Jeopardy! category: GARDENING (05-12-2014)
$600 clue: This hybrid lemon tree bears the surname of the guy from the U.S.D.A. who brought it to the U.S. in 1908
The gist: If you’ve got an agricultural economy like the U.S. did for quite a long time, you’re going to need someone to go get you new plants to grow. That’s much of what the United States Department of Agriculture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and why they hired Dutch immigrants Frank Nicholas Meyer in 1905. He was sent from the U.S.D.A’s Office of Seed and Plant Introduction to Asia to find economically valuable plants that could be cultivated in the U.S. His first voyage lasted three years, taking him all around Eastern Asia, where he found crops like the Chinese persimmon, a type of lotus, Ginkgo biloba, and the sweet lemon variety, botanical name Citrus × meyeri (the × indicating a hybrid species), which now bears his name. His next three Asian trips saw him bring back over 2500 plant species, including soybeans, among the most important crops grown in the United States today.
Unfortunately for Meyer, China had been embroiled in political chaos since the Ming dynasty crumbled in 1911 and various factions, including Sun Yat-Sen’s Kuomintang nationalist party, battled for the country’s future. Sailing on a Japanese ship down the Yangtze River to Shanghai in 1918, Meyer fell into the river and drowned. His body was later recovered, but the cause of his fall overboard and circumstances of his death remain a mystery.
The clue: There are plenty of lemon varieties out there, and the Meyer isn’t the most common (the one you probably find in the supermarket is the Eureka lemon), but it’s been popular in American cooking since the 1970’s. The fruit does, it turns out, have an pretty interesting history, but if you know about it, you probably know it from cooking. On the other hand, if you know this one and the Eureka, you can figure the Meyer is the more likely of the two to be someone’s name.
In Jeopardy!: A category on gardening in the Battle of the Decades is likely to see some firsts, and this is the first clue for “Meyer lemon” in the J!Archive. Frank Meyer doesn’t appear in any, either, so that’s all there is to that!