Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - new Magnolia


If the two previous posts were not teasers enough, having a new Magnolia flower is always a wonderful thing, especially when the magnolia in question was not expected to grow at all.  TPP's new Magnolia is the Ashe Magnolia, either Magnolia macrophylla subspecies (or variety) ashei, or Magnolia ashei, depending upon what proves to be correct.  It certainly is a big-leafed magnolia, even saplings have huge leaves up to 18" long.  And while it can get fairly large with time, it can also be an understory shrub, and part shade is OK.  While this particular species is endemic to the Florida panhandle, where TPP purchased the seedling for $10 (thanks to his sister taking him to a native plant nursery).  Everyone thinks a Florida endemic species growing in the upper Midwest is not a recipe for success, but apparently temperature is not the limiting factor.  Big-leafed Magnolias normal range extends to SE Ohio. And if we get a very cold winter, TPP's ashe magnolia might be in trouble, but it has survived winter lows of 0 F (32 degrees F below freezing for my civilized C readers) without any damage.  Some protection from wind is important; it's those big leaves.  So with some luck TPP will have this tree for years. 
At any rate this magnolia also flowers at a young age and size.  This is just the tree's 3d year, and it's only 4 feet tall.  Fully open this wonderful flower if the size of a dinner plate (12" in diameter), 6 white tepals with a blush of red at their base.  Actually the flower is open and in the female (pollen-accepting) stage when cylindrical.  If you look closely the anthers are shattering and falling into the bases of the tepals (male phase), rather like a southern magnolia, and soon they will be set upon by little beetles.  No question this is quite the flower, and on a 4 foot tall tree, it's downright fabulous. TPP celebrated with a mint julip. And that's it, one flower, this year.  The tree can be obtained from a number of nurseries by mail order should you be interested. 

Anxious anticipation - Thursday bud opening

Well this Friday Fabulous Flower is sure taking long enough, but that is just the way with nature. The big flower bud shown yesterday is opening, so TPP is quite anxious.  And a thunder storm deluge had better not ruin this for us no option gardeners; it's the only flower TPP is going to get, at least this year.  The perianth is forming an upright cylinder  about 8 inches tall, and the outer 3 perianth parts are folding down.  Clearly the flower will be white, and big!  The anticipation is killing the author, but today is Thursday, so tomorrow is the day.



Anticipation of Flowering

TPP is going to have a wowser Friday Fabulous Flower, and never before has this generated more anticipation for this author, do here's what the flower bud looks like just a few days ago. The flower bud is 7" tall and almost 2" in diameter at the fattest point.  The whole plant is just a 3 yr old tree sapling, so for it to flower at all was a bit of a surprise.  But it gets even better, so tune in tomorrow for another installation.

How can you trust non-gardeners?


Can you trust someone who has never gardened or even grown a plant?  It takes a certain amount of mental and emotional maturity to appreciate something as subtle as a plant (which one colleague suggests explains some zoologists), and it takes a good deal of patience and care to nurture a seed into a plant that flowers and eventually produces fruit.  It is no surprise to many of us that there is nothing quite like a garden-ripened, sun-warmed, fresh-picked tomato.  Tomatoes from most groceries, and those served in your average restaurant, are merely similar in color and shape.  How many of our politicians, largely rich, urban folk, would know a good tomato if they ate one?  In addition, some of them, being mostly lawyerly, might even argue that good in this context doesn’t matter.  But it does because it says a great deal about their values and discernment of subtleties!  A really good tomato is something the little person can have, can grow, for themselves, something better than the 1% have, something the 1% don't even know about.  So why trust someone who can’t accept even such a simple truth as a ripe tomato?  Could our current president even recognize a tomato plant?  Does he even eat tomatoes that have not been turned into ketchup?  So why trust this guy with any of the many more important decisions that need to be made?  TPP hazards to say that gardeners are a largely ignored demographic, and gardeners should rise up and oppose putting such ignorant people into office.  Perhaps a gardening quiz can be administered to test for fitness to hold office and make wise decisions about things that really matter, like when things need pruning (sorry Chauncey, Being There). What’s the best tomato you’ve ever eaten?  How do you grow nice lettuce? It matters; now answer the question!

Friday Fabulous Flower - Peony Peony

A front rolled in this AM early announced by thunderstorms and an alarmed cat alarm (scared of thunder). So after nearly a week of quite warm weather, it seems quite cold outside (50-ish), but we got an inch of much needed rain.
So very good thing TPP took this picture of a new peony taken in trade for something else.  It took the division a couple of years to get going, and then adjust to a new location that made it very happy. Voila!  The plant is fairly tall and stands up straight, a bit unusual for herbaceous peonies, although this one is assisted by a wire cage.
Not sure what variety of peony this is; the flowers are the anemone-type of double where stamens are transformed into staminodes that have petalloid colors. Not at all natural but quite attractive.  It's only about 4 feet from the Aachen Elf iris from yesterday. 

