Sunday, July 15, 2018

Plant Story--Adaptable Apricots

I am going to have an apricot crop this year
apricots on apricot tree
One of my apricot trees: enlarge to more easily see the yellow fruits.
Ten years ago, I admired a tree covered in apricots in Carbondale, Colorado:

apricot tree, Carbondale Colorado
The parent of my apricot trees
The owner kindly gave me a small plastic bucket with about 30 apricots. "They won't grow," he said.

I believed him but he gave me the fruits anyway. Since I had them, I planted them in my yard in Loveland, in groups of 4 or 5. Four young trees appeared. Today I have three trees, all 10' tall. All three have apricots on them this summer.  I know there were a few fruits last year and maybe the year before, but this year I've picked 20 and there are more than that on the trees.

Apricots, Prunus armeniaca, are one of the many fruit trees in the rose family, Rosaceae. The genus Prunus includes plums, cherries, almonds and peaches--there are some 400 species of Prunus, most if not all with edible fruits. Apricot fruits are very similar in structure to their relatives, for example plums and cherries, just different in size and color. The common apricot, Prunus armeniaca, is the most widespread species but four or five other Prunus species are called apricots, for example the Japanese apricot, P. mume.

The common apricot has been in cultivation for easily 5,000 years (3000 BCE). Consequently its origins are unclear. Wild apricots, ancestors of the cultivated apricot, are today found only in Kazakhstan, Krygyzstan, Uzbekistan and the throughout mountains of western China. Domestication must have occurred in or near the native range, which is why botanists state that the Chinese first domesticated apricots. China claims a thousand varieties of apricot. Apricots can also be documented in India thousands of years ago. Furthermore, also very long ago, apricots arrived in Armenia where they were widely grown. Europeans discovered them in Armenia, leading to the idea that they were domesticated in Armenia. The word armeniaca in the scientific name means "of Armenia" reflecting that belief in Europe when plant was named.


Apricots apparently arrived in Europe several times. Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) found them in or near India and introduced them to Greece. They were in Rome by the first century BCE. However, despite Roman occupation of Spain, scholars believe the Moors introduced apricots to the Iberian Peninsula after they conquered it in 711 CE.

The English name apricot comes from the Portuguese albricoque or Spanish albaricoque, which are themselves derived from the Arabic name  al-burqūq, likely meaning "early ripe.So probably apricots came to England from Iberia. The Oxford English Dictionary entry goes on to derive the Arabic name from the Greek name, so the travels of the plant, as judged by its common name, loop back to Armenia and India.

Likewise apricots entered the Americas multiple times. They were planted in the Caribbean, Mexico and South America by the Spaniards in the early 16th century. Spanish settlers took them to New Mexico and Texas but the first introduction to the continental United States was in Spanish St. Augustine, Florida in the late 1500s. The University of California, Davis gives different story, saying apricots were first introduced to Virginia (about 1720) but "were not successful" until introduced to the California Missions (before 1795). I think this says a lot about how we report the history of the Americas--we talk a lot about Virginia (founded 1607) and New England (1620), but St. Augustine was established in 1565 and the New Mexico settlements date back to 1598. Politically an English focus makes sense, but for considering plant introductions it misses a lot. First apricots in an English settlement, Virginia; first to the United States, St. Augustine, first in the New World, sometime earlier, perhaps Cuba, Hispaniola or Puerto Rico before 1550.
commercial Colorado apricot
commercial Colorado apricot
Apricots are hardy to USDA Zone 4, which means they can grow in at least part of all of the lower 48 states and have undoubtedly been planted in all 48. Since the USDA/plants website lists apricots as occurring in 14 states, that means that, as in western Colorado, apricots have escaped from cultivation in some places.
apricot, Prunus armeniaca
One of my apricots,
not even half the size of the commercial one
My trees, grown from seeds not bought at a nursery, have sharp, 1 1/2" thorns up and down the branches. (Many of our cultivated trees have had thorns suppressed). That wild clump along the stream may be painful to walk through. I pick the fruits from my trees carefully.
thorns on apricot tree
Thorns on apricot tree
Apricots are eaten raw, but are also a common dried fruit. The fact that they dry so well made them an important crop historically, when preserving food for winter, or the dry season, or to eat when traveling was critically important and the options were limited. I find them more prominent in older fruit and garden books, suggesting they have decreased in popularity with the availability of canned, frozen and airplane-delivered fruits.

As a teen, apricot jam was my favorite jam. Apricots cook well, fresh or dried, alone or in combination with other fruits, as pies and tarts and...whatever you are baking.

commercial Colorado apricot
Interior of big comercial was delicious
They are low in calories but rich in vitamins such as Vitamins A and C, and in minerals.

Of course they've been fermented. You can make wine from apricots. Fermented and distilled they produce brandies (about link) or make an apricot-flavored liqueur when added to a distillate.

The liqueur Amaretto is flavored with oil of apricot seeds. The seeds--crack open the pit--are edible but contain enough cyanide, responsible for the almond-like flavor, that they should not be eaten in quantity. The seeds have a long history in producing an oil used in an array of medical, cosmetic and food applications (here's a list link--I don't know how effective some of these uses are).

