Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year! -- Plant Jokes Again

Happy New Year!

I had great fun publishing plant jokes last in the New Year post last year, so here are some more: 

1) Why couldn't the gardener grow any flowers?

pines and junipers in yard

He hadn't botany.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Plant Story--Amaryllis, well, actually Hippeastrum

Amaryllis, the big bulbs that are often given as holiday gifts because the flowers that emerge are so glorious, are in the genus Hippeastrum not the genus Amaryllis. The naked ladies that bloomed in the garden in August, those were Amaryllis.

Scientific name Hippaecastrum, common name amaryllis

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Flowers of the Colorado Winter

pansies, December 16, 2017 Northern Colorado
pansies, December 16
Its mid-December at about 5000' on the east side of the Rocky Mountains. Often we have mild temperatures this late in the year but this year is unusually warm. We have had several snowstorms and some really cold days, but for most of the last two weeks its been below freezing overnight and as high as 60 F by day.

Plants are flowering.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Wildflowers: Weeds in Northwestern Argentina

The rainfall in Salta Province, Argentina, ranges from nearly 30" a year to 17 or less, almost all during the hot summer months. The countryside, though beautiful, can be rather inhospitable to plants.
Salta Province, Argentina

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Plant Story--The Majestic Cottonwood

The summer sun beats down, no breath of wind stirs the hot, hot air. You sweat even in the shade of the cottonwood. And,

Cottonwood leaves are almost always in motion, no matter how still the air. 

The tribes of the northern plains revered the cottonwood--big, sturdy trees found in diverse locations, often indicating water. The rustling leaves reinforced the mystic nature of the tree because winds were the path of the Higher Powers and cottonwoods always have those inexplicable little winds moving their leaves. Check for yourself.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Flowers of the Atacama Desert, Chile

I expected the Atacama Desert in northern Chile to be totally desolate. It is the driest desert in the world. In some places no one has ever seen it rain. Other spots go four to five years without rainfall. I read that residents don't bother to repair their roofs since no rain is going to come in through the holes. There was virtually no humidity: my hand-washed hiking socks dried in about six hours (36 hours is normal).

Atacama Desert

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Plant Story--Perplexing Pumpkins

We have no problem recognizing pumpkins


and yet, botanically they're difficult.

Four plant species are "pumpkins": Cucurbita moscata, Cucurbita argyrosperma, C. maxima and Cucurbita pepo.

That would not be particularly confusing, except that those same plant species also give us summer and winter squashes. Thus, different varieties of Cucurbita pepo, for example, are acorn squash, zucchini and sugar pumpkins.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Plant Story-- The Under-Appreciated Parsley

Parsley doesn't get much respect. Restaurants garnish plates with a sprig of parsley, but diners rarely eat it.

parsley leaves

And yet, parsley has a long history as a breath-freshener. And will help settle your stomach.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Glimpse of Northern Chile

Atliplano. eastern Chile
Altiplano, Chile
Northern Chile can be "down" in the Atacama Desert at 7,900', or on the Altiplano, averaging 12,000' above sea level, or higher, in the surrounding mountains. This is the second part of my description of a trip to northwestern Argentina and northern Chile, begun in last week's post (link).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Glimpse of Northern Argentina

North and west of Buenos Aires, Argentina becomes more and more tropical and then rises toward the Altiplano and the Andes. The rainfall drops to a few inches a year, which fall during the hot summer.
northwest Argentina
northwest Argentina
To the west, northern Chile sits on the Altiplano, over 10,000' above sea level, with the surrounding mountains even higher.
Altiplano, Chile
Looking across the Chilean Altiplano

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Plant Story--Sticklleaf, Mentzelia nuda

Mentzelia nuda, a short-lived perennial of sandy sites in the western plains, is called stickleaf and blazing star. My personal name for it was "quitting-time flower."
Mentzelia nuda in the late afternoon prairie
The white flowers are Mentzelia nuda stickleaf in the late afternoon prairie

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Plant Story--Ragweed, Ambrosia, an American Wildflower

Ragweed. Makes you think of allergies, right?

ragweed, Ambrosia
ragweed, Ambrosia
But my title says "an American wildflower."

And it is.

