Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Fruits - a native holly

 Sorry  for TTP's absence; stuff happens and my attention has been elsewhere.   Now that the considerable leaf fall is done a couple of patchess of small shrubs catch your eye. Fruits are flowers at the stage of seed dispersal.  The bright red berries are not only pretty, but they are adored by fruit eating birds.  Often the berries end up heading south with flock of cedar waxwings.  These are called winter berry, a native holly, Ilex decidua, deciduous holly, which means they shed their leaves.  The species is also dioecious meaning you have to have a few naked male bushes to pollinate the female bushes or no berries.  If you have room these are nice plants for winter color and wildlife. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - a fall lily of sorts

 October is not a great month for flowering, but a few plants flower in the fall.  This little perennial is generally hard to raise, at least for us (it keeps dying) but the right combination of shade and water seem to be keeping it happy.  It's commonly called a toad lily (a species of Tricyrtis).  The perianth is decorated with pinky-purplly spots as is the three branched style. It stands about 12" tall with about 1" diam flowers.  It is not a native, but also is not invasive.  It started flowering on the 5th of October.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - a "rare" orchid?

 Orchids are funny, and a number of even botanists are obsessed by them.  It is one of the largest families of flowering plants.  Among the species of orchids found in here in Lincolnland they are described as "rare", "very rare", "uncommon", and one such plant has shown up in our gardens.  

The upper image shows the whole plant, all seven inches or it from a small whorl of slender basal leaves its terminal spike of white flowers.  The lower image show the flowers a bit bigger, all of 2-3 mm long.  This a Ladie' tresses orchid, the genus Spiranthes probably S. ovalis.  This orchid is "not common" and it found our gardens' on its own.  However such plants flowering here in september are easily over-looked, so quite inconspicuous, if not actually rare.  It woes make TPP happy just to know it's there; 4 or 5 plants in a patch some foot in diameter.  Oh did TPP mention that most orchids have quite small flowers of rather small plants.  Enjoy.

Salt potatoes

 TPP has been occupied, so sorry.  Having technical problems with images.  Here's part of the back log that doesn't need illustration.  While looking for items for a together the Phactors hit on the idea of salt potatoes, a common item from our youth, so many decades ago.  So how many if you have ever had salt potatoes?  They used to come as a bag of New potatoes, which is to say small whole potatoes in a bag with a decent sized package of salt.  Basically you boil them in a brine until tender then let them dry forming a crust of salt on the skin, then you serve them hot with melted butter.  In those days we didn't use fancy stuff like parsley or chives.  The recipe isa about 1 1/2 cups of salt for 4 lbs. of potatoes.  When looking this up TPP was very surprised to find them referred to as Syracuse salt potatoes.  Apparently, this is an upstate New York thing, and we all knew Syracuse (Mrs. Phactor's home town near enough) was famous for salt.  Important that you understand the potatoes must be whole with the skin intact.  So  the Phactors had quite a laugh of this blast from the post.  

Other up coming items: new cat, fall flowers, and more.

Last day for loyal lap cat

 The Phactors have two pet cats who own this house.  The older one, a rescue cat, just turned 17 and it was like the meter had run out.  She just gradually slid into a gradual decline and she just has given up living, so we will have her put wo sleep later today so as not to force her to continue a weakened existence.  Her name was Magpie, Miss Maggie, she was a chocolate black with a little white, and a medium length thickish coat; she was my lap cat, and I miss her alreadys.  From 7 pm to 10 om each night she would be in TPP's lap or crunched in beside my leg, until it was time to go to bed.  Maggie was a housecat who did enjoy playing with the occasional house mouse.  She remained playful at times her whole life. This picutre shows her plumpish physique in a favorite place, between two kitchen windows on a window high bench.  Maggie had a big head and big forepaws, a broad chest, and slender hind quarters with small feet, as if put together out of spare parts, but she was quite agile, quite athletic.  But she lived a long, healthy life and enjoyed being a housecat; she was quite a lover of petting and people who did not necessarily love cats.

