Field of Science

Happy Earth Day!

Yesterday was Earth Day and for the most part that message was overshadowed but not inconsistent with the Marches for Science.  Our local, not well organized, last minute effort resulted in a couple of hundred people showing up and making a scene about 100 feet from our GnOPe reps office, but he's been staying away from anyone not deemed extremely sympathetic, but he's turned into a T-rump bobble head especially on health care and the environment.  So scientists and people who actually think science knows something are not going to be best of friends.  Unfortunately the Earth Day message got a bit lost or at least distorted by the denialism of denialism message.  The best part were all the signs, some of which were very clever. 
Somehow T-rump thinks he can ignore what we know and still claim to say science is important, just do it without any money, and don't provide us with any inconvenient facts.  Now those must be countered by alternative facts, or the world the way our ideology would like it to be. Why is it that our conservatives think that the only way to make money is to despoil the environment?  This is the most discouraging Earth Day that TPP has had in a long time except for all the Marchers.  It's important for our "leaders" to know how many people out there know just how wrong they are and are willing, perhaps at last, to invest enough time in letting them know.  It was interesting to see that a couple of  the march's ring leaders and most out spoken people are both immigrants who hate to see what's going on in the USA. 

Friday Fabulous Flowers - spring color and texture

Gardens change. Basal pruning (removal) of a row of old scraggly spruce trees covering a large, old hosta bed (of very low diversity) produced a huge opportunity for change, like 75 feet of garden along our front sidewalk.  So a lot of old hostas (maybe half of the several hundred) got moved and given away, and an array of flowering shrubs and ornamental trees took their places. It's made for quite a sward of colors and textures in the spring. 
So here's a 60 or-so-foot view looking over several Fothergillas, a deeply-lilac lilac, a quite orange azalea (Spicy Lights) not quite in full bloom, and a purple-leafed Japanese maple in the distance anchoring the far end. A nearly finished flowering June berry and a not in flower yet double-file viburnum barely show over the azalea. Other shrubs and flowers are too short.   

Tree rats ask for trouble

Over the weekend TPP planted quite a few new woodland perennials, and naturally a day later a very nice young plant was dug from the ground, had the major roots gnawed off, and discarded. And this was protected by a little fence too.  "Oh, here's a nice soft place, maybe I buried a nut here last fall." "This doesn't smell or taste like food, but let's dig it up and chomp it to pieces just to make sure." And it's not like we don't feed the buggers anyhow.  This can be very frustrating especially when the plant is somewhat uncommon and a bit difficult to come by.

Asparagus season & seasoning

This is asparagus (Asparagus) season in the upper Midwest, so best take advantage of it.  Find a local source and get it very fresh. When it's growing quite fast, the amount of the stem that's edible is optimal. Fibers mature from the base upward, and fast growing stems leave the maturation zone behind.  Then don't over cook it; the Phactors recommend steaming because it's fast and easy to control. Lastly, and this is a very serious suggestion, smother it with avocado butter (recipe here).  Easy to make & delicious!
It was part of our Eostre dinner that was most appreciated after raking countless buckets of leaves out of our perennial gardens. This is earlier than the Phactors usually are so hopefully the plants appreciated it.  When you get all the old stuff out of the way you can more easily see what the baby bunnies are eating (Actually it was dandelions, so yea!). But just in case a lot of bunny exclusion cages were moved from shrubbery to emerging perennials (tastiest stage!). Or just grow wolfbane/monkshood (Aconitum); it's one of the first plants to emerge in the spring (and last perennial in our gardens to flower, sometime in October), and nothing, nothing eats it!  It's toxicity is famous.  Wait, this blog started out about good stuff and then turned to bunny fodder and poisonous plants.  Sorry!

Gathering our garden 'shrooms

Our shady gardens have no shortage of leaves, and mostly with the help of the leaf shredding elves (for hire), they get mulched.  After all how else do you keep woodland plants happy?  So while our examining our gardens for flowering events, TPP's keen eye spots a mushroom in the leafy mulch. Mushroom hunting in forested areas is quite the big deal here in the Midwest, and on a few lucky occasions TPP has done OK in the mushroom gathering department. In this case the mushroom was a morel.  And it wasn't alone!  No one stops there; of course you're going to wander around and examine the rest of the estate. And somewhat to our surprise another species of morel was discovered. 


