Field of Science

First Friday Fabulous flower of 2020 - Queen's tears

OK, it's only Thursday, but it's the 31st, and I'd probably not get a chance tomorrow.  Those of you with good memories may recall that TPP has showed you this flower before (here) and  maybe else where too.  And for good reason.  It's a real fabulous flower, and it just makes you feel good when this semi-scraggy bromeliad flowers.  Now this year TPP repotted the plant because there was no soil, or orchidy growing mixture at all, just rhizomes.  Gave away a rather large cluster of shoots, or two, and replanted the rest.  New basket and replanted plant (Billbergia nutans) probably weighs 30-40 pounds without being soaked with water.  And of course TPP wanted to play with his new iPhone macro lens some more.  And so here it is.  Isn't that a great combination of colors.  The blue eye-liner  petals are the niftiest thing.  

Christmas present toy - macro/wide angle lens for iphone

Want to guess?  Well, it's the corona at the center of a paper white narcissus.  It's about 4 mm in diameter.  The image was taken using an auxiliary macro lens and illuminator.  Five of the six anthers are visible (covered in pollen), and the pistil with a tri-lobed terminal stigma.  The only trick is to hold the phone/camera still enough to get a sharp image.  But the lens work quite well.  The wide-angle lens increases the field of view by about 45%.  The whole kit is quite small and can be clipped to you belt or pouch or put in a pocket or on a lanyard.  Oh, and TPP should mention that the F1 provided this gift.  Thanks, kiddo!  Sorry the brand name has not been mentioned, but TPP doesn't do product endorsements (if you have to know, email your request). Remember this blog is free, non-monetized.  You are welcome.     

Very sad tidings

Among the many season's greetings the Phactors learned that our favorite orchard near Niles Michigan was going to cease their family farming.  TPP is sad because this has been our source of Northern Spy apples ever since the retirement hobby orchard near Monticello IL really retired.  They had about 40 varieties of apples; the orchard in MI had about 200 apple varieties, and TPP hopes that someone will want to look after all that genetic diversity.  In case you did not know orchards take a lot of work to stay productive and they deteriorate very quickly if neglected.  So sad.

Happy Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice occurs at 8:19 to night, and of course today is the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere.  Too bad it doesn't correspond to New Year's Day or Christmas.  Of course lots of good pagan symbolism abounds including evergreen trees, wreaths, garlands, and red berries.  Our gardens have two patches of winterberry bushes and the females are loaded with bright red berries, and they look great this year.  Later today TPP must get some firewood, some yule logs, to brighten the house, whether he listens to yuletide carols or not.  Yule is a 12 day celebration/season that begins with Christmas and ends with the 12th night after, and a lot of partridges in pear trees.  This reminds TPP that the Phactors made a pear dessert for a French dinner a week ago.  The ripe pears were marinated in red wine with apple brandy and spices until that got all nicely burgundy in color and then they were served on a bed of homemade  caramel (tricky stuff) but really, really good.
On the whole it is a good season and a good enough reason to celebrate without all the religious over tones.  So be happy, be glad, have drinks and dinners with friends and relatives.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - or not, Poinsettia

Sorry TPP has been ridiculously busy and ignoring his blog.  At any rate a friend stopped by with a very nice, a very traditional holiday decorative plant, a poinsettia.  She remarked about how many great big flowers the plant had, which is nice, but they aren't what many people think.  Poinsettia is a cultivar of Euphorbia pulcherrima, a member of the spurge family.  Most members of this very diverse family have small, unattactive, unisexual flowers, and poinsettia is no different.

Remember how flowering plant advertise their flowers, usually via a conspicuous display.  If your flowers are small and unattractive, cluster them together or put something very attactive right next to them.  Or do both.  Here is a typical poinsettia flower, and what you actually notive are large, red bracts, leaves associated with flowers.  In the center are several clusters of unisexual flowers sometimes, usually with several pollen producing "male" flowers and one or more pistillate "female" flowers with a big yellow nectary on the side.  So there are lots of flowers there, but unless you focused on the "stuff" in the center, you got the flower quiz wrong.  BTW TPP really doesn't like the odd colored or sparkly tarted up poinsettias.  

Bidens - What's all the fuss?

TPP finds it hard to understand why everyone is so interested in Bidens.  This genus of flowering plants is in the Aster family, and it's most generally known common name is beggerticks.  The fruits sport a pair of bristles at one end that are very good at hitching a ride upon animal pelts or their artificial equivalents worn by humans.  Hard to know how many times TPP has returned home from the field and had to pull dozens of these hitchhiking fruits from his clothing.  Although the flowers are largely yellow, breeders have selected for larger blooms and more colors including reds, oranges, and white.  And unless you are quite diligent about picking off the spent flowers you may find yourself lugging around fruits from your own flower garden.
Actually TPP was pretty sure the Bidens in question were of the human variety, and not nearly as interesting as the plants. At any rate this seemed like a good idea to get a volume of traffic to read this blog.  

Ohio's Student Religious Freedom bill - nothing good will come of this.

The Ohio House has approved by an overwhelming vote the Student Religious Freedom bill and now it awaits their Senate's action.  It allows students to provide answers consistent with their religious beliefs and they cannot lose any points or have their grade reduced for such answers.  So yes they can answer science questions with religious beliefs, i.e., saying that the Earth is only 6000 yrs old would suffice and be counted as equally correct with a geological answer.  TPP has long held the opinion that you may believe what you will religiously, but you are not constitutionally protected from discomforting ideas.  This Ohio Bill runs directly counter to this.  And of course no evidence is needed for the religious answer.  
This reminds TPP of an event around 400 years ago when the Inquisition force Galileo to recant his views on a heliocentric solar system, and it was claimed he muttered under his breath "And yet it moves."  There is no evidence Galileo did this, but the Ohio bill shows how little we've learned.  And apparently the idea that the Earth is a flat-disk rather than a globe is growing in popularity.  TPP blames social media, where people can find like-minded postings that refute those stuffy old experts who claim to actually know something.  This is a pathetic situation and a law designed to oppose evidence based scientific knowledge of all sorts.  Welcome to our new Dark Ages, legislated ignorance.  

