Sunday, July 21, 2019

Visiting Switzerland--A Quick Look

Although most of our images of Switzerland look like this:

Swiss Alps

Most of the people live in the central plateau, which looks more like this:

central Switzerland

(Both photos have reflections because they were taken from train windows.)

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Visiting Colorado--Wildflowers of Rabbit Ears Pass

Rabbit Ears Peak, 2015
Rabbit Ears in 2015
Rabbit Ears Peak is a landmark in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests in northern Colorado. At one time there were two distinct ears (photo above), in 2017 part of one fell, so more imagination is needed today. (Article after photo: link). Close by, Rabbit Ears Pass takes Colorado Route 40 west to Steamboat Springs. Most summers, the wildflowers are spectacular.

fireweed Chamaenerion
A big stand of fireweed (Chamaenerion)

wildflowers, Dumont Lake, CO

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Plant Story--Coneflowers, Echinacea and Ratibida, American Wildflowers

Two often-cultivated American wildflowers go by the common name coneflower, plants in the genus Echinacea and those in the genus Ratibida. 
coneflower, Echinacea
coneflower, Echinacea
coneflower, Ratibida
coneflower, Ratibida

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Visiting China--Flowers of the Wumen Bridge, Suzhou

Wumen Bridge, Suzhou, China

The Wumen Bridge in Suzhou, China, crosses the Grand Canal and has done so for a thousand years. Chinese emperors built the Grand Canal from Hangzhou in the south to Beijing in the north to ship grain, salt, wood and other goods by water, because China's rivers all run east-west.

The bridge is attractive. Of course it has been repaired many times in the last millennium, those are not the original bricks. The views were pretty.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Adventures of Felix Luna, a Travel Pillow

Felix Luna in Japan
Ten years ago I'd been traveling extensively for about three years and realized a neck pillow would improve the long flights over oceans. In Denver International Airport I bought one. Not just a neck pillow, an animal. I named him Felix Luna, Felix since he's clearly a cat, Luna for the half-moon shape.

Now, celebrating ten years of travel together, Felix is quite the world traveler.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Plant Story--Garden Asparagus, Its Folklore and "Asparagus Pee"

red asparagus shoots

Garden asparagus (Asparagus officinalis, asparagus family, Asparagaceae) has been cultivated since Roman times (see last week's post link), so there is interesting folklore.

It was and is considered an aphrodisiac. It comes up as phallic shoots in the spring. Historically and prehistorically people celebrated spring as a rebirth and time of renewed reproduction. Asparagus shoots fit well into that. Cultures from Greece to England have included asparagus in spring (fertility/Easter) festivals, both as food and in decorations from bouquets or chaplets (little wreaths worn on the head).

Apart from symbolism, asparagus shoots are one of the earliest vegetables of spring. If you imagine Europeans living all winter on dried peas and pickled cabbage, having fresh vegetables would not only be a delight, it would provide nutrients that were likely missing in the winter diet, so indeed fresh asparagus would act as an aphrodisiac.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Plant Story--Ancient Asparagus, Asparagus officinalis

Asparagus is an odd vegetable. We eat just the new shoots. Not leaves, not roots, not fruit.
It is also an old vegetable, eaten in the European tradition since at least Roman times.

asparagus store display

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Travel Story--Wuzhen Water Town, China

China's rivers run west to east, so moving goods from the south to the north and vice versa was difficult before trains and highways. The emperors solved the problem by connecting the rivers with a canal, the Grand Canal. When completed, it ran from Hongzhou in southern China (close to Shanghai) to Beijing, more than 1,000 miles.

In the 20th century, the Grand Canal fell into disuse and the once-prosperous towns along it shrank.

Lately, tourism has revived those towns. A number have been repaired and renovated as tourist attractions. Some have local crafts, others have traditional plays or music, all have restaurants and gift shops and boat rides. Most are very picturesque. I have been to four of them. Here I'll describe the one I most recently visited, Wuzhen.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Plant Story--Adaptable Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium

little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium
little bluestem in the prairie
Talk about being ignored! Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium, grass family, Poaceae) is one of the most successful plants, certainly grasses, of North America and yet it gets little attention.

Little bluestem grows to be about 3 feet high, making it a midgrass in grassland terminology. It is a bunch grass, meaning it forms clumps which only slowly get larger.
little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium in winter
little bluestem fall colors
Its native range was very large. It is native to virtually all the lower 48 states and across southern Canada (link) and into southeastern Mexico.  It has been planted even more widely.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

American Spring Flowers

Rocky mountain columbine, Aquilegia coerulea
Rocky Mountain columbine, Aquilegia coerulea
I'm celebrating spring, despite recurring cold rainy days. Last week I posted pictures of classical spring garden flowers and intentionally only used those from Eurasia. Here is a celebration using only North American plants.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Spring Garden Flowers

primrose, Primula
common primrose, Primula vulgaris, early spring wildflower of Europe
This is a blog post of flowers. If March is the beginning of spring, then it has been a long cold spring, because we have had snowstorm after snowstorm here in northern Colorado. We ushered in May with days of snow and cold rain alternating with sunny days. Consequently, I find myself unusually drawn to all the plants now blooming.
snow May 9, 2019
Snow May 9, 2019; the picture does not show that it snowed all night nor how cold the low was.
So please, enjoy garden flowers with me.