Polio in New York

 This news item caught my eye because New York state is my childhood home and polio is a distinct memory.  TPP had just started school in the mid-50s when it was announced that they had a vaccine for polio.  My parents couldn't get us to the doctor soon enough to get the vaccination because polio scared people.  Evey year there would be an outbreak somewhere and we all had classmates who wore leg or arm braces, and everyone knew someone who had died of polio.   But it seems that people have forgotten or even with a million deaths, and covid just isn't scary enough.  Science was a little too eager to pronounce polio's demise.  It's back! And aided and abetted by anti-vaxxers polio will surely make a come back.  TPP has yet to hear an anti-vax position that was convincing.  Herd immunity makes sense biologically, but if the anti-vaxxers screw it up TPP hopes they get their much-deserved infection.  Take away their passports and don't let these fools travel to places that still harbor diseases like polio (No idea if this case came from overseas or not).

Friday Fabulous Flower - Bottle brush

 This ia an aptly named plant, it does look like a bottle brush and even better is grows in the shade and flowers in midsummer.   Actually this shrub looks good enough that the flowering is almost a bonus.

 This is the bottle brush buckeye, Aesculus parviflora.  It just now is flowering, and some of ours is growing in pretty deep shade.  The only problem is that in bad Japanese beetle years the flowers can be totally eaten.   

Rules of gardening & FFF

 OK TPP was the victim of a very busy week.  What a relief to get that overwith.  And it rained after two long weeks of hot dry weather.  My rain gauge recorded 3.5"  and every bit of it was needed.

Here is a  Friday Fabulous Flower, but it is a violation of a TPP gardening rule.  This is a very pretty plant, but one of our gardening rules, based on sad experience, is never plant a loosestrife.  Every violation of this rule has ended badly.  This is Lysimachia clethroides, the gooseneck loosestrife.

It flowers in July a plus, and it does OK in shade,  but you can never control it. So says TPP.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Big leaf Magnolia

 Hello readers,

TPP is back!  A combination of too many things to do, mild depression, and a lost password kept TPP off the intertudubes.  A really sweet flower has helped with the depression, but really our country seems to be broken, and too many of the ignorant types seem to be winning.  Of course getting the password fixed has helped.  Near the front corner of the Pfactor's dwelling is a 4 foot tall big leaf Magnolia macrophylla var. ashei, and today it flowered!  A very uplifting event, especially since it is a from Florida.  It is much hardier than everyone thinks.  Although the next polar vortex will probably do it in.  Isn't it wonderful?

Blue lawn - phase two

  A good portion of our "lawn" becomes blue with thousands of Scilla blossom which we call peak blue; but our lawn is not done yet as there is a phase two.  Yes, look at how many common blue violets compose the "lawn" in late April.  It would be even bluer except for the white flowered variant.  The violets grow pretty thickly.


Friday Fabulous flower - Sweet Betsy


This particular species I always called a sessile Trillium (T. cuneatum) because the flower sits right on the whorl of three leaves.  The outer three tepals are maroon-colored on the inside surface.  The inner three tepals remain erect and almost 2" tall.  The leaves are rather nicely mottled, and a similar species was called toad shade.  

Earth Day - 2022

 Hard to believe how the years have passed, 52 of them since the first Earth Day.  I recall Earth Day  was not a big event because the anti-war protest occupied our attention and TPP was a senior trying to graduate from college and start graduate studies.  And it wasn't easy.  You had to cross picket lines to go to class, if indeed you had to go to class. Now it seems that Earth Day is not enough; more change is needed than it seems can make in the short term especially in today's political atmosphere will allow, and it leaves TPP feeling rather defeated. I can't wait for the waves to start lapping at the door of Mar-a-lago. Keep the faith people, but I doubt religion is going to play any useful role. TPP needs a beverage to revive his attitude. 

Two Tulips?

