Sunday, December 24, 2023

Plant Story--Beauty Bush, Linnaea amabilis or Kolkwitzia amabilis

Beauty bush is a pretty shrub native to central China. It is a member of the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliacae. It was introduced first to Great Britain about 1900 and then to the United States. It became a popular garden plant in the U.S., though it was never as popular in Europe or China. It is rare in the wild. In the United States, it has naturalized in at least seven states, from Massachusetts to Utah.

beauty bush, Kolkwitzia amabilis
Beauty bush, Linnaea amabilis or Kolkwitzia amabilis

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Books and Writing

In this holiday season, I am trying to bring my books to people's attention, hoping for interest that leads to being read.

I wrote the novel, I Have Seen Marvels, a Journey to Paraguay 1630, because, on a journey to northern Argentina in 1994, I saw that region for the first time and learned a bit of its history. Contact between Europeans and the native peoples of the Americas and European settlement was different and yet similar across the continents. Each set of colonization stories has uniquely interesting dilemmas, interactions, and heroes. Enchanted, I wanted to tell stories from early central South American settlement, since they were largely unknown to North American audiences. Hence the book. (link)

Book: I Have Seen Marvels

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Horsetooth Mountain Park, Fort Collins, Colorado

When I walk a natural area, I'm focused on the ground, looking for and at the plants. Sometimes I miss the panoramas entirely. I wrote wrote two blogs about Horsetooth Reservoir's trails, in western Fort Collins Colorado, and shared almost only the flower pictures. Looking though the pictures this week, I was caught by the vistas. So I'll share them today

Horsetooth Mountain Park, Fort Collins, Colorado

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Plant Story--Distinctive Apache Plume, Fallugia paradoxa

Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa, rose family, Rosaceae) is a native shrub of the southwest, found from Colorado and Texas west to California and Arizona and in neighboring areas of Mexico. It is a pretty shrub with white flowers and distinctive clusters of long-lasting cream or pinkish fruit resembling plumes. 

Apache plume, Fallugia paradoxa
Apache plume, Fallugia paradoxa

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Native Plants. Part 4. Cultivars

Increasingly you see advocates for planting natives adding "do not buy cultivars." 

Cultivar is defined as "a plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding." In the context of native plants, we are talking about wild native plants that have been grown and selected for desirable characteristics, perhaps a more intensely pink flower or resistance to mildew. 

red osier dogwood with variegated leaves
dogwood cultivar with variegated leaves

Breeding changes plants. Of course. A cultivar is not genetically the same as its wild relatives. Offspring are not the same as their parents. The key for using or not using cultivars is whether the changes in the cultivar cause insects that eat leaves or gather pollen and nectar from the wild variety to avoid the cultivar. 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Lyon Arboretum, Honolulu

Lyon Arboretum of the University of Hawaii at Manoa provides a look at Honolulu quite different from the beaches. 

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii
View of Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Grow Native Plants Part 3. Finding Natives to Grow, Continued

Bird and insect numbers in North America have dropped drastically in the last 20 years. Expert opinion says that to restore them, we have to rebuild their foods, providing insects for the birds and plants for the butterflies. Because most insects are specialist feeders, that means growing lots of the native plants they require. Planting milkweeds for monarch butterflies is an example of this. The requirement for specific native food plant applies to most native butterflies and moths. This has led to a push for everyone to grow native plants in their yards and gardens, a new experience for many people. Nurseries and seed-sellers are racing to keep up with the demand. And people are asking not just for American native plants, but native plants of the place they live, Fort Collins or Toledo or Thomasville. Local groups and national websites will provide lists of what is native in your zip code. Then it gets difficult.

Colorado columbines Aquilegia coerulea
Colorado columbines (Aquilegia coerulea) and golden banner (Thermopsis rhombifolia)

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Plant Story -- Handsome Maltese Cross, Silene chalcedonica

Maltese cross is a handsome red garden flower, easy to remember once you have noticed it. I learned it as Lychnis chalcedonica but properly it is Silene chalcedonica, although you can find it called Lychnis in many places still.

Maltese cross, Silene chalcedonica
Maltese cross, Silene chalcedonica

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Grow Native Plants Part 2. Finding and Growing Native Plants

I wrote last time about the benefits of planting natives in our yards. (link)

With a few notable exceptions, most American yards, ornamental plantings, and crops over the last fifty years have been introduced plants from outside North America. Settlers brought their favorite plants with them. Furthermore, local plants were boringly familiar, exotic plants were much more interesting.

