Field of Science

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.


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.