Field of Science


Garden Flowering Log - September

No question that as the days get shorter and the nights cooler (still haven't had two cats on the bed temps), the gardening season is winding down and it doesn't look like the Phactors' gardens are quite going to make the 300 plants flowered threshold that Mrs. Phactor had so hoped for. September flowering has added another 12 plants bringing the total plants flowering to 273 for the season, and that doesn't count the orchid and non-hardy azalea that flowered while hanging outside, which while perennials would be pretty cheaty because they aren't garden plants.
Sept 2 - Fall Clematis
Sept 4 - Porcelain Vine
Sept 5 - Japanese anemone
Sept 9 - Fall sedum
Sept 10 - Wood aster, Turtlehead
Sept 11 - Plumose goldenrod
Sept 16 - Showy goldenrod
Sept 18 - New England aster, Toadlily
Sept 20 - Late white Joe Pyeweed
Sept 22 - Lady in Black aster

Going Green Vertically - A new dimension for gardens

These vertical gardens just show what some imagination can yield. Our fair city, which likes to think of itself as creative, but only by the standards of the central midwest (yawn), missed out on a great opportunity to do this with a couple of new public parking garages. The side of this overpass bridge is just great, living art, as is the green building. A couple of our buildings on campus show some potential, but mostly it's just Virginia creeper or English ivy out of control. After some generous benefactor gives us $10 million or so for a new botanical facility, its green roof can get turned on its side, and we'll make their images in plants.

Problem Solving 101 - Higher Education Sets the Example

Here's a wonderful example of bureaucratic problem solving in higher education. The physical plant at our fine institution was looking for ways to cut their operational costs, just like everyone else. And some remarkable intellect figured out that the science buildings were using way more expensive paper towels than other buildings because - gasp!- laboratories have sinks, and sinks need paper towels, and labs need sinks because biology stuff is messy, hands get dirty, and so on. A candidate for outstanding administrator of the year found a way to cut costs by transferring the responsibility for laboratory paper towels to the academic department. Ta Da, the physical plant saves money. Now understand this, all central administrators are in the business of counting beans in the form of credit hours generated, and academic departments who are the only units that cultivate this particular crop are regularly dunned if their credit hours decline, however never, ever are the academic departments ever given the tuition generated. This of course would solve many of the problems right away, and credit hour generation would certainly become important if the people making them got the rewards, but the clear risk is that they might decide they don't need an assistant to the night manager in charge of paper towel distribution. But academic departments when faced with a new cost and a budget that has been static for more than a decade adopt their time honored approach - passing the cost on to students via laboratory fees, which themselves were instituted because not enough of the tuition money made its way back to departments to buy what was needed for teaching laboratory courses. Oh, but increases in fees and tuition are a real no-no right now, bad PR and all that, so the bean counter-in-chief of our particular college declares that this new cost CANNOT be passed on to students. This is a zero sum game, folks. So something has to give, and you may rest assured that our overall budget for such purchases was not what we would call flush. Yikes! Don't say flush! We'll end up buying our own TP! So we will have to do without something that we previously had thought we needed for educational purposes to buy paper towels, or like a nice little day care center we can have all the students bring little towels to lab classes, and that would be OK since it won't show up on the balance sheets. In the meantime someone somewhere is getting the award ready for the person who excelled by cutting costs so well. The same person shall receive the Phactor's short-sighted detriment to education award. Well done everyone!

Are you a true scientist?

