STAFF JULY 21, 2016

1.Did you know: that you can avoid all those nasty mosquito-repelling chemicals by crushing and rubbing Callicarpa americana (beautyberry) leaves on your skin? Well, believe it. Scientists at the USDA-ARS lab housed at the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi (whew, that’s a mouthful) have confirmed that the century-old folk cure embraced by residents of Mississippi’s hill country really works. And not just for mosquitoes. Other wicked little biting bugs are offended by the repellent.

The researchers, one of whom learned of the repellent from his grandfather, extracted three chemical from C. americana during the 12-month study: callicarpenal, intermedeol and spathulenol. They concluded that all three chemicals tend to repel mosquitoes known to transmit yellow fever and malaria. The compounds were not tested against the West Nile virus.

To learn more, visit

2.Did you know: that if you don’t have beautyberry, you can keep those mosquitoes at bay with fragrant sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata)? The meadow grass, which is native to northern climates, long has been used by native North Americans in traditional medicine to repel biting insects. The plant’s sweet aroma has a natural tendency to tick off mosquitoes, who pack up and take their business elsewhere.

Dr. Charles Cantrell of the USDA collaborated with researchers at the University Guelph and the University of Mississippi (see above!) to distill essential oil from sweetgrass samples; they then fooled captive mosquitoes by creating a red feeding solution that appeared to be blood, containing several different compounds. Aha! The steam-distilled sweetgrass oil got the fewest bites, essentially proving itself as powerful as DEET.

To learn more, visit

3.Did you know: that the lovely canna (Canna indica), that tall, elegant plant, is believed to have sprung from Buddha’s blood? In Burma, legend has it that the Buddha’s jealous cousin tried to slay him by rolling a boulder down a hill to crush Buddha as he meditated. (Apparently said cousin was bummed that Buddha had many more followers than he did which, coincidentally, is the source of many online feuds these days.) Amazingly, however, the rock broke into small pieces before it reached its intended target — whoops — but a small piece sliced Buddha’s toe. When blood from the injury spilled to the ground, it transformed into the brilliant and graceful flowering plant we know today.

Buddha 1, Cousin 0.

To learn more, visit

4.Did you know: that the forget-me-not has a tragic — but terribly romantic — story behind its name? Of course you did. Botanical nomenclature is nothing if not melodramatic. (But we digress.)

This lovely little wildflower is known to grow along streams, and Germanic lore tells us that a knight was dining with his lady alongside a creek when he decided to pluck the charming flower for his intended. Alas — and this could very well be the work of those tyrannical Germanic gods, just sayin’ — as he bent to pick the tiny blue flowers, a flash flood swept him away. As he struggled against the raging torrent, he somehow managed to toss the posy to his sweetheart, sputtering, “Forget me not!” before the waters took him.


Question: Was this guy wearing armor?

To learn more, visit

Keep Reading: 4 Fun Horticultural Facts for June

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *