Field of Science

SYCs review

OK a couple of readers don't quite get the disk/ray flower thing that TPP mentioned in last week's FFF on goldenrod.  So here is a better example, the ordinary sunflower, Helianthus annuus.  This is not a flower, it is an inflorescence that mimics a flower's image.  When you have little flowers, best to group them together because the bigger the display, the more visitors you get, the more pollination, and so on and so forth (my major professor always used to say that when he thought the explanation was obvious).  At any rate what appear to be petals are a ring of ray flowers with one long corolla lobe making the ray flowers highly bilaterally symmetrical.  They surround a spiral array of radially symmetrical disk flowers.  The inner most ones are still unopened buds, so start taking a close look at those composite "flowers".  Dandelions have all ray flowers, and others have nothing by disk flowers.  Enjoy.  

No equitable rainfall

TPP hates to hear about the Carolinas drowning in hurricane rain water, and truly TPP feels bad for my many inlaws that live there.  Too bad they can't share a couple of inches.  Our area is bone dry (again) and no good opportunities for rain are in the offing.  Systems have passed to our west, our north or our south, sort of missing  us all the way around.  Farmers are getting a good dry jump on maize and soybean harvesting (the clouds of dust arise in all directions).  But winter is more about drought and dry conditions than it is about cold, so this gardeners advise is keep watering all those new plantings or they will die by dehydration over the winter.

Friday Fabuous Flower - SYC

This has been a hectic couple of days.  The F1 bought a house (pretty exciting), the neighbor girl got married (also pretty exciting), the Phactors attended a memorial service for TPPs graduate mentor (kind of sad, but he lived a good, long life of continual learning), did too much driving in nasty traffic around Indianapolis (the hated loop), popped in to Jungle Jim's for a quick shopping trip (quite an adventure as always).  That's rather way too much, oh, and several other invitations for this and that had to be declined for lack of time.  
At any rate at this time of year, the pickings get a bit thin, and only SYCs are common (stinking yellow composites).  This is a nice species for your wild flower garden, the showing goldenrod, Solidago speciosa.   Like all composites (aster/sunflower family) goldenrods have little flowers in heads that include either both, or just disk flowers.  The ray flowers are often mistaken for petals when they are arranged around the outside of flat-topped spiral array of disk flowers (think daisy).  Most goldenrods have just ray flowers in rather small heads, but a few species have ray flowers too and these often help produce a quite showy display in this case 5 or 6 ray flowers surrounding a few disk flowers.  The entire terminal cluster is being visited by a beetle, a bee, and a butterfly. 

Friday Fabulous Foliage

This was a very busy weekend, it being the day selected to celebrate the annual making of the fish soup.  The ingredients for the entire feast are a bit wide spread so it took some time to locate and purchase everything.  Somehow in the middle of this TPP had not time for blogging, but as a special treat, TPP will use some images sent along from his old friend Dr. Chips.  The images show a large species (no idea which one, it could be one of several or even a hybrid) of the tropical pitcher plant in the genus Nepenthes (neh-pin-theez).  It is a carnivorous plant that uses a pitfall type of trap and then digests drowned prey for the nutrients thus released, primarily nitrogen.  The trap may emit an odor or use a colorful attractant, in this case a nice glossy red rim that might promise a reward within, but the slick footing within and downward pointing hairs prevent escape, and the trap is partially filled with water, so eventually the prey falls in.  Dr. Chips thought that this red rim should qualify these modified leaves for mention in FFF and as is usually the case, he is correct.  Interestingly in the middle image you can observe the tendril like tips of young leaves; the very tip will grow into a new trap.  The curly cue helps orient the trap to hang in an upright orientation.  Quite fascinating bit of tubular development.  So thanks, Dr. C!