Elfine Iris

Mrs. Phactor likes Iris, and while she exercises considerable patience in their cuture, she appreciates a good Iris as much as the next person. In this instance "good" means easy to grow, reasonably trouble free, floriferous, and attractive.  This is a dwarfish variety that fills the bill and it's variety is named Achen elf.  No idea what it means, but it has a home, several actually, in our gardens. This is a clump growing along the sidewalk of our front gardens, a semi-tough place to grow, and it looks very good this spring.  It has a bit of an old timey quality to the color combination.

On the primacy of doubt in an age of illusory certainty

While reading the news, TPP noted that it is rumored that the President will appoint a non-scientist, someone wholly without scientific credentials to be under secretary of the dept. of agriculture and in charge of a great deal of research.  Nothing good ever comes of such appointments.  The title above comes from a blog recently posted by a fellow Field of Science Blogger at the Curious Wavefunction and for a short time it probably appears at the top of this page.
Many people fail to understand science: some thinking  it's just a body of knowledge with no notion that science is really a way of knowing where being skeptical is a useful and necessary attitude.  TPP studies, when time and money allow, rainforest trees, and he well remembers a Lincolnland legislator wonder aloud what good that did the other citizens of our state. Of course, there's the interconnectedness of nature, which tends to pay very little attention to our semi-arbitrary political boundaries. Basically this was interesting research, poking into the unknown, satisfying a primal urge to explore and exercise a curiosity, and that kept you going, kept you at a difficult pursuit, and it grabbed the attention and stimulated a certain number of students to learn science the only way it can be taught, by doing science, and that is what TPP was hired to do. Not "train students for the workforce of Lincolnland", a dreary prospect of a goal for a university.  Not educate, but train. Sit. Speak. Roll over.  So pop over and give Ash's blog a read. 

Avoiding the unpleasant

It's human nature, so we all do it.  And a steady diet of unpleasantness begins to depress TPP.  In terms of nature, 2017 has been great, a good spring. But the news, mostly from Washington DC has been most depressing. How does somebody so remarkably unqualified in so many ways become president? The answer itself is also depressing; it means qualifications don't mean a damn, and the 'Mercan public is poorly prepared to evaluate candidates using the various forums provided.  Presently our duly elected President is doing his best to demonstrate how poorly qualified he is and in so many ways to occupy a position of power and responsibility.  All these demonstrations connect back to his peculiar narcissistic personality, his lazy, untrained intellect, and his history as a privileged rich person.  And even more depressing, his term has another 3.5 years to go! TPP takes small pleasure in the most obvious fact, which is having the office which he coveted does not seem to giving our President great satisfaction because the job is much harder, much different, than he thought, and his gaffes provide everyone with opportunities to criticize his performance, something someone so thin-skinned doesn't like. Our President actually generally predicted that many such errors would take place, but not by himself, but by his opponents.  To bad he is incapable of learning from his own criticisms.  So sorry world, we knew his budget stuff would be bad, we knew his healthcare stuff would be bad, we knew his administrative style would be bad, but that was before his foreign policy and diplomacy kicked into gear. So many potential disasters and all in a little more than 100 days!  And sane people keep asking, how bad could it get? 

Friday Fabulous Flower - Oyama magnolia


Is there anything better than having a cool magnolia flower in your garden?  Magnolia sieboldii, Oyama magnolia, is pretty near its cold hardiness limit here in the upper Midwest, and worse, it doesn't handle late frosts or freezes very well, so this year TPP was expecting the worst from a not so late freeze, but earlier warm weather had pushed bud development along.  Still things turned out well. This year its flower buds survived unharmed and the result is quite nice, especially as it flowers later than most of the magnolias. Our plant is fairly young, planted in 2013, and it's basically a shrub having been frozen back a couple of times. The flower buds end up looking almost like  hard-boiled, shelled eggs hanging from the end of a branch or twig. The tepals are quite white, and the pendant flower has a cup-like shape, so look up.  Inside the flower sports a helix of red anthers.  Appropriately ours is located in a Japanese garden bed with lots of other Asian species.  Dr. Chips has a nice one in his yard if you happen by his place, and there is a nice specimen at the Morris Arboretum that usually flowers for Mother's Day.

Pretty prairie perks

Conducting prairie research does have a few perks.  It's still pretty early out on the prairie, and not too much is going on in terms of flowering, but the prairie does have a few spring ephemerals, plants that sprout early and flower before the canopy closes over them. In this case the canopy is only about 2 meters, but if you only have a rosette of leaves, that's plenty tall. These shooting stars, Dodecatheon meadia (Primrose family), are among everyone's favorite plants because of their nifty looking flowers that can range across quite an range of colors from almost white to quite fuchsia. This is one of the densest patches TPP knows. 

Another plant that favors patches is the wild hyacinth, Camassia scilloides (lily family).  Many people never see these because they don't venture out into the prairie until much later in the year. If TPP doesn't get out there just after it has been burned, the permanent plots would never be found (and if truth be told, a few are still missing and that effort is waiting until the semester ends). 

