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Diversity in the U.W. Medicinal Herb Garden

    The Medicinal Herb Garden is more than its name implies; like a library having more than merely books, the garden has more than medicinal herbs. Dye plants, culinary herbs, fruit trees, shade trees, nut trees, vegetables, fiber plants, vines, ornamental shrubs, ferns, and so forth, all coexist.
    The largest inhabitant of the garden, and one that attracts much admiring and curious notice on account of its stateliness and prominent location, is in no sense a medicinal herb. Picture the mammoth conifer with its swollen trunk over five feet thick, towering near Island Lane between sections C and D. This gigantic species gets called by science Sequoiadendron giganteum, and in everyday English: Big Tree, Sierra Redwood, or Giant Sequoia.
    What is the rarest plant present? Some wildflower from the Canary Islands? An alpine denizen from Argentina? Neither --we must come closer to home. From central Florida, a rare kind of Anise Tree (Illicium parviflorum) amazingly has so far survived our climate, and even borne flowers here. Its evergreen leaves are rich in anise fragrance, well earning its name. Perhaps it owes its survival here to being protected by one of the garden's biggest disappointments: a Fig Tree in section B that ripens almost none of its fruit here.
    We might also nominate the most common weed bothering the garden, or the tiniest herb grown, or the plant producing the biggest flowers, or other such, but there is no way to firmly state what the most beloved, or popular plant is. In this case it's a clear matter of nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so; to each their own. Cats choose Catnip, smokers opt for Tobacco, children might delight in Licorice or the Marsh Mallow Plant, squirrels will harvest nuts, dyers will dye, cooks will flavor and spice, weavers will find fiber plants --all this and more is there. If you are ill you may get healed, if hungry you may eat, if curious freely taste, if ignorant learn.

(Originally published in the March 1986 newsletter of the Friends of the Medicinal Herb Garden of the University of Washington, Seattle. Since then, the Illicium died but not before cuttings had been supplied to the Center for Urban Horticulture, where a specimen still lives.)

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Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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