Friday Fabulous Flower - pink powderpuffs

Darn such a busy week.  The good news is that a not too violent front delivered nearly 2 inches of rain overnight greatly helping replenish ground water.  Even still our water bill will be a frightful thing.  This week's FFF appears thanks to our neighbors who have this tree in their front yard.  Generally known as mimosa, it's actually Albizia julibrissin. A long-time ago introduction to North America it tends to be a bit invasive and weedy.  Like a lot of fast-growing trees it tends to die back a lot, often dying young, especially here near the northern limits of its cold hardiness (zone 5).  However it is a quite pretty thing and if you know your botany, you recognize the powderpuff flowers and doubly compound leaves as characteristic of a mimosoid legume.  It's fruits are many seeded pods and in warmer climates the germination rate is high.  Powderpuff flowers in general tend to use the stamens as the attractive floral feature.  In mimosas like this the "puff" is actually a whole inflorescence, a ball or hemisphere of flowers, each with flower only has 10 stamens but when clumped together the display is quite showy.  Sticking up among the stamens is a single pistil's style and stigma (whitish filaments sort of sticking out).  Many decades ago when TPP was interviewing for a job in the south, the department chair asked me what I could see as we drove along, "There's nothing there but mimosa trees and a cotton field," was my answer (northern boy passed that test).  

Friday Fabulous Flower - so many flowers, so little to see

The tree rats planted maize in many of our gardens and this particular plant even at a 2 feet tall decided to flower.  And what a display it is.  There are not too many of us who when we look at such a thing think "look at all the purple flowers".  Each filament of "silk" is actually a quite long style with a diffuse stigma, and each style is attached to a pistil tucked away inside the many protective bracts.  So that's quite a few flowers.  Since maize is a wind pollinated plant there is nothing really surprising about the lack of showy parts. The pollen flowers are borne at the tope of the stem and all together form the tassel.  After pollination the pistil turns into a one-seeded fruit (a caryopsis) that we eat at a juvenile stage or when it is mature it gets ground into meal.  

Little female vampires are numerous this year

Whether working in the garden or just trying to enjoy a cocktail while watching the plants grow, has not been much fun because the population of mosquitoes has been off the charts.  This must be a good year for them or perhaps as they continue to expand their range northward, this is the new normal (very depressing).  In case you didn't know it's only the female mosquitoes that bite; they need the blood to get enough protein to lay eggs.  The males get by with plant sap.  And they are rather aggressive little beasts because these are the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, They are black with white markings and the linked page will provide some useful information.  TPP rather hates getting all sprayed up with DEET containing repellents, but this mosquito can carry all kinds of nasty diseases, so not a good idea to get bitten all the time, not that TPP hasn't gotten lots of bites anyways.  Both of us have type O blood that is apparently particularly tasty to mosquitoes and this species is also active by day.  A warming climate will allow this mosquito to continue its move to the north.  This definitely limits the appeal of being outside.  We keep containers that can collect rain water empty, but tree holes are a favorite and our gardens have plenty, and they are largely inaccessible.

Gardening question - How do you keep the rabbits from eating your orchids?

TPP over summers most of our house plants outside.  In gratitude most of the ones that can or should flower, do so over their indoor winter.  But problems do arise.  Mostly these tropical plants have no serious problems summering outside.  Some things get gnawed by the stinking fluffy-tailed tree rats, but they usually grow back.  This year TPP discovered that a young cottontail had taken a liking to the broad, semi-succulent leaves of our Phalenopsis (moth) orchids.  They generally occupy some caged shelves, but the caging material apparently still allowed a young rabbit access so, chomp, chomp, chomp.  The solution was simple enough, augment the cage with smaller mesh.  Simple enough but TPP just didn't think about rabbits eating your orchids as a problem.  Not quite certain what kind of animal the jeep was in Popeye cartoons, but must have been part rabbit.  In a couple of really shady gardens, Stephanandra shrubs must be permanently caged or they get eaten to the ground.  These shade-loving relatives of Spirea are basically rabbit candy.  Doubtful the shrubs will ever get big enough for the cages to be removed.  Saw three foxes in our garden last week, wish they would get busy and catch some rabbits.  

RIP Aretha

Aretha Franklin has died and the world is a bit less interesting.  Fortunately recordings remind us what we have lost.  She totally stole this scene from the Blues Brothers.  It's simply wonderful.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Big and Blue

Here's one of the easiest and best looking of our late summer native plants, the big blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica.  No idea about why it bears this specific epithet, perhaps something based on the old doctrine of signatures?  Anyone else have an idea?