 Some time back Ms. Phactor planted a bag of mixed tulips, species tulips.  One species has done quite well and it is very cheerful, it is either Tulipa tarda (the late tulip?) or T. urumiensis (and they might be taxonomic synonyms), but TPP doesn't know tulip taxonomy very well.  The flowers only open when the sun is shining.

More pinky flowers

 OK we just celebrated peak blue, but some of the early flowering shrubs are making things pink.  The earliest flowering Magnolia in my collection is a hybrid (M. x loebneri); it looks a lot like a star Magnolia and that is one the two parent species.  The flowers are quite pink with fewer tepals and no smell at all.  The plant grows like a star Magnolia too.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - early spring color

 It's actually a Friday and TPP is posting a new blog.  Is this possible?  March was pretty warm, so now April is compensating by being rather cold. This FFF is a really nice shrub for early spring color so as you want pink.  This is a very tough plant, tolerant of midwestern soils, and it flowers at a very small size, but seldom does it grow much more than 4-5' tall.  Yet you seldom see this azalea for sale in a nursery, but it is widely available in catalogues.  It handles spring frosts very well even after the buds begin to show color.  The plant shown handled 23 F without any damage.  However it is  apparently tasty to shrub nibbling bunnies; so mine are caged.  Also oaks don't like it and even if it gets severely damaged by falling oak limbs it grows back pretty fast.  This is the Korean Azalea (R. mucronulatum) and the most common variety is 'Cornell pink'.  These shrubs do nicely in the middle of mixed hedge-row beds, and TPP highly recommends it.

Friday Fabulous Flower - early bloomers, but very cheerful

 Here is another harbinger of spring.  The Phactors have many dozens of bulbs in our gardens, many of them varieties of Narcissus, and most of these are fairly good at needing fairly little attention.  Some have the yellow perianth and corona that we would call "daffodils", but others are more exotic with orange colored flower parts that are not necessarily in evenly spaced whorls.  

Hello, spring

 Nothing quite says spring more than crocus.  They just barely peak above ground and up shoots a flower. For whatever reason the earliest crocus are always gold colored.  This makes them extra showy, except bees can't see this color like they can the white, striped, or lavender colored flowers.  This clump of volunteers decided to grow under  European beech tree.  It's a nice contrast the splash of color among the leaves and against the bark.  It flowered earlier than the FFF snow trillium but it isn't a native wild flower.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Earliest wild flower


This little beauty is often missed because it blooms so early, March 16 this year.  This is Trillium nivale, often called the snow trillium.  The small scale was added to show how big this flower is.  Tucked in among leaf litter it must stand some 7-8 cm tall and the flowers are some 5-6 cm side.  Each flower sits a top a whorl of three oval leaves.  This is one of earliest native wood land wildffowers of this area.  TPP found this species in a woodland park much to everyone's surprise.

Last gasp of winter - snow

This time of year the upper midwest is subject to warring weather fronts generally from the south west and the northwest.  The latter tend to bring drier but colder weather, while the former bring in moisture, which falls depending upon the temperature as either a liquid or a solid or a wintery blend of both.  These tend to form long narrow weather tracks that can hit or miss us depending upon just where the track is.  This year has been rather snowy, and last night we got probably 3 inches that will melt very soon as warmer air replaces the colder.  A colleague new to these parts commented on the changeable weather and how sad it was that all their shoots got snowed on.  Snow is a great insulator and spring shoots do very well beneath a blanket of snow.  TPP worries more about shrubs and trees buds getting their tips frozen if the temperature gets too cold.  People are already asking about tomato and chili peppers plants and even a minimal freeze with kill these tropical plants.  Stick with the mustard family, the coleworts, and lettuces and other cold weather greens for at least another month unless you use something to cover them as they grow.  The good old boys used to say if your peas didn't get snowed on they weren't planted early enough. Of course our friends that moved to the "upper peninsula" can only dream of spring.  

Friday Fabulous FLower - Spring has sprung

 Spring has sprung but winter isn't over yet.  Signs of spring: earliet bulbs in flower like snow drops and winter aconite open in sunny places, mallard ducks return to lily pond like clock work (Mar 1st), and of course the FFF in flower, two varieties of witch hazel, Arnold's promise and DIane (orange-reddish frs). Very, very cheerful.

