Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - An African Bignon

Our African trip was focused on animals not plants, but TPP was at least familiar with one rather common tree that was in flower & fruit this time of year, the beginning of the dry season.  It's called the sausage tree because of the big, heavy indehiscent fruits hanging down like so many salami in a deli (bottom image).  Like other Bignons, Kigelia africana, has winged seeds but since the fruit doesn't open they don't get much of a chance to fly until after a large mammal gnaws it open.  The dark maroon-colored flowers only open for a single night and they are bat pollinated; sometimes you can see the marks left by bat thumb hooks on the outer throat of the flower.  Since the flower is rather large and fleshy that much biomass attracts considerable interest and various antelope, and even elephants will stop by trees for a snack of recently dropped corollas.


Friday Fabulous Flower - Very rare, not an Aster

 TPP is back!  It was a great trip even if it required several episodes of covid testing (failed them all, a good thing), including one administered by a nurse helicoptered into a field camp for just 9 of us.  At any rate today's not a Friday, not an aster, is actually called a false Aster, Boltonia decurrens.  Presently it is flowering in our perennial garden.  At well over 7 feet tall it is truly a standout.  And this is a rare plant in Illinois, an endangered species.  And having never seen it in the field it was quite surprise.  Now TPP knows what you are going to say, "Endangered? it looks like a fleabane aster, an Erigeron.  And technically TPP has no idea why it isn't one, and sorry haven't had the chance to look it up.  The numerous narrow pinkish ray flowers and yellow disk flowers certainly to look like a fleabane aster.  This particular species has leaf bases that are prominently decurrent down the stem, but Verbesina (wing stem) as the name suggests has winged stems so the two could be confused if you only had stems.  Although the yellow ray flowers of the latter leave no doubts.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Big

 If your perennial garden doesn't have one of these, it should.  The flowers aren't just big, they are huge.  And it is almost a carefree plant.  It only suffers from being tasty to Japanese beetles.  This cultivar is related to one of the rose mallows, a species of Hibiscus, but TPP doesn't know which one, perhaps H. moscheutos.  This is the one of the biggest flowers in our garden in terms of diameter, only surpassed by one of the big-leafed magnolias (back a few FFF's ago).  So that flower is about 8 " in diameter, pretty gaudy.  The cultivars come in a range of colors from white to dark red.  All have a center target of darker red.  It also flowers in mid to late summer.  
This plant was also called a marsh mallow because the grew in wet areas.  The roots were spongy and white, and if sweetened they were used as a confection, the botanical ancestor of marshmellows, a purely sugar confection.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Big and Blue


Somehow TPP missed a Friday.  Who knows how this happens but it did.  Fortunately there are a few reliable plants that flower in the late summer.  This plant moves around the garden a bit, but it's always around. Quite reliable, you just have to learn how to recognize the seedlings and leave a couple.  This is the great or big blue Lobelia (L. siphilitica), probably the easiest Lobelia to keep around your garden. And this part of the garden is fairly dry, although some field guides suggest it likes wet areas.  Don't know about the specific epithet, perhaps this species was thought to have a medicinal use, but no obvious connection.  There are supposedly two varieties here in Illinois, but TPP isn't sure he's ever a seen a difference.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Meadow rue


Well, it's almost Friday, so may as well do something in bloom.  The Meadow Rue right next to our patio is an elegant tall plant (5') with a spray of purplish flowers at the top.  This is a dioecious species, probably Thalictrum delavayi.  The flowers are basically either a cluster of stamens or a cluster of pistils with a whorl of several petalloid bracts below.  In another taxonomic affront to TPP's memory, Hepatica. has been placed in the genus Tahlictrum.  Some molecular study obviously nested it within the meadow rue genus and so for neatness the genus got changed.  The meadow rue generally flowers now in mid to late July, whereas Hepatica flowers in the very early spring.  It also has petalloid bracts, and unlike many spring ephemerals, its leaves do not die back but over winter above ground after turning a purplish brown, thus the liver leaf, that and it's three lobed. Oh,crap there is a weedy vine climbing the meadow rue.

