Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower: hyssop with hawk moth

This is just a hyssop, a cultivated member of the mint family, but boy do pollinators love it.  Just by a bit of luck TPP happened to catch one of them in action, a hawk moth, a miniature  humming bird of the insect world.  This one is quite typical of what we usually see.  The body is a bit over 2 cm long and nearly as big around as my little finger with a nice greenish fuzzy coat with couple of dark bands on the abdomen.  The wings move too fast for the average phone camera,but caught one of the clear and black wings at the end of a stroke. This one was quite engrossed in visiting every flower available.   At any rate it makes the average flowers just a bit more fabulous.  Enjoy.  

Some botanical culture

TPP is going to pass along this information.  In particular some of these illustrations are just fantastic and in general they are more appealing, more informational, and more beautiful than almost any photographs.  Yet people seem quite entranced by photographs.  The exhibit is called: Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens.  Examples of some of the illustrations can be found at this link, so if you find yourself near the Huntington, you might consider a visit.  

Another endangered orchid - How Showy

This Friday Fabulous Flower is one of the grandest (fabulous?) orchids in North America, the Showy Lady slipper, Cypripedium reginae, and yes, you shall get no location information to accompany the image.  Besides this is a wetland species (knee got wet getting this image), and TPP has found this species growing in ditches in Wisconsin.  This species is also a big plant for an orchid; clumps can be large and waist high.  It surprises people to learn that orchids are generally small flowered.  It amuses us to watch people walk right by most orchids because small and green just does not attract much attention. Loss of habitat (if this image had a sound track you could hear cars and trucks whizzing by on a nearby interstate) and human predation are its biggest problems leading to an endangered or threatened status.

Little gems - native plant refuges

Over the weekend the Phactors attended the annual gathering of our state's native plant society along with about 50 other like-minded souls.  The field trip trek we selected took us just across the border into Gary Indiana where we sought native plants in the shadows of post-apocalyptic industrial ruins. Places bounded by railroad yards, interstate highways, and crumbling remains of heavy industry.  You would not think this a likely place for finding uncommon native plants, but you would be wrong.  Here and there tucked away are a few leftovers of the Pleistocene, bits of sandy ridges and watery swales left behind by the receding of Lake Michigan.  The primary problem with small places is controlling invasive  plants and protecting what is left from undue human intrusions.  As a result these places are not labelled, not improved for visitation, and generally hard to find.  Fortunately we had excellent guides familiar with these sites. TPP was professionally interested to see lots of Castilleja growing among Pedicularis canadensis, both are hemiparasites, but they do not grow similarly and do not seem to have the same impact on the surrounding plant community.  Unfortunately these places are well outside our  travel range to be used as research sites.  At some times it was difficult to walk without stepping on yellow ladyslipper orchids that were almost done flowering only to have showy ladyslippers flower in their stead.  Beautiful to see with the background noise of trains and interstate traffic.  The very unexpected diversity of these sites and their general boggy, mosquito-haven nature, only crazy botanists would go there vibe helps keep things safe.  The image is a late flowering yellow lady slipper, Cypripedium pubescens.

Friday Fabulous Flower - New native in the garden


Sorry, sorry, for being so late. TPP was too busy hanging out with a group of native plant enthusiasts to do a FFF.  More on the field trips later.  TPP cannot remember where he saw this plant for sale, but it is rather unusual, and never having seen it in the field, it still seemed like a good idea to plant a couple last year and see what happens.  As you may remember, our yard has lots of shade, and supposedly this species hands some shade, and happily it survived our nasty winter and began flowering in late May.  This is Spigelia marilandica, Indian Pink, and it is a member of the Logania family, not one you are probably familiar with.  But in flower it sure is cute.  It seems to do better in light shade, next will be to see how much is spreads. It is a native species, just not around here.  

Friday fabulous Flower - rebound flowering


New front steps required that a foundation landscaping bed get redone.  A thread-leafed Chamaecyparis had out grown the space and needed to be replaced.  In the process a couple of Oenothera macrocarpa plants were uncovered, and they have responded to the release from light competition by flowering like crazy with as many as 30 flowers per day and these are big flowers and most people don't notice the long floral tube.  Yes, this has been a FFF before, but promise, the next entry will be something different.

