Field of Science

Wall of squash


A lot of talk about walls in the USA these days, but there's no wall like this one.  This wall not only looks like it would be easy to penetrate, it actually looks as if it has a reasonable chance of simply falling down.  The simple fact is that there are a lot of squash and pumpkins on display here, a decent cross section of some of the 300 varieties under cultivation.  That's a lot of kinds of squash; sort of pretty isn't it?  You can buy seeds to most of them via the Homestead Seeds component of this family business located near Arthur, Illinois.  Oh, and they have the best pumpkin ice cream ever. Also bought some squash for seeds, and for pies, and for dinner (delicate), and for fall decoration, and for a wren house (bottle gourd actually).  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Pale blue Aster


Amid the many SYCs of fall, a few fall flowering plants of different color are a welcome relief.  Technically this aster flowers in late summer, the first two weeks of September over the past 5 years. 
The pale blue aster, Aster laevis, is a tall (4-5 foot) plant with lots of 1 inch diameter flowering heads.  The ray flowers are that type of blue that never seems right when photographed, and the disk flowers are yellow, which are still in bud on some of these heads and have flowered or are in flower on the others.  They don't look very big but butterflies seem to love this plant, which is sort of a bonus.  It does tend to reseed itself, so unwanted seedlings must be relocated or removed in the spring.  As a tall thin plant a bit of support is necessary if not surrounded by other tall vegetation.

Weed of the week - pokin' around

The late summer and fall is when people notice that a huge, attractive looking weed has invaded their yard/garden/alley.  You can hardly miss a plant with big green leaves that stands anywhere from 4 to 8 feet tall on a red stem that is 1-2 inches in diameter.  Also notable are quite handsome racemes of dark purple to black, glossy berries.  There are some ornamental varieties of some other species. This is Phytolacca americana, pokeweed or just poke.  Warning: ALL PARTS OF THIS PLANT ARE TOXIC - DO NOT CONSUME, and if you are a sensitive skin type person, avoid the sap.  This plant is a perennial so a mature plant is not killed by cutting off the stem; you must poison the big old white tap root. or dig it out. The young shoots have been gathered and boiled as greens made famous by the song "polk salad (sallet) Annie".  Changes of water are needed to detoxify the greens and its least toxic when young; it scares TPP too much to even try it, And what would be left anyways.  In this case the "salad" stands for sallet in the British/French (?) sense of cooked greens.  Birds and even some small mammals seem able to eat the fruits with no ill effects, so too many seedlings appear under our bald cypress, a favorite perching tree. Best to pull seedlings or chop them off before they get that tap root formed.  
 Here's a flowering inflorescence; the flowers are small with 5 sepals that are persistent.
 This is an older inflorescence showing a sequence of fruit development.  It happens pretty fast.
 This is a nearly mature infructescence showing the round, slightly flattened purple/black berries.  Kids could easily eat any berries this attractive.  Note that the sepals have turned bright pink; thus prolonging their attractiveness even after a berry is removed.
This shows the foliage, a rather simple leaf and the distinctive pink stems.  

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

This is quite unheard of having a Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (Sept. 15) and not telling TPP?  How can this be?  It's not like this blog is hard to find, and it is known to feature blooms (every Friday, nearly).  Search on Friday Fabulous Flower to see if you missed any.  
In the good news department, the two woodchucks (Marmota monax) that had taken up residence in our gardens, one under the shed, one under the dining pavilion, took the bait so to speak, a piece of cantaloupe, pretty succulent when its been dry. Both were relocated to a wilder area some distance away.  Both were quite handsome, darker coated beasts, and one was exceptionally wary & TPP had tried several times to entice his entry into a trap, but to no avail.  Nice animals but they eat too much and dig, dig, dig, so bye-bye.  Almost as bad as tree rats.  
Finally it rained; about 1.3 inches in our gauge, and we could use more. After more than half a month without rain, things were mighty dry.  Stressed trees were dropping leaves.  Ferns just shriveled and died back. Watering could only help the newer items. 
Some very good friends brought TPP a bag of Northern Spy apples.  Wow!  They are so good!    
Identified some sunflowers for a Master Naturalist.  Their garden was being overrun by black-eyed susans, so TPP also loaned them the "Sod-buster 5000", a tool of his own making.  Nearly lost in the fall prairie vegetation was a Helianthus divaricatus, a woodland sunflower, appropriately in a shadier portion of the garden, and then some Helianthus tuberosus, sunchoke or Jerusalem artichoke.  Here's the former showing the big petalled ray flowers and the little disk flowers.  Hope that's bloomin' enough.  Note the leaf blade is decurrent down the petiole and is three veined at the base. 

Ah, September!

TPP likes this month.  The 2017 version is typically enough driving us crazy.  First, it was way too cool, although any time you don't need AC in the summer, we be happy.  Now, it is hot again, and combined with a typical enough drought, it is sort of an insult added to injury, here in late summer.  Listen, our new Pinus bungeana is calling for water.
Yes, we consider the first half of September to be late summer.  And as some of you know this means TPP has an anniversary celebration: fish soup, in lieu of a birthday, and this year it is sobering to note that this is the 35th fish soup.  So as usual TPP pays the air fare from Maine to the Midwest for some seafood.  This year the process was interrupted by a red tide recall on 10 pounds of mussels (dang dinoflagellates!) but the timely replacements were excellent, so were the clams, and a certain craving was satisfied for awhile at least.  That being said Mrs. Phactor's contributions, fresh Italian bread and apple pies were excellent as always.  No one goes home hungry.  Oh, TPP was home!
The gardens are bone, bone dry!  Trees are dropping leaves and ferns withering into drought induced dormancy, which is hopefully not permanent.  Newer plantings need attention. Trying to raise some late lettuce and bok choi, but keeping it watered is proving to be quite a chore.  Some bell weather plants have been watered 3 times since our last significant rain.  At  least the number of mosquitoes has declined to a tolerable level due to the dry.  Football has started and already Chi-town is playing for draft picks.  Baseball continues beyond all reason.  Play the world series already!  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Wax bells

Still bone dry here and now the heat has come back.  Plants left gasping for water.  While watering a couple of trees covering a shady corner, TPP came upon a patch of wax bells, Kirengeshoma palmata, a rather slow growing, shade tolerant perennial of Asian origin.  A reference says it's in the Hydrangea family, but nothing about it actually shouts hydrangea to TPP's eye.  The leaves sort of remind one of a sycamore, but less broad, perhaps the largish lobes and coarseness.  But if left alone they can form a nice clump, in this case paired with a beauty berry bushes (both needed watering), one deep azure blue, the other yellow.  The flowers are about an inch long and about that diameter but never opening widely.  The petals are quite fleshy.  And here it is in flower in late summer early fall.  What's not to like.  At 3-4' tall they do tend to be floppy and seem to require some support, of the grow-through nature.

