Field of Science

Friday fabulous flower - yellow lawn edition


This isn't the first time TPP has blogged about this neighborhood side lawn, but it's just so damned cheerful to see this early every spring.  The Phactors have long had blue lawns (see links on above page) and the first harbingers of blue are poking up here and there before the entire lawn turns blue, but this hedgerow of yellow (Eranthis hyemalis - Winter aconite, buttercup family) has been here for more than half a century showing that if you just don't disturb things, plants can do well.  This little bulb (corm) is a bit hard to get going sometimes, and while the tree rats don't eat them, they do dig them up when newly planted.  And then they flower, fruit, and disperse their seed until eventually you have a bed of early spring golden-yellow.

Strong wind brings strange leaves?

The late winter/early spring finds lots of leaves in the Phactors' various flower beds.  This is because that's where we put them and where they belong.  Sometimes you notice something unusual among the usual assortment of leaves and this morning was one of those times.  It has been quite windy once or twice in the past few weeks, but doubt very much this blew in from the tropics.  The leaf is quite unmistakable, it's a frond of a staghorn fern, a large tropical, epiphytic fern.  The university glass house has several, a couple of unusual massive size.  In this part of the world staghorn ferns are a difficult houseplant at best.  They would be happiest growing in your shower if you had a skylight to provide enough light.  Otherwise, forget it.  Suffice it to say, among the tropical plants in our possession, this isn't one. This was found in the front garden near the neighbor's driveway, but they are not really very much on plants outside, let alone inside, so it remains a mystery where it came from although clearly it has not been there all winter as it is still fairly fresh. It will still compost nicely.  

This morning smelled like the tropics

The tropics often has a particular smell in the morning, sort of an earthy smell, like what comes from fresh rain on dry rocks or soil. The word for this smell is "petrichor".  And it's very pronounced in the wet tropics after a rainy night followed by a sunny morning.  This morning here in the upper Midwest  it was a very pronounced smell because last night it rained after several days of dry conditions, and for Feb. 21 it was a positively tropical 60 degrees when TPP stepped out to get his newspaper. This sort of mixes with the smell of composting leaves.  So every now and then conditions produce this smell that says "this smells like the tropics". 

What's this? A favorite question.

TPP's old friend Dr. Chips has a keen eye, something necessary when you look for bryophytes and lichens.  But often when you look closely and carefully, you'll see things you didn't expect and may not know.  In Dr. Chips case, this isn't often, but here we go.  Here's the images of what TPP received this morning from out west in Washington state.
This is actually a fairly common and cosmopolitan organism, but you have to notice it.  These are actually the reproductive structures, not the actual organism itself. When pink like this they have a sort of creamy center, and perhaps this is the origin of the common name "wolf's milk".  The organism is Lycogala epidendrum, and it's been a few years since TPP has seen it, but it is quite singular in its appearance.  The organism that makes these sporangia is a plasmodial slime mold (or mould for my proper readers). Dr. Chips knows what this means, but for others, this organism is a T. rex of the microbial world, a "giant" amoeboid blob consuming any microorganism in its path.  Under certain conditions the plasmodium transform from a mass of cytoplasm into sporangia, and usually only these reproductive structures are seen.  And this is why Dr. Chips contacts TPP; he IDelivers, mostly! 

Friday Fabulous Flower - winter thaw edition

The high today, Feb. 17th, is nearly 70 F. Night time lows are staying above freezing.  And this is February, a real winter month. A walk around our gardens showed nearly all our early spring shrubs with swollen buds, and if they are pushed just a bit further, a nice wintery blast from the Great White North will bring them and their acting like spring to an abrupt stop. 
Both of our witch hazels are in flower, but they will not get damaged in any way by more cold. Very tough plants.  So this is 'Diane'; she bloomed almost a week ago. She also flowered late in the fall, but then her flowers were yellow.  'Arnold's promise' opened it's bright yellow flowers today.  Snow drops will bloom shortly.  To celebrate our garden's awakening from its brief hibernation, TPP began some garden cleanup and shopped for some upcycled kits for raised garden beds. 

February weather & gifts

So far the winter season of 2016-2017 has been quite mild.  Very little snow; none in January.  And now a significant thaw in February with high temperatures reaching the 50s and low 60s.  Lots of our early spring flowering shrubs are exhibiting bud swelling, and one witch hazel is already in flower.  Snowdrops are in bloom in a neighboring garden, but again none of this is too extraordinary given the mild temperatures.  However if it's too mild for too long in February, cold weather in March will be quite damaging.  Several shrubs in our gardens have been planted in shady areas deliberately to forestall early flowering because these species tend to flower at the first thaw and then get frozen.  Rather have them flowering late than getting frozen. 
Hopeless romantic that he is TPP was constrained by his wife's wishes regarding any gifts for Valentine's day: don't buy me anything sweet and fattening; don't buy me any flowers (we have several things in flower now); and just back from a vacation doesn't leave her in a mood for dining out (yet).  But yet a guy wants to show his affection, so what better than a new implement of destruction/gardening tool?  Buy candy in a heart-shaped box if you must, fellows, but getting her a new garden toy that looks very mean, that's a show of affection.  If you garden you probably recognize the brand; it isn't shown or mentioned because of our non-endorsement policy (they haven't offered to pay!). If you can't do something useful with this bad boy, you don't have much of a garden. Having a reversible handle usually means the "lefty" can use it OK.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Kahili ginger


