Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Stokesia

Most sources indicate that Stokesia is a type of aster, all this means is that all of the flowers have a bilaterally symmetrical corolla, the flower form that is located around the periphery of daisy-type flowers as opposed to the cenral button composed of radially symmetrical flowers.  There is only one species, so TPP suspects that someday someone will  figure out its relatives and it will get shuffled into another genus.  Stodesia is an honorific name, honoring an early physician who had some botanical leanings, Jonathon Stokes.  This plant is native to the coastal plain of southeastern USA, but is a pretty adaptable ornamental, and reasonably tough in both its ability to deal with drought and cold (zone 5).  It is a fairly short plant in our experience so it gets used on margins of paths.  The flowers come in a number of shades of purple, as well as pink  and white.  Note the white, t-shaped stigmas protruding from all the central flowers.

Drpught, dry, dry, dry, cracked earth, and hot temperatures

What a great time to be a gardener, it gives us something to do that is pretty low risk for us senior citizens.  Our gardens need water, lots of water, and the lily pond too.  Oh, things that can be easily watered are doing well enough like boxed, caged tomatoes.  But the Phactors do not waste water on lawn, which is on its own.  Everything is wilting to some degree, and if it doesn't recover over night then it really needs to be watered the next day.  Plants like the big-leafed Magnolias have a lot of surface area and can lose a lot of water.  And other things are rather new and as yet don't have extensive root systems, like our newest plum yew and an Abelia, and a white snake root.  So a good deal of TPP's daily activity is pulling hoses around to ward off the worst on the drought. Gave an older hose and a soaker hose to the F1 because her whole garden is new.  Even now a timer is telling TPP to get going and move the sprinkler to a new area in an attempt to rejuvenate a double-file Viburnum, that is trying to recover from a winter die-back. Already lost a dwarf  Metasequoia from the Japanese garden; it has never been a happy camper, so no surprise really.  In a real surprise, the prairie nursery TPP has inherieted had some bunchflower blooming (Melanthium virginicum), which TPP has never seen before. Quite handsome.  Hope to propagate some more this coming year.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Who's wort?

OK This is a little bit weird.  TPP is never a day early with a FFF.  Mrs. Phactor pointed out that yellow flowers with lots of stamens is a bit of a theme recently, and all in our front garden.  Both the cactus and peony a few posts below fall into that category.  This particular flower is an evergreen shrub with a bluish-green foliage.  It's quite a handsome plant and the bees just love it.  Some species of this genus almost all with the general common name of St. John's wort, are native in our flora, but this one, Hypericum kalmianum, is native to the Great Lakes region, so a bit north of here.  Obviously it is quite hardy, and this particular one is an ornamental variety, basically trouble free and much recommended.  Ours is about 4 feet wide by 2.5 feet tall.

Gardening in a time of plague: Chapter 3

Summer is upon us, and so is a mild drought.  Our city is raising water rates, so it will be getting more expensive to keep gardens watered.  It takes a minimum of 1/2 inch of rain a week to keep gardens going.  Sensitive plants need more water, some are better at dealing with dry conditions than others.  Two senior citizens did manage to distribute 2.5 yards of wood mulch onto gardens and paths to make things  look much better. Several plants are candidates for relocation, but until the soil moisture gets better it is a risky undertaking.  The Phactors have decided that ostrich fern should be added to the list of never plant this plant.  It looks OK but it's rhizomatous and tends to take over whole gardens. 
New additions do get preferential treatment when is comes to water.  Until they get well rooted you have to keep watering them.  Nothing too delicate has been added to our gardens making it pretty easy to keep up.  A couple of small hostas are an exception but being small means watering them is not a major project. 
 A largish patch of Sorbaria, the so-called false Ural spirea, sort of looks like a sumac, but has fuzzy looking plumes of white flowers.  It's close to being on the do not plant this plant list; it is a spreader and was threatening to consume a neighbors' garage.  The trespassing portion was removed and a couple of hosta were found in the process. Unless you have room for such plants, do not plant them.
At least gardening gives us an outdoor activity and exercise.  And weeding helps you maintain a healthy frame of mine, giving the opportunity to get rid of poor choices without getting depressed over politics.  The amount of damage one person can do in just 3 years is hard to believe.  A niece is getting married in July and in October.  The earlier event if just too untimely for us presently and we hope things are better in 3 more months.  Sadly this is part of the havoc wrought by this pandemic.  And mostly all you can do is to keep the gardeners well supplied with margaritas, a nice self-sterilizing liquid.  A few people have visited to have a socially-distanced reprieve to break up the quarantine a bit.  It's outside and the gardens are big.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Prickly subject

