Sunday, March 1, 2015

Visiting Singapore--Sky scrapers and rainforest

Another place that energetically celebrates Chinese New Year is Singapore. (The traditional celebration went for many days, so you could still be celebrating new year for a couple of days into March 2013.)

Singapore is a complex, bustling mix of English, Chinese and Malay cultures, plus many smaller ones. When I was there in 2010, much of the rest of the world was in a recession but the economy of Singapore was strong.

port, Singapore

port, Singapore

A small island, they have built upward to maximize space. I was told they are fortunate in not being on an earthquake fault line and are protected by other islands from the direct force of tropical typhoons. A vibrant economy means there are fine hotels, diverse restaurants, goods for sale from all over Asia and excellent museums.

It is close to the Equator and surrounded by water, so it is warm and humid. That as: hot and sticky or pleasant, tropical and romantic, depending on your mood.

We headed to the Botanic Garden. It is crammed with gorgeous plants.

flower, Singapore

Singapore Botanic Garden

Singapore Botanic Garden
 National Flower of Singapore, Vanda hybrid Miss Joaquin
Here is the cactus house. The roof deflects the rain. Singapore is too wet for desert cacti to grow well.

cactus house, Singapore Botanic Garden

Up above Singapore, a patch of the native reinforest has been preserved--Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Doubtless it is a slightly weedy, over-used forest, but I had never had the opportunity to see an Asian tropical forest. This one was within easy access of downtown Singapore. Local ecologist Subaraj Rajathurani took us around, naming the plants, pointing out features, explaining about the history, and generally enhancing the visit. 

rainforest above Singapore
Dawn, rainforest above Singapore
For example, I wondered if they had trouble with house cats from the city killing the song birds. No, Subarj explained, the pythons kill the cats. The Reserve has a high density of pythons, though they are difficult to see. Oh.

rainforest above Singapore

There were several very pretty ferns that I had seen introduced elsewhere in the world. Here these divided-leafed, creeping ferns are native.

fern, Singapore

And wild pepper vines closely related to black pepper, Piper nigrum, one of the most important spices in history (and today).

Wild form of black pepper, Piper nigrum
As always, rainforest trees are too tall for a photograph to do them justice. 

rainforest above Singapore

rainforest above Singapore

While hiking, we met people on their morning run. At the time I didn't think much of it, but today the comparison of a morning run on a convenient local running trail in the Rocky Mountain foothills or Central Park in New York City or in Bukit Timah in Singapore is wonderful for similarity and difference. Of course local people make recreational use of what is available.

Singapore introduced me to tropical Asia. It was hot, humid and lush. The city was full of interesting sights, from the tall office buildings to fountains near the port. The diversity of shops and food and people were visit was not enough to look at products from all over the world, try the tastes of a dozen cultures and revel in the variety of the people. And of course, to see plants now found around the world in their homeland.

Comments and corrections welcome.

Kathy Keeler

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Visiting Taiwan-a Very Beautiful Island

Chinese New Year--start of the year on the Asian lunar calendar--in which February 19, 2015 is the first day of the first month of 4713, reminds me of places other than the People's Republic of China where the holidays of the lunar calendar are celebrated.

One is Taiwan.

Taiwan is a subtropical island off the coast of Asia. It has belonged to both China and Japan in the last 300 years and has an indigenous population that is neither Chinese or Japanese, so Taiwan is a very interesting blend of cultures. Currently they are a self-governed democracy. They industrialized early and are prosperous and high-tech.

beach, Taiwan

As an island, Taiwan is surrounded by beaches and beautiful ocean views. The temperatures are mild and the air warm and humid. But down the center is a range of high mountains, so you can retreat up into the mountains for a change in temperature.

mountains of Taiwan

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Visiting China--Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou

Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou, China
Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou, China
A walk in the rain.

In China, I toured the classical gardens of Suzhou.  For generations, great respect was given to pensioners, especially former government officials, who build exquisite gardens where they wrote poetry and studied arts such as calligraphy. In Suzhou, you can visit several of the finest surviving traditional Chinese gardens.

The Garden of the Master of Nets is probably my favorite, and it is regarded as among the very best. It is not very large. Land has been at a premium in China for hundreds of years. Part of the art of the traditional garden was to make a small area seem large and interesting. Corners and walls were arranged so that, seen from a different angle, the same spot looked quite different.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Flowers in Colorado in January--Is it Spring?

In northern Colorado, at 5000' elevation, the last week of January 2015, I found plants in bloom!

We had daily highs above freezing, some days up into the 60's, some nights above freezing all night. In a search for "plant records" I have a quirky goal of finding plants flowering in every month of the year. So I went out looking for flowers on January 29. Some species do not need many days above freezing to launch their buds.

Erodium cicutarium, redstem filaree
Erodium cicutarium, redstem filaree, Jan. 29, 2015
And I found [drum roll]: Erodium cicutarium, redstem filaree! Also called redstem storksbill and common stork's bill (geranium family, Geraniaceae), it is from the Mediterranean region of Europe and was introduced to North America by the 1800s. It is now very widespread (every state but Florida and all the Canadian provinces that border on the U.S. (see USDA map)).