Now we want to change that, add lots of natives to our landscapes. And, natives are no longer boring and familiar because they have been so thoroughly displaced. Tulips and lilacs are familiar, sulphur flower and holly grape are not. 

tulips, Tulipa

sulphur flower, Eriogonum umbellatum
sulphur flower, Eriogonum umbellatum

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Grow Native Plants. Part 1: Why?

The conservation community is urging people to grow plants native to their area. At the same time, you can find articles arguing against planting cultivars of native species. It is difficult, buying a native plant, to figure out how to avoid a cultivar. And why should you? This is a big topic. I'll cover it in a series of posts. First, why grow natives at all?

beebalm, Monarda and blackeyed Susans Rudbeckia
Natives beebalm, black-eyed susans and a bit of grass

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Plant Story--European Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium

Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is a small European mint (mint family Lamiaceae) that was an important medicine for millennia. It was used to treat a number of illnesses but was sufficiently tricky to use that it has been replaced by other medicines and you rarely see it in North America, even in herb gardens.

European pennyroyal Mentha pulegium
European pennyroyal Mentha pulegium

I grew it because I was curious about it.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Plant Story--Fameflower and Sunbright, Phemeranthus, Bright Native Succulents

 I first saw sunbright as little groups of succulent leaves near the plants I was studying, in a rocky grassland in the City of Boulder Open Space. 

sunbright, Phemerathus

Then I came back on a bright morning, and tiny magenta flowers hung in space. What were those?

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Northwest Oregon

My friend, showing me around her beloved Oregon, took me to the coast at Seaside. 

We walked the beach. (Of course!) Inland, in Portland, it was in the upper 80s and getting hotter. The beach, on the other hand, was chilly enough to require a sweatshirt. And the ocean so cold that few people were in the water.

beach at Seaside, Oregon
beach at Seaside, Oregon

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Flowers of Fall

We come past the Fall Equinox, considered the beginning of Autumn. Flowers of Spring--crocus, snow drops, daffodils--are famous. This time of year a new group of plants flower, less famous plants than those of Spring. They deserve more acknowledgement. These are the last plants to flower. Their blooms announce the very end of the growing season. 

butterfly on rabbitbrush
Battered butterfly on rabbitbrush (Ericameria) flowers

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Plant Story--Virginia Creeper and Woodbine, Parthenocissus

woodbine, Parthenocissus vitacea
woodbine, Parthenocissus vitacea

They are big vines, common and hardy. I want to talk about the native American plants in the genus Parthenocissus. The best-known is Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia. It is native to eastern North America (Virginia!) but was long ago planted as a landscape plant, so it can be found from England to Australia. In the U.S., where it is found west of eastern Nebraska and in Canada, it is considered escape from cultivation.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Remembering Summer Hikes

Summer is ending, in fact, has ended for many people. Here are photos of the summer past, in the Rocky Mountains:

From meadows with knee-high grasses

mountain meadow

The trail led upward

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Plant Story -- Common Mallow, Malva neglecta, Edible Minor Weed

 You stop for a moment: what is that pretty white flower? 

common mallow, Malva neglecta
common mallow, Malva neglecta

Then you look down and think, "oh just a weed."

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Variegated Plants

Plant leaves are green, we all agree, maybe turning yellow or red in fall. But, in fact, you can grow plants with jewel-tone leaves. 

colorful leaves

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Plant Story--Purple Locoweeds, Astragalus and Oxytropis, Doubly Poisonous

That flash of magenta in the meadow 

locoweed flowers

A closer loook shows its a legume, pea family, Fabaceae. In the Colorado Front Range, only locoweeds, milk vetches and vetches are that color. The vetches, genus Vicia, are small and vining, with tendrils. That's not what I have here.

The locoweeds, genus Oxytropis, and the milk vetches, also called locoweeds, genus Astragalus, are quite similar. Locoweeds have flowers with pointed tips on the central fused petals (keel), pointed leaves, and virtually no stems. Milkvetches have blunt keels, less pointy leaves, hairy leaves and stems and leaves on flower stems. 

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Photos and Pictures, Ever Better

When I started doing field work, about 1972, the cameras available with good enough lenses to take photos of plants or insects were big heavy single lens reflex cameras. My camera was so unwieldy that I only took it with me about once a week, and on that one day got whatever photos I wanted. 