Friday Fabulous Flower - an unusual newby

TPP is a plant collector, and oft times pushing the envelope on cold hardiness.  This winter the low temperature was -15 F (-26 C), and several plants surprised TPP with their cold hardiness.  This one is included in the list of uncertain cold tolerance, but the smallish shrub emerged in damaged and is now flowering for the first time.  TPP has seen it in flower before at the Missouri Botanical Garden, but never north of that.  So this is really a special flowering event here in northern Lincolnland.  There are a number of genera that are disjunct between eastern North America and eastern China.  Calycanthus floridus, Carolina sweet shrub, and Sinocalycanthus chinensis, Chinese sweet shrub both are now placed in the same genus by some taxonomists; they are in their own family.  The hybrid between these two species if becoming more familiar in horticultural circles, and TPP has all three.  The flowers have many parts, spirally arranged, and sometimes grading into one another (see link above).  At any rate here's the somewhat rare Sinocalycanthus flower showing both pinkish and yellow waxy tepals surrounding stamens and pistils.  Count us as a happy camper.

Impressions of Paris

TPP is not a city guy.  Generally speaking he avoids them, but people seem to put train stations, airports, and restaurants about cities making it almost certain you have to go there.  At any rate among cities that TPP has visited, Paris is pretty good.  Their Metro system is great, but crowded  and you can still walk your ass off for culture; 5 to 7 miles a day was about average.  TPP has never seen more trees planted in straight lines and poodled into flat-sided crowns. So all the talk about all the green in Paris, is just that talk, the reality is pretty boring.  You will run out of time and energy before Paris runs out of museums; the Paris museum passbook is advisable.  TPP like the Museum D'Orsay best, and it was open when others weren't.  Young Parisians were helpful and reasonably friendly, although maybe not quite patient enough of senior citizens on the Metro steps (& there are lots of them).  They are however heavy smokers, and it can ruin the sidewalk cafĂ© scene because they cannot smoke inside mostly.  No question the no smoking movement in the USA has left us less tolerant of cigarette smoke.  Lots of people wear scarves and TPP doesn't even own one you could wear when it isn't snowing outside.   Of course you look like a tourist no matter what.  The food was great and especially some of the smaller younger establishments.  The young people running (literally in one case) some of these places have a love of food and drink, and they actually act like they enjoy having you as a customer.  Best asparagus dish at Pasdeloup (108 rue Amelot, Marais Nord), grilled spears served over a wedge of burrata cheese, with sliced strawberries, and drizzled with browned butter.  So TPP gives Paris his endorsement, but they don't need it.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Bonus: Monet's lily pond

Sorry to lax blogging but TPP has been visiting Paris!   General impression is this is a great city.  Lots of sights, lots of good food and drink, and it is generally friendly.  The Metro system is easy to learn and easy to use, but Mrs. Phactor has always been good at this; we cannot say we like the train system as much.  They caused use much grief on our return from Givency and Monet's house and gardens.  The precious day we had seen over 300 linear feet of Monet's water lily paintings housed in L'Orangerie; quite impressive.  The real things are also quite impressive.  And one view of Monet's waterlily pond will have to suffice until our return in a day or so.  TPP did not suppose that the gardens would look as good as the paintings, but they were wonderful and did not disappoint.  TPP would like to report that the Mona Lisa and the Tour Eiffel also reside in Paris and still do, but they can be so crowded as to be rendered less appealing.  

Favorite flowers

One of TPP's favorite times of year is just after the early magnolias, the big leaf magnolias flower, and so do the tree peonies, Paeonia suffruticosa. In our climate the woody stems will get to around 3-4 feet tall and the shrubs are rounded.  And they bear the biggest, gaudiest flowers.  They are just so damned adorable.  Here' one of our favorite colors, the cultivar's name is long gone, sorry.  They come in a wide array of colors on the white to fuchsia scale, and then yellow!  How can you not just love these?