Gardening with grasses has become popular in recent years and garden centres are full of examples - many of which, I have to say, look pretty unexciting to me. So I've always been surprised that gardeners don't cultivate some of our cereals, like wheat, rye, oats and the barley Hordeum vulgare pictured above for their decorative properties. Maybe it's just that they are such familiar plants in the landscape, but for sheer architectural beauty they really are very attractive - and the barley variety that I recently found preserved on an old herbarium sheet in Durham University School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences must have been especially so when it was alive and growing.
This particular plant has purple grains. Let me begin by quoting the attached label, that outlines its provenance.
Huskless Barley from Thibet (sic)
This ear of barley was grown at Burton-on-Trent by me in 1890 from seed given by the late Horace T.Brown,F.R.S. He got it from the late Thistleton Dyer, Director of Kew Gardens, who got it from Mr. Duthie of Sharanpur Botanical Gardens. He says the seed came from Poo in Thibet about the year 1881 when it was introduced into the Punjab, with other varieties. Dr. H.T.Brown says in some notes on this barley (Transactions of the Burton Natural History Society), “The colour is not diffused through the paleae, as in black Abyssinian or Scotch barley, but is confined to the integuments of the caryopsis. When microscopically examined, the inner protions of the pericarp immediately adjacent to the testa are seen to be charged with a very dark purple pigment, appearing in mass almost black. This pigment is fairly soluble in water, and probably consists of modified chlorophyll”.......“ The peculiar colour is not confined to the grain only, but occurs also in the nodes of the straw, which even at an early period of growth are very dark purple.” The colour appears to have faded somewhat during all the years that the specimen has been kept. I have tried two or three corns recently but failed to get any sign of germination. John E. Nowers. Jany 9 1928.