Sunday, December 28, 2014

Plant Story -- European Holly - Not Always with Spines and Red Berries

European holly, Ilex aquifolium
European holly, Ilex aquifolium is widely recognized by its spiny leaves and red berries (drupes) (see post on holly folklore). Curiously, not all the leaves on European holly are spiny and not all the plants have fruit.

First, holly trees vary in the number of spiny leaves. You can see it in any of the photos--some leaves are smooth and others have spines on the edge.

All sorts of people have thought about the variation in the spines. Young plants tend to have mostly spiny leaves. (photo below) On a big tree, the lower branches have more spiny leaves than higher branches.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Plant Story -- Holly (Ilex aquifolium) Celebrating the Solstice--and Christmas--for Millennia

European holly, Ilex aquifolium
European holly, Ilex aquifolium
We sing "Deck the halls with boughs of holly" at Christmastime, often without thinking about what we are saying. 

I live in an area where the traditional holly cannot grow, and yet everyone knows what holly looks like.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Visiting Portugal--the Algarve on the south coast

Portugal and Spain in October surprised me because dawn was at nearly 8 am. One consequence of that was that I was up to appreciate the sunrise.

sunrise off Portugal
sunrise off Portugal
I went ashore in the Algarve, the province that runs across the southern end of Portugal, to learn about the climate from the plants and about the history from the buildings.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Plant Confusion--Hemlock, Both Umbels and Conifers

The leaves were long, the grass was green
 The hemlock-umbels tall and fair
 And in the glade a light was seen,
 Of stars in shadow shimmering.
 Tinúviel was dancing there
 To music of a pipe unseen,
 And light of stars was in her hair,
 And in her raiment glimmering."

(Tolkien The Fellowship of the Ring p. 204)

As a child in upstate New York, I read and reread J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings until I had memorized a dozen of the poems. This one was one of my favorites. I imagined Tinúviel dancing in a forest under towering hemlock trees.

western hemlock

forest grove, Finland

But that was not Tolkien’s image.  He meant, dancing among plants Americans call poison hemlock.