Day-light savings time - Gardeners like it.

A Lincolnland politician has introduced a bill that would keep the state on daylight savings time, and as a gardener TPP is all for it.  A lot of good gardening gets done in the evening when the state is on daylight savings time.  Of course the switch to standard time just happened accompanied by the usual whining about what a waste this all is.  Frankly it matters not to TPP if it's dark in the early AM during the winter months. And this from a guy whose watch and car clock are almost impossible to reset, as is the alarm cat. Indiana the state next door stays on standard time (god's time?).  And you can just shift whatever you are doing to best optimize the available daylight.  Too complicated for some employers, but when you retire such strict time schedules can be ignored (yea!).  

Friday Fabulous Fruit

Ripe fruit is of course a flower at the stage of seed dispersal.  And one of the nicest "flowering" shrubs in our gardens are the winterberries, which is a holly, (Ilex verticillata).  Now hollies do not have large attractive flowers, but the fruit display can be very vivid especially when contrasted against the green leaves.  Except winterberry is a deciduous native holly, so it drops its leaves leaving the brilliant red berries on display, where they will remain until discovered by migrating cedar waxwings or robins.  Like all hollies winterberry is also dioecious (2- houses), so you need "males" to pollinate the females.  TPP likes to plant a pollinator plant for every 3-4 fruiting plants.  Obviously the winterberries have not dropped their leaves yet, but you can see how bright the red berry display is anyways.  Unfortunately the berries are not edible for the basic human GI tract.  But they look great in a boarder planting.  The shrubs can grow to 3-4 meters tall in wet areas, but seldom get more than a meter or two in drier places.  They are not a finicky about soils as some hollies either.  

Mother nature is messing with us

The fall has been very late such that no frosts yet and very little night time cold, so leaf color changes have barely begun here in the last week of October.  And now it's snowing and trees still have most of their leaves!  Nothing looks sadder than a big leaf magnolia with all its leaves bending under the weight of snow; nothing is sadder than a tree breaking under the weight of snow.  Now this snow will not last long, but it's messing with the nicest part of the fall season, and that's just not nice.  
Only the truly dedicated trick-or-treaters will be out tonight, and we have very few kids of the appropriate age in our hood anyways.  However it was probably a good thing that the dead oak whose crown reached over our roof was taken down before this snow and wind thing.  And we hope nothing else gets damaged too badly.  A few years ago a big wet heavy snow fell around Thanksgiving and as we walked through the neighborhood, you could hear the snapping of Bradford pear trees. 

National Black Cat Day

The Phactors are servants for two black cats.  Unfortunately TPP is just a bit late with this post.  Both of our cats are indoor cats although the younger one does get to walk about a bit on a leash every now and then.  This is one of the reasons our yard and gardens are such a haven for squirrels, chipmunks,and birds.  The younger one is long-haired tuxedo patterned Norwegian Forest cat.  She is most definitely Mrs. Phactor's cat.  The older and somewhat larger cat is a rescue cat and maybe the biggest lap cat ever.  She tends to make naps a major pastime, and spends every evening on or next to TPP's lap.  Here she is shown on the cat bench between two kitchen windows, a favorite summer napping spot.  Life is definitely tough on these two.  

Happy Birthday cocktail

The local napkin that passes itself off as a newspaper had a fluff article declaring today as the birthday of the Negroni cocktail.  Equal parts Campari, sweet Vermouth, and gin.  This is not a kiddy cocktail and our 20-something nieces
decided after a taste that this was not a cocktail for them unless they were allowed to sugar it to death.  This image shows how the Phactors wait for relatives, in a totally appropriate manner in a sidewalk café in Florence.  If you substitute bourbon for the gin you have a cocktail called Boulevardier, and actually TPP likes it a bit better.  But when in Rome...(or Florence, or Genoa, or Levanto).

Friday Fabulous Flower - Fall flowers?

TPP has just been too busy.  Two programs involving the herbarium and its contents, so panel discussions and visiting speakers.  It's great but busy and TPP  is not used to so much activity.  And then there are house and garden things, repair and alter water damaged rooms, removal of dead (sadly) shingle oak that had been in decline all summer. It was a substantial tree at 33" dbh and probably around 85-90 feet tall.  Even the pros had to work hard to take it down mostly because it was a bit close to our house and its crown over topped part of our roof and awaiting for the next ice storm to take part of it down is not sound policy.  My feline office assistant just showed up, so it's getting harder to see the monitor and to type. Arrival announced by head butting of TPP's right elbow; a sign of affection.
Weather has been a bit absurd, too warm especially at night so no frosts yet and it's the 21th of October.  Without cold nights to stop the chlorophyll production, leaf color has not started to change yet with a few exceptions.
Stopped by the coffee Shoppe and TPP's latte came to $4.10.  Handed the young woman counter clerk a 5-dollar bill and a dime.  She did not know what to do and had to ask for help. Sad.  As a grade school kid TPP remembers making currency and setting up a pretend store in the classroom for the purpose of learning how to handle money and change.  Of course TPP has resisted setting up his phone to pay via blue tooth is it?  So he is probably looked upon sadly by young counter clerks.  Imaging this guy used cash rather than his phone to pay for coffee.
Back to the weather thing.  Quite a few things are in flower, some because it is their season, the wolfbane, the Asian anemones, and some summer hold overs.  But this one was a surprise, an "ever-blooming" Iris given to Mrs. Phactor by a friend.  It seems to like the late fall weather and has responded by having a 2nd flowering.

Fall color of a different sort

Well it's the last day of September, and summer like temperatures persist.  So our tropical houseplants can remain outside for awhile longer.  Because of this a tower of cucumber vines continue to produce and so do other summer garden plants: eggplant, tomato, zucchini.  And our gardens are quite green because of recent rains and the lack of cool temperatures, so chlorophyll continues to be synthesized so no fall coloration to leaves at all.  However one of our tropical plants (actually it belongs to the F1 but because she has a plant eating cat it continues to reside with us.) is quite colorful, a croton (Codiaeum variegatum), in the spurge or euphorb family.  Not only are the leaves variegated but that is combined with bright red coloration and the various combinations make the plant very attractive and colorful.  The flowers are rather small and insignificant.  It's the foliage that counts here.