Philosopher and keyboard artist Ervin Laszlo can help you answer this question. According to a recent piece at the Huffington Post:
You aren't a "true" scientist if you "confound the record of a religious experience with the meaning of that experience". Hmmm. Whose meaning?
You aren't a "true" scientist if you "judge a religion by the literal veracity of the sayings, episodes, and injunctions contained in its doctrines". Hmmm. OK, we aren't to pay any attention to what the religion teaches.
A "true" scientist would be "reasonably certain...that there are aspects and planes of human experience that far transcend the limits of everyday experience, and they ["true" scientists] would seek to understand that experience". Ah, at last. Yes, the biology of hallucinations is fascinating and explains why hallucinogenic plants are involved with so many of the world's religions. In a pre-scientific world such experiences would be taken as absolute proof of the supernatural, but now we know it's brain chemistry. And have these experiences provided any profound insights into human nature and the natural world? Alas, no.
Well, by now you get the idea, you are not a "true" or "genuine" scientist if you don't simply accept the religious experience at face value rather than saying "your brain was deprived of oxygen".
But this is what really rubs my rhubarb. Any scientist who doesn't agree with Laszlo in neither a "true" or "genuine" scientist. It is to laugh. Only a desperately irrelevant philosopher would use such a rhetorical device and provide us with such a slipshod, second rate contribution to the problem of sorting out the science and religion problem. Stick with the keyboard Laszlo; you're giving philosophy a bad name.

Summer-Autumn transition

Seasons are supposed to transition from one to the other, and the calendar simply marks the solstices and equinoxes, dates based upon the tilted Earth's position in its annual circuit. But this year, our weather seems to have taken the autumnal equinox literally. The last day of summer, a day for some lingering field work, nearly set a high temperature record for that day, a day hot and muggy enough to do July proud. Then zam, pow, autumn arrives over night as a high pressure system pushes into the area dropping the day's high and low temperature by more than 20 degrees (F). Just like that you go from ceiling fans to cats on the bed. Just like that we go from baseball to football, oh, wait, no, it seems baseball is lingering, slowing dying upon its vine like a squash that didn't quite make it to maturity, and football launched itself prematurely showing that it has no respect for season or tradition. At least the weather is improved.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Where?

Well, who knew that would happen? You start a blog a week ago, but finish it a week later, and then publish it and it appears back then? What kind of a system is this? At any rate, today's new Friday Fabulous Flower is back a week.

What is a fruit?

The craziest thing about my blog is the most frequently visited page: Artichoke - a fruit or vegetable? An awful lot of people must have lost sleep over this question because it has been my top ranked blog for the past 2.5 years, and this is hardly a seminal piece of botanical knowledge. However it does suggest that a more general explanation might be informative.
Flowering plants are composed of stems, leaves, and roots, and foods comprised of these parts are technically vegetables, the vegetative parts of plants. But here's the problem. Flowers are also composed of modified leaves borne on a modified stem, and when immature, usually in bud as in broccoli, they qualifiy as vegetables too. Fruits are flowers at the stage of seed dispersal, so fruits must also be modified leaves, but after post-pollination development has begun, they are categorized as fruits (and seeds). Thus the artichoke eaten prior to pollination still qualifies as a vegetable, and what is eaten is the succulent modified stem and the bases of the modified leaves (bracts) surrounding the inflorescence. A strawberry is actually quite similar in that the red fleshy tissue is actually the modified stem of the flower and the "seeds" are actually little dry fruitlets. Sometimes fruits from several flowers will fuse during development to produce multiple fruits: pineapple, mulberry. In these cases perianth parts become fleshy too contributing to the whole. Similar looking fruits can result when a single flower has many separate pistils producing aggregate fruits: raspberry, cherimoya. Some fruits are dry at maturity, although the fleshy types are more frequently and regularly thought of as fruits. Some fruits that are dry at maturity are eaten when they are immature and fleshy: beans and pea pods, okra. This means that many things thought of and eaten as vegetables are really fruits (sometimes including the seeds): cucumber, squash, green beans, snow peas, okra, tomato, peppers, eggplant, to name the more common ones. Confused? Well so is the USDA because they categorize vegetables based on common usage (To the USDA rhubarb is a fruit.) rather than the botanically correct definitions. That's good; it's terrible when your government goes and confuses itself by using science.

Nasty infuriating little things!

It's always those little things in life that are so infuriating, and in this case it's those little stickers they put on the side of fruit. Given the waxy cuticle on many fruits, you have to be pretty impressed that these stickers stay put so well. Nothing short of cutting a chunk out of the side of the fruit will remove those nasty stickers, and it makes you wonder about all the other things you want stuck somewhere that always fall off. So is this the inverse law of the universe? Anything you want unstuck is on there for life, and anything you want to stay in place you can't stick in place no matter what you try. Is this some kind of facultative adhesive? Depending upon the opposite of your desires, it either sticks forever or immediately comes undone. And for educational reasons, the Phactor found himself fighting with dozens of these nasty things upon a great diversity of fruits, and thus my ire surfaces. Next shall we consider all those pins in new shirts or labels sewn onto new slacks.

