Field of Science

Peak blue: Is it a blue bell?

A youngish neighbor politely asked if the carpet of blue flowers were blue bells.  No.  But it illustrates the uselessness of common names in general.  Has there ever been a blue pendant flower that hasn't been called a blue bell?  The North American blue bell is more of a trumpet in the Borage family and the English/Spanish blue bells are very similar to hyacinths, so not even closely related, but more bell shaped. This year peak blue was judged to have been reached on Sunday 29 March, which is more or less pretty close to the usual date for this event.  The Phactors live in an oldish house (bit over 100) in an oldish neighborhood. So trees have had a chance to get big, but other rather old plants do not respond the way.  Often they form a large patch that continues to grow larger in diameter.  Our blue bells are (Scilla siberica) a small bulb forming lilyish plant, sometimes called squill,  that bears 2-4 flowers just a bit over a cm in diameter.  They scoff at cold early spring temperatures (note the specific epithet suggests a Siberian origin) and late snows mean nothing to its flowering as TPP has noted in this spot in previous years (a quick search on blue lawn will uncover a number of blog posts on this subject and similar topics (here, here, here, here, here, and here).  Parts of our lawn are a continuous carpet of blue flowers.  And while a lawn mowing hassle (see green slime), peak blue is immensely cheerful, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Friday Fabulous Flowers - Helloborus hybrids

Thank goodness for gardening.  You've always got something to do when you have a big garden.  Various cultivars and wild flowers are making their spring appearance, more or less right on time based on past flowering data.  Here and there around our gardens are clusters of hellebores, great big buttercup family flowers and they are really tough, but not actually too cold hardy.  TPP can remember seeing hellebores in flower for the first time. And while it was obvious what family they were in, they did not grow in upstate NY so these were new to me.  They are nearly evergreen herbs and are one of the earliest plants to flower, and for some people their greatest value is that bunnies and deer don't find them very palatable.  The plants are slow to get established but once you've got them going, they'll come back for years, and even produce new plants from seed.  The biggest problem is that they do not make good cut flowers and the flowers on the stems are pendant or just plain droopy.  Some of the newer cultivars hold their flowers up better than others such as the ones featured here today (sorry, lost the name if it ever had one).  And it you didn't know this, the flowers lack petals, but the colorful bracts last a long time.

Glimmer of understanding

The primary benefit of self imposed home quarantine is that you have time to think.  So earlier today TPP began thinking about the end game.  Corona virus (Cv) doesn't go away or disappear, so what happens such that someone will say, you've been in quarantine long enough?  You are free to go about your regular life.  So it finally dawns upon my mind slowly, that it's not about if TPP catches this virus, but when he catches it.  No one expects a vaccine very soon.  So what all this is about is to slow down the spread of Cv so the number of sick people, the demand for hospital facilities doesn't out strip supply as in an epidemically spreading disease.  It may allow time to discover a more effective treatment protocal.  If our self-imposed quarantine works well enough, and slows the spread, then it will be "safer" for T(over-70) PP to deal with Cv because medical facilities won't be over-whelmed. Is that about right? 

Happy vernal equinox - Is it really spring?

Our seasonal weather has never been very well coordinated with our calendar, and since this is the earliest equinox ever (?) the weather remains a bit coolish.  In general spring is considered to have started after our "lawn" reaches peak blue, the result of thousands of Scilla bulbs all in full bloom. Peak blue is still a few days off; last year peak blue did not happen until April 5th according to the flowering log for our gardens.  Peak blue actually got snowed on last year, and that slowed things down a little bit although it had no other impact on these early bulbs other than that.  You won't see blue lawns like ours out in the burbs, it takes decades for them to proliferate so much.  Most of the smaller crocus varieties are in flower and they tend to move around a bit also.  It's always funny where new flowers appear.  Although the pandemic is keeping more people at home, it isn't house arrest and yesterday TPP started garden clean up by raking up leaves that could have ended up in the lily pond.  TPP also thinks that a few more tree peonies are needed in the Japanese garden, but it's hard to find different varieties for sale especially as the Itoh hybrids have become so much more popular.  Here's a plug for Peony's Envy gardens, a very nice online nursery, the plants always arrive looking bigger and better than expected.  They do carry Paeonia japonica, a smallish woodland species that seems to grow sort of like a Trillium. This species is a bit hard to find and slow to grow, but really nice when established.  Ah, well, TPP may get some time to do a bit more online shopping.  Wild ramps are popping up in one area which was much expected, but then quite a patch is developing all the way across the woodland back, the wildest part of our gardens.

