Sunday, December 29, 2019

Plant Story--the Iconic Fireweed

fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium
fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium
Fireweed  is one of the most recognizable flowers of the Rocky Mountains. They are tall spikes of magenta flowers, easy to spot and to recognize.

But also forming glorious stands

fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Walking Beaches

"Life is a beach."That might have been my father's motto. A metalurgist, he became a serious amateur seashell collector, retired to Florida, and walked a lot of beaches.

I think about him whenever I walk beaches. And, looking back over the last decade, I've been on a bunch of beaches. For example, a beach in the Lesser Antilles:

swimming beach, Lesser Antiles
A lovely beach, Iles des Saintes, Lesser Antilles

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Plant Story--Black Pepper, Everyone's Spice

black pepper plant, Piper nigrum

Black pepper, Piper nigrum (pepper family Piperaceae) has been an important commodity for millennia. We get it as a dark powder, or if you have a pepper grinder, little round pepper corns.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Growing on Sandy Tropical Beaches

beach in Hawaii
beach in Hawaii
Our world has more ocean than land, so there are vast coastlines. I live in the center of the second-largest continent, which puts me nearly as far from a coastline as is possible. So of course I'm enchanted by beaches.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Plants in Winter

trees in winter

When considering winter in Colorado, I often want to write that plants rest, but in fact, I don't think that is true. A rest is defined as a time to relax and recover strength. Plants drop their leaves and go dormant in winter because they cannot move ice in their tissues, let alone use it to grow. Furthermore, water expands as it freezes, so freezing rips up most cells. There is no recovery of strength in winter, only waiting out an impossible season.

That said, the plants that survive through the winter are an elite minority.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Plant Story: the Passionflowers, Passiflora

Amazing, peculiar flowers

passion vine, Passiflora species

The passionflowers, also called passion vines and passion fruit, genus Passiflora (passionflower family, Passifloraceae) include about 625 species, all but a couple dozen native to the Americas.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Reading Chinese Medicine Ingredients

peony flower

The Chinese herbal supplement lists as an ingredient "Radix Alba Paeoniae." It doesn't look like a standard botanical term and a Google search is confusing.

The ingredients of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be puzzling, but there is a system to it. This post is about interpreting Chinese medicinal ingredients. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Plant Story--Chicory, Roadside Blue

chicory flowers

You see chicory on the roadside during the morning commute, a splash of bright blue. Coming home, you don't notice it. When you think about it, the blue flowers aren't generally out in the fields either.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Plant Common Names--Rules and Customs

Solanum lycopersicum, tomato
tomato, Solanum lycopersicum
The scientific community has given every plant a single scientific name, written as if it were in Latin (link). But mostly people call plants by a common name, one in the local language. Many--if not most--common names are unlike the scientific name.
apple tree, Malus domestica
apple tree, Malus domestica

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Visting Michigan--Late Summer Splendor

forest in central Michigan

There are lots of places to see in Michigan. I attended the University of Michigan and over the years visited many parts of the state. I had the opportunity to return this fall. The trees were tall and green, the forest dotted with meadows and ponds.

Here is a look at central Michigan habitats, roughly the area near Grand Rapids.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Plant Story--Day Flower, Commelina

dayflower, Commelina
dayflower, Commelina
Dayflowers were still flowering in late September this year. They are small plants with attractive blue flowers, peeking up through the grass all across North America. The scientific name is Commelina and there are a half dozen species found in North America, about half of them native. Worldwide, there are some 40 species.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Plant Story--Fragrant Oregano, Origanum vulgare

oregano, Origanum vulgare

When I was a beginning gardener, decades ago, I tried to grow all the spices of my kitchen shelf: sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano and so on. I have had oregano in my gardens ever since.

Common oregano, also called Greek oregano, pot marjoram, and wild marjoram, is Origanum vulgare in the mint family, Lamiaceae (also called Labiatae). Origanum is the Greek name for the plant, although you can read the more romantic explanation that it is a combination of óros and gános meaning "mountain splendor" or "mountain joy," perhaps both are true. The species epithet, vulgare, means "common." Oregano in native to southern Europe where it has a number of close relatives, such as sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana).

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Climate Change is Local

There are lots of places to look to see that global warming is happening: the average temperature of the earth has been higher and higher every year (graphics and charts at NASA); around the world glaciers are melting (National Geographic; NASA); pretty much everyone who keeps records has seen record highs recently, for example, France (link) and Alaska (link).
Fox Glacier, New Zealand 2009
Fox Glacier, New Zealand, 2009
But weather and climate are complicated.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Visiting China--Shanghai Scenes

Pu River, Shanghai

Almost every tour of China goes to Shanghai. With 24 million people, it is China's largest city and #9 in the world. If you count only cities and not their suburbs, it is the biggest city in the world. It grew more than 10% each year over most of the last 20 years.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Some Changes at A Wandering Botanist

I recently started blogging for Mother Earth Living link 's Herbal Living section

Thus, I have a post there about feverfew, Tanacetum parthenium, (link) which would be appropriate here.