Photography wasn't easy. The macro lens unbalanced the camera, so it was hard to keep it stable. Worse, I had to get pretty close to the subject to focus, so the insects I wanted to photograph saw the big dark macro lens and moved to the other side of the stem or leaf. 

shieldbug with prey (ant) on Ipomoea carnea leaf
shieldbug with prey (ant) on Ipomoea carnea leaf,
  Guanacaste, Costa Rica, 1972.
Maybe the bug thought it was hiding in the leaf or just wasn't afraid, since
 brightly colored predatory bugs generally bite, sting, or taste awful.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

A Hike in Evergreen, Colorado, July 2023

Walk with me. Imagine late July at Alderfer Park in Evergreen Colorado, at 7800' in the Rocky Mountains. The morning was turning hot, but was still pleasant. 

Meadow Trail, Alderfer Park
Start of the trail 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Plant Story--Orange Mountain Dandelion, Agoseris aurantiaca

Orange mountain dandelion is a an easily-recognized native wildflower of cool areas in western North America.

orange mountain dandelion Agoseris aurantiaca
orange mountain dandelion Agoseris aurantiaca

It looks a lot like a dandelion but it is the wrong color. Closer inspection picks up more differences, such as leaves that don't have the characteristic jagged pattern of dandelions, bracts under the flower are upright rather than pointing down the stem as in dandelions, and more. So you can identify it as resembling a dandelion, not a daisy or sunflower, and the flower color is an immediate tip-off it is not the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Looking at Flowers Like A Bee

Not all the bright flowers are equally attractive to a bee. Flower shapes are functional. They encourage pollination, but pollinators come in various shapes and sizes, so flowers fit some pollinators and not others. Which, if you take the insect's point-of-view, means some flowers are food sources and others are not. Bees like flowers they can land on and then climb into the flower, or walk across tiny flowers.

diverse flowers

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Plant Story--Pretty, Aggressive Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia

 Some places in the U.S., creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia, primrose family Primulaceae) is a weed, some places a ground cover. 

creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia

This is a low spreading plant with pretty round bright green leaves and yellow flowers. It is perennial and evergreen. In my yard it makes a nice ground cover in the shade without being particularly aggessive. In much of the U.S., though, it grows much better, making it a weed.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Wet Year So Far, Colorado Front Range

 It has been a wet spring and early summer in northern Colorado. Many days have had rain. I measured a single day's rain at 1.1", the wettest single day in the 5 years I've had a backyard rain gauge. Denver had its 4th wettest May and wettest June ever recorded. Denver has exceeded its average annual rainfall with half the year to go. I'm 50 miles to the north and we don't get quite the same storms, but we're very, very wet too.

In consequence, the countryside is green and plants everywhere are thicker, taller, and flowering more.

Devil's Backbone Open Space, Loveland, CO
  Devil's Backbone

Here is a look at some of them, along Devil's Backbone Open Space in west Loveland. 

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Discovering American Foods

In the novel I published this winter, I imagined an elderly Spanish woman visiting central South America in 1630. Although fascinated by tales of the Americas, she had never traveled beyond Spain. In the early 17th century, the Americas were old news but European daily life was still largely untouched. For example, most American foods were not immediately attractive to Europeans. The few that were instant hits, chocolate and vanilla for example, were in such short supply initially that even the kings of Spain had to ration their consumption lest it run out before the next ship. 

freshly roasted cacao beans (chocolate)
freshly roasted cacao beans (chocolate) Theobroma cacao

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Plant Story -- Sweet Potatoes, Ipomoea batatas

Sweet potatoes are morning glories, or morning glories are sweet potatoes. That's because sweet potatoes are Ipomoea batatas, in the genus Ipomoea with all the morning glories. If you've grown sweet potatoes, you will have seen the tubular blue flower, very like weedy morning glories such as Ipomoea hederacea and Ipomoea purpurea.

sweet potatoes, Ipomoea batatas
sweet potatoes, Ipomoea batatas

Monday, June 19, 2023

Garden Thoughts: Who Are All These Plants?

This spring I've been gardening daily. My current Garden Concept is a space of native plants, that welcomes the insects that eat them and the birds that consume the insects. But I like plants, so I have no intention of digging out the peonies or lilacs, even though they support very few native insects. With that complex approach, I took a look at my garden and discovered it was even more complicated.

yard photo

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Plant Story-- Madder, Rubia tinctorum, Famous Dye Plant

Dyer's madder, Rubia tinctorum (madder and coffee family, Rubiaceae) was the base of most red cloth in Eurasia for millennia. 

dyer's madder, Rubia tinctorum
dyer's madder, Rubia tinctorum

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Writing History to Better See the Present

This January I published an historical novel, I Have Seen Marvels, A Journey to Paraguay 1630. As the angst and excitement fade and I move on to other projects, I am reflecting on the experience. 

