Field of Science

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!

Pioneer plant or climax community

When thinking about plant succession from the colonization of new space to a dominant species in a climax community, the same plant is seldom found in both positions.  Last Friday's Fabulous Flower is one such plant; a pioneer species on lava fields and a tree that hangs around to be a dominant component of the climax forest community.  You learn something every day, and this lesson was via some very good National Park trail signage. 
So the picture last Friday was a pioneer plant on a lava field in Kilauea Iki crater, which was a giant bowl of molten lava 58 years ago, and now it is slowly being re-vegetated even though a lot of heat remains beneath as the lava slowly cools. Lots of plants including ferns get foot holds in cracks and rubble of the solidified lava surface. 

From a distance the crater floor looks pretty smooth and barren, but this is quite deceiving. As you walked the trail though the crater (center), you had to watch your step because of the rough and uneven surface. Even still TPP kept looking around to see what could be seen. This was one of the surprising plants TPP spotted grabbing a foothold in the crater. This one doesn't seem like a pioneer type plant either, but there it was, peeking through the rubble. This plant is a good disperser because it makes lots of spores, but then it lives below ground/subterranean as a haploid generation in association with fungi for years sometimes.  See if anyone recognizes this plant. Yes, it is indigenous to Hawaii.

Pele vs. Neptune

Here's something you just don't see everyday, an absolute gusher of lava, a flow from a lava tube into the ocean. But this wasn't just a dribble, this is about 2 cubic yards of lava a second. So that stream of lava is more than a meter in diameter (our position was about 0.5 km away), dropping some 30 feet into the ocean, and all of this is making some new Hawaii.  The entire surrounding area was wiped out by a big lava flow not very many years ago, and a few lonely surviving houses sit like totems in a shiny black sea.
Now just so you know that TPP only brings you quality material, this was not an easy place to get to. This location is about 4.5 miles beyond the end of the road (for cars).  So not being of sound mind the Phactors decided to ride in on a tandem bicycle, and indeed it was much faster than walking across a lava field that far, but the return trip while more downgrade than the trip out was into a strong 30 or so mph headwind. It was a real effort, a struggle in fact, and this isn't something we're going to be able to do after a few more birthdays.  At any rate the bar at the end of the road, another road, another end, is just that, an nearby establishment of down home sophistication (the bartender is a philosophy student) in the form of a cluster of little shops, eateries, around a bar and pavilion that Pele decided to spare leaving this little oasis unscathed. Such good cold beer! Well-earned and well-deserved.

Quick! Throw in the ring!

Why do you go to a volcano? To see lava of course. It's fascinating but you don't want to get too close for safety's sake (Watched the movie Volcano last week; not a good idea.). TPP's travel camera has better resolution and a better zoom than the iPhone, which is supposed to be a phone first and foremost, unless TPP really doesn't get it. Anything with more zoom would need a tripod to hold steady, and then the porters for the gear, and once you start down that slippery slope there's no coming back. Fortunately late yesterday afternoon, Kilauea was being a bit active. So here you go, lava. Because of this most of the rim road and trails into the caldera are closed.

Friday Fabulous Flower - ohi'a lehua

The Phactors are on vacation, and when you think about the upper Midwest in late January, it's something like, you don't even want to go there when the weather is good.  So off to the tropics, but with  rather limited time to plan, the destination came up domestic, the Big Island of Hawaii.
Getting from the upper Midwest to Hilo is a long ways, a long trip, but when you have ice and mechanical problems delay the start of your trip 3 hours, bad things happen to the rest of your itinerary. So after missing 2 flights, your original flight from Atlanta to Honolulu, and then the alternate flight you booked to LAX, the final flight to Hilo from LA was caught with maybe 2 minutes to spare. Of course in the process our luggage was taking a day longer to arrive.  A nearly 24 hr travel day with 16 hrs of airplane sitting sort of wears you out. 
After a day to recover the Phactors started at Volcano Nat'l Park by hiking into Kilauea Iki, about 4 miles, about half being rough rock, and climbing the equivalent of 52 flights of stairs (the fitbit only counts going up like going down takes no energy?)

At any rate the dominate tree in the wet forests in this part of the island is the ohi'a lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) in the myrtle family. It has clusters of scarlet flowers at the ends of branches.  The red stamen filaments extend out of the flowers forming altogether a pom-pom looking rather a bit like some mimosoid legumes. This put the flowers mostly way up out of reach unless they were on a little seedling hanging on to life in a lava crack at the bottom of the crater. And isn't it annoying how you try to baby some plants to get them to grow, and then this seed lands on a 60 yr old lava field and grows.  Soil augmentation?  What soil?
As you can guess from the flower, this is pollinated by an endemic Hawaiian bird, the equally red, equally attractive, apapane.
So, sorry to miss Friday, but we were just exhausted, and this was a FFF worth the trip. It wasn't the neatest plant TPP found subsisting in the crater's lava field that last erupted in 1959 spewing forth all that lava.  But more on that later.