Field of Science

Friday fabulous flower - how old?

Flowers are not the type of thing that fossilize very easily, so no big surprise that there are so few to help figure out the "sudden" appearance of flowering plants in the fossil record.   So here is a reconstruction of a pre-Cretaceous (Jurassic) fossil flower.  TPP isn't particular impressed as there are some items that just don't quite make sense.  But we shall see what the important people have to say about this flower.  The biggest problem is that crazy branched thing that is being labelled the stigma; it's like nothing else any where.  And then there is one little item (little knobby thing at about 11 o'clock) that hasn't been identified at all.  For those of you who do not keep up with the plant fossil record, there are no well authenticated pre-Cretaceous flowering plant fossils at all.  This fossil would be a first, and it's supposedly a flower.  Well, see what you think.  It's name is Nanjinanthus, which tells us where in China this fossil was found.

Holiday lights - two extremes

Taking the time and effort to visit the Morton Arboretum to see their light show is well worth the expense and the time.  Last Friday was our first visit to the Arboretum for holiday lights.  It was very impressive, very attractive, very inventive.  This image is just a small sample of the entire show.  Several displays were set to music.  There aren't any snowmen or other annoying items (A local guy has filled his yard and a neighbor's with plastic figurines much to the amusement of the orbiting space station, which must be able to see this easily.)  This display is free, and even then not a bargain.

At long last: leaf cleanup

Although not ideal conditions, the weather finally stayed warm enough and dry enough for the tons of leaves in our yard to get rounded up.  Unfortunately, while many got deposited in an area destined to become a woodland garden, the guys with backpack blowers added a lot of leaves to some of our gardens where they will remain until March.  This means that the net hung over the lily pond could be removed, but it wasn't easy.  In places the net was not just filled with soggy leaves, but frozen into the shell ice.  This added greatly to the weight and therefore the difficulty of removing the net.  It was all the two of us could do to pull it out!  Such a bother but probably kept 90% of the leaves out of the pond.  In some places the Scilla bulbs that turn our yard blue have sprouted waiting for the first hints of spring.

Is this bittersweet?

Someone called these fruits to TPP's attention and asked if this was bittersweet?  Now there isn't a whole lot of bright color along trails at this season and this path was a RR right of way formerly, so bittersweet was possible.  Nope, not bittersweet.  However they were not far wrong.  This is a large gangling unkept viney species of Euonymus, E. japonicus, perhaps (TPP isn't good on this genus).  Euonymus is mostly relegated to TPP's Don't plant this list. Left unattended this sprawling plant is aggressive and since it is shade tolerant, it can take over a wooded area. Euonymus is a member of the Celastraceae, the bittersweet family, so with good reason the fruits are similar.  The fruit consists of an outer fruit wall with a creamy to reddish color, so not really very attractive, but the wall then splits open to reveal a seed covered by a red (or orange) aril, a fleshy covering of the seed, to both encourage and reward bird seed dispersers.  The value to birds doesn't at all compensate for the aggressive nature of this plant.  So don't plant it!

Friday Fabulous Flower - Flowering early?

The local fall weather was pretty mild and so our tropical houseplants stayed outside a bit later into the season than in the past.  And then November turns cold and includes several snow events (none really serious).  As if it isn't confusing enough a warm front moved into our region on Friday and the temps got very mild, while we got treated to thunderstorms and tornadoes.  Although tropical plants are often day neutral, the longer cool nights seem quite capable of inducing flowering in quite a few of our tropical house plants.  Both the so-called Christmas cactus and the Easter cactus promptly produced a huge flush of buds and began flowering. The induction period in most houses must take a bit longer such that the cacti more or less flower near their namesake holidays.  Now of course commercially glass houses can be manipulated to bring plants into flower at the appropriate season for sales.  But with house plants you take more or less what you get. So, yes, a Christmas cactus flowering some three weeks before Christmas.
Fridays have turned out to be pretty busy days in our semi-retired/retired lives and TPP if finding it tough to find time for blogging.  So please indulge the irregularities.