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Plant Story - Horsetails, Equisetum species, Doing Just Fine

Horsetails are odd enough that long ago when I knew very few plant names, I saw one and asked "what is this?" The hollow jointed stems are not like much of anything else. I learned not just that it was a horsetail, but that its an ancient plant. My college textbooks spoke of fossiles from the Carboniferous, 300 million years ago, that are virtually unchanged in structure; the genus Equisetum might be the oldest surviving genus of plants on earth. There were horsetails 60 feet (18 meters) tall. Today there are still some in Mexico and Central America that grow to 20'. Wow. 

Equisetum, horsetail
Equisetum, horsetails

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Patience...and the Gardener

Patience is an important virtue for gardeners, one that is not praised enough. 

Winter ends when winter ends. The last frost is months after it is nice enough to wish to plant marigold seeds and tomatoes. I can't speed it up. Planting too early just kills the plants. So I wait. Like it or not.

garden, early spring
nice weather but plants not up much (March)

Patience would make that easier.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Plant Story-- Side-oats Grama, Bouteloua curtipendula, Attractive Native Grass

When I was first introduced to the important native prairie grasses, I knew nothing about grasses and had no eye for distinguishing characteristics. Side-oats grama was one of the first ones I could recognize. The seeds (technically single-seeded fruits, achenes) hang suspended on a 6-9-inch stalk, different from all the other common prairie grasses. Then there was the mnemonic; I always said to myself, "Them's side-oats, gra'ma." Learning Bouteloua curtipendula was less easy, but there are several important species also in Bouteloua, the word has a nice rhythm to it, and curtipendula means "short-hanging" describing the seeds.

sideoats grama, Bouteloua curtipendula
sideoats grama, Bouteloua curtipendula

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Travel Story--Rocky Mountain Hike, Early May

It was early May at 7000' elevation. We walked out on a trail in Three Sisters Park, a Jefferson County Park, in Evergreen, Colorado. The temperature was in the 50's, the sky overcast with a prediction of rain--very pleasant, actually. 

forest, Three Sisters Park, Evergreen CO
forest, Three Sisters Park, Evergreen. CO

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Beach Lettuce, Fan Flower, Beach Naupaka, Scaevola taccada, Native and Ornamental

This is the story of a successful native. Beach lettuce, fan flower, Scaevola taccada, grows on beaches across the Pacific Ocean. Called beach naupaka in Hawaii, it is one of about 600 species of plants native to Hawaii, having reached the islands, the most remote in the world, without human help. Since it is found on beaches all over the Pacific, Hawaiians call it indigenous rather than endemic. It is a conspicuous plant to beach-goers, growing abundantly just above the tide line. 

beach naupaka Scaevola taccada, Honolulu
beach naupaka Scaevola taccada, Honolulu

I want to praise it for its role as an ornamental. 

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Plant Story--Wild Lettuces, Lactuca species, Common and Widespread

Garden lettuce, Lactuca sativa (sunflower family Asteraceae) is just one of about 125 species in the genus. (See earlier post on garden lettuce.) Thus, there are many lettuces, most living independent of humans.
wild lettuce in a disturbed field
 wild lettuce, probably prickly lettuce, Lactuca serriola

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Green Roofs in San Francisco

In a spring escape, I was in San Francisco in late March. We visited museums, parks, and restaurants.

Roof, California Academy of Sciences
Roof, California Academy of Sciences

I had not been to the California Academy of Sciences in more than 20 years. In that period, the building was completely rebuilt, with a green roof. I had been doubtful about green roofs--where people grow plants on the roof. I know they have been used for millennia in parts of Europe, but those are wetter climates than San Francisco. So I wondered about watering and keeping plants alive in shallow soils. Or, if the soils aren't shallow, the weight on the roof. 

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Big, Medicinal, and Long-lived, Veratrum californicum, False Hellebore, Corn Lily

California false hellebore, Veratrum californicum, is a big plant you can't miss. It is very toxic. Rising temperatures threaten it. Altogether a fascinating native American wildflower.

