Field of Science

Peak blueness

Today is Peak Blueness.  It isn't as blue as some springs because of last week's shot of very cold weather and snow, although the latter doesn't harm these plants very much.  This is a portion of what passes for lawn at the Phactors.  The image was taken from a way back across our gardens and while the resolution does not allow it, the blue is the result of 10s of thousands of Scilla flowers. The Phactors haven't planted a one of these; they have been naturalizing and on their own for decades.  So plant them now for your future blueness. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - dwarf daffodils

They are just so darned cute!  Just like the kittens of the spring gardens.  This particular daffodil or narcissus is only about 5-6" tall, but any variety under 10" is sort of a miniature.  Here's a link to several varieties of these little ones.  These (tete-a-tete) flower at about the same time as my earliest standard daffodils, but they make thick foot wide clusters in just a few years producing a large number of flowers.  You got to have these in the front of your garden beds.  Basically trouble free.  TPP is early this week because field work tomorrow.


Dear Sensitive Readers, you may wish to avert your eyes because this is a pretty ugly image. Basically the rule is simple: chains and trees do not go together.  Chains tend to do bad things for trees and they never do anything good.  This demonstrates something very stupid. This chain could never keep this tree from splitting.  A major limb of a decent sized tree is simply too heavy for a chain even one as robust as this.  Second, this chain was applied way to close to the fulcrum to apply any meaningful force.  So placing this chain thus is utter futility and it should have been removed a decade or more ago, and now its removal will further damage the tree leaving a weak zone in exactly the wrong place. The initial mistake was made decades earlier; the tree was planted too close to the house. Now the placement is a problem.  Pay attention to the little tags when planting that tell you how big the tree gets in 10 years, then plant accordingly.  Next pruning of this tree was neglected so is limbs grew wrongly.  Up the street a young limber pine and a small thread-branched false cypress were both planted as foundation landscaping around a rehabbed house.  At present both look fine, but they will grow and both will outgrow their locations in 5 to 10 years so much they will need to be cut down. This is pure bad landscaping. It was done for street appeal and quick sale, and most people would not notice.  TPP is not most people, yet TPP has a Chamaecyparis that is over growing his front steps because even though planted with a reasonable amount of room, it quickly grew to a very large size and they are hard to prune and nearly impossible to keep small. So, yes even us knowledgeable people make mistakes, and this shrub will be removed this summer for stoop renovations. The take home messages: 1. no chains in trees, 2. pay attention to where you plant your trees, 3. not all landscape professionals can be trusted to do the right thing for the long haul.

St. Patrick's Day review

Here are links to past posts to celebrate the wee bit o' Irish in all of us. A bit much of Irish in TPP if truth be told.
What is a shamrock?
Flaunt the green!  What's not Irish about this?
A St. Patrick's Day botanical question and the greening of the Chicago River.  Yeah, and we ain't talking about conservation!
Green powered woo! OK nothing actually about St. Patrick's day except this popped up in a search and it is sort of weird enough to revisit. 
Be happy! Drink some whiskey and toast the day! Later, right now TPP has 15 lbs. of corned beef to get out of the brine and begin cooking. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - Tough guy edition

As is not the least bit unusual, a prolonged and very early spring has been punctuated by a blast of cold weather and snow.  And this may not even be the only punctuation! The quite mild weather of late Feb. and early March persuaded many plants to break their winter dormancy, during which they are quite cold hardy, and commence growth producing tissues and flowers which are much less cold hardy.  During this cold snap the night time temperatures have dipped some 22 degrees (F) below freezing. Based on long experience, most of our cold hardy plants will survive even if damaged, but a few really tough plants simply shrug off these freezes.  Today's FFF is a hellebore (Helleborus), a well known genus of tough plants in the buttercup family.  Once they get established (they often take their time and need some TLC to get established) the plants deal with shade pretty well, their tough, dark-green, animal-resistant foliage will persist through the winter, and they produce large blooms quite early in the spring.  Hellebores are a great plant in many of our gardens, although for a couple of decades falling into gardening obscurity, a trend recently reversed by many new varieties with more bloom colors.  The image shows a cluster of blooms as they emerge from the snow, totally undamaged.  Some larger, taller hybrid varieties were cut and have persisted pleasantly in a vase on our kitchen table for 10 days now.  You really can't ask for more. These flowers are much better known in Europe than here in the states. 

Recent Events of no particular note

With the possibility being the TPP's mind is beginning to skip a cog, a number of recent events have just slipped right by.  Back in early Feb. while the Phactors were still in Hawaii, TPP completed his 9th year of blogging.  Well over a million and a quarter page reads later, the blog is still plodding along. This seems to be a good thing.  Good thing TPP blogged about artichokes once; it accounts for about 20% of all my hits!
Just 2 days ago was Pi day (3/14) and TPP forgot to mention it.  To make up for this omission, here's a link to an extremely clever pie for pi in the form of a zoetrope.  Got you to look it up?  TPP just played with one at the George Eastman House museum this past summer. Please don't say you have to look up George Eastman?  But the video did not explain why the pie was pecan.
TPP often blogs about the first flower of spring, but it was hard to determine just what and when that was because of the early spring.
TPP was going to brag about a local trivia contest won by his namesake team, but really it was the F1's effort and trivia- filled mind that did the trick, that and a bunch of friends whose minds are filled with strange stuff.  

