Field of Science

Pollarded Sycamores

Since this topic came up TPP has seen new examples, and here's one where relatively young sycamore trees have been pollarded into a shady cover for a patio area. 

Gelato flavor of the week - Mugo pine

Most of you would not know this, but Mrs. Phactor has a serious gelato problem, and here in Rome where gelato shops are around every corner, the temptation is great.  Last time in Italy, she managed to try 30 different gelato flavors in 30 days. So as time goes on it gets harder to find new flavors (she has a list somewhere).  It was hard to believe but the first new flavor found this trip was Mugo Pine.  Now you may be thinking that mugo pine is just not a gelato flavor, but having an open mind is important, so you anti up your 2 Euros and have a go.  It was actually very piney with a nifty bit of resinous after taste.  Although I did point out that they had decorated the tray with a spruce sprig rather than a mugo pine.  Probably no one else noticed.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - cute weed

Lots of rock/brick walls where we are in Italy, and lots of different weeds growing on them.  Several are quite nice plants for filling rough spaces.  Here's  one that has a lot of common names; the one TPP learned was Kenilworth ivy.  Yet you will probably recognize right away the similarity to snapdragons to which Cymbalaria muralis is related now placed in the much larger Plantaginaceae, the plantain family along with a number of other scrophs.  TPP is still having trouble with this as it does not make taxonomic sense to his antique mind.  The flowers are quite cute with a nectar spur (note the center flower) and very reminiscent of a Linaria.  It is viney and grows in a dense mat of ivy like leaves.

You want cheese with that?

TPP had a ham sandwich for lunch. It was Parma ham sliced tissue thin, on a panino roll, and melted gorgonzola cheese.  Now think about what you get in the states; a squared of nearly tasteless plastic cheese, ultimately one of the more embarrassing food items back home.  There were a couple of other options here, and none of them were wrapped in plastic or mimicked their wrapping.  This is where the rest of the world is so ahead of the USA, and we have a president who orders in cheeseburgers (one of his least offenses)  to serve at certain functions The panino roll had a crust and a chewy texture, not a soft, collapsible thing of no interest whatever.  And our culture's cheerleaders declare these burgers a tremendous thing.  So far the double arches have not invaded this part of the world, and that makes TPP quite happy. It is a vacation from our cheese and the people who think it a fine thing.  It's not.

Trains, boats, & planes, & coaches lead to coppiced trees


No boats actually, but the other three came into play, and clearly TPP is not in Kansas any more, not that he was or even wanted to be.  But here on the north west coast of Italy is where we find ourselves in a rented villa of an heir to the Fiat fortunes.  One of the many things that give it away are how they treat their street trees.  They use a lot of lindens, that are sometimes called lime trees because their flowers smell sweet rather like those of citrus trees.  And they prune the heck out of them, a type of coppicing.  In this little town the crowns are pruned to meet over the center of the street, which is typically enough one-way and narrow.  And you drive under these leafy arches.  It is quite lovely and as you know TPP does not like to see trees and shrubs poodled.  But this is a bit different and on a grand scale.  This is just not done in the USA except on a small scale in some gardens.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - It's red, and it's a buckeye


Too many nice things flowering right now making it hard to choose; 5 different azaleas, 6 or so different peonies, a Carolina silver bell, a couple of Magnolias, a couple of Calycanthus bushes, some Deutzias, one unknown (probably an Actea), until it does flower, a pearl bush, lots of wild geranium, and so on.  So today's shrub gets overlooked because while attractive it isn't gaudy, but makes a nice addition to shrub border or a woodland edge, the red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, a native species.  Don't confuse this with a red-flowered horse chestnut, although it is another Aesculus.  Doing some foreign traveling, so TPP may be more irregular at posting than usual for a couple of weeks.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Crested Iris


Our gardens look pretty good right now. Lots of flowering shrubs, lots of wild flowers.  And sometimes little things tend to get overlooked like today's FFF.  This particular native plant has been in our garden several times, struggles, and then dies, and we replace it when opportunity allows.  It's tough to know what this particular plant needs/wants.  At present it is doing as well as ever in a corner of a front garden bed.  Sunny, but protected from afternoon heat; well-drained, but watered regularly; no competition (important TPP thinks); and lightly mulched.  Why bother?  Well, it's quite a lovely little thing, a small native, Iris cristata the crested iris.  The falls have a crest of tissue under the colored portion, this plant's alternative to a "beard" of hairs.  The whole plant is only a few inches tall and the flower about 1.5 inches in diameter. If you have luck with this species in your garden, let TPP know what you think it likes.

Signs of healthy garden

It was a busy gardening week, lots of shrubs to clip back, lots of leaves to clean up, lots of planting and moving (new location for kitchen garden).  And halfway decent weather too.  One sign that we have a healthy garden is how many desirable plants are reproducing.  Bloodroot is suddenly popping up all over, sometimes in amusing places.  Ramp seedlings are also appearing in lots of places (are the fruits/seeds ant dispersed?)  Trillium grandiflora and Hepatica acutiloba  have both produced seedlings, and we take that as a good thing.  Now here's another sign.  While cutting back a Kerria shrub (lots of winter die-back), TPP collected these poking up through the leaf mulch.  Oh, did they make a delectable sauce.  These are the black morel (Morchella angusticeps) and in another location a volunteer orchid (as yet not identified with certainty (missed the flowers)) is returning for another season.  Organisms just keep finding our gardens.  Mostly this makes us happy.

Friday Fabulous Flower - species tulips

Some time back Mrs. Phactor bought a collection of mixed species tulips and they have done quite well.  Quite a few people seem confused by the term species tulips, but they are basically wild flowers from a different place, real species with scientific names.  They would be called "wildflowers" in their native habitat.  These are not big plants or big flowers, but they are pretty tough, and quite handsome; they seem to naturalize well.  Let's see, top to bottom. Tulipa tarda, T. turkestanica, T. urumiensis, and T. humilis.  However the flowers tend to close when overcast or for the night.  They do well in well-drained rock garden situations.  They flower just after crocus in a sunny bed. These are all natives to the middle east, and at least one botanist thinks tulips may be the "lilies of the field" 
in all their splendor as real lilies in this region are not very colorful.



Dinosaur kills man in Florida


This was not the article's title, but it should have been.  TPP's academic alter ego has had the great good fortune to have studied botany in a number of tropical forests.  So when the article says a man in Florida (the state attracts a certain sort - sorry Sis but 'tis true) was killed by a bird, my mind immediately thought cassowary, which is crazy because it also said Florida (some good pictures on this blog from Innisfail).  A long ago study site in far northern Queensland (a bit further north than Innisfail) had cassowary, and TPP well remembers his first encounter. On some muddy ground were these dinosaur footprints like those on display at the Field Museum in Chi-town.  And your hand could not cover one of these.  The same day TPP came close to being pummeled by fruits falling from the canopy that were about the size of large baking potatoes (Faradaya a liana in the mint family) and it was hard to believe that a bird dispersed these fruits after being told that cassowary ate them whole.  And that's when you see the dinosaur foot prints in the mud.  As the sun set, in the gathering gloom, this 5+ foot tall black bird suddenly appears in your clearing and it is quite astounding, because the only thought was dinosaurs did not all go extinct!  And yes, it could kick you to death.  So the mention of cassowary still triggers vivid memories, and you wonder what the heck a guy in Florida was doing with one of these birds that in my opinion should remain in the wild.