Veratrum californicum in Colorado
 California false hellebore, Veratrum californicum,
in the Colorado Rockies

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Travel Story--Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

It was still winter in Colorado in March 2023 when we took off to San Francisco on a California escape. The area had had a stressful winter of heavy rains and our trip was sandwiched in between two more storms. But we had a beautiful day for walking Golden Gate Park. 

Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco
Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Plant Story - Lettuce, Lactuca sativa

Let us talk about lettuce.

garden lettuce, Lactuca sativa
garden lettuce, Lactuca sativa, in a garden

Lettuce is easily overlooked and yet it is one of the top ten vegetables, traded, grown, or eaten. Americans ate an average of 12.7 pounds of lettuce each in 2021 and 25.8 pounds per person in 2015. It is the world's most important salad crop. 

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Plant Confusions: Hellebores, Helleborus and Veratrum species

The common name hellebore is confusing because three quite different plants are called hellebore or false hellebore. They're in the genera Helleborus, Veratrum and Adonis. Helleborus is just hellebore, Veratrum and Adonis are false hellebores, but of course sometimes the "false" is dropped. 

hellebore, Helleborus
hellebore, Helleborus

All three are poisonous plants that have been used medicinally as purges, to cause vomiting and diarrhea. All three are sufficiently toxic as to be dangerous. 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Gardens and Natives: Colorado is Distinct from the East

I attended Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants conference in February. I came away very conscious of all the differences in gardening between our region and other places, especially the eastern U.S. If you want to grow Colorado natives, they recommended planting in a thick layer of crushed gravel (stone!), adding no fertilizer, washing off the potting soil to plant plants bare-rooted, and within a year, reducing water to once per week or once per month or not at all (that is, depending on rain and snow for water).  

natural vegetation, Colorado grassland
 natural vegetation, Colorado grasslands

We imported our idea of landscape and garden mainly from settlers who came from Kansas or Iowa or Kentucky or Pennsylvania.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Plant Story: Christmas Rose, Lenten Rose, Helleborus

Hellebores, also called the Lenten roses and Christmas roses, Helleborus species, are early spring garden flowers. 

Lenten rose, Helleborus
Lenten rose, Helleborus

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Plant Story: the Gorgeous Scarlet Globemallow, Sphaeralcea coccinea

Scarlet globemallow, Sphaeralcea coccinea, is a small native mallow of disturbed sites of the western half of the United States and Canada. It has bright orange flowers--nearly red in some areas--and rather gray-green, deeply divided (easily recognized) leaves.

scarlet globe mallow, Sphaeralcea coccinea
Scarlet globe mallow, Sphaeralcea coccinea

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Tenth Anniversary!

I started this blog in February 2013. I have uploaded a post every week since then, 521 posts. The actual total is 532, because once in a while I added a mid-week post. In that decade I wrote books about conspicuous plants (listed below), gave talks about plants and travel, and, last month, published an historical novel about travel, featuring plants (see below). I learned a lot about writing, publishing, and projectors. I aspired to being an expert on a tour and just before covid, got to try it. Then, of course, I experienced staying in during the pandemic and, lately, reestablishing pre-pandemic activities. My thinking about plants went from considering all plants cool to believing we should make a real effort to grow plants native to our local area to preserve them and the animals that feed on them, which discourages growing nonnative plants. 

 In 2013 I saw the Caribbean for the first time. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Travel Story: Walking the Beach on Coronado Island, San Diego

We took a winter escape. To San Diego, California, in January. I knew it could be warm there, but it wasn't. Heavy rain had just swept inland and behind the front the highs barely reached 60 oF. In the sun, it was pleasant, but not very warm.

beach, Coronado Island, San Diego, California
Beach, Coronado Island, San Diego, California

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Plant Story--Buddha's Hand Citron

 This is the Buddha's hand citron:

Buddha's hand citron, Citron medica var. sarcodactylis
Buddha's hand citron, Citron medica var. sarcodactylis

It rarely appears in North American markets, but is common in Asia. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Plant Family: The Lamiaceae, the Mints

This is a mint 

henbit, Lamium amplexicaule
henbit, Lamium amplexicaule

this is a mint
Coleus, genus Coleus
coleus, genus Coleus

and this is a mint

scarlet beebalm, Monarda didyma
scarlet beebalm, Monarda didyma

This is also a mint

teak, Tectoma
teak, Tectoma

Wait a minute! All of those? They don't look like spearmint (Mentha spicata)

spearmint, Mentha spicata
spearmint, Mentha spicata