Field of Science

Pandemic, indeed

 Covid to the left. covid to the right, covid in front of us, and onward, onward we go, vaxxed and boostered, but still the worry remains.  The F1 has given us a supply of KF94 masks and they have even been certified by South Korea's Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, no less. The Phactors don't do bars or similar establishments presently, but then suddenly you realize that you have friends that you haven't seen in a year or so, and largely because it seems as though the virus is closing in from all sides.  That the omicron strain is more transmissible and perhaps somewhat less severe makes sense evolutionarily, but you still don't want to catch it.  Why tempt fate?  The ER is all of five minutes' walk away, but ICU beds are full of people who have not acted prudently, so best not to catch covid if that remains possible.  Presently TPP has little sympathy for antivaxxers or the gullible who say no to a functional vaccine, but will readily treat themselves with horse dewormer or some type of bleach/disinfectant, and then wonder why it didn't work. TPP's only comment is "don't look up." 

Holiday cocktail - Cranberry Julip

 Here's a present for all of you.  During the holiday season, it is always good to have the makings for a nice holiday cocktail on hand.  First you make a cranberry flavored syrup.  Cranberries are a constant item; we buy them fresh and freeze them until needed.  And for other items a bag of dried cranberries is always around too.  To make the syrup, put a cup of cranberries in a cup of water, add 3/4 cup of sugar, 2 largish orange peels.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 min.  Use the back of a spoon to crush any berries that remain whole.  Strain the syrup (a large tea strainer worked fine in 2 batches).  Save the "berry jam" and put on a half pear.  Use 1/2 to 1 oz. syrup (adjust to taste) with 2 oz. bourbon in a short silver julip cup filled with crushed ice.  Stir.  Garnish with a half round slice of orange around a cranberry.  This is a very festive looking cocktail, and quite tasty.  It isn't too sweet.  The syrup will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.  Enjoy, and Happy holidays.

Friday fabulous flower - Berry pretty, pretty red

 Lately TPP's relationship with the calendar has been quite tenuous but having determined that today is a Friday means finding something fabulous to blog about.  Today is actually the end of the fall semester at the university, graduation day, and a former master's student is getting his PhD today.  It was not done under the supervision of yours truly, and that's OK mostly because he still considers TPP to be his mentor. And that's how TPP knows it's a Friday.

The leaf color is long gone, but two patches of fruit color persist, and as my readers know fruits are flowers at the stage of seed dispersal and the advertising for seed dispersers is what attracts us.  Seriously this is a native plant that will eventually provide meals for migrating birds.  The fruit display becomes dramatic after the leaves fall.  What surprises many people is that this is a holly, and mostly people think that means an evergreen, but this swamp holly, or possum haw, or winterberry is deciduous.  In fact that is also it's latin name Ilex decidua.  You really should find a place, or like TPP several places, in you landscaping for this plant.  Probably the only draw back is that this holly is also dioecious, so you also have to grow some pollinators that will be bare this time of year and the flowers are quite small and do not produce much of a display.  

Leaving leaves

 Our property is one big garden with lots of big trees, deciduous trees.  They produce lots of leaves.  Getting lawn care people to even stop by and then offer a fair and decent price to clean them up is a challenge just in itself, and it's just too big of a job for a couple of gardeners as old as we.  Now we do string a rope and put a large net over the lily pond because otherwise it would fill up with decaying leaves and turn anaerobic and nucky.  We do manage to pull the net off and dump out the leaves, often wet, and this year it took two dumpings before the leaves were under control.  A low fence acts as a snow fence and piles up the leaves adjcent to the pond where they can be vacuumed up and put in a place where needed.  Mostly we hire guys to blow leaves into a pile and then drag them to a part of the garden where woodland conditions are wanted.  The area is generally home to spring ephemerals, like 7 or 8 species of Trillium about half of which are natives, but unfortunately the recent invasion of jumping worms processes the leave much faster than before rather than build up a humus layer.  You don't think of worms being invasive but this species along with the much better known nightcrawler, are both introduced and move way more organic matter around the soil then the natives.  Too bad there isn't a plant that they just hate so much they stay away.   By spring the thick layer of leaves witll be substantially reduced in thickness, and some native plants will do well as a tesult.  Wild garlic or leek, and seedlings of spice bush are appearing in lots of patches, and for the time being these are being welcomed. This is all still better than burning the leaves (against city ordinances) or bagging them for composing by the city.  This year the leaves stayed green so long into October that we began to wonder it they would provide color at all.  Any more ideas out there for dealing with lots of leaves?  

To booster or not to booster, that is the question.

 OK, officially TPP is a boomer.  And since experts say I should get a vaccine booster, then I shall.  TPP is quite fed up with people who aren't smart enough to know who to listen to and who to ignore.  The excuses given to avoid the vaccines do  not change my mind about thinking that the anti-vaxxers are not very smart.  Quite pathetic arguments on the whole.  Now TPP finds out that teachers and staff from our local grade school are taking the state to court because they are in a group mandated to get vaccinated.  Now of course they have already accepted a number of mandated vaccines (and some of us remember how grateful people were for a vaccine for polio), do what is the issue?  That they don't have a choice in the matter?  It isn't about YOU and your individual choice. it's a matter of public health. Need you be reminded that some 750,000 people have died of this covid.  And that millions of doses have been administered without and serious complications.  So get vaccinated already, or get fired TPP is tired of the whining and the masks.

first frost -Nov 2

This area got its first frost, and TPP picked green tomatoes from the garden on Nov. 1.  NOV. 1!