Garden Ornament

This was gracing the front garden of the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs Arkansas.  Particularly with the floral bonnet shading her head, this lady had a certain appealing quality about her.  That she was doing so well so late into the season argues that she had been frequently watered.  But she certainly looks ready for a garden party.  Enjoy.

Friday Fabulous Flower - An itty bitty orchid

Sorry, while traveling TPP didn't have time to post.  Our gardens have a bit of a wildish quality about them, and one clue that the gardens are doing well is when plants propagate themselves especially if very desirable.  Last fall TPP spotted a spike with a number of fruits on it clearly growing on the wild side of things.  It looked a bit like an orchid, and when it sprouted this spring it was pretty well confirmed, and for safety it was caged particularly after stoopid raccoons demolished the grass pink orchid that the F1 purchased for Father's day.  At any rate it is hard to know where this particular plant came from, but since orchids have tiny seeds (sometimes called dust seed) they can disperse long distances.  Well, it finally decided to flower about mid-Sept., but TPP has never recorded this species locally, but like many small things, it is hard to know if rare or just mostly not noticed very often.  This is an easy genus to identify because the small white flowers spiral around the spike and the genus is aptly named Spiranthes, perhaps S. cernua, the nodding ladies tresses.  The flowers individually are pretty small at about 4-5 mm long.  This is a variable species, so if you have a better idea please let us know.  There are two flowering stalks in this image that stand nearly a foot tall. There are a few grassy leaves at the base.  You can understand why this plant is easy to miss.  But when plants like this show up on their own, you are doing something right.  

Last of the desert posts - the boojum

OK TTP doesn't have a nice flower picture to share (or didn't at the time this was written), but this is still a darned cool plant. This is the boojum, Fouquieria columnaris in the ocotilla family.  Boojum is a classic pachycaul, a thick stemmed plant that most people think is a weird cactus.  The slender branches sticking out on all sides are quite spiny, but they do not turn into fat axes, they stay slender unless oriented vertically like at the top.  This specimen was at the Sonoran Desert Museum.  The name boojum comes from the Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll.  Take home message, succulents as a category is not the same as cacti.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Pink Onions

Plants that flower in the late summer or fall are particularly important parts of gardens if you want to keep the colors going.  Even after a weird year of too much rain, then no rain with really hot temperatures, this onion flowered beautifully and the bees and butterflies love it.  TPP got a funny question the other day; he was asked if all Alliums smelled like onions.  All onions (and similar vegetables) are alliums, so yes onions they are.  This particular onion is a horticultural variety whose name escapes the memory, and it is very similar to our native nodding onions except the flowers are very pink and showy.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Big Blue

Late summer flowering is a good thing because not that many plants flower at this time, however this is an exception.  Generally TPP calls this the big blue lobelia because it is all three.  It is a pretty easy perennial to grow as well.  Any perennial garden should have this plant.  Lobelia siphilitica is the scientific name a reference to an old use of the plant to treat venereal disease, probably ineffectively. The flowers are not huge but they have that Lobelia blue color and the flowers are densely clustered on the spike so it makes quite a display.   This image was obtained from Mrs. Phactor's herb garden this morning.


This happens to every gardener sometime.  You turn your back on a zucchini plant, or you just don't look closely enough (our case), and you have a monster squash (~8 pounds).  Even when so large it will not be all wasted because both the F1 and her Mother like to make zucchini bread.  Otherwise it gets sold to Elon Musk to use as his next space rocket.  For size comparison a standard 6" juvenile (about 5 oz.) squash was placed next to it A 25 fold enlargement in just a few days.  Gadzucchini!

Drought relief

The old upper Midwest, at least our part of it, was getting very dry.  The lawn was crunchy to walk across.  A couple of stressed plants that had not recovered from a tough winter and some dieback, just gave up and died.  Cracks in the lawn were as wide enough TPP could insert his hand.  A few new plants got TLC and watered at every opportunity, and in a garden as large as ours you do a lot of hose dragging.  A fairly mild storm system delivered some much needed rain, and most nicely, no severe wind or pounding rain, just a nice steady downpour.  The total in the Phactor official rain gauge was 2.7 inches.  Toping up the lily pond and making a lot of trees happy again.  This was enough rain to restore some ground water and close up the cracks.  Notable deaths include TPP's Ashe Magnolia that had sprouted new shoots after nearly dying back to the ground.  A rather ugly upright CephalotaxusSeveral clumps of forest grass have died leaving some blank spots.  Several viburnums have significant drought dieback, and so too an Emerald lace Japanese maple.  On a more cheerful note our hundreds of naked ladies have sent up flower stalks adorning our gardens with pink flowers.  
My colleagues are all somewhat depressed to note that students are starting to move back into town, a true invasion, and that means the semester starts next week.  TPP is unconcerned except for all the izombies walking around make riding a bicycle next to impossible.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Gaudy Legume and home at last

Well, in the wee hours of Friday the Phactors finally got home; spent the entire day in the Dallas airport 1st hoping for an earlier (noonish) booking via stand-by, 2nd waiting for a 7pm flight, and finally boarding said flight after a 3 hr delay.  Attitude about airports improved markedly.  Let's hear it for Mesa's antique computer system that was down casuing the delay.  So a bit late with the FFF blog because brain was too fuzzy to do anything much yesterday.  At any rate this gaudy legume shrub is a quite common ornamental in and around Tucson, and for obvious reasons.  TPP must admit to having some confusion here.  He was certain this plant was called Caesalpinia pulcherrima, but then a labelled specimen said Erythrostemon gilliesii.  First thought was that they were actually one species and one name was a synonym of the other.  Although not having researched this in any great depth that does not seem to be the case.  Both species are in the same Caesalpinioid subfamily of the Fabaceae, and both have red/orange flowers, although the former seems more at home in the wet tropics than the desert.  So TPP is unsure of the differences.  If anyone out there knows about any of this, maybe they'll let us know in the comments.