The ragweeds, the genus Ambrosia, in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, are all endemic to the Americas. Of the 22 species native to North America, only five are widespread (see USDA maps). But two species are in every one of the lower 48 states, annual ragweed Artemisia artemisifolia, and western ragweed, Artemisia psilostachya. They look very similar. The annual ragweed has always been a plant of disturbed areas, spending the winter as seeds, needing relatively open conditions to prosper during its one year of life. Human disturbances have given it many more places to grow. The other widespread ragweed, western ragweed, is a perennial, and is found in native ecosystems all across the United States.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Ideas from Japanese Gardens

I took a garden tour in northern Japan this past June (blog). Not only did it make me see my plants as poorly trimmed (see earlier blog), there were lots of useful ideas.

Japanese garden scene

Friday, September 22, 2017

Migrating Butterflies Love Rabbitbrush

"Kathy, I was at your plant walk Saturday at Devil's Backbone and today, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of butterflies there!"

painted lady butterflies, Devil's Backbone, Loveland, CO

I'd just picked up the phone in mid morning, Sept. 22. To be alerted by Sandy to the butterfly migration.

I'd read something about a butterfly migration in the Denver Post : more than the usual number of painted lady butterflies moving south along the Colorado Front Range.

I went to see for myself.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hawaiian Tea

Tea from Hawaii?

tea plants, Hawaii Tea, Volcano, Hawaii
Tea, Camelia sinensis, is a major tropical crop. Hawaii is the only state in the United States with a tropical climate, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that Hawaiians are growing tea. But it did!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Plant Story--Rubber Rabbitbrush, Painting the Landscape Gold


Every fall, the Rocky Mountain foothills turn golden as the very-abundant rubber rabbitbrush, 
Ericameria nauseosa, flowers. It is a spectacular display, coming at the end of summer when most plants are through folowering.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Late Season Flowers

rabbit brush, not quite in flower
Rabbitbrush in August
I planned to write about rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosa, but on August 23, the plants weren't flowering at all. I went back August 31. On Aug. 31, I could have gathered a bouquet from a hillside of covered in rabbitbrush but fewer than one in 20 inflorescences had open flowers. It will be a good flowering year, but the flowering season has hardly started.

Who would have thought that late August would be too early for flowers?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Visiting Toronto--McMichael Center for Canadian Art

In Toronto on a Sunday morning in June, we caught the Art Bus to the McMichael Center

McMichael Center for Canadian Art

Just north of Toronto in Kleinberg, the Center was created in 1952 to display Canadian art, from both indigenous people and European Canadians. Although there were pieces by Canadians on not particularly Canadian subjects, the focus was art depicting Canada. Since Canada is a country of glorious natural beauty, it was a treat for a botanist and ecologist.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Plant Story--the Prairie Sunflower, Helianthus petiolaris

They remind me of pinwheels

prairie sunflower

bright yellow flowers all along the highway. From western Nebraska and Kansas west across Colorado, they are prairie sunflowers, Helianthus petiolaris.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Visiting Ontario, Canada--Plants of Toronto

In 2017, Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary. I took a tour of Toronto with Road Scholar link

Toronto is not only the city with the largest population in Canada (2.7 million people), but it is the 4th largest city in North America, after Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles. Greater Toronto has 7 million people. It sits along the north edge of Lake Ontario, so for Canada it is in the far south. Lake effects from the Great Lakes keep Toronto's climate mild, moist and unpredictable.


For me it is always a botanic tour, so here is a brief look at Toronto's plants.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Visiting Northern Colorado--Yampa River Botanic Park

No plant enthusiast passing through Steamboat Springs, Colorado should miss the Yampa River Botanic Park. Website

The Painter's Garden, Yampa River Botanic Park
The Painter's Garden
This gem is snuggled along the Yampa River on the north side of the city of Steamboat Springs. The six acres are divided into dozens of individual gardens, tended or supported by the Steamboat Springs community. Some have themes--the Blue Garden, the Butterfly Garden, the Painter's Garden--some just feature plants the gardener loves.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Botanical Society of America Annual Meeting---June 2017

Datura sp.
Datura with flowers opening: research plants can be very beautiful
After the Garden Blogger's Fling, which featured gardens around Washington, D.C.,  I attended the Botanical Society of America meetings, within the excellent facilities of the Omni Hotel, Fort Worth, Texas. The first meeting was full of bright flowers, garden design and the heat and humidity of northern Virginia in June (link). The second showcased of the latest ideas, photos of exotic locations and the dark and chill of air-conditioned conference rooms.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Garden Bloggers Fling--Washington D.C., June 2017

The Garden Bloggers Fling is an annual conference of people who regularly write about gardens and gardening online. Hosted by an enthusiastic team of garden bloggers link it moves around between cities. Flings have been held for a decade, but this year was the first time I went.

