Field of Science

Weed of the week - ragweed

Your eyes may have just started to water just looking at these images of giant ragweed. The plants can reach 7-8 feet tall easy and a local walking/bicycling trail goes through a virtual gully of them just now coming into bloom. There are so many flowers they'll leave a yellow dusting of haploid males (pollen) on the ground.  Woe be to any allergic people who hazard this gauntlet.  Both the common and giant ragweeds are easy enough to recognize, but they are usually ignored in the spring when they are more easily controlled by mowing them down or whacking them out, or by herbicide application in the spring or early summer.  Too late now.  The smaller common ragweed showed up in an older blog and you will notice the highly lobed leaves that Linnaeus thought resembled wormwood, thus Ambrosia artemisiifolia.  Notice that the giant ragweed has three lobed leaves Ambrosia trifida (shown above) and the flowers are not showy at all because it's wind pollinated, so the co-flowering goldenrod gets the blame for hayfever. The flowers shown are just prior to flowering.  How long can you hold your breath?  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Phlox

This is not a wild phlox, but it is not a typical whimpy cultivar either; it resists powdery mildew and all the cultivars tried in this garden don't except for the spring native P. divaricata.  This plant survived a "weedy" attempt by the former owners to have a prairie and it is a big old thing reaching 5 feet tall with substantial stems and big showy panicles of pink flowers.  With the narrow tubes and small corolla opening this is without question a butterfly flower; phlox is a must for any butterfly gardens.  Bumblebees steal nectar from the bases of the corolla tubes. It makes itself at home and makes the late summer garden rather colorful.  If this strikes any of you as any thing in particular, let us know.  A few plants have pale pink flower, but most are this shocking pink.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - A Rose by anyother name

Well, a rose by name may not be a rose, like a rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) Mallow family, as the flower so aptly shows.  The common name refers to a place, Sharon, in Palestine, and the rose-of-Sharon is a woman from there, referring herself in Solomon 2:1 if you like Biblical references, but this is not the plant being referred to which was more likely a sun-rose, Cistaceae.  This Hibiscus is of Asian origin.  Sorry, don't have my Plants of the Bible reference book handy. This particular plant grows as a small to medium sized shrub, and it has the great advantage of flowering in the late summer for several weeks.  This particular variety (?) has a single flower with non-overlapping petals.  Many other varieties exist and you can often find very old plants as this ornamental has been around a long time. Many have more purplish/bluish flowers and if they are doubled, they quickly begin looking like a wad of tissue. It's only problem, as a mallow the Japanese beetle find it quite appealing although ours has not been much bothered this year.  The plant is quite cold hardy, maybe not quite hardy to the bottom of zone 5.  Our plant works well in a mixed perennial bed even when a bit short because the flowers while not huge are pretty big (4" in diam). The white with bold red markings is pretty striking.

Nuclear threat

TPP wants to explain to everyone younger that the world has been here before and it was a very bad thing. TPP was high school age at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, probably the low point of the cold war.  An old friend wrote to wish me well should things go wrong and he hoped I'd remembered all of the duck and cover drills from grade school.  One well-ingrained memory was helping the family of a good friend build a bomb shelter in their basement, and my Father explained that we were not going to do the same thing because one way or another, it wouldn't matter.  Another old friend used to say things never change they just get more chronic.  With two narcissistic leaders each acting like they want to blow something up with nuclear weapons, it's about as chronic as it can get.  Morons! Neither can be trusted to not make the wrong decision. Neither cares about people, only their own reputation.  Both want to look strong, so neither wants to back down. Neither has the intellect to find a diplomatic exit.  So yes, this is very worrisome.  In fact standing up to the POTUS probably enhances Kim's stature in NK.  Hope GnOPe understands this is not a role made for a person like T-rump. Here's some satire from the earlier time frame thanks to the Pharyngula blog. Hope it helps keep your spirits up.  Who ever thought this would become relevant again?  So much progress, so much greatness!  

Weed of the week - Indian (mock) strawberry

Since TPP has no shortage of weeds, the weed of the week shall continue.  This one also generates a lot of queries from people and sometimes calls from the poison control center.  The Indian or mock or false strawberry is a terrible lawn weed, although it is even worse in a strawberry patch.  This is Duchesnea indica (due-kez-knee-ah), indeed a member of the rose family.  It's come up before on this blog.  The physical similarity to the standard strawberry of commerce is quite striking especially it strewing (another story there) habit of spreading by runners (stolons) and plantlets. The leaves are trifoliate and have very similar toothed margins (but not quite the same).  The flower has usually has 5 yellow petals (oops the flower photographed has 6) instead of white or pinkish petals, and they are subtended by a whorl of 3-lobed bracts (opposite the petals) below the 5 sepals (alternate with the petals).  The red strawberry like fruits generate the poisonous queries. It isn't toxic, but the fruit also has no taste.  The dead giveaway though are the achenes (the true fruits); they are red in Indian strawberry; and yellow/tan/brown in true strawberry.
The plant has the potential to be quite invasive especially in lawns but fortunately it is quite susceptible to standard lawn weed herbicides.  Although TPP doesn't like spraying, or have a great dislike of lawn weeds, patches can be easily spot treated before becoming a big problem.  It can be weeded by hand with some difficulty because of the runners and plantlets. Believe it or else, but this plant was human dispersed from its SE Asian place of origin for ornamental purposes.  This is on TPP's never plant this plant list, but you do sometimes find it for sale.

Blow & NYT nails it!

