Field of Science

Happy Earth Day!

Yesterday was Earth Day and for the most part that message was overshadowed but not inconsistent with the Marches for Science.  Our local, not well organized, last minute effort resulted in a couple of hundred people showing up and making a scene about 100 feet from our GnOPe reps office, but he's been staying away from anyone not deemed extremely sympathetic, but he's turned into a T-rump bobble head especially on health care and the environment.  So scientists and people who actually think science knows something are not going to be best of friends.  Unfortunately the Earth Day message got a bit lost or at least distorted by the denialism of denialism message.  The best part were all the signs, some of which were very clever. 
Somehow T-rump thinks he can ignore what we know and still claim to say science is important, just do it without any money, and don't provide us with any inconvenient facts.  Now those must be countered by alternative facts, or the world the way our ideology would like it to be. Why is it that our conservatives think that the only way to make money is to despoil the environment?  This is the most discouraging Earth Day that TPP has had in a long time except for all the Marchers.  It's important for our "leaders" to know how many people out there know just how wrong they are and are willing, perhaps at last, to invest enough time in letting them know.  It was interesting to see that a couple of  the march's ring leaders and most out spoken people are both immigrants who hate to see what's going on in the USA. 

Friday Fabulous Flowers - spring color and texture

Gardens change. Basal pruning (removal) of a row of old scraggly spruce trees covering a large, old hosta bed (of very low diversity) produced a huge opportunity for change, like 75 feet of garden along our front sidewalk.  So a lot of old hostas (maybe half of the several hundred) got moved and given away, and an array of flowering shrubs and ornamental trees took their places. It's made for quite a sward of colors and textures in the spring. 
So here's a 60 or-so-foot view looking over several Fothergillas, a deeply-lilac lilac, a quite orange azalea (Spicy Lights) not quite in full bloom, and a purple-leafed Japanese maple in the distance anchoring the far end. A nearly finished flowering June berry and a not in flower yet double-file viburnum barely show over the azalea. Other shrubs and flowers are too short.   

Tree rats ask for trouble

Over the weekend TPP planted quite a few new woodland perennials, and naturally a day later a very nice young plant was dug from the ground, had the major roots gnawed off, and discarded. And this was protected by a little fence too.  "Oh, here's a nice soft place, maybe I buried a nut here last fall." "This doesn't smell or taste like food, but let's dig it up and chomp it to pieces just to make sure." And it's not like we don't feed the buggers anyhow.  This can be very frustrating especially when the plant is somewhat uncommon and a bit difficult to come by.

Asparagus season & seasoning

This is asparagus (Asparagus) season in the upper Midwest, so best take advantage of it.  Find a local source and get it very fresh. When it's growing quite fast, the amount of the stem that's edible is optimal. Fibers mature from the base upward, and fast growing stems leave the maturation zone behind.  Then don't over cook it; the Phactors recommend steaming because it's fast and easy to control. Lastly, and this is a very serious suggestion, smother it with avocado butter (recipe here).  Easy to make & delicious!
It was part of our Eostre dinner that was most appreciated after raking countless buckets of leaves out of our perennial gardens. This is earlier than the Phactors usually are so hopefully the plants appreciated it.  When you get all the old stuff out of the way you can more easily see what the baby bunnies are eating (Actually it was dandelions, so yea!). But just in case a lot of bunny exclusion cages were moved from shrubbery to emerging perennials (tastiest stage!). Or just grow wolfbane/monkshood (Aconitum); it's one of the first plants to emerge in the spring (and last perennial in our gardens to flower, sometime in October), and nothing, nothing eats it!  It's toxicity is famous.  Wait, this blog started out about good stuff and then turned to bunny fodder and poisonous plants.  Sorry!

Gathering our garden 'shrooms

Our shady gardens have no shortage of leaves, and mostly with the help of the leaf shredding elves (for hire), they get mulched.  After all how else do you keep woodland plants happy?  So while our examining our gardens for flowering events, TPP's keen eye spots a mushroom in the leafy mulch. Mushroom hunting in forested areas is quite the big deal here in the Midwest, and on a few lucky occasions TPP has done OK in the mushroom gathering department. In this case the mushroom was a morel.  And it wasn't alone!  No one stops there; of course you're going to wander around and examine the rest of the estate. And somewhat to our surprise another species of morel was discovered. 


