Field of Science

Oyama magnolia flower bud

This fairly large (5-6 cm) flower bud superimposed naturally on the plant's leaf was interesting to observe and it made an interesting image; a mature flower bud of our Oyama magnolia (Magnolia sieboldii) adjacent to one of its leaves.  The perianth of the flowers are a very pure white so the buds made a stark contrast.  It's been described as looking like a shrub bearing hard-boiled eggs. How lovely that descriptive image!  The flowers are pendant on the plant and the red androecium contrasts nicely against the white perianth, but they are a bit hard to see until the plant gets taller than yourself.  This is a very attractive late spring flowering magnolia, and while not in the common nursery trade it can be bought mail order from several sources. It seems fairly hardy in zone 5.

Botanical art and endangered species

TPP assumes that many of his readers may like botanical art, and that at least some also care about endangered species. Here's an item from the Association or Society (sorry forgot exactly) of Botanical Artists that may be of interest: paintings of endangered plant species. Get a copy now before the model is gone. 

Tuberiffic! Tuber display wins gold medalat Chelsea flower show!

For those of you unfortunate enough to have not attended a Chelsea flower show, well, how unfortunate indeed!  Nothing really compares. It actually isn't all about flowers, but flowers are a very big part of the show.  The display gardens are indeed very impressive, but the flower displays by plant producers are something to behold. How so many flowers of so many varieties could be gotten to flower all at once in such numbers that displays could be maintained for a week was quite amazing. TPP remembers strawberry and pepper displays, as well as an all moss, all the time (walls, roof, furniture) exhibit, but mostly it was flowers.  Well, congratulations to the tubers because for the first time they won the gold medal award!  Indeed, the only place you might see a more colorful display of potatoes would be just about any farmers' market in Bolivia or Peru. Actually what impressed TPP the most is the remarkable uniformity of the size and shape of the tubers, which is not what you would see in S. America where size, shape, and color of potatoes is quite diverse. 

Price per flower for peonies

OK, TPP is not quite done with peonies yet! Here's two peonies, both 3.5 foot diameter mounds of foliage and flowers, really big flowers!  These are Itoh peonies, hybrids between tree peonies and herbaceous peonies. They generally die down each year like herbaceous peonies, although they may have short, woody stems persist. The stems are quite stout and avoid the droopiness of herbaceous peonies, and they have the large colorful flowers of tree peonies. These are not cheap plants, generally costing between $55-$65 so many people hesitate to invest so much, but what would you pay for a great big flower?  How about $1? Well, each of these plants will produce 40-50 flowers each year, so the pay back is not too bad. These make quite a colorful presence in just 2-3 years from planting. Also, as you will note, the yellow-flowered genotype of tree peonies does show up in several of these Itoh hybrid varieties.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Red Buckeye

TPP hasn't mentioned red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) before and that can't be explained. For one thing, our red buckeyes are from the point of view of the Phactor's kitchen observatory behind the Carolina silverbell tree, which is pretty spectacular, so the buckeyes are easily overlooked from afar. The red buckeyes began flowering before the silverbell and now the silverbell is totally done and the red buckeyes still have an eye-catching display. Although they grow into a small tree, ours have remainded bushes and they do well on a shady margin. A large burr oak keeps smashing one of the red buckeyes as though it didn't like it. So clearly they can be maintained in a smaller size by careful pruning.  Although this cannot be confirmed, apparently hummingbirds like red buckeye; hummingbirds are regular but not common visitors to our gardens and since the buckeyes are way out there in the back garden, hummingbirds are too small to notice at that distance. At any rate red buckeyes are a highly recommended flowering shrub/tree and generally they are under planted. Around here the larger, ornamental horse chesnuts are becoming quite popular, which in spite of their name are another species of Aesculus; with their really gaudy inflorescences these horse chestnuts do provide quite a flowering spectacle, but they also become a big tree.  The smaller buckeyes, bottlebrush and red, are more versatile, when you can find them, and they can be a bit slow getting started especially from seed.

Watch out Texans!

Apparently the US military is going to use the ruse of "war games" to invade all of the hostile territory between Texarkana and El Paso and declare martial law for purposes of, well, that's not clear to this correspondent. Maybe they intend to solve a lot of problems by giving Texas back to Mexico. It takes some mighty shrewd thinking and deep insights into machinations of the federal government to have figured this all out without any real data. Seriously, have you folks thought about why our government floridates our water?  Yes, to weaken your precious bodily fluids, and perhaps you should drink nothing but whisky and branch water (or margaritas). What is a matter of some concern is that such paranoid conspiracy nuts would get so much attention especially from politicians or the wannabees who no longer seem to worry about how stupid they look or sound, as they pander for votes from those same people who have the least trust or use for government. Hmm, maybe we should be checking to see what's in the water. For those of you who may need them, and all presidential candidates for certain, here's Carl Sagan's rules for critical thinking.                                                                

