Sunday, August 9, 2020

Plant Story--Cinquefoils, Potentilla

"If any man will ask any thing of a king or prince, [cinquefoil] giveth abundance of eloquence, if he have it with him, and he shall obtain that which he desires," wrote Albertus Magnus in the 13th century. Well, not really. Albertus Magnus (d. 1280, biography) was a real person, a famous medieval German scholar, but The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus was an anonymous work of folklore and superstition that appeared in the 16th century. But, clearly, cinquefoil was considered a powerful plant.

Cinquefoils were medicinal and magical plants in Europe. They are a group of plants in the rose family (Rosaceae) with pretty five-petal flowers, usually yellow, and distinctive leaves with five lobes like a hand. The common name, cinquefoil, means five-leaf in French. Old English names included five-finger grass (grass meaning "plant" in this context), but some species had distinctive names, for example silverweed and tormentil.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Plant Story--Shrubby Cinquefoil

shrubby cinquefoil Dasiphora fruticosa
shrubby cinquefoil, Dasiphora fruiticosa

Cinquefoils are cute little flowers, usually yellow, in the rose family, Rosaceae. Traditionally they were in the genus Potentilla. Shrubby cinquefoil of the northern and western North America (see USDA map link) was for many years called Potentilla fruticosa. It is easily distinguished from the 68 native and 8 introduced species of Potentilla in North America because it is the only woody shrub, not a non-woody herb. Then, some years ago, DNA and other evidence indicated that shrubby cinquefoil and the other cinquefoils that are shrubs (11, all from Eurasia) were pretty different from other cinquefoils, so they were reclassified into another genus. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

A Gallery of Bromeliads

Last week I talked about the diversity of the bromeliads, plants in the family Bromeliaceae (link).  Here are photos of a bunch of them, although, alas, I don't have pictures of some of the most extreme species. And I have to confess that because I only encounter them when traveling--it is too cold and too dry for them outdoors in Colorado and normally too dry indoors--for the most part I cannot name them. So enjoy the pictures.

Brilliant foliage 

red bromeliad

And it can be this red in the wild. This very old photo from Costa Rica shows red-leaved bromeliads in the tree
                                 red bromeliad in tree

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Bromeliads! The Plant Family Bromeliaceae


Bromeliad is the name of a plant family, Bromeliaceae,  turned into a common name. The family is almost entirely native to the New World and particularly, the New World tropics. There are 3,403 species in 69 genera. 

Bromeliads are all herbaceous, not woody, and most are easily recognize as bromeliads, and yet there is remarkable variation, since they range from pineapples (Ananas comosus) to rosettes of leaves with a water-collecting "tank" in the center which grow on the ground or high in trees, to "air plants" which take their water and nutrition out of the air, to strange shapes like Spanish moss (Tiliandsia usneoides).

bromeliads in tree
bromeliads in tree

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Ecosystem Recovery--River Edges Flooded in 2013

Sand and tree trunks

In September, 2013, the Big Thompson River flooded, sweeping down its channel from Estes Park to Loveland, Colorado and out onto the plains, overflowing its banks all the way. Small rivers seem placid, even when they are rushing down from the mountains. The power of those same rivers in flood was a revelation to those of us who had not seen it before. The water swept away all the river-side vegetation, leaving naked gravel and all sorts of debris. 

I spoke with people--a land owner along the river, a neighbor who regularly walked riverside paths--who wondered whether the riverside would ever recover.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Plant Story--Golden Banner, Thermopsis rhombifolia

golden banner flowers in a meadow

It is a bright spot under the trees of the Rocky Mountains, that patch of yellow flowers of golden banner, Thermopsis rhombifolia. This is a plant of the pea family, Fabaceae, with rather typical compound leaves of three to five leaflets, flower like a garden pea and, ultimately, pods. The flower is a dramatic yellow.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Bali Dye Garden--Fiber Plants of Tropical Asia

On a trip to Asia, I visited Bali and had the opportunity to visit the Threads of Life Dye Garden in Ubud. They grew dye plants of the region and taught traditional dyeing, maintaining and sharing local cultural history. I wrote about their dye plants previously (blues, yellows).

garden path, dye garden Bali
Threads of Life Dye Garden. Ubud, Bali

The signs were very good, explaining how the plants were used--as dyes or mordants or in traditional dye mixes. But other plants in the dye garden were none of these, but rather traditional sources of fiber for various types of weaving.