This is not a California scrub oak in full bloom – this is a California scrub oak chosen by a Cup-of-Gold Vine (Solandra maxima) as a perfect climbing place.
The old Aztecs knew their Solandra quite well, albeit under the name ‘Tecomaxochitl’. They used the leaves to cook them up with cocoa; the resulting brew was then drunk as a love potion. I can just imagine the novice in the kitchen listening to Granny mumbling: “Be careful, dear, don’t give him too much of it – his body will dry out and he will die of too vigorous lovemaking.” Hmm… what a way to go.
Actually, the members of the Solandra family are an interesting bunch – they range from the Deadly Nightshade to the potatoes, including tomatoes, eggplant, paprika, chili peppers and tobacco.
And yes, the flowers and leaves of the potato plant are quite toxic, too, as the poor farmers in Germany learned when Frederick the Great (1712 – 1786) decreed that they had to plant this newfangled crop on their fields. Frederick needed food for his people, and even more so for his army – plenty of food, and cheap to boot. The potato was perfect. Unfortunately somehow nobody explained to the farmers which part of the plant was edible, so they cooked the green parts. Bon appetit – not. Once the initial confusion about the edible parts of these new crops was sorted out, the potato thrived and the people with it.
Actually, I met both members of the family in one day on Catalina Island: The strikingly beautiful bloom (diameter 4 inches) in the morning in the Botanical Garden, the rather more humble but tasty potato in the evening on my dinner plate. I enjoyed both very much.