The first one was what is called the black morel, Morchella angusticeps (used to be M. conica), and while this species hasn't been a problem to my knowledge, this mushroom always comes with warnings about toxicity. Supposedly morels are foolproof in terms of ID (at least to genus), but TPP has had to warn people about eating the "giant morels", so big they made the local news, that were clearly Gyromitra, although you would never mistake them for black morels, however Verpa bohemica, is another matter and a mistaken identity and upset GI tract would not be a surprise.  The  other species was a very easy ID, a gray or white morel, Morchella deliciosa, which may also just be an earlier appearing variety of M. esculenta.  Both specific epithets say if all.  Suffice it to say, they were all good. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - Quince

In spite of the nasty freeze in mid-March, this has been a slightly early spring, not significantly earlier than several recent springs, and our gardens have done very well.  All the Magnolias have looked just great and that's way better than general around here.  Just checking the gardening first flowering date log and 79 plants have flowered so far this spring, and we're only half way though April. 
Today's FFF is actually pretty common probably because flowering quinces (Chaenomeles speciosa - key-NOM-eh-leez) are easy care and pretty reliable early flowering shrubs.  The unique orange-ish flower color makes them stand out.  In 2015 TPP put in a new variety called 'Scarlet Storm' that has double (more than 5 petals) and a 'tomato-red' color. It seems to handle mid-day shade quite well.  It's slightly later than the standard flowering quinces, but it might be its location on the north side of our house.  At 1.5" diam, aren't those grand?  Enjoy. Actually the shrub is sort of ungainly and leggy, but after flowering the pruning sheers will begin the process of solving that problem. 

Buttercup confusion

It was a simple chance encounter. TPP was walking along a county park trail, and suddenly this cute little buttercup florally beckons, as it was intended.  A nearly 1" diam, bright yellow flower does get noticed when on a smallish plant, and while certainly a member of the buttercup genus, Ranunculus, what species was it?  This identification turns out to not be an easy task because a number of technical characters are involved to sort out the considerable number of both native and introduced species.  Fortunately, having an herbarium is a great asset and once things get narrowed down to a couple of species, you simply compare your plant to ones previously collected. In this case a couple of misIDed specimens were found too, showing that the confusion is nothing new.  To add to the problem the image is a bit over exposed so the pistils are hard to see.  Fortunately a hard-working master naturalist retrieved a specimen, and it was considerably easier, not easy, but easier, to ID when in hand (this early there were no mature fruitlets to examine (achenelets)).  So this appears to be R. fascicularis, which turns out to be similar to R. hispidus, which has a couple of varieties. 

Reversion - varigation gone


Look at this weirdo shrub.  This happens sometimes.  A perfectly nice green columnar top shooting up from a yellow, spreading, variegated base.  Strange stuff like variegations and weeping forms are found from time to time growing on regular plants and these 'sports', mutant shoots, are kept by grafting them to regular root bases.  But every now and then portions of these 'sports' revert to the more normal type.  TPP has a variegated agave, and after it flowered, the main shoot began to die and in the process it produced side shoots that continue the growth of the plant.  But in this case half the side shoots were totally green probably because the population of cells in a particular meristem did not have chlorophyll free cells that make the variegation.  If they contain cells of both normal and cholorphyll free types, the shoots are called chimeras, part one thing, part another (see link below).  If TPP has left them alone, his agave would have been a regular green plant for the future.  Here, the reversion produced a green shoot without the yellowish pigmentation, or rather with it, but the yellow being masked by regular chloroplasts.  A quick nip with the clippers would have left this a spreading yellowish evergreen (yellow?) shrub.  But no one noticed, or they did but didn't clip the green shoot, now the more vigorous green shoot with the regular columnar growth pattern has taken over.  Sometimes people inadvertently prune away variegated portions of their ornamental plants, and they wonder what happened.  If the shoot becomes completely white, devoid of pigmentation, it will grow only as a "parasite" on the rest of the plant. These are best known for redwoods.