Emoji election graphic

The recent midterm elections received a lot of attention, and this graphic just struck TPP as very informative.  It shows you in a glance the diversity of the newly elected members of Congress.  It's getting very hard for the GnOPe to claim they truly represent the people of the USA.  Forgotten where this graphic was stolen from, but it's a classic.  
 Pretty easy to tell which party represents white men.  No wonder the GOP is so scared of immigrants.

Glorious leftovers

Sometimes the Thanksgiving leftovers are better than the main event.  The Phactors dearly love orange-cranberry relish of the no-cook freshly ground sort. Years ago as in decades, a little corn muffin recipe in newspaper caught our eye, and it has remained a favorite item all these years.  My little old Southern Grandma declared them to be the best corn muffins ever.  What makes these so good is using stone ground cornmeal, which is slightly coarser than the usual store bought meal.  And then a dollop of relish gets deposited on top of the dough just before putting them into the oven.  They look great and taste even better.

Leave the leaves? Not good gardening advice

TPP has seen three articles already (but failed to note their sources) that tell people to leave the leaves on their lawn rather than rake them.  This only works if you have very few leaves or want to transition your lawn to a woodland.  This is being done in our gardens in at least two places, purposely, and a lot of woodland plants occupy what passes for our lawn.  A thick layer of leaves, whole or chopped, would kill what little grass remains. The leaves in our lawns are confluent; they form a continuous layer inches deep, and more in some places.  So many leaves that a leaf gathering fence and a leaf capturing net are put up to keep tons of leaves out of our lily pond.  All the leaves are raked out of most of the gardens, and then vacuumed up and shredded, and reapplied if mulching is wanted.  This used to be done by yours truly with a machine called a Billy Goat; it was a beast, hard to pull start, and used about an 8 cubic foot bag, which was quite heavy.  And it was pricey to rent!  The right shoulder would complain the next day, and it was justified. Then Mrs. Phactor found a lawn service guy, who would do all that leaf work and it only cost $40-50 more than just the Billy Goat.  This did not take a lot of thought.  Except this year the leaves have been snowed on, and rained on, to keep them wet and matted down.  Fortunately the net was pulled off the pond and emptied of several cubic feet of water logged leaves before this latest wintery episode.  This takes the entire Phactor gardening squad, both of us, and then it was almost too heavy for the net.  But neither of us fell in, so that was good.  The next task will be to put fencing around all the young trees and shrubs to keep the rabbits from browsing on them.  Hopefully the weather will produce a couple of warmer days before the end of November.

More fabulous foliage - sumac

The tree color is just about done, and if we get the predicted snow, the fall color will really be finished.  At this point some shrubs remain colorful, hamamelids: witch hazels, fothergillas, parrotias. Another colorful group are sumacs, largely unruly shrubs, not suitable for most lawns or gardens.   This is a cultivar of Rhus typhina, a staghorn sumac.  It turns a wonderful orange color, but that doesn't compensate for its really problem, which is sending up new shoots along roots.  If left alone it will form large clones, some of which can be seen along interstate highways in our area.  Ours is fighting with bottle brush buckeyes for space and the greater shade tolerance of the latter seems to be the deciding factor.  But hey it is colorful.  

Electrical compatibility expected

The Phactors decided that we would replace our ancient chest freezer while it was still an option, rather than a necessity to do so.  A couple of big box stores had little to offer so a locally owned store was a welcome change of pace, and after arranging the purchase, the next day delivery was set up. Getting either a new or old chest freezer up out of our basement is no small task especially as the entry has been greatly altered since the old freezer was brought in.  Good to know it's still possible to get such things in and out of the house, and very glad younger backs were doing the heavy lifting.  While setting up the new freezer, one of the movers picked up the plug and got a puzzled look, and asked TPP, "How does this work?"  A examination of the problem  did not take long, and a pile of still frozen food was waiting for a new frozen haven.  Fortunately TPP had an adapter that made this plug compatible with the 3 prong outlets.  Does this look familiar to any of my foreign readers?  Looks generally European to TPP, and no idea how the local appliance store got such a model.  Although the food remained frozen, a next day freezer exchange was arranged with proper electrical compatibility.  You wonder how such things happen.  Just lucky about having this adapter; enough foreign house guests that made this necessary because in our giant bag of plug adapters accumulated over the years, all are to adapt our 3 prong plugs to some other configuration, and this was 2 prong to 3, not usually needed here abouts.  Sales clerk & store manager were quite perplexed and not about to offer next day delivery to Europe.