SYCs have master naturalists yelling "uncle".

Birders have long been familiar with LBJs before and even after he became POTUS.  The botanical equivalent has always been SYCs, stinking yellow composites, yellow-flowered members of the Asteraceae, formerly the Compositae, daisies, sunflowers, asters, and so on, and on, and on.  It's a big family, one of the biggest.  And in grasslands, and even old fields, a heap-ton of these flower in the fall.  Everytime you turn around, there is another one.  Some TPP recognizes by sight, but very often it takes a bit of time in the herbarium and with available field guides to determine what plant it is.  TPP is sort of over-seeing a couple of master naturalist projects, and even very diligent and hard working amateurs such as these can often "give up" on STCs. Toughies such as these take lots of practice and experience. Something that doesn't come in a book or bottle.  In particular TPP found that just the sunflowers, genus Helianthus, could be a problem, so using a scanner, he constructed some cheat sheets for our local area using a combination of fairly easy to observe features to document each species.  But clearly more such sheets are needed, and next week he will be in the field to help out documenting the plant contents of some restored prairie patches.  Hopefully, no LBJ will be seen perched on an SYC, although if so, birders usually don't notice the latter.  Hang on troops, help is on the way!

On average, USA doing OK

Florida nearly got washed away, as did Houston; the west is burning; and what passes for TPP's lawn is crunchy and dry.  So, on average we doing OK.  And of course your choice when  dealing with new plants is simple, water it or let it die.  Both cost you money.  The other problem is that just dragging the hoses around is quite a bit of work, sorry, exercise.  Lots of leaves dropping even from well established old trees, so mowing generated so much dust, TPP thought he was going to stop breathing, oh, actually he sort of did because lawn dust is one of the things he's sensitive to. It's snot like he had a choice.  Maybe the tail end of Irma will wander far enough north to bring us a drop or two of rain.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Bush Clematis


Since TPP sort of dumped on a Clematis as a potential weed, it is only fair to highlight a pretty nicely behaved Clematis, a bush Clematis.  Yes, it's not a vine, and a quite handsome addition to almost any garden providing some late summer flowering.  First time TPP saw this plant it took awhile to figure out what it was although all the right things were there.  TPP has two such species of Clematis, but this bush Clematis, Clematis heracleifolia.  Shrub or bush, this species does have short sort of woody stems that get clipped back to the ground or nearly so each spring (look for the buds) and grows into a mound of leafy foliage. Seems quite hardy here in zone 5, but maybe not in zone 4. It can expand a bit with time as new shoots appear around the periphery,  our largest cllump was probably 4 feet by 4 feet before Mrs. Phactor got mad at it for being a bit aggressive with neighboring plants.  The foliage is a bit coarse, but it flowers nicely over a period of a few weeks. It handles some shade with no problems and some shade helps because it doesn't like drying out.  Ours has dark blue to purple tubular flowers that get to maybe an inch across, not large but in terminal clusters.  Dead-heading is a good idea to prevent seedlings.  While not popular, and sometimes hard to find in nurseries, it's a nice addition to biggish perennial gardens and border beds. 

Weather prognostication - cold winter ahead


Some people put their trust in the Farmer's almanac, others look at woolly worms' wool, but the domestic cat may also have powers of weather prognostication.  After all here it is a rather cool Sept. 7th., and the kitty girls have decided that they need a blanket to nap on, so they found one.  Also notice how well their camouflaged coats work when they are in their natural environment.  They act like they know that cold weather if ahead. The Weather channel can't do any better.

Democracy and science - hand in hand

Here's a link to a very interesting article; TPP has been thinking along similar lines for some time, but this article is pretty well written and makes many of the points TPP would cover.  With the GnOPe in charge there is a strong anti-science and anti-democratic flavor to many of the issues and positions they take.  Clearly public higher education is not so valued because thinking tends to mess with many conservative positions.  The snuggier government is with fundamentalist religion, the worse things are for science, and for public education.  Read it and see what you think. 
TPP's blue collar, rural family back ground saw public higher education as a means of changing your relative position in society; and some of the manufacturing jobs (GM, Kodak) that were in the offing, while looking pretty good from the perspective of 1970, have not even lasted for one academic career's amount of time.  Presently "choice" really means damaging public education to favor people who can already afford private education; for TPP public schools were a real choice and a path to a very different type of career. The funding of higher education says it all; politicians do not support that which they do not value, and state support has been declining for TPP's whole career.  And now many politicians argue against the value of higher education because they can point to one or two success stories who were entrepreneurial, ignoring all the rest.  
 

Weed? of the week - Bald cypress in flower?


Some plants are weeds, some plants are just weedy or invasive.  That's the case with this week's weed, while not a weed per se its definitely weedy and invasive.  On one previous occasion TPP was called to identify a strange flowering tree, one that towered above the street with a profusion of orange flowers.  It was a bald cypress that had been climbed by a trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans, a bignon vine. The combination fooled a lot of people, but bald cypress trees flower so seldom TPP wasn't fooled.  Day before yesterday a similar combination was noticed on the Phactors' morning errand/coffee walk, a youngish bald cypress whose crown was nearly filled with  one or more sweet fall clematis vines (Clematis terniflora).  This is a perennial, most weeds are annuals. But it is quite prolific and you find the seedlings popping up every where, particularly in messy waste areas.  By fall the vines will cover trellaces, fences, trees, shrubs, and anything else it can climb, up to 20-25 feet.  When growing on crappy old fences or crappy old shrubs, it's fine, and in flower the autumn clematis is quite a treat. Quite handsome and rather fragrant (sweet) to boot.  Even in the spring the perennial base is difficult to get rid of.  Digging, chopping, spraying, they all work to some degree, none are best or perfect.  TPP cuts them off at ground level and treats the cut surface like a tree stump  with an herbicide.  If you like what the sweet fall/autumn clematis does for your garden, take a hedge pruner to the vine after flowering and before fruit/seed dispersal; this is called dead-heading.  It works well for this vine.  And the seedlings are fairly easy to spot and kill if they are growing where you do not want the plant (TPP's definition of a weed.)  So be very careful about planting this species.  You've been warned.