That's a good 2-3 weeks beyond when we usually have the first frost.  So until 10 days ago the gardens were pretty green.  Trees were not changing color because we hadn't had enough cool weather to stop the cholorphyll synthesis.  But with the first hard frost things changed dramatically, virtually overnight.  The image shown here is a Hydrangea 'endless summer" and it is flowering on new wood and it seldom does this because the new growth doesn't get old enough in time and the season runs out.  So here it is in late October and it looks great as a result of all the flowering.  Pretty pink for Nov. 1.  Sorry for being distracted of late.

Plant migration of a sort

 It's the 25th of October, and still no frost, which is now over-due by about 2 weeks.  Fall color may be a bit of a bust this year because the first freeze may be a hard one and not the lighter series of frosts that promote leaf color change.  The area is still pretty green.  But TPP got a bit nervous and started the plant migration shortly after mid-October.  This is when all of the tropical plants, or at least non-hardy plants, get taken inside after their nearly 5 month R & R outside for the summer.  The fluffy tailed tree rats decided to simply chew up two epiphyte cacti, so-called Christmas cacti, not actually eating, just chewing up.  Mrs. Phactor thinks they needed replacing anyways.  A number of plants are a bit confused by the weather pattern and some break-through flowering is happening even though the foolishness of this has been explained (stoopid azaleas).  Most of the tropicals flower quite well during their winter inside (just check out past Friday Fabulous Flowers during January and February).  A couple of tough bonsai trees that seem to do well with a taste of cooler weather a are all the remain outside.  Now the sun room porch looks cheerfully vegetative.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Toad lily

 Another late blooming perennial is called toad lily.  This native of Japan has never quite been hardy in TPP's gardens, but we're trying again.  There are  some differences among varieties in flower color, but most are light- colored with dark purple spots and splotches.  Nothing particularly toad like about it that TPP discerns but common names are common names.  In a shady spot, and protected location, this lily can make a pretty nice clump of flowering stems especially in.  Tricytis hirta is the species that they are placed in October, of course TPP still has tomatoes on the vine.  Thank you global warming.   

Friday Fabulous Flower - nearly last, not the least

The growing season is winding down, but not over as yet.  So far if anything the growing season has been extended a week or so.  But both this FFF and next week's too never have flowered before October, unless conditions have some plant confused, e.g., a yellow azalea has flowered a bit here in September and of course some of our Corydalis has never actually stopped flowering.  Roses are also putting out a few new flowers and so is the Abeliophyllum.  Interestingly enough this late flowering plant is also one of the first plants to sprout in the spring, and so far it has never been frost damaged.  By now the clump of stems is 5-6 feet tall, and drooping if they haven't been staked.  The entire plant is quite toxic, so nothing eats it, (true for many buttercup family members) and helps account for it's common name of wolf bane.  The shape of the flower made by petalloid sepals provides another common name, monk's hood.  This is probably Aconitum napellus, the most commonly cultivated species .

So no herbvorous pests, no pruning, no transplanting (doesn't like being moved).  By October most gardeners have forgotten that they have this plant.  Ours grow well in light shade, and so are sort of in out-of-the-way corners of the gardens.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - An African Bignon

Our African trip was focused on animals not plants, but TPP was at least familiar with one rather common tree that was in flower & fruit this time of year, the beginning of the dry season.  It's called the sausage tree because of the big, heavy indehiscent fruits hanging down like so many salami in a deli (bottom image).  Like other Bignons, Kigelia africana, has winged seeds but since the fruit doesn't open they don't get much of a chance to fly until after a large mammal gnaws it open.  The dark maroon-colored flowers only open for a single night and they are bat pollinated; sometimes you can see the marks left by bat thumb hooks on the outer throat of the flower.  Since the flower is rather large and fleshy that much biomass attracts considerable interest and various antelope, and even elephants will stop by trees for a snack of recently dropped corollas.


Friday Fabulous Flower - Very rare, not an Aster

 TPP is back!  It was a great trip even if it required several episodes of covid testing (failed them all, a good thing), including one administered by a nurse helicoptered into a field camp for just 9 of us.  At any rate today's not a Friday, not an aster, is actually called a false Aster, Boltonia decurrens.  Presently it is flowering in our perennial garden.  At well over 7 feet tall it is truly a standout.  And this is a rare plant in Illinois, an endangered species.  And having never seen it in the field it was quite surprise.  Now TPP knows what you are going to say, "Endangered? it looks like a fleabane aster, an Erigeron.  And technically TPP has no idea why it isn't one, and sorry haven't had the chance to look it up.  The numerous narrow pinkish ray flowers and yellow disk flowers certainly to look like a fleabane aster.  This particular species has leaf bases that are prominently decurrent down the stem, but Verbesina (wing stem) as the name suggests has winged stems so the two could be confused if you only had stems.  Although the yellow ray flowers of the latter leave no doubts.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Big