Too busy May and a Cinco de Mayo remembrance

It's Cinco de Mayo, and already the month is shot, and for a retired botanist, TPP is too busy.  The kitchen garden is coming along and lettuce is ready to eat.  Field work is a shambles of weather related disasters.  The rest of our gardens are in pretty good shape, mostly because Mrs. P has a bit more time to work around the estate. As TPP writes this she's digging out one of several large bush clematis, C. heracleifolia.  Who wants a hunk?  A yellow landscape rose waits to take its place. An overly aggressive, under performing fragrant sumac got the ax, so to speak, just a few days ago, and TPP survived a late pruning job on the knock-out roses. Late April and early May have been coldish and very wet, so your actions are limited.  Quite a few people have been by to wander our gardens, when weather permitted. Two late Magnolias remain to flower, the rarest one, an Ashe magnolia, will have just one flower, and it's only a meter tall in it's 2nd season. Hopefully it will appear in this spot soon (a coming attraction). 
Missed May the forth be with you completely. Couldn't get the Kentucky Colonel mint for tomorrow's mint julips and had to settle for mojito mint; counter girl could not under stand the context and importance. And so, behind in everything including blogging.
Here's a brief remembrance: Lastly, but not leastly, May 5th is etched in TPP's memory as the day in-armed anti-war protesters were fired upon by the National Guard at Kent State killing 4 students and wounding several others. So will T-rump tweet about that?  It happened 50 years ago, and that seems impossible, until TPP checks the birthdays.  Students across the nation went out on strike to protest the killings ending the semester and academic year early, and you could not help but be involved.  Our campus still had weeks until the end of the semester, and with graduation and graduate school in the offing, TPP has  to cross picket lines to attend a couple of classes run by holdout professors, it was a tense, difficult time and culminated with an evolution exam that took nine hours to write, a real learning experience when almost no one else had exams at all.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - made in the shade, Neillia


The Phactors' gardens are sun challenged because of all the big trees, so shade gardens it is.  Shade loving ephemerals, don't actually love shade, they deal with it by growing in the brief window of spring sun time before the leafy canopy above closes. Then most of them die down, their season being over.  So then what?  In the search for shade-loving and shade-tolerating shrubs, TPP discovered Neillia sinensis, Chinese neillia, (KNEEL-lee-ah cy-NEN-sis) at the Missouri Botanical Garden. It was growing at the back of a garden and no one could find the label. However, the flowers had a large tubular hypanthium, and with the double saw-toothed leaves, it was clearly a member of the Rose family. Then it was a not too difficult task to figure out what it was.  Ours loves its shady post, although it takes some space; the shrub is just over 6 feet tall with elegantly arching stems, and it does tend to spread so you either give it a lot of space or continue to spade out the new shoots.  However at the beginning of May these lovely drooping racemes of pink flowers appear that really make this shrub worth having.

May oneth - just a day

Today is May oneth, and truly TPP cannot get worked up about the various causes associated with that date. The weather has been quite awful and both gardening and field work has suffered from the windy, coldish, very rainy weather, yet we got off on the light side, no tornadoes or severe winds, inches of rain, but mostly handled by nature (and it helps living on a rise), and no frosts, freezes, or snow.  But grass and lawn weeds have been growing way too well, war will be waged on certain fronts, when the rains stop.  Reading somewhere that today is Loyalty Day in the US, but when our current president says it, it doesn't mean what he wants it to say.  Of some note, over 150 different plants have flowered in our gardens already.  In particular the flowering dogwoods and azaleas have been great. The yellow tree peonies has just started and so missed getting pounded by heavy rains, and that always makes TPP happy.  So TPP remains loyal to plants, to our best freedoms (sorry, but gun freedoms always seem in infringe upon others), and to clean air and water, real basic freedoms, folks. But the absolute, and totally best thing about today was having fresh rhubarb pie for breakfast.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Crested Iris

One of the ways to get lots of plants in your yard is to find little places to stick in little plants.  This particular one has been difficult because it is so small, and the thin, wiry rhizomes are so shallow growing that the tree rats keep digging it up, except when growing in a rock garden situation.  This is Iris cristata, the crested iris, because it has crests on the outer tepals.  It's usually has a blue perianth; this is a white variant. Our wild-type blue one keeps getting dug by the above mentioned rats, and it has more striking markings and generally is prettier.  This plant stands about 3-4 inches tall at this stage, and it won't get markedly larger.  It's really a cute little thing, and if undisturbed it can spread into a decent sized mat.  It is easily overrun by weeds, and easily over buried with leaves, and easily over looked.  So it needs your help. This is a native of Eastern North America in somewhat open woodlands. 