This is a native plant to Lincolnland and it grows naturally fairly close by around the Havana sand priaries to the SW of us.  This plant is tough as nails and you just need a sunny, well-drained area to grow it.  Basically this is a near prostrate succulent shrub.  The flower is fairly large and certainly is part of our unintended theme of big yellow flowers.
This is a prickly pear cactus, Opuntia humifusa.  This image also shows the modified leaves quite well to the left of the flower.  These will not persist.  Sometimes you see plants where the flowers have a much redder center, but the smaller bees (green ones TPP usually associates with leaf-cutting) was observed just wallowing in all those anthers.  Regretably the flowers do not last long, but a plant can flower prolifically with lots of flowers.  This is a first time event for our gardens  and the plant a relative newcomer (3d year).   

Friday Fabulous Flower-Shade loving

TPP was poking around in the shady recesses of our gardens and there under a huge burr oak and a bottle brush buckeye (that is in heavy shade), he found this member of the Logania family.  In actual fact this may be the only member of the Logania family that is native to Lincolnland.  And it is a stunner of a native plant that only recently has found its way into native plant nurseries.  This is Spigula marilandica, the Indian Pink.  Wow!  Does this flower stand out in heavy shade? This is only the second year it has flowered, so it's still a bit exciting.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Floriforous native

TPP has missed Friday again, but this was ready and the image is from last Friday.  You plant natives because generally they are tough, but this one also provides gobs of colorful flowers.  TPP first saw this species on road cut embankments on a trip west. And it required a stop for a bit of roadside botany.  It's pretty easy to identify this plant family, Onagraceae, the evening primrose family.  The flowers are large and they have a long floral tube, which is the kind of thing you associate with hawkmoth pollination.  This used to be called Oenothera missouriensis, but now it's O. macrocarpa. This plant is just behind a south-facing retaining wall, so the spot is hot and prone to be dry.  The plant is only about 1 foot tall and wide (see the knock-out rose provided for contrast and size comparison) and yet it has about 2 dozen flowers open.  And they are all a bright, clear yellow in color.  Individually they don't last long but flowering could go on for another 2-3 weeks. While native it is listed as quite rare here in Lincolnland.  Cultivars are routinely sold and it is perennial.  


Friday Fabulous Flower - Still one more peony

Well, it is almost the end of May and TPP forgot some of the herbaceous peonies still to flower.  This particular peony is quite spectacular.  It is a big, tall plant with a goodly number of flowers making for quite a display.  This is also an anemone-type flower where the many stamens were developmentally transformed in to staminodia, sterile appendages that  make for a crown like structure in the center of the flower.  What a color!  Hot pink.


A way back graduation tale

What seems like a long time ago, TPP graduated from college, fifty years ago to be exact, so 1970.  And I do feel rather sorry for all those grads whose graduation ceremony was cancelled.  Ours wasn't cancelled but it wasn't normal either.  It could have gone either way.  You see students opposed to the war in Vietnam got very upset and energized by the shooting of protesters by the National Guard at Kent State University.  Everybody walked out of class on "strike" essentially shutting down most universities.  However in TPP's case the science faculty decided that learning and the strike were more or less at odds with each other, and they did not cancel their classes, some of which TPP needed to complete in order to graduate and go graduate school the next fall.  This was a big deal because while not in favor of the war, the chance to get a graduate degree in botany was a huge opportunity.  Well to make a long story short, TPP did pass his classes and attend graduate school, but he took a lot of grief from more politically motivated students.  Our graduation was in question, but it was finally negotiated between campus administrators and student anti-war leaders.  Our valedictorian left campus for his graduate work, and our student government president decided he would lead in our class, but putting a student politician in a place of academic honor did not sit well with most of us.  But pragmatically someone had to do it, and it came to pass that TPP graduated in early June some 50 years ago, although it was a bit touch and go there for awhile whether a graduation ceremony was too politically correct or not, but no one shot at us. As the Phactors have been reminded lately, we survived the 60s twice. That was how they ended.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Yellow peony