Friday fabulous Flowers: at the stage of seed dispersal


Our Magnolia virginiana, sweet bay, flowered well for pollen dispersal, now the flowers are at the stage of seed dispersal, a gentle reminder of what a fruit really is.  The fruits are an aggregate cone-like fruit that is basically green and protective, so not very attractive, but then the individual fruitlets dehisce rather like little milkweed pods exposing bright red-orange seeds that sometimes dangle on a thread. The actual fruit continues to dry out and turn brown. The seed coats are actually dark brown but covered by a fleshy red-orange aril that contains quite a bit of lipid, just what birds need as they get ready for a southerly migration, which is exactly what these seeds are advertising. 
From our kitchen table it was obvious a flock of birds was after this food source, and it took awhile for us to figure out who was there.  Turned out to be a mixed flock of Swainson's thrushes and red-eyed vireos.  This morning all the seeds exposed were gone; there will be more.  Successful dispersal was achieved!

How to win war on drugs

Joshua (a computer): "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?" (Wargames 1983).

The war on drugs has gone on longer than Afghanistan, and its not been much of a success either, and our DOJ wants to restart the war in earnest.  Here's the most obvious outcome of the war on drugs, incarceration rate in the USA has put us in 1st or 2nd place world wide.  Sorry this is 10 years out or date, USA now has an incarceration rate of nearly 700/100,000 people, good for 2nd place world wide.  An arrow marks the beginning of the war on drugs. 


As it turns out like with alcohol, prohibition just doesn't work, and for very good economic reasons.  See here for an explanation.  So why do we play this game?  S  

Iceland gets it; takes action.

Like most of the world, Iceland is watching the United States of America with growing concern. President Trump won the election in part by blowing demagogic dog whistles so loud even racist German Shepherds across the Atlantic could hear. Many in Iceland wondered if he could’ve won without the support of conservative churches and their faith-based flocks hoping for the biblical apocalypse?
The answer is obvious.
Prime Minister Andrew Kanard touted the IPDA while soaking in one of the many hot springs the country enjoys:
We in Iceland value our relationship with the United States of America. It is a great nation with a history they should be proud of. Currently, however, they seem to off whatever medication their doctor prescribed for them. Iceland wishes to support our friend in need. In that spirit, we are sending teachers over there to educate and assist rural communities infected with ignorance and superstition. What we will not do is allow ourselves to be invaded by that ignorance and superstition which is propagated by televangelists.

Read more here.  Too bad Iceland only has 300,000 people; they'll never get enough educational missionaries to make a difference.
As a measure of how bad things are, TPP didn't grok that this was satire until the missionary thing.   
 
 
 

A new ginkgophyte!

Wow, a new ginkgophyte.  Of course most plant lovers know the Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba, the only living species of gickgophyte.  For those of you who still don't know your plant fossils all that well, gymnosperms were much more diverse in days past, which makes the job of finding flowering plant ancestors all the more difficult.  But the Ginkgophytes were certainly more diverse and this fossil makes them even more diverse than before, not because it's brand new, but because the preservation is so good you get a much better sense of the plant itself.  Zip over to the In Defense of Plants blog for a look-see and say hi to Umaltolepis.

Friday Fabulous Flower - It's red, really red.


This is usually not the type of plant TPP grows, mostly.  It's common in more tropical climes, it's an annual, but seeds itself in fairly easily.  But it attracts hummingbirds!  OK even a rocket scientist could probably tell a botanist that this is a morning glory.  Trumpet shaped flower on a twining vine.  It has a number of common names, but TPP has heard it called cypress vine, cardinal flower, and cardinal creeper mostly.  Cardinal flower is out because red lobelia is called that.  Cypress?  Don't see the connection, but there you go.  This is Ipomea quamoclit, the same genus as sweet protato, which you may not have known was a morning glory.  This vine doesn't have huge flowers, about an inch across, but they definitely are red, and who doesn't want more hummingbirds.  Our friends in OK gave up on feeders and grow this vine instead. The highly dissected leaves have always seemed rather interesting too. So fix up something 6-8 feet tall for it to climb on and grow this little vine. It's for the birds, hmm.

Take your favorite bar along


Isn't this the cutest thing?  A mini-bar that you can rent for private functions, although it would be cool as a road-side stand too.  Probably break every liquor law around, so keeping it private makes sense.  This is actually the Hello Penny Bar and it operates in the San Diego area.  
TPP likes the idea of wheeling this into his garden and setting it up for business the next time 100 or so of our close intimate friends get invited over for a function, like Mrs. Phactor's retirement party.  A friend has a wood-fired pizza oven on a trailer that he rents for parties.  This could be his next venture, and he wouldn't have to stoke the fire several hours ahead of time to have it ready to go. Sorry forgot the image at first.

Who hung compact disks in my hedge?

It was a humid morning.  The sun was finally up high enough to begin shining through the tree canopy and into the hedge, and looky, looky!  A couple of dozen silvery compact disks seemingly hung randomly around.  A bit of closer inspection and they turned out to be highly regular orb spider webs, wet with dew, and reflecting the sunlight.  Ordinarily webs are pretty hard to see and in the tropics TPP has been clothes-lined by spider webs many times.  This may take some explanation.  Back in the old days of less energy consumption, "the wash", i.e., washed clothes were hung outside on clothes lines to dry.  And the lines were not very high, and so maybe you forgot as you ran through your yard, or the neighbors yard, never mind why you were running there at night, there was a good reason, and then one of these clothes lines would catch you right across the neck, and you would be on your back looking up at the sky, thus the expression. It was worse if you were riding a bicycle.  And later you find out the line was deliberating strung across a yard to take care of those "derned kids", any kids other than your own angels, who rode across their yards at night.