The first one was what is called the black morel, Morchella angusticeps (used to be M. conica), and while this species hasn't been a problem to my knowledge, this mushroom always comes with warnings about toxicity. Supposedly morels are foolproof in terms of ID (at least to genus), but TPP has had to warn people about eating the "giant morels", so big they made the local news, that were clearly Gyromitra, although you would never mistake them for black morels, however Verpa bohemica, is another matter and a mistaken identity and upset GI tract would not be a surprise.  The  other species was a very easy ID, a gray or white morel, Morchella deliciosa, which may also just be an earlier appearing variety of M. esculenta.  Both specific epithets say if all.  Suffice it to say, they were all good. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - Quince

In spite of the nasty freeze in mid-March, this has been a slightly early spring, not significantly earlier than several recent springs, and our gardens have done very well.  All the Magnolias have looked just great and that's way better than general around here.  Just checking the gardening first flowering date log and 79 plants have flowered so far this spring, and we're only half way though April. 
Today's FFF is actually pretty common probably because flowering quinces (Chaenomeles speciosa - key-NOM-eh-leez) are easy care and pretty reliable early flowering shrubs.  The unique orange-ish flower color makes them stand out.  In 2015 TPP put in a new variety called 'Scarlet Storm' that has double (more than 5 petals) and a 'tomato-red' color. It seems to handle mid-day shade quite well.  It's slightly later than the standard flowering quinces, but it might be its location on the north side of our house.  At 1.5" diam, aren't those grand?  Enjoy. Actually the shrub is sort of ungainly and leggy, but after flowering the pruning sheers will begin the process of solving that problem. 

Buttercup confusion

It was a simple chance encounter. TPP was walking along a county park trail, and suddenly this cute little buttercup florally beckons, as it was intended.  A nearly 1" diam, bright yellow flower does get noticed when on a smallish plant, and while certainly a member of the buttercup genus, Ranunculus, what species was it?  This identification turns out to not be an easy task because a number of technical characters are involved to sort out the considerable number of both native and introduced species.  Fortunately, having an herbarium is a great asset and once things get narrowed down to a couple of species, you simply compare your plant to ones previously collected. In this case a couple of misIDed specimens were found too, showing that the confusion is nothing new.  To add to the problem the image is a bit over exposed so the pistils are hard to see.  Fortunately a hard-working master naturalist retrieved a specimen, and it was considerably easier, not easy, but easier, to ID when in hand (this early there were no mature fruitlets to examine (achenelets)).  So this appears to be R. fascicularis, which turns out to be similar to R. hispidus, which has a couple of varieties. 

Reversion - varigation gone


Look at this weirdo shrub.  This happens sometimes.  A perfectly nice green columnar top shooting up from a yellow, spreading, variegated base.  Strange stuff like variegations and weeping forms are found from time to time growing on regular plants and these 'sports', mutant shoots, are kept by grafting them to regular root bases.  But every now and then portions of these 'sports' revert to the more normal type.  TPP has a variegated agave, and after it flowered, the main shoot began to die and in the process it produced side shoots that continue the growth of the plant.  But in this case half the side shoots were totally green probably because the population of cells in a particular meristem did not have chlorophyll free cells that make the variegation.  If they contain cells of both normal and cholorphyll free types, the shoots are called chimeras, part one thing, part another (see link below).  If TPP has left them alone, his agave would have been a regular green plant for the future.  Here, the reversion produced a green shoot without the yellowish pigmentation, or rather with it, but the yellow being masked by regular chloroplasts.  A quick nip with the clippers would have left this a spreading yellowish evergreen (yellow?) shrub.  But no one noticed, or they did but didn't clip the green shoot, now the more vigorous green shoot with the regular columnar growth pattern has taken over.  Sometimes people inadvertently prune away variegated portions of their ornamental plants, and they wonder what happened.  If the shoot becomes completely white, devoid of pigmentation, it will grow only as a "parasite" on the rest of the plant. These are best known for redwoods.

Friday Fabulous Flower -Rue those anemones

Today's FFF is a great little plant (and here too), but really wish the taxonomists would leave the names alone, of course TPP can never remember if this was the rue anemone or the false rue anemone.  Sounds like which ever came first claimed dibs.  This particular variety 'Shoaf's double pink' hardly counts as a native, but it's terribly cute. In this case it means developmentally stamen primordia have switched to producing petal-like flower parts, so the flower has that "rose" look to it, rather than having a single perianth surrounding multiple stamens and pistils. And then both the foliage and perianth have a nice pink tint to add to the cuteness. 
When first teaching about spring flowers way back in the early 70s, this plant was Anemonella thalictroides, but this species has now been submerged into the genus Thalictrum, so it becomes Thalictrum thalictroides.  Thalictrum was the genus of meadow rues, and it would help if someone knew what rues were.  These are members of the buttercup family, not the Rutaceae, the rue family. So no help. Although now TPP bitterly regrets bringing this up. Soon you will get to see another rue anemone whose name has been changed too.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Pretty in pink - Loebner's Magnolia

Three years ago TPP got this Loebner's magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri) 'Leonard Messel' from a big-box end of season sale for $20. It was a great bargain, and in very good shape considering its pot confinement and summer vacation in the garden shop yard. The tree is now a bit over 7 feet tall and growing very well.  It's not quite as early to flower as one of its parents, the star magnolia, which allowed it to avoid this year's mid-March freeze with very little damage to its flowers.  Although some star magnolias are pink, TPP wonders if they have some hybrid ancestry? This one's flowers are definitely pink with fewer, broader, shorter tepals than star magnolias; quite handsome in our sea of blue. In terms of growth and foliage, it looks quite like its star magnolia parent.