My efforts to try and understand our POTUS have been very depressing, but when I read a commentary where someone really nails it in terms of understanding the man and what makes him tick, it resonates very  well with my limited understanding.  It isn't encouraging, but what is right now?  Too bad the US doesn't use whinging.  Makes you ask, "Who's got the cheese?", because we got the whine.

All things botanical

One of the great things about being a generalist is that you never run short of botanical things to examine. It's not even that TTP set out to be a generalist, he was considered rather narrow in his early career, but everyone else has gotten so narrow.  So how can TPP pass up a chance to blog about Pow Wow Botanical Rye?  He can't!  Rye is a type of whisky supposedly made predominately from a beer brewed with malted rye.  Rye whiskies used to be quite popular but then the term came to mean cheap whisky, but now with the revival of distilling and whiskies in general, real rye whisky is back.  In general they tend to be a bit on the spicy side. And this botanical whisky kicks that up a notch by steeping a bunch of botanicals in the aged whisky to add more flavor, and this rye ends up quite spicy. Sipping it neat is almost like having a cocktail.  Because of its strong citrus notes this rye makes a dynamite old Fashioned cocktail. There are some other tastes as well, but beyond some vanilla, they cannot be identified by TPP (but he keeps trying).  The Pow Wow thing is a bit weird, a native American/first people reference to the patent medicines based on "Indian cures" from the early days of the newspaper industry.  Thus the old timey feel of the label. These tonics and remedies were generally mostly alcohol, of the everclear sort, in which various herbals had been steeped.  It was a way for ladies of good breeding to have a snort now and then, and an "out" for the teetotalers.  Mostly their curative value was limited or negligible.  So the Pow Wow name may just be a way of harking back to such steeped botanicals.  Some liqueurs are made by steeping aromatics leaving the alcohol and water to pick up the flavors. This was nearly as much fun as The Botanists Gin where the bottle lists all the botanical aromatics involved in its making.  This was not a favorite because TPP always liked the strong juniper aroma/flavor, and this gin tastes more floral. A trusted martini drinker says it made one of the best drinks she's ever had.  It isn't cheap, so TPP appreciates the foreign student who first presented it to me.

Friday Fabulous Flower - A garden champion

For the past two to three weeks this striking plant has been dominating a portion of Mrs. Phactor's perennial garden, Silene regia, a fire-pink, a catch-fly, a champion, take your pick.  TPP has done a similar species for a FFF before, but it's a much smaller plant (at least in our gardens) and a somewhat smaller flower.  This species is also covered (especially the calyx) with sticky glandular hairs that surprise people reaching to take a closer look.  The more non-discerning visitors have also refered to this as a "cardinal flower", but generally this common name refers to a Lobelia cardinalis, although this is certainly red, and not pink, a reference to the family not the color. As just mentioned it's been a good year for butterflies, although this is a bit more of a hummingbird flower. OK, OK, it's only Thursday, but TTP has time to do this post now.

Wildlife friendly yard - how friendly is too friendly?

It was a very nice morning.  TPP walked out to take a glance at the kitchen garden. In that short distance, a rabbit, a chipmunk, a squirrel, and several birds crossed his path.  Moments earlier the view from the bathroom window (a most excellent view) featured a very large, well-fed ground hog (whistlepig, woodchuck, Marmota monax).  Unfortunately, a well-fed ground hog is not a good thing for gardens, so this latter wildlife denizen may get relocated to a friendlier location.  The kitty girls are in love with the idea of chipmunks as playthings, but this will not happen as one of the reasons our gardens are wildlife friendly is that the cats are house cats (one is occasionally walked about on a leash).  All three (four) of our local swallowtail butterflies (black, tiger, giant, and probably spicebush too)  were hovering around Mrs. Phactor's perennial bed.  However, members of the rue family (notably Citrus), are the host trees for the larvae of the giant swallowtail (bird-dropping camouflaged), and they are generally in short supply here in north central USA. This is our largest butterfly.  The spicebush swallowtail has become more common because it's food plant does grow in our gardens.  It looks a great deal like the black swallowtail, but with less yellow and more blue on its lower wings especially.  Also happy to see some monarchs flitting about, although milkweeds have not been particularly successful in our gardens for reasons unknown.  

Adventures in shopping - rambutan in Lincolnland

A short time ago, the first jackfruit showed up in our markets, now rambutan has made an appearance (Nephelium lappaceum) Sapindaceae, soap berry family. Lychee is a similar, and more familiar species, a fruit making sporadic appearances in our markets.  These are a little worse for wear, but not so dried out as to be ignored.  Actually they were quite juicy, tasty, and give a reasonable idea of the nature of these SE Asian native fruits.  TPP first tried these in Singapore actually.  Now they are being grown in Guatamala, so they will become more familiar. They look spiny, but the "spines" are soft.  While TPP has experimented with many fruits, you may be intimidated with unknown fruits, but they are pretty easy to eat using you teeth or thumb nail, break into the leathery skin near one end and pull this cap off. The rest of the skin peels off easily. There is a single pit and a translucent semi firm flesh (an aril actually) with a texture similar to a seedless grape is revealed. They have a sweet, and dare it be said, "fruity" flavor, rather mild and nondescript, but basically likable. Another close relative that TPP has only seen in Thailand is the Longan, smaller and with a tan-brown leathery skin.  The Chinese described it as having a "hot" quality, which TPP took to be spicy (uh, no).  They tasted like lychee or rambutan, but with a stronger after taste, however after eating 7 or 8, some 10 mins later the hot quality arrived via a sweating, a flushed face, and a more rapid heartbeat. That is a toxic reaction! Hot indeed!