It takes a lot of energy to build such a nice insect trap as a web, so from the spiders point of view, you don't want some bird to come ripping through the hedge and  destroy your web.  This also may explain why so many webs were sort of clustered together, so they are more conspicuous. In the tropics the big orb building spiders were called bird-eating spiders because feathers would be found in webs where some small bird having flown into a substantial web would lose a feather although probably not their life (they were big spiders, at least the females, but not that big.).  There actually is a bird-eating spider, but of the tarantula type and not an orb-weaver.  Appropriately enough when cooked they are said to "taste like chicken".  
Our local orb webs all seemed pretty intact and highly regular indicating little if any prey of other damage so far.  At any rate these predators were left undisturbed to do their jobs.

Lawns are a soul-crushing timesuck and most of us would be better off without them

How did TPP miss this article as it so clearly reflects his lawn philosophy in so few words "a soul-crushing timesuck".  You have to like a phrase that succinct.  Here's the article.  Something like 1,9% of the USA's land surface is planted to turf grass.  Or as my lawn currently demonstrates, crab grass can take over from turf grasses.  It's actually awful because of all the seeds. So ha, ha, our lawn is mostly not turf grass, but other species.  


Little minds focus on smallest details

A small article caught TPP's attention. The WH via the Dept of the Interior has rescinded an Obama era ban on plastic water bottle in National Parks.  The Phactors were looking to buy a bottle of water for a hike, an over sight for certain, but none were for sale, although very nice souvenir aluminium bottles were available as was a filling station, so we were good, and mildly impressed that our National Parks were so forward thinking.  And not a single discarded water bottle was seen on any of the many trails we walked.  But now that rule has been rescinded.  It takes really small minds to focus on the smallest details.  How petty can you get?  Any bottled water CEOs involved?  No question this will help make our country great again.  Thanks, to the WaPo and Treehugger. Sounds like time to write the Secretary of the Interior.  
 

Weed of the week - ragweed




Your eyes may have just started to water just looking at these images of giant ragweed. The plants can reach 7-8 feet tall easy and a local walking/bicycling trail goes through a virtual gully of them just now coming into bloom. There are so many flowers they'll leave a yellow dusting of haploid males (pollen) on the ground.  Woe be to any allergic people who hazard this gauntlet.  Both the common and giant ragweeds are easy enough to recognize, but they are usually ignored in the spring when they are more easily controlled by mowing them down or whacking them out, or by herbicide application in the spring or early summer.  Too late now.  The smaller common ragweed showed up in an older blog and you will notice the highly lobed leaves that Linnaeus thought resembled wormwood, thus Ambrosia artemisiifolia.  Notice that the giant ragweed has three lobed leaves Ambrosia trifida (shown above) and the flowers are not showy at all because it's wind pollinated, so the co-flowering goldenrod gets the blame for hayfever. The flowers shown are just prior to flowering.  How long can you hold your breath?  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Phlox


This is not a wild phlox, but it is not a typical whimpy cultivar either; it resists powdery mildew and all the cultivars tried in this garden don't except for the spring native P. divaricata.  This plant survived a "weedy" attempt by the former owners to have a prairie and it is a big old thing reaching 5 feet tall with substantial stems and big showy panicles of pink flowers.  With the narrow tubes and small corolla opening this is without question a butterfly flower; phlox is a must for any butterfly gardens.  Bumblebees steal nectar from the bases of the corolla tubes. It makes itself at home and makes the late summer garden rather colorful.  If this strikes any of you as any thing in particular, let us know.  A few plants have pale pink flower, but most are this shocking pink.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - A Rose by anyother name


Well, a rose by name may not be a rose, like a rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) Mallow family, as the flower so aptly shows.  The common name refers to a place, Sharon, in Palestine, and the rose-of-Sharon is a woman from there, referring herself in Solomon 2:1 if you like Biblical references, but this is not the plant being referred to which was more likely a sun-rose, Cistaceae.  This Hibiscus is of Asian origin.  Sorry, don't have my Plants of the Bible reference book handy. This particular plant grows as a small to medium sized shrub, and it has the great advantage of flowering in the late summer for several weeks.  This particular variety (?) has a single flower with non-overlapping petals.  Many other varieties exist and you can often find very old plants as this ornamental has been around a long time. Many have more purplish/bluish flowers and if they are doubled, they quickly begin looking like a wad of tissue. It's only problem, as a mallow the Japanese beetle find it quite appealing although ours has not been much bothered this year.  The plant is quite cold hardy, maybe not quite hardy to the bottom of zone 5.  Our plant works well in a mixed perennial bed even when a bit short because the flowers while not huge are pretty big (4" in diam). The white with bold red markings is pretty striking.

Nuclear threat

TPP wants to explain to everyone younger that the world has been here before and it was a very bad thing. TPP was high school age at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, probably the low point of the cold war.  An old friend wrote to wish me well should things go wrong and he hoped I'd remembered all of the duck and cover drills from grade school.  One well-ingrained memory was helping the family of a good friend build a bomb shelter in their basement, and my Father explained that we were not going to do the same thing because one way or another, it wouldn't matter.  Another old friend used to say things never change they just get more chronic.  With two narcissistic leaders each acting like they want to blow something up with nuclear weapons, it's about as chronic as it can get.  Morons! Neither can be trusted to not make the wrong decision. Neither cares about people, only their own reputation.  Both want to look strong, so neither wants to back down. Neither has the intellect to find a diplomatic exit.  So yes, this is very worrisome.  In fact standing up to the POTUS probably enhances Kim's stature in NK.  Hope GnOPe understands this is not a role made for a person like T-rump. Here's some satire from the earlier time frame thanks to the Pharyngula blog. Hope it helps keep your spirits up.  Who ever thought this would become relevant again?  So much progress, so much greatness!  

