Sunday 6 September 2020

Sturt’s Desert Pea (Australia, 1968)

Sturt’s Desert Pea is also known as Swainsona formosa, which makes me wonder if Messrs Sturt and Swainson engaged in some sort of stand-off in the desert to try to reach a decision about the name and failed…

This gets better: Isaac Swainson was an English botanist who made his fortune from creating a herbal remedy for venereal disease. His “Velnos Vegetable Syrup” was popular in its time because most other “remedies” featured mercury, so if the syphillis didn’t get you, the mercury poisoning would. Swainson’s vegetable variant was claimed as a cure for all sorts of things, and his reputation (or wealth) was sufficient for him to have the whole Swainsona genus of plants named in his honour.

Sturt was Charles Sturt, who catalogued a wide variety of plants and flowers during travels in Australia in the 1840s. He led several expeditions from Sydney and Adelaide into the Australian interior, convinced that it contained an inland sea. So, you know. He managed to navigate almost 3000km of Australia’s rivers, go pretty much blind, lose a fellow adventurer under somewhat mysterious circumstances and become a relative bigwig in Australia.

As for the plant, it’s appeared on stamps three times and is the emblem of South Australia.

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