Field of Science

The tree trimming challenge

Big trees are one of the primary reasons our estate is so park-like.  But getting them trimmed is a major undertaking.  First just getting an arborist to come is something of a major achievement;  they are much in demand in our city.  Second just getting the dead limbs out of a tree the size of our burr oak took three guys most of a day during which at least one guy was aloft in the crown of the tree.  They did a great job & got paid a reasonable amount for the effort; it was not cheap although it was a fair amount for the effort, danger, and skill involved.  And the trees look so much better.  Major exercise was involved because their chipper and truck were parked in the street and the burr oak is 300 feet away.  So you drag out a bundle of limbs and go back is 200 yards. Do it again and you've covered a quarter of a mile.  TPP calculated his mileage one day at a bit over 2 miles and half of that was dragging branches.  So they climbed a basswood, our biggest burr oak, and a smallish ash tree (already infested with emerald ash borers).  No question tree work is a young person's game.  They don't use boot spikes (that damage bark) and limbs are lowered down with climbing ropes to avoid smashing what is below, so no damage to other plants, which in our yard is a bit of a challenge since things are planted everywhere.  This takes experience to do correctly.  So thanks fellows; you did a good job.  Hopefully they won't have to come back for a couple of years.   

Friday Fabulous Flower - What the heck?


TPP has been in South Florida for one more look around before the area submerges.  Both McKee (Vero Beach) and Fairchild (Coral Gables) are botanical gardens worth visiting. But be warned traffic sucks in the entire Miami area.  As the climate there is subtropical, they can grow things we can't.  It had been quite awhile since TPP has seen this tree in flower.  It's pretty  spectacular (= fabulous) with dozens of inflorescences emerging from its massive trunk to produce these rather amazing-looking flowers. This is the nearly legendary cannonball tree, a reference to the fruits that quite resemble cannonballs.  Couroupita guianensis flowers almost look as though a sea anemone has taken up residence in the flower.  A ring of numerous, small anthers located around the pistil (note upper right where perianth and androecium have fallen off) produce fertile pollen, while this hood-like structure bears big anthers that make sterile pollen (a reward for bee pollinators). The  flowers are strongly scented at night and early in the day.

Friday Fabulous Flower - lychees

Mrs. Phactor and her sister ran off to the Bahamas leaving TPP and his brother in law to struggle along with lawn landscaping, and since tropical is possible down here in southern Florida, at least before the area floods from ice cap melting, some new fruit plants are definitely a must.  Here's a lovely example of flowers at the stage of seed dispersal.  Fresh, lovely, and very tasty, Litchi chinensis, in the soap berry family, a rather unappetizing name for a lovely fruit.  Now how about carambola?

Flowers and fruit - a short lesson


A flower/fruit garden question, one of TPP's favorite things.  The question was simple this person's cucumber plants had plenty of flowers, but was producing no fruit, no cucumbers.  This is definitely a problem that will probably get fixed shortly.  The reason this happens is that cucumbers have two kinds of flowers, the botanically naïve call the "male" and "female" but this is quite incorrect, although this understanding of things quite often prevails.  Superficially both flowers look a lot alike so that bees get fooled into visiting the rewardless female flowers.  Funny how many people don't notice this.  The botanical term for this is monoecious, technically one house (but two bedrooms is you want another understanding.)  So look closely at the flowers on your cucumbers.  The "female" flowers have little cucumbers just below the yellow perianth.  "Male" flowers don't.  Virtually all cucumbers start out male as these flowers are cheaper to make, but as the plant gets bigger, some female flowers appear, and if pollinated, begin developing into cucumbers, fruits that we eat at a juvenile stage.  The image borrowed from somewhere shows a male flower to the left and the female flower to the right.  The anthers and the stigma look a lot alike, so bees looking for pollen make mistakes, foraging errors that effect pollination.  Or you can do it yourself with a small brush.  Some varieties of cucumber only produce female flowers, so you must plant a pollinator plant  The seed packet will have some seeds dyed green so you can see the males, and if you don't do this (TPP made this mistake once.) you'll get lots of females but no fruit, unless you borrow some male flowers from a neighbors' garden.  If you don't understand why male & and female are wrong, here's link to a blog that explains what pollen really is 

Friday Fabulous Flower - St. John's Wort


Mid-summer is sort of a slow time for our gardens, so we do prize those plants that flower in July and August.  Two species of bushy St. John's Wort grow in our gardens, both sort of evergreen, flowering at exactly the same time.  The very bright yellow flowers are a great favorite of all the local bees, both in terms of number of visitors and diversity of bee species. And it's easy to see why.  How many anthers are there?  Botanists will count to 10, but after that it's just "many".  Just one pistil (sort of right center) but lots of stamens, a powder puff of pollen.  This is from the larger flowered species, Hypericum prolificum, it is not quite hardy at this latitude and portions tend to die over winter, but then new plants pop up now and again, so never had to replace it.  H. kamianum seems to be hardier; it is a smaller shrub with smaller flowers and can fit in almost anywhere.  

Friday Fabulous Flower: hyssop with hawk moth

This is just a hyssop, a cultivated member of the mint family, but boy do pollinators love it.  Just by a bit of luck TPP happened to catch one of them in action, a hawk moth, a miniature  humming bird of the insect world.  This one is quite typical of what we usually see.  The body is a bit over 2 cm long and nearly as big around as my little finger with a nice greenish fuzzy coat with couple of dark bands on the abdomen.  The wings move too fast for the average phone camera,but caught one of the clear and black wings at the end of a stroke. This one was quite engrossed in visiting every flower available.   At any rate it makes the average flowers just a bit more fabulous.  Enjoy.  

Some botanical culture

TPP is going to pass along this information.  In particular some of these illustrations are just fantastic and in general they are more appealing, more informational, and more beautiful than almost any photographs.  Yet people seem quite entranced by photographs.  The exhibit is called: Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens.  Examples of some of the illustrations can be found at this link, so if you find yourself near the Huntington, you might consider a visit.  