Friday Fabulous Flower -Rue those anemones

Today's FFF is a great little plant (and here too), but really wish the taxonomists would leave the names alone, of course TPP can never remember if this was the rue anemone or the false rue anemone.  Sounds like which ever came first claimed dibs.  This particular variety 'Shoaf's double pink' hardly counts as a native, but it's terribly cute. In this case it means developmentally stamen primordia have switched to producing petal-like flower parts, so the flower has that "rose" look to it, rather than having a single perianth surrounding multiple stamens and pistils. And then both the foliage and perianth have a nice pink tint to add to the cuteness. 
When first teaching about spring flowers way back in the early 70s, this plant was Anemonella thalictroides, but this species has now been submerged into the genus Thalictrum, so it becomes Thalictrum thalictroides.  Thalictrum was the genus of meadow rues, and it would help if someone knew what rues were.  These are members of the buttercup family, not the Rutaceae, the rue family. So no help. Although now TPP bitterly regrets bringing this up. Soon you will get to see another rue anemone whose name has been changed too.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Pretty in pink - Loebner's Magnolia

Three years ago TPP got this Loebner's magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri) 'Leonard Messel' from a big-box end of season sale for $20. It was a great bargain, and in very good shape considering its pot confinement and summer vacation in the garden shop yard. The tree is now a bit over 7 feet tall and growing very well.  It's not quite as early to flower as one of its parents, the star magnolia, which allowed it to avoid this year's mid-March freeze with very little damage to its flowers.  Although some star magnolias are pink, TPP wonders if they have some hybrid ancestry? This one's flowers are definitely pink with fewer, broader, shorter tepals than star magnolias; quite handsome in our sea of blue. In terms of growth and foliage, it looks quite like its star magnolia parent.

A peculiar limp, pink leaf flush

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

Narrow-minded, short-sighted university administrators

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

Stoopid environmental action

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

Peak blueness


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

Friday Fabulous Flower - dwarf daffodils

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

Tree BDSM

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

St. Patrick's Day review

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

Friday Fabulous Flower - Tough guy edition

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

Recent Events of no particular note

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

Hawaiian branch of the Begonia family

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

Early spring, maybe not quite so early!

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

Friday Fabulous Flower - False Forsythia, real fragrance

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

Pure delight gardening

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

Friday Fabulous Flower - early Iris


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


Are jackfruit seeds viable?

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

Friday fabulous flower - yellow lawn edition


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

Strong wind brings strange leaves?

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

This morning smelled like the tropics

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

What's this? A favorite question.

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

Friday Fabulous Flower - winter thaw edition

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

February weather & gifts

So far the winter season of 2016-2017 has been quite mild.  Very little snow; none in January.  And now a significant thaw in February with high temperatures reaching the 50s and low 60s.  Lots of our early spring flowering shrubs are exhibiting bud swelling, and one witch hazel is already in flower.  Snowdrops are in bloom in a neighboring garden, but again none of this is too extraordinary given the mild temperatures.  However if it's too mild for too long in February, cold weather in March will be quite damaging.  Several shrubs in our gardens have been planted in shady areas deliberately to forestall early flowering because these species tend to flower at the first thaw and then get frozen.  Rather have them flowering late than getting frozen. 
Hopeless romantic that he is TPP was constrained by his wife's wishes regarding any gifts for Valentine's day: don't buy me anything sweet and fattening; don't buy me any flowers (we have several things in flower now); and just back from a vacation doesn't leave her in a mood for dining out (yet).  But yet a guy wants to show his affection, so what better than a new implement of destruction/gardening tool?  Buy candy in a heart-shaped box if you must, fellows, but getting her a new garden toy that looks very mean, that's a show of affection.  If you garden you probably recognize the brand; it isn't shown or mentioned because of our non-endorsement policy (they haven't offered to pay!). If you can't do something useful with this bad boy, you don't have much of a garden. Having a reversible handle usually means the "lefty" can use it OK.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Kahili ginger


