
The connection? We, at "Writing Prompts & Thoughts & Ideas…Oh My!” believe many of the greatest story ideas originate from simple objects or thoughts. The single spark of a word can ignite a fiery best-seller. For you, it could be the trout lily. Erythronium, also known as the fawn lily, dog’s-tooth violet, or adder’s-tongue, is a perennial which blooms in the spring. The tiny plant, which only grows six to ten inches high, has multiple uses. Its practicality appealed to the writer in me. The bulb is edible as a root vegetable, while its leaves can be cooked like mustard greens or Polk salad. The bulb can also be dried and ground as flour or used as a starch. Talk about subject matter to benefit your next Early American historical! All from this insignificant-looking plant.

 We encourage you to bypass the mundane, the everyday words and stretch your imagination and vocabulary. Move from the comfortable, but limited space of the commonplace, to the endless collection of the unusual and remarkable.
So the next time you need a flower for your handsome suitor to present to his beautiful future wife, don’t think of the trout lily. She might throw it back in his face. Of course, that would bring humor to your story. Once he explains the significance of the trout lily, she could fall more in love—or not. Could the next best-seller be “A Trout Lily Wins Her Heart?”

This week's writing prompt: She stared at the small yellow trout lily before pitching...

For more on the trout lily, check out these links:

Flowers of the Northeast
New England aster
Blazing star [Liatris]
Wild Sarsaparilla
Indian Pipe
Eastern skunk cabbage
Lady slipper
Jack in the pulpit
Mountain laurel
White fringed orchid
Trout Lily

Northeastern Vines and Parasitic Plants
Morning glory
Poison ivy
Coconut palm
True sago palm
Real fan palm
Oil palm
Date palm
Dwarf palmetto
Areca palm
Royal palms

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet--
 Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare

Obviously I'm bringing you the rose and what better way to introduce it than with Shakespeare. Of course, he was right, you know. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, even if it were called skunk.

The variety of roses, natural and hybrid, are so great that I could write one a day for an entire year and not cover them all. It might be a fun project but my ADD wouldn't allow it. Besides, beyond knowing they're pretty, are fragrant and I can't grow them, I honestly don't know that much about roses.

Roses have been written about since before Confucius. They've played symbolic parts in romances and tragedies. Roses even received amnesty while England and France were at war. Think I'm kidding? Josephine, Napoleon's wife, loved roses. Some say, all right, I say, to obsession. She loved them so much that "Napoleon ordered his captains to bring home any new rose they found blooming on foreign shores". The English even allowed her gardener to freely roam between blockades in order to deliver roses to his mistress. Can you imagine the secrets passed through the rose bushes?

Speaking of (well now I'm not exactly speaking of spies and secrets) secret messages, roses have been passed between acquaintances for hundreds of years.We all know roses, especially red ones, speak of love, but what of the other colors? I've always known white to represent purity and yellow friendship. What about purple and orange? Author Keli Gwyn posted a fun blog a few weeks back about this kind of thing. You can check it out here.

Roses have different meanings within different cultures. Some cultures consider the rose sacred, in others they've attached the rose to sacred beings, such as St. Mary. I've even heard the five rose petals represent the five wounds inflicted upon Christ's body. Many countries use the rose as their national flower, including the United States.

Before I wrote this blog I thought roses had been imported into the United States, and some were. Oriental and teacup roses were imported from France right into New Orleans before the Civil War. But many roses are native to the United States, a fact that I didn't know. Something else I didn't know is that roses grow wild in all the states, even Alaska. Oddly, the only place roses aren't indigenous is south of the equator.

So, what does all this have to do with writing? Well, for one thing there's a lot to learn about them. If you're writing an historical about a Southern Belle, her roses might have been imported. If you're writing an historical in Brazil the roses would definitely have been imported. If you're writing a contemporary set in Kansas or Alaska then it's possible your photographer heroine caught a deer browsing wild roses. If your heroine receives a single rose, then her hero is claiming love at first sight. If she receives a couple dozen then her hero is head over heels.

Ahhhh, the possibilities are endless, whether you're writing a research paper, an historical, a romance or a contemporary. I for one, want to dig further in Josephine's love for roses and the possibility that Napoleon used his wife's hobby to spy.

History of the Rose
Rose Color Meaning
Number of Roses Meaning

 *All pictures came from my mother's garden.
**The quote came from History of the Rose.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What’s in a flower?

Plants. Vegetation. Foliage. Florae. What’s a good story without a background setting containing plant life? Whether it’s a southern belle sashaying through a rose garden, or an F.B.I. agent pursuing a criminal through a field full of thistles, an important foundation of our story can be the vegetation in the scene.
Many times we fall back on the familiar. You need flowers for the wedding bouquet. Roses. Carnations. Lilies. No, your character is unique, so she needs unusual flowers. Oh my. We’re stuck.
This month we’re providing flowers, flowering vines, parasitic plants, and trees. Pluck the ones you like, leave the rest for other writers. Let me give you an example.
A hydrangea rests in the flower bed near my front door, barely awake from its winter nap. Memories stir as I regard this plant that will one day blossom with bluish-purple foliage. An enormous bush also graced the front flower bed of the dark brick home where my husband’s mother and grandmother lived. They’re no longer with us here on earth, but when I see my hydrangea, I smile. All my senses fill with impressions I have from being with them, in their home, at holidays, and even caretaking. From these impressions—stories, ideas, thoughts, and prompts abound in my imagination. All from my hydrangea bush.
So don’t forget to drop by every Tuesday and Friday for a visit. We’re looking forward to seeing you…
Tuesday’s sentence prompt: The blue hydrangea blossoms stirred as the scrawny juvenile sprinted away from…

This week’s flowers, vines, and parasitic plants reside in the region of the United States known as the southeast.  Trees will be classed differently, this week’s group being conifers. For a visual of each plant, check out wikipedia at http://www.wikipedia.org/

Rosebay rhododendron
Hooded blue violet
Yellow trillium
Wild geranium
Black-eyed Susan
Water lily, cattails
White clover
Queen Anne’s lace
Sweet William

Vines & Parasitic Plants
Morning glory
Sweet potato vine
Trumpet vine
Passion flowers

Spanish fir
Lawson cypress
Eastern red cedar
European larch
Ponderosa pine
Swamp cypress