Thursday, September 15, 2011

Purple Leaf Basil

Over the summer Saluda Shoals Park rangers have observed the gardens around the Environmental Education Center are flourishing – in spite of the long periods of hot, dry weather. In the Butterfly and Hummingbird garden the curly leaf basil, Ocimum basilicum, commonly known as Purple Ruffles, has returned in profusion. Purple basil, of which there are several varieties, is a hot weather herb cultivated from ordinary basil. Purple basil can be used in the same ways as any other type of basil – for flavor in cooking or as a garnish. You can also use basil in the garden as a companion plant to repel aphids, mites, and tomato hornworms. Once the flowers appear at the end of August/September, the pollinators also arrive. Butterflies and bees are the main pollinators of basil, ensuring fertile seeds for next spring. Hummingbirds are beginning to leave on their migration south, but have had the benefit all through the summer of the other nectar producing flowers in the garden.

We are not sure how this plant’s seeds arrived in the butterfly and hummingbird garden at Saluda Shoals Park last spring, but hundreds of seeds found the garden to be the perfect place for their propagation. Towards the end of last summer, we noticed that when the flowers matured, the petals dried, dropped off and the green carpels that formed pods remained attached to the bloom stalks. Later in the season the carpels turned brown as the seeds inside matured. Once the carpels were dry and brown we stripped some of the pods from the blooms stems and crumbled them between our fingers to release the seeds. Some seeds self released over the winter. When we split a seed pod open, we could see the developing round shaped seeds inside. We noticed that as the seeds coats hardened, they changed color from pale green to brown to black.

This spring the basil reappeared in greater abundance and has grown to about two feet tall during the summer. All too soon, with the arrival of winter’s frost, only dry husks will remain which, in their turn; will assist in the germinating of new life for the coming spring.

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