OK TPP has done several posts about peonies, especially tree peonies.  But maybe you can stand just one more.  This yellow peony has been declared as TPP's favorite flower, and clearly it is in the top 10.  Actual yellow peonies only occur in tree peonies, and hybrids made with tree peonies like the Itoh peonies.  And one of these plants in full flower are pretty attractive. Isn't this grand?  These do flower just slightly later than all of the pink to red to white flowered plants.  

Friday Fabulous Flowers - Tree Peonies

TPP is known for his love of tree peonies.  None of them actually become trees in our climate, just sort of coarse bushes.  They are rather slow growing and a bit picky about where they grow, but they have just huge beautiful flowers in some shocking pinks.  Here's three flowers in three shades of pink (TPP has several more colors including yellow, which flower a bit later in the season).  And the flowers are handspan across, about 8".  

Gardening in a time of plague, Chapt. 2

Basically the Phactors are keeping a low profile and limiting our out of the garden excursions to the necessities.  It has been a very cool spring following a mild winter.  But we have had two frosts and some plants have been frosted twice like our poor Magnolia seiboldii. Lots of trees and shrubs had expanding leaves that were easily frozen.  TPP thinks most will recover unless they were in poor shape anyways, like our dwarf Metasequoia. Tough stuff like lettuce and broccoli are doing well enough.  But people who planted the tropical garden plants: tomato, pepper, eggplant may now be regretting being anxious.  Such plants will not grow with nighttime temps below 50 F.  The coolish spring has the happy result of keeping flowering shrubs in handsome shape for a considerable period of time. Our gardens do look good especially the redbuds and dogwoods.  Had to make a trip to the local garden shoppe to buy plants for later planting, and for some reason their supply is low, and it isn't from additional sales.  In times of plague and home confinement you would expect more interest in gardening wouldn't you?  We have been participating in some zoom TGIF sessions just to enjoy seeing our friends and chatting.  A few brave souls have brought drinks and had a garden walk around at decent social distances. With neither a vaccine nor an effective means of treatment, emerging seems like a choice between evils. And a President even more desperate to get the economy going, and yet showing no interest in our increaed risk of death does not promote any confidence.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - yellow flowered ginger

TPP first saw this plant in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.  It was immediately clear that it was a member of Aristolochiaceae, but the bed lacked a tag so it took a couple of weeks of poking around to find the name Saruma henryi. Clearly it is a close Chinese cousin to Asarum, and if you move the first letter to the end you have the new genus name.  Cute.  The plant will grow in most woodland gardens quite well and is hardy well up into zone 4, but mulch it.  The aerial stems grow about 12" tall and they stand upright.  The charming yellow flowers are a real standout, and it will set seed.  The leaves are broadly heart-shaped resembling Asarum, but they are fuzzy.  This is not a common plant although a number of online nurseries have it for sale.  


Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo just after star wars day, TPP can only stand so much excitement.  Nothing much to do with plants for either day, but lots of things to choose from.  A relatively new addition to our gardens will have to do.  Firstly, know that Mrs. Phactor loves Iris of all sorts.  A native iris is now available in our garden shops even though it just barely makes it into the southern most tip of Lincolnland.  TPP first saw this species, Iris cristata on a field trip to eastern Kentucky.  This particular clone seems fairly robust and has flowered in its first season, a good sign.  It has been a bit tricky to grow in that it's hard to find a place this little woodland iris likes where it isn't too exposed but doesn't get over grown with more aggressive plants.  In this case it seems to like a corner of a low garden wall next to a sidewalk.  The whole plant only stands about 6 inches tall, with flowers just barely over an inch in diameter.  It's distinctive feature is that the "falls", sepals, have a raised crest sporting some contrasting white and yellow pigmentation with a darker purple margin rather than having a beard of filaments. The iris flower functions rather like 3 bilaterally symmetrical flowers, so presumably the crest is a nectar guide. The sepals are partly covered by a 3-parted petaloid stigma that hides the 3 stamens.  Don't let Mrs. Phactor catch you  pulling apart one of her Iris flowers.  
 