The Phactors are back home in Lincolnland greeted back from Hawaii by a snow storm, which is somehow fitting. So as jet lag wanes, and our lives get caught up, TPP is happy to be only one day late with the FFF. One of the more notable things about Hawaii biologically is, unfortunately, the prominence of invasive species. And none are more troublesome or more handsome than Kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum), an ornamental species from Asia. This ginger forms almost impenetrable stands in the forest understory shading out native species.  And the massive rhizomes form dense mats preventing anything else from taking root.  In flower the 4-6' tall aerial shoots have terminal inflorescences of yellow-orange flowers that smell quite wonderful. The tan-colored fruits that follow are sort of nondescript until the fruits open revealing bright orange aril-covered seeds.  That's what's being shown in this image; flowers at the stage of seed dispersal.  Amusingly it makes the fern sort of look like an angiosperm.  The arils are both a visual attractant and a reward for the bird seed dispersers. So this plant can really get around.
Getting rid of such a plant is quite a chore, if not nearly impossible. Not knowing what is recommended, TPP suspects it takes cutting off the stand of aerial shoots, no small task, and then spraying the remaining stalks and rhizomes with an herbicide to prevent regrowth.  The idea of chopping out such a stand by hand sounds almost impossible, and reminds TPP of some of the worst gardening disasters of his experience on steroids. 

Alice in A'a land


Ah, the internet, it allows you to do so many things, like book a vacation suite sight unseen, or based upon the images they choose to show you.  You sometimes don’t know what you really got until you get there.  Now please understand, about 99 out of every 100 people or maybe even a higher percentage would think Waikoloa is a marvelous place.  If they brought you in blind folded you might never know what it is TPP is going on about.  There are resort accommodations here for thousands, and there are restaurants and shoppes, and two golf courses (2 more than the world needs) and a really fabulous beach (for real).  But the Phactors drove here, and that allowed us to see what this area is really like.  Part of the problem is that “natural” isn’t always what is preferred, which is certainly the case with this resort complex.

For those of you who are old enough this place resembles “The Village” where the secret agent man found himself “The Prisoner” continually wondering who is Number 1 (look it up).  The only thing missing is my striped blazer with a numbered badge.  Yes, we need a password to get in!  Here is the view from our flat’s patio, quite nice in a golf sort of way.  But TPP likes to explore and beyond yon hedgerow the view changes markedly, and so it looks for kilometers in all directions but the ocean. 

Nothing but A'aThis place is actually a massive bulldozer and water transformation of a volcanic landscape all too common here on the Big Island.  As beautiful as it is, this resort complex is as natural as a Las Vegas' fountain or a Palm Springs' parking lot. The landscaping is all UTF (ubiquitous tropical flora); nothing is native.  This is the human ecological hubris, to look upon a lava flow and say,  “We can make this a paradise.” No idea where all the water (and soil) comes from in a chronically arid location like this?  And golf courses? Places like this offend my ecological  ethic, and generally staying here is uncomfortable and troubling, although dawn on the beach and brunch at the beach club after a whale watching cruise was quite wonderful.  The problem is that most people who fall into this rabbit hole never notice. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - HA Tropical Botanical Garden

OK, TPP admits to being a bit jaded about tropical ornamentals. So when you encounter something new especially it it's a bit different, then it's a great thing.  So here's the FFF from the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden (see precious post for more info).  All the previous plants in this genus have been quite large herbs with big bright pink/purple inflorescences, and this species, presently unknown (Medinilla sp.) is small and charmingly delicate.  For the uninitiated this genus is in the Melastomaceae, the Melastoms, one of the easiest of families to recognize. The label was partly obscured so no idea even where this species comes from, but it isn't. M. speciosus of the Philippines. Any ideas out there??
The leaves were quite succulent almost hiding the characteristic leaf venation pattern, and usually when an inflorescence hangs down like this you think bat pollination, but these are not bat type flowers in any way.  Isn't this a pretty thing?  

Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden

Yesterday the Phactors visited the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden just north of Hilo.  It's a remarkable garden, the more so because as recently as 1977 this was a valley on Onomea Bay overgrown with invasive vegetation. That's when Dan Lutkenhouse bought the land and began hacking the garden out of the tangle. There are a large number of tropical ornamental plants that are well displayed and fortunately several worthy plants that were already present were preserved including the biggest mango tree TPP has ever seen. The labelling was well done, and TPP only had to research one or two things later to figure out what they were. Several plants were new to both of us.

It's quite a walkable garden but the valley is quite steep, even the initial boardwalk, quite an engineering feat, is quite steep while the lower portions of the garden paths were gentle enough with few stairs. People unable to handle the board walk are ferried down the steep entrance, sometimes including their wheel chair or walker, in golf carts.
This garden may have more shady understory plants than anywhere, they certainly have the most extensive use of the clubmoss Selaginella as a ground cover. An explanatory sign was needed for a nice stand of Angiopteris (a fern dating back to the Carboniferous). They also have an unidentified fossil of one of its relatives in their little museum. Make the connection please.  Now to tease you with something pretty a flowering liana in the Bignon family (Tecomanthe dendrophila), usually all you see of such lianas are the corollas after they drop to the ground from the canopy. These flowers are 5-6" long. Imagine what you'll get for the FFF!

Pioneer plant or climax community

When thinking about plant succession from the colonization of new space to a dominant species in a climax community, the same plant is seldom found in both positions.  Last Friday's Fabulous Flower is one such plant; a pioneer species on lava fields and a tree that hangs around to be a dominant component of the climax forest community.  You learn something every day, and this lesson was via some very good National Park trail signage. 
So the picture last Friday was a pioneer plant on a lava field in Kilauea Iki crater, which was a giant bowl of molten lava 58 years ago, and now it is slowly being re-vegetated even though a lot of heat remains beneath as the lava slowly cools. Lots of plants including ferns get foot holds in cracks and rubble of the solidified lava surface. 

From a distance the crater floor looks pretty smooth and barren, but this is quite deceiving. As you walked the trail though the crater (center), you had to watch your step because of the rough and uneven surface. Even still TPP kept looking around to see what could be seen. This was one of the surprising plants TPP spotted grabbing a foothold in the crater. This one doesn't seem like a pioneer type plant either, but there it was, peeking through the rubble. This plant is a good disperser because it makes lots of spores, but then it lives below ground/subterranean as a haploid generation in association with fungi for years sometimes.  See if anyone recognizes this plant. Yes, it is indigenous to Hawaii.
 

Pele vs. Neptune

Here's something you just don't see everyday, an absolute gusher of lava, a flow from a lava tube into the ocean. But this wasn't just a dribble, this is about 2 cubic yards of lava a second. So that stream of lava is more than a meter in diameter (our position was about 0.5 km away), dropping some 30 feet into the ocean, and all of this is making some new Hawaii.  The entire surrounding area was wiped out by a big lava flow not very many years ago, and a few lonely surviving houses sit like totems in a shiny black sea.
Now just so you know that TPP only brings you quality material, this was not an easy place to get to. This location is about 4.5 miles beyond the end of the road (for cars).  So not being of sound mind the Phactors decided to ride in on a tandem bicycle, and indeed it was much faster than walking across a lava field that far, but the return trip while more downgrade than the trip out was into a strong 30 or so mph headwind. It was a real effort, a struggle in fact, and this isn't something we're going to be able to do after a few more birthdays.  At any rate the bar at the end of the road, another road, another end, is just that, an nearby establishment of down home sophistication (the bartender is a philosophy student) in the form of a cluster of little shops, eateries, around a bar and pavilion that Pele decided to spare leaving this little oasis unscathed. Such good cold beer! Well-earned and well-deserved.

Quick! Throw in the ring!

