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16 Interesting Facts About Nasturtium

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Nasturtiums are vibrant flowering plants that add a pop of color and visual interest to gardens. But they offer much more than just their bright blooms. Here are 16 fascinating facts about these versatile plants.

Introduction

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) have a long history of cultivation going back to the 1500s when they were brought from South America to Europe. These cheery annuals and short-lived perennials have edible blossoms and leaves with a delightfully peppery taste. They come in a diverse range of colors like red, orange, yellow, cream, and mahogany and make excellent companion plants in the vegetable garden.

Beyond their ornamental appeal and tastiness, nasturtiums offer additional benefits. They have been used medicinally for centuries and recent research has uncovered unique compounds that show promise in promoting health. From their trailing growth habit to their unusual name origin, nasturtiums have many intriguing traits waiting to be discovered.

Saturday, 28th, And still the nasturtium flowers IMG_8326
Saturday, 28th, And still the nasturtium flowers IMG_8326

1. Symbolic Meaning

During Victorian times, nasturtiums were seen as a symbol of patriotism and victory in battle. Soldiers would often wear the flowers after winning wars. The round leaves were thought to resemble battle shields and the helmet-shaped blooms represented the headgear of defeated enemies. These connections gave nasturtiums a symbolic meaning of conquest and triumph.

2. Water Lily Lookalike

The name “nasturtium” comes from the Latin words nasus tortus, meaning “twisted nose.” This refers to the reaction people had when tasting the flowers, as the peppery flavor could make one twist their nose. The leaves of some varieties resemble water lily pads, which is fitting since nasturtium means “nose twister.”

3. Andean Origin

Nasturtiums originated in the mountainous regions of Chile and Peru in South America. Early Spanish explorers found the Inca people growing these plants for food and medicine. The first nasturtium seeds were brought back to Europe in the late 1500s for cultivation.

4. Nutrient Powerhouse

Both the leaves and flowers of nasturtium plants are high in vitamin C and iron. They also contain manganese, beta-carotene, and antioxidant compounds like flavonoids and anthocyanins. The peppery taste comes from mustard oil glycosides. These nutrients mean nasturtiums offer dietary and medicinal benefits.

5. Medicinal History

Nasturtiums have been used in herbal medicine for centuries. In South America’s Andean region, the Incas made medicinal teas and tonics from the leaves to treat respiratory infections. The flowers were applied to the skin to help heal wounds. More recently, scientists have been studying unique compounds in the plants for their antibiotic and anti-inflammatory effects.

6. Culinary Uses

The flowers, leaves, seeds, and even immature seed pods of nasturtium plants are edible. The blossoms and leaves make colorful, tasty garnishes and salad ingredients. They have a pleasantly spicy, radish-like flavor. Unripe seed pods can be pickled and used like capers. The seeds can be dried and ground into peppery seasoning.

7. Natural Pest Repellent

Planting nasturtiums can help repel insects in the garden. As they grow, nasturtiums release airborne compounds that may deter or confuse pests like aphids, whiteflies, squash bugs, and cucumber beetles. Interplanting nasturtiums with vegetables and fruits may help reduce damage from these insects. The flowers also attract beneficial predatory and pollinating insects.

8. Trailing Habit

There are over 80 nasturtium species and they display a variety of growth habits. Some varieties are bushy, mounding plants under 12 inches tall. Others are trailing types that vine along the ground or climb up supports to heights of 10 feet. Their rambling nature makes them perfect for window boxes, hanging planters, and trellises.

9. Easy To Grow

Nasturtiums thrive with little effort making them an ideal flower for beginner gardeners. They prefer full sun exposure and sandy, dry soil low in nutrients. Well-drained soil is a must to avoid root rot. Water them regularly but allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings. Once established, they can tolerate some drought.

10. Long Bloom Season

In ideal growing conditions, nasturtium plants will bloom prolifically from early summer until the first frost. Deadheading spent flowers encourages more blooms. In mild winter regions, nasturtiums may overwinter and flower intermittently whenever temperatures are above freezing. Some species bloom year-round where winters stay frost-free.

11. Self-Seeding Behavior

Nasturtiums produce seed pods that burst open when ripe, scattering seeds around the garden. These seeds germinate the following spring to produce new nasturtium plants. Allowing some seeds to self-sow means enjoying nasturtiums year after year. It also creates beautiful, natural-looking drifts of the flowers.

12. Variety Of Colors

The trumpet-shaped nasturtium blooms come in a rainbow of single and double colors. Solid shades include red, orange, yellow, ivory, and mahogany. Variegated varieties feature blotched, swirled, or marbled patterns. Some plants produce flowers in a mix of several colors all on one plant or even one bloom.

13. Rose Family Connection

Nasturtiums belong to the plant family Tropaeolaceae which has just two genera. The other genus contains a single species (Tropaeolum peregrinum), a vine from Chile called canary creeper. In the past, botanists mistakenly linked nasturtiums to the Geraniaceae family which includes geraniums and pelargoniums.

14. Unique Foliage

The rounded or shield-shaped leaves of nasturtium plants are unusual—they are peltate. This means the leaf stalk (petiole) attaches to the underside of the leaf a short distance from the edge instead of at the base. The leaves may be smooth or wavy and some varieties have variegated foliage in shades of cream, yellow, or red.

15. Global Distribution

Today nasturtiums grow wild in parts of Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America where they escaped from gardens. Several countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the Galapagos Islands now consider T. majus an invasive weed. Efforts exist to reduce its uncontrolled spread into native habitats.

16. Unique Hybrid

Tropaeolum peltophorum, called the shield nasturtium, was discovered in the 1800s growing in a Scottish garden. It had smaller flowers than common nasturtiums that were blood-red with protruding yellow stamens. In the 1940s, scientists determined T. peltophorum was a naturally occurring hybrid between T. majus and another South American species called T. peregrinum.

Conclusion

With their vibrant flowers, trailing vines, edible parts, and medicinal compounds, it’s easy to see why nasturtiums have been prized for centuries. These versatile plants are steeped in history, mythology, and science. Hopefully these 16 facts have revealed why nasturtiums are about more than just pretty blossoms. They deserve appreciation for the many benefits they offer gardens and people.


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