Field of Science

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.