Airports basically suck

The Phactors are old enough to remember when air travel was pretty nice.  That day is long gone.  Today was basically wasted waiting around Dallas/Fort Worth airport after our flight got cancelled last night.  Nine hours and counting, another couple of hours to go if all goes well.  We are now playing airport gate tag and losing.  Spent the night in an airport hotel.  Checked in, dropped our carryon bags, then the elevator took us down to the 6th floor and stopped.  The door opened to show us a nice view of the ongoing renovation construction. The elevator wouldn't go up or down, and the door would no longer open.  Fortunately the call button worked and someone was sent to the rescue. The stairs seemed a good option at this point.  This sad event touched the bartender who comped us a couple of rather nice Old Fashioned cocktails.  Today was spent waiting to see if "stand-by" would shorten out wait by 8 or 9 hours (no!).  You see there are not that many flights to our smallish city from down here.  If you never hear from TPP again the whole thing has gone very wrong!  So maybe they can find a pilot and a replacement for the broken thing-a-ma-jiggy, or just a spare plane (there seem to be enough sitting around.). If all goes well we will get home around midnight (maybe with luggage, but not likely). Stay tune for a FFF post and travel update tomorrow.  

Do not hug this Teddy Bear

Lots of plants in the desert have some spiny protections, but as far as TPP is concerned some of the bushy prickly pears are the worse.  The image is Opuntia biglovii, a much branched, very prickly species that goes by the common name of teddybear cholla (chuh-oiy-ah).  The mere though of falling into one of these bushes scares TPP.  The spines have tiny recurved edges and they are hard to pull out, the branch segments have a tendency to fragment easily, so easily that some are called "jumping cholla".  Should some animal carry one off, it could be pulled off at a distance where the segment can grow into a new shrub.  These are just mean, nasty plants, although the flowers can be quite attractive.

Natural landscape vs unnatural landscape

The botanical meetings are in Tucson Aridzona.  The natural landscape is quite lovely high desert; saguaro cacti abound.  The resort is nice but surrounded by unnatural landscape too, a golf course.  See if you can tell the difference in the image above.  What a remarkable waste of water, even if it is reclaimed waste water.  Such a simple landscape as a monoculture of grass takes a huge water and energy input to maintain.  The botanists have all taken walks through xero-scaped areas and they report them as lovely.  No one has said a thing about the golf course.  What is there to say?

Friday Fabulous Flower - a Lily

Quite a patch of the 5-6' tall lilies grows on either side of our garden gate and they are a great rescue.  When the Phactors acquired this property many parts of it were severely over grown and that includes the border garden next to our neighbors driveway.  TPP doesn't actually remember what was growing there (we were really remiss taking "before" pictures, sadly).  But among the shrub thicket were these non-blooming stalks of what looked like a lily, which prompted Ms. Phactor to dig and replant them near our garden gate, where they have thrived.  Currently they are providing quite a flowering show and the patch continues to grow.  They have several common names, Turk's cap lily, tiger lily, and Michigan lily (Lilium michiganense).  We like the size and color.  Some years the bunnies eat the young plants, but some well-placed fencing prevented that this year, and the wet spring was to their liking.  

Garden tip - Control of Japanese beetles

Although a bit late this year, and a fairly modest crop, the Japanese beetles have arrived.  Here's relatively easy & inexpensive nontoxic means of control.  Depending upon what you wish to protect.  Buy several yards of bridal veil netting.  You can attach it to branches or fences or support cages or poles using clothes pins (pegs).  This works for all types of beetles and even things like cabbage looper butterflies. However remember with squash and cucumber you have to give bees access or do your own hand pollination.  Since we only have one hill of cucumbers, and a handful of zucchini plants, hand pollination each morning is not a big deal.  The ladies in fabric stores are always amused by my veil purchase.  If you are fairly gentle you can use the beetle netting two years. And of course this means you don't need any nasty chemicals.  Although some critter tore up a bed of beans having become tangled in the netting. Most of the beans will survive but the netting not so much.  

Friday Fabulous Flower at the fruit stage

Found this fruit in our woodland garden the other day, and it is a bit unusual.  Everyone's first thought is raspberry, and this is the same type of fruit derived from many pistils in the same flower, an aggregate fruit. 
So technically each unit is a fruitlet partially fused to its neighbors.  But this type of fleshy fruit is not common in this family (buttercup).  The leaf may not even help you identify this plant as it is not common here abouts, and it gets collected destructively for use as a medicinal and in many areas it is over collected.  This is Hydrastis canadensis, goldenseal.  How did you do?  Ever see this before?  The flower is constructed along the lines of last week's FFF, no showy perianth but lots of showy anthers around a number of pistils. 

The weirdness of birthdays as you get older

Mrs. Phactor just "celebrated" her 70th birthday.  TPP did this some months back, so we can claim a cumulative 140 years, and it's hard to know exactly  what to feel.  Neither of us looks or feels ancient, and yet TPP thinks he's the first male in his lineage to live this long.  Neither of us has any threatening health conditions that prevent us from pursuing the  things we like.  Gardening is both our hobby and our exercise program, although we are committed to more travel.  A big old garden like ours always provides plenty to do.  This may not be your idea of retirement, but our gardens are quite important to us, and they can always be improved upon.  Hard to know exactly how to feel, and actually most of our friends in our Friday Seminar group are older, but not necessarily wiser; we're the kids so to speak. Actually many set a good example.  70 seemed old when it was the older generation. Now it doesn't seem so old, although Mrs. Phactor says I shouldn't buy any more little trees because they take so long to grow. Got a stick for a 50th birthday present, and now this Magnolia salicifolia is quite large for a 20 year old tree.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Here's all the anthers.

