Friday, June 10, 2011

Mad Botany: Testing the Theory about Gas Plants


By some accounts the fragrant, volatile oils of Dictamnus fraxinella will cause a flame to flair when held to the flower's mouth. Hence the plant's common name, "Gas Plant".

Call me crazy, but I always wanted to test the theory myself. Was this a just a folk story of was it really true?

Doing a little research online, I was able to find several Youtude videos of zany gardeners setting their plants alight. Take a look at this bit of mad botany.

Having seen the videos, I was even more inspired to test the science!

In order to capture my own nutty experiment on film, I recruited my daughter-in-law as an assistant. Initially, our experiment was foiled however, when I couldn't find a barbecue lighter like the one I had seen used in the online videos. Normally, there are a least a couple in the kitchen drawer near the sink. Drat! I was worried that the flame from a simple match might not do the trick (not to mention might result in singed finger tips). Getting creative, we decided to roll up a piece of paper and use a cigarette lighter. As a precaution, we also filled a bucket with water. (On the off-chance we set the garden or ourselves ablaze!)

We don't live on a quiet street and so unfortunately we had a guaranteed audience for this bit of gardening theatrics. With passing motorists gapping, my daughter-in-law, Hanna held the lit cigarette lighter to the roll of paper. I expected the paper to catch fire immediately, but just the opposite happened. The paper smouldered and refused to ignite. Double drat! Hanna ran inside to grab a lighter weight of paper.

We tried again. Just as the end of the roll of paper caught fire, a bus load of school children passed by. "I'm not sure we are setting a good example.", Hanna said as she moved the flame closer to the flowers. (Kids don't try this one at home!)



Sure enough, there was a little whoosh as the plants oils ignited! The flowers however, remained unharmed. How amazing is that!

Gas plants are long lived perennials that can go for decades without dividing. They are also slow to establish themselves. My four foot tall, three foot wide plant has been at least five years in the making.


Fireworks aside, Dictamnus fraxinella is an elegant perennial that has attractive, dark green foliage that stays neat and fresh all summer long.  Small white or rosy-purple flowers appear on foot long tapered spires in early June.  


As you can see, you will need a fair bit of space for Dictamnus fraxinella. It prefers good soil and sun to light shade.

Have a great weekend everyone!

21 comments:

  1. That must be an interesting experiment. I imagine the kids staring and going home to tell their parents about the gardeners setting flowers on fire.

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  2. LOL. I can just imagine what the neighbour's were saying about those two crazy gardeners! Thanks for sharing this.

    Have a great weekend.

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  3. My neighbours already think I'm certifiable, I wonder what they'd say if I tried this experiment! Interesting that it worked. :)

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  4. How very interesting! I hadn't heard of or seen gas plants before this and neither had I heard of this phenomenon. What an attractive flower these unusual plants possess.

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  5. I never heard of this! What fun to try out your experiment. I love the white bloom of this plant, flaming or not.

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  6. My dictamnus is living up to its reputation as a slow grower. No blooms, very little size, but pretty foliage on a tiny plant after five (yes, 5) years in my garden. I will never be able to light a fire much less see a single bloom, I am afraid. I loved this post!

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  7. Good you did not ignite the garden! I always wondered about that too, how potent the gas actually is.

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  8. such fun! Those kids must have thought you'd gone mad lighting your garden on fire. Really amazing plant, loved that video.

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  9. LOL YOU CRAZU women:)Main point you did have fun I think. If you had burn down your garden it would be very interesting to see how you are telling the story to the firemen.
    What is your next experiment?!?!

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  10. Oh my goodness Jennifer!! I have SO wondered about this garden tale ! and I have wondered about having this plant in my garden as well .. They are beautiful and yours is gorgeous !
    I had such a good giggle reading how you and your daughter-in-law did this experiment ..I would have husband helping me and number one son would certainly want to see .. as would daughter-in-law .. so we would have a mini crowd? LOL .. Isn't it amazing what plants can do ? .. Hey .. my plants are going to be REALLY crowded and on top of each other soon enough .. don't take lessons on spacing from me girl !
    But having said that, I like the theory of crowding garden plants to keep weeds out !!! LOL
    This was such a fun read girl : )
    Joy

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  11. I too have tried this feat I was lucky tho the gas plant was in the back yard. I am sure your neighours got quite a smile from your antics. Great blog post.

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  12. Gorgeous pics, thanks for posting them! :-)

    Yes, rub-ons are really fun to use here and there - you should try! :-)

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  13. How cool is that??? I have never heard of those. I wonder if they would live/grow/do alright here. I will ask Michael. They are so pretty!

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  14. That is just amazing! Too fun. Gardening never fails to entertain!

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  15. That's incredible!!! I wanna do it!! It's way too hot for gas plants here. It's been so dry here that if I walked around with a lighter I'd burn the whole block down. I wish I could do this in my class!! :o)

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  16. ha ha - did you get any strange looks from your neighbors... so funny what we'll do to prove a theory! Thanks for sharing at Cottage Flora Thursday's...they sure have pretty blooms! ooxx, tracie

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  17. I remember seeing Karen Strohbeen do this on her PBS show. Amazing! I love Gas Plants but I'm not sure they do well down here in NC, unfortunately. They are beautiful.

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  18. Interesting - and beautiful! :-)

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  19. You're on apartment therapy's re-nest 10 Garden Blogs You Really Should Check Out!!! http://www.re-nest.com/re-nest/outdoor/10-garden-blogs-you-really-should-check-out-149006

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  20. A real fun post Jennifer. I haven't seen this plant growing in Aberdeen, perhaps the Summers are too cool.

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  21. Very cool post! Didn't know the science, but your pix show how fresh and beautiful these plants are.

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