Friday Fabulous Flower - bottlebrush


In late July there isn't too much flowering going on but this excellent shrub flowers in this time period. This  is the bottlebrush buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, even better it grows well even in a fairly shady places. Here it is part of a mixed shrubby border.  The long white spikes of flowers are the reason for the common name "bottlebrush".  This particular shrub is about 6' tall and maybe 8-10' wide, and they can get a bit bigger, but slowly.  They do tend to spread a bit via rhizomes, and so most smaller yards stay clear of this plant. An aerial shoot of mayapple can be seen at the bottom center.  Some years the flowers get attacked by Japanese beetles, but in spite of a mild winter their numbers this year have not been great.  This was planted as a seedling in 2003 and first flowered 5 years later (2008); that year this one was dug and replanted in this location.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Prairie royalty


TPP thinks he owes everyone a FFF post, so this one is a day early because according to both Ms. Phactor and the F1 there will be no time to post a blog in the next 2-3 days.  Gad, but it's  a long list.  This is an outstanding plant.  Spotted it in bloom rising above the rest of the perennial bed from the table in our kitchen probably about 50 yds away.  And no question this plant liked the monsoonal rain even of 2 weeks ago (10.5").  This is Filipendula rubra, Queen of the prairie, or meadow sweet.  At this time of year it stands about a stately 6' tall and likes some what wetter soil (and it's present location can be a bit dry this time of year).  This is a member of the Rose family, which should be fairly obvious.  The flowers are pretty small, but form a large visible cluster.  The color can vary from this pink to a darker rose especially in cultivars (this is pretty much wild type).  And it contrasts nicely with the taller gray coneflower's yellow.  The leaves are palmately lobed leaves.

First of the season

In my own opinion, this is a rather good picture nice berry, a  flower at the stage of seed dispersal.  Today is the 30th of June, and this was picked this morning.  TPP grew up near lake Ontario in upstate NY, so according to the good old boys, if you got a tomato before July, you were doing well.  This year our area suffered a late frost and some "early" planted tomatoes and their tropical kin, peppers and eggplant, got nipped.  Our frost tree date is about 10-15 May, so TPP was not in a hurry before then and soil in boxes tends to warm up pretty fast.  Now this image doesn't provide a very good size metric, and indeed this is a so-called "cherry tomato"; generally rather small.  Mrs. Phactor ate this nice little fruit a few seconds later and declared it delicious.  These golden colored cherry tomatoes do seem to be sweet and tasty.  And here it is a whole day before July, the very beginning of our 3 month long tomato season.  That's it, 3 months to get tasty garden tomatoes.  It just doesn't seem fair, but it does represent a challenge.  The cherry tomato is a lot more like its wild cousins in being composed of 2 carpels (seed bearing leaves), which can be easily seen when the fruit is cut in half.

A look in the rear view mirror

 TPP doesn't pay too much attention to such things, but every now and then it helps to look around where you've been and maybe decide about where you are going. It turns out that The Phytophactor was born almost 13.5 years ago, and that's a long time in the blogosphere.  It actually started in Zurich when time loneliness weighed a bit heavy in evenings and it took a long time before the blog was noticed. There's some good stuff way back there. That's nearly 3200 blogs and a thousand over 2,000,000 page reads.  Don't know how many words or plants or flowers that have been abused  in this dubious accomplishment.  The blog has only been trolled really once by a creationist biochemist, and he was a real pain and as usual he really didn't understand evolution at all.  

No idea about changing directions very much.  Politics is just too ugly to write about; it gets depressing real fast when you think about how many people could find a reason to vote for the last guy who was president.  TPP cannot imagine how your thinking works.  After all once a jerk, always a jerk, and as a New Yorker, this guy has been a known quantity for a long time and no question he lied about bone spurs.

TPP reads that the students over at Indiana University are suing because the university wants them all vaccinated for the fall semester, and les petits pois think their constitutional rights have been violated.  They do not think they are in any danger from covid even though over 600,000 prople have died.  And the biggest danger to us older people, even though vaccinated, is to be around unvaccinated people.  So what responsibilities do these poor things have to society?  When much younger TPP remembers that he never had a school class that didn't include classmates who wore leg or arm braces, all victims of polio.  Then a polio vaccine was developed and our parents rushed out to get everyone of us vaccinated.  The last case originating in the USA was in the late 1970s.  And then there is/are measles.  Oh, don't get me started.  Dear IU, not sure college students this dim can be educated.

And that condo collapse in Miami.  How awful!  It doesn't take much imagination to wonder if southern  Florida's attempts to ignore and mitigate rising sea levels are at least partly responsible. They seem to think that raising sidewalks is all the solution they need.  

TPP understands that venting is a fundamental function of blogging.  So for now TPP isn't going anywhere, but now blogging is just so old fashioned, so quaint.  It's sort of fitting.  See you all around.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Lily


A number of years ago either because a charity garden tour wanted to include our gardens for a show in June, or because she wanted flowers for a friend's June wedding, Mrs. Phactor planted a lot of lilies in our perennial gardens.  And the majority of them flower in June.  On the whole they make for a lot of color in an otherwise rather dull time of year.  This particular lily, an Asian lily, is an ivory cream color, the variety name has long been lost, but every year it has a huge, handsome display.  Friends had a fluffball of a cat, a flouncy thing, named Lily appropriately.  She's long since gone, but she was quite handsome.  Enjoy.