Midsummer is an interesting time for our gardens.  Lots of lilies of all sorts for color, but then several white flowered species.  But the queen of the shade gardens is this black snake root (lots of common names, but it is not a well-known plant here in the upper Midwest) (formerly Cimicifuga racemosa, now Actea racemosa just as good old Linnaeus proposed).  The tall (5'+) branched racemes of white flowers show up very nicely in the light shade it prefers.  The flowers have no sepals or petals, just a cluster of a hundred or so stamens surrounding a single pistil.  The odor is described as a sweet and fetid, to which TPP adds musky, and it attracts an array of pollen foraging insects: flies, gnats, beetles.  Although a bit hard to get established, the plants are tough and long-lived. This is a member of the buttercup family which has a number of species whose flowers only have anthers.  


The weather of late has been close to hot; and humid.  Not everything likes that kind of weather.  The lily pond has stayed pretty full because of all the rain (3.6" in the last event).  And for some reason the waterlilies (Nymphaea) are doing very well.  These flowers are totally gorgeous what with all the flower parts, and while not favorites with everyone these white waterlilies are very white and with the contrasting leaves and water, they are wonderful.  Actually this image is very similar to a water color painting of waterlilies that we bought on line quite a few years ago,  TPP actually found the painting while searching for images of waterlilies.  Enjoy!

Friday Fabulous Flower - pond flora

Wow the long weekend sent by very fast, so Friday comes early this week or late last week.  Who cares?  So you may never have looked closely at this particular native plant because you likely would get wet and muddy getting close.  This is not such a problem for a lily pond if the damned four-legged mammals would stay away and quit stomping plants and tipping over pots.  Even the neighbor's young lab got in on the fun.
At any rate the pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is still doing OK (the part that didn't get mashed and is looking good).  It is a handsome plant and worth having for some pond edge vegetation and flowers.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Neither grass nor a pink

First of all, TPP has to thank the F1 for buying this plant for a Father's Day present.  Sadly it got savaged by a nocturnal visitor for no particular reason, but raccoons are like that.  The common name grass pink refers to two other plant families and it is neither, so much for common names.  This is an orchid native to this area, Calopogon tuberosa, the generic name refers to the yellow beard. Curiously most orchids are resupinate meaning that their flower stalk twists 180 degrees to turn the flower upside down, however this orchid flower is right side up. The slender leaf is slightly grassy, and the flower is pink, so there you go.

Garden come through - primavera

Some broccoli, a cup or so of snap peas, some asparagus, and for good measure a handful of golden chantarelles, not enough of any one thing but altogether they make for quite a good pasta primavera. And you never ever see chantarelles in a store in the USA, so quite a treat.   

Friday Fabulous Flower - Last Magnolia of the Season

It has been a pretty good year for Magnolias; no late frosts and plenty of rain, almost too much.  When the gardens finally get to June, the Magnolias are just about done flowering, except for the sweet bay, Magnolia virginiana.  In our area this species never grows into a full-fledged tree and generally grows as a largish shrub. Some genotypes have trouble with the winter cold so choose your nursery well, preferably to your north.  Ours does not produce a big floral display, but rather a few flowers at a time, and you are more likely to notice their stunning fragrance than their visual display.  The floral odor is a sort of musky fruity fermenty mix that little beetles just love.

Friday Fabulous Flowers - Calycanthus

These are presently in flower in the Phactors' garden, and according to some they are all in the same genus - Calycanthus.  The maroon  colored flower in the upper left is the Carolina spicebush, C. floridus, which TPP has taken apart for you. The upper right was originally Sinocalycanthus (featured here before) but is now considered part of the same genus (it was hard to imagine an eastern Asian eastern North American disjunction).  And the bottom flower, trying hard to look like a star magnolia, is their hybrid offspring called "Venus".  It's a largish, scrambling type of shrub that flowers like crazy for several weeks.  Another selection has a maroon flower, but the ivory one shows up better.  All three survived a very tough winter.  Enjoy.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - rare? orchid edition

While taking a small group of friends on a wild flower walk, this little beauty was found just a couple of feet from the foot path along with a dozen or more plants.  This is often called the purple twayblade orchid, Liparis liliifolia.  And then a friend asked, "Is it rare?  I've never seen one before." that is a fairly interesting question.  This is a small plant usually just a few inches across the pair of leaves and maybe standing 5-6 inches tall in a much taller meadow-type habitat, and the flowers certainly are not gaudy or bright enough to attract much attention.  The fact is that TPP doesn't know how common or uncommon this orchid may be, but one suspects it is more common than you might guess because it is insignificant and easy to miss.  In an old field meadow, a vegetational analysis found one of 3 species of small orchid (Flora of Comlara Park has pictures) at the rate of at least one for every 5 square meters examined.  But even then just walking through the meadow would not result in seeing anything without being very careful.  These little plants were in plain site but TPP had walked by earlier and missed them.  And if deer are plentiful (they are) and bunnies are common (even with foxes around they are), these orchid are subject to being browsed making them less common, but TPP has seen several others this spring, so maybe a good year?  

Appreciation of art - Sistine Chapel version

A lot of good art can be seen in Rome, and TPP thinks perhaps Michelangelo's  famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is some of the best.  The problem is that the chapel is not a huge space, and it is tall and narrow and there are a lot of panels up there.  Now ordinarily when you encounter a really nice piece of art, you take your time to observe it and let it make an impression upon you.  Not here you're not because you are crowded in with 300 other people in a way that makes it seem like the influx is being used to put pressure upon earlier arrivals to exit.  Like a lot of similar situations a low murmur from a lot of people talking quietly fills the chapel with a white noise, until someone blares over the PA system, "Silence!"  This was followed by "No photos" and "No videos".  An explanation was offered, loudly, that this was a sacred place and silent respect was expected, so "Let us pray".  But my simple prayer went unanswered, the crowd did not disappear and the PA system did not go silent.  The ceiling was a wonderful thing to see, but the experience was not excellent.  And then you get to exit through a gift shop where you could buy all those sacred images on the outside of coffee mugs.  This put a rather different spin on the photo prohibition, it was all about money.  Actually for TPP the first part of the Vatican museums was mostly Egyptian art and it was a excellent display. BTW buying a skip the line ticket is probably a good idea.  

