Sunday, May 20, 2018

Visiting Oahu--Wahiawa Botanical Garden, Tropical at 1000'

Heliconia flowers

In the center of the island of Oahu is the Wahiawa Botanical Garden. Part of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens system, it is at about 1000' above sea level and contains tropical plants that like a lot of rain at cooler temperatures.  Conveniently located half way between Honolulu and the beaches of Oahu's North Shore, it features heliconias, figs, and economically important tropical plants such as coffee, chicle (source of chewing gum) and cinnamon, as well as spectacular ornamentals.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Plant Story--Daylilies, From Asia, Beautiful and Not Lilies

day lily Hemerocallis
Everyone always has grown daylilies and their story is well-known. It seemed. When I looked carefully, I totally rewrote this blog post.

Daylilies have been in U.S. gardens since the 1600s. It is commonly reported that both Dioscorides and Pliny in ancient Rome (1st century AD) wrote about them, but careful analysis has shown they were describing a lily, not a daylily. Daylilies came to the West from China, after 1500.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Visiting Hawaii--HIstoric Foster Botanical Garden

Path, Foster Botanical Garden, Honolulu
I recently took an off-season holiday in Honolulu, Hawaii. Inevitably, my steps took me to botanic gardens. One of Honolulu’s highlights is Foster Botanical Garden. In the heart of modern Honolulu, it was once part of the estate of the Hawaiian Queen Kalama (1817-1870), was planted with tropical trees that might become cash crops on the Islands by Dr. William Hildebrand (1821-1886) in the middle 1800s and ultimately donated to the City and County of Honolulu in 1930 by Mary Robinson Foster (1844-1930), of royal Hawaiian descent and widow of sea captain Thomas Foster (1835-1889). 

Many of the trees are huge, for example:
Queensland kauri, Aganthis robusta, an Australian tree in the Auricariaceae, a family of Southern Hemisphere conifers. They can grow 150 feet tall and 24 feet wide and produce lots of desirable wood.
Queensland kauri, Aganthis robusta, Honolulu


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Visiting Northern Colorado--Early Spring Wildflowers

Devil's Backbone, Loveland, Colorado
Plants seen along the Devil's Backbone Trail, Loveland, Colorado
This year, spring in northern Colorado has been punctuated with cold snaps and snow storms, which have delayed the appearance of spring wildflowers.

Well, that is one way to say it. Another is that the cool temperatures extended the visibility of the early flowers.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Cosmopolitan Weeds--Friends of the Botanical Traveler

Victoria, Australia
Victoria, Australia
Thousands of miles from home, surrounded by plants strange to me, I am delighted to see a plant I know.  Look, a dandelion!

dandelion, Taraxacum officiale
dandelion, Taraxacum officiale
They probably are weeds to the people who live in Australia, just as they are in Colorado, but surrounded by unknown plants, the dandelion looked like an old friend.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Visiting Costa Rica--Very Seasonal Guanacaste Province

lowland rainforest, Costa Rica
Costa Rica has been a destination for ecologists since at least the 1970s, well before it had ecotourism infrastructure--one of its strengths today. The attraction of Costa Rica to professional biologists was having so many different tropical habitats in a small area. Naturally, at 9 degrees north of the Equator, there is tropical rainforest. A line of mountains runs down the center of Costa Rica, so while the rainforest as sea level is always very warm, as you go up there are a whole series of fascinating very wet montane forests.  Cross over the mountains and lowland rainforest is there but it is not quite the same.
lowland rainforest, Costa Rica
lowland rainforest, Costa Rica
Finally Costa Rica has dry tropical forest, a region that is very rainy half the year and rainless the rest of the year.  This a climate extends along the Pacific coast of Central America, ending in Guanacaste Province, in northwestern Costa Rica. Many elements of that community are shared with Mexico and even Arizona.

I had imagined the tropical rainforest but tropical dry forest was quite unexpected.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Plant Story--Lovely Lilacs

lilac flowers

Lilac bushes grew in the yards of the houses in which I grew up and I assumed Americans had always had lilacs. After all, Under the Lilacs written in late 19th century New England, was one of Louisa May Alcott’s classical children’s stories. But lilacs are from Eurasia, and the classical lilac-colored lilacs, Syringa vulgaris, are native to eastern Europe. 

The word lilac is derived from a word for blue, though the experts don’t agree quite which language started it. You can read that it comes from Persian and Spanish but those are far from the native range of lilacs so likely not the source. Geographically, lilac is likely from a Balkan language, Albanian for example, but I have found no clear linguistic argument. Since lilac is a color word in English, it has come full circle: the plant was called lilac describing the flower colors and then in other languages, the name of the plant, lilac, became the name of a color

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Plant Confustions for April 1

There are some plant confusions out there. Here are three, coral tree and kapok, tea and ti, cassia and cinnamon.

Coral tree, ceibo in Spanish, Erythrina crista-galli, is the source of kapok, the cotton-like fluff is produced in the seed pods and used as a mattress filling and similar applications.
Coral tree, Erythrina crust-galli, called ceiba in Spanish
April Fool!  There are two trees with nearly identical Spanish names. Coral tree is ceibo in Spanish, scientifically Erythrina crista-galli, in the pea familiy Fabaceae. They are moderate sized trees several native to Central and South America. Kapok is ceiba in Spanish, with the scientific name Ceiba pentandra in the mallow or hibiscus family Malvaceae. Native to Central and South Ameria they grow into huge trees. Ceibo is the national flower of Argentina and Uruguay, ceiba is the national tree of Guatemala. 

kapok, ceiba, Ceiba pentandra
kapok, ceiba, Ceiba pentandra. It has just put on leaves in spring, note the pods up among the branches.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Plant Story--The Beautiful Horrible Water Hyacinth

water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes
Floating water hyacinth, Eicornia crassipes
The water hyacinth is one of the plants I treasure because I learned about it before I knew what it looked like. Therefore, one day I had a moment of joy when all things I knew about it came together.

