Monday, 9 May 2011

King of Angels gives umbrella advice


Angelica archangelica is a name to be reckoned with, although its common name, the Garden Angelica, brings it decidedly down towards Earth.

This is a wild plant in London, and since at least the late nineteenth century it has been found along the banks of the River out this way. It has been in cultivation at Kew Gardens since 1768 so there is no need to look far for the original source of the plant.


As recorded on the label overshadowed by this wonderful specimen in the Queen’s Garden, just next to Kew Palace, in Kew Gardens, John Gerard in 1633 said “The root is availeable against witchcraft and inchantments, if a man carry the same”. If you take a liking to Gerard’s words, you can find his full herbal online.

The plant was given this rather grand scientific name by Carl Linnaeus, at the very start of botanical nomenclature, around the time it was introduced into Kew Gardens. Linnaeus lived in Sweden, where this species is a native and his name refers to the source of advice to an early herbalist, Mattheus Sylvaticus, on its medicinal use (see Kew’s Plant Information site).

The Angelica species, along with carrots and (for Sydney readers) Flannel Flowers, are included in a plant family that used to be called the Umbelliferae, because its flowers were arranged like an umbrella. We now call this family Apiaceae because…well, because there is a genus of plants called Apium that force us to name the family this way.

In his regular piece in The Observer magazine this week, Dan Person was singing the praises of the Apiaceae, noting that he had never candied the stems of Angelica. Neither have I. He goes on to suggest Angelica be used as a vertical accent but beware of its early and strong growth.




There is an English native Angelica, Angelica sylvestris. Most of these also have green flowers but apparently they are sometimes ‘stained a dark plum red’ (Dan Person). They can grow to eight feet (that’s a lot of cm) but need a lot ofwater.

Wild Angelica, as it is commonly known, used to also grow beside the River Thames, but seems to have been lost from there are a little bank engineering (according to Tom Cope in The Wild Flora of Kew Gardens). As in Australian, golf courses and cemeteries are good places to find remnant flora, and it seems that there is some doing nicely near the greens in Old Deer Park, just next to Kew Gardens. I’ll take a look next time I’m on a local ramble.

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