Friday Fabulous Flower- squash blossom

OK TPP is in Rome; and we’ve been splitting a pizza for lunch. This one is the best one yet: cherry tomatoes, squash flowers, and cheese.  TPP hasn’t talked much about culinary uses of flowers but they can be great.  Sorry this is brief but hard to post using my phone.

Pollarded Sycamores

Since this topic came up TPP has seen new examples, and here's one where relatively young sycamore trees have been pollarded into a shady cover for a patio area. 

Gelato flavor of the week - Mugo pine

Most of you would not know this, but Mrs. Phactor has a serious gelato problem, and here in Rome where gelato shops are around every corner, the temptation is great.  Last time in Italy, she managed to try 30 different gelato flavors in 30 days. So as time goes on it gets harder to find new flavors (she has a list somewhere).  It was hard to believe but the first new flavor found this trip was Mugo Pine.  Now you may be thinking that mugo pine is just not a gelato flavor, but having an open mind is important, so you ante up your 2 Euros and have a go.  It was actually very piney with a nifty bit of resinous after taste.  Although I did point out that they had decorated the tray with a spruce sprig rather than a mugo pine.  Probably no one else noticed.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - cute weed

Lots of rock/brick walls where we are in Italy, and lots of different weeds growing on them.  Several are quite nice plants for filling rough spaces.  Here's  one that has a lot of common names; the one TPP learned was Kenilworth ivy.  Yet you will probably recognize right away the similarity to snapdragons to which Cymbalaria muralis is related now placed in the much larger Plantaginaceae, the plantain family along with a number of other scrophs.  TPP is still having trouble with this as it does not make taxonomic sense to his antique mind.  The flowers are quite cute with a nectar spur (note the center flower) and very reminiscent of a Linaria.  It is viney and grows in a dense mat of ivy like leaves.

You want cheese with that?

TPP had a ham sandwich for lunch. It was Parma ham sliced tissue thin, on a panino roll, and melted gorgonzola cheese.  Now think about what you get in the states; a squared of nearly tasteless plastic cheese, ultimately one of the more embarrassing food items back home.  There were a couple of other options here, and none of them were wrapped in plastic or mimicked their wrapping.  This is where the rest of the world is so ahead of the USA, and we have a president who orders in cheeseburgers (one of his least offenses)  to serve at certain functions The panino roll had a crust and a chewy texture, not a soft, collapsible thing of no interest whatever.  And our culture's cheerleaders declare these burgers a tremendous thing.  So far the double arches have not invaded this part of the world, and that makes TPP quite happy. It is a vacation from our cheese and the people who think it a fine thing.  It's not.

Trains, boats, & planes, & coaches lead to coppiced trees

No boats actually, but the other three came into play, and clearly TPP is not in Kansas any more, not that he was or even wanted to be.  But here on the north west coast of Italy is where we find ourselves in a rented villa of an heir to the Fiat fortunes.  One of the many things that give it away are how they treat their street trees.  They use a lot of lindens, that are sometimes called lime trees because their flowers smell sweet rather like those of citrus trees.  And they prune the heck out of them, a type of coppicing.  In this little town the crowns are pruned to meet over the center of the street, which is typically enough one-way and narrow.  And you drive under these leafy arches.  It is quite lovely and as you know TPP does not like to see trees and shrubs poodled.  But this is a bit different and on a grand scale.  This is just not done in the USA except on a small scale in some gardens.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - It's red, and it's a buckeye

Too many nice things flowering right now making it hard to choose; 5 different azaleas, 6 or so different peonies, a Carolina silver bell, a couple of Magnolias, a couple of Calycanthus bushes, some Deutzias, one unknown (probably an Actea), until it does flower, a pearl bush, lots of wild geranium, and so on.  So today's shrub gets overlooked because while attractive it isn't gaudy, but makes a nice addition to shrub border or a woodland edge, the red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, a native species.  Don't confuse this with a red-flowered horse chestnut, although it is another Aesculus.  Doing some foreign traveling, so TPP may be more irregular at posting than usual for a couple of weeks.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Crested Iris

Our gardens look pretty good right now. Lots of flowering shrubs, lots of wild flowers.  And sometimes little things tend to get overlooked like today's FFF.  This particular native plant has been in our garden several times, struggles, and then dies, and we replace it when opportunity allows.  It's tough to know what this particular plant needs/wants.  At present it is doing as well as ever in a corner of a front garden bed.  Sunny, but protected from afternoon heat; well-drained, but watered regularly; no competition (important TPP thinks); and lightly mulched.  Why bother?  Well, it's quite a lovely little thing, a small native, Iris cristata the crested iris.  The falls have a crest of tissue under the colored portion, this plant's alternative to a "beard" of hairs.  The whole plant is only a few inches tall and the flower about 1.5 inches in diameter. If you have luck with this species in your garden, let TPP know what you think it likes.

Signs of healthy garden

It was a busy gardening week, lots of shrubs to clip back, lots of leaves to clean up, lots of planting and moving (new location for kitchen garden).  And halfway decent weather too.  One sign that we have a healthy garden is how many desirable plants are reproducing.  Bloodroot is suddenly popping up all over, sometimes in amusing places.  Ramp seedlings are also appearing in lots of places (are the fruits/seeds ant dispersed?)  Trillium grandiflora and Hepatica acutiloba  have both produced seedlings, and we take that as a good thing.  Now here's another sign.  While cutting back a Kerria shrub (lots of winter die-back), TPP collected these poking up through the leaf mulch.  Oh, did they make a delectable sauce.  These are the black morel (Morchella angusticeps) and in another location a volunteer orchid (as yet not identified with certainty (missed the flowers)) is returning for another season.  Organisms just keep finding our gardens.  Mostly this makes us happy.