Friday Fabulous Foliage - golden days

Our garden's fall color is quite good this year, although quite late as it is now November.  Our gardens are largely in the shade of a couple of quite large sugar maples, and the morning sun suffuses the area with a golden light.  Other specimens brighten up dark spaces such as this Japanese maple.  While there have been a couple of nights with frosty temperatures, there have still been no hard freezes so far, but the color display will not last for long.  It was warm enough with a light jacket to enjoy a cocktail out on the patio just to enjoy the colors.  A few things are still in flower, the monk's hood, a wayward witch hazel, an anemone. 

Friday Fabulous Fruit - diversity on display

Squashes, pumpkins, and the like belong to one of only 4 species of Cucurbita.  There is a surprising amount of diversity on display in terms of fruit color, size, and shape for just 4 species, and TPP is not certain that all 4 species are displayed here.  Still in makes for a pretty eyeful. There may also be some gourds included too.  Here's the link to Homestead Seeds should you want to grow some of these.

What's up with these acorns?

A person walked into my place of business handed me these acorns and wanted to know, what's up with these acorns?  The short answer is nothing is up with them, they are the way they are supposed to be.  However the tree that produces these acorns is not very common so not too many people have ever seen one.  This is an overcup oak, Quercus lyrata, and it is native to wetlands in SE North America, but people tend to not plant them where they will do well and as a result they often look chlorotic.  The distinctive acorns are really cute, aren't they?  An easy ID and TPP even knows where they got them because there are only 2 trees around, and only 1 of them is doing well.  However I do admire their curiosity.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - really ancient?

One of TPP's bright young colleagues, Herve Sauquet, has used a combination of morphology and molecular data to construct or model the first or ancestral flower.  It has several whorls of 3 floral organs and to TPP's eyes, the model so derived looks a lot like a Magnolia virginiana.  Many people have long thought that earliest flowers would have many spirally arranged parts.  Actually there are several differences, so the similarity to a Magnolia is just superficial, mostly just the several perianth whorls.  The oldest fossil flowers just don't look like this and molecular data suggests that flowering plants are older (149-256 my) than the fossil record indicates and so far no one has a really convincing pre-Cretaceous flowering plant fossil.  Several pteridosperms in the fossil record have angiospermy features, but no certain flowering plant ancestor can be identified.  

Friday fabulous foliage - ID of unknown

Welcome to the great midwest. Monday and Tuesday this week the highs were in the 80s (quite summerish 3-4 days ago), right now a sleety snow is falling and there is a good chance of a frost tonight.  Spent yesterday moving tender plants inside.  Our university's arborist stopped by with a leafy twig and asked if TPP could ID it.  Yes, this is part of the service TPP still provides in retirement (experience counts big time).  This was not a tree TPP recognized right off, but it had opposite compound leaves with three leaflets and long pink petioles.  The buds were long and conical covered with imbricate bud scales, so yes, just as you were thinking, very maple like.  A good woody plant key took me straight to Acer, and then on to A. mandshuricum, Manchurian maple.  So both our arboretum and herbarium just gained a new species and a voucher.  This is an ornamental species, just not real well known.  It should turn a nice fall color, if we actually get a fall (as the snow continues to fall).

Friday fabulous fungi - inky caps

After a period of mild drought, the area finally had a rain episode that delivered over 6.5 inches of rain over three days.  And since it is fall, mushrooms are popping up all over.  This is a cluster of inky caps, Coprinopsis atramentaris (formerly a Coprinus).  These are edible, but can be quite toxic if ethanol is also ingested.  This is a very common mushroom, and they usually begin dissolving into a black inky goo right away, a process called autodeliquescence, starting at the edge of the bell shaped cap.  

The Phactors have been apple picking up in Michigan, and this means some good eating.  Mrs. Phactor is a renowned pie maker and here's a couple of images to back that up.  Northern spies are our main cooking apple.  Note how flaky the crust looks and no runny filling.  Outstanding pie.  