Another endangered orchid - How Showy

This Friday Fabulous Flower is one of the grandest (fabulous?) orchids in North America, the Showy Lady slipper, Cypripedium reginae, and yes, you shall get no location information to accompany the image.  Besides this is a wetland species (knee got wet getting this image), and TPP has found this species growing in ditches in Wisconsin.  This species is also a big plant for an orchid; clumps can be large and waist high.  It surprises people to learn that orchids are generally small flowered.  It amuses us to watch people walk right by most orchids because small and green just does not attract much attention. Loss of habitat (if this image had a sound track you could hear cars and trucks whizzing by on a nearby interstate) and human predation are its biggest problems leading to an endangered or threatened status.

Little gems - native plant refuges

Over the weekend the Phactors attended the annual gathering of our state's native plant society along with about 50 other like-minded souls.  The field trip trek we selected took us just across the border into Gary Indiana where we sought native plants in the shadows of post-apocalyptic industrial ruins. Places bounded by railroad yards, interstate highways, and crumbling remains of heavy industry.  You would not think this a likely place for finding uncommon native plants, but you would be wrong.  Here and there tucked away are a few leftovers of the Pleistocene, bits of sandy ridges and watery swales left behind by the receding of Lake Michigan.  The primary problem with small places is controlling invasive  plants and protecting what is left from undue human intrusions.  As a result these places are not labelled, not improved for visitation, and generally hard to find.  Fortunately we had excellent guides familiar with these sites. TPP was professionally interested to see lots of Castilleja growing among Pedicularis canadensis, both are hemiparasites, but they do not grow similarly and do not seem to have the same impact on the surrounding plant community.  Unfortunately these places are well outside our  travel range to be used as research sites.  At some times it was difficult to walk without stepping on yellow ladyslipper orchids that were almost done flowering only to have showy ladyslippers flower in their stead.  Beautiful to see with the background noise of trains and interstate traffic.  The very unexpected diversity of these sites and their general boggy, mosquito-haven nature, only crazy botanists would go there vibe helps keep things safe.  The image is a late flowering yellow lady slipper, Cypripedium pubescens.

Friday Fabulous Flower - New native in the garden


Sorry, sorry, for being so late. TPP was too busy hanging out with a group of native plant enthusiasts to do a FFF.  More on the field trips later.  TPP cannot remember where he saw this plant for sale, but it is rather unusual, and never having seen it in the field, it still seemed like a good idea to plant a couple last year and see what happens.  As you may remember, our yard has lots of shade, and supposedly this species hands some shade, and happily it survived our nasty winter and began flowering in late May.  This is Spigelia marilandica, Indian Pink, and it is a member of the Logania family, not one you are probably familiar with.  But in flower it sure is cute.  It seems to do better in light shade, next will be to see how much is spreads. It is a native species, just not around here.  

Friday fabulous Flower - rebound flowering


New front steps required that a foundation landscaping bed get redone.  A thread-leafed Chamaecyparis had out grown the space and needed to be replaced.  In the process a couple of Oenothera macrocarpa plants were uncovered, and they have responded to the release from light competition by flowering like crazy with as many as 30 flowers per day and these are big flowers and most people don't notice the long floral tube.  Yes, this has been a FFF before, but promise, the next entry will be something different.

Friday Fabulous Flower - an unusual newby

TPP is a plant collector, and oft times pushing the envelope on cold hardiness.  This winter the low temperature was -15 F (-26 C), and several plants surprised TPP with their cold hardiness.  This one is included in the list of uncertain cold tolerance, but the smallish shrub emerged in damaged and is now flowering for the first time.  TPP has seen it in flower before at the Missouri Botanical Garden, but never north of that.  So this is really a special flowering event here in northern Lincolnland.  There are a number of genera that are disjunct between eastern North America and eastern China.  Calycanthus floridus, Carolina sweet shrub, and Sinocalycanthus chinensis, Chinese sweet shrub both are now placed in the same genus by some taxonomists; they are in their own family.  The hybrid between these two species if becoming more familiar in horticultural circles, and TPP has all three.  The flowers have many parts, spirally arranged, and sometimes grading into one another (see link above).  At any rate here's the somewhat rare Sinocalycanthus flower showing both pinkish and yellow waxy tepals surrounding stamens and pistils.  Count us as a happy camper.

Impressions of Paris

TPP is not a city guy.  Generally speaking he avoids them, but people seem to put train stations, airports, and restaurants about cities making it almost certain you have to go there.  At any rate among cities that TPP has visited, Paris is pretty good.  Their Metro system is great, but crowded  and you can still walk your ass off for culture; 5 to 7 miles a day was about average.  TPP has never seen more trees planted in straight lines and poodled into flat-sided crowns. So all the talk about all the green in Paris, is just that talk, the reality is pretty boring.  You will run out of time and energy before Paris runs out of museums; the Paris museum passbook is advisable.  TPP like the Museum D'Orsay best, and it was open when others weren't.  Young Parisians were helpful and reasonably friendly, although maybe not quite patient enough of senior citizens on the Metro steps (& there are lots of them).  They are however heavy smokers, and it can ruin the sidewalk café scene because they cannot smoke inside mostly.  No question the no smoking movement in the USA has left us less tolerant of cigarette smoke.  Lots of people wear scarves and TPP doesn't even own one you could wear when it isn't snowing outside.   Of course you look like a tourist no matter what.  The food was great and especially some of the smaller younger establishments.  The young people running (literally in one case) some of these places have a love of food and drink, and they actually act like they enjoy having you as a customer.  Best asparagus dish at Pasdeloup (108 rue Amelot, Marais Nord), grilled spears served over a wedge of burrata cheese, with sliced strawberries, and drizzled with browned butter.  So TPP gives Paris his endorsement, but they don't need it.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Bonus: Monet's lily pond

Sorry to lax blogging but TPP has been visiting Paris!   General impression is this is a great city.  Lots of sights, lots of good food and drink, and it is generally friendly.  The Metro system is easy to learn and easy to use, but Mrs. Phactor has always been good at this; we cannot say we like the train system as much.  They caused use much grief on our return from Givency and Monet's house and gardens.  The precious day we had seen over 300 linear feet of Monet's water lily paintings housed in L'Orangerie; quite impressive.  The real things are also quite impressive.  And one view of Monet's waterlily pond will have to suffice until our return in a day or so.  TPP did not suppose that the gardens would look as good as the paintings, but they were wonderful and did not disappoint.  TPP would like to report that the Mona Lisa and the Tour Eiffel also reside in Paris and still do, but they can be so crowded as to be rendered less appealing.  