Weed of the week - Indian (mock) strawberry


Since TPP has no shortage of weeds, the weed of the week shall continue.  This one also generates a lot of queries from people and sometimes calls from the poison control center.  The Indian or mock or false strawberry is a terrible lawn weed, although it is even worse in a strawberry patch.  This is Duchesnea indica (due-kez-knee-ah), indeed a member of the rose family.  It's come up before on this blog.  The physical similarity to the standard strawberry of commerce is quite striking especially it strewing (another story there) habit of spreading by runners (stolons) and plantlets. The leaves are trifoliate and have very similar toothed margins (but not quite the same).  The flower has usually has 5 yellow petals (oops the flower photographed has 6) instead of white or pinkish petals, and they are subtended by a whorl of 3-lobed bracts (opposite the petals) below the 5 sepals (alternate with the petals).  The red strawberry like fruits generate the poisonous queries. It isn't toxic, but the fruit also has no taste.  The dead giveaway though are the achenes (the true fruits); they are red in Indian strawberry; and yellow/tan/brown in true strawberry.
The plant has the potential to be quite invasive especially in lawns but fortunately it is quite susceptible to standard lawn weed herbicides.  Although TPP doesn't like spraying, or have a great dislike of lawn weeds, patches can be easily spot treated before becoming a big problem.  It can be weeded by hand with some difficulty because of the runners and plantlets. Believe it or else, but this plant was human dispersed from its SE Asian place of origin for ornamental purposes.  This is on TPP's never plant this plant list, but you do sometimes find it for sale.

Blow & NYT nails it!

My efforts to try and understand our POTUS have been very depressing, but when I read a commentary where someone really nails it in terms of understanding the man and what makes him tick, it resonates very  well with my limited understanding.  It isn't encouraging, but what is right now?  Too bad the US doesn't use whinging.  Makes you ask, "Who's got the cheese?", because we got the whine.


All things botanical


One of the great things about being a generalist is that you never run short of botanical things to examine. It's not even that TTP set out to be a generalist, he was considered rather narrow in his early career, but everyone else has gotten so narrow.  So how can TPP pass up a chance to blog about Pow Wow Botanical Rye?  He can't!  Rye is a type of whisky supposedly made predominately from a beer brewed with malted rye.  Rye whiskies used to be quite popular but then the term came to mean cheap whisky, but now with the revival of distilling and whiskies in general, real rye whisky is back.  In general they tend to be a bit on the spicy side. And this botanical whisky kicks that up a notch by steeping a bunch of botanicals in the aged whisky to add more flavor, and this rye ends up quite spicy. Sipping it neat is almost like having a cocktail.  Because of its strong citrus notes this rye makes a dynamite old Fashioned cocktail. There are some other tastes as well, but beyond some vanilla, they cannot be identified by TPP (but he keeps trying).  The Pow Wow thing is a bit weird, a native American/first people reference to the patent medicines based on "Indian cures" from the early days of the newspaper industry.  Thus the old timey feel of the label. These tonics and remedies were generally mostly alcohol, of the everclear sort, in which various herbals had been steeped.  It was a way for ladies of good breeding to have a snort now and then, and an "out" for the teetotalers.  Mostly their curative value was limited or negligible.  So the Pow Wow name may just be a way of harking back to such steeped botanicals.  Some liqueurs are made by steeping aromatics leaving the alcohol and water to pick up the flavors. This was nearly as much fun as The Botanists Gin where the bottle lists all the botanical aromatics involved in its making.  This was not a favorite because TPP always liked the strong juniper aroma/flavor, and this gin tastes more floral. A trusted martini drinker says it made one of the best drinks she's ever had.  It isn't cheap, so TPP appreciates the foreign student who first presented it to me.

Friday Fabulous Flower - A garden champion

For the past two to three weeks this striking plant has been dominating a portion of Mrs. Phactor's perennial garden, Silene regia, a fire-pink, a catch-fly, a champion, take your pick.  TPP has done a similar species for a FFF before, but it's a much smaller plant (at least in our gardens) and a somewhat smaller flower.  This species is also covered (especially the calyx) with sticky glandular hairs that surprise people reaching to take a closer look.  The more non-discerning visitors have also refered to this as a "cardinal flower", but generally this common name refers to a Lobelia cardinalis, although this is certainly red, and not pink, a reference to the family not the color. As just mentioned it's been a good year for butterflies, although this is a bit more of a hummingbird flower. OK, OK, it's only Thursday, but TTP has time to do this post now.

Wildlife friendly yard - how friendly is too friendly?

It was a very nice morning.  TPP walked out to take a glance at the kitchen garden. In that short distance, a rabbit, a chipmunk, a squirrel, and several birds crossed his path.  Moments earlier the view from the bathroom window (a most excellent view) featured a very large, well-fed ground hog (whistlepig, woodchuck, Marmota monax).  Unfortunately, a well-fed ground hog is not a good thing for gardens, so this latter wildlife denizen may get relocated to a friendlier location.  The kitty girls are in love with the idea of chipmunks as playthings, but this will not happen as one of the reasons our gardens are wildlife friendly is that the cats are house cats (one is occasionally walked about on a leash).  All three (four) of our local swallowtail butterflies (black, tiger, giant, and probably spicebush too)  were hovering around Mrs. Phactor's perennial bed.  However, members of the rue family (notably Citrus), are the host trees for the larvae of the giant swallowtail (bird-dropping camouflaged), and they are generally in short supply here in north central USA. This is our largest butterfly.  The spicebush swallowtail has become more common because it's food plant does grow in our gardens.  It looks a great deal like the black swallowtail, but with less yellow and more blue on its lower wings especially.  Also happy to see some monarchs flitting about, although milkweeds have not been particularly successful in our gardens for reasons unknown.  

Adventures in shopping - rambutan in Lincolnland


A short time ago, the first jackfruit showed up in our markets, now rambutan has made an appearance (Nephelium lappaceum) Sapindaceae, soap berry family. Lychee is a similar, and more familiar species, a fruit making sporadic appearances in our markets.  These are a little worse for wear, but not so dried out as to be ignored.  Actually they were quite juicy, tasty, and give a reasonable idea of the nature of these SE Asian native fruits.  TPP first tried these in Singapore actually.  Now they are being grown in Guatamala, so they will become more familiar. They look spiny, but the "spines" are soft.  While TPP has experimented with many fruits, you may be intimidated with unknown fruits, but they are pretty easy to eat using you teeth or thumb nail, break into the leathery skin near one end and pull this cap off. The rest of the skin peels off easily. There is a single pit and a translucent semi firm flesh (an aril actually) with a texture similar to a seedless grape is revealed. They have a sweet, and dare it be said, "fruity" flavor, rather mild and nondescript, but basically likable. Another close relative that TPP has only seen in Thailand is the Longan, smaller and with a tan-brown leathery skin.  The Chinese described it as having a "hot" quality, which TPP took to be spicy (uh, no).  They tasted like lychee or rambutan, but with a stronger after taste, however after eating 7 or 8, some 10 mins later the hot quality arrived via a sweating, a flushed face, and a more rapid heartbeat. That is a toxic reaction! Hot indeed!