Dump heaps and plant domestication

One of the well known hypotheses about plant domestication (Edgar Anderson) dealt with the idea that nomadic camps had dump heaps, places where inedible things got pitched.  Reuse of camps would bring these people back after some time and discover that seeds had sprouted and grown leading to the idea and practice of purposefully growing things.  Sure, maybe, but nomadic people probably already know how plants grow, but they see no need to plant what they can find in the wild reliably.  While throwing apple peels on our own dump/compost heap this AM, TPP noticed a nice looking seedling emerging along the edge and an examination determined that it was a mango seedling from some discarded pit.  Well, it  will not grow here in the upper Midwest, and it is a member of the poison ivy family, so TPP will deal with the leaves carefully.  Sure is a cutie though.

Friday fabulous flower - closed for business

TPP doesn't know if he's late with the last FFF or early for the next one.  Guess the blogs could have been numbered but that would be just too damned organized and it's a little late now.  OK this image comes from the F1 and her flower garden, the one being abandoned to start over again on her own property.  This particular plant is a fall flowering species, and it is just a little peculiar in the flowers don't open.  This limits pollination to bumblebees who are big enough and strong enough to pry open the corolla.  This is the bottle or closed gentian, Gentiana andrewsii.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Aster?

Another weekend that was too busy for words, other than maybe yikes!  Sorry FFF gets so easily put off.  While TPP is sort of on a composite kick, it is that time of year.  But at least this isn't another SYC.  Technically this isn't an Aster, which is now about 200 species strong but entirely restricted to Eurasia.  So if the plant is native to the Americas, and was formerly as Aster, it is now placed in a new genus; there are several.  This plant always flowers in the fall, and it does well in some semi-shady locations.  The flower heads (remember they are inflorescences) are small at about 1 cm in diameter, but they are numerous.  The ray flowers are white while the disk flowers start out yellow and then change to red as they transition from dispersing pollen to accepting pollen (TPP isn't sure why).  But it makes for a rather nice display, especially from close range.  Generally this particular species, Eurybia divaricata, is called the white woodland aster (formerly Aster divaricatum) (note the change in gender of the specific epithet).  

SYCs review

OK a couple of readers don't quite get the disk/ray flower thing that TPP mentioned in last week's FFF on goldenrod.  So here is a better example, the ordinary sunflower, Helianthus annuus.  This is not a flower, it is an inflorescence that mimics a flower's image.  When you have little flowers, best to group them together because the bigger the display, the more visitors you get, the more pollination, and so on and so forth (my major professor always used to say that when he thought the explanation was obvious).  At any rate what appear to be petals are a ring of ray flowers with one long corolla lobe making the ray flowers highly bilaterally symmetrical.  They surround a spiral array of radially symmetrical disk flowers.  The inner most ones are still unopened buds, so start taking a close look at those composite "flowers".  Dandelions have all ray flowers, and others have nothing by disk flowers.  Enjoy.  

No equitable rainfall

TPP hates to hear about the Carolinas drowning in hurricane rain water, and truly TPP feels bad for my many inlaws that live there.  Too bad they can't share a couple of inches.  Our area is bone dry (again) and no good opportunities for rain are in the offing.  Systems have passed to our west, our north or our south, sort of missing  us all the way around.  Farmers are getting a good dry jump on maize and soybean harvesting (the clouds of dust arise in all directions).  But winter is more about drought and dry conditions than it is about cold, so this gardeners advise is keep watering all those new plantings or they will die by dehydration over the winter.

