Field of Science

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.