Field of Science

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.