Technically how expert is that? Bread mold edition

A recent news article caught TPP's eye because it showed moldy (mouldy for some of you) bread. Then an expert, a senior technical information specialist for the United States Department of Agriculture, proceeded to give you advice about cutting mold off your bread or any other soft food. First of all the mold is obviously Penicillium, and it is not particularly harmful especially in such small amounts.  When you are eating blue cheeses you are eating species of Penicillium that were grown on bread before inoculating the milk curds with moldy bread crumbs.  A senior technical information specialist should know this, don't you think?  They go on about the problem with soft foods. 
"With soft food, it's very easy for the roots [of the mold], or the tentacles, or whatever creepy word you want to use....Basically, the mold spore's roots go much farther into bread than our eyes can see."  The roots, tentacles, or whatever creepy word you want to use?  How about filament or mycelium, one of the right words for the body of a fungus?Guess the USDA's senior technical information specialist did not read up on fungus before dishing out the advice.  And then a phrase like "mold spores's roots"?  What?  Spores germinate and produce filaments that grow into the organism's body, a mycelium. Do you find this language particularly creepy? A junior information specialist would have used the word "icky" instead. 
What they were trying to explain here is that the mold extends far beyond the portion that you can generally see.  But the tone of the warning is needlessly alarming. TPP's rule is simpler, if you can easily remove the visible mold by trimming it away, like the bit on the edge of the slice of bread above, then the bread is not sufficiently moldy to avoid eating it, especially after you've toasted it and spread it with peanut butter, jelly, or Vegemite, which is made from fungus (yeast) itself.  Some molds like Penicillum are used deliberately to infect certain foods to prevent other molds and bacteria from growing because these molds are famous for producing antibiotics like the well-known penicillin. And better the mold you know than some other spoilage organism.
So how much can you trust the advice from someone who doesn't get even the basic technical facts correct, and uses alarmist language?  Too many communication courses, not enough science on Marianne's CV is TPP's guess.



Tricksy solicitation callers

In general TPP hates phones.  Maybe dislike is a better description.  Here's the problem, our household has had the same phone number for almost 40 years, so everyone knows it, everyone, and most importantly friends and family at a distance.  Now along comes smart phones and TPP was thrust into the modern era.  Seldom is the phone used for calling anyone, but the apps are great as is the access to email although no way more than one or two words get typed by thumbs. 
Unfortunately however the robo calls work, at around 10 am, the phone rings and the call will be soliciting donations for their oh so worthy cause.  Today's was interactive and almost tricked TPP.  This kind of robo call uses a series of pre-recorded statements and responses, and they were chosen probably based on some key word, the give away was the pause, the brief delay, like the other person was calling from Queensland back in the old days. Then some of the chosen responses didn't fit quite right, throw away responses because the program couldn't figure out your response. It took a couple of back & forths before TPP caught on to what was going on.  Basically it flunked the Turing Test.  Curiously it had a response when it was asked if it was a recording.  Somehow it was supposed to be reassuring that a real person recorded the snippets of dialogue.  "Well, what's the right response for this?"  And you hang up the hand set.  Annoying as lawn weeds. Does anyone know any annoying tricks to play on such programs?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Tree Peonies in flower

Tree peonies?  Most people are confused, but indeed, one species Peonia suffruticosa.  TPP discovered their existence by accident when a graduate student after he rejuvenated an old shrub growing along side the Phactor's apartment, and it burst forth the next spring with these huge, pink tissue-paper peony flowers as big as your head.  It was love at first sight. This species doesn't grow up north where the Phactors came from, so this was a whole new thing. These shrubs are only sort of woody, and not a tree at all, but they produce huge flowers and they can be yellow (!), which without hybridization you don't find in herbaceous peonies.  This particular image show three of TPP's 9 tree peonies at their flowering peak, and with rain predicted, they won't look this good again.  You can imagine what rain does to such large, double flowers. The tallest of these is about 4 feet.  

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.