Favorite flowers

One of TPP's favorite times of year is just after the early magnolias, the big leaf magnolias flower, and so do the tree peonies, Paeonia suffruticosa. In our climate the woody stems will get to around 3-4 feet tall and the shrubs are rounded.  And they bear the biggest, gaudiest flowers.  They are just so damned adorable.  Here' one of our favorite colors, the cultivar's name is long gone, sorry.  They come in a wide array of colors on the white to fuchsia scale, and then yellow!  How can you not just love these?  

Friday fabulous flower - yellow green


Our dry, warm weather has really begun to push along the spring flowering shrubs, such that we are almost caught up to the calendar.  Woodland plants in the deeper shade are still behind schedule.  Two of TPP's last Trilliums are just now in flower, the big white T. grandiflora and the much less grand T. luteum.  However, the subtlety of the latter is kind of nice, all those nice shades of green growing there in the rather deep shade.  Even the yellow petals are partly green, and you can see the green mottling on the leaves.  Rather a slow grower it seems.  TPP is rather uncertain about whether this species is a native here in Lincolnland, it's in Canada to our north and in states to our south and east.  So it seems strange for it not to be in IL, but TPP is no purist anyways.  Some much flashier flowers are open right now, and one might get posted if TPP has time before taking off on a trip tomorrow.  Paris in the springtime.   

Friday Fabulous Flower - For whom does the bellwort toll?

One of our favorite spring wild flowers is the bellwort, Uvularia grandiflora.  They tend to grow into clumps in our gardens where they are not fussy at all about location.  And while certainly a spring wildflower, the handsome foliage persists until fall.  The fun thing is that the yellow petals are twisted  when in bloom and of course they are pendant like bells, generally then just the kind of flower bumblebees like.



Magnolia bonanza

One consequence of our late spring is that plants held back by the cool weather are all rushing to flower.  As a result our gardens had quite a few magnolias in flower all at once.  Right now Magnolia soulangiana, saucer magnolia, M. liliflora 'Ann', tulip flowered magnolia, and M. x butterflies are all in flower at once.  So that would be pink/porcelain, purple/pink, and yellow flowers terrific.  TPP couldn't be happier.



ID quiz of unknown specimen

OK not exactly a quiz, but more of a plea for some help.  About a century ago Mrs. Joseph Clemens collected this specimen in Sonoma Mexico in 1911, and that is all that is certain.  The specimen is in pretty good shape, but it is hard to ID.  The first thought that came to mind was that this was some kind of bladder pod because the fruits look ovoid and were clearly inflated before being pressed.  Note that the specimen has small coiled tendrils, and some smallish flowers.  TPP has not yet taken the more drastic action of removing a flower and rehydrating it for examination.  Thought it might be worth while to try the readers for some recognition first.  Thanks for your help. Leave your suggestions, observations, species names in the comments.


 

Friday Fabulous Flower - spring beauty

One of the many handsome "weeds" that have invaded our lawns.  Forgetting the blue lawn for a bit, it wouldn't take you long to find spring beauty, Claytonia virginica.  Here the flowers are almost white, but the veins are a pale pink, a trait that is variable and often more pronounced.  The anthers are pink and opposite the petals (alternate with the petals is way more common), and a three parted pink stigma/style.  The aerial shoots have a pair of long, thin leaves on each stem, but they are much fleshier than a grass.  This plant used to be in the purslane family, but now is in the less well known Montiaceae.  

"We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Those are the words from Pogo (Walt Kelly) from the 1st Earth Day poster, an event that TPP doesn't really remember well because the campus was in the throes of anti-war demonstrations and he was finishing a tough schedule of courses for a hoped for graduation.  Wasn't sure what to do blog-wise for Earth Day 2018, but attended a great lecture last night by Doug Tallamy, and his thesis (see the link) is that biodiversity is only going to be saved if everyone gets involved.  He advocates a small scale, grass roots (sorry, he earns TPP's admiration for hating grassy lawns.) approach using native plants, especially trees.  At his website you can get his book (of course) and get a list of plants that promote biodiversity.  The huge attendance at his lecture was most impressive.  He argues that most land is privately owned, so public "wild" areas are not enough to reverse the loss of biodiversity.  Get rid of grass; plant an oak.  The biggest problem is that finding a good source of native plants isn't easy.  That's why us native plant people are working to set up a nursery.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Another species tulip appears


Things have been busy & entire days are getting away.  At any rate the weather seems to have moved away from the freezing cold over nights for now, weather guy was more optimistic, but no matter what the plants have responded & the Phactors are struggling to clean up over winter debris to let things grow.  Another of Mrs. Phactor's species Tulips has appeared, and this one is T. turkstanica.  The flowers are another star-shaped tulip of sort of a cream color with a yellow center.  Quite bright and quite attractive.  Several flowers are held just above the rather slender leaves.  Again this has been a trouble free plant that seems to be naturalizing to its bed under a witch hazel shrub very nicely.


Only the tough (& hardy) survive


This has been a tough spring, following a winter with some very deep cold.  Since the Feb. thaw, the freezing weather with snow has just kept coming back.  It's been very tough on the narcissi that normal have no serious problems. Even the hellebores, which are so tough you think maybe they're made of old tires, are bowed over quite a bit.  So if something comes through all of that and still flowers, it qualifies as tough.  This is without question the toughest and hardiest of the Rhododendrons, R. mucronulatum, Korean azalea.  It isn't too fussy about soil either, so if you think you are too cold for an azalea, try this one.  This image was taken 48 hrs after a snowy mid-20s night.  They are quite early flowering and you never see them in garden shops or nurseries.  They can be gotten via mail order, and while that means small, they do grow pretty quickly, which is good because ours keep getting broken by jealous oaks or eaten by the bunnies (only down side, without protection, the bun-buns will eat them to the ground).  The flowers a very bright pink and these shrubs look great in the middle of a mixed border.  This is a TPP 2 thumbs up plant recommendation.  They are deciduous; the leaves in the background belong to another Rhododendron.

Monday, monday reprise

It was just a week ago that TPP was being grouchy about the weather and all being depressing on a Monday morning.  Now it's doing it again!  Just a light dusting of snow, not 20 or so inches like north of here, but this fell on all the flowering bulbs, and the Korean azaleas, Cornus mas, and Prunus tomentosa.  So yes, these extended bits of winter are making for a very grouchy Monday morning.  The good ole boy who lived next to TPP when he was a kid always said that "if it doesn't snow on your peas, you didn't plant them early enough".  Well, TPP's snap peas went in the ground on Saturday, so no signs of their cotyledons yet.  None were actually expected.  Funny how few people notice little things like that.  Suggest that you germinate a bean and a pea so you can see what a difference it makes where the shoot elongates relative to the cotyledonary node, either above it, or below it.  But either way TPP needs to go shopping for snap or snow peas for a pasta dish that will be tonight's dinner, a way more cheerful thought.

Unhelpful hint on seed pack

TPP decided it was time to get some early season garden plants going.  And you know they do so much for novices these days.  The planting and harvesting instructions are pretty detailed.  But while planting some snap peas the little picture of the emerging shoots got TPP's attention.  Here it is.  OK
resolution is terrible, but those are cotyledons of a shape appropriate for radishes or cabbage or other members of the mustard family.  The cotyledons of peas never appear above ground, just the epicotyl shoot.  So pretty unhelpful to the novice gardener who might want to pull those other shoots up.  So who does something so botanically wrong.  Someone doing seed pack graphics who has never grown peas, or radishes?  Some well-known seed company should be ashamed.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - a species tulip



Finally had a break in the cold, dreary weather.  Now things held back are flowering at a pace TPP cannot keep up with.  This particular tulip burst into flower with the first dose of sun and warmth.  It's a species tulip, not some horticultural variety or hybrid.  As best TPP can determine this is Tulipa urumiensis, probably native to Turkey or Iran, an area of high diversity in this genus.  The uncertainty arises when you buy packs of mixed species for fun.  This particular species naturalizes pretty easily and its quite attractive, a bright, cheerful, somewhat fragrant, reminder of spring, in the middle east.  The only downside is that the flowers only open when the sun is shining on them.  

Monday, Monday

It would have to be a Monday.  It snowed last night about an inch; not enough to bury or hide the blue lawn completely.  And of course it's still cold.  The whole thing is pretty depressing.  Still have lots of leaves to remove from beds and the bases of shrubs and perennials, but don't want to uncover the new shoots too soon.  The delayed spring results in forced inactivity, and that is also sort of depressing.  A series of emails about kapok reminded TPP of the tropics, and how different it is in tropical places & a certain longing for the tropics looms up, and you want to go.  Fortunately this snow is almost gone already, and a 70 high is predicted in just a few days.  Or is it just a setup for another weather disappointment?   No choice but to wait & see.  


Friday Fabulous Flower - Tough little guys


This long cold spring had better make a turn for the better soon.  TPP estimates that flowering dates are now delayed nearly two weeks from average dates.  It was really cold last night, a good night for having beer & pizza with friends in a little old Italian bar/restaurant.  But TPP is getting seriously depressed about spring.  Today's FFF are tough little guys that handle snow and quite cold night time lows without showing any damage.  And are these cheerful enough for you?  This is one of the dwarf daffodil varieties, standing only 5-6 inches tall.  They form large dense clumps that just beg you to divide them after a few years.  They produce a lot of flowers and make a great low growing front border.  Right now this is just about all our gardens have going on.  They are also a nice contrast to the blue of the squills.  

Black wildlife


After years of observation, you don't figure to see too many things that are new in your gardens.  Then who shows up at your squirrel feeding station?  A black squirrel, more correctly a melanistic squirrel.  TPP doesn't know the genetics of melanism in squirrels, but no question this one is black.  More or less regular colored fox squirrel is shown for the contrast.  All are in training for the fattest squirrel competition. A few years back we had some pale squirrels around with white or nearly white bellies, but they did not persist in the population.    

Different names means they are different. Take a look.


While walking through our gardens, the F1 asked a good botanical question.  Is that just a pale squill or is it something different?  The answer is actually it was just a pale squill, but in another part of the gardens there is another species that looks superficially like a pale squill.  Here they are together.  The pale squill looks just like regular squill except it is a  nearly white pale blue. What you see here is Scilla siberica (left) and Pushkinia scilloides (right). The flower sizes are similar especially when newly opened, and the coloring along the midvein of the showy perianth (petals) parts is darker.
The squill perianth opens more widely.  The Pushkinia stays more bell shaped.  Flipping them over shows a lot more differences.  The squill has longer stamen filaments and blue anthers, and usually only 1 or 2 flowers per stalk.  The Pushkinia has shorter, flattened filaments fused into a column with yellow anthers on the inner surface surrounding a smaller pistil, and usually more than 2 flowers per stalk.  Now to make matters slightly more complicated, your lawn might also have (TPP doesn't, but his previous lawn did.) Chionodoxa, glory of the snow, concurrently flowering as well.  Its flowers are also blue, but tend to be slightly bigger, to face more upwards, and to have  lighter-colored centers.  Both can naturalize and spread across your lawn.