I planted apricot pits because I had them. My garden design did not plan for apricot trees. But they grew, they are pretty trees with attractive spring flowers (link) and now, I have fruit to eat or cook with. How neat!

Comments and corrections welcome.

Note on names: Online, you can find wild apricots as Armeniaca vulgaris Lam. I have not found the technical paper that reclassifies them as Prunus armeniaca but undoubtedly all apricots, wild and domesticated, are Prunus armeniaca today. Very occasionally a domesticated plant is considered different enough from the wild ancestors to merit a different species, but not a different genus. In addition, Prunus, is a big genus including plums, cherries, almonds, peaches, sloes and about 400 others. Apricots hybridize with plums. That their ancestor is so different as to be classified in another genus does not make sense. And breaks at least one rule of modern taxonomy. Lam., who named Armeniaca vulgaris, is Jean-Baptiste Lamarck who lived 1744-1829. Most printed references to Armeniaca vulgaris are at least 80 years old. Those on the internet must not have checked carefully.

Collection of apricot folklore coming in the next few weeks.

Nice essay on other aspects of apricots from J. S. Denker's book  The Carrot Purple, reported on The Salt, National Public Radio  link

"apricot, n.". OED Online. June 2018. Oxford University Press. (accessed July 12, 2018).
Dunmire, W. W. 2004. Gardens of New Spain. University of Texas Press, Austin Texas.
Jillian, Kingsburg Orchards. 2013. The HIstory of the Apricot. link
University of California, Davis. 2014. Fruit and Nut Eduction. link
Valder, P.  1999. The Garden Plants of China. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
van Wyck, B.-E. 2005. Food Plants of the World. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

If you haven't kept up with the internationalization of time reckoning, BCE = Before the Common Era, and CE = Common Era, which are set as the same dates as those counted BC Before Christ and AD Anno Domini (in the year of (our) lord). I'm inconsistent in my usage but prefer BCE/CE.

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Plant Story--Needle-and-Thread Grass, Graceful and Sharp

Needle-and-thread grass (Hesperostipa comata, formerly is Stipa comata, grass family Poaceae) is native to the northwestern three quarters of North America, found especially on dry or sandy sites. It is a beautiful grass, with long slightly nodding heads that catch the sunlight and nod in the wind. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Wishing You a Happy July

mountain trail, Switzerland
Swiss Alps
Almost always, creating a post for this blog is great fun. But I'm jet-lagged having just returned from Switzerland. Since Switzerland is 7 hours ahead of Colorado, I am alert in the middle of the night and sleepy at dinnertime. Writing well-thought-out sentences eludes me. 

What to do? Share photographs. It is a big beautiful world. Message: get out, observe, enjoy.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Plant Story--Native Wildflower, Gumweed, Grindelia

Grindelia, gummend

Gumweeds, genus Grindelia (sunflower family, Asteraceae) are roadside wildflowers, most common in western North America but with a few species in the East and South. A gumweed is easy to recognize: note the funny spines around the flower buds (especially visible in the picture below). In addition, gumweeds are gummy--if you touch the buds or flowers, sticky stuff comes off on your fingers.

But there is a lot more to gumweeds.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Visiting Hawaii--Cactus Garden in Honolulu

Kapi'olani Community College cactus garden and the farmer's market

A farmer's market gathers each Saturday in Honolulu, just below Kapi'olani Community College. It was fun shopping there: macadamia nuts, kona coffee, guavas, pineapples and chocolates. But I was distracted and spent most of my time in the garden behind the farmer's market, Kapi'olani Community College's Cactus Garden.

Kapi'olani Community College cactus garden

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Plant Story--Evening Primroses, Beautiful Whereever You Meet Them

evening primrose
There are 145 species of evening primrose, Oenothera, 80 of them native to the United States.While there are more different species in western North America, the common evening primrose, Oenothera biennis, can be found in all but the Rocky Mountain states.

Evening primroses have big flowers. If you find them open after 7 am or before 7 pm, the flowers are likely yellow. Night-flowering species are often white and close in daylight, so if you are to see them open you need to go out in twilight, wander with a flashlight or get up early. On a cloudy morning they stay open longer, but the white species tend to grow in drier places, where cloudy mornings are less common.
evening primrose, southern Wyoming
An evening primrose seen in southern Wyoming.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Visiting Australia--Remote, Central, Alice Springs

Hills around Alice Springs

I knew almost nothing about Australia when I read and loved Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice. So, like generations of tourists, when I visited Australia, I was eager to see Alice. Alice is of course, Alice Springs, a small city in the center of Australia. Australia, the world's smallest continent or largest island, is generally warm and dry. Alice, in the center, is in the middle of the sort of desert where they tell you in October, "before this week, our last good rain was in January."

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Plant Story--Evening Primroses, Names and Relations

Evening primroses were one of the first midwestern wildflowers I learned. Partly because they are so spectacular
Missouri evening primrose Oenothera missouriensis
Missouri eveing primrose Oenothera missouriensis in the grassland
I quickly figured out they were not roses or primroses (more on that below). The evening primroses are some 145 species native to the Americas, in the genus Oenothera, in the evening primrose family, Onagraceae. The U.S.D.A. lists 80 species of Oenothera native to North America. With beautiful flowers!

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


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.

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

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.