A peculiar limp, pink leaf flush

Spring seems to have arrived and since the spring showers (actually a downpour) is currently curtailing TPP's field and garden work, blogging seems like the right thing to do.  Even in the glasshouse a number of plants respond to the return of longer days. And this includes one of TPP's favorites, the silk handkerchief tree, Maniltoa lenticellata (Fabaceae: Caesalpinioideae) a native of Queensland, Australia. TPP has featured this tree before (here and here), but that was some years ago now (OMG, TPP has been blogging for nearly a decade!).  But this spring's tree flush was pretty spectacular, so spectacular that even plant diversity students noticed! 
At any rate the amazing displays of new foliage are pink, very pink, and a whole leafy branch drops out of a bud all at once (this one if about 18" long).  A student pointing to a bud asks, "How does all of that fit in there?" TPP responds, "Ah, good, curiosity." And he picks off a bud, a really big bud, and says, "Take it apart and find out."  Clearly, judging by her reaction, that was an unexpected event. However this is a quite instructional activity so why not share it with readers?  Since the tree flushes more or less all at once it can be quite a decorative display. 
The buds do get quite large, some 5-6" long before they open, so the flush never comes as a surprise, unless the buds contain flowers (see 2nd link above). Actually the students quite accurately observed that the overlapping bud scales make the bud look a bit like a shrimp. Removing the bud scales is fairly easy, but sorting out the interior is a bit of a challenge. 
The leaflets are folded in half upper side in and each leaf  usually consists of 8 leaflets in 4 pairs. Each leaf also has a pair of long, thin, pale, and early dehiscent stipules at its base. The leaf rachis and stem are sort of looped into S-shapes to shorten them.  So here's the bud with the scales removed. You can see the scale scars on the greenish stem at the top.
Now you have to rather carefully tease the whole thing apart. This bud contains 5 leaves and the length of twig to which they are attached.  Here it is in the same relative orientation.
Starting at the top, the upper most leaf if to your right; the rachis is a bit pinker than the twig and you can see the long, white stipules at its base.  Then the 2nd leaf is to the left, then follow the twig along a big C-shaped curve to get to the 3d leaf (to the right again), then back to the left for the 4th leaf and lastly more or less in the middle, and smallest, if the 5th leaf.  Isn't that grand?
These long pink flushes gradually fade into a pale green as the chlorophyll develops.  Eventually the twig and leaves lift themselves up into a graceful arching branch. The function of such pink flushing and the limp branches has been debated.  TPP remains uncertain.

Narrow-minded, short-sighted university administrators

One is tempted to ask, "Are there any other kind?"  Actually, yes, for which TPP is most grateful for his. But admini-minds at the Univ. of Louisiana, Monroe, are the worst kind.  Biologists were given 48 hrs to solve an insoluble problem of where to relocate their natural history museum to, and of course no justification for keeping it was going to be accepted.  According to their web page, these admini-minds could "find no value in the collections and no value of the collections to the university." "The College was given 48 hours to suggest an alternate location for the collections so that Brown Stadium can be renovated for the track team." In this case the collections involve 5 million fish specimens, a very major collection, and over 500,000 plant herbarium specimens.  That's pretty close to 10 time the size of TPP's herbarium.  The stoopid arrogance of such admini-minds is astounding. We cannot image a use or find a value to having such collections, so they must be junk, and if not relocated the collections will simply be trashed!!!  Yes, decades of biologists efforts, irreplaceable data and specimens, and out it all goes unless the biologists can find a home for them, elsewhere!  Naturally another use for the land has been found, the very valuable track team. The ignorance of such admini-minds is boundless. And a 48 hrs deadline is just infuriating; clearly no solution was wanted. You think climate change may affect Louisiana and the distribution of fish and plants as a result? No value to historical records at all. Sad! 

Stoopid environmental action

It's just hard to believe how awful President T-rump is, and how much worse it may get. TPP has been reasonably silent about T-rump and his ignorant approach to being president. Dear foreign readers, so sorry.  Rolling back fossil fuel emissions is just about the stoopidest thing any president could do, and with it the USA gives up on clean air and having an environmental leadership role in the world.  And T-rump fancies himself a shrewd businessman, and yet he cannot see that new jobs and emerging industries are what will support a green, sustainable energy future, and that coal is basically dead. Sorry miners, it's the same with lumberjacks; the trees are gone. Getting so it's impossible to watch the news without getting so mad, and listening to Mrs. Phactor and the F1 yelling at the media delivery systems doesn't help except as a certain type of self-help, don't-go-crazy therapy. TPP blogs, sorry readers, you'll have to put up with this every now and again. Hope Mar-a-Lago is the first property to go under as sea levels rise.  

Peak blueness


Today is Peak Blueness.  It isn't as blue as some springs because of last week's shot of very cold weather and snow, although the latter doesn't harm these plants very much.  This is a portion of what passes for lawn at the Phactors.  The image was taken from a way back across our gardens and while the resolution does not allow it, the blue is the result of 10s of thousands of Scilla flowers. The Phactors haven't planted a one of these; they have been naturalizing and on their own for decades.  So plant them now for your future blueness. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - dwarf daffodils

They are just so darned cute!  Just like the kittens of the spring gardens.  This particular daffodil or narcissus is only about 5-6" tall, but any variety under 10" is sort of a miniature.  Here's a link to several varieties of these little ones.  These (tete-a-tete) flower at about the same time as my earliest standard daffodils, but they make thick foot wide clusters in just a few years producing a large number of flowers.  You got to have these in the front of your garden beds.  Basically trouble free.  TPP is early this week because field work tomorrow.

