Learning about Solanaceae

Have you ever visited CultureSheet.org? if you haven’t, please do so. It’s worth it, seeing how a data-gathering encyclopaedic website gently morphs into a community and a social network. Fascinating. I wish them well.

They make a very important point early on: I quote from the site:

The core of the CultureSheet has become the glue that ties everything together: a taxonomic structure that serves as a framework for plant cultivation guidelines. Thanks to this structure we can reduce plant name typos to a bare minimum. Every plant enthusiast is encouraged to help in building a plant cultivation database which makes experience and know-how available.

“We can reduce plant name typos to a bare minimum”. Love it. Spending time getting taxonomies right is always worth it. Having spent a lot of time in capital markets, I was shocked by the sheer waste that goes on in that environment because the “statics” aren’t accurate. To my disbelief, when I left that space, I found the same thing happening wherever I went. Tons of waste because of errors in names, addresses, item descriptors, things that don’t change that often. There’s a whole ream of posts to be written about the mess of reference and low-volatility data. But not today.

Today I want to just mull over Solanaceae. As CultureSheet says:

The Solanaceae are a medium-sized family of flowering plants belonging to the Asterids 2). The family provides many products used by human beings for food, drugs and enjoyment. This includes edible species such as the potato, tomato, and eggplant (aubergine) and a host of minor fruit crops. Medicinal plants such as deadly nightshade, jimson weed, tobacco, and henbane are the sources of drugs such as atropine, hyoscine, nicotine and other alkaloids. Solanaceae species of horticultural importance include petunia, floripondio, velvet tongue, and butterfly flower. Species such as tomato, potato, tobacco, and petunia are important experimental organisms in genetics and molecular biology. The family is a group of plants that consists of trees, shrubs, and creepers.

If you go to the Natural History Museum site, under Uses of Solanaceae, you get the following:

  • Food -edible fruits and tubers such as the tomato, potato, aubergine/eggplant and chilli pepper;
  • Horticulture -common ornamental plants include Petunia, Schizanthus (commonly known as the butterfly flower), Salpiglossis (commonly known as painted or velvet tongue), Browallia and floripondio;
  • Medicinal, poisonous, or psychotropic effects -famed for their alkaloid content and used throughout history deadly nightshade, jimson weed, tobacco, henbane and belladonna are sources of drugs such as atropine, hyoscine, nicotine and other alkaloids;
  • Biological study –model experimental organisms such as tobacco, petunia, tomato and potato are used in examining fundamental biological questions in cell, molecular and genetic studies.

As the saying goes, they had me at chili pepper.

One family of plants. Covering potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, chillies, tobacco, belladonna, mandrake root, jimson weed, deadly nightshade, henbane, atropine, nicotine. In use as edible foods, as ornamental plants, as poisons and hallucinogens, and as model experimental organisms.

One family of plants, growing as trees, bushes and shrubs and as creepers.

One family of plants, growing pretty much everywhere.

One family of plants whose classification has remained rock-steady while others have withered on the vines of modern taxonomy.

Worth investigating, wouldn’t you say?

So that’s what I’m doing. I want to understand more about this family of plants. If any of you knows something that will help me, please let me know. In the meantime I shall continue to dig into the Web, what a wonderful resource.


One thought on “Learning about Solanaceae”

  1. Certainly worth investigating. Taking a “leaf” from another discipline can yield interesting insights.

    A semiconductor company hired a dozen MBA students and my designs to get a grip on consolidated purchasing for FAB plants, by building a missing taxonomy to mine for the top 12 pct of items. The savings achieved were huge, but frankly the process we used to build up a classifier was just brutal grunt-work. Not a social community process at all.

    Nowadays, I’d use Weka http://bit.ly/brutallyshortweka

    And a Visualization tool to review results http://bit.ly/temporaldynamicsviz

    Yet, CultureSheet.org (Wikipedia) methods may be the most effective to build a taxonomy without a data source to mine.

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