Sunday, April 18, 2021

Plant Story--A Small Weedy Alyssum, Alyssum simplex

Wanting to get out as the weather warms, I frequently walk Colorado foothills trails in April and May. Conspicuous there is wild alyssum, Alyssum simplex

wild alyssum, Alyssum simplex
All the little yellow flowers are wild alyssum, Alyssum simplex

Monday, April 12, 2021

Plant Story--The Spring Native Wildflower Called Salt and Pepper

 Easily over-looked in the foothills grasslands is salt and pepper, Lomatium orientale. A member of the carrot family, Apiaceae, it has the characteristic flat head of flowers, with each coming off a multiply dividing stem (an umbel (see)). Salt and pepper is named because the white flowers have red anthers, which look dark, like pepper, on the white flower. Or so I'm told. I don't exactly see it, but I know of no other white, early spring umbels with dark dots, and the name salt and pepper is easily remembered, so it works for me. 

salt and pepper Lomatium orientale
salt and pepper, Lomatium orientale

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Sculpture in Gardens

Art is one of the finest things humans produce. It gives happiness to the maker and to the viewer. Gardens may have begun for growing food or medicine, but today they are places of joy and relaxation. When you put art into gardens, there is the potential for amazing things. 

Horses --Kevin Box, Santa Fe Botanic Garden
Horses --steel, in the form of origami folded paper - by Kevin Box, Santa Fe Botanic Garden

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Plant Story--Spotted Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis

Spring brings memories of childhood. We lived in upstate New York (Scotia, near Schenectady) and behind the house was a forested hill, belonging to an owner who lived somewhere on the far side of it. At our edge, a stream wove through the lowest areas, making marshy ground under the willows. Jewelweed grew abundantly in that area.

jewel weed Impatiens
A wet area with many jewel weed plants

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Plant Story-- Wonderfully Fragrant Basil, Ocimum basilcum

basil, Ocimum basilicum
basil, Ocimum basilicum

If I ranked vegetable garden plants on their beauty as plants, basil would rank high. It has shiny green leaves opposite each other on a square stem. When you crush a leaf, you smell the lovely fragrance, the reason that basil is an important herb.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Lessons from Travel -- Wooden Shoes

windmill in the Netherlands

Like the windmill, the wooden shoe is symbolic of the Netherlands. But wooden shoes have always seemed pretty awkward to me. I’ve tried them on. I didn’t like the stiffness and was jarred when the hard, unbending shoe hit the pavement. So I relegated wooden shoes to “quaint, old fashioned European customs,” thinking that they were the cheap shoes of 200 years ago or a dated tradition, like local costume. So my visit to the Netherlands taught me an ecological lesson.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Plant Story--Crocuses, Signs of Spring

spring crocus
My yard's first crocus--and flower--of 2021

Crocuses are one of the very first plants to flower in the spring. I saw one in my neighborhood on February 23, 2021, but then we had 3" of snow. Those plants rebounded with new flowers within a few days but remained the only flowers in my neighborhood. My own yard's first crocus was on March 2 (see above). Spring!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Plant Story--Coralbells and Alumroot, Heuchera species

The coralbells or alumroots, Heuchera species, are a genus of 37 species in the saxifrage family Saxifragaceae. They are endemic to (native to and only found in) North America, at least one species native to every state but Florida. Some have really small ranges, within a single state or part of a state (see USDA map link). Mostly the wild ones are called alumroots, while the larger species, several of which have been domesticated as garden plants, are called coralbells.

common alumroot, Heuchera parvifolia
common alumroot, Heuchera parvifolia
the flower stalk is still expanding
(those are dandelion buds hiding among the alumroot leaves)

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Visiting Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica

February 2021 has put most of North America into a deep freeze, with unfamiliarly cold temperatures and, for many, lots of snow. Flipping through my pictures, I was drawn to memories of Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica...because the memories include being bakingly hot.