Peak blue becoming white

Wow, not only is peak blue late this year, but even then in total defiance of Eostra's influence, peak blue is being whitened.  What a difference a day makes when it comes to weather in these parts.  To the best of our knowledge Peak Blue has never been snowed on before.  It must be because of the French-Canadian is here.  Compare with this image from TPP's most recent peak blue post just one day ago from as close to the same place as is possible.  Mrs. Phactor has declared this downright depressing.

Eostre on April 1st.

Eostre is an ancient goddess of spring, and because of some weird dating mechanism based on a lunar calendar, this year the religious holiday superimposed upon this honorable pagan celebration occurs on April 1st, which is often called April Fools Day, a widely disliked display of foolishness.  The religious holiday has no significance for this writer, and it wasn't something that was part of mix of messages, and it was more like Mother Nature was playing an April 1st joke on all of us.  TPP always looks forward to spring, and usually by this time 30 to 40 plants in our gardens have commenced blooming (or even come and gone).  This year, 2018, only 17 plants have started flowering, and three of these events were recorded yesterday on 31 March.  And today will be a sort of joke about spring because it is cold and tonight the temperature may be cold enough to be damaging  to even quite hardy plants.  This morning in the local newspaper an article about houseplants quoted a  horticulturalist as saying "the mental health benefits of plants are obvious."  TPP would concur, growing plants is highly therapeutic, and TPP can think of no person he deeply dislikes who also grows plants, and some of the worst would have to be coached "green side up" if they were laying sod.  So today's weather, and its impact on TPP's plants is rather depressing.  So come on Eostre, some fancy bourbon has been sacrificed (spilt) in your honor, and yet we get more cold, and even snow is possible.  OK TPP admits that the upper Midwest's weather may be beyond the abilities of an ancient goddess (but it was well-aged bourbon).  At any rate let's get this last gasp of winter over with.   TPP will attempt to cheer himself and others around him by cooking something semitropical and warming.  Maybe even indulging in a rum-based cocktail.

Peak Blueness is Late

If you search on "blue lawn", you will find a series of TPP posts on our blue spring lawn, which  is pretty spectacular and locally known.  This year is easily a week later than usual and as the temperature is predicted to get quite low tomorrow night it might be a bit short-lived too.  Many decades ago, someone planted Scilla siberica and they multiplied and prospered. Now there are thousands that have taken over portions of our lawn, as the image demonstrates, and it you don't mind waiting until they die down before mowing to avoid transforming the leaves into green slime, they are a great spring feature. How cheerful is that. Watch where you walk please.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Dendrobium


Spring is slowly coming along outside and most of our houseplant orchids are in flower.  After being outside until the cool fall, the combination of day length and temperature just prompts them all to flower.  This is a Dendrobium, a bamboo orchid, probably D. anosmum, but when a genus has more than 1000 species, and many are in cultivation, not to mention hybrids, a plant of uncertain parentage just gets an educated guess.  Flowering occurs along the old stems that sort of cascade from their hanging basket, so the floral display is pretty large, the flowers are large, 3" across, and a couple of dozen flowers is not unusual.  Unfortunately these won't last as long as some orchid flowers.  You can sort of see that they are rather thin and delicate, almost membranous, so a real annual treat.   

Friday Fabulous Flower - out of sync spring weather & hellebores


Somehow Friday, Sat. & Sunday got away from TPP.  Friday was pretty springy and TPP even planted some parsley seedlings, and luckily put them under some protection.  Saturday was a horrible weather day, starting with sleety rain, that turned to snow, heavy wet snow, and then finally to some substantially heavy snow.  Oh, TPP has seen & experienced much worse, but for this area this was impressive and thankfully brief, but still the storm put a good 6 inches on the ground.  TPP's first thought was swell, this cleanup job can wait a couple of days and warmer weather will remove the snow, but people were coming to din-dins, so sidewalks and drive needed some clearing.  An overwhelmed little snow thrower actually helped move most of the lighter snow that was sitting atop the base of icy slush, that froze once exposed.  Fortunately TPP had some experienced help, a French Canadian guest, who while now living outside the reach of the snow gods, still remembered how to shovel.  Some of the things in bloom will probably have gotten crushed by the heavy precip.  but fully expect the extremely tough hellebores to take this in stride. Although they may be a bit more noddy than usual. One problem with the common hybrid hellebores is that they tend to hold their flowers in a nodding or pendent position and the heavy slush may push them down further.  So here's what hellebores looked like before getting smushed under slush. The cold & snow won't bother them.

Pollinator Conservation Reference Guide

Clearly us flower people under stand that pollinators are important and need conservation measures addressed at them.  Here you go, a pollinator conservation reference guide to download free of charge, published by the US Air Force.  Here's your tax dollars at work doing something good for the world.  

Ents are real!


TPP has sort of always known this.  But Ents can't stand still for too long or they root into place. Here's the article where the image is from. If you don't know Ents, well you aren't well enough read.

Easy Gardening Advice - Say What?

TPP fell for some click bait the other day, i.e., 25 tips to make Gardening Easier.  No question about it gardening can be real work, digging holes for planting trees.  So you know it was some of the same-old, same-old: use mulch, don't mow your lawn (grass) so often, etc.  But then probably to get to 25, the "easy gardening tip" was get rid of lawn and install Astroturf!  Now in what sense of the word is installing astroturf "gardening"?  Hey, come and see my lovely Astroturf, it's doing so well this year.  It must be the Astro-fert that was applied this spring. And you know you can color coordinate if you use Astro-turf.  And the image is even from "Good as Grass".  Bottom left is "called Boise Blue" for some goofy reason.  
Now least you think TPP is close-minded about innovation, a garden trial was done using rubber mulch made from old tires and dyed brown.  It actually looks like wood mulch, and it doesn't decompose producing a weed growing medium, and it lasts for years.  Rubber mulch would actually work well in a play ground area, or for a fairly high traffic path.  Astroturf was the deal-breaker, and the clicking stopped.  As good as grass, tell that to an Astro-cow. And where are the Astro-chickweeds and the Astro-dandelions?  It may be as good as grass, but as good as lawn, never.