What do garden bloggers do at a conference? Visit gardens!

beautiful plantings

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Plant Story--Crested Pricklypoppy, Argemone polyanthemos

You can't miss them. Big white flowers along the roadside in the eastern Rocky Mountains and out onto the plains.

prickly poppy, Argemone polyanthemos
crested prickly poppy, Argemone polyanthemos
The plant is crested prickly poppy, Argemone polyanthemos, poppy family, Papaveraceae. It is also called the thistle poppy and, a name I haven't seen in writing but makes it easy to remember, fried egg flower.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Plant Story--Curly Dock, Uses and Folklore

Curly dock, also called yellow dock, Rumex crispus, is a sturdy plant in the buckwheat family, Polygonaceae, native to Eurasia and now found all over the world. (See previous blog post, link.)

curly dock, Rumex crispus
curly dock, Rumex crispus
The Greeks and Romans both used it medicinally. Seeds soaked in water treated dysentery. The root was boiled in vinegar and applied to skin ailments and to ease itches. Served in wine, dock soothed aching teeth. It was considered an effective treatment for goiter, which to the Romans meant any swelling in the throat area. One common goiter treatment was to hang a piece of dock around the patient's neck like an amulet.

Throughout Europe, rubbing dock on the skin was an antidote to stinging nettles. Since both were common in wet areas, it was usually available.

Modern herbal medicine doesn't support these uses very strongly: for example, although dock soothes the skin but there are better treatments.

Dock leaves were traditionally added to tobacco pouches to keep the tobacco moist. They were also boiled and added to poultry feed. The stems, after boiling and salting, were woven into baskets. 

                                    curly dock, Rumex crispus

Europeans used the seeds in money charms. They were soaked in water and the liquid was sprinkled throughout the shop to bring customers. 

Seeds were tied to a woman's left arm, or carried there, to help conceive a child. 

People ate dock. The whole plant is edible, as are other docks and sorrels (species in the genus Rumex; not, though, plants that share only a common name such as burdock (Arctium) and wood sorrel Oxalis). The catch is, not all docks taste good. They range from too tough or too stringy or too acidy, on over to delicious. Foragers often recommend curly dock as best-tasting of the docks. 

All docks have some oxalic acid. In large quantities oxalic acid is toxic. Plants for a Future says, "People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition. Avoid during pregnancy & breast feeding." (PfaF). 

In moderate quantities, oxalic acid imparts an attractive acidy, lemon-like flavor. Many common foods such as spinach, contain oxalic acid (more info). An Indian woman told H.D. Harrington that she especially liked that curly dock "already has the vinegar on it." (pp.91-92).

                                   curly dock, Rumex crispus

Before you munch a leaf along the hiking trail and write it off as nasty, read foraging books such as Thayer or Harrington, or recipes from the web (see references). Choosing the right plant part at the right time of year and preparing it well makes a huge difference. 

People have been eating dock for a very long time. The Tollund man, 4th century BCE, Denmark, whose preserved body was found in a peat bog, had eaten a gruel that included dock seeds as his last meal. (Tollund mangruel). Dock seeds are easily collected, edible and nutritious, but hardly anyone likes the flavor. While dock seeds may never catch on, seeds of its relative buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum, are an important food. Buckwheat is not a wheat at all, but a plant very like dock from which we make both porridge and flour. 

                      curly dock, Rumex crispus

Curly dock has a long history as food and medicine. It is fair to call it a weed when it grows in the flowerbed with the zinnias or in a cornfield. But beyond that, it is a wild plant from Eurasia potentially useful to people all over the world. 

Comments and corrections welcome.