Friday Fabulous Flower - Nodding onion


Here's a pretty much easy trouble-free native species to add to your perennial garden, the nodding onion, Allium cernuum.  The plant will form a clump of shoots, each producing a flowering head about 2 feet tall.  The cute thing is that the top of the flowering scape bends 180 degrees so the classic onion umbel nods.  Although all the plants TPP has seen have white to pale pink flowers, they can be much pinker.  The plant will seed in quite readily, so dead-heading is recommended unless you want seedlings everywhere.  You also have to position the plant sort of in the front because it can be easily hidden; obviously clumps can easily be divided as well.  It handles summer conditions quite well as it's native to dry open glades and prairies.

Weed of the Week - crabgrass


In the spirit of if-life-gives-you-lemons, make-lemonade, TPP decided to do a weed of the week, although this feature will probably be a bit more irregular.  Partly this is because, like other plants, weeds are different in different parts of the world, and TPP forgot that everyone might not know what crabgrass is until after being reminded of this by a reader.


Crabgrass is one of several species of Digitaria (not Digitalis, foxglove), our predominant species is D. sanguinalis, hairy crabgrass, is a C4 annual, which explains why it grows so well in our dry, hot summer season.  You may have to look up C4 photosynthesis if you don’t know what this means. The details are not important, but it means C4 plants are more efficient, or less wasteful, at higher temperatures or under drought conditions.  Crabgrass can easily overgrow other plants and because it roots down along the way it can be tough to pull, and even leave a blank space if pulled and opening other weeds can exploit.  

This is a tough weed to control and the bane of lawn purists.  In the late spring people can treat their lawns with a pre-emergent herbicide and prevents the crabgrass from germinating.  In isolated patches and small areas the seedlings, easily identified by their broader and more upright blades, can be plucked from you lawn or hoed out of a garden bed.  At a more mature stage pulling or hoeing is not practical. 

If it takes over more than 60% of your lawn, most experts recommend nuking the area and starting over.  Really dense turf grass can resist crabgrass, but that takes watering and fertilization. And TPP didn’t want turf grass in the first place, so that’s rather counterproductive unless you are a lawn purist.  In TPP's grassless-shady-lawn world where it's one weed vs. another, blue violet and creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea, both do better than crab grass, so the better weed wins, so to speak. Still TPP had no trouble finding some to photograph in a sunnier garden bed.

The Digitaria (fingers) part refers to the long narrow inflorescence of tiny “seeds”, in parts of Africa a species is grown for its cereal grains called fonio. 
Here overgrowing a pink's foliage.

Crab grass season

It's crab grass season again, oh, joy!  Amazing how fast that stuff covers ground. You travel for two weeks and any bare space, and some not so bare spaces are covered.  Beds that got mulched a month ago are fine, but a few neglected places are chock full of weeds.  Poke weed if just getting going as is, a small white-flowered burr-bearing member of the Boraginaceae; used to have a long-haired cat that collected these like crazy.  TPP actually threw away a knit shirt that collected do many; removing them was quite unthinkable.  Funny, the name escape right now. Mrs. Phactor actually hates weeds and she's on a rampage. But severely hot weather and dry soil have slowed her down.  Do you think a weed of the week would be a good feature? 

Persistence pays off

Our controversial yard sign that attracted so much Saturday night outrage is still posted.  It had no visitors this past weekend, showing that persistence, and having a tough sign is what it takes.  The sign if constructed of a heavy canvas material, and it does not easily tear except for the side seams and then those are easily stapled together.  Lost the wire stand one Saturday night, but our neighbor, the local source of political and cultural commentary signs replaced it.  But in a couple of weeks a new flood of students will arrive and new opportunities to annoy them will arise. And the fellow who lost his Cubs cap never came back to get it. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - wild ramp


Today's FFF is often a surprise to people because they just don't expect it.  Wild ramps, Allium tricoccum, are a native woodland plant, an interesting spring ephemeral.  The distinctive broad, oniony leaves emerge in the early spring, and disappear again after just a few weeks.  Then in mid to late July flowering stalks appear bearing a rounded umbel of white flowers; pretty typical for an onion.  Considering how naked the florest floor can be in July, patches of these flowers can be quite a surprise.  And of course many wild flower enthusiasts won't see them because who goes out looking for woodland wild flowers in July?  The flowers are followed by a small dark berry.  Since the fruit and fruiting stalks tend to persist a bit many people are more familiar with the fruiting stage than the flowering stage.  

Higher Education, the GOP doesn't have much use for it

TPP has read several articles that say the majority of GnOPe voters do not think higher education is a good value or a worthwhile undertaking.  No wonder higher education does so poorly in GnOPe run states.  Democratic voters still thing higher education is worth while.  Thinking about this while weeding and watering the garden resulted the conclusion that this difference is based on very different value systems and expected outcomes.  At present the simple-minded thinking of today's GnOPe only uses one scale to measure everything, and the unit is money.  The more money you have the smarter you are, so naturally T-rump thinks he's pretty smart, certainly smarter than you because he's richer than you.  And he's certainly smarter than us dumb-ass college professors who try to tell POTUS that we actually know something even if it doesn't neatly fit into conservative ideology, a sure sign it's true.  Damn, teaching that fake knowledge again!  TPP understands people's concerns, education if quite an investment now that the student or their parents are expected to pay rather than being state supported for the good of all.  A young fellow wanted to know if it would be worth it to study botany when it came to the salary bottom-line.  TPP did not choose botany because he thought he'd get wealthy, but because he liked it and some lucky people made a living with botany.  And as annoying as some of the common curriculum requirements were (they can be way more flexible and still work people), knowing about literature, and music, and art turn out to be good things. So that's the 2nd big difference, higher education is not training you to do a job, they are educating you to appreciate your culture and your world, and to generally have a more fulfilling life.  When the "2 guys and a truck" were hired to move some heavy furniture for us, these strong backs nonetheless appreciated our art collection.  The whole school of business thing has made people think that higher education is about career training, and while it's a great idea to keep careers in mind, I wanted to tell this young fellow, "Kid, your values are screwed up."  And should you venture into philosophy and other areas that teach you to think, why then you become a truly dangerous person, someone who easily sees through the simple-minded thinking of modern conservatives, someone who knows ideology is no way to govern, and yet they keep trying, and it keeps failing because money actually doesn't trickle down, and if the government didn't waste so much money on the military and their toys, it would easily have enough money for health, and education, and the environment.  Hopefully enough education will survive this era that our culture can recover from these disastrous policies.

