Field of Science

New plant - a succulent

 A friend gave TPP several new plants, all part of a decorative pot of succulents.  All of the plants have some features associated with living in sunny, xeric environments.  My friend lacked the space and light needed to over winter such plants, but he decided we had more.  And well, he's sort of right.  

At any rate this plants leaves are shaped a bit like a banana, round in cross section and tapering to the apex. The most striking feature though is the darker green strip funning from the base of each leaf to the tip.  This is actually the top of the leaf, and far from being pigmented, the tissue is transparent, clear.  The photosynthetic portion is a relatively thin layer wrapping around the rest of the leaf leaving the center of the leaf filled with clear water storage tissue.  But more importantly, this tissue lets light enter the interior of the leaf to illuminate the chloroplast containing cells. TPP suspects that this clear tissue is a multiple layered epidermis.  Such windowed leaves are fairly common in succulent plants.

This plant is not a cactus although many people think succulents and cacti are the same thing.  Sorry, no.  This plant is a member of the aster or daisy family in the genus Senecio, one of the world's biggest genera containing over 1200 species.  TPP thinks this may be S. radicans, but there are several succulent species in this genus.  So pictured above is an inflorescence composed of about 15 5-lobed disk flowers (that would form the button of a daisy).  Each flower has a column of anthers and the pollen gets pushed out the top of the anthers as the style pushes the stigma up and out.  The two halves of the stigma then uncoil sort of looking like an antenna. Also of interest the flowers seem sort of spicy scented, a bit allspicy.  Generally the plant isn't raised for its floral display.


Friday Fabulous Foliage


 For whatever reason, our gardens are very colorful this fall.  Here are several examples: above are leaves on some lower branches of a sugar maple.  Two huge ones drop a ton or two of leaves on our lawn and gardens 

This is a Nyssa, tupelo, and it has very bright fall foliage.  Lacking a defined leader means in grows in an umbrella shaped crown, and stays short. A member of the ebony family.

These are the leaves of a Japanese maple, Acer palmatum a variety call aconitifolium, which Dirr says is among the best of fall color shrubs (Don't know Dirr?  Don't admit it if you want to claim you garden.)

This is Fathergilla, a spring flowering shrub in our front garden, but it's fall color is unbeatable, much like it's relative witch-hazel.  Definitely an orange-red color.

Another Japanese maple with pale green leaves 'viridis'. They turn a nice peachy color that contrasts nicely with the dark bark.

Lastly this is a mass of bottle brush buckeye whose leaves turn your basic yellow; quite handsome in the dappled sun of a boarder area.  


Recommendation

Sir Richard Attenborough is 94 years old and seems as sharp as ever.  He's certainly seen more of this planet than most, and it is clear that he has thought about what he's seen and what has been transpiring during his life more than most too.  His new netflix film, A life on our planet, is excellent, maybe the best film he's ever done. The Phactors recommend that you watch this film with your family, and then consider what this 45th president has done for the environment.  Just a look up the Bear's Ears national monument to see what is left after an axe was taken to the map.  Not sure how much more environment is left to be given away by people like this. The film begins at Chernobyl, which struck TPP as a funny place to start but at the end of the film the Chernobyl location makes sense. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - last

OK lost track of the calendar but there must be a friday somewhere around.  It's also late in October, so except for tree color, and there is lots of it this year, the gardens are just about done for this year.  But not quite.  In the shady edges of our gardens at least one plant is in flower having started blooming just a week or two ago.  The funny thing is that this perennial is one of the first plants to sprout new shoots in the spring, and then it is the last thing to flower, monk's hood, Aconitum. TPP doesn't remember what species our gardens have, maybe A. noveboracense, as several cultivars exist.  This is a very toxic plant, so it gets left alone by the wildlife.  It's also called wolfbane, and several other colorful names that suggest toxicity.  The newest studies place this genus close to lark's spur, Delphinium and Consolida, in the buttercup family.  

Gardening during time of plague - End of the season summation

 Our kitchen garden was a great success this year, although it took some watering to make it happen.  Our successes were tomatoes, Asian eggplant, sweet peppers, zucchini, and basil.  Notice that there is a culinary theme here, and as such we ate well particularly in a Mediterranean sense. It helped to have a new herb and spice store whereby we could get really good harissa.  And even better, most of the garden kept producing until late September and early October.  A late crop of basil allowed for considerable  production of pesto much to Mrs. Phactor's great delight.  A special semi-vacation  new potato and green bean pesto to reprise a Ligurian dish  along with a very nice Tuscan wine. 