Cunningham, S. 1985. Cunningham's encyclopedia of magical herbs. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN.
Dean, G.  Rumex ruminations. link Recipes and discussion.
DeLion, D. 2012. A dock a day may keep the doc away – Harvesting Wild Docks  link 
Gunther, R. T. 1934. The Greek herbal of Dioscorides. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Harrington, H. D. 1967. Edible native plants of the Rocky Mountains. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. Gathering and preparing curly dock. 
Jones, P. Just weeds. History, myths and uses. Chapters Publishers and Booksellers, Shelburne, Vermont. 
Plants for a Future. Rumex crispus. link 
Thayer, S. 2010. Nature's garden. Forager's Harvest, Birchwood, WI. Long discussion of gathering and preparing dock. 
Vickery, R. 1995. Oxford dictionary of plant-lore. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Plant Story--Curly Dock, Internationally-Known Weed

What are those big leaves?

curly dock, Rumex crispus

They stand out in the grass or beside the fence.

It is curly dock, also called yellow dock and sour dock, Rumex crispusbuckwheat family, Polygonaceae. Curly dock came from Europe and is a worldwide weed.  I've seen it in

Oslo, Norway
curly dock, Rumex crispus, Oslo Norway

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Plant Story--Lily-of-the-Valley, Traditional Garden Plant

lilies of the valley Convallaria majalis

Lily-of-the-valley is a spring garden flower that I think of as "traditional", growing in long-established gardens of the eastern U.S.

 In Girl Scouts I sang
"White coral bells, upon a slender stalk
Lilies of the valley deck my garden walk.
Oh don't you wish, that you might hear them ring?
That will happen only when the fairies sing."

Added to their sweet fragrance, it made them plants I loved to encounter.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Visiting Japan--Pruned Trees and Shrubs

Gardens vary across the world. Of course. So travel leads to looking at home differently too.
park, Tokyo
Flowering cherry in Toyko park
In mid-April, I visited northern Japan (tour with Pacific Horticulture link, previous blog).

We started in Tokyo, admiring the centuries-old gardens to be found among the skyscrapers.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Going to Japan?--Be Sure to go Drain-Spotting

manhole cover, Japan

If you are going to Japan, you should know to "drain spot."

Japanese manhole covers are works of art.

Remo Camerota cleverly termed noticing and photographing them, "drain spotting."

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Plant Story -- Artemisia ludoviciana, silver wormwood, Louisiana sagewort

Pretty, eh?
Artemisia ludoviciana, Louisiana sagewort

Artemisia ludoviciana is a common grassland plant, native across the central and western United States, now found in most eastern states as well. It is in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, but it is wind-pollinated and so has tiny gray-green flowers, quite nondescript. It is part of the big group of native western North American plants often called sages because they smell like culinary sage, although they are not related to it (see previous blog post). 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Dye Plants: "That's A Good Dye Plant"

On a plant walk recently, people noticed that I commented that various of the plants we saw were good dye plants. Sometimes I have little else to say about native plants. On the other hand, I enjoy dyeing with plants and so I always notice which plants are good dye plants.

Here are six plants I would say "and its a good dye plant" about: 
Eucalyptus trees, Australia
Eucalyptus trees, Australia

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Visiting Argentina--Corrientes in the Northeast

along the Parana River, Corrientes Argentina
Along the Parana River, Corrientes Argentina
My slides remind me of past adventures. Beginning in the late 1980s I collaborated with Guillermo Norrmann of the Universidad del Nordeste in Corrientes, Argentina. We were working on related grasses (Andropogon) from North and South America, and made good use of the similarities and differences. One consequence of this collaboration was that I visited northern Argentina several times.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Plant Story--The Dramatic Heliconias

Heliconias, Bali
Heliconias, Bali
I traveled halfway around the world, to tropical Asia, and the iconic plant I saw everywhere is one I associate with the American tropics, heliconia.

In Bali, the gardens there were glorious with heliconias.

Heliconias, Bali

But heliconias, also called crab's claws and even Japanese canna, are plants in the genus Heliconia, native to the New World tropics. I first met them in Costa Rica, and admired them where they grew in open spots in and along the lowland rainforest.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Visiting Northern Japan--Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)

cherry blossoms, Tendo, Japan
Cherry blossoms, Tendo City, Japan
Japan is famous for celebrating spring with cherry blossoms. In mid April we flew from Colorado where we don't have a lot of flowering cherries but where the apples and crabapples were in full bloom.
apple blossoms, Colorado
Apple blossoms, northern Colorado

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tulips and the Tulip Bubble Part 2

This is part two of a pair of postsabout the Tulip Bubble, aka tulipomania, when in the 1630s in Holland the price of a tulip bulb inflated incredibly, and then suddenly dropped. My last post described Holland at that time. The merchant class had lots of money but because of sumptuary laws and Calvinist beliefs, spent it on houses and gardens not jewels and furs.Tulips had been introduced from Turkey after 1550. They were still uncommon and some highly desirable varieties were very rare indeed (link to previous post). The result was a bubble...