Very Funny gardens

Over at the Garden Rant blog, quite a few pictures of funny gardens have been posted.  There is a fine line between gardens that are funny and those that are just plain corny and tasteless.  The Phactors have placed a number of amusing items here and there around our gardens, e.g., a sleeping sow cement garden bench (quite heavy), for people to discover.  Our Oklahoma friends got the four of us t-shirts that read "I survived the 60s, twice", and this particular garden takes TPP back to the 1960s when people painted flowers and Peter Max style designs all over their VW vans.  This one takes the flower theme to a whole new level.  Cool, man!  

Pi day greetings

Pi day (3.14) snuck up on TPP, as did St. Patrick's day.  But while TPP was messing around making chicken-tortilla soup, Mrs. Phactor was making a bourbon-pecan pie, and while it took forever to bake, the result was pleasing to both eye and palate.  This is especially good for breakfast maybe because the bitterness of coffee helps offset the slightly cloying sweetness.  Happy Pi day everyone!

Friday Fabulous Flower

Things are just a bit crazy right now, so seeing an old friend emerge from winter dormancy is rather comforting.  This week is the University's official spring break, and having got most of the students off campus, the powers that be decided to keep them away by extending spring break a week, during which time everyone is supposed to somehow switch to online education.  The advocates of this are certainly not familiar with either hands-on labs or field type courses.  Oh, "if we want students to see something, we show them a picture".  The failure to know the difference between "see" and "observe" has never been more obvious.  There are times it's good to be retired.  
Ah well, back to old friends, out in the woodland portion of our gardens the first real wildflower to appear is the snow Trillium (Trillium nivale), the smallest trillium perhaps in North America.  The flower at about 1 inch in diameter is huge in comparison to the tiny whorl of three leaves.  It would be easy to miss this plant if you were just walking around, but TPP knows where it was planted.  March flowering (the 8th) is nothing new to this plant, having flowered earlier 4 times since it was planted in the fall of 2011. Once it even flowered in late February.  It doesn't like being buried under a thick layer of leaves since it is a pretty small shoot.  In the wild this species tends to grow on slopes.  

Harbingers of spring

TPP had the opportunity to have a walk around the gardens.  Signs of spring are everywhere.  The witch-hazel are flowering, as are the snowdrops.  Winter aconite is lifting its flowers and showing the bright yellow perianth, although it appears to be growing in a new location, so it seeded in or some new corms were planted and TPP doesn't remember.  Now let's check the date: Feb. 25th.  Yes, that's early, but witch-hazel has flowered earlier by a week or so on several occasions; this would set a new record for the winter aconite which has never flowered before March 5 before.  This is only about 3 days earlier for snowdrops.  No idea which of these harbingers is most reliable.  The buds are swelling on the silver maple trees, and the filbert pollen catkins have elongated.  Got a bit of snowy rain but nothing to really discourage these real early flowers.  Picked a couple of forsythia branches to see it we can force some early flowers.

Return to winter requires something very tropical

Our return to the upper Midwest took us from shirt sleeve weather to severely cold weather rather suddenly; the car's temperature gauge just kept going down.  On a few occasions TPP has returned from the full-fledged tropics to mid winter and it is a very unnice transition.  At any rate here is a very tropical thing a Ylang Ylang tree (there is also a vine with the same common name)(Caranga odorata) in the custard apple family. This is a very tropical scent, sort of a heavy, strongly floral odor, and indeed the flowers are used in perfumery.  This is a family that TPP rather likes, and it just smells tropical. The flowers have rather thick curled tepals probably 3 whorls of 3 if remembered correctly, and in full bloom their odor is almost intoxicating and their odor is strongest at night, which you notice immediately if you walk under one.  It was very green in the Florida keys and very tropical; the contrast with local conditions is stark.  