Why do you go to a volcano? To see lava of course. It's fascinating but you don't want to get too close for safety's sake (Watched the movie Volcano last week; not a good idea.). TPP's travel camera has better resolution and a better zoom than the iPhone, which is supposed to be a phone first and foremost, unless TPP really doesn't get it. Anything with more zoom would need a tripod to hold steady, and then the porters for the gear, and once you start down that slippery slope there's no coming back. Fortunately late yesterday afternoon, Kilauea was being a bit active. So here you go, lava. Because of this most of the rim road and trails into the caldera are closed.

Friday Fabulous Flower - ohi'a lehua

The Phactors are on vacation, and when you think about the upper Midwest in late January, it's something like, you don't even want to go there when the weather is good.  So off to the tropics, but with  rather limited time to plan, the destination came up domestic, the Big Island of Hawaii.
Getting from the upper Midwest to Hilo is a long ways, a long trip, but when you have ice and mechanical problems delay the start of your trip 3 hours, bad things happen to the rest of your itinerary. So after missing 2 flights, your original flight from Atlanta to Honolulu, and then the alternate flight you booked to LAX, the final flight to Hilo from LA was caught with maybe 2 minutes to spare. Of course in the process our luggage was taking a day longer to arrive.  A nearly 24 hr travel day with 16 hrs of airplane sitting sort of wears you out. 
After a day to recover the Phactors started at Volcano Nat'l Park by hiking into Kilauea Iki, about 4 miles, about half being rough rock, and climbing the equivalent of 52 flights of stairs (the fitbit only counts going up like going down takes no energy?)

At any rate the dominate tree in the wet forests in this part of the island is the ohi'a lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) in the myrtle family. It has clusters of scarlet flowers at the ends of branches.  The red stamen filaments extend out of the flowers forming altogether a pom-pom looking rather a bit like some mimosoid legumes. This put the flowers mostly way up out of reach unless they were on a little seedling hanging on to life in a lava crack at the bottom of the crater. And isn't it annoying how you try to baby some plants to get them to grow, and then this seed lands on a 60 yr old lava field and grows.  Soil augmentation?  What soil?
As you can guess from the flower, this is pollinated by an endemic Hawaiian bird, the equally red, equally attractive, apapane.
So, sorry to miss Friday, but we were just exhausted, and this was a FFF worth the trip. It wasn't the neatest plant TPP found subsisting in the crater's lava field that last erupted in 1959 spewing forth all that lava.  But more on that later.

Bedazzled by alternate truth

TPP once bet a colleague that no one dumber than Ronald Reagan could ever be elected president, a bet he's lost now at least twice. Living in an intellectual bubble, which is rather hard to avoid when living in a smallish city having a university, it seemed quite impossible that such pathetic rhetoric could sway enough people to win an election. Well, so much for this pundit's ability to assess the general public. My afore mentioned colleague brought this home, "We are part of the 1% my friend, not in terms of money, but in terms of thinking." "So they'll be coming for us sooner or later."
The T-rumpkin administration, including the cabinet (in making) with the highest IQ (= net worth?) ever, is off to a sad start by using alternative facts to counter an easily verifiable claim of the largest crowd ever. Such speech displays a bedazzling audacity TPP did not think possible. No more betting on what couldn't possibly be worse. Clearly TPP is not equipped to deal with an alternate reality. Are we soon going to get a Ministry of Truth? This shows someone needs a vacation to get his head back on straight, and that's the truth. Coming soon, vaca blogging!  

