Nasturtium - Encyclopedia




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NASTURTIUM, or Indian Cress, Tropaeolum majus, a perennial climber, native of Peru, but in cultivation treated as a hardy annual. It climbs by means of the long stalk of the peltate leaf which is sensitive to contact like a tendril. The irregular flowers have five sepals united at the base, the dorsal one produced into a spurred development of the axis; of the five petals the two upper are slightly different and stand rather apart from the lower three; the eight stamens are unequal and the pistil consists of three carpels which form a fleshy fruit separating into three one-seeded portions. The flowers are sometimes eaten in salads, and the leaves and young green fruits are pickled in vinegar as a substitute for capers. The pungency of the nasturtium officinale, the water-cress, gave it its name nasi-tortium, that which twists the nose. The plant should have a warm situation, and the soil should be light and well enriched; sow thinly early in April, either near a fence or wall, or in an open spot, where it will require stakes 6 to 8 ft. high.

The dwarf form known as Tom Thumb (T. m. nanum), is an excellent bedding or border flower, growing about a foot high. Sow in April in the beds or borders; and again in May for a succession. Other fine annual Tropaeolulns are T. Lobbianum with long spurred orange flowers and numerous varieties; and T. minus, a kind of miniature T. majus with yellow, scarlet and crimson varieties.

The genus Tropaeolum, native of South America and Mexico, includes about 35 species of generally climbing annual and perennial herbs with orange, yellow, rarely purple or blue, irregular flowers, T. peregrinum is the well-known canary creeper. The flame nasturtium with brilliant scarlet blossoms is T. speciosum from Chile; it has tuberous roots, as have also such well-known perennials as T. polyphyllum, T. pentaphyllum. Of these T. speciosum should be grown in England in positions facing north; it flourishes in Scotland.

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