How many plant species are there?

Back when Linnaeus and the boys decided to name all the world's organisms, the task seemed large, but not insurmountable. Little did they know what the tropics had in store for them. Several problems confound trying to answer the question of how many plant species there are. 1. Botanists keep finding new ones, so the discovery of species continues. 2. It's really hard to know if you have a new species because without a digital database (which is under construction) you cannot check all the herbaria for specimens, and this means many species have been named multiple times. 3. As more and more of the Earth's surface is disturbed and destroyed by human activities, we face the fact that many organisms will become extinct before they are known to science. 4. The botanists who do this kind of research are getting rarer as universities seek to hire new faculty doing the latest, newest, most fundable type of research, and taxonomic research, long devalued and denigrated by people doing the latest, newest type of research, gets left to non-academic institutions like museums and botanical gardens, so few students see or come into contact with this type of science, so the problem is getting compounded. The first attempt to solve the second problem was to publish a list of all the new plant species names producing the Index Kewensis, an effort started by a monetary bequest from Charles Darwin! Using existing databases, taxonomic experts have been attempting to purge the lists of alternative names and determine the 1st published official species name. So far the results indicate 301,000 plant species exist after purging 480,000 alternative names called synonyms, but there are still 240,000 names left to assess, so if the same percentage holds true, then the total number of officially named plant species will be pretty close to 400,000. Not bad, not bad. This totally overwhelmes the diversity of other plant groups: only 1000 species of gymnosperms, 15,000 species of pteridosperms, and 23,000 species of mosses & liverworts. It's good we can figure this out before this type of botanist becomes extinct.

Why does this oak dislike rhododendrons?

Some animosities in the botanical world make perfect sense. Tomatoes and their relatives hate growing in the vicinity of walnuts because of the juglone, but why does my shingle oak so despise the rhododendrons that grow in its shade and benefit so greatly from its accumulated leaf litter? Because of the clay content and high pH, not to mention frigid temperatures, late summer droughts, and desiccating winter winds, rhododendrons and similar semi-soft, acid-loving plants are difficult to grow here in Lincolnland, and having found a near ideal protected setting for a rhododendron bed beneath a large oak at the east end of the house, our spring display of azaleas and rhododendrons is about as good as it gets in this area. So why does this oak drop a constant barrage of limbs upon the defenseless shrubs below? Is it floral display envy? They can hardly be a worthy competitor, and yet every year one or more of the rhododendrons will get maimed, mauled, or crushed by oak limbs. Maybe this oak just has a mean dark streak deep in its heartwood, and having already had a near miss myself, the Phactor suggests that you admire the rhododendrons from a safe distance just beyond the spread of this oak's crown.

Age - It creeps up on you.

Another anniversary of my birth has crept up on me sort of arriving unexpectedly, not that the date was unknown, but that it got here some quickly, even suddenly, after the end of summer, and once again the Phactor is older than he has ever been before. This generally doesn't bother me, but the disparity between my mind, which still feels quite young and vigorous, the result of continual exercise, and my body, which definitely feels older, grows. Of course when you buy yourself a nice big ornamental tree as a present (a cascading white pine), and then have to heft it down out of a pickup truck bed, and it's considerably heavier and more difficult to heft than it seemed when the two young fellows at the nursery put it in there, you especially notice that while your mind may say "nothing to it" the back more often says "I'll ache for you all night". Still we appreciate that the alternative to older age is considerably more dismal, and the smell of an apple pie baking, the acid test of our Nova Spys, a birthday pie made out our own apples for the first time ever, does wonders for your attitude.