January flowers, buttercup tree
Flowering in January, Cochlospermum vitifolium

Western Costa Rica has a very seasonal climate, with 70 inches of rain falling between May and October, and virtually none in November to April. At 9 degrees north of the Equator and close to sea level, it is very warm all year. During the rainy season, that warmth is tempered (or intensified, depending on your views) by humidity. During the dry season, the moisture evaporates away, and it is hot (monthly average highs 90-95 February to April) and dry.  

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Plant Story -- Star Fruit, Carambola, Averrhoa carambola

Star fruit is a distinctive fruit, appearing occasionally in northern U.S. tables. It is easy to learn to call it star fruit, since in cross section, it forms a yellow star.

star fruit, carambola
 Star fruits, carambolas, Averhoa carambola

Monday, February 8, 2021

Eight Anniversary of this Blog

I started writing this blog at the beginning of February, 2013. I didn't know how much fun it would be. I still haven't missed a week, although I have given myself permission to do so. This last year has been quite different from previous years, since, due to covid, I have not traveled more than 50 miles, which dramatically reduced my exposure to novel experiences to marvel at and write about. But I haven't found any shortage of topics. 

Big Island, Hawai'i
In February 2013, I visited the Big Island of Hawaii: 
this is looking south and west to the Kona Coast

These days A Wandering Botanist wanders her neighborhood, thinking about native and introduced plants, garden flowers, and weeds.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Travel Story--Along Mediterranean in northern Italy

 This is a post reminiscing. We aren't traveling to Europe for a while yet. One of the places I have not adequately explored is the Mediterranean Sea. Here are photos from a trip that took me there, scentic views of the Cinque Terra area in Italy. I would certainly like to go back and to see more. That has always been my philosophy; I don't need to gobble up this experience because I can come back for the parts I missed. A year of closed international borders puts more than the usual doubt into that statement. But one of my favorite memories of Italy was taking train past Monterossa, oogling the beach, and saying, "I'd love to come back to stay on the beach here and walk the Cinque Terra at my leisure."  It hasn't happened yet, but this photo essay reminds me of that plan.

Looking out at the Mediterranean
the Mediterranean Sea

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Contradictory Plant Known as Beefsteak Plant, Shiso, and Perilla Mint, Perilla frutescens

Thirty years ago in San Francisco, influenced by Asian cuisine, my husband and I frequently sprinkled powdered shiso on our food as a spice. In Nebraska, I had a period of trying to grow everything I ate--to see what its plant looked like--so we grew a few plants in the garden. I hadn't given it much thought since, until seeing it in botanical gardens and as an ornamental in Ohio.

beefsteak plant, Perilla frutescens
beefsteak plant, Perilla frutescens, also called shiso

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Dye Plant--Annatto, Bixa orellana, the Lipstick Tree

Most dye plants are subtle. To get red from madder (Rubia tinctoria), the greatest red dye plant, you have to dig up the roots, cook them for an hour, and add a mordant. Annatto, known as lipstick tree, and achiote (Bixa orellana in the plant family named after it, Bixaceae) has big spiny red fruits that if you open them, smear red all over your hands. Not a bit subtle. Of course people tried it as a dye.  

annatto Bixa orellana seed pod
annatto Bixa orellana seed pod,
about 2" long

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Travel Story--La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, California

 Sometimes travel shows you unexpected wonders. I took a tour of art museums and gardens in the area of Los Angeles, California, in 2013. The tour took me to see Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Right next to it is the La Brea Tar Pit Museum. The tour surely mentioned it, but I didn't notice. Consequently I stumbled upon it. 

La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, CA
View across tar pit at La Brea Tar Pit Museum

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Plant Story--the Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo

I was a tourist in Portugal and only caught the end of the guide's tale, "...strawberry tree." 

Strawberry tree?! Strawberries don't grow on trees! 

And, that's true, strawberries don't grow on trees, but there is very definitely a tree whose English name is strawberry tree.

strawberry-tree fruit, Arbutus unedo
strawberry-tree fruit, Arbutus unendo

It is Arbutus unedo, generally called the strawberry tree in English. It is in the heath family, Ericaceae, related to rhododendrons, blueberries, and cranberries, not at all closely related to strawberries, which are Fragaria species in the rose family, Rosaceae.