Reflecting on my time so far as the curatorial intern (I just finished my second month here), I would say one of my favorite parts of the job is my daily interaction with Scott staff, volunteers, and visitors. Inquisitive visitors often stop to chat and ask me questions; if I were to tally all these questions, the top three would probably be:
1) “Excuse me – Could you please tell me how to get to the admissions office (Parrish Hall)?”
2) “Wow! What is that plant?” (Referring to Musa sikkimensis, our resident banana plant that we planted about 3 years ago and that we overwinter every winter)
3) “What is that odd-looking purple plant over there?”
The answer to this last question is our Plant of the Month, Angelica gigas or Korean angelica. This unique plant is a biennial that stands high at 3-6 feet tall, with purple, ribbed stems topped off with dark purple umbels. In its native homes of China, Japan, and Korea, angelica can be found in forests, grasslands, and alongside streams. In the home garden landscape, Angelica gigas offers a strong architectural form and a beautiful contrast when combined with finer-textured plants. It performs well in full sun to part shade, and prefers average to very rich soils. Angelica is difficult to propagate and its seeds do not store well, so it is best to leave angelica to self-sow and later edit out any undesirable plants. Bees, wasps, and butterflies love angelica’s fragrant flowers. Here at the Scott Arboretum, they are regularly visited by nectar-hungry wasps.
Beyond its aesthetic value, the dried root of angelica has been used for thousands of years as a valuable Chinese medicinal herb, said to aid heart, lung, and liver functions, as well as treat a number of women’s health issues. Today, in Korea, Angelica gigas is used to treat anemia. A recent Japanese pharmacological study even suggested a possible role that angelica’s essential oil could play in treating nicotine addiction. Angelica is not alone amongst garden plants possessing medicinal qualities. Hypericum (St. John’s Wort), Echinacea (purple coneflower and last month’s Plant of the Month), and Nepeta (catmint) species are said to possess a range of medicinal uses, making many gardens a veritable pharmacy! Come and visit us at the Scott Arboretum to see these plants and others…and when you do, be sure to stop and say hi (and maybe even ask a question!).