Put Some Plants in Your Playoff Beard

Plants and sports intersect more than you might realize. There’s the obvious connections, like grass fields and wooden bats. And there are the less obvious connections, like secret salsa, peanuts and cracker jacks—even fans and their facial hair.

For the second time in 2019 St. Louis sports fans who can, are growing a playoff beard. With the Cardinals eyeing another deep October run, let’s take a look at how plants can help you maintain a better beard.

It’s All in the Ingredients

An entire industry has sprouted up in recent years to cater to better beard care. There are lines of balms, shampoos, conditioners, and oils all aimed at improving the quality of facial hair. Most brands boast about natural ingredients, and a look at the label can help back up those claims.

In an effort to not endorse a particular brand, the selected sample product will remain anonymous. Let it suffice to say this is a common beard oil sold at local grocery stores. The ingredient list on the back of the bottle reads more like a botanist’s field notebook than a beauty care item—Helianthus annuus (Sunflower) oil, Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar) oil, Persea gratissima (Avocado) oil, and more.

It is fairly rare to see the scientific names of plants on any ingredients list. When you eat something made with corn or wheat, you almost never see Zea mays or Triticum aestivum on the label. Imagine ordering fast food french fries that say Solanum tuberosum (potato) cooked in Brassica napus (canola) oil! And some brands may evoke the idea of a plant to market a product, without actually including any physical connection to it in the ingredients.

A typical ingredient label does not include scientific names of plant ingredients.

It’s a small thing, but referring to a plant by its scientific name instead of it’s common name can help people understand the vast diversity of the plant world by specifying the exact species being used. For instance, this beard oil lists spruce as an ingredient. There are dozens of species of spruce in the world, including many used as Christmas trees. Because the label included the scientific name Picea glauca, the user can now learn more about this plant ingredient.

A Botanical Mix-Up

Another interesting botanical lesson pops up right there on the ingredient list. Simmondsia chinensis, also known as jojoba or goatnut, is a woody shrub native to southern California, parts of Mexico, and Arizona. The oil-rich nuts have a long history of use by Native Americans, and are popularly used today in many plant-based products.

A jojoba nut (Simmondsia chinensis). Photo by Katja Schulz
https://www.flickr.com/photos/treegrow/25616706920/

So why does such an economically important, american plant have the species name chinensis (denoting it is from China, which it is not)? There was a bit of a mix-up by the botanist who first described the plant, thinking it was from China and naming it Buxus chinensis. A specimen of the same species described later by a different botanist was named Simmondsia californica.

The rules of botanical nomenclature can be unflinchingly rigid. The original genus name was incorrect, meaning it was changed from Buxus to Simmondsia, and although not geographically correct, the scientific name retained its original species designation, chinensis. A similar situation played out with the naming of Victoria water lilies. Who knew a small bottle of beard oil contained such botanical drama?

Plants and People 

The Garden’s William L. Brown Center studies the relationship between people and plants, a field known as ethnobotany. It has a growing collection of ethnobotanical artifacts—plant products used by people—including coffee, chocolate, hemp, and an array of essential oils. Some of those artifacts contain the very same plants found in our beard oil example.

Siberian Fir oil extract in the Garden’s ethnobotany collection.

Plant-based oils have been used by people for centuries for a variety of reasons. Depending on the plant, they can be used for cooking, aroma therapy, or treating medical conditions. Beard oil replaces the natural oil lost when scrubbing your beard clean. It smells nice too. Ask a Blues fan who’s waited their entire life to see a parade down Market Street, and beard oil might just be magic. Hopefully there’s enough left in that little bottle for one more parade this fall.

Full disclosure, the author of this post is blessed with an uncanny ability to grow facial hair, and has been growing playoff beards in support of St. Louis sports teams for well over a decade. It worked in 2006, 2011, and already once in 2019.

Cassidy Moody—Senior Digital Media Specialist

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