Solar-powered robotic weeder


This is simply too much, a solar-powered robotic weeder, a Roomba for your garden?  Now the solar part is easy enough, although our gardens are pretty shady.  But how the heck does this thing decide if a plant is a weed or not.  And it's cute enough in a green Roomba sort of way, but this thing is tough enough to get grab grass or a dandelion, not to mention a red bud seedling.  Do any of gardeners out there buy this idea?  They show it sitting on mulch, can it perceive weeds or does it just stir things up? It can't possibly have enough AI to be selective, but having tried to train a few student gardeners, maybe it's possible.  

A regular annoyance

Just a couple of weeks ago, TPP mentioned that our "Be excellent to everyone" (Bill & Ted) sign was vandalized.  It has now happened twice more, two more consecutive Saturday nights in the wee morning hours, not surprisingly at about the time the bars close.  Something about beer produces a regression in maturity, and with each reiteration, and realization that this sign is both physically tough, and it's owners persistent, this person or persons become verbally vulgar as if they were the ones insulted by the messages on this sign.  Now you would hope that by the time someone is old enough to drink that they had mastered both the 1st amendment and their own anger; one might hope they would think about the sign and perhaps write a letter to the newspaper explaining their reason for outrage.  So now the sign is back, having been out of service for all of 1 day.  What do you think? Get out the old critter camera and see what we may see?

Friday Fabulous Flower - To Day Lily



Got a fabulous(?) flower picture sent from a friend and then decided to use one of Mrs. Phactor's daylilies, and then it sort of dawned on me that both were in a sense lilies at least in the old taxonomic sense of the lily family.  So first up is the genus Sansevieria, snake plant, or mother-in-laws tongue, or bow string hemp.  Lots of people grow this plant because it is tough and easy to grow, and not many people use the leaf fibers for bow string anymore, but you could.  Most people don't notice the little white flowers although the inflorescences can be fairly large.  So our friend thought that it was sort of fabulous to have their semi-mistreated plant flower, and now here it is certified fabulous.
Daylilies (Hemerocallis) are one of the most widespread and colorful of summer perennials, and TPP has no idea what this particular yellow-orange variety is called.  Our current yard had a lot of daylilies when we moved in but they were all the invasive (stoloniferous) orange ones (H. fulva), so-called "ditch weed" type. They have mostly been removed by Mrs. Phactor using sheer stubbornness to eliminate them.  Her tip: never plant stoloniferous daylilies.  This particular variety has really big flowers and makes for a large display.  The lily family was a giant glump of lineages and TPP hasn't yet even figured out all the families the former lily family has been broken into.  Snake plant is in the Asparagus family, and daylilies are now in the Asphodela family, the "true lilies" TPP thinks.  So today, lilies, or two lilies today, or to day daylily.

Friday Fabulous Flower - wallow in mallows


This is nothing new, rose mallows, but they  are one of the biggest flowers you can get in your summer garden.  For a dramatic impact, plant a whole patch of them (following a Phactor gardening rule: no onesies).  A big patch of big flowers (about 8" diam) can catch almost anybody's attention.  Some gardens label these as "hardy hibiscus", and while they are herbaceous perennials and reasonably hardy, and they are members of the mallow family, and even a species of Hibiscus(H. moscheutos), calling them the rose or rose swamp mallow in preferable, as most things called hibiscus are woody. Only problem, Japanese beetles love them.  

More big money culture - Philbrook Museum


Plenty of old oil money exists around Tulsa, and some of it (Phillips 66) has resulted in the Philbrook Museum of Art.  The Museum is housed in Waite Phillips' Italianesque mansion.  Strangely they were featuring a collection of Chicano art collected by Cheech Marin, and it was a very impressive collection.  Saw way to many Madonna & Child paintings from their old Italian masters collection. TTP thought he'd seen all of them in Florence, but no. This museum also had a WWI retrospective on propaganda posters, sort of a strange parallel with the Gilcrease, but this one didn't have another theme included.  The Philbrook's grounds are quite extensive, very formal around the mansion, but the "informal" garden was also quite handsome and worth a walk around now that they have been rennovated, Glad it wasn't too steamy hot.  Here's a view of the mansion from way down in the informal garden.  Formal garden is above.

Fourth of July

Today our OK friends took us to see the Gilcrease Museum, a wonderful collection of American art, and a lot of native American art and artifacts. Some of the art is just about the American west.  The newest and most surprising exhibit dealt with the subject of the depictions of black Americans in WWI war propaganda posters where images of black Americans were used mostly for recruitment.  Some of the posters from other countries presented quite racist images.  A lot of the research on these posters was done and annotated for the History Detectives PBS TV series by Tukufu Zuberi.  A very interesting exhibit to compare with posters we had seen in the WWI museum in Kansas City (a very good and little known museum). Another newish exhibit was of artifacts of the plains dwelling native Americans, and a big exhibit of historical art by White Swan, Indian scout and survivor of the battle of Little Big Horn.  This was a perfect combination over all to take in to celebrate the 4th of July.