Friday Fabuous Flower - SYC

This has been a hectic couple of days.  The F1 bought a house (pretty exciting), the neighbor girl got married (also pretty exciting), the Phactors attended a memorial service for TPPs graduate mentor (kind of sad, but he lived a good, long life of continual learning), did too much driving in nasty traffic around Indianapolis (the hated loop), popped in to Jungle Jim's for a quick shopping trip (quite an adventure as always).  That's rather way too much, oh, and several other invitations for this and that had to be declined for lack of time.  
At any rate at this time of year, the pickings get a bit thin, and only SYCs are common (stinking yellow composites).  This is a nice species for your wild flower garden, the showing goldenrod, Solidago speciosa.   Like all composites (aster/sunflower family) goldenrods have little flowers in heads that include either both, or just disk flowers.  The ray flowers are often mistaken for petals when they are arranged around the outside of flat-topped spiral array of disk flowers (think daisy).  Most goldenrods have just ray flowers in rather small heads, but a few species have ray flowers too and these often help produce a quite showy display in this case 5 or 6 ray flowers surrounding a few disk flowers.  The entire terminal cluster is being visited by a beetle, a bee, and a butterfly. 

Friday Fabulous Foliage

This was a very busy weekend, it being the day selected to celebrate the annual making of the fish soup.  The ingredients for the entire feast are a bit wide spread so it took some time to locate and purchase everything.  Somehow in the middle of this TPP had not time for blogging, but as a special treat, TPP will use some images sent along from his old friend Dr. Chips.  The images show a large species (no idea which one, it could be one of several or even a hybrid) of the tropical pitcher plant in the genus Nepenthes (neh-pin-theez).  It is a carnivorous plant that uses a pitfall type of trap and then digests drowned prey for the nutrients thus released, primarily nitrogen.  The trap may emit an odor or use a colorful attractant, in this case a nice glossy red rim that might promise a reward within, but the slick footing within and downward pointing hairs prevent escape, and the trap is partially filled with water, so eventually the prey falls in.  Dr. Chips thought that this red rim should qualify these modified leaves for mention in FFF and as is usually the case, he is correct.  Interestingly in the middle image you can observe the tendril like tips of young leaves; the very tip will grow into a new trap.  The curly cue helps orient the trap to hang in an upright orientation.  Quite fascinating bit of tubular development.  So thanks, Dr. C!

Friday Fabulous Flower - pink powderpuffs

Darn such a busy week.  The good news is that a not too violent front delivered nearly 2 inches of rain overnight greatly helping replenish ground water.  Even still our water bill will be a frightful thing.  This week's FFF appears thanks to our neighbors who have this tree in their front yard.  Generally known as mimosa, it's actually Albizia julibrissin. A long-time ago introduction to North America it tends to be a bit invasive and weedy.  Like a lot of fast-growing trees it tends to die back a lot, often dying young, especially here near the northern limits of its cold hardiness (zone 5).  However it is a quite pretty thing and if you know your botany, you recognize the powderpuff flowers and doubly compound leaves as characteristic of a mimosoid legume.  It's fruits are many seeded pods and in warmer climates the germination rate is high.  Powderpuff flowers in general tend to use the stamens as the attractive floral feature.  In mimosas like this the "puff" is actually a whole inflorescence, a ball or hemisphere of flowers, each with flower only has 10 stamens but when clumped together the display is quite showy.  Sticking up among the stamens is a single pistil's style and stigma (whitish filaments sort of sticking out).  Many decades ago when TPP was interviewing for a job in the south, the department chair asked me what I could see as we drove along, "There's nothing there but mimosa trees and a cotton field," was my answer (northern boy passed that test).  

Friday Fabulous Flower - so many flowers, so little to see

The tree rats planted maize in many of our gardens and this particular plant even at a 2 feet tall decided to flower.  And what a display it is.  There are not too many of us who when we look at such a thing think "look at all the purple flowers".  Each filament of "silk" is actually a quite long style with a diffuse stigma, and each style is attached to a pistil tucked away inside the many protective bracts.  So that's quite a few flowers.  Since maize is a wind pollinated plant there is nothing really surprising about the lack of showy parts. The pollen flowers are borne at the tope of the stem and all together form the tassel.  After pollination the pistil turns into a one-seeded fruit (a caryopsis) that we eat at a juvenile stage or when it is mature it gets ground into meal.  