Happy Birthday Charles Darwin

 Yep!  It was Charles' birthday. And Abe Lincoln's and my kid sister too. So pretty easy to remember.  In times past we've had cake in the Herbarium but cake and a viral pandemic don't mix well.  And TPP gets  out all the Darwin books he owns just so students can see them.  Heck, it's getting so faculty don't own such things as books either.  Sadly books and journals used to be a measure of how good you were as a scholar.  Once a month a visit to a big library would help keep in touch with the literature and you would solicit reprint copies of really good papers by sending a postcard.  You would buy reprint copies to give away, now you just download a pdf copy.  As a graduate student at least you got mail with reprints.  Of course Charles wrote books, not a 8-10 page journal research article.  Well Happy  Birthday anyways, Chalres, you would not like how some things have changed.

Avoiding winter - the Big Tree

 Hey all, after last year's attempt to avoid winter failed (also in Texas), this year's trip managed to avoid a foot or so of snow, by going farther south.  So TPP found himself in Goose Island State Park, which features the largest live oak (Quercus virginiana).  It is truly a massive tree.  And then a few hundred feet away we spotted a couple of whooping cranes.  The tree has a sort of multiple trunks massed together for a circumference of nearly 40 feet.   The crown spreads some couple of hundred feet in all directions.   It has seen better days but is still an impressive tree (even if not very tall, only 44 feet).  

Friday 'fabulous Flower - Mock orange

 One of TPP's indoor plants has a tendency to be overlooked when it flowers.  In general, it is raised for foliage, and in warmer climates it is often used as a foundation planting particularly the variety with variegated leaves.  This is probably Pittosporum tobira, a common variety.  This tree is about 16" tall and has a trunk about 2" in diameter.  It has been trained as a bonsai tree for about 30 years.  

The flowers are about a half inch in diameter and they are highly fragrant with a mock orangish sort of scent, very sweet, thus the common name.  A small cluster of flowers appears in every whorl of leaves.  You smell the flowers as you come into the room. Too bad we don't have scratch and sniff monitor screens.

who is on first? Confusion?

 The article's title promised to tell you how to grow potatoes.  Here's the photo they used to illustrate the article which compounded the confusion. OK all you sharp eyed plant people see the confusion right away because this is obviously a sweet potato, not a potato.  This is mostly a storage root but it is a stem at one end (as is obvious).  This is Ipomea batatas, a morning glory, and note the specific epithet, which sounds as if a young kid was saying "potatoes", a common name that got transferred to storage stem (a tuber) in the nightshade family Solanum tuberosum.  Both from Peru.  The common name got switched leading to much confusion.  And don't even think about bringing up the name yam.  The article was about the latter and did not mention sweet potatoes.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Cheerful house plants

 Dear Readers, In the waning days of 2021 TPP "enjoyed" the hospitality of our neighboring hospital where it was determined that was not a complete picture of health.  Now getting used to this idea may take a bit of time.  So your indulgence for my infrequent blogging is requested.

That said, some house plants are tremendously cheerful in those dark and rather gloomy post-holiday, not so cheerful days of January.  Today's cheer is actually a quite easy plant to grow in your house, and believe it or not it is a non-hardy azalea.  These are commonly sold during the holiday season and they can stay in flower for weeks.  Actually this azalea was purchased 3 or so years ago, and grows outside in hanging basket on a garden hook for 6 months and brought inside this year well into October.  It started flowering about a month ago and has been in full bloom for 2 weeks.  Last spring it was pruned back and given acidic fertilizer (Heath family).  The double flowers are not totally to my liking, but it is a huge long-lasting flower display.  Very cheerful. It likes to be kept evenly moist so it needs careful watering both inside and out.  Not sure what species if used, but it is not hardy. The flowers are quite large on this rather small plant.  The short days and cooler temps certainly promote flowering in this plant.