Friday Fabulous Flower from Far Afield - Mistletoe

After thinking about parasitic plants all week, it only seemed natural to display one for as the FFF. Mostly you don't think about mistletoes as having very showy flowers, but that's because many of us are more familiar with mistletoes in the Viscaceae. In Australia mistletoes are members of the Loranthaceae, and they often have a striking display of colorful flowers that attract nectar feeding mistletoe birds and
honeyeaters, there being no hummingbirds.
In the second image a large mistletoe is seen growing upon a gum tree (Eucalyptus). Sorry, the species of mistletoe is unknown to me, perhaps an Amyema.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Prairie Gentian

Fall is a distinct flowering season in the prairie community, but few people see the little gems that hide down among the tall grasses. The taller wands of the goldenrods are more familiar. What a delight to suddenly come upon the Prairie gentian (Gentiana puberulenta) and spot those brilliant blue flowers way down (only about 18" tall) among the browning grasses that presently stand some 7-8 feet tall. You cannot help but admire the intense blue color of gentian flowers whether they be little alpine species or our big flowered species, and naturally, gentian blue refers to a deep, slightly purple color. Virtually no specimens of this species have been added to our herbarium collection in the past 100 years which largely reflects how thoroughly the tall-grass prairie in Lincolnland has been eradicated. Another curious gentian also occurs in our area, the bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), but this species is not so renowned for its glorious flowers because the corolla never opens! This is an interesting means of limiting visits to those pollinators big enough to push their way in, which means bumblebees. Hard to know when this gentian is in full bloom.

Pollination biology in the greenhouse

Every semester our greenhouse has one very busy week that is the result of all the students taking non-majors biology have a laboratory exercise involving the use of floral syndromes, suites of floral characters used to determine the likely pollinators of different flowers. Sometimes the plants cooperate by flowering, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes the students cooperate by being observant, and sometimes they don't. Probably no more than one in ten of the students has any appreciation of this experience, but for a few it's revelatory, in this case because of the cooperation of a few stunning plants. Here's one of my favorites, a star flower (Stapelia), a succulent member of the milkweed family. The flowers are large, some 10-15 cm diameter in this species, and the leathery corolla is hairy, sort of dried-blood colored, and has the wonderful floral fragrance of carrion. Look closely and you'll see that even some of our temperate zone flies are quite fooled by this mimicry, and indeed, eggs were deposited and young maggots (those little oblong whitish things) were looking for what their mother thought was carrion in vane because the flower does not deliver the goods promised. No brood substrate exists, but in looking for a place for their babies, pollen gets picked up and moved from fake carrion flower to fake carrion flower. Very astute students in more advanced classes may think to ask, "Why doesn't evolution work to alter the fly's perception such that they avoid fake carrion because any fly that does is not going to waste their reproductive potential. Well, they understand the concept OK, but what does it matter when flies are so numerous and carrion flowers so rare in comparison. The few flies involved, even if under very strong selection, will not affect the much larger gene pool to which they belong. In other words the plant can afford to fool a few flies without risking the loss of their pollinators from natural selection. Star flowers are nice houseplants, so long as you don't over water them, and they don't bloom! And yes, a few students were actually impressed, and extremely pleased that they correctly diagnosed fly pollination, and actually saw it in action.

Book Report - Citrus

When you teach a subject like economic botany your bookshelf fills up with a remarkable variety of books, and having delved through so many, those that prove to be useful, informative, and a good read bob to the evaluative surface like cork, which is bark tissue of the cork oak (such asides are a recurring problem with accessing the economic botany data bases), and so these few get recommended to others who might share such an interest. Citrus, A History by Pierre Laszlo is a new book published in 2007, and this tells you more about my life than the book, as just now it gets its turn to be read, but what a shame it was to have waited so long because this is a very entertaining and well written book certain to teach you a great deal about these well known, and some not so well known (Shaddocks any one?), iconic fruits. You will learn everything from the occupational hazards bartenders face from making too many mojitos to the myriad references to citrus in poetry. And since my review comes so late, the price has dropped to your benefit, but even still perhaps a certain editor at the Chicago University Press will smile upon this unsolicited endorsement as my vast horde of readers clicks on the link above, a convenience for which the Phactor receives no compensation whatsoever, and think kindly upon a fellow who is even more tardy as an author than a reviewer.

