Field of Science

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.