Tree BDSM

Dear Sensitive Readers, you may wish to avert your eyes because this is a pretty ugly image. Basically the rule is simple: chains and trees do not go together.  Chains tend to do bad things for trees and they never do anything good.  This demonstrates something very stupid. This chain could never keep this tree from splitting.  A major limb of a decent sized tree is simply too heavy for a chain even one as robust as this.  Second, this chain was applied way to close to the fulcrum to apply any meaningful force.  So placing this chain thus is utter futility and it should have been removed a decade or more ago, and now its removal will further damage the tree leaving a weak zone in exactly the wrong place. The initial mistake was made decades earlier; the tree was planted too close to the house. Now the placement is a problem.  Pay attention to the little tags when planting that tell you how big the tree gets in 10 years, then plant accordingly.  Next pruning of this tree was neglected so is limbs grew wrongly.  Up the street a young limber pine and a small thread-branched false cypress were both planted as foundation landscaping around a rehabbed house.  At present both look fine, but they will grow and both will outgrow their locations in 5 to 10 years so much they will need to be cut down. This is pure bad landscaping. It was done for street appeal and quick sale, and most people would not notice.  TPP is not most people, yet TPP has a Chamaecyparis that is over growing his front steps because even though planted with a reasonable amount of room, it quickly grew to a very large size and they are hard to prune and nearly impossible to keep small. So, yes even us knowledgeable people make mistakes, and this shrub will be removed this summer for stoop renovations. The take home messages: 1. no chains in trees, 2. pay attention to where you plant your trees, 3. not all landscape professionals can be trusted to do the right thing for the long haul.

St. Patrick's Day review

Here are links to past posts to celebrate the wee bit o' Irish in all of us. A bit much of Irish in TPP if truth be told.
What is a shamrock?
Flaunt the green!  What's not Irish about this?
A St. Patrick's Day botanical question and the greening of the Chicago River.  Yeah, and we ain't talking about conservation!
Green powered woo! OK nothing actually about St. Patrick's day except this popped up in a search and it is sort of weird enough to revisit. 
Be happy! Drink some whiskey and toast the day! Later, right now TPP has 15 lbs. of corned beef to get out of the brine and begin cooking. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - Tough guy edition

As is not the least bit unusual, a prolonged and very early spring has been punctuated by a blast of cold weather and snow.  And this may not even be the only punctuation! The quite mild weather of late Feb. and early March persuaded many plants to break their winter dormancy, during which they are quite cold hardy, and commence growth producing tissues and flowers which are much less cold hardy.  During this cold snap the night time temperatures have dipped some 22 degrees (F) below freezing. Based on long experience, most of our cold hardy plants will survive even if damaged, but a few really tough plants simply shrug off these freezes.  Today's FFF is a hellebore (Helleborus), a well known genus of tough plants in the buttercup family.  Once they get established (they often take their time and need some TLC to get established) the plants deal with shade pretty well, their tough, dark-green, animal-resistant foliage will persist through the winter, and they produce large blooms quite early in the spring.  Hellebores are a great plant in many of our gardens, although for a couple of decades falling into gardening obscurity, a trend recently reversed by many new varieties with more bloom colors.  The image shows a cluster of blooms as they emerge from the snow, totally undamaged.  Some larger, taller hybrid varieties were cut and have persisted pleasantly in a vase on our kitchen table for 10 days now.  You really can't ask for more. These flowers are much better known in Europe than here in the states. 

Recent Events of no particular note

With the possibility being the TPP's mind is beginning to skip a cog, a number of recent events have just slipped right by.  Back in early Feb. while the Phactors were still in Hawaii, TPP completed his 9th year of blogging.  Well over a million and a quarter page reads later, the blog is still plodding along. This seems to be a good thing.  Good thing TPP blogged about artichokes once; it accounts for about 20% of all my hits!
Just 2 days ago was Pi day (3/14) and TPP forgot to mention it.  To make up for this omission, here's a link to an extremely clever pie for pi in the form of a zoetrope.  Got you to look it up?  TPP just played with one at the George Eastman House museum this past summer. Please don't say you have to look up George Eastman?  But the video did not explain why the pie was pecan.
TPP often blogs about the first flower of spring, but it was hard to determine just what and when that was because of the early spring.
TPP was going to brag about a local trivia contest won by his namesake team, but really it was the F1's effort and trivia- filled mind that did the trick, that and a bunch of friends whose minds are filled with strange stuff.  

Hawaiian branch of the Begonia family

The In Defense of Plants blog has a great article posted about the Hawaiian endemic member of the Begonia family, Hillebrandia sandwicensis, which except for this one exception, are species of Begonia.  TPP just saw this plant for the first time a few weeks ago on our late Jan. early Feb. vacation.  No question it's a member of the family, and never would have even questioned it if told it was another species of Begonia.  Also worth clicking over to see the excellent image of the "male" and "female" flowers where generally the stigmas mimic the stamens fooling pollinators but providing no reward.  Unfortunately the plants TPP observed had no flowers. Didn't they know who was there?
The feed from the IDOP blog is on TPP's side bar, but wanted to call this post from a couple of days ago to your attention.

Early spring, maybe not quite so early!