There are only two of us, so the zucchini don't have to be awesomely productive to be quite adequate.  The same with tomatoes.  A quart of cherry tomatoes every 3 days is more than enough, but we had some nice little tomato recipes.  The eggplant was nearly our match, and while not large, 6-8 a week is more than enough and fortunately a seared eggplant tinga was originally for zucchini, so it expects you to be nearly over whelmed.  The cucumbers decided to stay male most of the summer and then finally became monoecious in September as sort of a surprise.  Usually cucumber succumbs to a bacterial wilt, but vine survival made for a late crop success, then a friend inundated us with cucumbers and they became a very tasty relish.   

Unfortunately  our Michigan apple source closed because of the family could no longer stay in the business, and we have not yet found a replacement orchard for our supply of Northern Spies. Let us know if you have any orchard suggestions.

The pandemic has not been much of a bother, although we had to cancel travel for two family weddings, and a trip to Scotland.  Mostly we gardened and it not only gave us something to do, but it paid some garden type dividends.  We traded red buckeye seedlings for green dragon seedlings, a good deal we think.  



Friday Fabulous Flower - Still in flower


 TPP went out to a nursery area to collect some seeds, and this rare species, Sanguisorba canadensis, was still in flower. The common name is burnett, but since it only occurs in 3 counties in Lincolnland, it is anything but common.  Although the flowers don't look it, this is a member of the Rose Family.  The display is basically all stamens and as they are rather lax they blow prettily in a breeze.  October 8 is a bit late for flowering but not for this plant.  Seed collected last year germinated well and come next spring we'll have a lot of seedlings to  add to the prairie plot.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - pretty tiny

Today's FFF is perhaps one of the rarest plants in our gardens.  It probably isn't all that uncommon, but it still is rarely seen, and so it seems rare.  The other interesting thing is that this is a total volunteer plant, all on its own, it found its way into our garden and found a fairly protected site under our star Magnolia.  Generally plants don't like growing under this Magnolia because its roots are very shallow and so it can compete strongly for water and nutrients.  But when you are such a small plant it doesn't take much in the way of resources for you to grow.  The whole plant is only about 6-8" tall, and each individual flower is only about 4mm long.  The flowers are spirally arranged on the spike and so the scientific name Spiranthes seems most appropriate.  TPP is no certain but this seems to be S. cernua (nodding ladies' tresses).  This also points out that small inconspicuous plants are often considered rare.  This little orchid is in flower now, in early October, and TPP thinks there are two little seedlings growing nearby.



Friday Fabulous Flower - Closed?

 

A friend once brought a picture of this plant to me and asked why don't the flowers ever open.  An interesting question surely.  TPP once studied a tropical flower that looked quite open but wasn't functional until it reclosed.  But this is called the bottle gentian, Gentiana andrewsii, and the flowers don't open any more than this.  It takes a big robust pollinator, like a bumblebee, to force its way into the flower, and in the process move some pollen around.  This is an interesting way for the plant to select a particular pollinator.  Sorry honey bee, you can't pollinate this native plant.  This can make a nice addition for fall, partial shade flowering.  Someone is bound to ask about when do the flower buds open.

Birthdays during a pandemic

There is no good time to have a birthday, and certainly not during a pandemic.  TPP's usual birthday celebration involves feeding a lot of fresh seafood to a bunch of friends who are happy to help you.  And it doesn't get any better than that.  But lots of things have been conspiring to make TPP feel old, and mostly because he is getting old.  As one T-shirt given to TPP says "Survived the 60s twice"  This is a good thing because lots of old friends have already died, so having birthdays is much better than not having any more birthdays.  On a bit of a lark, family and oldest friends find ourselves in very rural south central Missouri, a state where TPP spent a couple of years once upon a time.  The idea was to get away from people and just feel normal for a few days, eating and drinking and messing around like there was no pandemic.  Rented a rather plush farmhouse for the purpose, and the outdoor shower and toilet are first class.  The weather is comfortably warm during the day and cool at night.  Their spring-fed stream provides a nice swimming hole and lots of nice surrounding natural areas.  Just no seafood.  So far we have been quite lucky and none of our close friends have gotten sick during this pandemic, and this is most excellent so far, but you do begin to feel that you life has gotten a bit impoverished defined by things that you cannot safely do.  We were hiking this morning and since we were outside, most people, not a large number, were maskless, but the path was not terribly wide. A small number actually thanked TPP for stepping aside.  Tomorrow is the actual birthday event, and nothing particular has been planned except maybe a carrot cake and a nice cocktail.  On the whole TPP is thankful for the respite even if only a few days.  Wish you could all come along.  The number of Trump signs here in Missouri is actually rather depressing.  How could so many decent people find this man an acceptable president?