Fruit Quiz, Spice Quiz, Veggie Quiz - Take the Challenge

Here's an interesting online fruit quiz that was found via a recent commentor's web page who without noticing that the goods had been given away in a more recent post correctly IDed the eerie lights picture quiz. Congrats to meristemi. There are some interesting botanical posts there at meristemi. By the way, the Phactor totally aced the fruit quiz (11 of 11), so do let us know if you manage to match the master. There's also an obscure spice quiz and an unfamiliar vegetable quiz, links at the end of the fruit quiz too. The veggie quiz was the easiest (no sweat getting 8 out ot 8), but even the Phactor missed 5 of the 11 spice questions. Yikes! Go ahead leave a comment bragging if you do any better. But come on, when you have to guess between ginger and tumeric, well, it could go either way.

Monday morning musing

Following a weekend of wonderful weather during which the primary activity was the removal of a large, but quite dead, redbud tree, and some surrounding woody trash, a necessary prelude to remodeling the lily pond, the walk to work was a bit slower than usual. As chance would have it, a gaggle of suits were quacking down the sidewalk in front of me and their only possible destination was the admin building, and the thought occurred to me that inspite of the completely irrational differences in our remuneration, the Phactor harbors no desire to be a suit. Hawaiian shirts are so practical and so much more conducive to creative thought, and botanical work (those ties drag in everything). So the week starts on a happy thought of how fortunate to be a botanist.

No contestants!

Seems there are no contestants in my guess the eerie lights contest. So probably you are thinking something akin to the Phactors first thoughts (WTF) upon seeing these shimmering green lights upon the sea. Thought the telephoto picture might give it away that these are calamari fishermen. They hang yellow-green flourescent lights out over the water on booms to lure the squid near the surface to be scooped up in waiting nets, and their boats just drift along as they fish, making essentially no sound at all. At a distance out upon the Gulf of Thailand, the sight is quite eerie and until you know what they are, puzzling. And here's the trouble with the skeptical mind, never once did the thought of UFOs enter my thinking.

No contestants in m

Good year for butterflies

Although this wasn't the best year for plants, butterflies had a pretty good year based upon their numbers and diversity. The tiger swallowtail is the largest, gaudiest butterfly regularly seen in this area. Several of these big butterflies can often be seen in the late afternoon and early evening flying in spirals in the corner of our side yard against a back drop of spruce and tulip tree. Some of the less common species that were more abundant this year were the buckeye and spice bush butterflies. Strangely, red admirals and painted ladies, our most common species in many years, are much less common this year, but populations of small organisms often oscillate over years. Of course, having a big diverse perennial garden, and diverse species flowering throughout the year, a total nearing 270 at mid-September, is certainly beneficial to nectar feeding critters of all sorts. On other fronts, cicadas often make early September a noisy time in the yard, but it's strangely quiet this year for some reason.

Friday Fabulous Flower - A Gesneriad

How frustrating to have obtained a fabulous flower picture from my prairie study site only to have e-lost it somewhere, so when your well designed plan fails, punt. While still field season here in Lincolnland, plans are being finalized for this year's tropical field work in Costa Rica, so with a bit of fast forward thinking, here's a fabulous flower, a gesneriad, which means a member of the Gesneriaceae, a largely tropical family of herbaceous plants, best known for the domesticated house plant, the African violet. This wonderful plant is Chrysothemis friedrichsthaliana, a species mouthful, and in terms of growth it seems most like a Gloxinia because it produces tubers and periodically goes dormant. The display is a combination of showy and persistent calyx tubes, and the yellow-orange corollas. The calyx tubes hold water (just barely visible in this image) that protect the flower bud and young fruit, a not unusual condition among tropical plants.

Such an eerie light. Is it a UFO?