TPP is in St. Louis for a society meeting, the business end of botany.  Spring here is about 2 full weeks ahead of us 150 miles further north, and the star and tulip-flowered magnolias are in bloom here. But a huge front is pushing in from the north west, and lows are expected here in the low 20s (remember 32 is freezing in the crazy F temp scale).  In our area probably even a few degrees lower. Any plant with flowers out will likely get toasted. This is the problem with early springs in the great Midwest.  Our weather patterns are so big and so variable that late and even not so late freezes are more than likely, they are virtually certain.  Stoopid plants just don't know to wait.  TPP's stoopidist plant is certainly our star magnolia, so ours is planted in a cool, slightly shady location, and it flowers a week later than most others, and it this case this just might be enough to save its floral display from frost damage, or maybe not.  It's a wait and see game.  Been too busy to peek at the Missouri Botanical Gardens to see how advance their gardens are.  Even this morning while picking the newspaper up off the front stoop, TPP noticed that the potted pansies were pretty stiff, but they are quite tough plants and once you're frozen, you're frozen.  So we'll see.  Nothing much to worry about in any case, but magnolias are another matter entirely.

Friday Fabulous Flower - False Forsythia, real fragrance

Tomorrow's Friday Fabulous Flower is a much under appreciated early flowering spring shrub in the Olive family.  Wait! TPP is a day early not one or two days late?  Yes, tomorrow is a travel and work day for this botanist, and since this plant was decided upon yesterday, the decision was made to get on with it and not disappoint any readers who rely upon the FFF for a much needed positive, upbeat, mental therapy type of post.  This author is included in that group, and thus the Phactor has been largely silent about the political side of things.
This shrub is sometimes called a dwarf or false forsythia, both rather confusing because there are dwarfish species of forsythia, and this isn't a forsythia at all but Abeliophyllum distichum. This is an easy to care for, shade tolerant shrub, and quite cold hardy.  It isn't screaming gaudy in flower, but more of a lacy whiteness, or light pinkness if you get a variety roseum.  It is one of the earliest of flowering shrubs (28 Feb here, it's earliest ever date to flower).  The flowers do rather look like small white-pink forsythia flowers, but that really just means a typical enough olive family flower. The neatest thing is that the flowers are highly fragrant, and a flowering twig or two will perfume an entire room with a honey-lilac (another olive family member) fragrance.  This is where the scratch and sniff computer screen would be great.  Every yard should have room for one or two of these smallish shrubs although they are not real common in the trade.

Pure delight gardening

TPP is a plant collector in the sense that he takes great delight in observing plants growing and generally doing their thing.  During the course of several decades, he's observed a number of things some of which he has yet to make sense of and turns out that even well known plants can divulge some secrets if you are observant enough and clever or willing to follow up with some diligent study to figure out what you have seen. So a number of plants grow in our gardens for no other reason than TPP likes to see them grow, and growing plants is a way to stay grounded, mentally stable.
Here's a plant that amuses, but makes no sense to most people.  It's small, it's early, it isn't really even very showy becaue of its size unless you're right on top of it, but TPP takes great delight in knowing this plant is in our garden even if it doesn't play the ornamental or useful role of most other garden plants. Unless you know where to look, you'd never see this plant even when in flower unless you know where it is tucked away.  But it was quite comforting and satisfying to find this little beauty doing well even when our country is politically going to hell in a handbasket. This is how gardening helps keep you sane, and at times, TPP begins to suspect that gardeners are the only real sane people around.
Oh, yes, sorry this is a snow trillium (Trillium nivale), the smallest native trillium in North America. It's about 3" across and barely pushes up above the leaf litter. The flower opened on March 4th this year. This species is quite uncommon in these parts, but more common than most people know. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - early Iris


A number of people have contacted TPP to  ask the obvious, "Are we having an early spring?"  Yes, and to answer the next question, this is weather, which is variable; it becomes climate when this weather pattern becomes regular and normal. On a world-wide basis we've had a series of some 6 or 7 warmest years on record in a row. The 2016-2017 winter has largely been a no-show here in the upper Midwest. Relatively little snow and not even much rain, so things are pretty dry. This is the 8th year that TTP has kept a record of first flowering dates for the 300 or so perennial flowering plants in our gardens. The other perennials don't flower (gymnosperms, ferns) at all.  Over such a short term the data shows quite a bit of variation year to year, but 2017 is looking very early.  Now once June comes along, things will have evened out.  The witch hazels have always flowered in mid to late Feb. or early March. Last year they flowered on the 17th and 27th of Feb.; this year they flowered on the 12th and 17th, so 5 and 10 days earlier, and they have flowered on the 17th, 18th, and 21st of Feb. before.  Same with the crocus and snowdrops.  The squill started flowering a week earlier than ever before, but the real shocker is today's FFF Iris reticulata. It started flowering on the 26th of Feb., a full 2 weeks earlier than ever before. That's a lot this time of year. TPP featured this Iris a couple of years ago.  It's really only doing well in one place in our gardens where the bulbs have multiplied quite nicely, and this is pretty cheerful early in the spring.  A couple of nights of below freezing temperatures have not done it any damage.


Are jackfruit seeds viable?

