Flower Basal Angiosperms

While we know a lot more than we did when Darwin called the sudden appearance of well developed flowering plants the "abominable mystery", their exact ancestors have still not been identified. They probably developed from some variety of Seed Fern, possibly from something like Gigantopterids, and some form of flowers may have appeared as much as 250 million years ago. Given how fast angiosperms evolved, there may be scant fossil evidence.

Here we take a look at those living plants considered, due to primitive features, to have diverged from the main Angiosperm stem previously to the major clades.   Photo of Schisandra rubriflora by Scott Zona distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

More on Magnoliophyta / Angiosperms.

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Amborellales - Order

Amborella   -   [Amborella trichopoda of family Amborellaceae]
Flowering Plant

This shrub is found only on Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. It is not edible, but is of great interest to botanists because it is considered the living plant closest to the origin of all the flowering plants.   Photo by Scott Zona distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Austrobaileyales - Order

Star Anise   -   [Bat Gok (China); Badiyan (from Persian, but adopted by other languages); Illicium verum]
Seed Pods

An essential for Chinese cooking, this spice is also grown and used in Vietnam, Laos and India. These licorice flavored seed pods grow on a tree native to Vietnam and southern China. The hard seeds which may be present in the pods can be ground with the pods or discarded - they lack flavor. Star Anise is almost always sold as whole or broken pods to be used whole or ground just before use.

Star Anise is an essential ingredient of the Five Spice powder used all over China and extending into Southeast Asia. In China it is used whole in many "red cooked" meat dishes. It is also widely used in India as an ingredient in masalas (spice powders). In Vietnam it is an important flavoring in the famous pho soups, and is also used in Malaysia and Indonesia. In the West it is used as a flavoring in a number of alcoholic beverages. Most of the harvest goes to processors for extraction of a chemical used in manufacturing the controversial drug Tamiflu®. This has caused shortages, but probably not for long, as a bacterial method of producing that chemical has been developed.

There are a number of other species of Illicium with similar pods, including two in the southeastern United States, but they are all highly toxic.

Five Flavor Berry   -   [Bei wu wéi zi (China); Schisandra chinensis   |   Nan wu wéi zi Schisandra sphenanthera - both of family Schisandraceae]
Berries on Plant

These climbing vines, native to the forests of Northern China and the Russian Far East, bear tiny white magnolia-like flowers. They are mainly known as powerful medicinals, particularly for improving stamina, but their berries have other uses as well. The Chinese name wu wéi zi means Five Flavor Berry, because it includes all five basic flavors: salty, sweet, sour, pungent and bitter.

In China the berries are made into a wine, and in Korea they are used to make a bright pink-red tea. In the Russian Far East many tons of berries are processed into juices, wines, extracts, and sweets.   Photo by Vladimir Kosolapov distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Kadsura   -   [Kadsura japonica of family Schisandraceae]
Berries on Plant

This climbing vine, native to woodlands of Japan and the Ryukyu Islands to the south. They are grown mainly as decoratives, but the berries are edible, raw or cooked. No fruit will be set unless both male and female plants are in the garden. The plant is evergreen and available with dark green or variegated leaves.   Photo by KENPEI distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Nymphaeales - Order
This order contains three families of aquatic plants, two of which have culinary uses. They have left ample fossil evidence since the Cretaceous, possibly as far back as 112 million years. The order contains 11 genera and between 70 and 90 species.

Watershield   -   [Chún cài (China); Junsai (Japan); Annonaceae of family Cabombaceae] Floating Leaves

This water plant is native to North America, northern South America, East Asia and India. Flowering is interesting. On the first day the flower stalks extend out of the water bearing female flowers. At the end of the day the stalk withdraws, and on the following day it extends again with male flowers. This plant is cultivated in China, and is used in the popular Hangzhou dish "West Lake Water Shield Soup".   Photo by USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database = Public Domain .

Water Lily   -   [genus Nymphaea (more than 35 species) of family Nymphaeaceae]
Pink Flower and Pads

Water lilies are native to the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. While some are called "Lotus", they are not at all related to the true Lotus (genus Nelumbo). The two are actually easy to tell apart. Water lily leaves float on the surface and generally have a deep notch, usually extending in to the leaf stem. Lotus leaves are held above the water and are completely circular with a central stem (no notch). Lotus also has a wide conical seed capsule often seen in dried flower arrangements.

Young leaves and flower buds can be cooked and eaten. The seeds are nutritious, high in starch, protein and oil. They can be roasted and popped, or ground into flour.

The Egyptian Blue Water Lily (Egyptian Blue Lotus; Nymphaea caerulea) flowers have a lightly psychoactive effect, mainly as a sedative. Petals and whole flowers of this plant are used to make teas and to flavor wine and martinis. One species, Nymphaea odorata subsp. tuberosa, native to the southeastern United States, produces potato-like tubers which can be cooked and eaten.   Photo © i0137 .

Foxnut   -   [Gorgon Nut; Makhana (Hindi/Punjabi); Makhana, Nikori (Assam); Onibas, Onibasu (Japan); Euryale ferox of family Nymphaeaceae] Floating Leaves

Seeds of this plant have been used as human food since at least 750,000 years ago. They are currently an important crop in India and China, and also used in Korea, Japan and the Russian Far East. The pads, which can grow to more than 3 feet across, are green and spiky on top, purple on the bottom.

In northern India, the seeds are collected in the late summer and early autumn. They may be eaten raw or cooked, and are often roasted and popped for use as a snack. They may be ground into flour used to make a porridge called makhane ki kheer which is often presented as a religious offering. In China the seeds are used in medicinal soups which are supposed to improve male potency and retard aging. In India, a technique for growing this plant as a field crop has recently been developed.   photo by Montilre distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Victoria   -   [Victoria amazonica, Victoria cruziana, Victoria mattogrossensis]

Native to South American river basins, these water lily have striking rimmed floating leaves sometimes exceeding 9 feet across. V. amzonica is native to the Amazon basin of Brazil and the only slightly smaller V. cruziana is native to the Paraná river basin of Paraguay. V. mattogrossensis is almost identical to V. cruziana but has larger seeds and lives in the Pantanal wetlands of central South America. I have not seen any references to using the seeds as food, but know of no evidence that they haven't been. These plants are very popular in botanical gardens.   Photo © i0136 .

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