 If your perennial garden doesn't have one of these, it should.  The flowers aren't just big, they are huge.  And it is almost a carefree plant.  It only suffers from being tasty to Japanese beetles.  This cultivar is related to one of the rose mallows, a species of Hibiscus, but TPP doesn't know which one, perhaps H. moscheutos.  This is the one of the biggest flowers in our garden in terms of diameter, only surpassed by one of the big-leafed magnolias (back a few FFF's ago).  So that flower is about 8 " in diameter, pretty gaudy.  The cultivars come in a range of colors from white to dark red.  All have a center target of darker red.  It also flowers in mid to late summer.  
This plant was also called a marsh mallow because the grew in wet areas.  The roots were spongy and white, and if sweetened they were used as a confection, the botanical ancestor of marshmellows, a purely sugar confection.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Big and Blue


Somehow TPP missed a Friday.  Who knows how this happens but it did.  Fortunately there are a few reliable plants that flower in the late summer.  This plant moves around the garden a bit, but it's always around. Quite reliable, you just have to learn how to recognize the seedlings and leave a couple.  This is the great or big blue Lobelia (L. siphilitica), probably the easiest Lobelia to keep around your garden. And this part of the garden is fairly dry, although some field guides suggest it likes wet areas.  Don't know about the specific epithet, perhaps this species was thought to have a medicinal use, but no obvious connection.  There are supposedly two varieties here in Illinois, but TPP isn't sure he's ever a seen a difference.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Meadow rue


Well, it's almost Friday, so may as well do something in bloom.  The Meadow Rue right next to our patio is an elegant tall plant (5') with a spray of purplish flowers at the top.  This is a dioecious species, probably Thalictrum delavayi.  The flowers are basically either a cluster of stamens or a cluster of pistils with a whorl of several petalloid bracts below.  In another taxonomic affront to TPP's memory, Hepatica. has been placed in the genus Tahlictrum.  Some molecular study obviously nested it within the meadow rue genus and so for neatness the genus got changed.  The meadow rue generally flowers now in mid to late July, whereas Hepatica flowers in the very early spring.  It also has petalloid bracts, and unlike many spring ephemerals, its leaves do not die back but over winter above ground after turning a purplish brown, thus the liver leaf, that and it's three lobed. Oh,crap there is a weedy vine climbing the meadow rue.

Friday Fabulous Flower - bottlebrush


In late July there isn't too much flowering going on but this excellent shrub flowers in this time period. This  is the bottlebrush buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, even better it grows well even in a fairly shady places. Here it is part of a mixed shrubby border.  The long white spikes of flowers are the reason for the common name "bottlebrush".  This particular shrub is about 6' tall and maybe 8-10' wide, and they can get a bit bigger, but slowly.  They do tend to spread a bit via rhizomes, and so most smaller yards stay clear of this plant. An aerial shoot of mayapple can be seen at the bottom center.  Some years the flowers get attacked by Japanese beetles, but in spite of a mild winter their numbers this year have not been great.  This was planted as a seedling in 2003 and first flowered 5 years later (2008); that year this one was dug and replanted in this location.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Prairie royalty


TPP thinks he owes everyone a FFF post, so this one is a day early because according to both Ms. Phactor and the F1 there will be no time to post a blog in the next 2-3 days.  Gad, but it's  a long list.  This is an outstanding plant.  Spotted it in bloom rising above the rest of the perennial bed from the table in our kitchen probably about 50 yds away.  And no question this plant liked the monsoonal rain even of 2 weeks ago (10.5").  This is Filipendula rubra, Queen of the prairie, or meadow sweet.  At this time of year it stands about a stately 6' tall and likes some what wetter soil (and it's present location can be a bit dry this time of year).  This is a member of the Rose family, which should be fairly obvious.  The flowers are pretty small, but form a large visible cluster.  The color can vary from this pink to a darker rose especially in cultivars (this is pretty much wild type).  And it contrasts nicely with the taller gray coneflower's yellow.  The leaves are palmately lobed leaves.

First of the season

In my own opinion, this is a rather good picture nice berry, a  flower at the stage of seed dispersal.  Today is the 30th of June, and this was picked this morning.  TPP grew up near lake Ontario in upstate NY, so according to the good old boys, if you got a tomato before July, you were doing well.  This year our area suffered a late frost and some "early" planted tomatoes and their tropical kin, peppers and eggplant, got nipped.  Our frost tree date is about 10-15 May, so TPP was not in a hurry before then and soil in boxes tends to warm up pretty fast.  Now this image doesn't provide a very good size metric, and indeed this is a so-called "cherry tomato"; generally rather small.  Mrs. Phactor ate this nice little fruit a few seconds later and declared it delicious.  These golden colored cherry tomatoes do seem to be sweet and tasty.  And here it is a whole day before July, the very beginning of our 3 month long tomato season.  That's it, 3 months to get tasty garden tomatoes.  It just doesn't seem fair, but it does represent a challenge.  The cherry tomato is a lot more like its wild cousins in being composed of 2 carpels (seed bearing leaves), which can be easily seen when the fruit is cut in half.

A look in the rear view mirror

 TPP doesn't pay too much attention to such things, but every now and then it helps to look around where you've been and maybe decide about where you are going. It turns out that The Phytophactor was born almost 13.5 years ago, and that's a long time in the blogosphere.  It actually started in Zurich when time loneliness weighed a bit heavy in evenings and it took a long time before the blog was noticed. There's some good stuff way back there. That's nearly 3200 blogs and a thousand over 2,000,000 page reads.  Don't know how many words or plants or flowers that have been abused  in this dubious accomplishment.  The blog has only been trolled really once by a creationist biochemist, and he was a real pain and as usual he really didn't understand evolution at all.  