Interesting profile in the garden - bigleaf magnolia

It's a beautiful morning, brisk and sunny following a big rain event that left things well-watered and very green. TPP is supervising young backs distributing mulch around our gardens. Having moved something like 22 cubic yards himself one summer, the younger back policy for moving mulch was adopted. From his supervisory position viewing the gardens from the kitchen table, one particular plant stands out against its back ground, not because of it's floral display, and while it is in flower, it isn't gaudy (one nearly open flower is under the top leaf whorls at the upper right), but TPP's bigleaf magnolia has quite a striking profile because of it's large leaves and their arrangement whorled near the ends of branches. Some people think it looks tropical.  This particular species is M. tripetala, a surprisingly hardy tree, but it doesn't like the upper midwest's wind and a more protected sight would be preferred. Alas, our gardens don't have a grotto. Sigh.

Inconclusive apple pollination experiment

Poor experimental design is the reason that the results of the apple pollination experiment were inconclusive. However, some pollination did occur because some young fruit are developing on both varieties of columnar apples. So whether the one variety is self-fertile remains a question. Yes, it could have been netted, and self-pollinated by hand, but then if not self-fertile it would have produced no apples at all. Botanical curiosity will go unsatisfied, but a few apples will be produced. As these are brand new trees, although of good size (6-7 feet tall) only a few apples will be allowed to grow.  The new trees have produced a very nice crown of leaves and if we can keep the Japanese beetles from defoliating them, they should get off to a nice start. Some nice bridal veil will serve nicely in that regard.  Mrs. Phactor's pear tree also has quite a few developing fruit, and it's about time it got going with the fruit production.  Perhaps the basal pruning administered to the non-producing apple tree as a lesson had some effect. The mild wet spring has also been producing some excellent lettuces, and just about the time the crop becomes over-whelming, they will begin to bolt and that will be that until August when it's time to replant. Herbivores have helped some.  The bibb lettuces planted in a parsley bed, and then fenced to no particular benefit, were just getting big enough to be harvested when they were eaten to the ground, although their tastiness spared the parsley from devistation. That kind of gluttony usually indicates a woodchuck rather than a bunny, so our watchfulness must increase, but no confirmatory sightings as yet. Well, that got rather off topic quickly.

An eerie quiet spread across the land

It was an exceptionally quiet Monday morning. TPP did not see a single other person while walking to the coffee shoppe. It had been raining for hours, and it was still a light drizzle. Things were wet, very green, fresh, and lots of new things had popped into bloom. However the strange quiet was because finals were last week and graduation took place on Saturday, so this college town had emptied and everyone went home for Mother's Day. Aside from all the new things in flower, other observations contributed to eerie nature of the morning. A lot of couches died over the weekend; fourteen were piled on the curb, four at a single address. At least they weren't hauled into the street and burned as was the fashion (very much frowned upon!) a decade or so ago.  A dismembered foosball table sat in an avenue's median. It looked sad. A dozen feet away sat a whole pineapple. One wonders if they possibly could have had any connection?  One apartment building was cordoned off by yellow caution tape.  It seemed very appropriate; TPP has no desire to investigate. The expected confluent litter of beer cups and associated drinking paraphernalia were strangely lacking except for one place where the empties were artfully stacked on a porch railing; it was all too neat. Maybe the pending arrival of parents triggered some primal survival instinct to pick things up. In contrast the coffee shoppe was bustling; a lot of faculty were getting caffeinated for a last bout of grading. Students were totally lacking. It felt really good knowing this was the first Monday after finals when grading did not ominously loom for TPP in over 4 decades! 

Friday Fabulous Flower - Silverbell tree

Oooo, TPP's yellow tree peonies are in flower, but maybe he doesn't want to over do the peony thing (but here and here anyways) . No problem; this time of year lots of things are in flower.  At the back of our perennial garden is a spectacular young tree, a Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina). This is a great ornamental tree, native to SE North America, but completely hardy in Zone 5. They flower when quite young and are tolerant of some shade. TPP has blogged about a different genus in the same family (Styrax americana - American snowbell).  You get the idea, dangling white flowers are a thing in this family (Styracaceae - Storax family) and big bees love it. TPP also has a young Pterostyrax tree, but it hasn't flowered yet. Storax makes no sense as a common name because it's a reference to a medicinal resin from the appropriately named Liquidambar styraciflua (sweetgum) (note the specific epithet) which is in another family no matter which one this genus is now in. Seems there was some confusion way back when plant names were based on gum-resins. OK that's not your problem, but this is a highly recommended flowering tree.