Friday Fabulous Frond - Wax Palm

One of the better nature areas in Key West is the KW Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden.  Now based on a considerable experience, TPP recognizes that the most impressive specimen at this particular garden are 4 wax palm.  They are large stout palm (Copernicus fallaensis).  This is a native to Cuba where it is considered an endangered species with less than a 100 remain.  They are slow growing and become huge with time, presumably a couple of centuries.  The fronds are large as well and well armed with spines along the petiole.  The waxy coating on the leaves makes the fronds look sort of bluish white.

The Phactors have gone south to avoid some winter.  Cuba can almost be seen from a tall bar stool; it's only 90 miles away.  This crazy looking pylon is the southern most place in the continental USA.  A place on the big Island of Hawaii is actually further south.  A lot of the people here seem to be Cuban and not sure why that should be the case.  The drive out from the mainland reminds you how much of this land is only a little above sea level, a lot of the keys will be submerged before anything else gets flooded.  Saw a Pine Key deer today; probably only 30" tall at the shoulder.  Although they have increased in numbers there still are not very many of these small deer around.

Alternate Reality

TPP thinks that maybe just maybe he and his travelling companions have slipped into an alternate reality.  Three-wheeled bicycles, most of them electric assisted, suddenly out number cars, and the bike riders either have on white bonnets or broad-rimmed hats and beards.  Palm trees abound, and everything is quite green.  Silly as this sounds it is apparently the local reality.  This alternate reality seems to be normal for Sarasota Florida and it is all the result of celery.  Hey, TPP does not make this stuff up. One thing TPP knows for certain, you will not catch him moving to this area, no way, no how.  Although the "we survived the 60s twice" Phactors actually fit the local demographic (gray hairs abound) this is not our idea of a life.  The break from winter is a nice thing, although the F1 thinks, a mink or wolverine is making tracks in the snow on our patio back in Lincolnland winter, this is not our thing.  And raccoon or fox is a lot more likely on the patio. Water the bonsai trees, kid.  Thanks.

photographic field guide to roadside prairie plants

BrianO, a long time and valued correspondent, asked TPP to review this field guide, but no time to do it right now (getting ready for a road trip)(but wrong season and wrong place to try this out).  But I know that a lot of impressive plant people lurk in the back ground of this blog.  So here's the link BrianO provided, have a look see and report back.  TPP will let you know about his initial reaction in a bit, when time permits.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Cactus

OK in an effort to get a day/date disconnect resolved, TPP thought why not do something unusual like do a FFF on an actual Friday.  People won't expect that.  One of our favorite house plants is in full bloom and it is so very cheerful,  Hatiora salicornioides.  This is a epiphytic or orchid cactus that used to be in the genus Rhipsalis.   The specific epithet is sort of interesting because it means it looks like a well-known halophyte Salicornia.  This particular plant has gotten big, probably 50 lbs big and the largest and oldest stems are quite woody.  At any rate there are hundreds of drooping stems and each one bears a golden yellow flower at its terminus.  Each segment has a slender portion and then a thick succulent portion.  

Now here's an image of some Salicornia growing in a salt marsh at low-tide.  It doesn't look like this very much except for the many segments and the succulence.  


A slightly belated Happy New Year

It was finally obvious that the solstice holidays were over a few days back when the last cookie was eaten, a sugared nutball.  They have excellent longevity and TPP had made a double batch.  Now there are still cookies around because people had purchased several varieties and gifted them to this writer.  Hmm, that might say something about the image he projects.  One variety was Newman's own, a mimic of oreos, but Newman's own should have stuck with salad dressing.  The mimics just don't have the deep dark chocolate flavor that the cookies should have.  And then the unevenly applied white filling is denser and not as creamy as the stuff in oreos.  NOs are not bad cookies but they are not nearly as good as the originals unless you are committed to organic flour and organic sugar, and want to spend more so that some of the profits go to a charity, TPP says don't bother.  
The January weather has been mild so far and only slightly wintry. Hellebore buds are beginning to poke up as are the shoots. It was windy the other day as this latest front arrived, so it will take some time to walk the gardens and pick up twigs and limbs.  It is a bit hard this time of year to be productive.  Don't much care what the British royals do.  And TPP doesn't like basketball.  The political posturing of both the inept POTUS and those that wish to replace him are not interesting beyond the worry they create.  This latest sword rattling episode with Iran clearly shows that trust and integrity is a WH problem, and the danger of such rash action is not understood.  2020 is not starting out well.