Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum is the first of the large umbellifers to bloom and drifts of this naturalised garden escape - a native of continental Europe - are currently in bloom on the banks of the river Tyne at Tynemouth.
There was a time when it was cultivated as a vegetable, for its young shoots, leaves and stems that were blanched like celery. I've never met anyone who has actually eaten it but the smell of its flowers - described politely by Michael Proctor and Peter Yeo in The Pollination of Flowers (Collins New Naturalist) as resembling 'stale human dung' may go some way towards explaining why it's more popular with flies than with people. As long ago as 1776 Thomas Withering, in his Botanical Arrangement, wrote that "It was formerly cultivated in our gardens, but its place is now better supplied by celery" so it clearly fell out of favour as a garden vegetable a long time ago.