Top: the common primrose, Primula vulgaris (primrose family, Primulaceae). Found all over Europe, it is one of the first spring wildflowers in meadows and pastures there. It is not particularly happy in Colorado (too hot, too dry) but doing ok in the shade in my wettest spot. ("Vulgaris" simply means "common" in Latin but you can see how its English form, "vulgar" could have evolved.)

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Plant Story--Glorious Purple Poppy Mallow, Callirhoƫ involucrata

purple poppy mallow, Callirhoe involucrata
wine cups, purple poppy mallow, Callirhoe involucrata
I call them wine cups, because it is an easy name to remember. They are also called purple poppy mallow, crimson-flowered poppy mallow, buffalo rose, and prairie poppy mallow. Purple poppy mallow seems to be the preferred common name, so I'll use it here.

There are nine species of CallirhoĆ«, poppy mallows, all native to North America (all in the United States, one species with a Mexican variety), making them North American endemics. Looking at the USDA's map (link), most are found in the south central U.S. Purple poppy mallows can be found in states from the east coast (Florida, Virginia) to west coast (Oregon) but probably because they were cultivated and escaped.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Visiting Taiwan--Sculpture Garden of the Juming Museum

Juming Museum, New Taipei City, Taiwan

North of Taipei, Taiwan, nearly to the north coast of the island, is the Juming Museum. Sculptor Ju Ming created the museum and it is a piece of art itself.

Initially a woodcarver, Ju Ming (see biography at art net) works in media from styrofoam to ceramics to stainless steel.

I visited recently with San Francisco's Society for Asian Art.

Whenever I visit outdoor art installations I ask both "Does the location enhance the art?" but also "does the art enhance the location?"  For Ju Ming's art, often the answer to both was "yes!"

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Visiting Colorado--Devil's Backbone, Loveland, Colorado in June

Devil's Backbone, Loveland Colorado from the northeast

Devil's Backbone is a distinctive rock outcrop on the western side of Loveland, Colorado. 

Devil's Backbone, Loveland Colorado from the north

Along the northern side, the land has been preserved as Devil's Backbone Open Space (link). The hiking trails lead west and north through Rocky Mountain Front Range grasslands. It is a favorite hike of mine.

Here is what you might see in June.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Plant Story-- Grape Hyacinths, Muscari

grape hyacinth, Muscari

Grape hyacinths are pretty blue spring flowers, in my yard aggresively seeding in everywhere. Lets call them "easy to grow."

My grape hyacinths are in the genus Muscari but that common name is also used for plants in the closely-related genera Leopoldia and Pseudomuscari. None of them are especially closely related to garden hyacinths (genus Hyacinthus) although all of them are in the asparagus plant family (Asparagaceae). Originally botanists lumped grape hyacinths into Hyacinthus but in 1754 the grape hyacinths were split out of Hyacinthus and in 1970 Leopodia and Pseudomuscari were recognized as separate from Muscari. Muscari means "musk" in Greek, relating to its scent. Leopoldia is for Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany. Pseudomuscari is "imitation muscari", that is very like Muscari but not the same.

Native to the Middle East, they have been popular garden flowers in Europe since the 1500s. All three genera are widely grown in Europe but only Muscari is widely grown in North America.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Familiar, the Introduced and the Native

lilacs, Syringia
Lilacs always remind me of my childhood in New York and Ohio,
but they are not native to North America
Each of us spends only a few years as a child and wherever we happened to be often is learned as "home." Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) were on the property where I grew up. I had no idea they came from Asia in the 1800s.

Rarely do we consider what "home" was like fifty years or two hundred years before we grew up there.

And yet, for North America, likely you wouldn't recognize home if you went back very far in time.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Plant Story--Hyacinth, Beautiful and Memorable

common hyacinth, Hyacinthus orientalis
garden hyacinth, Hyacinthus orientalis
Hyacinth is the name of a particular plant, the three species of the genus Hyacinthus (asparagus family, Asparagaceae), Hyacinthus litwinowii, H. orientalis and H. transcaspicus, but it is easy to discover other "hyacinths": grape hyacinth (Mascari, Leopoldia and Pseudomuscari species), water hyacinth (Eichornia species), hyacinth bean (Lablab species), summer hyacinth (Ornithogalum species)... These others are quite different plants: grape hyacinth and summer hyacinth are in the asparagus family with common hyacinth but water hyacinth is in the aquatic plant family Pontideriaceae and hyacinth bean is indeed in the bean family (Fabaceae). Apparently hyacinths were so well-known that other plants were named based on reminding people of hyacinths.

Who then is this much-imitated plant?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Common Names--Pick Your Favorite

Common names are so inconsistent! It seems like every plant I look up has two or three common names.   
Artemisia ludoviciana
Do you call this Louisiana sagewort or white sage or...  (Artemisia ludoviciana)
Common names are what we "normally" call a plant, for example when we are speaking with friends. So they are names that are familiar to speaker and listener. Since most of us spend most of our time speaking with people who live within a few miles of us, common names easily became local names, varying across the map.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Elegant Orchidaceae

moth orchid

The new orchid sat on the table, long sprays of flowers with big white petals with purple spots bending in a graceful arc above large green leaves.

