Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Queen's tears once again

Sorry about the repeat of this FFF, but this is one of TPP's favorite house plants and it flowers when this blogger is hard up for material.  The Queen's tears is the common name of Billbergia nutans, a member of the pineapple/bromeliad family.  And the flowers are just so darned lovely. You just have to love the blue eye liner margins of the green petals emerging from pink sepals and bracts.  Even the yellow exerted anthers show up so nicely. It gives us something to look forward to in the winter.  

Big Oaks

The latest newsletter from the Illinois Native Plant Society (The Harbinger) just came and the front page featured the national champion Shumard Oak (Q. shumardii), that is the biggest tree of that species in the country located outside of Anna IL.   The trunk has a circumference of 27.7 feet, a height of 96 feet, and a spread of equal distance, giving it a total score of 452 (there is a formula for scoring big trees.).  And if you like big trees, here's one from the Plant Postings blog the Angel Oak (Q. virginiana) in South Carolina; it's one of the biggest, oldest living things in North America.   

More resolutions for a better life.

A reader has pointed out that just garden resolutions in the preceding  blog did not do much to improve TPP's life and wondered if other things had been talked about.  Yes!
1. TPP is done with plastic bags.  The biggest problem seems to be the delivery person of our newspapers, who puts the paper in a plastic bag so the paper can just be flung over the top of their car and onto our front steps with little regard for the weather.  TPP may have to put a newspaper tube or box out by the driveway to eliminate the need for a plastic bag.  Food/leftover storage is another issue, but slowly new silicone and multiple reusables are taking the place of bags.  The F1 is keen on this too.
2. Boycott of Walmart, and look alikes, and malls.  TPP did all of his holiday shopping without violating this resolution at all.  For reasons TPP has actually forgotten, he must declare his personal boycott of HoJos restaurants and motels a success.
3. Drive up service.  TPP refuses to do this.  First he has bad line karma anyways, and sitting in line in a car is nearly as bad.  So won't do it.  Although years ago he used to like root beer and/or Sonic drive-ins but mostly because of the girls on roller skates.
4. Non-green carry out containers.  TPP is trying to eat less, and hates food waste but Styrofoam containers are a real no-no.  Bringing you own substitute is rather awkward, but do able.  Biggest offender right now is a favorite Quick-Wok. A couple of favorite restaurants have switched to waxed cardboard which seems better, but still recycling seems iffy.
5. Over packaged goods.  To many items still come in layers and layers of packaging.  Even then the gorillas some places hire to deliver things seem to take some perverse pleasure in stomping on packages to "test" their strength and TPP's patience.  
6. Prepared foods with too much sugar.  The lack of sunshine means that the Phactors' garden doesn't produce enough tomatoes means that red pasta sauce is a regular purchase.  A few brands do not add sugar to their tomato sauce (check the ingredients), and they taste all the better for it. Same with fruit juices, and Hawaiian cocktails.  Mrs. Phactor asked a bartender to help sort out their specialty drinks to find one that isn't too sweet, he responded, "Hell lady this is Hawaii, all the drinks are sweet."  She got a dry white wine instead.
There are more, but not right now.

Gardening resolutions for 2019

Oh, what the heck!  Why not make resolutions for the new year, which while arbitrary does come in the middle of a non-gardening season.  
1. Make no effort to get grass to grow where it doesn't want to.  This means that our decision to turn a deeply shady portion of our yard into a garden is a done deal.
2. Use more native species.  Mostly TPP is practical and a southern Magnolia will fit into the gardens somewhere especially if the Ashe Magnolia doesn't over winter  well  (This Florida panhandle endemic struggled this last year, but why?).
3. Get rid of ugly.  Some things just don't work, and one of TPP's gardening faults is not giving up on plants that aren't working soon enough.  Mrs. Phactor has already nominated a couple of shrubs for basal pruning.
4. Go with the sun.  The bright side of having a large pin oak (dying) removed is that the old (back in the 20s) tennis court now gets a lot more sun.  So parts of our kitchen garden are going to be moved to the back court.  
5. Keep better track of varieties and cultivars.  Our effort to use more permanent labelling has already shown some weaknesses. 
6. Plant more ferns.  TPP likes ferns; an ebony spleenwort and a maidenhair fern and a couple of cinnamon ferns were added this last year.  
7. Be less grouchy about old favorites that got new names.  OK, this is really a no go, and TPP thinks this was just added to the list to allow a favorite rant.  Here he was just happily redoing a few specimens, when the authoritative Flora of North America informs us that Hepatica has been reassigned to the genus Anemone.  TPP loved this plant  because it was a great doctrine of signatures plant (last year's 3-lobed leaves persist and turn dark purple thus illustrating that Hepatica if a great name for "liver-leaf".).  So 40 some odd years of name recall are just shot to heck, and it's annoying. That's enough for now; TPP doesn't want to disturb his wa or tempt some unwelcome karma to be visited upon the herbarium in 2019.  