Friday Fabulous Flower - species tulips

Some time back Mrs. Phactor bought a collection of mixed species tulips and they have done quite well.  Quite a few people seem confused by the term species tulips, but they are basically wild flowers from a different place, real species with scientific names.  They would be called "wildflowers" in their native habitat.  These are not big plants or big flowers, but they are pretty tough, and quite handsome; they seem to naturalize well.  Let's see, top to bottom. Tulipa tarda, T. turkestanica, T. urumiensis, and T. humilis.  However the flowers tend to close when overcast or for the night.  They do well in well-drained rock garden situations.  They flower just after crocus in a sunny bed. These are all natives to the middle east, and at least one botanist thinks tulips may be the "lilies of the field" 
in all their splendor as real lilies in this region are not very colorful.

Dinosaur kills man in Florida

This was not the article's title, but it should have been.  TPP's academic alter ego has had the great good fortune to have studied botany in a number of tropical forests.  So when the article says a man in Florida (the state attracts a certain sort - sorry Sis but 'tis true) was killed by a bird, my mind immediately thought cassowary, which is crazy because it also said Florida (some good pictures on this blog from Innisfail).  A long ago study site in far northern Queensland (a bit further north than Innisfail) had cassowary, and TPP well remembers his first encounter. On some muddy ground were these dinosaur footprints like those on display at the Field Museum in Chi-town.  And your hand could not cover one of these.  The same day TPP came close to being pummeled by fruits falling from the canopy that were about the size of large baking potatoes (Faradaya a liana in the mint family) and it was hard to believe that a bird dispersed these fruits after being told that cassowary ate them whole.  And that's when you see the dinosaur foot prints in the mud.  As the sun set, in the gathering gloom, this 5+ foot tall black bird suddenly appears in your clearing and it is quite astounding, because the only thought was dinosaurs did not all go extinct!  And yes, it could kick you to death.  So the mention of cassowary still triggers vivid memories, and you wonder what the heck a guy in Florida was doing with one of these birds that in my opinion should remain in the wild.

Ugly spring weather

The old boys in the neighborhood of TPP's youth always said, "If it doesn't snow on your peas, you didn't plant them early enough".  Well, no problem, the peas have been snowed on.  At this point more snow is hoped for because it will be good insulation for the predicted over night low, and that is always the worry, not the snow, but the low temps that always follow the night after the snow. That is the way of weather here in the great upper Midwest.  Enjoy those magnolia pictures TPP posted because the magnolia flowers are going to get frozen.  Plants close to the soil surface will be OK, but the flower buds are showing on the pear tree, and they may freeze.  It's always something.  This snow event is just a bit later than it was last year, so this is not so unusual.  TPP may cover a couple of plants but not much point in doing so, but it might save the fern-leafed peonies.  Pretty depressing stuff.  Lettuces and broccoli should be OK, they be plenty tough. 

Some of you may know that TPP is a bit nuts when it comes to Magnolias or other magnoliids.  This was a tough winter and the polar vortex brought in a blast of very cold air and until plants leaf out and/or bloom you don't know the extent of damage.  Most of TPP's plants look OK. So far the freezing damage seems limited to an upright growing Cephalotaxus (plum yew), a not at all hardy hybrid magnolia, and an Ashe magnolia a long ways from it's home in the pan handle of Florida (what do you expect?).  The latter may still sprout new shoots from a well-mulched base.  Around here star magnolias are the earliest, and the blooms often freeze.  TPP's is planted in a cool, shady place (probably to shady), but that holds back flowering just a few days which is often just enough.  Presently Magnolia loebneri 'Leonard Messel', known for its frost tolerance, is earliest (one parent of this hybrid is a star magnolia and the other is M. kobus.).  Just a day or two later and the willow-leafed Magnolia salicifolia, opens.  The flowers are generally a little smaller in diameter than star magnolias, and with fewer, wider tepals, and they have a lovely fragrance.  Most of you have never seen this species as it isn't in the trade and has to grow to tree size to really flower well.  TPP was patient, and now his tree looks lovely.  Loebneri also looks a bit like a star magnolia, except it's tepals are pink on the outside especially this variety.

Friday Fabulous Flower - bloodroot

This is a totally up to date posting because bloodroot is flowering presently in our woodland gardens, a bit late as it usually flowers in March, and without any doubt this is a favorite simply because it is so dang cute.  For the longest time only one small clump of bloodroot grew in our shady areas.  And the clump got pretty big, then after a number of years, bloodroot is suddenly coming up almost everywhere.  Apparently ant seed dispersers are doing their job.  
It also is an early flowering species, a true harbinger of spring, although another wild flower has that name locked down.  Sanguinaria canadensis is a member of the poppy family and like many members it has colored latex, in this case a bright orange-red.  It's possible that the name derives from the old doctrine of signatures, the blood color a sign or signature of the creator to indicate the plant's use or value to humans.  Lots of plant names bear witness to such beliefs.  

Gardens in front yards are OK

Talk about misplaced values.  So you don't have much of a yard and your house faces south, or like TPP almost the whole back yard is shaded.  So what do you do?  Well, you plant your vegetable garden in the front, but then  you are informed that this violates an appearance code in your town.  However, the good news side of this situation is that Miami Shores which sounds like a chi-chi sort of place, changed its mind and now allows vegetable gardens in front yards.  Great cheers for this glimmer of gardening enlightenment.  
Where did the idea come from that a monoculture of grass is aesthetically pleasing, but a hedge row of zucchini squash isn't?  Now TPP thinks that such gardens must be well attended and not allowed to turn into an unkept mess.  Having grown up in a part of New York where citizens of Italian background were plentiful, many cultivated favorite vegetables using their entire yard.  And they were lovely and well cared for.  TPP has considered front yard vegetable gardening, but there are already a lot of plants there, and mostly sun remains a bit of a limiting commodity.  
One of our neighbors just died, too young, after being ill for a long time, but his yard was rather small, and eventually all the lawn disappeared into a diversity of garden plants; OK no vegetables, but also no grass.  The only difference would be whether you cultivate a tomato or two versus a magnolia.  Tough choice.   