Hawaiian branch of the Begonia family

The In Defense of Plants blog has a great article posted about the Hawaiian endemic member of the Begonia family, Hillebrandia sandwicensis, which except for this one exception, are species of Begonia.  TPP just saw this plant for the first time a few weeks ago on our late Jan. early Feb. vacation.  No question it's a member of the family, and never would have even questioned it if told it was another species of Begonia.  Also worth clicking over to see the excellent image of the "male" and "female" flowers where generally the stigmas mimic the stamens fooling pollinators but providing no reward.  Unfortunately the plants TPP observed had no flowers. Didn't they know who was there?
The feed from the IDOP blog is on TPP's side bar, but wanted to call this post from a couple of days ago to your attention.

Early spring, maybe not quite so early!

TPP is in St. Louis for a society meeting, the business end of botany.  Spring here is about 2 full weeks ahead of us 150 miles further north, and the star and tulip-flowered magnolias are in bloom here. But a huge front is pushing in from the north west, and lows are expected here in the low 20s (remember 32 is freezing in the crazy F temp scale).  In our area probably even a few degrees lower. Any plant with flowers out will likely get toasted. This is the problem with early springs in the great Midwest.  Our weather patterns are so big and so variable that late and even not so late freezes are more than likely, they are virtually certain.  Stoopid plants just don't know to wait.  TPP's stoopidist plant is certainly our star magnolia, so ours is planted in a cool, slightly shady location, and it flowers a week later than most others, and it this case this just might be enough to save its floral display from frost damage, or maybe not.  It's a wait and see game.  Been too busy to peek at the Missouri Botanical Gardens to see how advance their gardens are.  Even this morning while picking the newspaper up off the front stoop, TPP noticed that the potted pansies were pretty stiff, but they are quite tough plants and once you're frozen, you're frozen.  So we'll see.  Nothing much to worry about in any case, but magnolias are another matter entirely.

Friday Fabulous Flower - False Forsythia, real fragrance

Tomorrow's Friday Fabulous Flower is a much under appreciated early flowering spring shrub in the Olive family.  Wait! TPP is a day early not one or two days late?  Yes, tomorrow is a travel and work day for this botanist, and since this plant was decided upon yesterday, the decision was made to get on with it and not disappoint any readers who rely upon the FFF for a much needed positive, upbeat, mental therapy type of post.  This author is included in that group, and thus the Phactor has been largely silent about the political side of things.
This shrub is sometimes called a dwarf or false forsythia, both rather confusing because there are dwarfish species of forsythia, and this isn't a forsythia at all but Abeliophyllum distichum. This is an easy to care for, shade tolerant shrub, and quite cold hardy.  It isn't screaming gaudy in flower, but more of a lacy whiteness, or light pinkness if you get a variety roseum.  It is one of the earliest of flowering shrubs (28 Feb here, it's earliest ever date to flower).  The flowers do rather look like small white-pink forsythia flowers, but that really just means a typical enough olive family flower. The neatest thing is that the flowers are highly fragrant, and a flowering twig or two will perfume an entire room with a honey-lilac (another olive family member) fragrance.  This is where the scratch and sniff computer screen would be great.  Every yard should have room for one or two of these smallish shrubs although they are not real common in the trade.

Pure delight gardening

TPP is a plant collector in the sense that he takes great delight in observing plants growing and generally doing their thing.  During the course of several decades, he's observed a number of things some of which he has yet to make sense of and turns out that even well known plants can divulge some secrets if you are observant enough and clever or willing to follow up with some diligent study to figure out what you have seen. So a number of plants grow in our gardens for no other reason than TPP likes to see them grow, and growing plants is a way to stay grounded, mentally stable.
Here's a plant that amuses, but makes no sense to most people.  It's small, it's early, it isn't really even very showy becaue of its size unless you're right on top of it, but TPP takes great delight in knowing this plant is in our garden even if it doesn't play the ornamental or useful role of most other garden plants. Unless you know where to look, you'd never see this plant even when in flower unless you know where it is tucked away.  But it was quite comforting and satisfying to find this little beauty doing well even when our country is politically going to hell in a handbasket. This is how gardening helps keep you sane, and at times, TPP begins to suspect that gardeners are the only real sane people around.
Oh, yes, sorry this is a snow trillium (Trillium nivale), the smallest native trillium in North America. It's about 3" across and barely pushes up above the leaf litter. The flower opened on March 4th this year. This species is quite uncommon in these parts, but more common than most people know.