You see, there was Eichhornia crassipes with the complex breeding system, water hyacinth the terrible weed of subtropical lakes and streams and that handsome aquatic plant for sale at garden shops.

What? They're the same plant?

Yes indeed!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Visiting Wyoming--Wildflowers of the Snowy Range

It's early spring, a few plants are flowering but lawns are still brown and trees are leafless. So let's take a walk from a June trip into Wyoming almost three years ago. I was passing through, so these are easy stops along the highway. Wow!

Snowy Range, Wyoming

The Snowy Range sits along Wyoming's southern border. You drive west out of Laramie on secondary roads and there it is. The park you see on Google maps is Medicine Bow National Park. By either name a glorious place. Summer is short, the elevation is above 8,000 feet, rising on those mountains to over 10,000 feet, so the plants burst forth in profusion, mostly quite short but brightly colored.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Plant Story--Creeping Hollygrape, Berberis repens

creeping hollygrape, Berberis repens

It is spreading all over my yard, but I can't get its name right.

I'm used to calling it Oregon grape, but in fact, the one on the Front Range in Colorado is not really Oregon grape. The usual Oregon grape is Berberis aquifolia. It is Berberis repens that is common in Colorado. Common names for this plant include creeping hollygrape, creeping barberry, creeping mahonia, and creeping Oregon grape.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Plant Story--Coral Trees, the Erythrina species

Erythrina, coral tree


Pretty red flowers on a small tree, the flowers upturned or curved like crescents. Called coral trees or coral bean, the genus is Erythrina in the pea family, Fabaceae, and they are found all around the tropical world.

My most recent encounter with a coral tree was with Erythrina crista-galli, the cockspur coral tree (crista-galli is Latin for cock's comb) in Argentina, where, called ceibo, it is the national flower. Cockspur coral tree is native to northern Argentina and nearby areas in Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil. It is the national flower of Uruguay, as well.

Which tells you how spectacular the cockspur coral tree is in flower.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Visiting San Diego, California--Winter Escape

Hibiscus

San Diego is at the southern end of California: you can see Mexico easily. Given that location, it has mild southern winters. It is also a very dry climate since southern California is almost desert. What rain they get falls in the winter. All of which makes a "Mediterranean climate," very like the climate of southern Italy and Spain.

And a terrific place to escape to in winter.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Observing Leaves

ornamental leaves

Flowers are showy and essential for reproduction by their plants, but leaves contain the photosynthetic aparatus and are the source of food that plants self-generate. Leaves are essential to the world's economy, providing the basic materials that feed both plants and animals. Of course there are other synthetic pathways and some stems are photosynthetic, but far and away most of the energy from the sun is captured by leaves and turned into plant biomass, which is subsequently eaten by just about everything.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Plant Story--A Tribute to Pansies, Viola species

Pansies are so commonly planted as to seem uninteresting. Indeed, I have surprisingly few photos of pansies in my large collection of photographs that were taken just to show a pansy.
pansies


But why are they so widely planted?  First, they're bright colored. Not only bright-colored, they come in colors including nearly black, purple, blue, red, yellow and white and combinations of those.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Visiting Patagonia--A Glipse of Torres del Paine, Chile

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Patagonia refers to the southern part of South America, but it is a big area including about half (the southern half) of Argentina and Chile. I have only seen the southern tip, Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle Channel and Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Fifth Anniversary

oranges
oranges
Today week marks the fifth anniversary of this blog. February 4, 2013 I published the first post. For five years, I have added a new post weekly. Blogspot counts this as the 269th post, because very occasionally I had two in a week but never missed a week.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Plant Story--So Exotic, Bird of Paradise Flower

The bird of paradise flower, Strelitzia reginae, is so commonly planted in tropical and subtropical climates--southern California, Florida, Hawaii in the United States--as to seem boring.

Strelitzia reginae bird-of-paradise plant


At the same time, for newcomers to those and more tropical regions, it is the essence of an exotic flower: very large, bizarrely shaped and in incredible blue, orange, red and green.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Visiting Australia--A Few Blue Mountain Flowers

broad-leaved drumstick, Isopogon anemonifolius, Proteaceae

Australian plants are justly famous for being diverse and often unique.

Blue Mountains, Australia

On a trip to eastern Australia in 2015, we hiked between overlooks in Australia's Blue Mountain National Park, west of Sydney. Well, the others hiked, I dawdled, distracted by the plants.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Plant Story--Red Cedar, Really a Juniper of Course

If you live in the central United States, especially in cattle country, you can’t miss red cedars, the one evergreen native to the plains. Solid, evergreen and fragrant, city people like them as yard plantings.


red cedar, Juniperus

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Plant Story--Hibiscus!

Hibiscus rosa-sinesis, Hawaii
Hibiscus rosa-sinesis, Hawaii
I really like hibiscus. They have big showy flowers. They are also easy to recognize.