Friday Fabulous Flower - woodland peony

TPP is not a native plant purist, but a plant collector.  So when plants of Peonia japonica were found for sale, and it was touted as a woodland plant, TPP had to have one.  Analysis this species of peony grows like a Trillium, and is equally as slow.  It has a simple elegance about it and TPP now has several seedlings, but they take 2 years to germinate and maybe 5 years to flower.  No wonder they were a bit pricey. This plant is about 1 foot tall and will have 4 
or 5 flowers.


Eat the weeds?

Can you eat weeds?  TPP has been asked this question several times during his long career, and that question has been thought about quite a bit.  First, the answer is that we do eat weeds, that is, some domesticated plants have their origins as weeds.  Second, a lot of these weeds have been around for a long time, so people have had ample time to domesticate them if they were thought to have any value.  Third, think about the difference between being edible and tasting good.  Here's the list of weeds that were presented as edible in an online article on Treehugger: wild amaranth, plantain, chickweed, mallow, curlydock, dandelion, purslane, clover flowers (warning: some clovers are toxic), lamb's quarters.  Now there are "grain" amaranths grown for their seeds, and even dandelions have some cultivars.  Generally selection is on extended juvenile stages, which in general are the more edible and better tasting.  If you grow lettuces and there are wild weedy species, lettuce begins to taste bitter as they bolt before flowering because the latex producing cells proliferate at this stage. 
Once years ago the Phactors tried New Zealand "spinach" because supposedly it stayed in an edible stage in the long days of summer and tasted like spinach.  What a good deal!  The plant is Tetragonia tetragonoides, and tasted more like freshly mowed grass than any plant we had ever grown.  It became pet rabbit fodder.  TPP thinks none of these weeds tastes good enough to be domesticated and if they had some redeeming qualities then people would have already domesticated them.  Otherwise TPP does not think these weeds will make up any significant part of any rational diet.  It may be good to know what is edible so that when society collapses, your friendly neighborhood botanist can earn his place in our new society.  Other than adding a bit of garnish to a mixed salad, a hoe is the best means of dealing with weeds. Mrs. Phactor found a recipe for "shrimp rampy" and it sounded reasonably good, but wild ramps while common enough in some places are not actually very weedy, and they do taste pretty good, as good as any oniony plant.  But foraging for an edible wild plant is different that eating the weeds.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Bluebells

North America has its own version of bluebells.  Most flowers with that common name are vaguely bell shaped and dangle or hang down, a position that seems most appropriate for bumblebees.  Our particular bluebells do hang down and dangle, but the flowers are longer and more trumpet-shaped, not quite a true salverform as the flaring part of the bell is not at right angle to the tube.  This is Mertensia virginiana in the Borage family.  Most flowers called bluebells are monocots and in the lily/amaryllis family, or campanulas. The Phactors have lots of this attractive weed demonstrating that there is no sharp boundary between lawn and garden. This time of year all sorts of spring flowers are found throughout our "lawn".  

Earth Day 2020 - 50 years !

Happy Earth Day everyone!  TPP was finishing his last semester in college, before the people got shot at Kent state, and the shadow cast by the student anti-war strikes sort of blotted out Earth Day.  And we are marching backward, as the current administration is making our air and water dirtier by cutting or relaxing environmental rules.  Does this make us "great again"? Apparently.  And if T-rump is willing to throw the health of the American people under the economic bus, the environment has no chance at all.  Golf courses are not natural things, lots of organisms get displaced so that a monoculture of grass can take their place.  Remember the Earth Day wisdom of Pogo the Possum.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Something cheerful - pantaloons

Well, the weather this week has been quite crappy; cold and wet.  As a result the spring flowers have gone into a stall.  Although not completely because the microclimate down there close to the ground doesn't change much.  This plant doesn't exactly look like a member of the Poppy family but it is. The flower is also bilaterally symmetrical on two axes, which is a bit unusual.  This is quite a common spring flower here abouts.  This is Dicentra cucullaria Dutchman's breeches.  And darned if the flowers don't look a bit like pantaloons and the whole plant if about as cute as flowers get.  Note the finely lobed somewhat vaguely fern-like foliage.  The plant arises from a pink corm just beneath the surface of the soil. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - What's in a name?

