Amana (Edible tulip)
She slept beneath a tree

Remembered but by me.

I touched her cradle mute;

She recognized the foot, Put on her carmine suit, —

And see

“The Tulip” by American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

The tulip is a flower that we usually associate with Holland, or, going further back in history, to the ancient gardens of the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, the English name “tulip” comes from dulban, the Turkish word for “turban.” But tulip species can be found over a wide area: from the hills of Italy to the mountains of Pakistan, and some are even found in the Far East. The edible tulip (Tulipa edulis) is one of these. This dainty Oriental tulip is only about 20-cm tall, and flowers in early spring. It has a yellow center and white petals streaked with pink. It grows in sunny clearings in China, Korea and Japan. In Japan, it used to be eagerly gathered as a sansai (mountain vegetable). The clue for this lies in its name, amana, which means “sweet root.” Apparently the starchy bulb tastes sweet, and in the centuries before sugar was widely available, anything sweet was highly prized. Bulbs, as you know, are a plant’s precious store of food. Over many seasons the leaves convert the sun’s energy into starch, which is sent down to the bulb safely buried underground. The plant needs this food store to grow again after its annual dormancy. For any plant, producing flowers demands an extra burst of energy, and it can take tulip seedlings 10 years to build up enough strength to flower. Please remember this next time you are tempted to throw away a pot of old tulips and, if possible, keep the bulbs to flower another year!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008, Japan Times

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