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Call Any Vegetable

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Call Any Vegetable

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

I was orgiinally going to entitle this post “My Vegetable Love,” and but here’s why (and why not: This is a family blog). Hence the Zappa allusion, despite the conflation of proper names and proper nouns.

Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the first day an amateur gardener can put plants in the ground, and the only time I violated that rule I lost my entire planting, because two solid days of cold rain rotted my seeds and I had to start over.

It did occur to me to ask what a vegetable was, so I could print a handy taxonomic diagram distinguishing vegetables not merely from animals and minerals, but all other plants. My hopes, however, were dashed. From Science Daily:

Vegetable is a culinary term.

Its definition has no scientific value and is somewhat arbitrary and subjective.

All parts of herbaceous plants eaten as food by humans, whole or in part, are generally considered vegetables.

Mushrooms, though belonging to the biological kingdom, fungi, are also commonly considered vegetables.

Since “vegetable” is not a botanical term, there is no contradiction in referring to a plant part as a fruit while also being considered a vegetable.

Given this general rule of thumb, vegetables can include leaves (lettuce), stems (asparagus), roots (carrots), flowers (broccoli), bulbs (garlic), seeds (peas and beans) and of course the botanical fruits like cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and capsicums.

(Science Daily quoting Wikipedia. What have we come to? From a University of California Cooperative Extension FAQ:

A vegetable is the edible portion of a plant. Vegetables are usually grouped according to the portion of the plant that is eaten such as leaves (lettuce), stem (celery), roots (carrot), tubers (potato), bulbs (onion) and flowers (broccoli).

(This is the answer to the first question, the hardy perennial, “1. What is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable.” The second: “2. How can you tell when a watermelon is ripe?” The third, naturally, with all the amateurs out there, is “3. The leaves of my tomato plants are curled, the stems have bumps and the lower leaves turn yellow and fall off. Is something wrong?” (Yes.) These are the tomatoes which are properly fruits, or possibly not.) In any case, my boundary-testing question was: If I consume the bark of trees (e.g., hemlock), does that make that tree a vegetable? According to the University of California, yes, but according to Science Daily (citing to Wikipedia), no: A vegetable must be herbaceous, and trees, having permanent woody stems above ground, are not.

So vegetable love, had I mentioned it, would seem to be somewhat polymorphous, since surely bark — or, if you balk at bark, nuts — is (are) “an edible portion of a plant.” To top it all off, my Oxford English Dictionary — though beguilingly giving Marvell as a usage example — shamefully equivocates:

vegetable

/ˈvɛdʒɪtəb(ə)l, ˈvɛdʒtə-/

adjective & noun. lme.

[ORIGIN: Old French (mod. végétable) or late Latin vegetabilis animating, vivifying, from Latin vegetare: see vegetate, -able.]

B. noun.

2. Any cultivated (usu. herbaceous) plant of which any part, esp. the leaves or root, is eaten in savoury dishes, freq. with meat or fish; such a plant prepared for the table. Cf. fruit noun 2. m18.

“Usu”[ally], for pity’s sake! And the coy “Cf. fruit.” One despairs. Who wrote this entry? Flashman?

In any case, this is obviously going to be a very silly and lazy post, because all I had in mind when I began it was finding some fun time-lapse photography of growing plants, because I got a nice reception (no thrown tomatoes, or trees) to this video of regrowth after the Australian fires:

As I said at the time, I found the above video hopeful, because only a year after the fires, plants were already growing, perhaps even thriving.

Here is a video of an entire field of squash:

I once had a squash grow all the way across the yard and up a pine tree, satisfying its tropism for sun; it was fun to see squash flowers and then squash entangled with the branches.

Here are some tomatoes. This video is not from seed, but I think it shows the “Let vines be vines!” nature of a really proper tomato patch. (I am a fan of stakes, but after they’re staked, I just let them go.)

Here is some spinach. For soil fans!

Here is the life-span of a strawberry:

Here is a tree; I like the random appearance of the dog (“Sara”):

Don’t, four years from now, be saying “I wish I’d planted some trees four years ago!” Think of your garden’s canopy from the beginning!

Here is a poppy, whose juice I suppose is edible after a fashion:

(Applicable to Armistice Day in the Commonwealth, if not Memorial Day here.)

And finally, here is a lawn (bad, bad) being replaced with sheet mulch, prepatory to creating a garden:

These are enthusiastic volunteers — not that kind of volunteer — but I was taught never to walk on the soil, let alone run a wheeled vehicle over it. Soil is a living organism, and you shouldn’t walk on it any more than you’d walk on a dog or a baby. Design your paths in from the beginning, and walk (and kneel) on the paths.

* * *

So those were some time-lapse videos of plants (suggesting a fun project for readers who find photography fun). What I love about the videos, and plants generally, is that they are always sensing light, air, water, their own weight, always active, always questing, always pressing “onward and upward,” only on a time-scale that is much slower than ours, so we don’t think of them as being vital or courageous, like animals. But they are!

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