Saffron - pricey condiment

While Mrs. Phactor and F1 are 2 of the estimated 250,000 women marchers in downtown Chicago. Clearly many of us feel the need to vent and everyone does it differently. TPP is cooking paella for our longtime dinner club tonight. It is a vegetarian paella, and TPP remains uncertain why someone thought this was a good idea, but hey.
At any rate, the recipe calls for 1 tsp of saffron.  Not sure if its presence will be detected among all the roasted vegetable flavors. The way this works is that everyone brings part of the menus put together by the hosts and co-hosts.  TPP knew he would be making the paella because it was obviously the most involved recipe, and if any one thing characterizes our dinner group, it's the avoidance of the perceived most difficult recipe. Everyone likes eating; cooking not so much.  You keep track of your costs, then they are added up divided by the number attending, and you pay the average, some paying, some getting money back. 
0.007 oz. of saffron cost $3.  A small amount of math will tell you that the saffron costs $6857 per pound.  Wonder why that price wasn't displayed. Saffron is the orange-red stigma of a particular crocus, and you only get one 3-parted stigma per flower, and if memory serves it takes 220,000 stigmas to make a pound of saffron. That's a lot of crocus friends. And a lot of hand labor to pick them.  No wonder this is the most expensive of spices.  Cheap crap saffron may also include the three yellow stamens, so look carefully. 
Hope there isn't too much complaining about the price of this paella! The recipe only called for half a pound.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Palm flowers



It's a gray day in late January, and for other reasons TPP is feeling a bit depressed. However, nothing cheers us up as much as flowers and it is a Friday.  Time for some tropical attitude adjustment!
When walking the forest trails in Costa Rica, every now and again you come across a snowfall, a white, snow covering you path. A palm flowered above you day/night before.  Palm flowers are small and numerous in general, in many palms a large inflorescence of many (hundreds) of flowers comes wrapped in bract. Although technically, subtending the inflorescence, in many palms the bract forms a canopy presumably shielding the flowers from the frequent rains. Palm flowers tend to be white or cream colored and they are usually fragrant with the odor often having musky overtones.  This particular palm, and without his trusty field notebook handy TPP fails to remember exactly which palm this is, fits most of the general palm flower characteristics.  Anyone recognize this palm?
Features of note: While the inside (upper surface) of the bract is smooth, the outside (under surface, up in this view) is extremely spiny and the spines are so sharp the weight of the bract is enough to inflict damage (handle with extreme care).
The primary floral visitors and presumed pollinators are stingless bees (wings folded over their backs); a few flies are also present. Usually after just a day, or a night the, perianths fall to make for the snowfall.
And don't you like the general tropical feel?  The green, the humidity, the foreign country?  Oops, bad thinking crept in a bit there at the end. 
Sorry, citizens of Earth who do not live in the USA. Today our country begins to inflict on everyone else The Donald, our would be dictator.  As for my fellow citizens we have no one to blame but ourselves. 
Now to upload an image and feel better.

The botanical world just got a bit less colorful - Hugh Iltis RIP

Hugh Iltis was one of our most colorful botanical colleagues. He was a professor at the U. Wisconsin; died about a month ago, but TPP just learned of it.  Here's the obit and some pictures; he was 91.  There are more stories about Hugh Iltis circulating in the field of botany than just about any other single person. TPP watched him challenge a colleague about one of his favorite topics, the origin of maize, by throwing an ear of field corn at him from across an auditorium and having the kernels shatter from the impact on with the wall behind.  Indeed, there was very little that interested Hugh that he was not passionate about especially the relationship between people and plants, and their conservation.  
His 1976 New Year's card is an drawing of the flowering head of perennial teosinte, a wild grass from southern Mexico that Hugh discovered. This shows five female flowers, in two rows, and the long fuzzy stigmas of the 3 flowers in one row form the looping design.  
Yes, perennial maize, and it will cross with cultivated maize, a genetic treasure trove for breeders.  For a long time botanists were puzzled about how this kind of structure flowering head, could give rise to the huge, multi-rowed "ear" of modern maize (corn here in the USA). Hugh's major contribution to this  story was to realize that the "ear" of modern maize had the structure, the organization, of the tassel of teosinte, and was a feminized inflorescence; a whole lecture could follow.  
Hugh on a rampage was a force of nature. At a big public lecture at our university, Hugh went on a 30 min verbal rampage about the evil corporations, primarily EXXON, lacking any ecological ethics, and then got back on track, lecturing for another 50 mins, and young women in the row in front of us, assigned to attend and who had no interest in botany, corn, or conservation, had tears running down their cheeks by the end.  Indeed that was Hugh. Love him or hate him, he was amazing and will be missed.