"The natives in this house indicate that you write about plants, but that you have written very little about orchids" it said to me.

"That's right,"I admitted.

"What a grevious lapse!" it exclaimed. "Orchids should be first and foremost.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Travel Story--Northern Honshu Japan in Spring part 2

cherry blossoms, northern Japan

We traveled the northern part of the main island of Japan, Honshu, in April 2017. These photos are from the second half of the trip. (first part: link)

In Tokyo, the cherries were done flowering but in places in the north they were in full bloom (above). Elsewhere it was early spring.

early spring, northern Honshu

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Travel Story-- Northern Japan in the Spring, part 1

garden, April, Tokyo Japan

In April two years ago, I traveled in northern Japan with the Pacific Horticulture Society. Somehow I never described about that wonderful trip. Come with me to Japan...
Tokyo Japan

We began in Tokyo of course. Tokyo is a great modern city, but it has hidden gardens that soothe the soul.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Plant Story--Wild Geraniums, A Treat to See

geranium, genus Pelargonium
geranium, genus Pelargonium
Geraniums were introduced to American gardens by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and were a hit. I certainly grew up knowing geraniums and thinking them dull.

That made wild geraniums relatively easy to identify. There are native species all over North America, fun to spot on a hike.
geraniums, also called cranesbills, genus Geranium
geraniums, genus Geranium

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Travel Story--Costa Rica, 2019

Heliconia flower
Native to the rainforest of Costa Rica, heliconia or lobster claw
(genus Heliconia, heliconia family, Heliconiaceae)
I first went to Costa Rica in February 1972; this year I had the opportunity to go back with a Cal Discoveries trip (Preserving Paradise: Parks and Reserves of Costa Rica (link), run within Costa Rica by Holbrook Travel (link)).
I’d been back to some places (1970s, 1986, 2013) but this tour hit many of the places I went in 1972 and had a focus of Costa Rican conservation. 
It was quite an eye-opener.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Now We Are Six! Blog Anniversary.

water hyacinth, Eichornia crassipes
water hyacinth (Eichronia crassipes)
"Now We Are Six!" The title is from the Winnie the Pooh series, a phrase that has been with me since early childhood. Today it applies to this blog. Six years! Three hundred twenty two published posts. I had no idea what I was starting, back in February 2013.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Considering the Joys of Air Travel

I have not enjoyed flying on commercial airlines lately but that wasn't always the case.
rainbow, San Francisco International Airport
Rainbow, San Francisco International Airport
The first airline flight I took was in 1961, from Cleveland, Ohio to Albany, New York. (On Mohawk Airlines: any of you remember them?) I was thrilled. Not just getting off the ground, but seeing the land from the sky. My science class had taught about river meanders, and there they were, spread out below me! I thought, "if only geography could be taught with airplane trips."

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Travel Story: The Canadian Rockies

Canadian Rockies landscape

It has been some years, but we flew to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, rented a car and drove the Ice Fields Parkway through the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It is 277 miles from Banff (a hour west and a bit north of Calgary) to Jasper, Alberta, where the road divides and most vacationers turn around and head back to Calgary. It makes a spectacular vacation.

I live on the foothills of that same mountain chain, about 1000 miles south. So wouldn't it be the same?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Plant Story: Angel's Trumpet, Brugmansia suaveolens

A striking tropical ornamental, in warm climates you can't miss angel's trumpet, Brugmansia (nightshade family, Solanaceae). (Datura species are closely related and also go by the common name angel's trumpet but are also called jimson weed and thorn apples. They are smaller, grow in colder climates and are nonwoody plants).

angel's trumpet, Brugmansia

This is an American tropical plant now found all around the world. The flowers come in shades from yellows to pinks to white.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Botanical Travel: Where the Weeds Are Strange

lantana, Lantana camara
lantana (Lantana camara)
Growing on the roadsides and vacant lots in Costa Rica, we saw lantana (Lantana camara, vervain family, Verbenaceae). In Hawaii it was Kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum, ginger family Zingiberaceae)
Kahili ginger
Kahili ginger
Here is Kahili ginger, the dark green leaves, filling the forest understory in Hawaii
Kahili ginger in forest
All the dark green leaves are Kahili ginger
Wow! Aren't those pretty! But weird weeds to a Coloradan.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Plant Story--Rue, Ruta graveolens, Bitter

Rue. "You'll rue the day..."
garden rue, Ruta graveolens
rue, Ruta graveolens
Rue, Ruta graveolens (citrus family, Rutaceae) is a traditional medicinal and culinary herb, one we don't use much anymore. The plant is also known as garden rue (to separate it from other species of Ruta) and, especially historically, herb of Grace and herbygrass. It is not the same as, or closely related to, meadow rue (Thalichrium species, buttercup family Ranunculaceae) or goat's rue (Galega officinalis, pea family, Fabaceae).