Little female vampires are numerous this year

Whether working in the garden or just trying to enjoy a cocktail while watching the plants grow, has not been much fun because the population of mosquitoes has been off the charts.  This must be a good year for them or perhaps as they continue to expand their range northward, this is the new normal (very depressing).  In case you didn't know it's only the female mosquitoes that bite; they need the blood to get enough protein to lay eggs.  The males get by with plant sap.  And they are rather aggressive little beasts because these are the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, They are black with white markings and the linked page will provide some useful information.  TPP rather hates getting all sprayed up with DEET containing repellents, but this mosquito can carry all kinds of nasty diseases, so not a good idea to get bitten all the time, not that TPP hasn't gotten lots of bites anyways.  Both of us have type O blood that is apparently particularly tasty to mosquitoes and this species is also active by day.  A warming climate will allow this mosquito to continue its move to the north.  This definitely limits the appeal of being outside.  We keep containers that can collect rain water empty, but tree holes are a favorite and our gardens have plenty, and they are largely inaccessible.

Gardening question - How do you keep the rabbits from eating your orchids?

TPP over summers most of our house plants outside.  In gratitude most of the ones that can or should flower, do so over their indoor winter.  But problems do arise.  Mostly these tropical plants have no serious problems summering outside.  Some things get gnawed by the stinking fluffy-tailed tree rats, but they usually grow back.  This year TPP discovered that a young cottontail had taken a liking to the broad, semi-succulent leaves of our Phalenopsis (moth) orchids.  They generally occupy some caged shelves, but the caging material apparently still allowed a young rabbit access so, chomp, chomp, chomp.  The solution was simple enough, augment the cage with smaller mesh.  Simple enough but TPP just didn't think about rabbits eating your orchids as a problem.  Not quite certain what kind of animal the jeep was in Popeye cartoons, but must have been part rabbit.  In a couple of really shady gardens, Stephanandra shrubs must be permanently caged or they get eaten to the ground.  These shade-loving relatives of Spirea are basically rabbit candy.  Doubtful the shrubs will ever get big enough for the cages to be removed.  Saw three foxes in our garden last week, wish they would get busy and catch some rabbits.  

RIP Aretha

Aretha Franklin has died and the world is a bit less interesting.  Fortunately recordings remind us what we have lost.  She totally stole this scene from the Blues Brothers.  It's simply wonderful.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Big and Blue

Here's one of the easiest and best looking of our late summer native plants, the big blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica.  No idea about why it bears this specific epithet, perhaps something based on the old doctrine of signatures?  Anyone else have an idea? 

Friday Fabulous Flower - a late summer SYC

LBJs - little brown jobs, the classic tough to ID bird.  The Botanical version is an SYC - stinking, yellow composite.  Actually they aren't as tough to ID as some people make out, but there are a lot of them.  This particular SYC is part of Ms. Phactor's perennial bed, a mixture of native species and cultivars.  This is probably a selection from a native species.  This is Rudbeckia subtomentosa, one of several species that share the common name Black-eyed Susan.  Generally these all bloom in the late summer and they are pretty colorful.  The disk flowers making up the button are purple-brown and the ray flowers are bright yellow. This particular species will grow to 2 m making a rather large clump.  The stems are leafy and the leaves below are three-parted.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - little waterlily

This is such a cute little plant, but Nymphaea thermarum, the pygmy waterlily, is extinct in the wild because of habitat destruction.  It is the world's smallest waterlily and native to Africa.  You can judge the size of the lily pads and the diameter of the open flower by the penny placed to the right.  It likes hot, mucky places.  It's growing here with the water fern Azolla, which can fix nitrogen with the help of a symbiotic cyanobacterium.  The waterlily is now cultivated at quite a few botanical gardens so that it is not likely to disappear from existence although the plant was stolen from a conservatory at Kew Gardens.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Scarlet Catchfly

While June is a quiet month for our gardens, July has quite a few nice flowers.  And just in time for the butterflies. And this year a lot of spicebush butterflies are around mainly because we planted 4 spicebushes along the deep border of our estate.  More on this later.  OK so here's a clump of scarlet catchfly, Silene regia. a native plant from the pink family that should be in every wildflower garden.  Mostly it's a trouble free plant and quite a eyeful.  And of course the plant is covered with little glandular hairs and as a result is rather a sticky thing to touch.  Many small insect visit and never leave, thus the common name.  Just missed getting a humming bird in this photo.

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.