I am also migrating a few posts that appeared here to Mother Earth Living, especially older ones because older things get buried and forgotten. I will leave the titles up and put a link within the blog (see Rhubarb). The words are the same (well, I fixed a typo) and it looks nice in the new format.

I had not thought about how to make both sets of blogs equally easily found, especially since the Mother Earth Living blogs are as Kathy Keeler not A Wandering Botanist. Working on that.

 "So many plants, so little time." With 400,000 angiosperms, I cannot possible write about very many of them. I tried to set a pace here--one post a week--that was sustainable, and it has been, since Feb. 2013. I'll do less of something else in my life so I can go on blogging weekly even though I've added 1-2 posts a month for Herbal  Living. I get to write about more plants. How cool is that!

Blogs at Mother Earth Living to date:

Feverfew, Tanacetum parthenium link - new
Rhubarb, Rheum Part 1 link - formerly on this blog October, 2017
Rhubarb, Rheum Part 2 link - formerly on this blog October, 2017

So many places, so little time

landscape, southern China
landscape, southern China
So many interesting historical stories, so little time
Stockalper Palace, Brig, Switzerland
Stockalper Palace, Brig, Switzerland, built mid 1600s
So many plant species, so little time
garden, northern Colorado
garden, northern Colorado
Comments and corrections welcome. 

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Plant Story--Big bluestem, Andropogon gerardii, Very Successful

big bluestem, Andropogon gerardii in a prairie preserve
Big bluestem in a Kansas tallgrass prairie
Big bluestem, Andropogon gerardii (grass family Poaceae), was once the most common plant across the whole center of the United States because it was the dominant grass of the tallgrass prairie. Alas, that same region grows wonderful corn, so the tallgrass prairie is 99% gone, and big bluestem is no longer very common.

It remains an important forage grass. The new shoots are very nutritious and very attractive to cattle. Where cattle have enough space, big bluestem does well. If the pasture is small, they preferentially graze it until none is left. Range mangers try to maintain big bluestem or reseed with it.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Denver Area--Spectacular Native Plants

The Garden Bloggers Fling, a conference of people who blog about gardens, was in Denver in June 2019. What do garden bloggers do at a conference? Look at gardens! The Denver area is hot in summer, cold in winter, and dry all the time. Most standard East Coast garden plants do not do well, unless protected and watered. Plants native to the region do not need the same care. Here is a gallery of beautiful natives I saw in gardens in northern Colorado during the Fling.

blanket flower, Gaillardia
blanket flower, Gaillardia

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Garden Bloggers Fling 2019--Loveland and Fort Collins

High Plains Environmental Center, Loveland, CO
Garden Bloggers take lots of pictures. These of plantings of Colorado
native plants at High Plains Environmental Center in Loveland
The Garden Bloggers Fling is an conference of garden bloggers. Each year they gather to visit gardens. I went in 2017 and this year, when the conference was in greater Denver,  June 13-16, 2019. My summer has been so busy I haven't written about it.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Plant Story--Pleated Gentian, Gentiana affinis

pleated gentian, Gentiana affinis

This pretty plant is the pleated gentian (Gentiana affinis, gentian family Gentianaceae). Also called Rocky Mountain gentian, bottle gentian and prairie gentian.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Our Changing World--Threats but Also Opportunities

The world is changing.

The second half of the 20th century was warmer than the first half. The 21st century is setting new heat records.

In the arctic, ice is retreating and polar bears are starving. Alaska has record high temperatures. Alaska and Siberia have melting permafrost and forest fires. Looking up the Sami of Norway and Sweden, the information is all about warm winters creating problems for their reindeer herds, ones their grandfathers cannot provide advice about, because they've never seen it so warm.

Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland 2019
Switzerland's Aletsch Glacier in 2019;
It has lost more than 1,300 m. (1421 yards) of length and 200 m thickess since
the 1970s  link

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Botanists at Work-- Botanical Society meeting 2019

Tucson in July

The Botanical Society of America met in Tucson, Arizona at the end of July. I attended to keep current. Everyone said "Arizona? In July?" but it was lovely (see blog about the desert in July link).

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Visiting Arizona--July in the Desert Near Tucson

Tucson, Arizona

I recently attended the Botanical Society of America annual meeting, this year in Tucson, Arizona. Of course we botanists, gathered from not only across America but from around the world, spilled out of the conference center to see the surrounding desert, botanical gardens, plant breeding centers, and more.
botanists off to see new plants!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Plant Story--Ox-Eye Daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare,

ox-eye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgar
ox-eye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare
The daisy (see photo) was probably the first flower I could recognize. Daisies grew all over the fields of central Pennsylvania and upstate New York where I was a small child. To me they represented "flowers."

I have since discovered this daisy is a European plant naturalized all over North America--a weed--and that it is not "the daisy" but the ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) because another plant was England's "the daisy," the smaller plant I used to call lawn daisy, Bellis perennis (below) when I noticed it al all.
lawn daisy, Bellis perennis
daisy, lawn daisy, Bellis perennis

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, Callirhoë 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 Callirhoë, 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.