No idea about changing directions very much.  Politics is just too ugly to write about; it gets depressing real fast when you think about how many people could find a reason to vote for the last guy who was president.  TPP cannot imagine how your thinking works.  After all once a jerk, always a jerk, and as a New Yorker, this guy has been a known quantity for a long time and no question he lied about bone spurs.

TPP reads that the students over at Indiana University are suing because the university wants them all vaccinated for the fall semester, and les petits pois think their constitutional rights have been violated.  They do not think they are in any danger from covid even though over 600,000 prople have died.  And the biggest danger to us older people, even though vaccinated, is to be around unvaccinated people.  So what responsibilities do these poor things have to society?  When much younger TPP remembers that he never had a school class that didn't include classmates who wore leg or arm braces, all victims of polio.  Then a polio vaccine was developed and our parents rushed out to get everyone of us vaccinated.  The last case originating in the USA was in the late 1970s.  And then there is/are measles.  Oh, don't get me started.  Dear IU, not sure college students this dim can be educated.

And that condo collapse in Miami.  How awful!  It doesn't take much imagination to wonder if southern  Florida's attempts to ignore and mitigate rising sea levels are at least partly responsible. They seem to think that raising sidewalks is all the solution they need.  

TPP understands that venting is a fundamental function of blogging.  So for now TPP isn't going anywhere, but now blogging is just so old fashioned, so quaint.  It's sort of fitting.  See you all around.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Lily


A number of years ago either because a charity garden tour wanted to include our gardens for a show in June, or because she wanted flowers for a friend's June wedding, Mrs. Phactor planted a lot of lilies in our perennial gardens.  And the majority of them flower in June.  On the whole they make for a lot of color in an otherwise rather dull time of year.  This particular lily, an Asian lily, is an ivory cream color, the variety name has long been lost, but every year it has a huge, handsome display.  Friends had a fluffball of a cat, a flouncy thing, named Lily appropriately.  She's long since gone, but she was quite handsome.  Enjoy.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Fruit stage


Flowers at the stage of seed dispersal, i.e., fruit, tend to get over looked.  Next to our patio is an old TV antenna that makes a good fire escape and a great plant trellis.  In this case the plant is our Magnolia vine, Schisandra chinensis.  The flowers now at the stage of fruit development made an interesting pattern. Each more or less light green axis is from a flower and on it are oval fruitlets from each of the ovaries on the receptacle of this flower.  The larger oval ones will mature, the smaller ones are abortive fruitlets, but they all will turn scarlet in color.  What is unique is how much the receptacle elongates after pollination such that the bunch of fruitlets looks more like a bunch of fruits.  Since they are spaced our the individual fruitlets stay solitary rather then fusing laterally like the drupelets of a raspberry.  Enjoy?

Hostas - Palntain lilies

The Phactors have a lot of shade provided by several notable big trees.  And you do not have perennials in your shady garden without a healthy representation of Hostas.  In one area the big varieties grow; in another area next to the patio, the little varieties grow.  We make no attempt to collect or represent anything more diverse; just a bunch of plants that appealed to us at the time (oh, pretty!), for some morphological diversity to make things interesting.  Over the weekend a number of plants were dug and replanted in an attempt to make them happier, to grow better and look better.  A few other plants were mover around also.  It's always funny how some plants respond so well to new locations, a others show their displeasure by dying.  And then there is the worst part.  In a moment of insanity, TPP bought the Ms. the massive tome ( over 1000 pages) called the Hostapedia.  And now an effort is being made to keep track of the names of varieties just for the heck of it.  You can also download the definitive hosta list with probably almost 30,000 varieties, of which our gardens have a not paltry 65 varieties in a very asymmetrical distribution among plants having several hundred really old fashioned varieties that came with the property, and then 1 or two of all the rest.  This helps describe both our hobby and senior exercise program.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Little plant, big flower

2021 has already been a banner year for flowering in our gardens, and this includes a couple of frosty nights.  In particular the flowering shrubs have been amazing especially with respect to the masses of flowers produced.  A few herbaceous plants have also been notable for their displays, a sadly disappointing lack of flowering for our pear trees is the only dnf (did not flower) of note.  After last week's FFF, a couple of readers wanted to know what the flower looked like after the "candle" stage, but circumstances prevented getting a good image of that flower stage.  However, their curiosity can be somewhat satisfied by substituting another big leaf magnolia, Magnolia macrophylla var. ashei, the ashe Magnolia from the Florida panhandle.  The plant is tougher than you might think considering its limited southern distribution.  This is TPP's second try, the extreme of a polar vortex proved too much for my first plant.  But it survived zero degrees at least twice.  It flowers in a similar manner to M. tripetala, starting with a candle stage, but then when it reaches the stamen shattering stage (just started), the 6 tepals all open widely making the flower about a 10-12" creamy white saucer, with red coloration at the base of the three inner tepals. The plant is barely 3.5' tall at present, so pretty impressive.  Oh, yes, one big leaf species has auriculate lobes at the base of the blade (M. macrophylla), the other's blade narrows acuminately to the petiole.

Friday Fabulous Flower - What big leaves you have.