One of my great disappointments is the total lack of paranormal experiences in my life, and it's not for lack of being observant, but perhaps from the lack of expectations. No question, the Phactor has had his share of crazy, confusing, and quite other worldly experiences, in some quite unusual places, yet all have ultimately had quite mundane explanations. And it always seems disappointing how few credible witnesses, real critical observers, have ever reported seeing something really unidentified. One "what the hell" experience was to suddenly see weird green glows shimmering upon the ocean; no sound, no rapid movements, just eerie mad scientist green glows slowing shifting around. Pretty neat stuff, and no idea what they were. Herb and Gladys driving home in their late model pickup truck from their weekly visit to town might well have thought they were seeing UFOs hovering above the water. In this instance a telephoto lens helped resolve one of the nearer green glows a bit and resulted in this image. So what do you think we got going on here? Extra points for guessing the location.

Academic hope lives!

There are times in academic life when you nearly despair; when intellectual pursuits seem the lowest priority of your young charges, drowned out as they are by the banal cacophony (always wanted to use those two words together) of popular culture. What if students spent as much time discussing botany as they did unreal reality programming? So we grasp at the slightest indication, the merest glimmer, any hint of intellectual activity, and there it was. A decal of our university's mascot spray painted on the sidewalk, itself not unusual, but someone had added a speech balloon and in it was the question "Who was John Galt?" True, true, hundreds of students will walk past that every day and never give it a thought, but maybe one, just one, will decide to find out who John Galt was. And what if two of them actually asked each other, "Who was John Galt?", and decided to follow up on their curiosity. And imagine if three, three whole students wondering throughout the day about John Galt, and then deciding to see who he was and why he was important enough to ask about. And what if every student in my class walked in, looked at me, and asked, "Who was John Galt?", why it would be a movement, a real intellectual movement. So today a data point shall be gathered by asking my class, "Who was John Galt?" But we are speaking of a class that had never heard of the mutiny on the Bounty, or even seen any of the movies. Care to take any bets? Anyone? Anyone? Still someone was clever enough, and intellectually playful enough to have painted the question on the sidewalk in the first place, so hope remains, an intellectual student still roams our campus.

Moving up in the world?

Well, one hardly knows what to say when a humble botanist is quoted at length in the Chronicle of Higher Education simply because one writes a bit of a rant about assessment in response to a typical enough provost who typically enough doesn't get it.

Tale of two trees

Gardening is one of those enterprises where you always have some successes and some failures. One of this years successes was the first crop of apples from a relatively new tree of a relatively new variety, a Nova Spy. As the name suggests this is a new variety of dwarf apple tree that supposedly captures the singular apple quality of the Northern Spy, an apple of some renown for more than a century. So it was with considerable anticipation that the first apples produced by our three-year-old tree were harvested, and how nice it is to report that the apples are true to form, largish somewhat irregular in shape and green with streaky red, very recognizable as a spy, and it has the spy flavor, that sweet tart taste with all sorts of fruity highlights. How fantastic that this new variety seems to have solved the spy problems of being big, slow-growing, full-sized, slow to bear trees as the only source of a superior apple, so maybe this excellent apple will become more popular again, and more avidly sought by people other than a few apple fanciers. But in the negative column on the same day as the apples were harvested, a 3-yr-old Japanese maple up and wilted, a nearly certain sign, given the time of year, of verticillium wilt, and the consequent death of the tree. A redbud died a couple of weeks earlier in a similar manner. So that's the long and short of it.

Fall Clematis on display

While a bit weedy, fall clematis is quite a nice plant, flowering prolifically in the fall, thus the name, when many other plants are in decline, and prolifically producting seeds that quite readily invade neighboring gardens if the plant isn't deadheaded after flowering. But handled correctly it can be quite handsome. In this case, vines that are cut back tend to produce dense upright masses of flowers that can be cut and stuffed into a stoneware bowl as a bouquet with very nice effect. They actually don't smell too bad either, although not the most lovely fragrance.

Jogging - a way to get creative idea? Nah!