It's April - time for election blues

TPP is feeling very out of sorts this morning.  Local elections outcomes were almost exactly the opposite of how they should have come out in my opinion. That's the trouble with being an reasonably well-off, educated elite; being liberal just seems to come naturally.  So after reading some election "vote-for-me" propaganda TPP decides this conservative type is not the type to be supported, so naturally he garnered the most vot. What bothers TPP the most is knowing how many people out there think completely differently.  It was a bit like seeing a bumper sticker that said, "I think, therefore I vote GnOPe".  Really? How depressing is that? This is why TPP more or less decided that writing about politics at this point in time is too depressing and something TPP doesn't need more of in his life.  Wonder if this guy thinks the noise from wind turbines causes cancer?  No wonder they devalue land so much.  

Little non-showy flowers abound in the spring - look closely.

Most people fail to notice flowers that are associated with wind pollination because generally they lack showy flower parts.  Sometimes people notice the pollen-producing flowers if they are aggregated together to form long dangly catkins or aments.  At one time botanists thought that the rather cone-like aments were primitive because they were more like the cones of conifers.  But this idea was falsified in the early part of the 1900s.  So people notice the long dangly catkins on my filbert, Corylus americana, but fail to see the small but rather showy pistillate flowers.  Actually the only part you can see are the bright red, somewhat feathery, stigmas that stick out of the buds to pick up pollen.  So here you are both types of flowers, dozens of pollen flowers and 2-3 pistillate flowers.  TPP does not like calling them male and female although that is common enough usage, but wrong.  Lots of temperate deciduous trees use wind pollination; they flower in the spring before leaves expand an get in the way of pollination.  Welcome to the early allergy season.  

Friday fabulous flower - Harbinger of spring

The weather is not exactly warm, but all things being relative, it's a cool, sunny day.  Just the right sort of weather for early spring bulbs.  Little patches of spring flowering bulbs pop up all over our gardens in a very delightful way and most were sort of volunteers anyways in that we didn't plant them, but there they are.  Since our little patches are all asexually propagated from an original progenitor, they all have the same flower color within the patches.  These are very early Crocus, a name derived from and old middle eastern name for saffron which comes from the three branched orange stigma of a fall blooming crocus.  Such bright clusters of color are terribly cheerful as spring slowly arrives.

University admissions

Things have really changed. There was no stigma to attending a state college.  And certainly no one was in the business of bribing admissions people, although some wealthy legacies existed, but they were the exception not the rule, and mostly they went to a particular college it was because it was where a parent or older sibling attended.  It didn't seem likely that this connection was going to be influential later in life.  It does explain perhaps why some of the people you meet professionally who graduated from a prestige school don't seem all that exceptional. The people who do the admissions bribery are the type of people who are impressed by the perceived prestige of certain institutions.  Out here in the great Midwest, our huge state universities sort of blunt the prestige of smallish private school, so big damn deal.  TPP has a talented niece whose writing was impressive enough to get admission to Oxford, clearly meritorious.  TPP's undergraduate record was so unimpressive that a department chair actually began to question, what such a record told you about potential success in graduate school.  It only meant that TPP had changed, grew up, transitioned, whatever, to academic life.  Of course TPP was not in Business school, but in botany, and you only decide on something like botany because you love it.  Do MBAs love their subject, or is it just a ticket to make more money?  

Friday Fabulous Flowers - Snow drops

Here and there around our gardens are little clumps of early spring flowers, the ones that pop up and bloom anytime the temperature gets above freezing. The weather has be unsettled of late, rain and wind, so generally nasty.  How TPP managed to get a non-blurry image with the wind blowing except maybe taking the shot in between gusts.  So these little bulbs and flower stalks are only a few inches tall, but after a longish winter, they are very cheerful.  Freezing and even some late snow don't seem to bother them at all.

Monday morning musings

It's a pretty springy morning, but it doesn't leave TPP in a very upbeat mood.  An article in the Chicago Tribune was about the disappearance of check out lines, and their replacement with self-serve scanning lines.  The whole article made it sound inevitable, but the article never mentioned the loss of cashiers whose jobs are just disappearing. And so who does the scanning, well you do, working for free as a cashier.  People are apparently shopping online for their weekly groceries, and having them all ready for a drive by pick up, or even a delivery.  And the excuse is too busy, no time.
TPP is one of those people who never uses a drive-up lane or window.  Going into the store always seems to take less time.  Maybe if you have a backseat full of kids to herd around, this makes sense.  
And in the same vein. The Phactors live about 20 mins walk from a small urban center and a grocery store is a similar distance in the opposite direction.  A CVS or Walgreens is at either location.  No one ever thinks to walk to either one, although TPP does recognize the lugging a gallon of milk is a load, even with a good shopping bag.  Now that the weather is warmer, walking becomes once again a feasible, and enjoyable what with all the plants coming out of dormancy.  TPP knows that he sees way more things than most people in terms of trees and gardens.  
In fact TPP is going to relocate his kitchen garden to a lawn area that receives more sunlight.  So springy in this case is a reminder of the work that needs to be done part of our gardening exercise program.

Friday Fabulous Flower - 1st of spring (almost)

Officially our spring is late.  The earliest spring flowering events will be later than any of the last 9 years, and TPP knows this because he has the data.  The earliest flowering in our entire neighborhood is a very old patch of winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, in the buttercup family.  As this image shows the plants are ready, but the weather has just been too cold, which will change in just a few days according to our weather guessers. Plants like this actually with sprout and grow under snow as this little plant has done, and when it all melts, the buds turn upwards and open.  No leaves are in this image, a whorl of green bracts sits just under each flower.  Ours will flower a week or so later because they are in a shadier location.

February tropical greens for winter blues

The wind is howling outside, making temperatures just below freezing seem very cold indeed.  And the temp is predicted to drop to 0 F tonight, which is cold.  So to help my readers (and TPP) keep sane during the February winter doldrums, here's a bit of tropical greenery and scenery, Pouhokamoa falls on Maui.  This is a pretty lush looking view, and if you look closely, there are several African tulip trees (orange flowers) in the image, sorry.