Friday Fabulous Flower - Goldenrod

Late summer and fall are the flowering season of most goldenrods, and as a result they get a bad rap.  And since this happens virtually every year, let TPP explain.  This is also hay fever season and many people suffer from a pollen allergy, but let TPP assure you that goldenrod is not at fault.  Here's the general rule, if you see the flowers, that is, if they form a visual display, they are not wind pollinated, they are animal pollinated.  It's just that goldenrod happens to flower at about the same time as ragweed, whose flowers you never have noticed, but because it is wind pollinated it makes copious amounts of pollen.  TPP is not actually allergic, but his nose can tell when there is a lot of pollen in the air.  Most goldenrods have yellow-gold colored flowers that are rather small but clustered together to make a bigger display.  Goldenrods are in the Aster/daisy family (old name -Compositae; correct name - Asteraceae) and like daisies or sunflowers their heads of small flowers mimic large flowers by arranging ray flowers around the margin like petals, and using disk flowers to make the central button.  Goldenrods mostly just have small clusters, heads, of disk flowers, and this particular species, probably Solidago juncea, early goldenrod, has ray flowers too, looking like petals, and the insects really do love these flowers as the bee attests.

Friday Fabulous Flower - pretty red

This display certainly caught TPP's eye, and next hopefully some migratory birds eyes' too.  This is a nice illustration of a flower at the stage of seed dispersal, i.e., a fruit.  The actual fruit is rather cone-like and composed of a number of little follicles (like milkweed pods) that peel open exposing a pair of dangling seeds.  The seeds have a shiny dark brown to black seed coat.  But you don't see it here because the seeds are covered with a bright red-orange fleshy aril, which has a high lipid content to nourish those migrating birds.  
This is Magnolia virginiana in case you didn't recognize the flower at this stage.

Gardening in time of plague - Thoughts on this and that

TPP feels as though he has been a bit self focused and have not been doing much to be more generally informative to readers.  Some of it has come about because TPP doesn't have much to say about the foibles of academic life any more, and politics has just been pushing the angry button too often, so fewer blog posts in general and more of a focus on plants and growing them.  My first thought this morning, is quite simple, after a hiatus of more than 2 weeks, and many near misses, it is raining this morning, and we could easily use a couple of inches.  No idea yet if this will be adequate for the time being or not.  Later the rain gauge will provide some data.  This is better, and cheaper, than the last two days of spot watering to keep certain plants alive.
TPP has had to pay attention to Covid-19 whether he wanted to or not. A short get away trip has been planned, and the F1, who must be quite careful about this virus, would like TPP to limit his contact with strangers, especially the university's students, as the infection rate is rather high.  Unfortunately a colleague asked if an herbarium field trip were possible, and after initially saying, "yes", rethinking finds that this wouldn't be comfortable at the present time.  It is quite different than potting seedlings by himself in a closed greenhouse.
Here is a link to some thinking about the post-pandemic world that you might find interesting. The article is from a fellow FoS blogger.  It makes a lot of assumptions, but most are quite reasonable.  TPP has asked himself several times, how is this pandemic all going to end?  No good answers were forth coming, so good to have someone else's thinking about this, especially a microbiologist.
Almost fell prey to the need the coffee to make the coffee paradox, but noticed the lack of a suitable solvent just in time.  Usually putting in the water is first, but jumped forward too soon, ironically distracted by the rain. Drat rain is letting up already; not enough for sure.  
TPP finds himself sympathetic to the position of BLM protesters, and very sad that the situation is being used for politics as usual, which means a president bent on scaring the gullible.  And also as usual too many guns are involved.  Tom Tomorrow nails it as always.
Dear readers, have a nice day.


Friday Fabulous Flower - More red, redder, redest

A modest heat wave has turned a bit cooler, but still no rain for nearly 3 weeks.  Plants are very dry.  TPP has no choice but to water certain plants.  The big-leaf Magnolias, a newish Cephalotaxus, a struggling double file hydrangea.  However a couple of well established perennials or biennials were doing surprisingly well: several big blue Lobelias and very red Lobelia.  Usually the latter is associated with some moist places, but this plant is just in a typical enough mixed bed.  Lobelia cardinalis is just not a plant TPP has much luck with.  
Recently TPP told you that a Silene was about as red a flower as you can get, but forgot about this Lobelia.  And the hummngbirds love it.  

