Field of Science

Fall color of a different sort

Well it's the last day of September, and summer like temperatures persist.  So our tropical houseplants can remain outside for awhile longer.  Because of this a tower of cucumber vines continue to produce and so do other summer garden plants: eggplant, tomato, zucchini.  And our gardens are quite green because of recent rains and the lack of cool temperatures, so chlorophyll continues to be synthesized so no fall coloration to leaves at all.  However one of our tropical plants (actually it belongs to the F1 but because she has a plant eating cat it continues to reside with us.) is quite colorful, a croton (Codiaeum variegatum), in the spurge or euphorb family.  Not only are the leaves variegated but that is combined with bright red coloration and the various combinations make the plant very attractive and colorful.  The flowers are rather small and insignificant.  It's the foliage that counts here.

Garden Ornament

This was gracing the front garden of the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs Arkansas.  Particularly with the floral bonnet shading her head, this lady had a certain appealing quality about her.  That she was doing so well so late into the season argues that she had been frequently watered.  But she certainly looks ready for a garden party.  Enjoy.

Friday Fabulous Flower - An itty bitty orchid

Sorry, while traveling TPP didn't have time to post.  Our gardens have a bit of a wildish quality about them, and one clue that the gardens are doing well is when plants propagate themselves especially if very desirable.  Last fall TPP spotted a spike with a number of fruits on it clearly growing on the wild side of things.  It looked a bit like an orchid, and when it sprouted this spring it was pretty well confirmed, and for safety it was caged particularly after stoopid raccoons demolished the grass pink orchid that the F1 purchased for Father's day.  At any rate it is hard to know where this particular plant came from, but since orchids have tiny seeds (sometimes called dust seed) they can disperse long distances.  Well, it finally decided to flower about mid-Sept., but TPP has never recorded this species locally, but like many small things, it is hard to know if rare or just mostly not noticed very often.  This is an easy genus to identify because the small white flowers spiral around the spike and the genus is aptly named Spiranthes, perhaps S. cernua, the nodding ladies tresses.  The flowers individually are pretty small at about 4-5 mm long.  This is a variable species, so if you have a better idea please let us know.  There are two flowering stalks in this image that stand nearly a foot tall. There are a few grassy leaves at the base.  You can understand why this plant is easy to miss.  But when plants like this show up on their own, you are doing something right.  

Last of the desert posts - the boojum

OK TTP doesn't have a nice flower picture to share (or didn't at the time this was written), but this is still a darned cool plant. This is the boojum, Fouquieria columnaris in the ocotilla family.  Boojum is a classic pachycaul, a thick stemmed plant that most people think is a weird cactus.  The slender branches sticking out on all sides are quite spiny, but they do not turn into fat axes, they stay slender unless oriented vertically like at the top.  This specimen was at the Sonoran Desert Museum.  The name boojum comes from the Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll.  Take home message, succulents as a category is not the same as cacti.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Pink Onions

Plants that flower in the late summer or fall are particularly important parts of gardens if you want to keep the colors going.  Even after a weird year of too much rain, then no rain with really hot temperatures, this onion flowered beautifully and the bees and butterflies love it.  TPP got a funny question the other day; he was asked if all Alliums smelled like onions.  All onions (and similar vegetables) are alliums, so yes onions they are.  This particular onion is a horticultural variety whose name escapes the memory, and it is very similar to our native nodding onions except the flowers are very pink and showy.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Big Blue

Late summer flowering is a good thing because not that many plants flower at this time, however this is an exception.  Generally TPP calls this the big blue lobelia because it is all three.  It is a pretty easy perennial to grow as well.  Any perennial garden should have this plant.  Lobelia siphilitica is the scientific name a reference to an old use of the plant to treat venereal disease, probably ineffectively. The flowers are not huge but they have that Lobelia blue color and the flowers are densely clustered on the spike so it makes quite a display.   This image was obtained from Mrs. Phactor's herb garden this morning.


This happens to every gardener sometime.  You turn your back on a zucchini plant, or you just don't look closely enough (our case), and you have a monster squash (~8 pounds).  Even when so large it will not be all wasted because both the F1 and her Mother like to make zucchini bread.  Otherwise it gets sold to Elon Musk to use as his next space rocket.  For size comparison a standard 6" juvenile (about 5 oz.) squash was placed next to it A 25 fold enlargement in just a few days.  Gadzucchini!

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.