Planting Rapunzel

Paul Zelinsky writes:

As you probably know, the story of Rapunzel begins with a mother craving a salad plant called rapunzel. But rapunzel is not an English word; as my long note from the book will tell you, it is the German name for the plant, and we know it only because the Grimm brothers wrote their renowned story in German. An exact translation into English would have called the plant by its English name, rampion, and then the girl and the story would have had to be called Rampion as well.

I had no intention of calling my book, or its heroine, Rampion. And when I bought seeds to help me make illustrations for the book, growing the plant on the roof deck of my apartment building, my family and I naturally called the herb rapunzel. The plants served as both models and food.

We enjoyed several summers of rapunzel salads.The plant (Campanula rapunculus, a member of the bellflower family) is a biennial, so it should last only two years, though ours seemed to stick around for three or four. Growing in flower pots, they never produced the thick, crunchy root that could well have been what Rapunzel's mother craved, more than the leaves.

Recently I bought some fresh rampion seeds. You can do this, too. I ordered them from the same English catalog where I found them when I was beginning work on Rapunzel.

What follows is an account of our growing rapunzel in the summer of 2009. Click here to skip to the latest entry, if you want to scroll upwards from the end to the beginning.

This is a single seed, sitting near a penny so that you can see how incredibly small it is:

After about ten days, tiny sprouts started peeking up from the soil.

After two more weeks, the sprouts have become bigger. The baby leaves are round, very different from what their grown-up shape will be.

My wife puts them in a bigger container, on our roof where they'll get more light. After they are bigger, we will be able to spread out the many little plants.

About a week has passed. The plants experienced some shock from the repotting, and haven't grown much.

The plants are about a month old. The leaves on the healthiest ones are growing long, rather than round, with a little ruffling of the edges. See how big they are now compared to the penny?

Still doing fine! The weather has been cool and rainy. Look at the penny and remember the seed this plant grew from. Although...

another pot of rampion, which went up to the roof a little later, is struggling.

But after another week, the growth in the window box really needed to be thinned.

In early July, about two months after it first sprouted, the rapunzel had a visitor: Miss Bindergarten herself! The famous border collie kindergarten teacher brought along her illustrator friend, Ashley Wolff. Miss Bindergarten is wearing a necklace from the trip to Africa that the two of them took last year. Miss Bindergarten has a Facebook fan page; if you belong to Facebook, you can find it here.

Early in the summer, the rampion thrived.

Some plants were contributed to the Midtown West school's garden, the story of which you can read by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page. A few were kindly taken in by Bruce ("Magic School Bus" et al.) Degen and his wife Chris, and planted in their Connecticut garden. There they grew big and thick, as you can see in this picture:

The plants remaining at the Zelinskys' continued to thicken, then struggled along, growing thinner and weaker, but finished the summer with a considerable comeback.
Unlike our first batch years ago, no flower stalk shot up at the end of the season.

Sadly, the leaves on these plants tasted almost nothing like the ones from the first batch, which were rather rich-flavored with a bite like watercress. These were almost flavorless.

If our plants survive into the next year, we will hope for some nice blooms. The Degens' plants, in the ground rather than in pots, stand a better chance of making it.

Follow-up on Bruce Degen's rapunzel: it seeded itself, and the next year's crop is thriving, and quite beautiful!

Go to "Planting Rapunzel, Page 2"
to read how Rapunzel went to school!

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