As is usually the case, a coolish, wettish, spring switched over to summer dry heat over night.  So the strawberries will start to ripen (a good thing) and the last of the spring flowers will bloom, for our gardens this is a large, old-fashioned looking Rhododendron (close to a wild type) that flowers now.  A nice-sized (small tree) big-leafed Magnolia also flowers about now, Magnolia tripetala in a couple of days Magnolia megaphylla var. ashei will also flower; it's basically a shrub.  When tripetala flowers, the flowers look like big white, candles (about 6" tall) at the ends of the branches.  So this is a brand new just-opened flower bud.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - yellow tree peony

 Here we are half way through May, and right on time TPP's favorite peony flowers, Paeonia suffruticosa, and it has never looked better.  It is Yellow, the herbaceous peonies don't come in yellow except for the now common Itoh hybrids.  This particular plant is just outside of the kitchen window so no one sees it just passing by.  It was absolutely covered in flowers which open just a week or so later than the pink to purple tree poenies featured in this blog just recently on May 5.  Even Mrs. Phactor, who is a bit jaded about tree peonies admitted that it was gorgeous this year.  It took quite a few years to get this big, about a 4 foot diameter rounded shrub.  Hope everyone enjoys this FFF.

Peony for your thoughts...

 As loyal readers you should be aware that TPP has a thing for Magnolias.  And he also has a thing for tree peonies.  They aren't really trees, but they have rather short-lived woody stems.  They also have some pretty spectacular flowers, huge flowers and in vivid colors.  TPP discovered tree peonies while in grad school, when he pruned a much over grown peony (the foliage is similar to herbaceous peonies) and it burst into flower the very next year and a botany professor with horticultural leanings explained what it , a new discovery.  TPP has to say that tree peonies are not easy to grow and they tend to be a bit expensive.  Oh, did TPP mention that some of them have yellow flowers!  Wow!  Yellow varieties tend to bloom a bit later.  Here's a bouquet of some of three pink to coral-colored flowers. Each flower is about 9-10 inches in diameter.  The Itoh hybrids between tree peonies and herbaceous varieties are now pretty common and pretty easy to grow (although still pricey).  The flowers are pretty big, some are yellow, but not quite the same as tree peonies.  

Arbor Day and Friday Fabulous Flower


Well, it's arbor day and a Friday, so lets feature a tree in flower.  Somehow mostly via flowering shrubs our gardens have become pretty diverse, a bit over 150 trees and shrubs.  Now of course there are quite a few gymnosperms, and since they technically lack flowers, they won't be flowering any time soon.  This is a pretty young tree but it flowered at a young age.  This is Halesia carolina, Carolina silver bell, which are actually ivory colored, but certainly bells.  It can become a decent sized tree with time.  Like all members of the Styrax family, the flowers are pendent.  This silver bell and the epaulet tree (Pterostyrax) are the showiest. TPP had an epaulet tree but it died last year, maybe because it was growing under a black walnut. Happy arbor day!

Friday Fabulous Flower - a grape from Oregon?


One of our botanically inclined friends is not a big fan of flowering shrubs.  They only flower for one week a year, he complains.  Although TPP does have one or two exceptions to this rule, in general this is true.  So you had better plant a lot of different kinds of shrubs.  One shrub that we planted as an evergreen foliage plant turned out to be a rather attractive flowering shrub, a pleasant surprise.  Grapes do not have showy flowers, but the black, round berries are a bit grape-like.  The leaves are a bit stiff and holly-like, however the plant has compound leaves with 3 or 5 leaflets with spine tipped teeth along the notched margin.  In zone 5 this shrub seems quite hardy, unbothered by winter cold or late spring frosts.  The flowers are a very cheery bright yellow, and while not large they are in fist sized clusters.  This is Mahonia repens, and it does creep along with rhizomes although in our garden they don't seem to be an annoying spreader.  It is referred to as both a grape holly or a holly grape, but clearly is neither, it "not a grape", "not a holly" is a member of the barberry family.  

At this point in time lilacs, honeysuckles, azaleas (several var.), pearl bush (Exochorda), a very nice young Carolina silverbell tree, Fothergillas, and Kerria are also in flower.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Japanese Quince


A few of the flowering shrubs in our gardens are among the showiest plants we own.  In general a flowering shrub is only in bloom for about a week each year, but for that short period they can out shine anything else.  This is Japanese quince, Chaenomeles japonica, and TPP has never decided what to call the color of this flower, orangish-red?  We also have a much redder double-flowered variety which is still on the young/small end of the spectrum.  The regular quince has a  typical maloid flower with 5 overlapping petals on the rim of a hypanthium, lots of stamens, and an inferior ovary that can mature into an apple-like quince.  Sadly right now the flower covered bush is all bent over because of an April 20 wet snow, and worse a hard freeze predicted overnight.  The apple trees and strawberries are also in flower,  And maybe if covered the strawberries may make a few fruit, but the apples and quinces are probably toast, as are peaches, plums, and pears here abouts.  As are the flowers off the three magnolias in full bloom, M. soulangiana, M. liliflora "Anne", and M. acuminata x denudata 'butterflies' a yellow-flowered hybrid.  M. seiboldii may also get leaves and flower buds damaged.  Lots of other things are on the potenially damaged list, so TPP is quite upset with the fickle nature of spring weather here in the great upper Midwest.

Is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable?

