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Take Our Fruit & Veggie Quiz!

Can you I.D. these 10 plants in our Fruit & Vegetable Garden?

Karen Z. —  September 6, 2013 — 2 Comments

“What is that?”

Sure, you’ll see tomatoes and corn and apples at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden—but, during the course of the growing season, we have more than 400 of the earth’s 30,000+ edible plants to see, consider, and think about cooking.

How many of the ten summer fruits and vegetables below do you recognize? Come see them in person soon—harvest is just around the corner!

PHOTO: Cardoon

Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus

1. It’s a cardoon. Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus is, at heart, a thistle. While cardoon’s cousin, the artichoke, is a more familiar food, the thick leaves of cardoon itself are edible—though preparation is…lengthy. Find cardoon in the cold frames.

PHOTO: Eggplant

Solanum lelongena ‘Hansel’

2. It’s an eggplant. Solanum melongela is showing up in markets and on menus in more shapes and colors these days, and we’re growing several varieties of them this year: white ‘Casper’, pink ‘Rosa Bianca’, bicolor ‘Udumalapet’, and this more traditional variety, ‘Hansel’.

PHOTO: Medlar

Mespilus germanica

3. It’s a medlar. Mespilus germanica or common medlar bears a little pome fruit that must be softened, or bletted, to be edible. This is the second year of excellent fruit set on our medlar tree, located just across the Fruit & Vegetable Garden bridge.

PHOTO: Taro

Colocasia esculenta

4. It’s taro. Colocasia esculenta is commonly seen in flower beds and containers—you might know it as “elephant ears.” The tuber or corm is toxic when raw—but when cooked, it’s a staple in cuisines around the world. Taro is in the pool under the wisteria arbor.

PHOTO: Mexican miniature watermelon

Melothria scabra

5. It’s a Mexican miniature watermelon, or gherkin. Melothria scabra grows as a vine, with dozens of cute and cucumbery fruits. Eat them fresh or pickled. You’ll find them in containers under the wisteria arbor.

PHOTO: Indigo Rose tomato

Lycopersicon esculentum ‘Indigo Rose’

6. It’s a tomato. Lycopersicon esculentum has a new member in the family and…it’s blue. ‘Indigo Rose’ was bred (at Oregon State) for high anthocyanin levels, which suppressed green color while raising purple. It’s full of antioxidants and is not a GMO (it’s open-pollinated). It’s a sensation. Find it in our Backyard Garden beds and the Small Space Garden.

PHOTO: Pepper

Capsicum annuum var. lycopersiciforme ‘Alma Paprika’

7. It’s a pepper. Capsicum annuum var. lycopersiciforme ‘Alma Paprika’ looks rather like a tomato as it turns from white to yellow to red. As its name suggests, this is the variety from which paprika is made—let it dry, then grind it to make your own.

PHOTO: Quince

Cydonia oblonga

8. It’s a quince. Cydonia oblonga is the fruit-bearing quince (different than flowering quince). In this country, many people are unfamiliar with both the look of the fruit (like a bumpy pear) and its taste (often sour and astringent, it requires cooking). Currently loaded with fruit, the quince tree is near the grape arbor.

PHOTO: Corn smut, or Huitlacoche

Ustilago maydis

9. It’s a fungus. Ustilago maydis is known as Huitlacoche in Mexico, where the fungus—called corn smut here—is considered a delicacy. It occurs naturally on ears of corn—we’ve found one ear with it in our Backyard Garden so far.

PHOTO: Borage

Borago officinalis ‘Alba’

10. It’s borage. Borago officinalis is a multitasker: the gorgeous blue flowers are edible and can be steeped as tea, the leaves add cucumber freshness to a salad, and the plant itself attracts tomato hornworms away from your tomatoes. Turn right after the bridge to see borage in the beds there. Ours, however, are the cultivar ‘Alba’—which, as you may guess, has a white flower.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Looking for a reason to be glad for the cold weather in winter’s stretch? Consider the needs of fruit trees. Fruit trees need to spend a certain amount of time during their dormant winter period at cool temperatures in order to satisfy their chill requirement.

PHOTO: The apple archway in winter (in the Fruit and Vegetable Garden).

Simply defined, the accumulation of chill units (CU) is a cumulative measure of the number of hours trees spend between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Liken this process to a reset of the tree’s biological clock. This clock counts down the time needed to change the nutrients stored in the roots into a form that can flow up the trunk as the weather warms and support flowering and growth. Time spent at winter temperatures above 60 degrees and below 32 degrees counts against the number of accumulated chill units.

PHOTO: the apple archway in full bloom.

Getting enough optimum chill time ensures the tree will successfully break dormancy, flower, and set fruit. The wild weather fluctuations of 2012 brought the warmest March on record (there were 9 days above 80 degrees), which signaled to the trees that it was time to start growing. April’s subsequent sharp drops to freezing temperatures caused tissue injury and poor flowering, leading to a significant loss of 2012’s fruit crop.

Trees are able to withstand cold temperatures when they are dormant as they are now. Chill requirements vary between different pome fruits. Apple, pear, and quince varieties each have their own climate-specific needs. Low-chill apples, while productive in California, won’t produce well in our colder northern climate because they bloom too early.  

PHOTO: Autumn brings apples to fruition!

The Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden’s 34 apple varieties have chill requirements ranging from 600 to 1200 CUs. Chicago’s weather historically can meet those requirements, barring extreme fluctuation like last year. Our current cool weather is right on track and looking positive for growers.

Knowing a fruit tree’s chill requirement is a tool for choosing the right plants for your garden. Come to the garden for a quiet early spring walk through the orchards, perhaps finding inspiration to plant fruit trees in your own garden this spring. In the meantime, please be reassured that the trees and fruit growers are happy with this consistent wintry weather.

The Garden’s Plant Information Service can help you select the right fruit trees for this area. Contact them today!


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org