Field of Science

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.