Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Still one more peony

Well, it is almost the end of May and TPP forgot some of the herbaceous peonies still to flower.  This particular peony is quite spectacular.  It is a big, tall plant with a goodly number of flowers making for quite a display.  This is also an anemone-type flower where the many stamens were developmentally transformed in to staminodia, sterile appendages that  make for a crown like structure in the center of the flower.  What a color!  Hot pink.


A way back graduation tale

What seems like a long time ago, TPP graduated from college, fifty years ago to be exact, so 1970.  And I do feel rather sorry for all those grads whose graduation ceremony was cancelled.  Ours wasn't cancelled but it wasn't normal either.  It could have gone either way.  You see students opposed to the war in Vietnam got very upset and energized by the shooting of protesters by the National Guard at Kent State University.  Everybody walked out of class on "strike" essentially shutting down most universities.  However in TPP's case the science faculty decided that learning and the strike were more or less at odds with each other, and they did not cancel their classes, some of which TPP needed to complete in order to graduate and go graduate school the next fall.  This was a big deal because while not in favor of the war, the chance to get a graduate degree in botany was a huge opportunity.  Well to make a long story short, TPP did pass his classes and attend graduate school, but he took a lot of grief from more politically motivated students.  Our graduation was in question, but it was finally negotiated between campus administrators and student anti-war leaders.  Our valedictorian left campus for his graduate work, and our student government president decided he would lead in our class, but putting a student politician in a place of academic honor did not sit well with most of us.  But pragmatically someone had to do it, and it came to pass that TPP graduated in early June some 50 years ago, although it was a bit touch and go there for awhile whether a graduation ceremony was too politically correct or not, but no one shot at us. As the Phactors have been reminded lately, we survived the 60s twice. That was how they ended.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Yellow peony

OK TPP has done several posts about peonies, especially tree peonies.  But maybe you can stand just one more.  This yellow peony has been declared as TPP's favorite flower, and clearly it is in the top 10.  Actual yellow peonies only occur in tree peonies, and hybrids made with tree peonies like the Itoh peonies.  And one of these plants in full flower are pretty attractive. Isn't this grand?  These do flower just slightly later than all of the pink to red to white flowered plants.  

Friday Fabulous Flowers - Tree Peonies

TPP is known for his love of tree peonies.  None of them actually become trees in our climate, just sort of coarse bushes.  They are rather slow growing and a bit picky about where they grow, but they have just huge beautiful flowers in some shocking pinks.  Here's three flowers in three shades of pink (TPP has several more colors including yellow, which flower a bit later in the season).  And the flowers are handspan across, about 8".  

Gardening in a time of plague, Chapt. 2

Basically the Phactors are keeping a low profile and limiting our out of the garden excursions to the necessities.  It has been a very cool spring following a mild winter.  But we have had two frosts and some plants have been frosted twice like our poor Magnolia seiboldii. Lots of trees and shrubs had expanding leaves that were easily frozen.  TPP thinks most will recover unless they were in poor shape anyways, like our dwarf Metasequoia. Tough stuff like lettuce and broccoli are doing well enough.  But people who planted the tropical garden plants: tomato, pepper, eggplant may now be regretting being anxious.  Such plants will not grow with nighttime temps below 50 F.  The coolish spring has the happy result of keeping flowering shrubs in handsome shape for a considerable period of time. Our gardens do look good especially the redbuds and dogwoods.  Had to make a trip to the local garden shoppe to buy plants for later planting, and for some reason their supply is low, and it isn't from additional sales.  In times of plague and home confinement you would expect more interest in gardening wouldn't you?  We have been participating in some zoom TGIF sessions just to enjoy seeing our friends and chatting.  A few brave souls have brought drinks and had a garden walk around at decent social distances. With neither a vaccine nor an effective means of treatment, emerging seems like a choice between evils. And a President even more desperate to get the economy going, and yet showing no interest in our increaed risk of death does not promote any confidence.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - yellow flowered ginger

TPP first saw this plant in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.  It was immediately clear that it was a member of Aristolochiaceae, but the bed lacked a tag so it took a couple of weeks of poking around to find the name Saruma henryi. Clearly it is a close Chinese cousin to Asarum, and if you move the first letter to the end you have the new genus name.  Cute.  The plant will grow in most woodland gardens quite well and is hardy well up into zone 4, but mulch it.  The aerial stems grow about 12" tall and they stand upright.  The charming yellow flowers are a real standout, and it will set seed.  The leaves are broadly heart-shaped resembling Asarum, but they are fuzzy.  This is not a common plant although a number of online nurseries have it for sale.  


Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo just after star wars day, TPP can only stand so much excitement.  Nothing much to do with plants for either day, but lots of things to choose from.  A relatively new addition to our gardens will have to do.  Firstly, know that Mrs. Phactor loves Iris of all sorts.  A native iris is now available in our garden shops even though it just barely makes it into the southern most tip of Lincolnland.  TPP first saw this species, Iris cristata on a field trip to eastern Kentucky.  This particular clone seems fairly robust and has flowered in its first season, a good sign.  It has been a bit tricky to grow in that it's hard to find a place this little woodland iris likes where it isn't too exposed but doesn't get over grown with more aggressive plants.  In this case it seems to like a corner of a low garden wall next to a sidewalk.  The whole plant only stands about 6 inches tall, with flowers just barely over an inch in diameter.  It's distinctive feature is that the "falls", sepals, have a raised crest sporting some contrasting white and yellow pigmentation with a darker purple margin rather than having a beard of filaments. The iris flower functions rather like 3 bilaterally symmetrical flowers, so presumably the crest is a nectar guide. The sepals are partly covered by a 3-parted petaloid stigma that hides the 3 stamens.  Don't let Mrs. Phactor catch you  pulling apart one of her Iris flowers.  
 

Friday Fabulous Flower - woodland peony

TPP is not a native plant purist, but a plant collector.  So when plants of Peonia japonica were found for sale, and it was touted as a woodland plant, TPP had to have one.  Analysis this species of peony grows like a Trillium, and is equally as slow.  It has a simple elegance about it and TPP now has several seedlings, but they take 2 years to germinate and maybe 5 years to flower.  No wonder they were a bit pricey. This plant is about 1 foot tall and will have 4 
or 5 flowers.


Eat the weeds?

Can you eat weeds?  TPP has been asked this question several times during his long career, and that question has been thought about quite a bit.  First, the answer is that we do eat weeds, that is, some domesticated plants have their origins as weeds.  Second, a lot of these weeds have been around for a long time, so people have had ample time to domesticate them if they were thought to have any value.  Third, think about the difference between being edible and tasting good.  Here's the list of weeds that were presented as edible in an online article on Treehugger: wild amaranth, plantain, chickweed, mallow, curlydock, dandelion, purslane, clover flowers (warning: some clovers are toxic), lamb's quarters.  Now there are "grain" amaranths grown for their seeds, and even dandelions have some cultivars.  Generally selection is on extended juvenile stages, which in general are the more edible and better tasting.  If you grow lettuces and there are wild weedy species, lettuce begins to taste bitter as they bolt before flowering because the latex producing cells proliferate at this stage. 
Once years ago the Phactors tried New Zealand "spinach" because supposedly it stayed in an edible stage in the long days of summer and tasted like spinach.  What a good deal!  The plant is Tetragonia tetragonoides, and tasted more like freshly mowed grass than any plant we had ever grown.  It became pet rabbit fodder.  TPP thinks none of these weeds tastes good enough to be domesticated and if they had some redeeming qualities then people would have already domesticated them.  Otherwise TPP does not think these weeds will make up any significant part of any rational diet.  It may be good to know what is edible so that when society collapses, your friendly neighborhood botanist can earn his place in our new society.  Other than adding a bit of garnish to a mixed salad, a hoe is the best means of dealing with weeds. Mrs. Phactor found a recipe for "shrimp rampy" and it sounded reasonably good, but wild ramps while common enough in some places are not actually very weedy, and they do taste pretty good, as good as any oniony plant.  But foraging for an edible wild plant is different that eating the weeds.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Bluebells

North America has its own version of bluebells.  Most flowers with that common name are vaguely bell shaped and dangle or hang down, a position that seems most appropriate for bumblebees.  Our particular bluebells do hang down and dangle, but the flowers are longer and more trumpet-shaped, not quite a true salverform as the flaring part of the bell is not at right angle to the tube.  This is Mertensia virginiana in the Borage family.  Most flowers called bluebells are monocots and in the lily/amaryllis family, or campanulas. The Phactors have lots of this attractive weed demonstrating that there is no sharp boundary between lawn and garden. This time of year all sorts of spring flowers are found throughout our "lawn".