Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flowers - Calycanthus


These are presently in flower in the Phactors' garden, and according to some they are all in the same genus - Calycanthus.  The maroon  colored flower in the upper left is the Carolina spicebush, C. floridus, which TPP has taken apart for you. The upper right was originally Sinocalycanthus (featured here before) but is now considered part of the same genus (it was hard to imagine an eastern Asian eastern North American disjunction).  And the bottom flower, trying hard to look like a star magnolia, is their hybrid offspring called "Venus".  It's a largish, scrambling type of shrub that flowers like crazy for several weeks.  Another selection has a maroon flower, but the ivory one shows up better.  All three survived a very tough winter.  Enjoy.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - rare? orchid edition


While taking a small group of friends on a wild flower walk, this little beauty was found just a couple of feet from the foot path along with a dozen or more plants.  This is often called the purple twayblade orchid, Liparis liliifolia.  And then a friend asked, "Is it rare?  I've never seen one before." that is a fairly interesting question.  This is a small plant usually just a few inches across the pair of leaves and maybe standing 5-6 inches tall in a much taller meadow-type habitat, and the flowers certainly are not gaudy or bright enough to attract much attention.  The fact is that TPP doesn't know how common or uncommon this orchid may be, but one suspects it is more common than you might guess because it is insignificant and easy to miss.  In an old field meadow, a vegetational analysis found one of 3 species of small orchid (Flora of Comlara Park has pictures) at the rate of at least one for every 5 square meters examined.  But even then just walking through the meadow would not result in seeing anything without being very careful.  These little plants were in plain site but TPP had walked by earlier and missed them.  And if deer are plentiful (they are) and bunnies are common (even with foxes around they are), these orchid are subject to being browsed making them less common, but TPP has seen several others this spring, so maybe a good year?  

Appreciation of art - Sistine Chapel version

A lot of good art can be seen in Rome, and TPP thinks perhaps Michelangelo's  famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is some of the best.  The problem is that the chapel is not a huge space, and it is tall and narrow and there are a lot of panels up there.  Now ordinarily when you encounter a really nice piece of art, you take your time to observe it and let it make an impression upon you.  Not here you're not because you are crowded in with 300 other people in a way that makes it seem like the influx is being used to put pressure upon earlier arrivals to exit.  Like a lot of similar situations a low murmur from a lot of people talking quietly fills the chapel with a white noise, until someone blares over the PA system, "Silence!"  This was followed by "No photos" and "No videos".  An explanation was offered, loudly, that this was a sacred place and silent respect was expected, so "Let us pray".  But my simple prayer went unanswered, the crowd did not disappear and the PA system did not go silent.  The ceiling was a wonderful thing to see, but the experience was not excellent.  And then you get to exit through a gift shop where you could buy all those sacred images on the outside of coffee mugs.  This put a rather different spin on the photo prohibition, it was all about money.  Actually for TPP the first part of the Vatican museums was mostly Egyptian art and it was a excellent display. BTW buying a skip the line ticket is probably a good idea.  

Friday Fabulous Flower- squash blossom


OK TPP is in Rome; and we’ve been splitting a pizza for lunch. This one is the best one yet: cherry tomatoes, squash flowers, and cheese.  TPP hasn’t talked much about culinary uses of flowers but they can be great.  Sorry this is brief but hard to post using my phone.

Pollarded Sycamores

Since this topic came up TPP has seen new examples, and here's one where relatively young sycamore trees have been pollarded into a shady cover for a patio area. 

Gelato flavor of the week - Mugo pine

Most of you would not know this, but Mrs. Phactor has a serious gelato problem, and here in Rome where gelato shops are around every corner, the temptation is great.  Last time in Italy, she managed to try 30 different gelato flavors in 30 days. So as time goes on it gets harder to find new flavors (she has a list somewhere).  It was hard to believe but the first new flavor found this trip was Mugo Pine.  Now you may be thinking that mugo pine is just not a gelato flavor, but having an open mind is important, so you ante up your 2 Euros and have a go.  It was actually very piney with a nifty bit of resinous after taste.  Although I did point out that they had decorated the tray with a spruce sprig rather than a mugo pine.  Probably no one else noticed.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - cute weed

Lots of rock/brick walls where we are in Italy, and lots of different weeds growing on them.  Several are quite nice plants for filling rough spaces.  Here's  one that has a lot of common names; the one TPP learned was Kenilworth ivy.  Yet you will probably recognize right away the similarity to snapdragons to which Cymbalaria muralis is related now placed in the much larger Plantaginaceae, the plantain family along with a number of other scrophs.  TPP is still having trouble with this as it does not make taxonomic sense to his antique mind.  The flowers are quite cute with a nectar spur (note the center flower) and very reminiscent of a Linaria.  It is viney and grows in a dense mat of ivy like leaves.

You want cheese with that?

TPP had a ham sandwich for lunch. It was Parma ham sliced tissue thin, on a panino roll, and melted gorgonzola cheese.  Now think about what you get in the states; a squared of nearly tasteless plastic cheese, ultimately one of the more embarrassing food items back home.  There were a couple of other options here, and none of them were wrapped in plastic or mimicked their wrapping.  This is where the rest of the world is so ahead of the USA, and we have a president who orders in cheeseburgers (one of his least offenses)  to serve at certain functions The panino roll had a crust and a chewy texture, not a soft, collapsible thing of no interest whatever.  And our culture's cheerleaders declare these burgers a tremendous thing.  So far the double arches have not invaded this part of the world, and that makes TPP quite happy. It is a vacation from our cheese and the people who think it a fine thing.  It's not.

Trains, boats, & planes, & coaches lead to coppiced trees


No boats actually, but the other three came into play, and clearly TPP is not in Kansas any more, not that he was or even wanted to be.  But here on the north west coast of Italy is where we find ourselves in a rented villa of an heir to the Fiat fortunes.  One of the many things that give it away are how they treat their street trees.  They use a lot of lindens, that are sometimes called lime trees because their flowers smell sweet rather like those of citrus trees.  And they prune the heck out of them, a type of coppicing.  In this little town the crowns are pruned to meet over the center of the street, which is typically enough one-way and narrow.  And you drive under these leafy arches.  It is quite lovely and as you know TPP does not like to see trees and shrubs poodled.  But this is a bit different and on a grand scale.  This is just not done in the USA except on a small scale in some gardens.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - It's red, and it's a buckeye


Too many nice things flowering right now making it hard to choose; 5 different azaleas, 6 or so different peonies, a Carolina silver bell, a couple of Magnolias, a couple of Calycanthus bushes, some Deutzias, one unknown (probably an Actea), until it does flower, a pearl bush, lots of wild geranium, and so on.  So today's shrub gets overlooked because while attractive it isn't gaudy, but makes a nice addition to shrub border or a woodland edge, the red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, a native species.  Don't confuse this with a red-flowered horse chestnut, although it is another Aesculus.  Doing some foreign traveling, so TPP may be more irregular at posting than usual for a couple of weeks.