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I see the Mayor is getting out his signs again this year. This is a welcome sight because he deserves another term for...

Fairly small tree occurs naturally in maritime forests

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Today’s Mystery Plant is a cherry, but not the kind from the produce stand.

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

For to make chireseye, tak chiryes at þe feast of Seynt Iohn þe Baptist, & do awey þe stonys …

— Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.

It’s all about cherries this week. People have been wild for sweet cherries for a very long time, as the recipe from the 1300’s suggests, and yet the sweet cherry species, Prunus avium, has been enjoyed by humans for thousands of years before that. Cherry trees sometimes make us think of George Washington, the old legend about his chopping one down. Today’s Mystery Plant is a cherry, but not the kind from the produce stand.

All of the true cherry species belong to the genus Prunus. Our mystery plant is an evergreen species (unlike sweet cherry, which is totally deciduous), and its leaves are elliptical or somewhat egg-shaped, and shiny green. The leaf margins are extremely variable, and may be smooth, or equipped with a number of usually small, jaggedy teeth. The leaf blades are a bit stiff and leathery, and if you crunch some up in your two hands and breathe in the aroma, you will probably recognize at least a slight, sweet laurel scent.

This species is usually a fairly small tree, and it occurs naturally in maritime forests along the coast, from North Carolina down to central Florida, and west to Texas. The thing is, this species is easily capable of growing well away from the coast, and it has now become naturalized in many parts of the Southeast outside its "normal" range. It is something of a weed, actually, often showing up in vacant lots and along fences, and seems to have spread from sites where it is cultivated.

In the spring, flowers are produced in short racemes, found in the axils of the leaves. The flowers each bear 5 tiny white petals, plus stamens and a pistil. The flowers are fragrant, and the trees are rather attractive, I think, while blooming. Following the blooms, green one-seeded fruits begin to develop.

As they mature, the skin ultimately turns a rather glossy black and they, too, are attractive. The seed inside the fruit eventually swells to the point that it occupies most of the interior, with just a thin layer of soft tissue between the seed (or "pit") and the skin. Of course, on my class field trips, I have indeed tasted the flesh of the fruits, much delighting the students when I make a face and then spit it all out. (The fruits taste terrible.)

On the other hand, various birds, especially robins and cedar wax-wings seem to love eating these fruits, especially late in the winter. I'm not sure if the seeds must go through a bird in order to sprout, but my backyard is covered with seedlings of this tree each spring. And, all the birds in my neighborhood that are eating these things then fly over to adorn my car with a kind of ornithological augmentation: what a mess. It’s the pits. 

[Answer: “Cherry laurel," "Laurel cherry," Prunus caroliniana]

John Nelson is the curator of the A. C. Moore Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia SC 29208. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit www.herbarium.org or call 803-777-8196, or email nelson@sc.edu.

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Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Look

September 18, 2019

I moved to Greenville in 1997 and as a poor, struggling college student, my meals consisted of ramen noodles, fast food, pizzas, and bread and water. OK, so that sounds kind of harsh, but you understand the food dilemma that attaches itself to college students.

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September 18, 2019

Q: My neighbor told me she went to an all-day event last year that was great for people with diabetes. Do you happen to know what, where, when? JS, Greenville

A: I am always happy to promote the Winning with Diabetes Event. Tuesday, Nov. 5, is the date for the 18th Annual Winning with Diabetes…

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September 11, 2019

Q: My daughter has been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. What lifestyle measures can help her? JF, Winterville

A: Yes, lifestyle changes can help your daughter and other women who are diagnosed with PCOS and can reduce some of the undesirable side effects. Chloe Opper, a Brody medical…

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September 11, 2019

Q: My daughter has been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. What lifestyle measures can help her? JF, Winterville

A: Yes, lifestyle changes can help your daughter and other women who are diagnosed with PCOS and can reduce some of the undesirable side effects. Chloe Opper, a Brody medical…

Kolasa, Kathy

September 11, 2019

“Like parent, like child” is an often-used idiom reflecting an individual’s tendency to carry on the traits of prior generations.

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September 11, 2019

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September 06, 2019

More than six decades after the murder of a teenager became a rallying point for the civil rights movement, his memory is being preserved through the arts.

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September 04, 2019

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September 04, 2019

Q: I thought intermittent fasting was a fad diet, but I heard a reputable speaker talk about it. What do you think? RJ, Greenville.

A: Once considered a fad, intermittent fasting is the target for serious research. The results of new studies do not paint a clear picture for us. Connie Zhong, a…

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September 04, 2019

Q: I thought intermittent fasting was a fad diet, but I heard a reputable speaker talk about it. What do you think? RJ, Greenville.

A: Once considered a fad, intermittent fasting is the target for serious research. The results of new studies do not paint a clear picture for us. Connie Zhong, a…

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