Field of Science

Beautiful but invasive pest - African Tulip Tree

 If any of you are foolish enough to think that TPP is leaving the tropics and returning to the polar vortex now visiting the upper Midwest with truly arctic temperatures then you're crazy.  TPP is certain that temperatures like that will freeze some of his plant collection.  But more on this later this spring. Here in Maui, it is "spring" of a sorts and one of the ornamental trees that is in flower is the African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata) a member of the Bignon family.  It has a big flowers that are bright orange.  It is a totally gaudy tree.  Supposedly perching birds visit these flower to get an interesting reward, a drink of water.  The flower buds are filled with water, and it you nip off the end of the calyx of an intact bud, and squeeze the base it will squirt out a stream.  Kids always know this trick.  The image shows that the flower is basically a cup.  A tree in flower has lots of flowers and flowers over a longish time.  Unfortunately in wetter areas, this tree is invasive along streams. And it has become a member of what TPP calls UTF (ubiquitous tropical flora).  It's certainly pretty, but what a pain.   

Friday Fabulous Flower - Maui edition

The upper Midwest is dreadfully cold right now and the virtually perfect weather here on Maui right now is almost making TPP feel guilty for being away.  Since the previous blog dealt with natives, this one will deal with UTF (ubiquitous tropical flora) which is mostly what you see in and around people places on the Hawaiian islands (and even beyond).  Today's fabulous flower is actually a new UTF for TPP, so thought you might enjoy it as well.  If you know your flowers at all you will recognize this flower as a milkweed, and indeed it was originally placed in the genus Ascelpias, but now it is in a different genus Calotropis gigantea.  In the tropics this shrub is often planted for butterfly gardens. Both the buds and flowers have a lovely lavender color, but it can be rather variable from nearly white to a much darker purple.  The shrub was a good 7' tall with large milk weedy leaves.

Bird-Flower pairing on Maui

TPP is taking a timeout from the January weather of the upper Midwest (generally bad) by spending a couple of weeks in Maui where the weather is usually good.  It certainly is lovely right now.  Now many readers will know that it is hard sometimes to find native plants and animals because non-natives plants and animals abound.  But by driving up the side of a volcano you can get to alpine plants and animals, and that's what we did.  A lovely leguminous shrub was flowering, providing some nectar for the native honeyeaters, and indeed, they were observed as well.  So this was a great pairing; a flower shaped by and for the bill of a honeyeater and the bird itself, which was quite spectacular.  TPP has an image of the flowers, a typical bean flower, but more bent to match the bill of this honeyeater, the i'iwi.  The bird image was obtained from the wiki creative commons and is the work of Alan Schmierer, so thanks Alan.  The shrub was a typical enough  Sophora (S. chysophylla)

Friday Fabulous Flower - Queen's tears once again

Sorry about the repeat of this FFF, but this is one of TPP's favorite house plants and it flowers when this blogger is hard up for material.  The Queen's tears is the common name of Billbergia nutans, a member of the pineapple/bromeliad family.  And the flowers are just so darned lovely. You just have to love the blue eye liner margins of the green petals emerging from pink sepals and bracts.  Even the yellow exerted anthers show up so nicely. It gives us something to look forward to in the winter.  

Big Oaks

The latest newsletter from the Illinois Native Plant Society (The Harbinger) just came and the front page featured the national champion Shumard Oak (Q. shumardii), that is the biggest tree of that species in the country located outside of Anna IL.   The trunk has a circumference of 27.7 feet, a height of 96 feet, and a spread of equal distance, giving it a total score of 452 (there is a formula for scoring big trees.).  And if you like big trees, here's one from the Plant Postings blog the Angel Oak (Q. virginiana) in South Carolina; it's one of the biggest, oldest living things in North America.   

More resolutions for a better life.

A reader has pointed out that just garden resolutions in the preceding  blog did not do much to improve TPP's life and wondered if other things had been talked about.  Yes!
1. TPP is done with plastic bags.  The biggest problem seems to be the delivery person of our newspapers, who puts the paper in a plastic bag so the paper can just be flung over the top of their car and onto our front steps with little regard for the weather.  TPP may have to put a newspaper tube or box out by the driveway to eliminate the need for a plastic bag.  Food/leftover storage is another issue, but slowly new silicone and multiple reusables are taking the place of bags.  The F1 is keen on this too.
2. Boycott of Walmart, and look alikes, and malls.  TPP did all of his holiday shopping without violating this resolution at all.  For reasons TPP has actually forgotten, he must declare his personal boycott of HoJos restaurants and motels a success.
3. Drive up service.  TPP refuses to do this.  First he has bad line karma anyways, and sitting in line in a car is nearly as bad.  So won't do it.  Although years ago he used to like root beer and/or Sonic drive-ins but mostly because of the girls on roller skates.
4. Non-green carry out containers.  TPP is trying to eat less, and hates food waste but Styrofoam containers are a real no-no.  Bringing you own substitute is rather awkward, but do able.  Biggest offender right now is a favorite Quick-Wok. A couple of favorite restaurants have switched to waxed cardboard which seems better, but still recycling seems iffy.
5. Over packaged goods.  To many items still come in layers and layers of packaging.  Even then the gorillas some places hire to deliver things seem to take some perverse pleasure in stomping on packages to "test" their strength and TPP's patience.  
6. Prepared foods with too much sugar.  The lack of sunshine means that the Phactors' garden doesn't produce enough tomatoes means that red pasta sauce is a regular purchase.  A few brands do not add sugar to their tomato sauce (check the ingredients), and they taste all the better for it. Same with fruit juices, and Hawaiian cocktails.  Mrs. Phactor asked a bartender to help sort out their specialty drinks to find one that isn't too sweet, he responded, "Hell lady this is Hawaii, all the drinks are sweet."  She got a dry white wine instead.
There are more, but not right now.

Gardening resolutions for 2019

Oh, what the heck!  Why not make resolutions for the new year, which while arbitrary does come in the middle of a non-gardening season.  
1. Make no effort to get grass to grow where it doesn't want to.  This means that our decision to turn a deeply shady portion of our yard into a garden is a done deal.
2. Use more native species.  Mostly TPP is practical and a southern Magnolia will fit into the gardens somewhere especially if the Ashe Magnolia doesn't over winter  well  (This Florida panhandle endemic struggled this last year, but why?).
3. Get rid of ugly.  Some things just don't work, and one of TPP's gardening faults is not giving up on plants that aren't working soon enough.  Mrs. Phactor has already nominated a couple of shrubs for basal pruning.
4. Go with the sun.  The bright side of having a large pin oak (dying) removed is that the old (back in the 20s) tennis court now gets a lot more sun.  So parts of our kitchen garden are going to be moved to the back court.  
5. Keep better track of varieties and cultivars.  Our effort to use more permanent labelling has already shown some weaknesses. 
6. Plant more ferns.  TPP likes ferns; an ebony spleenwort and a maidenhair fern and a couple of cinnamon ferns were added this last year.  
7. Be less grouchy about old favorites that got new names.  OK, this is really a no go, and TPP thinks this was just added to the list to allow a favorite rant.  Here he was just happily redoing a few specimens, when the authoritative Flora of North America informs us that Hepatica has been reassigned to the genus Anemone.  TPP loved this plant  because it was a great doctrine of signatures plant (last year's 3-lobed leaves persist and turn dark purple thus illustrating that Hepatica if a great name for "liver-leaf".).  So 40 some odd years of name recall are just shot to heck, and it's annoying. That's enough for now; TPP doesn't want to disturb his wa or tempt some unwelcome karma to be visited upon the herbarium in 2019.