Field of Science

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. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - Pink/Purple Lace



It was a tough pick for this week's FFF, but took Mrs. Phactor's advice.  You may get to see one of the other contenders later on.  This particular shrub is a variety of Hydrangea macrophylla generally referred to as a purple lace top.  It's very pretty in flower and we've seen some marvelous displays especially where you get to look down upon the top of the shrubs, and then of course there is the color. This is not one of our favorites though because it only flowers on old wood (last year's aerial shoots) and they generally do not survive the winter, so no flowers.  Think of this as a purple barometer of winter; if mild, you get purple.  So not reliable here in the upper Midwest, but our winters are getting milder.  Here the flowers are arrayed in a flat-headed corymb with the large tepaled attractive flowers around the outside and the smaller fertile flowers in the middle.  Our shrub is not the most robust, so these can be bigger and fuller.  Our soil pH is not very acid, so the flowers are not as blue-purple as they could be at a lower pH, so these are a bit pink.

A little something to annoy everyone?

Last night the Phactors were awakened by a minor commotion in our front yard.  It was just a couple of yahoos trying to destroy the sign in our front yard put there by Mrs. Phactor and the F1.  Of course every yard sign is designed to annoy someone to the point they feel their freedom of speech allows them to trespass for the purpose of denying you your freedom of speech.  Take your pick of the annoyances.  But it would be nice to know exactly what statement ticked them off so much.  BTW they were unsuccessful, the sign is tough, and is now re-positioned so as to annoy someone else.  When you live between two college campuses, you get students who want to engage in such intellectual dialogue. 

That's pretty creepy - Devonian lycophyte


TPP taught plant diversity/plant morphology for many years and always loved to have the excuse to rummage through the paleobotanical literature.  Back in the Devonian, that little ole era when plants really colonized the land, things were really pretty different.  This reconstruction of a plant called Sengelia, not just of a piece but of a whole plant gives a very different perspective on early land plants.  Some parts of this lycophyte (clubmoss) are quite expected, for example,  the plant is mostly stems and stem-like roots; they branch dichotomously (equal forking at the apex), the stem is covered with enations, little outgrowths, but not leaves.  What us a surprise is that the authors interpret their fossils to growing prostrately, creeping along the land surface.  Not sure how they decided it wasn't a weakish more erect plant that got pushed over by water, flooding that produced the fossils, but Alexandru Tomescu is a careful researcher.  Knocked over plants also tend to have their stem tips turn up a bit at the ends as they try to grow upward again. Without taller plants to compete with, a sprawling, prostrate plant will do fine on often flooded sediments.  Here's the full citation: Matsunaga, K. K. S., & Tomescu, A. M. F. (2017). An organismal concept for Sengelia radicans gen. et sp. nov. – morphology and natural history of an Early Devonian lycophyte. Annals of Botany, 119(7), 1097–1113. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - older but better


When you purchase a 100 yr old house, it comes with landscaping.  And the Phactors have removed several tons of overgrown and ugly trees and shrubs, although a few have been rejuvenated.  One venerable member of the pre-Phactors landscaping was a big, old Rhododendron, 10 feet tall, and sprawling across the entire space between a shingle oak and our house.  It's decades old.  Naturally an azalea/rhododendron bed was built along the entire east side even though the oak hates them.  No idea what type of Rhododendron this is really, it's the last to flower (late May, early June).  In our plant list it's just the "old fashioned rhodie"; any suggestions out there? At any rate since it's height was getting out of hand and a stem broke with the help of said oak dropping a branch on it, TPP pruned the entire thing down to a more modest 6-7 feet shrub.  And it branched out, thickened its crown and flowered this year like a mad fool. How nice! This plant has been here before; here's a closeup. Asked for help last year too, but nada.  Is it just a R. roseum?

Summer gardening - parched, water, water!

June is beginning with some rather warm weather accompanied by a drought.  Our gardens are parched and newly planted plants get the most attention out of necessity.  TPP has already killed way too many hemlocks, a species he loves, but they seem to take a lot of TLC to get one established.  Our last rhododendron (wait for tomorrow) and our last magnolia are in flower, the former looks fabulous but the latter smells amazing.  TPP spent the day spreading water around some newly planted herbs and perennials, and giving Mrs. Phactor's perennial bed a good start on summer and most of our post-May Flowering.  Speaking of dry, last weekend we were tourists at a couple of sand prairies along the Mississippi River, part of the entertainment for the Illinois Native Plant Society (we be members) annual gathering.  The prairies were lovely even if one of them was mostly prickly pear cactus (who in their right mind would disk them up to plant watermelons - think Mickey Mouse and brooms in the sorcerer's apprentice). They were almost confluent coverage and not quite time for them to flower which would be lovely.  More later about an excellent talk about the services lost to agricultural mechanization and a book recommendation.  But it was hot out there in the open, and sandy.


Friday Fabulous Flower - beard tongue edition

Mrs. Phactor's perennial flower bed is a riot of plants that take some attention or they go missing or appear in places previously unknown.  One of those problems is the large beard tongue, Penstemon grandiflorus. It's a very handsome plant with gray-green foliage and large pink flowers, but it is closer to an annual than many of her perennials. So it tends to pop up here and there, but mostly along a foot path as it seems to like the open spaces that provides.  At least the seedlings are easy to identify and relocate if necessary.  It tends to be a bit floppy as well, never forming self-supporting clumps so prominently displayed in catalogues.  But it is a pretty thing. 

Wot happened to May?

The calendar says February is the shortest month, but where did May go?  It's a terribly busy month for gardeners, transitioning from spring to summer, and some things are growing very well because of the cool, wet weather although a half inch of rain would be nice.  Mrs. Phactor is battling with this year's champion, chickweed.  It's everywhere are growing like, well, a weed!  A decent layer of mulch would help, but the gorillas that spread mulch for a living don't seem able to recognize even a tomato plant when they see one, or don't see one, as is more likely the case.  The kitchen garden is transitioning to summer so the lettuces are beginning to bolt, squashes and beans will get going, and maybe finally the snap peas will flower and fruit; you're running out of climbing support.  New strawberries were planted and recently the tree rats helped by unplanting some of them.  Raspberries, particularly our wild black ones, are well fruited. The red raspberry bed is still in recovery, and new black berries look happy and fuitful as well.  
No apples on 2 yr old trees, and only a handful of pears.  TPP is looking for a pollinator pear, and room to plant it. A former colleague used to graft pollinator branches to his fruit trees, but TPP has never had much luck with grafts.  And now it's June.  Some tree removals are pending, and necessary, but an expensive and disruptive process.  Tree guys are in demand, especially really good ones, and generally it means they are terrible in terms of customer communication.  My current good ole boy is better than many, if you can get his attention.  And it's already June.  A project is planned to push back entropy and re-engineer the house's front steps to make them safer and easier for old people to use.  The plan is to return them to a state closer to the originals based on a really old picture, and to add an antique-looking hand rail of new manufacture.  This will also be disruptive and expensive.  Glad the stock market is being kind.

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.