A curious reader wants to know, so TPP shall tell them, yes.  Now a real curious reader would have bought a hunk of jackfruit for no other reason than planting the seeds.  Our goddess of the greenhouse wondered the same thing, and since she has a greenhouse, she planted a dozen or so seeds 5 months ago according to the tag (end of September 2916).  Here's a couple in the pots foreground; They are now substantial seedlings and their leaves are beginning to look like the mature leaves with largish lobes. Note newest lobed leaves on the left seedling and simple unlobed leaves on the right one. Now who knows what she will do with these seedlings?  At maturity the trees are substantial and if you produced 60-100 lb fruits, you'd be substantial too.  This is how you satisfy your botanical curiosity.  Growing up a lot of people would plant and try to grow whatever seeds or seed -containing pits they got from fresh tropical fruit.  Avocados were favorites, but so were the various citrus fruits.  This doesn't seem so popular any more.  The one that surprises most people are dates whose seed are often viable.

Friday fabulous flower - yellow lawn edition


This isn't the first time TPP has blogged about this neighborhood side lawn, but it's just so damned cheerful to see this early every spring.  The Phactors have long had blue lawns (see links on above page) and the first harbingers of blue are poking up here and there before the entire lawn turns blue, but this hedgerow of yellow (Eranthis hyemalis - Winter aconite, buttercup family) has been here for more than half a century showing that if you just don't disturb things, plants can do well.  This little bulb (corm) is a bit hard to get going sometimes, and while the tree rats don't eat them, they do dig them up when newly planted.  And then they flower, fruit, and disperse their seed until eventually you have a bed of early spring golden-yellow.

Strong wind brings strange leaves?

The late winter/early spring finds lots of leaves in the Phactors' various flower beds.  This is because that's where we put them and where they belong.  Sometimes you notice something unusual among the usual assortment of leaves and this morning was one of those times.  It has been quite windy once or twice in the past few weeks, but doubt very much this blew in from the tropics.  The leaf is quite unmistakable, it's a frond of a staghorn fern, a large tropical, epiphytic fern.  The university glass house has several, a couple of unusual massive size.  In this part of the world staghorn ferns are a difficult houseplant at best.  They would be happiest growing in your shower if you had a skylight to provide enough light.  Otherwise, forget it.  Suffice it to say, among the tropical plants in our possession, this isn't one. This was found in the front garden near the neighbor's driveway, but they are not really very much on plants outside, let alone inside, so it remains a mystery where it came from although clearly it has not been there all winter as it is still fairly fresh. It will still compost nicely.  

This morning smelled like the tropics

The tropics often has a particular smell in the morning, sort of an earthy smell, like what comes from fresh rain on dry rocks or soil. The word for this smell is "petrichor".  And it's very pronounced in the wet tropics after a rainy night followed by a sunny morning.  This morning here in the upper Midwest  it was a very pronounced smell because last night it rained after several days of dry conditions, and for Feb. 21 it was a positively tropical 60 degrees when TPP stepped out to get his newspaper. This sort of mixes with the smell of composting leaves.  So every now and then conditions produce this smell that says "this smells like the tropics". 

What's this? A favorite question.

TPP's old friend Dr. Chips has a keen eye, something necessary when you look for bryophytes and lichens.  But often when you look closely and carefully, you'll see things you didn't expect and may not know.  In Dr. Chips case, this isn't often, but here we go.  Here's the images of what TPP received this morning from out west in Washington state.
This is actually a fairly common and cosmopolitan organism, but you have to notice it.  These are actually the reproductive structures, not the actual organism itself. When pink like this they have a sort of creamy center, and perhaps this is the origin of the common name "wolf's milk".  The organism is Lycogala epidendrum, and it's been a few years since TPP has seen it, but it is quite singular in its appearance.  The organism that makes these sporangia is a plasmodial slime mold (or mould for my proper readers). Dr. Chips knows what this means, but for others, this organism is a T. rex of the microbial world, a "giant" amoeboid blob consuming any microorganism in its path.  Under certain conditions the plasmodium transform from a mass of cytoplasm into sporangia, and usually only these reproductive structures are seen.  And this is why Dr. Chips contacts TPP; he IDelivers, mostly! 

Friday Fabulous Flower - winter thaw edition

The high today, Feb. 17th, is nearly 70 F. Night time lows are staying above freezing.  And this is February, a real winter month. A walk around our gardens showed nearly all our early spring shrubs with swollen buds, and if they are pushed just a bit further, a nice wintery blast from the Great White North will bring them and their acting like spring to an abrupt stop. 
Both of our witch hazels are in flower, but they will not get damaged in any way by more cold. Very tough plants.  So this is 'Diane'; she bloomed almost a week ago. She also flowered late in the fall, but then her flowers were yellow.  'Arnold's promise' opened it's bright yellow flowers today.  Snow drops will bloom shortly.  To celebrate our garden's awakening from its brief hibernation, TPP began some garden cleanup and shopped for some upcycled kits for raised garden beds.