Duty Calls: Forgotten Root Vegetables Edition

It’s a sickness, I know, but when I read the Grauniad article Luigi just nibbled — Salsify: Waitrose brings back ‘forgotten’ Victorian vegetable — I knew I couldn’t rest or, indeed, eat lunch, until I’d set matters straight.

The article says:

The vegetable will be available at Waitrose in the black variety, grown in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, as well as a small amount of white salsify, which is grown in the sandy soils of Ayrshire in Scotland.

A reasonable person might imagine that there are indeed two varieties of a single crop. An unreasonable one, me, would take to his keyboard in a huff, explaining that the vegetable occasionally known as black salsify, is also known as scorzonera, and is botanically Scorzonera hispanica, while salsify is Tragopogon porrifolius. Admittedly both are in the same family (Asteraceae) but they are not varieties of a single crop, unless that crop is forgotten Victorian root vegetables.

Adding insult to injury, the Guardian’s photograph of Tragopogon porrifolius is captioned “Scorzonera hispanica (salsify) roots with tendrils. Photograph: Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley”. Right common name, wrong Latin name.

I traced it back to the original. The page itself has vanished, but thanks to the Internet Archive a version has been captured, and though it lacks the image, it does state clearly that it is Tragopogon porrifolius.

Somewhere along the line, probably when Getty Images acquired it from Dorling Kindersley, things got messed up. Certainly Getty’s gallery of salsify images is a jumble of the two species, with Scorzonera predominant.

I’ll go and get my lunch now.

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Who feeds Africa?

I thought I’d share the summary poster from that GRAIN paper on African farmers’ seed systems that I just Nibbled.

I may blog in more detail about this, but for now let me just say that even if you fully agree with all this it’s still possible to see a role for “formal sector” genebanks, as back-ups and facilitators of (especially long-distance) germplasm exchange. Why doesn’t the paper recognize this? Even if farmers’ seed systems do feed Africa, do they necessarily have to do it on their own?