Sunday, April 30, 2017

Visiting Northern Japan--Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)

cherry blossoms, Tendo, Japan
Cherry blossoms, Tendo City, Japan
Japan is famous for celebrating spring with cherry blossoms. In mid April we flew from Colorado where we don't have a lot of flowering cherries but where the apples and crabapples were in full bloom.
apple blossoms, Colorado
Apple blossoms, northern Colorado

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tulips and the Tulip Bubble Part 2

This is part two of a pair of postsabout the Tulip Bubble, aka tulipomania, when in the 1630s in Holland the price of a tulip bulb inflated incredibly, and then suddenly dropped. My last post described Holland at that time. The merchant class had lots of money but because of sumptuary laws and Calvinist beliefs, spent it on houses and gardens not jewels and furs.Tulips had been introduced from Turkey after 1550. They were still uncommon and some highly desirable varieties were very rare indeed (link to previous post). The result was a bubble...


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tulips and the Tulip Bubble Part 1

Tulips are blooming.

red and white tulips

They're a riot of color that make people smile.

Yet economists make a Bad Example of tulips. Tulips created the earliest well-recorded bubble, defined by as "A period of wild speculation in which the price of a commodity or stock or an entire market is inflated far beyond its real value." Bubbles “burst” when a general awareness of the folly emerges and the price drops. 
The story gets a lot of attention because it seems so bizarre. How could someone spend thousands of dollars on a single tulip bulb? People did. At the peak of the tulip bubble, a bulb was traded for a house on the canal in Amsterdam, one of the most expensive locations in the world at the time. That's millions of dollars at today's prices. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Plant Story--the Merry Periwinkle, Vinca

Periwinkle is an early spring flower that doesn't get much notice. But it has long colorful history.

periwinkle, Vinca

The name periwinkle is an old English name for a group of plants native to Europe and the Middle East in the genus Vinca. The name periwinkle has been applied to a number of other plants, particularly related plants from the tropics with similarly-shaped flowers (Catharanthus). Periwinkle is also the name of a common seashell (Littorina littorea) and its relatives photos. I'll talk about the two species of perennial, creeping blue-flowered plants, Vinca major and Vinca minor, commonly planted all across the United States and much of Canada. You can find ornamental forms of periwinkle with variegated leaves and with flowers shading from deep blue-purple to white. Vinca minor, the common periwinkle is a little smaller but more winter-hardy than the greater periwinkle, V. major. They are members of the dogbane family Apocynaceae.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Visiting Colorado--The Foothills in March

I've been out in Larimer County Parks, checking out sites for spring wildflower walks. I took lots of pictures to get a head start identifying the common plants on those trails. I thought my walks to be "early spring drab" ... then I reviewed my slides.


Carter Lake, Larimer County, Colorado
The trail beckons
south end of Sundance Trail, Carter Lake

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Plant Story--Stavesacre and Larkspurs in Europe

Delphinium, larkspur
Stavesacre. Would you think "larkspur"?

The larkspurs (Delphinium species) of North America are tall plants with curiously-shaped flowers in purple, blue or white. (Earlier blog, featuring American larkspurs link)

It was clear when researching American larkspurs that there were similar European plants because, well, the name larkspur is based on the flower looking like a lark's foot, but North America doesn't have a common bird we call a lark. The lark of England, more formally the Eurasian skylark Alauda arvensis, was a well-known and conspicuous bird of farmlands. Its numbers are drastically down recently and farmlands have retreated so perhaps it is not as well known as in the past link

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Common Names -- Different Names in Different Places

I've been drawing attention to problems in looking up plants online by their common names. Here is one final issue with common names: they are often regional. That means you can find the same name on a different plant if you are in a different part of the United States. Or not find useful websites because on those websites they use a different common name.

goat's beard, Tragopogon
goatsbeard, Tragopogon
For example, looking at plant books from different regions, I find two goatsbeards, Aruncus dioicus (see photos I don't have one of my own) and Tragopogon spp. (above and photos). Aruncus grows across the eastern US., Canada and along the West Coast (USDA maps, description at Missouri Botanic Garden). Tragopogon grows there too, but eastern U.S. books it is called salsify or oyster plant. Aruncus is not found in the central U.S., and in some plant identification books from here, it is Tragopogon that is called goatsbeard. I believe the name goatsbeard for Tragopogon came with it from Europe (see Culpeper, Grieve). Aruncus is an American species, more recently named goatsbeard, for the way it looks. Currently, the USDA plants website has Tragopogon as goatsbeard and Aruncus as bride's feathers while the Flora of North America calls Aruncus goatsbeard and Tragopogon salsify. No knowing what you'll get if you ask for goatsbeard. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Plant Story--Red Osier Dogwood, Winter Color

Bright stems in the snow! 
red osier dogwood
red osier dogwood in winter
Color when the plants are dormant, awaiting spring.

red osier dogwood
red osier dogwood in foreground

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bali Dye Garden -- Yellows and Reds

reds in Threads of Life shop, Ubud, Bali
Red-dyed yarn and cloth
 in Threads of Life shop, Ubud, Bali
Why did the tropical Asian dye garden lack plants for yellow dyes and have so many marked as red dyes?