St. Patrick's Day Style - Celebrating the Green


Lots of places have St. Patrick's Day (Yes, it was yesterday, but TPP was busy.) celebrations, but this one almost has to be seen to be believed.  No photoshopping here.  This is a view along the Chicago river in the center of downtown Chicago just  a bit upstream from where the river enters Lake Michigan.  Yes, the river is actually that green.  Do they grind up Irishmen, who have been drinking green beer, and then slosh them around to get the color?  TPP actually watched them dye the river one year and met the short-straw fireman who was standing ready in his yellow wet suit should they have to rescue anyone from the green depths, anyone who might have had to much to drink.  Also saw a toy poodle who had fallen in, and then been pulled back out, no worse for wear, but definitely a tad greenish, and more than a little bit cold.  So if you think you celebrate the Irish, top this.

Student protests - You go guys!

TPP is actually rather impressed by these Millenial high school students protesting gun violence in schools.  This is the best student protest effort since the Kent State killings by National Guardsmen (armed but not protectors) resulted in anti-war protests that closed down most of the nation's colleges and universities (TPP's senior year).  At that time students got called a lot of nasty names (dirty hippy was the funniest) for protesting the Vietnam War, and TPP remembers getting tear gased, and crossing picket lines to finish some needed classes to graduate.  So none of the negative reactions to today's students surprises TPP.  Pundits who don't think students who were shot at should have an opinion about guns, or are even citizens (the moronic Tucker Carlson); or people who think they need semi-automatic weapons to protect themselves.  Really?  Some student protestors will be subjected to punishment including in one remarkably primitive area corporal punishment (seriously getting paddled for protesting killings?).  Protest anyways and take their punishments knowing how wrong they are. History will be on your side. And you will have learned how not to act.  

Friday Fabulous Flower


It was a bit warmer yesterday, back to brisk today, but enough to give a few more of these terribly cute Iris (I. reticulata) a chance to flower.  Their flower is pretty large in comparison to the size of the plants, although the leaves will get longer and taller.  This is a species that would like being in a sunny rock garden, which TPP does not have, but in one bed this bulb-forming Iris has been happy. This is a very cheerful spring flower if you can make it happy.  In 3 or 4 other places in our gardens it has just faded away.  This species has been a FFF before, but not too many other choices right now, and if enjoyable each spring, then no problem featuring it again.


Depressing in general

The general color outside remains brown.  After a Feb. thaw, early March has been cool so everything is just stalled.  Hellebores look the same as they did 2 weeks ago.  Bulbs are also on hold, and it's probably a good thing to keep flowering shrubs on hold for awhile, but in general it's sort of depressing.  And the campus and campus town are nearly deserted because of spring break, and that is sort of depressing as well.  And everything about how the country and our state is being run is sort of depressing too. The death of Steven Hawking is also depressing, not that his work could be understood by botanists, but he was such an exceptional person, such an exceptional intellect.  So TPP thinks reading a gardening column might be cheery, and among their advice for making gardening easier is to install Astroturf!  In what way is Astroturf gardening?  Way too depressing of an idea.  Neighbor who took out all of the shrubbery in their yard and planted grass has moved on, and that is sort of cheery news; new neighbors might be better.  So if you decide to comment on this, do be upbeat.  And forgot Pi Day, which is more sad than depressing.  But NCAA basketball playoffs have begun, and that is so depressing.  What is it people like about that game?  



Friday Fabulous Flower - Crocus


Crocus just sort of appear in our gardens.  Two types, the very early little snow crocus, and it has invaded our lawns and garden beds in many locations.  Cute.  A larger variety of crocus lives in a couple of different garden beds and flowers a bit later.  No idea how they get around. But they are very cheerful.  Here you can see the three anthers spaced around the three-lobed stigma (a bit oranger), and the two whorls of perianth.  By the time the lawn needs cutting, they will have died back for the year, so they can easily naturalize should you desire it.  

Sudden spike in blog traffic

Every so often TPP notices a sudden spike in blog activity, usually several hours when the tracking software records a week's worth of traffic, yet no particular blogs are showing unusually elevated traffic.  What's going on?  Does anyone understand this?  Can anyone explain?  TPP is basically a dummy about such things, so do clue him in.

Friday Fabulous Flower - snow drops

And second place goes to snow drops (Galanthus nivalis) just two days later than the witch hazels.  The fairly long snow cover of this winter always gets snow drops off to a fairly early start.  These little bulbs are not very flashy, but they sure are cheerful after a long winter.  If you have a garden you should stick in clumps of these bulbs just every where.  Clumps sometimes surprise us arising in places where they planted themselves.  This clump only started as one or two stalks, and now it consists of a couple of dozen bulbs.  

February Gardening - limbs and leaves

While our ongoing late winter thaw is allowing the Phactors to do a bit a gardening, it may push some stoopid plants to break dormancy too early.  This is always a worry in this part of the world.
Some of the very earliest plants are flowering, but this is not unusual for them. The weather leading up to this thaw has been windy, so it took a good hour of bending over to pick up all the downed limbs; nearly 3 wheelbarrow loads of limbs and twigs were transported to the front curb for pickup later in the week.  A fence along the lily pond had accumulated quite a load of leaves and kept them out of the pond.  Mrs. Phactor raked them up and transported them to a woodland area where they can decompose in peace.  Put a fence around a bed filled with species tulips hopefully depriving the bun-buns of an exotic meal. Usually they get missed until nibbled down.  Made note of the shrubs that have been bun-bun nibbled over the winter.  Basically anything not caged.  This was our day's exercise.  Gardening as exercise is not  such a crazy idea, but in  general the exercise nuts are not the type who garden, wonder why not?  Not enough of an an adrenaline rush watching grass grow?  Good to note that the blue lawn is sprouting under foot everywhere.  Stay posted.

Friday Fabulous Flower - And the winner is - witch hazel!