 A reader wants to know, after all you make pies and jams out of rhubarb, so people use it like a fruit.  Ah, but rhubarb is most definitely a leaf stalk, a petiole.  So it is clearly a vegetative part of the plant, not a flower or fruit.  The broad leaf itself is toxic.  The leaf stalk of rhubarb has a tart/sweet taste, and it does make a wonderful pie even if a bit juicy and somewhat prone to cooking over.  One famous weekend while visiting Dr. Chips Mrs. Phactor made a wonderful rhubarb pie, and it disappeared so quickly that she made two more pies.  The varieties presently in favor have a red epidermis on the petiole, so the pies come out reddish in color, but the taste of the older green stalked rhubarb is not any different in taste although some people think the red sweeter, and perhaps it has been improved along the way.  In pioneer days, people would always bring hunks of rhubarb to a house warming or a wedding reception to gift the new bride with "pie plant".  It is an almost foolproof plant that anybody can grow, it is a member of the smart weed family.

Friday Fabulous Flower

Our weather for the first week in April has been fairly warm, so now flowering shrubs and spring ephemerals are at the earlier end of their flowering range.  Unfortunately this means some woodland spring flowers don't last very long.  According to TPP's data base, there are seven species of Trillium that flower in our gardens.  The earliest flowering if the aptly names snow trillium; it's also the smallest and hardest to find locally.  This is another fairly early flowering trillium, T. cuneatum, often called Sweet Betsy. Don't know why.  The leaves are the mottled type and the flower is termed sessile. in that there is no stalk, pedicel, below the flower. The dark maroon flowers stand several cm above the whorl of three leaves.  There is a Trillium sessile that is similar but smaller all the way around.  Not sure why we don't have one.  

Friday Fabulous Flowers - Peak Blue


Once you get  a bed of Scilla siberica  established you will basically have it forever.  Someone planted some of these little bulbs sometime during the last eon and then ignored them, allowing them to continue to seed themselves until the entire lawn is blue with their flowers.  The first bulbs to bloom were back in early April  but then it took another 3 and a half weeks for them to reach peak flowering, peak blue.  This is a true harbinger of spring.  Unfortunately it will takes several more weeks for the leaves to die back, before what passes for a lawn can be mowed.  The leaves contain a sort of mucilage and if mowed while still fresh the result is a green slime. To rid a garden bed of the bulbs just about requires than the soil be sifted though a screen to remove all the little bulbs because the blue can overwhelm other small plants like some of Mrs. Phactor's species tulips which are all a bit on the small side.

Friday Fabulous Flower - dwarf Forsythia


OK this is not Forsythia, although it is in the olive family (Forsythia, Fraxinus, Syringa, etc.).  This is Abeliophyllum distichum var. roseum (pink flowers).  It is often called dwarf forsythia and it flowers just a bit earlier than Forsythia adding a bit to the confusion.  The plant is a rounded 4-6 foot shrub and in full flower it has quite a lacy appearance.  The flowers are quite fragrant, sort of honey scented.  U. of Minnesota says it will grow well enough in zone 4.  No cold damage over the winter of 2021, and it handles shade fairly well too.  TPP tries these plants so that you don't have to.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Bloodroot

 When the bloodroot flowers, a true native wildflower, they are quite the display; the bright white perianth contrasts nicely with the surrounding leaf litter.  Our local species is the only one, Sanguinaria canadensis, The rhizome oozes a bright red-orange latex, colored latexes are a common feature of the poppy family, and in olden times people thought that looking like blood indicated it was good for treating blood ailments.  Curiously TPP's favorite plants the nutmeg family also produce red latex, and is used in preparing  a hallucinogenic snuff.  At any rate this is a most cheerful little flower.  For many years our garden only had one clump of bloodroot but then if began showing up all over the place.  A leaf wraps around each flower bud.  

Gardening for health, gardening for life

Gardening gets you outside and moving and its... one of the smartest (and easiest!) things you can do to maintain or improve your health as you age. TPP has long known this.  The Phactors tell people gardening is both our hobby and our exercise program.  A study has found that more people (women actually) will maintain their mobility if they garden.  And gardening is good for your mental health as well.  It helps you keep a positive frame of mind even when the president (recent past) tries their best to depress you with his stupidity. At this time of year, it takes a lot of effort to clean up leaves, twigs (ice storms), and other debris from last season. But the thing is that TPP gardens because he likes to watch things grow. Wonder what it costs to get a time lapse camera.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - little Iris

 Early spring is starting out to be rather warm and dry, and predictable. First the snowdrops flower, then the witchhazels.  TPP mentioned this and the woman asked yellow or red flowers.  Both.  She answers, Of course.  Then Crocus of various sorts, and colors, but a lot more gold than TPP remembers.  One of the most striking spring flowers is Iris reticulata.  It's a bulb not a rhizome.  Here they are all of 4 inches tall pushing up through the leaf litter.

