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Rhubarb ... ray-um Polygonaceae (L.) poly-many, gony-knee

From rheon, the Greek name for rhubarb. Perennial herb. Rhabarbarum - literally the rhubarb of foreigners. Rha being the old name of the River Volta where the rhubarb originally was found. This herbal plant is native to China and Asia.

The Rhubarb family is Polygonoceae and botanically recognized as plants of the Buckwheat, which include trees, shrubs hardy perennials and vines that have tiny flowers in sprays or panicles, and supported by stems with swollen joints. Seeds are 3-edged.

It is safe to assume that rhubarb was being utilized as a vegetable with herbal properties well before construction began on the Great Wall of China B.C. 214.

It was in the year 1272 that a young man with his father and uncle were be-friended by the Khan in Pekin. Marco particularly pleased Kublai, and the three Polos were hospitably entertained. Among the food delicacies of this culture, Marco most fancied the main ingredient of a plant named for the Mongol hordes; the 'plant of the barbarions'. Upon his return to Italy, Marco Polo began growing rhubarb from divisions of the plant presented to him from the Great Khan. Its usefulness gained attention, and soon the propagation as a major crop spread throughout Europe, ultimately reaching the Western world. We know of fifteen or so cultivars being grown for ornamental and culinary purposes, all derived from the colorful history of Marco Polo.

Renewed interest in this robust plant is becoming evident. We have the same harsh environment and terrafirma that supplies the necessary qualities for healthy productive stock. Rhubarb will thrive in poor to rich soils and out perform in zones from 1 to 5.

Not just a base for jams, jellies or wine, rhubarb has come into its own, as a remedy for pest control, weed suppression, and a valued landscape specimen. This deeply rooted plant will thrive for years, producing foliage the size of a trash-can lid on stalks, the size of hockey sticks or cricket bats.

With deep watering and a mulch of rotted manure, one plant can develop thirty stems with a foliate breadth of six feet and flower stalks towering over eight feet. Incidentally, I will continue to quote sizes in imperial measures until 'they' change the broadcasting of football and hockey into metric measurements and lumber dimensions are quoted in centimeters and meters.

The photos you see are my own home-grown rhubarb plants of five years (same in imperial or metric) from root divisions including two eyes.

Soils of alkaline values at 7 or acidic values on the PH scale of 5 are very suitable for rampant growth in full sun.

Rhubarb grown around pools, as hedging, as ground covers or to shelter a variety of perennials or annuals, will become your link to the colorful history of Marco Polo.




All images contained herein are the © property of Stan Thompson, What's Up Stan and/or Great Gardens & Gargoyles