Friday fabulous flower - how old?

Flowers are not the type of thing that fossilize very easily, so no big surprise that there are so few to help figure out the "sudden" appearance of flowering plants in the fossil record.   So here is a reconstruction of a pre-Cretaceous (Jurassic) fossil flower.  TPP isn't particular impressed as there are some items that just don't quite make sense.  But we shall see what the important people have to say about this flower.  The biggest problem is that crazy branched thing that is being labelled the stigma; it's like nothing else any where.  And then there is one little item (little knobby thing at about 11 o'clock) that hasn't been identified at all.  For those of you who do not keep up with the plant fossil record, there are no well authenticated pre-Cretaceous flowering plant fossils at all.  This fossil would be a first, and it's supposedly a flower.  Well, see what you think.  It's name is Nanjinanthus, which tells us where in China this fossil was found.

Holiday lights - two extremes

Taking the time and effort to visit the Morton Arboretum to see their light show is well worth the expense and the time.  Last Friday was our first visit to the Arboretum for holiday lights.  It was very impressive, very attractive, very inventive.  This image is just a small sample of the entire show.  Several displays were set to music.  There aren't any snowmen or other annoying items (A local guy has filled his yard and a neighbor's with plastic figurines much to the amusement of the orbiting space station, which must be able to see this easily.)  This display is free, and even then not a bargain.

At long last: leaf cleanup

Although not ideal conditions, the weather finally stayed warm enough and dry enough for the tons of leaves in our yard to get rounded up.  Unfortunately, while many got deposited in an area destined to become a woodland garden, the guys with backpack blowers added a lot of leaves to some of our gardens where they will remain until March.  This means that the net hung over the lily pond could be removed, but it wasn't easy.  In places the net was not just filled with soggy leaves, but frozen into the shell ice.  This added greatly to the weight and therefore the difficulty of removing the net.  It was all the two of us could do to pull it out!  Such a bother but probably kept 90% of the leaves out of the pond.  In some places the Scilla bulbs that turn our yard blue have sprouted waiting for the first hints of spring.

Is this bittersweet?

Someone called these fruits to TPP's attention and asked if this was bittersweet?  Now there isn't a whole lot of bright color along trails at this season and this path was a RR right of way formerly, so bittersweet was possible.  Nope, not bittersweet.  However they were not far wrong.  This is a large gangling unkept viney species of Euonymus, E. japonicus, perhaps (TPP isn't good on this genus).  Euonymus is mostly relegated to TPP's Don't plant this list. Left unattended this sprawling plant is aggressive and since it is shade tolerant, it can take over a wooded area. Euonymus is a member of the Celastraceae, the bittersweet family, so with good reason the fruits are similar.  The fruit consists of an outer fruit wall with a creamy to reddish color, so not really very attractive, but the wall then splits open to reveal a seed covered by a red (or orange) aril, a fleshy covering of the seed, to both encourage and reward bird seed dispersers.  The value to birds doesn't at all compensate for the aggressive nature of this plant.  So don't plant it!

Friday Fabulous Flower - Flowering early?

The local fall weather was pretty mild and so our tropical houseplants stayed outside a bit later into the season than in the past.  And then November turns cold and includes several snow events (none really serious).  As if it isn't confusing enough a warm front moved into our region on Friday and the temps got very mild, while we got treated to thunderstorms and tornadoes.  Although tropical plants are often day neutral, the longer cool nights seem quite capable of inducing flowering in quite a few of our tropical house plants.  Both the so-called Christmas cactus and the Easter cactus promptly produced a huge flush of buds and began flowering. The induction period in most houses must take a bit longer such that the cacti more or less flower near their namesake holidays.  Now of course commercially glass houses can be manipulated to bring plants into flower at the appropriate season for sales.  But with house plants you take more or less what you get. So, yes, a Christmas cactus flowering some three weeks before Christmas.
Fridays have turned out to be pretty busy days in our semi-retired/retired lives and TPP if finding it tough to find time for blogging.  So please indulge the irregularities.

Emoji election graphic

The recent midterm elections received a lot of attention, and this graphic just struck TPP as very informative.  It shows you in a glance the diversity of the newly elected members of Congress.  It's getting very hard for the GnOPe to claim they truly represent the people of the USA.  Forgotten where this graphic was stolen from, but it's a classic.  
 Pretty easy to tell which party represents white men.  No wonder the GOP is so scared of immigrants.