Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Range of Prairie Plants--Natives of Edmonton, Alberta

blanket flower Gaillardia
blanket flower Gaillardia aristida
"I know that plant!" I was 1200 miles almost due north of home, in Edmonton, Alberta at a Botanical Society meeting. I had never been that far north in Canada. There, a native garden at the Shaw Conference Centre featured plants important to the local Cree tribe. And most were plants I knew from Colorado. See blanket flowers, asters, monarda in Edmonton, below and in my "grow local natives" Denver Post article.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Visiting the Southern Hemisphere--Searching for the Southern Cross

Don’t you hang upside down in the Southern Hemisphere? 

It sounds strange to ask that, but since ancient Greece, it has been a recurring question:  how can there be life south of the Equator, if the world is spherical, won't anyone there fall off? 

When experienced, the Southern Hemisphere feels like the Northern Hemisphere.
Uluru, Australia Nobody falling off
Tourists at Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia
Nobody falling off.
But because the Southern Hemisphere IS on the other half of the earth from the Northern Hemisphere, the stars are seen from a different angle. Familiar constellations such as Orion hang upside down. But also, the reversed seasons means that Orion is a constellation of summer, when the days are long and star gazing requires staying up late, while Leo, a constellation I rarely see because it is high in the sky early in the night only during the northern summer, is easily seen in the southern winter nights.

And of course, the Polaris, the Pole Star over the North Pole, is hard to see from the Southern Hemisphere, staying low on the horizon, as does the constellation in which it sits, the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor). Conversely, the constellation over the South Pole, the Southern Cross, rises higher and is easier to see the farther south you go.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Plant Wonders--10 Tropical Plants Not to Miss

Costa Rican rainforest
Looking into the Costa Rican rainforest
Ew! The tropics! Deadly snakes and poisonous plants! I tip-toed through the vegetation as if every leaf would bite!

I first encountered the tropics in 1973, when I took an Organization for Tropical Studies course, Tropical Ecology, which introduced U.S. graduate students to the tropics, in Costa Rica. At the beginning of the course, they gave us a safety orientation: these snakes are poisonous, these ants have a sting that will incapacitate you, these leaves cause welts...

Suitably intimidated--having experienced only the northern United States--I stayed in the middle of the path and tried not to get close to the leaves.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Visiting Taiwan--Wild is Close By

Taiwan is a small and densely populated island (link), but it has high mountains in the center and those mountains are so rugged that that they remain wild. Because it is a small island, access to wild Taiwan is surprisingly easy. You can, for example, take a city bus from downtown Taipei, Taiwan's capital, to Yangmingshan Park, hike for the afternoon and take the bus back to the city center, or start from there on a backpack adventure through the mountains of central Taiwan.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Plant Story--Franklinia, the extinct American camellia

On a tour of gardens in Philadelphia, the local guide stopped and said proudly " this is our franklinia." It was the third different franklinia tree pointed out to us. 

Being from Colorado, my reaction was "so?" No franklinias in Colorado.
Franklinia alatamaha
Franklinia alatamaha franklinia or the Franklin tree

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Visiting Cinque Terre on the Coast of Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre, Italy 
Four years ago I took a hiking tour of Cinque Terre and Tuscany in Italy with Backroads. Hiking tours range from extremely strenuous to modest. Backroads had options for a variety of walkers. My husband and I had gotten into shape but mostly we were the laggards. Where I took the van the last mile, others in the group found an extra loop to walk. An important lesson I learned from that tour was that being in good enough shape to hike the distance is not sufficient: I needed to be better than that, fit enough to enjoy the walking. 

Despite the discomfort of being behind almost everyone, I had a terrific experience.

I had not been to Italy, so the landscapes with olive trees or Lombardy poplars were enchanting. Wow! it looks like pictures I've seen!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Just a Glimpse of Milkweed Diversity

swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
Milkweeds, genus Asclepias, the dogbane family, Apocynaceae, are wonderful plants. They are such a distinctive group that they are easy for botanical beginners to recognize. Consequently, I have been taking photographs of milkweeds since I was a graduate student who could identify only one or two wildflowers.