Sunday, August 28, 2016

Plant Story--Chokecherries, a Native American Cherry

chokecherry Prunus virginiana flowers

We call them chokecherries. They are native American shrubs or small trees, in the same genus as cherries and plums, scientifically Prunus virginiana. They grow all across North America except the deep South (USDA map). We could have called them Virginia cherries, a much more dignified name. The name chokecherry name probably comes from the fact that the raw fruits are a shocking experience to your mouth: you pop one in and oh! my! it is sour, puckery, chokingly astringent. Yet chokecherries are edible and were widely used by Native Americans and settlers. Fruit pictures

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Common Names--What a Mess!

Saskatoon berries, or you might know them as...
Here are the fruits on my saskatoon--you might know them service berries or June berries. In the East you might call this a shadbush. Robins don't argue over the names, they just gobble the fruits down.

To entertain with the stories I love, I have to identify the plant. That is what names are for--communication. Why is it so difficult to have widely recognized plant names?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Visiting Baja California--Flowers in the Desert

mesquite, Baja California
mesquite, probably  Prosopis glandulosa, honey mesquite 
Deserts are stressful places for plants. Water is in short supply and often unpredictable in its arrival. Growing and flowering are difficult, since they require water. Yet plants like the mesquite, above, and the cardรณn cacti, below, were in flower in the dry Baja California desert in April.

desert, Baja California
desert scene, Baja California
Deserts plants cope with drought various ways.  Annual plants are opportunists. They spend most of the time as seeds, then grow, flower and go to seed within one to four weeks after a good rain, not to reappear until the next heavy rain. Other plants are perennial, visible members of the community. They have woody stems that increase in size or expand without wood from a big root system. Perennial plants must store water, soaking it up like a sponge when it rains, so that they can consume it slowly during long dry periods. Some perennials flower based on rainfall, but others flower the same time every year, using their stored water.

On the islands of the southern half of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), a surprizing number of perennial plants were flowering in mid-April.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Plant Story--Wavy Leaf Thistle, A Pretty Native, Not A Weed

Cirsium undulatum, wavyleaf thistle

Wavy leaf thistle, Cirsium undulatum, is a native thistle of the plains and the west of North America (sunflower family, Asteraceae). Thistles are a weird group: some are rare and endangered, some are extremely abundant noxious weeds. Wavy leaf isn't currently protected, but it is closer to being rare than noxious.