The Phactors are back home in Lincolnland greeted back from Hawaii by a snow storm, which is somehow fitting. So as jet lag wanes, and our lives get caught up, TPP is happy to be only one day late with the FFF. One of the more notable things about Hawaii biologically is, unfortunately, the prominence of invasive species. And none are more troublesome or more handsome than Kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum), an ornamental species from Asia. This ginger forms almost impenetrable stands in the forest understory shading out native species.  And the massive rhizomes form dense mats preventing anything else from taking root.  In flower the 4-6' tall aerial shoots have terminal inflorescences of yellow-orange flowers that smell quite wonderful. The tan-colored fruits that follow are sort of nondescript until the fruits open revealing bright orange aril-covered seeds.  That's what's being shown in this image; flowers at the stage of seed dispersal.  Amusingly it makes the fern sort of look like an angiosperm.  The arils are both a visual attractant and a reward for the bird seed dispersers. So this plant can really get around.
Getting rid of such a plant is quite a chore, if not nearly impossible. Not knowing what is recommended, TPP suspects it takes cutting off the stand of aerial shoots, no small task, and then spraying the remaining stalks and rhizomes with an herbicide to prevent regrowth.  The idea of chopping out such a stand by hand sounds almost impossible, and reminds TPP of some of the worst gardening disasters of his experience on steroids. 

Alice in A'a land


Ah, the internet, it allows you to do so many things, like book a vacation suite sight unseen, or based upon the images they choose to show you.  You sometimes don’t know what you really got until you get there.  Now please understand, about 99 out of every 100 people or maybe even a higher percentage would think Waikoloa is a marvelous place.  If they brought you in blind folded you might never know what it is TPP is going on about.  There are resort accommodations here for thousands, and there are restaurants and shoppes, and two golf courses (2 more than the world needs) and a really fabulous beach (for real).  But the Phactors drove here, and that allowed us to see what this area is really like.  Part of the problem is that “natural” isn’t always what is preferred, which is certainly the case with this resort complex.

For those of you who are old enough this place resembles “The Village” where the secret agent man found himself “The Prisoner” continually wondering who is Number 1 (look it up).  The only thing missing is my striped blazer with a numbered badge.  Yes, we need a password to get in!  Here is the view from our flat’s patio, quite nice in a golf sort of way.  But TPP likes to explore and beyond yon hedgerow the view changes markedly, and so it looks for kilometers in all directions but the ocean. 

Nothing but A'aThis place is actually a massive bulldozer and water transformation of a volcanic landscape all too common here on the Big Island.  As beautiful as it is, this resort complex is as natural as a Las Vegas' fountain or a Palm Springs' parking lot. The landscaping is all UTF (ubiquitous tropical flora); nothing is native.  This is the human ecological hubris, to look upon a lava flow and say,  “We can make this a paradise.” No idea where all the water (and soil) comes from in a chronically arid location like this?  And golf courses? Places like this offend my ecological  ethic, and generally staying here is uncomfortable and troubling, although dawn on the beach and brunch at the beach club after a whale watching cruise was quite wonderful.  The problem is that most people who fall into this rabbit hole never notice. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - HA Tropical Botanical Garden

OK, TPP admits to being a bit jaded about tropical ornamentals. So when you encounter something new especially it it's a bit different, then it's a great thing.  So here's the FFF from the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden (see precious post for more info).  All the previous plants in this genus have been quite large herbs with big bright pink/purple inflorescences, and this species, presently unknown (Medinilla sp.) is small and charmingly delicate.  For the uninitiated this genus is in the Melastomaceae, the Melastoms, one of the easiest of families to recognize. The label was partly obscured so no idea even where this species comes from, but it isn't. M. speciosus of the Philippines. Any ideas out there??
The leaves were quite succulent almost hiding the characteristic leaf venation pattern, and usually when an inflorescence hangs down like this you think bat pollination, but these are not bat type flowers in any way.  Isn't this a pretty thing?  

Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden

Yesterday the Phactors visited the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden just north of Hilo.  It's a remarkable garden, the more so because as recently as 1977 this was a valley on Onomea Bay overgrown with invasive vegetation. That's when Dan Lutkenhouse bought the land and began hacking the garden out of the tangle. There are a large number of tropical ornamental plants that are well displayed and fortunately several worthy plants that were already present were preserved including the biggest mango tree TPP has ever seen. The labelling was well done, and TPP only had to research one or two things later to figure out what they were. Several plants were new to both of us.

It's quite a walkable garden but the valley is quite steep, even the initial boardwalk, quite an engineering feat, is quite steep while the lower portions of the garden paths were gentle enough with few stairs. People unable to handle the board walk are ferried down the steep entrance, sometimes including their wheel chair or walker, in golf carts.
This garden may have more shady understory plants than anywhere, they certainly have the most extensive use of the clubmoss Selaginella as a ground cover. An explanatory sign was needed for a nice stand of Angiopteris (a fern dating back to the Carboniferous). They also have an unidentified fossil of one of its relatives in their little museum. Make the connection please.  Now to tease you with something pretty a flowering liana in the Bignon family (Tecomanthe dendrophila), usually all you see of such lianas are the corollas after they drop to the ground from the canopy. These flowers are 5-6" long. Imagine what you'll get for the FFF!