Green eggs and PC, a bad breakfast sandwich

 No idea how many books Dr. Suess published; thought that I had read them all at least everyone the public library owned.  And now someone says these books had racist imagery and supposedly that wasn't noticed except what it was subliminally doing to my young brain, and it's why TPP is such a bigot today.  Well, it took long enough for someone to notice, which means If I ran the Zoo wasn't exactly little black sambo.  Hard to take some people seriously, but would you could you read them if you understood the culture into which these books were published,  and clearly they were works of fiction.  Sounds like a teachable moment was discarded along with some out rageously funny ( to a kid learning to read) illustrations and ideas.  The one remembered best was the 500 hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Snow Drops


In the what's first-to-flower-sweepstakes the clear winner is snowdrops.  When the last of the snow cover melted away the flower buds were already showing a bit of white, and a week of above freezing high temperatures did the trick and this clump opened on the 28th of February.  Clumps of this little bulb will last for years and slowly increase in number of bulbs flowering.  This species, probably Galanthus nivalis, only grows 3 to 6" tall.  They pop up in several places in our gardens.  They are ever so cheerful in the easly spring, and prompted TPP to finish transcribing dates from his flowering log into the database and then adding a 2021 column and printing out a new pad for this season.  Clearly a harbinger of spring.  Enjoy. 

Second dose addendum

 About 24 hrs after the 2nd vaccine dose was administered, TPP felt rather achy all over, and my body temperature was a bit elevated to 98.8 F.  After a tylenol and a margarita left over from national margarita day (in February?) and some cat in my lap while trying to read therapy, overall the patient felt much better.  With a bit more of a fever, you could feel much worse.  The next morning, with the exception of a still sore upper arm, and everything felt normal again. Still not as bad as the yellow fever inoculation was remembered. The clinic was essentially empty, no where's near the capacity of the area.  Don't know why this was the case, except everybody was getting the 2nd dose. Hopefully a larger vaccine supply will begin to make it less difficult to get inoculated. Things are changing as the discussion for our TGIF seminar group is turning to when and where the group can begin to reconvene face to face.  Sounds like our senior friends have all gotten or started their inoculations.  Don't know the answer myself.

Second round inoculation

Well, that's done.  Got the second round shot of Moderna covid vaccine this morning.  So far, the inoculation site is a bit sore, but that's about it.  No other adverse reaction. And the best news is that Mrs. Phactor got her 1st round shot this afternoon, a different brand of vaccine, so in three weeks she'll be done  just after tax season ends, and our big trip (50th anniversaries) of marriage, and graduating from college may get celebrated by a trip long in the planning stage that may actually take place.  TPP admits not to understand the thinking or lack thereof staunch anti-vaxers.  Saw several of my biological colleagues lined up to get their covid vaccine without any hesitancy and these people are quite skeptical of most new things.  TPP has been inoculated for plague, typhus, cholera, yellow fever, just to mention the ones he remembers.  Studying tropical organisms has a bit of a downside and TPP has a bit of blood enshrined at the CDC for being one of the 1st 200 cases of some tick bite fever recorded in North America.  Such an honor! 

Friday fabulous flower - the color purple

 TPP has been traveling to spend time with some friends and the game plan was sound, go south to out run the polar vortex, and so we headed to palo duro Canyon.  And our warm weather sojourn was a magnificent failure as all of Texas turned fridgid and nearby Amarillo got 9" of snow.  But before this we had a good time, saw a good sampling of wildlife and birds, and got home safely.  

Here is one of many prickly pear cacti (Opuntia not sure what species), showing its winter coloration,  undoubtedly caused by plant pigments called anthocyanins coloring these stems with a rather lovely purplish hue.  Can't do much better in the desert in February.  Although the desert was covered in crystalline white hoar frost, a frozen fog.  Beautiful.   
Cleared out of Texas on Friday last and back to Tulsa, where dire weather forecasts helped the Phactors decide to drive back to Lincolnland on Saturday, on dry roads (very important), before snow and severe cold arrived. Just in time so to speak.  

Making progress - vaccination priority

 Nearly a year ago the covid virus gradually entered my sphere of awareness.  On Friday last TPP got the first inoculation of the vaccine.  Not sure how it happened but the university said if you are eligible there will be a inoculation clinic, sign up here, and much to TPP's surprise back came a date and time for this to transpire, and as a senior citizen well over 65 it put me in the eligible category.  The clinic was well organized staffed largely by nursing students and well run, a time of 2:10 pm was only off by 10 mins.  This feels like progress.  In general faculty are eager to get vaccinated and move on, indirect teaching is not a good substitute for actually being there.  Don't know how it is that the vaccine showed up here, but the idea is certainly to put it in people's arms and you have to start somewhere and at least botanists are a higher priority than felons or mimes, or cartoonists.  Years ago there was a great cartoon showing people getting shoved aside to make room for a fur-coat clad fellow, and the caption said, "Move aside varlet, a cartoonist is coming".  A bit of editing changed it to a "botanist" and it still got lots of laughs.  The stats on this virus are quite huge numbers and TPP doesn't want to be a statistic.  Now to get Mrs. Phactor an appointment somewhere.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Christmas azalea

At about 1 foot tall and 1 foot wide there are a whole lot of flowers on this little shrub.  It was pruned back early last summer as it was moved out side for the summer into late fall (and fed some fertilizer for acid-loving plants).  It started flowering well before Christmas and now is at full bloom, a very long lived display.  This is an evergreen, non-hardy azalea, a very cheerful winter flowering plant.  Ours does get nice bright light and a bit cool at night.  Most people discard these plants after they flower but TPP saved one, put it outside for the summer, and was rewarded by quite a long and massive flowering during the winter such that it became known as our Christmas azalea.  