It's the 23d of February; technically still the dead of winter.  But we've had good snow cover so bulbs do well beneath the snow cover, and now it's in a bit of a winter thaw and the tips of leaves are showing all over the place.  The real contenders were snowdrops (a close 2nd), winter aconite, and witch hazel.  This particular flower is from Hamamelis x. intermedia 'Diane".  She differs from 'Arnold's Promise' in having reddish-orange flowers in the spring; if she flowers in the fall they are yellow like Arnold is in the spring.  This is by no means a record, 'Diane' has flowered as early as the 12th of February (last year).  

'tis the season for corned beef

Not only is TPP looking for signs of spring like the snowdrops poking up in places, but an annual rite revolves around making corned beef for St. Patrick's Day. So this Saturday past the pickling brine was made and 10 lbs of beef brisket began its journey.  Fortunately TPP had enough saltpeter for the recipe, but the supply is low so more will have to be ordered to have on hand for the next year's batch.  The recipe has been posted before, here, should you care to try it.  Getting saltpeter used to be as easy as walking into a pharmacy, but now it has to be ordered just in case someone uses corned beef as a cover for building a bomb.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Cheery, springy flowers

Sorry for being a day late with a FFF, but yesterday was largely lost to a medical procedure, which turned out well (no problems -yea!), but is quite wretchedly awful to prepare for.  So largely lost the day.  And what with the national news being so depressing, and our so-called leaders being so terribly depressing (please do not get TPP going), the primary thought was to find something cheerful.
As the area is in a semi-thaw, although snowing quite nicely just now, did a walk around the mid-winter gardens.  Cheerful observations: lots of bulbs poking up and things like snowdrops could flower any time; early shrubs have swollen buds (Cornus mas, witch hazel showing some red petals), a whitish flowered Hellebore (H. x ballardiae 'cinnamon snow'), a so-called Lenten rose, has buds showing among last year's leaves.   As those things were cheerful TPP decided a pot of forced daffodils, a smaller-flowered variety, purchased for Mrs. Phactor would be featured.  Hope they cheer you up too, if not, get off to the nearest flower shop and buy yourself some cheer.  It'll be worth it!  

Jucy Lucy


One of the best things about traveling is seeing new things.  Rather garish bright green and purple vehicles were seen here and there around New Zealand bearing the appellation "Jucy Lucy", often with some semi-rude comment and a suggestive picture or two of a modest enough pinup variety.  No idea what they were all about.  Now if you go into a bar and grill especially in Minnesota and order a juicy lucy, you will get a rather fat hamburger with a melted cheese filling oozing out of the middle.  It will indeed be juicy.  All logic and reason told TPP this was not what the green vehicles were all about. Turns out they are a camper style rental vehicle that loudly advertises their presence.  You have to sort of like their attitude.  Quite certain that even if they experience a bump in business TPP will get nothing out of it, but the amusement factor was enough.

Big time flower production

Have you noticed the floral sections located usually near the entrance of grocery stores?  Lots of flowers and rather reasonable in price too.  This was more common in Europe, but now has become commonplace here in the states.  If Kroger is doing it, that's a clue.  At any rate such large scale operations are quite mind-boggling, and this video is worth watching no matter what you think of such practices.  And of course posted just in time for Valentine's Day.  TPP is not a huge fan, but finds the operation quite interesting and they are so well automated, so huge!  Hate to think about the pesticides & fungicides being sprayed around.  

Dealing with poachers

This news article caught TPP's eye.  A suspected poacher was mauled and almost completely eaten by a pack (pride?) of lions in South Africa.  Sounds like just desserts.  As for such poachers, invite them in, tie a steak around their neck and turn them lose.  Lions need some fun too.  Kruger National Park is sort of neat because you can only be out and walking around while you are inside fenced compounds, where you are the monkey in the cage. This really did crimp TPP's botanical style, but the reason was compelling.  

Happy Blogoversary!

February 12th, 2008.  The Phytophactor Blog was born 10 years ago and now some 2900+ blog posts later The Phytophactor still labors on. This is actually pretty hard to believe. The blog started off rather slowly, and early on, for the first couple of years, the Blog didn’t manage to keep any stats, so who knows how many people came and went in those days, it was not a large number.  The visibility and readership volume improved greatly after joining the Field of Science collective.  The number of page reads is well over 1.5 million, and the blog gets some 500 to 700 visits a day. The all-time most popular blog post is whether the artichoke is a fruit or a vegetable, published in the 1st month of the blog's existence.  So it is also old, and in the old, harder to read, small font.  Altogether that short little blog accounts for just over 10% of this blog’s total traffic.  People also care about whether flowering kale can be eaten (yes) and if pollen is equivalent to sperm (no).  Who knew those were such  pressing questions?  The Friday Fabulous Flower is the most popular and basically only regular feature.  This blog doesn’t stimulate much in the way of comments, so it is hard to tell  what people like, or don’t like.  As the national news has gotten so depressing TPP has blogged about it less, and similarly, when your academic counter part retires, you find you don’t follow the academic life so much.  So those areas get less coverage than they once did or the get covered less frequently than before.  But the botany and the gardening carry on.  Careful readers probably can list TPP's favorite house and garden plants because of the number of times they have been featured, and gardening pet peeves (poodle pruning of shrubs). 
Today is also Charles Darwin's and Abraham Lincoln's Birthday (in the same year), and much more recently TPP's kid sister's birthday.  Congratulations to all.  


Friday Fabulous Flower - Red gum tree



This red-flowered gum tree is a widely spread ornamental species, probably Corymbia ficifolia.  At some former time it was a Eucalyptus, and TPP has no idea what the distinction is that led to this reassignment.  As soon as you see one of these trees, and they can grow quite large, you know you're not in Kansas any more.  It was fairly common urban tree in New Zealand although the southern Magnolia was probably more common. Lots of birds and lots of insects visiting made this a busy tree. And as the image above shows, the androecial whorl are the visually attractive portion of the flower.




