Field of Science

Drought relief

The old upper Midwest, at least our part of it, was getting very dry.  The lawn was crunchy to walk across.  A couple of stressed plants that had not recovered from a tough winter and some dieback, just gave up and died.  Cracks in the lawn were as wide enough TPP could insert his hand.  A few new plants got TLC and watered at every opportunity, and in a garden as large as ours you do a lot of hose dragging.  A fairly mild storm system delivered some much needed rain, and most nicely, no severe wind or pounding rain, just a nice steady downpour.  The total in the Phactor official rain gauge was 2.7 inches.  Toping up the lily pond and making a lot of trees happy again.  This was enough rain to restore some ground water and close up the cracks.  Notable deaths include TPP's Ashe Magnolia that had sprouted new shoots after nearly dying back to the ground.  A rather ugly upright CephalotaxusSeveral clumps of forest grass have died leaving some blank spots.  Several viburnums have significant drought dieback, and so too an Emerald lace Japanese maple.  On a more cheerful note our hundreds of naked ladies have sent up flower stalks adorning our gardens with pink flowers.  
My colleagues are all somewhat depressed to note that students are starting to move back into town, a true invasion, and that means the semester starts next week.  TPP is unconcerned except for all the izombies walking around make riding a bicycle next to impossible.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Gaudy Legume and home at last


Well, in the wee hours of Friday the Phactors finally got home; spent the entire day in the Dallas airport 1st hoping for an earlier (noonish) booking via stand-by, 2nd waiting for a 7pm flight, and finally boarding said flight after a 3 hr delay.  Attitude about airports improved markedly.  Let's hear it for Mesa's antique computer system that was down casuing the delay.  So a bit late with the FFF blog because brain was too fuzzy to do anything much yesterday.  At any rate this gaudy legume shrub is a quite common ornamental in and around Tucson, and for obvious reasons.  TPP must admit to having some confusion here.  He was certain this plant was called Caesalpinia pulcherrima, but then a labelled specimen said Erythrostemon gilliesii.  First thought was that they were actually one species and one name was a synonym of the other.  Although not having researched this in any great depth that does not seem to be the case.  Both species are in the same Caesalpinioid subfamily of the Fabaceae, and both have red/orange flowers, although the former seems more at home in the wet tropics than the desert.  So TPP is unsure of the differences.  If anyone out there knows about any of this, maybe they'll let us know in the comments.

Airports basically suck

The Phactors are old enough to remember when air travel was pretty nice.  That day is long gone.  Today was basically wasted waiting around Dallas/Fort Worth airport after our flight got cancelled last night.  Nine hours and counting, another couple of hours to go if all goes well.  We are now playing airport gate tag and losing.  Spent the night in an airport hotel.  Checked in, dropped our carryon bags, then the elevator took us down to the 6th floor and stopped.  The door opened to show us a nice view of the ongoing renovation construction. The elevator wouldn't go up or down, and the door would no longer open.  Fortunately the call button worked and someone was sent to the rescue. The stairs seemed a good option at this point.  This sad event touched the bartender who comped us a couple of rather nice Old Fashioned cocktails.  Today was spent waiting to see if "stand-by" would shorten out wait by 8 or 9 hours (no!).  You see there are not that many flights to our smallish city from down here.  If you never hear from TPP again the whole thing has gone very wrong!  So maybe they can find a pilot and a replacement for the broken thing-a-ma-jiggy, or just a spare plane (there seem to be enough sitting around.). If all goes well we will get home around midnight (maybe with luggage, but not likely). Stay tune for a FFF post and travel update tomorrow.  


Do not hug this Teddy Bear


Lots of plants in the desert have some spiny protections, but as far as TPP is concerned some of the bushy prickly pears are the worse.  The image is Opuntia biglovii, a much branched, very prickly species that goes by the common name of teddybear cholla (chuh-oiy-ah).  The mere though of falling into one of these bushes scares TPP.  The spines have tiny recurved edges and they are hard to pull out, the branch segments have a tendency to fragment easily, so easily that some are called "jumping cholla".  Should some animal carry one off, it could be pulled off at a distance where the segment can grow into a new shrub.  These are just mean, nasty plants, although the flowers can be quite attractive.