An article on jogging (which has since been lost) made the claim that, wow, every now and then a runner gets a nifty idea while running, a flash, while the brain is being repeatedly jarred against skull. Now this is something about which the Phactor, as an intellectual athlete, knows a great deal, not about running, because the only two reasons for that are if you are being chased, by someone much bigger or really scary, or chasing someone, much smaller and about to get the butt kicked, about this type of blank mind creativity. It takes practice to learn how to allow your brain to creatively drift along such that interesting ideas that your subconscious has been working on can wash ashore onto the beach of your conscious mind like the bit of creative flotsam that they are. Here like a beach-comber of the brain, you must grab these ideas and make an effort to remember them before they wash back out to sea. The key is to avoid distractions, intrusions upon your consciousness that prevent you from noticing new ideas as the bob there at the edge of the tide. Walking to work is good time to beach-comb for new ideas, solutions to problems, and other creative thoughts, because after a long night of working on it your subconscious mind has the most to offer, if you are properly prepared to accept them. Another time is when you relax in your garden with a decent drink, and just watch things grow, the butterflies dance, and the comings and goings of your little bit of nature, quiet except for the sounds of nature; no i-anything within reach, no distractions, and zounds, there it is, an idea. Such ideas are cheap really, once you learn how to get them reasonably frequently, many prove flawed, unrealistic, or impractical, but not all, and after you offer up these bits for a few years, you get a certain reputation for being a creative thinker. And then someone makes a news story out of a couple of runners who have noticed that every now and then this happens while they are running, and that’s news? Ah, perhaps it’s a novelty piece, a runner gets an idea, how quaint, how unusual, how unexpected. How unusual that some part of your mind survives after being numbed into insensitivity by a really boring form of exercise. One wonders how much more often these people would get new ideas if rather than jogging along distracted by the task of avoiding uneven slabs of concrete, tree roots, and dog doo, these runners sat in a garden, in full margarita induced musing mode, and actually practiced thinking?

Friday Fabulous Flower - Pomegranate

When you say pomegranate (Punica granatum), everyone generally thinks of the fruit rather than the flower, but the flowers are quite handsome and right on the edge of being large (over 2.5 cm diameter bloom) to a floral biologist. The flower displays a number of features we generally associate with Rosids. Pomegranate is an unusual fruit because we actually discard the fruit and consume the fleshy arils surrounding its seeds, although the dried seeds themselves are used as a spice (anardana). As an ancient domesticate of the Middle East pomegranate has been around long enough to have left its mark on our cultures. Long a symbol of fertility because of its many seeds, brides threw the fruit upon the ground to devine the number of children they would have based upon the seeds that spilled out. And this gave rise to the name of that fragmentary munition, the grenade, just as the fruit lent its name to a Spanish city (Granada) and a red syrup (grenadine). It is even one candidate for being the Biblical tree of knowledge.

Garden Flowering Log - August 2010

Summers always end the same way in Lincolnland, hot and dry. Although a quite a few things begin flowering during this time period on the prairies, not many of them are part of my gardens (too shady). Several plants began flowering during the first 8 days of August, but since we observers were out east, no one knows the order or precise day. Only 9 new plants began flowering in August, which brings the year's garden total to 261, quite respectable, but not the 300 Mrs. Phactor had hoped for.
August 1-8: Fragrant hostas, Waxbells, Ligularia (2 var.), Pink Obediant Plant (Physostegia), Wingstem (a native - Verbesina alternifolia)
August 21: Bottle Gentian (actually it's hard to know when this plant is in flower because the corolla lobes never really open after the buds reach full size, but since it is receptive to pollen and can disperse pollen, it's technically "in flower" even if the flower doesn't open. Bumblebees have to force their way in.).
August 22: Late small-leafed hostas.
August 27: Wood aster.
August 29: Lily turf.

Plant ID Challenge

Dr. Chips has sent his old friend the Phytophactor a couple of pictures of a plant he found growing on Denali, you know that biggish mountain in Alaska. However, other than thinking the flower looks a bit like a Calceolaria, which would be a long ways from its home in the Andes, that pinnate leaf just doesn't look right for that genus. So give me a hand. What is this thing?

31st Berry-go-Round - An August Harvest of Plant-related Blogs

Ah, yes, missed the BGR submission deadline again. End of August is the 31st for the 31st BGR, not some arbitrary day prior, but no one to blame but myself. Still the kind purveyor of Seeds Aside included one of my posts . Surely this debt will have to be repaid. And while August was a bad month for the Phactor's gardens and plants (finally rained last night!), the harvest of plant related blogs was plentiful so pop over and have a look.