My perspective on vaccines

 TPP admits that he does not understand the thought processes of anti-vaxxers.  What are they thinking, or maybe no thinking is involved.  But it struck TPP that his attitude may well be the result of life events. As it turns out TPP is a boomer and he remembers very well that in grade school every class would have one or two kids wearing leg or arm braces or were confined to a wheel chair, so prevalent was polio.  So when a polio vaccine was announced no one wasted any time getting inoculated, and then a few years later the polio vaccine was administered orally in a sugar cube soaked with vaccine.  And polio has essentially disappeared such that modern parents have forgotten what a common and scary disease polio was.  Part of the problem seems to be that Covid isn't scary enough.  And people with poor critical thinking skills are not listening to medical advice, but are listening to vaccine nay-sayers.  As a result in certain areas measles has lost its herd immunity, and if unvaccinated people travel to certain places where measles still occur they can bring back a local outbreak.  Unfortunately this is where anti-vaxxers can have a negative impact on other people when a herd-immunity doesn't exist.  The crazy thing is that anti-vaxxers are protected by everyone who gets vaccinated, giving them the freedom to make poor, ill-informed choices.  So this senior citizen will get the covid vaccine as soon as it is available.

Sumo Citrus - Non-GMO?

A new Citrus fruit has appeared in markets, and TPP is not certain how "new" it actually is, although the name Sumo is certainly novel.  Now TPP has looked into similar fruits (Here, here, and here) some time ago, and he is just not certain how novel as in new this fruit is.  TPP's initial reaction is that this is just a tangelo, a hybrid between a tangerine and an orange.  They also have the protrusion at the stem end of the fruit and they also have a pretty easily removed outer fruit wall.  At least one internet entry says that the sumo  is a hybrid between a mandarin and a naval orange.  But whereas mandarins are smallish this is a big fruit, and mandarins are also called "oranges", especially when they come peeled and as de-membraned sections in little cans.  So the sumo would seems to make it very similar to a tangelo, except bigger (thus the appellation suggesting large size?).  Interestingly enough the label clearly states that this is non-GMO, but how can you say that a hybrid organism is not a genetically modified organism?  Hybridization in the genus Citrus is pretty common way to genetically modify the offspring, thus the seedless clementine.  Equally stupid is the fact that the fruit has no glutin.  Now glutin is a protein found only in the endosperm of certain cereal grains and so the list of plants whose fruits lack glutin is quite long.  Seems like this is just a marketing ploy for a rather largish tangelo.  Enjoy.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Paper white

 Having flowers in your house in winter is a good thing for your attitudes and mental health.  Paper white Narcissus are perhaps the easiest plants to coax into flower.  The bulbs are placed on top of a bed of marbles in a tall narrow vase to keep them propped upright.  They seem to like cool window sills and light from eastern windows.  When flower buds appear you can move them to other locations where you want something cheerful.  They are also nice things to give people as a present.  Not only are they attractive but they have a lovely fragrance.  Too bad scratch and sniff monitor screens don't exist.

Beautiful destruction

 So far the weather of 2021 has been rather unkind.  The initial part of the event was an ice storm and as those go this was not anywhere near the worst of it kind, about 1/4 " of ice was deposited rather evenly on all the exposed limbs and leaves and needles.  This brought down 4 or 5 big limbs but our inspection indicated nothing too severe.  But over night 3-4 inches of nice sticky wet snow blanketed every thing.  And suddenly the amount of limb breakage increased by about a factor of three.  The damage may actually be more extensive depending up which bushes and shrubs bent to the ground recover and straighten.  So far the power has gone out twice, the same 12 houses each time, of which ours is the last of the group because our neighbors get their power from a different direction.  Here's an iced up young pine (P. bungeana) just beginning to collect snow, so this is just the beautiful part.  

Botanical tree decorations

 Probably the best thing about Christmas is that the many pagan symbols used for our decorations are largely botanical.  As the decorations were getting packed away for another year, TPP took the opportunity to grab an image of the many tree decorations that were botanical. The most unusual is probably the passion fruit (between the pickle and the maize).  And the very common but a bit confounding fly agaric mushroom.  The most realistic is the head of garlic cloves.  These are all glass except for the sprig of mistletoe (upper left).  The oldest, a real antique, is the silver walnut in the bottom row.  And of course just because, there is a magnolia flower, and even some holly and holly berries a favorite pagan symbol of the season.

Thoughts on a New Year

 Nothing actually different from one day to the next, but we rather like having even arbitrary reasons for doing things. After some serious thought TPP decided that the problem was too much consumption of bad news; items that left a depressing frame of mind, and mostly things that nothing whatever can be done about.  Doing small things for a stranded, alone, and lonely student proved to be way more worthwhile.  So ditching the 24 hr news cycle, ignoring the constant feed of bad news to phone or laptop was helpful in developing a better frame of mind.  If Trump's name never again is in a headline, would make things a lot better.  Finding out that some of my tropical friends in Australia are pretty much going about normal lives was frustrating news because so many in the USA can't even wear a mask, too much inconvenience.  Also noted that a short walk away a real micro brewery has a smallish beer garden, no inside service at all, and at temperatures in the 20s and 30s, people were sitting around drinking beer, it was a very cheerful thing, so much has this pandemic resulted in isolation.  This lack of basic socialization was clearly another reason for a down in the dumps attitude.  A little more social distancing would have been nice though.  At any rate TPP is determined to find some things, some topics, to blog about in an effort to improve his mental health, and maybe yours too.  So happier New Years to everyone because it doesn't get much badder than it is.