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tulips and the Tulip Bubble Part 1

Tulips are blooming.

red and white tulips

They're a riot of color that make people smile.

Yet economists make a Bad Example of tulips. Tulips created the earliest well-recorded bubble, defined by as "A period of wild speculation in which the price of a commodity or stock or an entire market is inflated far beyond its real value." Bubbles “burst” when a general awareness of the folly emerges and the price drops. 
The story gets a lot of attention because it seems so bizarre. How could someone spend thousands of dollars on a single tulip bulb? People did. At the peak of the tulip bubble, a bulb was traded for a house on the canal in Amsterdam, one of the most expensive locations in the world at the time. That's millions of dollars at today's prices. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Plant Story--the Merry Periwinkle, Vinca

Periwinkle is an early spring flower that doesn't get much notice. But it has long colorful history.

periwinkle, Vinca

The name periwinkle is an old English name for a group of plants native to Europe and the Middle East in the genus Vinca. The name periwinkle has been applied to a number of other plants, particularly related plants from the tropics with similarly-shaped flowers (Catharanthus). Periwinkle is also the name of a common seashell (Littorina littorea) and its relatives photos. I'll talk about the two species of perennial, creeping blue-flowered plants, Vinca major and Vinca minor, commonly planted all across the United States and much of Canada. You can find ornamental forms of periwinkle with variegated leaves and with flowers shading from deep blue-purple to white. Vinca minor, the common periwinkle is a little smaller but more winter-hardy than the greater periwinkle, V. major. They are members of the dogbane family Apocynaceae.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Visiting Colorado--The Foothills in March

I've been out in Larimer County Parks, checking out sites for spring wildflower walks. I took lots of pictures to get a head start identifying the common plants on those trails. I thought my walks to be "early spring drab" ... then I reviewed my slides.


Carter Lake, Larimer County, Colorado
The trail beckons
south end of Sundance Trail, Carter Lake

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Plant Story--Stavesacre and Larkspurs in Europe

Delphinium, larkspur
Stavesacre. Would you think "larkspur"?

The larkspurs (Delphinium species) of North America are tall plants with curiously-shaped flowers in purple, blue or white. (Earlier blog, featuring American larkspurs link)

It was clear when researching American larkspurs that there were similar European plants because, well, the name larkspur is based on the flower looking like a lark's foot, but North America doesn't have a common bird we call a lark. The lark of England, more formally the Eurasian skylark Alauda arvensis, was a well-known and conspicuous bird of farmlands. Its numbers are drastically down recently and farmlands have retreated so perhaps it is not as well known as in the past link

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Common Names -- Different Names in Different Places

I've been drawing attention to problems in looking up plants online by their common names. Here is one final issue with common names: they are often regional. That means you can find the same name on a different plant if you are in a different part of the United States. Or not find useful websites because on those websites they use a different common name.

goat's beard, Tragopogon
goatsbeard, Tragopogon
For example, looking at plant books from different regions, I find two goatsbeards, Aruncus dioicus (see photos I don't have one of my own) and Tragopogon spp. (above and photos). Aruncus grows across the eastern US., Canada and along the West Coast (USDA maps, description at Missouri Botanic Garden). Tragopogon grows there too, but eastern U.S. books it is called salsify or oyster plant. Aruncus is not found in the central U.S., and in some plant identification books from here, it is Tragopogon that is called goatsbeard. I believe the name goatsbeard for Tragopogon came with it from Europe (see Culpeper, Grieve). Aruncus is an American species, more recently named goatsbeard, for the way it looks. Currently, the USDA plants website has Tragopogon as goatsbeard and Aruncus as bride's feathers while the Flora of North America calls Aruncus goatsbeard and Tragopogon salsify. No knowing what you'll get if you ask for goatsbeard. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Plant Story--Red Osier Dogwood, Winter Color

Bright stems in the snow! 
red osier dogwood
red osier dogwood in winter
Color when the plants are dormant, awaiting spring.

red osier dogwood
red osier dogwood in foreground