Natural landscape vs unnatural landscape


The botanical meetings are in Tucson Aridzona.  The natural landscape is quite lovely high desert; saguaro cacti abound.  The resort is nice but surrounded by unnatural landscape too, a golf course.  See if you can tell the difference in the image above.  What a remarkable waste of water, even if it is reclaimed waste water.  Such a simple landscape as a monoculture of grass takes a huge water and energy input to maintain.  The botanists have all taken walks through xero-scaped areas and they report them as lovely.  No one has said a thing about the golf course.  What is there to say?

Friday Fabulous Flower - a Lily

Quite a patch of the 5-6' tall lilies grows on either side of our garden gate and they are a great rescue.  When the Phactors acquired this property many parts of it were severely over grown and that includes the border garden next to our neighbors driveway.  TPP doesn't actually remember what was growing there (we were really remiss taking "before" pictures, sadly).  But among the shrub thicket were these non-blooming stalks of what looked like a lily, which prompted Ms. Phactor to dig and replant them near our garden gate, where they have thrived.  Currently they are providing quite a flowering show and the patch continues to grow.  They have several common names, Turk's cap lily, tiger lily, and Michigan lily (Lilium michiganense).  We like the size and color.  Some years the bunnies eat the young plants, but some well-placed fencing prevented that this year, and the wet spring was to their liking.  

Garden tip - Control of Japanese beetles

Although a bit late this year, and a fairly modest crop, the Japanese beetles have arrived.  Here's relatively easy & inexpensive nontoxic means of control.  Depending upon what you wish to protect.  Buy several yards of bridal veil netting.  You can attach it to branches or fences or support cages or poles using clothes pins (pegs).  This works for all types of beetles and even things like cabbage looper butterflies. However remember with squash and cucumber you have to give bees access or do your own hand pollination.  Since we only have one hill of cucumbers, and a handful of zucchini plants, hand pollination each morning is not a big deal.  The ladies in fabric stores are always amused by my veil purchase.  If you are fairly gentle you can use the beetle netting two years. And of course this means you don't need any nasty chemicals.  Although some critter tore up a bed of beans having become tangled in the netting. Most of the beans will survive but the netting not so much.  

Friday Fabulous Flower at the fruit stage


Found this fruit in our woodland garden the other day, and it is a bit unusual.  Everyone's first thought is raspberry, and this is the same type of fruit derived from many pistils in the same flower, an aggregate fruit. 
So technically each unit is a fruitlet partially fused to its neighbors.  But this type of fleshy fruit is not common in this family (buttercup).  The leaf may not even help you identify this plant as it is not common here abouts, and it gets collected destructively for use as a medicinal and in many areas it is over collected.  This is Hydrastis canadensis, goldenseal.  How did you do?  Ever see this before?  The flower is constructed along the lines of last week's FFF, no showy perianth but lots of showy anthers around a number of pistils. 

The weirdness of birthdays as you get older

Mrs. Phactor just "celebrated" her 70th birthday.  TPP did this some months back, so we can claim a cumulative 140 years, and it's hard to know exactly  what to feel.  Neither of us looks or feels ancient, and yet TPP thinks he's the first male in his lineage to live this long.  Neither of us has any threatening health conditions that prevent us from pursuing the  things we like.  Gardening is both our hobby and our exercise program, although we are committed to more travel.  A big old garden like ours always provides plenty to do.  This may not be your idea of retirement, but our gardens are quite important to us, and they can always be improved upon.  Hard to know exactly how to feel, and actually most of our friends in our Friday Seminar group are older, but not necessarily wiser; we're the kids so to speak. Actually many set a good example.  70 seemed old when it was the older generation. Now it doesn't seem so old, although Mrs. Phactor says I shouldn't buy any more little trees because they take so long to grow. Got a stick for a 50th birthday present, and now this Magnolia salicifolia is quite large for a 20 year old tree.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Here's all the anthers.

Midsummer is an interesting time for our gardens.  Lots of lilies of all sorts for color, but then several white flowered species.  But the queen of the shade gardens is this black snake root (lots of common names, but it is not a well-known plant here in the upper Midwest) (formerly Cimicifuga racemosa, now Actea racemosa just as good old Linnaeus proposed).  The tall (5'+) branched racemes of white flowers show up very nicely in the light shade it prefers.  The flowers have no sepals or petals, just a cluster of a hundred or so stamens surrounding a single pistil.  The odor is described as a sweet and fetid, to which TPP adds musky, and it attracts an array of pollen foraging insects: flies, gnats, beetles.  Although a bit hard to get established, the plants are tough and long-lived. This is a member of the buttercup family which has a number of species whose flowers only have anthers.