Like this person I does

TPP has been at a loss to blog about the current POTUS, so when someone else does such a good job, they must be acknowledged.
"I did not choose Donald Trump. I did not choose his “Shithole version of America.” I did not choose his overt racism and bigotry. I did not choose his favorable attitude to white supremacists. I did not choose his incessant and often ridiculous lies. I did not choose his narcissistic ways and complete lack of empathy for anyone other than himself. I did not choose his cruelty. I did not choose his personal attacks on individuals from the office of the president. I did not choose his inherent bullying nature. I did not choose his crudeness or vulgarity, and his attacks on women and their appearance. I did not choose his attacks on Mexicans or Haitians, and I did not choose his contempt for African American sports stars. I did not choose his failure to understand the constitution. I did not choose his failure to comprehend the meaning of free speech. I did not choose his attacks on the press. I did not choose his ignorance, his lack of morality, his complete inability to grasp complex concepts, and his non-existent attention span. I did not choose his bragging. I did not choose his cronyism. I did not choose his corruptness. I did not choose his nepotism. I did not choose his tendency to make every issue, first and foremost about himself. I did not choose the way he brings out the very worst in the people of this country. And most importantly, the majority of American voters did not choose Donald Trump."  More here.  How can one guy do so much that's bad in such a short period of time? 
Got to like this guy.  

Grub grub

The F1 explained what the GrubHub was, but this is Eat Grub, and they aren't talking about "grub" as slang for food.  They're talking about grubs as food.  This is actually not news, especially to a biologist.  A colleague used to put crickets in cookies and then put them out for people.  And Fluker Farms had a recipe for Crusty Cajun crickets that weren't a bad snack.  Or you could get a copy of Man Eating Bugs, a fun and well illustrated book with recipes.  TPP made fun of GrubHub for the alternative meaning of Grub, but it might be closer to happening than you might think.  


Friday Fabulous Flower - Alpine edition


Before leaving the subalpine zone of New Zealand let's have one more nice flower.  January is the early summer here, and like all such high altitude summer plants.  They have a pretty impressive floral display for their brief season.  This particular flower is highly symmetrical and quite attractive in clumps.  Seen here growing in a gravely soil with a number of other plants ranging from some 600-1800 m, Gentianella bellidifolia. The flowers are about 1 cm in diameter when open.

So many whiskys, so little time -

"See what the boys in the backroom will have
And tell them I'm having the same
Go see what the boys in the backroom will have
And give them the poison they name
"
So many whiskys, so little time.  It's a problem we're just going to have to deal with a little at a time.  When it comes to whisky you pay for age, you pay for strength (higher proof), and you pay for rarity.
Aging is a funny thing.  You see the problem is ethanol is basically a colorless, tasteless liquid, and that's what distillation makes.  Some of the other stuff may be heat volatile, and get transferred to the distilled side of things, but TPP's one experience with "white lightening" had the total sensation of "swallowing a kerosene lantern, lit" (according to one author).  But put the neutral grain spirits into a charred white oak barrel for 8, 10, or 12 years and now you've got something with color and flavor, and fewer nasty chemicals too, but you have less of it, and it took a lot of time that you have to pay for, so aging and rarity are related.  Hard to believe that anybody actually likes moonshine, but not so hard to believe that some people are just too impatient to wait that long for a whisky, so long have people sought to speed up, or alter, the process. While other woods don't make good barrels, other woods will impart different flavors to the whisky, so in this highly competitive business, people are trying all sorts of different things, like putting charred wood in a steel barrel of whisky, clearly a blasphemy in some places.  Here's an interesting article on some of the different ideas people in the business are trying.  And you're going to see more of this as the craft distilling business continues to grow. 

Bucket list trees - Nothofagus

Although TPP cannot remember when the list was made, a bucket list of trees was constructed, it did include a baobab (seen in South Africa) and the southern Beech.  TPP does not know this genus well, and while he's seen it a few times, you cannot say you've seen a lion if only in a zoo.  This is a high latitude southern hemisphere tree, and not sure why the southern Beech is named Nothofagus (N. solandri shown here probably).  The forest (just below the subalpine zone) is almost a monoculture and pretty low diversity until you get to the fern/moss floor of the forest.  It has the look of Middle Earth about it, and the trees have quite a covering of mosses and lichens on their trunks. The genus has quite an old looking distribution the type we now associate with Gondwana an ancient super continent. But sadly no Glossopteris. No one said this was an easy bucket list. 

The leaves are about a cm or so long.

More alpine.subalpine

Well, you're gonna get more NZ because it's the best stuff TPP has for posting. In general TPP found NZ a bit off-putting.  In many places it has been deforested to within an inch of its life; all those hills upon which sheep now graze were forested. And there are virtually no land mammals, and not even much insect life, so very unlike the tropical forests TPP loves so much.  However now and again they have a winner.  And so it is with the Kea, a largish, alpine/subalpine parrot and much like the Gray Jay in the USA's Rocky mtns, this bird is not even slightly shy.  They have a certain beguiling quality about them, maybe its the way they try to take the rearview mirrors off your car, or how they chortle to themselves in a language seemingly akin to minions.  So it was great to see a few of these birds, close up, and at home so to speak at the top of Arthur's pass parading around like they own the place, and they do.  After the hike down, it was time to have lunch and a drink at the Wobbly Kea Bar & Café.

Subalpine context

The fabulous pincushion plant posted a day ago lacked a subsalpine context, so here it is.  The community is sort of a waist high shrub land of grassy tussocks and low growing shrubs.  The area is quite wet especially in places and very low-growing mats of mossy and mossy-like plants growing in between taller plants and rocky outcrops, and in rocky places with very shallow soil.  Grassy and mossy looking plants for the most part are neither grass nor moss. The plant diversity here is actually pretty high.  It's really quite a lovely place, garden-like in a way, although those people intent on hiking distances or altitudes, or hiking with speed (joggers) fail to see anything while communing with nature in their own self-absorbed way. Us naturalists are looked upon as "in the way", just one more obstacle to be avoided. The pincushion plant posted on Friday was growing almost at TPP's feet as he viewed this scene from a boardwalk path.