Gardening during time of plague - Chapter 4

TPP is retired so avoiding the university campus where Covid cases are increasing was not  a tough thing; but hanging out at home is getting a bit old.  The garden produce is keeping us well fed with fresh tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplant, and zucchini with lots of basil.  Baby bok choi and lettuce have germinated for a fall crop.  And again some hot weather and drought have returned.  Water bill will be high again.  
Home improvement is our means of keeping people working during the ecomomic plague and it is also the season when nothing seen or heard is to be trusted.  It's going to be a long fall and TPP is so tired of this administration.  Can barely find the energy to say that the WH rose garden needed some work, but who ever did the planning has no sense of the garden aesthetic.  Bland would be TPP's assessment.  But the current occupants are not the sort of people who have a well developed aesthetic, and certainly this is the least of my concerns.  Botany is an international field and TPP is tired of apologizing for our country's bone-headed attitude.  Leadership is a terrible thing to squander. 
One gets the impression that our government wants us to be afraid, but neither god nor guns makes for safety although some people seem to think so.  Stupid conspiracy theories are favorites of the gullible. Saw a well-dressed young gentleman who sign proclaimed that he thought socialism sucks.  Personally libraries and public schools certainly don't suck that badly.  Hope his graduation depends on his understanding of socialism.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Meadow rue

Well, another busy weekend kept TPP away from his laptop, so the FFF is late again.  A few late summer plants are flowering to provide a bit of choice.  Perhaps the most visually appealing are the magic lilies, the naked ladies, or whatever you call them are a late summer amaryllis and our gardens have hundreds of them in flower.  The leaves come up in the early spring along with the narcissi. But then they die down and provide no hint of the flowering to come.  Then in the first week of August, clumps of flowering stems shoot up 30 or so inches tall and bear an umbel of big pink flowers.  
Hidden in plain view are lesser flowers, and one of them is a meadow rue, a member of the buttercup family in the genus Thalictrum (the species is uncertain, maybe T. rochebrunianum).  The individual flowers are quite small, but the plant bears a spray of hundreds.  The colored parts are either anthers or bracts (in this case, surrounding quite a few stamens.). Ours were being visited by emerald green orchard bees.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - catch-fly

Today's, yesterday's, FFF is sure to add a splotch of color to your garden primarily because this is the reddest flower we have.  It tends to flower just after the mid-summer flowering doldrums, so it's bright red flowers are most welcome.  A friend walking through our gardens spotted the flowers and reached over to pull the plant a bit closer, and discovered first hand one of the more interesting common names, catchfly.  The entire aerial parts of the plant are covered in glandular hairs making it discustingly sticky.  Small insects do get trapped in the goo.  This is Silene regia, the so-called royal catchfly.  This is as close to a trouble free perennial that you can get.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Mallow

One of the larger and gaudier flowers that you can easily raise is the rose mallow (Hibiscus mosacheutos).  Like all related flowers the large number of stamens forms a tube through which the style grows bearing a branched 5-parted stigma.  The flowers are huge, 8-9" across, and they are white, pink, rose, or red with red highlights (nectar guides) in their centers. Often this time of year when the rose mallows flower, the Japanese beetles appear and chew the crap out of the mallows and quite a few other plants too, although they do love the mallows.  This year for some reason the beetle population is quite small, do little to no damage.  These are herbaceous perennials, so they die back to the ground and grow new aerial shoots each year.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Bottle Brush Buckeye

Spring flowering peters out through June until summer flowering plants sort of take over, but it isn't quite the same.  Lots of prairie natives flower in the summer, but not nearly as many shrubs or bushes flower in the summer.  Here's an exception, and if you  don't have one, you need to rethink your garden.  Right now in mid-July, our bottle brush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) look great, and they grow OK on edges and in light shade. This shrub has probably the showiest floral display of any shrub that can grow on a light shade border.  They can get a bit taller than many people would like, and they do spread a little after awhile but no so much it is considered a problem.  These long (over a foot in length) inflorescences just cover the plants and contrast nicely with dark green foliage.  Japanese beetles have been a problem before, but hardly any beetles this season.  Our plants were seedlings and it was a very slow start, so buying bigger plants, paying someone else to grow them, is a good idea. The plant is a native to SE USA, but they seem quite cold hardy.  

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.