I thought I knew a lot about dyeing. I’ve grown most of the dye plants available commercially, for example madder, weld, and dyer's safflower, I've dyed with spinach, onion skins, red cabbage (link) and other fruits, vegetables and spices that have a reputations for producing dyes. I've thrown practically everything that grew in my garden, from marigolds to English ivy, into a dye pot and I've gathered wild plants from aspen and bindweed (link) to yarrow to make dyes.

recently-dyed silks
 Silk scarves I dyed in 2016
And yet, in Ubud, Bali, the dye garden of Threads of Life had plants I had only read about and ingredients for processes I'd never thought of trying. An afternoon was not enough to really understand what I saw.

Doubtless you are thinking: of course there would be new plants, the native plants of the central U.S. are very different from Bali, in tropical Asia. And that's is part of it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Visiting Scotland--Beautiful Orkney

Orkney, Scotland

Sometimes the places I go are imbued with romance from my childhood. Ah, Orkney! In the King Arthur tales of my childhood, Sir Gareth of Orkney was my favorite. (Cliffnotes) Many places associated with King Arthur are in southern England, for example Cornwall, so I never grasped how far Gareth traveled to serve with King Arthur.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Carnivorous Plants, from Legos

Southeast Asia is famous for diverse and bizarre insectivorous plants.

For example these Nepenthes pitchers, seen in Seattle's Volunteer's Park Conservatory. About five inches long, the pitchers capture and digest insects to provide essential nutrients for the plant. Carnivorous plants are most diverse in low-nutrient ecosystems such as tropical bogs.


So I was pleased to see Nepenthes pitchers at the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.


But wait! those aren't plants, those are built from legos!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Ancient Seeds of Lotus

lotus Nelumbo nucifera
Sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera
The sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, is perhaps the most iconic plant of Asia. (Post about lotus)

But it is the subject of ongoing scientific study because of the longevity of its seeds.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Anniversary, the Fourth One

Hardrangar Fjord, Norway
Hardrangar Fjord, Norway
I started this blog in February of 2013. What an experience it has been!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Bali Dye Garden -- Blues and Browns

Ooh! A dye garden!

Dye garden, Bali
Dye Garden, Ubud Bali
In Ubud, Bali, I spent an afternoon visiting a dye garden. Dye gardens are rare. Very few people use natural dyes these days, and only a few of those who dye grow the plants they use. So the dye garden was a treat!

This dye garden, run by Threads of Life, provides dyes for local natural dyeing and for teaching about dyes. The dyes, dyed cloth and things made from the dyed cloth are sold at the Threads of Life store in Ubud. The garden is frequently used for natural dyeing workshops (see upcoming workshops: link).

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tropical Flowers

orchids,  Singapore
Here is are a group of bright flowers, in case you are deep in snow as I am, are heading for a tropical holiday, or just enjoy the dramatic colors -- a collection of common tropical flowers. The tropics are defined as between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, the area around the Equator between 23 degrees north and south. Except at high elevations, this region never freezes and is generally quite warm and rainy.

All over the tropics you'll see:

Orchids! Members of the Orchidaceae, the plant family with more species than any of the other 400+ plant families, orchids have great diversity, from small pale flowers to large purple or red ones. People love them, so there are thousands of cultivated varieties. The vast majority of orchids require warm temperatures and high humidity so are easily grown in the warm tropics and less visible elsewhere.

another orchid seen in Singapore

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Plant Story -- the Mysterious Marquis Frangipani

The Marquis Frangipani eludes me.


Frangipani, Plumeria, (link: previous post) is one of the plants where the common name is no easier than the scientific name: both are multi-syllable words unfamiliar to most people. The scientific name is Plumeria. That name was chosen by Linneaus in the middle 1700s in honor of the Franciscan monk and French botanist Charles Plumier (1646-1704, biography), who collected and described many plants in the Caribbean in the late 1600s, one of which was plumeria. The plant was of course well-known to native Americans across the Caribbean and central America. The Badianus Manuscript, 1552, describes it and its use by the Aztecs, but The Badianus Manuscript was not widely known or available for many years after it was written (link).

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Plant Story--Fragrant Plumeria, Frangipani, Temple Tree

I first saw it in Costa Rica in 1972. A beautiful plant with spiral white flowers and an enticing scent. Plumeria the biologists told me.

wild frangipani, Costa Rica 1973
wild frangipani, Costa Rica 1973
Several days later someone called it frangipani and I connected the little bottle from the New Age store with the beautiful flower.

But it is true. One common name for species of Plumeria is frangipani and it is the source of what I thought of as a rather cloying essential oil. I like the scent of the flowers much better. If you've never smelled a frangipani flower, you've missed a treat!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Plant Puns

topiary, Japan
topiary, Japan
Why plant jokes? 

My goals writing about plants, travel, and history are to entertain with plant stories, making the point that plants are intriguing parts of our environment. Having a background in academia, I do factual easily, humor less easily. So I have been collecting plant jokes for the last couple of years and periodically inflicting them on people. Plant jokes are almost an can passive little green things be funny? Here, wishing you a merry New Year, are three I liked: