|Smoking in a Tavern: David Teniers the Younger|
What image comes to mind, Dear Reader, when I speak to you of hops and spice, pipes and paws? For me it is one of those archetypal Dutch Tavern scenes of perhaps four centuries ago. The pipes of the smokers, the dog on the floor (proving that taverns in old Holland and restaurants in present day France are more civilized than we overly prissy Canadians), the jugs of spiced wine or the mugs of hopped ale were essential elements of a school of Pays Bas artists such as Matthijs Wulfraet, David Teniers the Younger, and Gerrit Dou (a student of Rembrandt).
|Self Portrait - Gerrit Dou|
Let’s start with pipes, shall we? Although pipes had been used for smoking substances such as hashish in Asia and the Middle East, it’s fair to say they were invented by Native Americans, who domesticated tobacco (Nicotiana rustica)
. Native Americans were also one of many groups that domesticated the Calabash Gourd (Lagenaria siceraria
) for containers and food, but I find no records of their using gourds as pipes. Instead, South Africans seem to have placed a meerschaum bowl inside a curved calabash holder to create the classic calabash pipe, which became a fad when adopted by King Edward VII. This is now associated with Sherlock Holmes because it is a large but light pipe easy to clench between your teeth while delivering lines on stage. But, its use postdates the naming of the Pipevine, Aristolochia macrophylla
, which I will sadly concede was named in recognition of its floral form matching clay or meerschaum pipes, not Sherlock Holmes’ calabash.
The big-leaved pipevine was commonly planted in North America a century or two ago, to shade a porch or verandah and give partial privacy. The large green leaves grow exuberantly and the peculiar fly-pollinated flowers provide sculptural interest. The leaves drop in the fall, allowing winter light to reach the porch.
But it’s not for its fly pollinators that I recommend this native vine to gardeners. Instead, its third merit to me is the fact that its leaves are the sole food the caterpillars of the beautiful Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor,
|Battus philenor. John Abbott, 1797|
There are many pipevine species in North America and the Pipevine swallowtail likes all of them. Pipevines make a toxin, aristolochic acid, that deters herbivores. But the swallowtail caterpillars take it up and store it, the same way monarch caterpillars store cardiac glycoside from milkweed leaves. The adult swallowtails also taste bad to birds.
Around the world there are many swallowtail species whose caterpillars eat pipevine plants, and share the unpalatability to birds, but the Pipevine swallowtail is our only member of the group. But although it is relatively rare, you will see other swallowtails and unrelated butterfly species that mimic the Pipevine swallowtail. This is an example of what is called Batesian mimicry
, where the mimic species gets the benefit (avoiding being eaten by birds) without the cost (methods to handle and store the toxic compounds). The Viceroy butterfly is a Batesian mimic of the Monarch, and the Spicebush swallowtail is a mimic of the Pipevine.
So, from pipes to spice we go!
|Spicebush swallowtail - Benny Mazur, CC by SA 2.0|
Several native shrubs have the common name “Spicebush”, but here we’re interested in Lindera benzoin
, which gets the common name from the aromatic fragrance of its leaves. Lindera grows in
partial tree shade but blooms more abundantly early in spring if it gets some sunlight. The dainty yellow-green flowers don’t make a huge show but are pleasant when winter is ending. This native Carolinian forest shrub should be used more in our parks and ravines, so we can enjoy the Spicebush swallowtails that will come to it.
I’m writing this during the winter holiday, when of course spiced wine has been popular since the time of the Romans. So I can’t resist a spicy diversion. In 1,390 a mediaeval cookbook (by "the chief Master Cooks of King Richard II") gave this recipe for Ypocras
: “Pur fait Ypocras …grinding together cinnamon, ginger, galangal, cloves, long pepper, nutmeg, marjoram, cardamom, and grains of paradise ("spykenard de Spayn", rosemary may be substituted). This is mixed with red wine and sugar”. I have read of this drink as “hippocras” - after steeping the spices in the sweetened wine for a day, the spices are strained out through a conical cloth filter bag called a manicum hippocraticum
or Hippocratic sleeve (originally devised by the 5th century BC Greek physician Hippocrates to filter water).
|"...we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, |
over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!"
Ebenezer Scrooge offered Bob Crachit a variant on hippocras called smoking bishop
which was popular in 19th century England.
But what are we to do if we want native tastes in our holiday drinks? If you are lucky enough to have a male and female spicebush plant, the berries from the female can be used as spice
. If you don’t have berries, the twigs and leaves can be steeped to make a tea. When my bush is bigger, I shall make this and call it “swallowtail tea”!
|Hildegarde v. Bingen, |
by W. Marshall
Some people enjoy hopped ales more than spiced wines. The seed clusters of the hopvine have been used in beers in Germany at least since renowned herbalist, mystic, abbess, and composer Hildegarde von Bingen
wrote of them in the 11th century AD.
|Giant Swallowtail near Ottawa - Gordon Robertson|
When Europeans arrived here, they found shrubs and small trees whose seed clusters looked just like hops, and named them Hop Trees (Ptelea trifoliata
). They grow wild along the Lake Erie shore in places like Point Pelee and Turkey Point parks, but with climate warming now survive Toronto winters. The seed pods are more decorative than the flowers, but I want to see them in our cityscape because the caterpillars of our largest butterfly, the Giant Swallowtail Papilio cresphontes
eat the leaves. I wrote about hoptrees and giant swallowtails
I’ve taken us from pipes to spice to hops, with some deviations on the way. But what about paws? Admittedly, I am dreaming about getting a puppy in the new year, but here I’m thinking of the delicious and underused native Carolinian fruit tree, the Pawpaw or Asimina triloba.
Pawpaw is now being grown in Toronto by connoisseurs who value the wonderful fruit. It fits into this article because of the beautiful native Zebra swallowtail butterfly, whose caterpillars eat only pawpaw leaves.
|Pawpaw flower - Krzystof Ziarnek CC-by-SA 4.0|
I first saw these lovelies during my two year exile in Virginia. The Palace of Neurons where I worked had large grounds running down to the Potomac River. In the moister soil near the river, Pawpaws grew in abundance as an understory tree. That’s plant geek for “grows OK mostly in the shade of big trees”. Pawpaw trees are very rare in Carolinian Canada, but we know our indigenous peoples used the fruit, because there are little-known groves of pawpaw trees next to some of the canoe trade routes inland from Lake Erie. In the spring, male Zebras patrolled streams leading to the Potomac Pawpaw groves, looking for newly emerged females. In summer, second brood adults perched on blue pickerelweed flowers (Pontederia
) in the
|Zebra Swallowtail - Clement Kent, CC by SA 3.0|
Given the delicious fruit and the spectacular butterfly, we definitely needs more “paws” in the ravines running down to High Park and in partly shaded places in our gardens.
There are two gardening notes to the pawpaw, though. It needs to be cross-pollinated so two genetically different trees should be planted within half a block or less of each other. And, it suckers from root runners. My trees do this but I find pruning the suckers at ground level once or twice a year controls them nicely. For a very nice dive into pawpaws, go here
So, Dear Reader, that’s my tale: of Hops and Spice, Pipes and Paws.
p.s. if you missed the previous post on Project Swallowtail
, please give it a look. Project Swallowtail will be increasing the host plants above in order to have more of these beautiful butterflies.