But it is January, the depths of winter in the northern United States. How can plants be flowering?

Global warming?  Maybe. All over the world they are recording earlier and earlier warm temperatures.

However, I want to think about how plants respond to unseasonable weather.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Second Anniversary

This blog is two years old this week. I’ve written more than 100 posts. 

There are more than 300,000 plants, each with a story. There are even more places to visit.  I am not going to run out of material. 

Researching and writing are great fun!

rose, Rosa sp.

What is often a challenge is having the right picture. If I didn’t take a photo of sunflowers during the summer, I don’t have it in the winter. Occasionally I use pictures taken by a friend but mostly this is a personal blog and if I don’t have pictures I postpone the topic.

Being an amateur photographer not all my photos work out. I have a theory that there are “photogenic plants”—beautiful and recognizeable from any angle--in a continuum down to very unphotogenic plants--where it is hard to get a decent photo.

Sloppy photos of roses come out nicely anyway.

Often an unphotogenic plant has a shape that makes it hard to get both leaves and flower in focus, for example the chicory (Chicorium intybus) and sunbright (Phermeranthus parviflorus) below. 

chicory, Cichorium intybus

On sunbright, there are long thin stems, two to three times longer than the leaves, that hold small flowers up above the plant--you can see brown stems reaching out of the picture and flopping on the rock. A lot of pictures fail, if I take enough one will succeed. 

sunbright, Phermeranthus parviflorus
sunbright, Phermeranthus parviflorus
Photographs have not always been digital or visible while standing by the plant. I still regularly celebrate digital photos! In the Old Days, using film in my camera, I had only so many pictures (36, maybe 72 with a backup roll) and each photo cost more than a dollar between purchasing film and getting it developed, so taking a dozen pictures of the same flower was not an option for me. Furthermore, I didn't get to see the pictures until they were developed, a week or more later.  Digital photos are wonderful!

But how can a botanist complain? Compared to animals that run or hide from me, plants are easy to photograph. Below, there were two big cerambicid (long-horned) beetles like the one in shadow on the left when I started to focus the old camera, but one dodged behind the leaf (arrow).)

Ipomoea carnea Costa Rica
two longhorned beetles on the morning glory Ipomoea carnea
Costa Rica

One of the joys of this blog is using my photos. A few years ago I started scanning old plant pictures (like the chicory above) into my computer. I wondered why I was bothering. I was retired and had no use for diverse and esoteric plant pictures. That has turned around radically in the last two years. Now I search through the photo files and wish for more choices. And I am actively photographing all sorts of things I had been walking by:  plants in the cracks in the pavement, house plants, pine cones. Sometimes I know how I'll use the image, sometimes I'm just building my photo-library.

Looking at the pictures included in this post, I am reminded that all plant photography is strongly seasonal. Of the photos I included, none can be taken in Colorado in January, tho in western Costa Rica that morning glory is blooming. New leaves or flowers or fruit, or leafless trees for that matter, happen in a particular time of year. It can be 11 months before the same picture can be taken again. I don't object to that--it is an essential part of botany--but it certainly affects my posts.

I have a prairie ecologist's maxim that goes: "Do it now, the weather may be worse later." 

There's a corollary that goes something like: "Notice the plants now, the season is changing."

Thank you for reading this blog: I'm looking forward to Year Three.

If you have questions, I’m happy to try to figure out the answers.

Comments and corrections welcome.

Kathy Keeler

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Travel Story--Botanists Touring Victoria, Australia

Acacia, Victoria, Australia
After the International Botanical Congress in Melbourne Australia in late July 2011, I took a tour across Victoria, Australia. A botanical tour, offered to the Botanical Congress attendees. Consequently, this tour was busload of botanists and their families--14 tourists, two guides and a driver. The tourists were an international mix: Americans, Germans, Austrians, an Estonian, an Australian from Sydney, a Colombian. We found the  native plants enthralling.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Travel Story--Northern Hemisphere Botanist in Victoria, Australia

Victoria, AustraliaAt the end of the International Botanic Congress in Melbourne, Australia, in August 2011, I took a tour led by two Victoria botanists, Nigel Walsh and David Cameron, showing us plant wonders of southeastern Australia. And wonders they were.

Victoria, Australia
Australia’s native plants are very different from those familiar to me in the United States. First is the Northern Hemisphere-Southern Hemisphere difference: before the age of dinosaurs, the continents, which had been a single entity (Pangea), split. The southern landmass, today South America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica, remained together as one continent, Gondwanaland, but separated from the northern continents, now North America, Europe and Asia, known as Laurasia. Thus, many of the plants of the continents that were Gondwanaland have been separate from those of Laurasia for 150-175 million years, fully long enough to produce vast differences. There are plant families and lineages within families that are only found in the Southern (or Northern) Hemisphere. The Southern Hemisphere plants were part of what I wanted to see.