If you have ever tried to catch a falling snowflake to examine its intricate, fractalian structure, you know that you have only a few seconds before the miniature wonder melts away and is gone forever. Until you catch another one! But you must catch it before it’s gone!
“Snowdrop” is an appropriate name for this plant. It blossoms for only a relatively short time in the spring. But when its petals fall to the ground, they linger for a while around its footprint, like a thin blanket of freshly fallen snow. At the Granada Native Garden, the plant is in full bloom in April but its blossoms are largely gone in just a few weeks.
According to California Flora Nursery, Styrax redivivus (also called Storax and formerly known as S. officinalis) is “a beautiful but little known California native that is slow to mature but worth the wait. Develops into a graceful multi-stemmed deciduous shrub. Dark green rounded leaves clothe the smooth gray branches. … We have observed hummingbirds and pipevine swallowtail butterflies nectaring on styrax blossoms.” [One morning, a well-known local grower of California natives stopped by the GNG when he saw the snowdrop in bloom and asked me what it was. I was a new worker then, and I didn’t know]. If you are fortunate to experience a snowdrop in full bloom, take advantage of the opportunity to examine the fragrant, snowy-white bell-shaped blossoms up close. Once they are gone for the season, you will look forward to seeing them again next year.
From Styrax to Styrene Many members of the genus Styrax (family Styracaceae (“sty-ra-KAY-see-ee”) have a gummy resin that exists under the bark, and seeps out when the bark is damaged. The sap has a golden color and a sweet odor. Historically, this sap has found extensive uses in the manufacture of incense, perfume and scented candles. The blossoms of the snowdrop have the faint aroma of oranges.
In 1839, a German pharmacist, Eduard Simon, extracted a liquid from the resin, which he called styrol, but is now known as styrene (but styrene also occurs naturally in foods such as strawberries, cinnamon, coffee, peanuts and beef as well as in coal tar). In the course of his work with this liquid, Simon found that when styrol/styrene was exposed to air, light or heat, it transformed into a clear, hard, brittle substance.
About 100 years later, another German chemist, Hermann Staudinger, realized that this “hard, brittle substance” was actually a long chain of identical styrene molecules linked together, or a “polymer”. We now call it polystyrene!
Staudinger received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1953. But meanwhile scientists had already started to develop ways of adapting styrene for commercial uses. In 1937, the Dow Chemical Co. had introduced polystyrene as a foam insulation and a packaging material (Styrofoam).
Quote du Jour
“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.” – John Muir
Guided Tours of the Granada Native Garden Are Available! Are you interested in seeing some of the plants that are described in this Newsletter or in past issues? One or more staff of the GNG are routinely on duty at the Garden on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, roughly between 10:00 AM and 12:00 noon. But it isn’t very hard to arrange a guided visit at other times. If you are interested in scheduling a visit, just email Jim at JIMatGNG@gmail.com . Or if you have any questions or inquiries, please email Jim at the same address !
Check out the native plant selection at ALDEN LANE NURSERY, 981 Alden Lane, Livermore, CA 94550.
For reliable certified arborist services, contact STUMPY’S TREE SERVICE, (925) 518-1442, http://www.stumpystrees.com .
Special Note Due to problems I have been having with the new WordPress formatting system, you might have accidentally received this post earlier this Spring in an incomplete form and without the photos of snowdrop. I’m sorry about that and I’m trying hard to figure out the new format! ~ Jim