Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Star Jasmine

I wrote about Jasmine on June 14, 2006, when it was the flower of the day in the French Republican calendar. But I’m dreaming of it again this week, as every time I walk up the steps to my apartment building, I am cloaked in the sweet fragrance of jasmine.

A few years ago our upstairs neighbors, Beth and Julie, planted a jasmine that is twining up a pole on the right hand side of the porch of our brick apartment building on Capitol Hill. It's the only plant that survived our landlord's recent demolition of the old landscaping and installation of a new Mediterranean scheme e l(thanks to Beth and Julie’s advocacy). It began blooming a few weeks ago and now the plant is covered with small, white, fragrant stars.

I spent the last few days researching it but still couldn’t identify the flower and was just going to try making a tea out of it (bad idea! Never eat a plant you can’t identify) when I plucked a sprig, noticed the milky sap and tried googling “white fragrant flower milky sap.” That’s when I found out our jasmine is not a true jasmine but a star jasmine, aka Confederate jasmine.

True jasmine is in the olive family. The star jasmine is in the dogbane family (does that give you a clue as to its edibility?). Also in the dogbane family: oleander (the poisonous flower which grew all over Southern California where I grew up—we were always being warned about them with stories of kids who died after roasting hot dogs on oleander twigs) and a plant called the cockroach plant (the sap and/or dried leaves are mixed with molasses and used to kill cockroaches, flies and lice, and as a lotion to repel mosquitoes and fleas).

I’ve been trying to draw a picture of the flower for the same number of days but it’s hard to get right. The five white petals unfurl from around a pale green center into an absolutely symmetrical (there’s that word again) five-pointed star. They’re almost like little pinwheels. This photograph captures it perfectly:

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