July 4 2017 - friends and art


The Phactors are spending the holiday and a bit more with some of our oldest friends, the Texans.  We've visited Eureka Springs, a sort of funky place (the cabins associated with the Crescent Hotel are great), and Crystal Bridges, the American art museum in nearby Bentonville. The museum itself is quite amazing, and free, and a totally world-class museum (it's a fantastic use of Walton money), but they have a Dale Chihuly glass exhibit going on that occupied not only several galleries, but a dozen or so locations on the expansive grounds surrounding the museum.  This is definitely worth seeing in our opinion.  The image is a portion of one outdoor installation, some of which use dozens of pieces of glass.  And the Arkansas early July weather cooperated, but even still the yummy  adult (alcohol laced) peach popcycle TPP bought from a cool food truck was to die for.  This would be a great franchise to get the rights to.  Hopefully this image of royal fern with Chihuly purple glass reeds won't get TPP in trouble.  If TPP had Walton money, he'd have such a garden display.  Go see the rest. Some totally free advice. The links are worth exploring.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Desert Willow





It's usually hot and dry this time of year in Tulsa OK, but it's been relatively wet this year.  Yet here was a xeric adapted plant, nice for landscaping, and it seemed to be enjoying the lavish waterings nature was providing.  This was a plant TPP first saw growing outside a  Spanish style church in the SW USA, where it is a native.  The leaves are linear, and quite willow like but opposite on the stem as appropriate for the family, the Bignons.  This is Chilopsis linearis, the desert willow.  Basically a southwestern Catalpa but with a bit more colorful flowers.
This was a family TPP studied many decades ago, but back then this genus was elusive as were the many tropical vines growing way up there.  Don't know why as this species is widely planted as an ornamental.

What is pollen?

Dear Phytophactor, Apart from you blog the best description I can find is that pollen is essentially a "detachable plant penis".  But you refer to pollen as a "male organisms". So is "detachable plant penis a reasonable description, or is that lending itself to another misconception?  An interested reader.

Dear Reader, Trust your Phytophactor to get such things correct.  Pollen is a whole male organism, sex organ included (which it really doesn't have), although a pollen tube delivers the sperm.

Dear Phytophactor,  Thanks, but if I can ask another question.  My confusion stems from the my not understanding if pollen is a male organism, how does that work?  So does a male organism produce tons of tiny male organisms?  I'm guessing that the real problem is the desire to fully equate plant and animal reproduction, but I'm struggling to understand a male producing lots of males to reproduce.

Dear Reader, Bingo, you can't equate the plant sexual life cycle to that of animals.  The plant life cycle evolved to solve the problem of living on land.  Swimming sperm could no longer disperse to find an egg to fertilize, so plants make tiny disposable males (pollen, which is really a spore prior to development.)  So equating plants to animals is the real problem, but people did do that although it came our totally wrong, flowers don't have ovaries (the units thereof are modified leaves bearing sporangia, carpels), and those sporangia, while eggish looking, are not ovules but sporangia that produce one big spore that develops into a female who produces an egg.  The anthers are also modified leaves bearing sporangia that produce lots of small spores that become pollen.
Hope that helps; look up a fern life cycle and then imagine the haploid gametophyte (a sexual organism) as being either male or female (as in seed plants & there are a couple of other differences too).  You might want to get a copy of "How the Earth turned green" from Chicago University Press. This book spends a lot of time explaining this.  You might also check out my blog on seeds.

This is the kind of question TPP tends to get, plant misconception piled on top of plant misconception. But kindly TPP did not name the reader.

Millions of ferns


The Phactors are attending Botany2017 in Ft. Worth TX.  Among the many things learned already was Casa Flora (actually SE of Dallas) is one of the largest wholesale producers of ferns in the world.  They propagate around 150 different species of ferns using either tissue culture or spore culture.  Both are quite impressive operations resulting in vast numbers of ferns - acres of ferns.  If you buy a decent sized fern in the USA, chances are it started it's life here.  Here's a room (only partly shown) of trays, under artificial light where trays of spores are grown, in remarkable numbers, so the trays are filled with very young plants, and then they are transplanted into trays of 72 plants and further grown in a greenhouse area, one of many.  The images show the trays, the young ferns in the trays (photo taken through the saran wrap) and then the flats of small ferns filling a large greenhouse.  Even the catalog, available at the link above is impressive.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Gooseneck loosestrife


The Phactors are on their way to the Botany 2017 annual meetings in Ft. Worth TX. This means crossing OK as quickly as possible.  Right now, a 12 hr day driving finds us somewhere in south central OK fed better than we expected (an Italian steakhouse?) and recovering with road trip margaritas (the recipe has been posted before), and nothing much to do but post a FFF.  Now TPP's gardening rules never to be broken involve one  rule you will violate only once unless you are a real slow learner - Never plant a loosestrife.  They can be beautiful devils, handsome but very invasive. Today's FFF is the gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), which is elegantly handsome in flower, but it is still a hated invasive.  Technically our rule has not been violated; a previous owner planted it, maybe decades ago.  It occupies a shady hedgerow bed, but keeps trying to expand. Two other yellow flowered species were nuked when their true nature showed itself, but one still appears from tiny bits of root or rhizome.  Yikes! At any rate this one produces massive amounts of rhizome, and is tough to corral, and nearly impossible to totally remove.  But wow, that is some lovely inflorescence and they make a decent enough cut flower in late June.
Here'a another hydrangea inflorescence that's pretty nifty, an oak-leaved hydrangea.  This panicle (?) is nearly 18" long.  The large, showy sterile flowers stick out around the cylinder surrounding a cloud to tiny fertile flowers; no idea how many, lots.  They are opening bottom to top; you can see where the buds remain closed about half way up.  Lots of little black flies and beetles are crawling around in there; if you shake it the fall out in surprising numbers, but that's a little mean.

Floral mimicry - Spots



Floral mimicries are really nifty things, where a flower mimics a pollinator.  This has been reported for a number of flowers that pose as female insects attracting males interested in finding a mate.  This mimicry is a bit similar but not really.  What do you see?  A pollinating fly sees a fly, right down the the UV reflection.  It is a bit troubling that masking the spots did not impact the number of seed produced.  Also how is it that the spots only form on some of the ray flowers?  Inner most?  But it is so cool when you find one of these things, although it can be nigh on impossible to prove in some cases. This one is well known, a flower that attracts flies by looking and smelling like carrion.