Lots of familiar spring flowers are getting their names changed, and sometimes it is very annoying.  And this is one of those cases and it's not just because TPP's brain  has been using some of these names for over 50 years and doesn't change gears as fast as it used to.  One of our earliest of woodland ephemeral perennials is called "liverleaf" because last year's persistent leaves have turned a dark, purple-brown (a color not unlike that of a liver) and they are 3-lobed (like a liver).  To the herbalist this was a sign that this plant could be used for liver ailments (probably not), but the name sort of said it all.  Now de Candolle certainly knew this when he named the plant Hepatica. 
Generally this plant grows on slopes in woodlands.  A member of the buttercup family, the flowers have a variable number of petals like part in a range of say 6-9, with three bracts beneath.  Their color is often white, but they can range to pink and purple.  In out gardens they seem to like be tucked away in little places between the roots of big trees.  The plants tend to be maybe 6-7" across.  Ours took quite some time and repeated starts to get established and now the reward is finding a seedling every now and again.  The first image shows the purplish color form (a seedling) and the second a mature plant in full bloom.
Some people have shifted this species to the genus Anemone. Some people don't think H. acutiloba is not a distinct species. And TPP wishes everyone could make up their minds.  But for now it will remain Hepatica in TPP's memory database.

Gardening in a time of plague

TPP considers himself essential to his garden especially now during the spring cleanup season.  So many leaves that it makes you wonder if any got cleaned up last fall. The dead aerial shoots of herbaceous perennials acted rather like a snow fence and gathered the leaves quite handily but now both the dead shoots and the leaves they captured must be removed to free up the perennial portions to grow. The trick is to figure out how much some plants died back.  Some don't die back at all, Some lose a branch here or there.  And it was a mild winter, so die back may be limited, or even puzzling like our Korean azaleas that were well budded but only a few flowers survived to open this past week.  What killed all the rest?  No idea.  The plants are OK and leafing out normally, must have been the late fall that did not allow buds to form as usual.  But all of our other hardy azaleas seem to be just fine.  For the most part self-quarantined gardening is keeping us safe from contact with infected people, and TPP just heard that in Illinois garden centers are considered essential during May, and of course they are.  Some may ask, "who was that masked man?".  And what kind of tomatoes did he decide to plant?  BYW here in the upper Midwest the weather is still too unsettled and cold for tropical garden plants.  Rule: are the nighttime temperatures above 50 F?  If not hold off on those tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, and squash.  Go ahead and plant some peas and carrots, they will do fine in the cooler weather.  Now how are the garden shops going to handle the social distancing that still remains necessary?  No virus with those tomato plants, please.  It is clear here in Lincolnland that life is not and cannot return to normal yet, or anytime in the near future.  Now who delivers tequila?  TPP has gardening to do and must have the essentials.

Friday Fabulous Flower - earliest Magnolia

Isn't this a beauty?  The earliest of TPP's Magnolias began flowering this 1st week of April.  It is partly a genetic thing and partly a location thing.  Bought this shrub from a big box as a late season special, and for some reason it was in very good shape.  And it has grown well since planting.  This is a hybrid Magnolia x loebneri "Henry Messel" (M. stellata x M. kobus).  Many turn out to have white flowers like both parents, but this one is quite pink.  This hybrid is just over 100 years old having first flowered in 1917.  Ours would still be described as a large shrub.  TPP also has a M. stellata, which flowers quite early, but its rather shady location holds it back about a week, which is often sufficient to avoid a late frost.  This particular year the star magnolia and the anise or willow-leafed magnolia are starting to flower pretty early, but not unusually so.  So more magnolias to come especially since TPP is self-quarantined at least for awhile, so might as well garden.  

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.