Sunday, July 21, 2024

Plant Story- Hoary Vervain, Verbena stricta

Hoary vervain, Verbena stricta, is a native perennial found across much of North America.  

hoary vervain, Verbena stricta, very close up
hoary vervain, Verbena stricta, very close up

hoary vervain, Verbena stricta
hoary vervain, Verbena stricta

Sunday, July 14, 2024

After Fire, Rocky Mountain Wildflowers

burned forest, Rocky Mountain National Park
burned forest, Rocky Mountain National Park

The hill ahead was burned. Look at those sad dead trees!

So you take the fork in the trail going away from them.

meadow by burned forest, Rocky Mountain National Park
meadow by burned forest, Rocky Mountain National Park

If you are looking for wildflowers, though, walk through the burned forest. See all that green on the ground?

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Polyploidy. Part 5: Patterns of Autopolyploidy

switchgrass, Panicum virgatum
switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, famous autopolyploid

Polyploidy is whole genome duplication, uncommon in animals, but common in plant evolution, between living plant species and in individuals within plant species. (See previous blogs link). Although it is actually a continuum, botanists recognize allopolyploidy, when the genomes that duplicated come from two different species and autopolyploidy when a single genome doubles. This post is about autopolyploids.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Middle Elevations in Rocky Mountains in late June

Summer moves steadily up the mountains. As you rise up above the plains of Colorado into the Rocky Mountains, the plants that are done flowering at 5,000 feet elevation are in full bloom at 8,000 feet, but are still in bud at 11,000 feet. Of course not all the plants are able grow from 5000' to 11000' elevation, but many do. 

These photos were taken in a ramble around Lily Lake, at 8,931' elevation.

Lily Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Lily Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Plant story-- Eriogonum alatum, winged wild buckwheat

This is a post about a plant almost nobody has ever seen, let alone noticed. Winged wild buckwheat, Eriogonum alatum (buckwheat family Polygonaceae) has its range at low elevations on both sides of the Rocky Mountains and into Utah. Lots of people live in that area, but nothing like the number who live on the East or West Coast, so the number of locals who could know it is limited.  

Winged wild buckwheat, Eriogonum alatum in flower
Winged wild buckwheat, Eriogonum alatum in flower
(yellowish, center)

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Plant Story--Pussytoes, Antennaria

Pussytoes (Antennaria species, sunflower family, Asteraceae) are cute little plants, easy to recognize when flowering, inconspicuous when they are not. There are about 45 species of Antennaria, mostly in North America plus a few in Europe and South America. The U.S.D.A. plants database gives 36 species of Antennaria in North America, counting Alaska, all of them native. 

Antennaria pussytoes
Antennaria pussytoes

When flowering, they send up clusters of round flowers, easily imagined as cat feet. (Catsfoot is another common name). The non-flowering plant is a cluster of quite small oval gray-green leaves on the ground, often below the grasses, and so quite inconspicuous. 

Sunday, June 9, 2024


 This flower is a pink. But it is clearly not very pink.

Dianthus, pinks
pinks, genus Dianthus

Pinks, the genus Dianthus, got their common name several hundred years ago in England. The word pink is not just the name of a color. Its older meaning is of a zig-zag edge. My mother had scissors that cut the edge of a piece of cloth in a zig-zag pattern so it would not ravel, called pinking shears. 

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Periodical Cicadas--Cicada Tourism

I flew to St. Louis to see the periodical cicadas, brood XIX, 13-year periodical cicadas. Why? Because they are a wonder of the world. No other organism spends 12 or 16 years underground to emerge, mate and lay eggs in the 13th or 17th year, with all of the periodical cicadas in an area synchronized at these very long intervals. Nothing in the world comes even close to it. How could this evolve? They are found only in the eastern U.S. from just west the Missouri River east almost to the Atlantic Ocean, from Wisconsin and New York south to Louisiana, Alabama, northern Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, and nowhere else in the world. I somehow was never in the right place at the right time to see them emerge. 

periodical cicada, St. Louis, MO
periodical cicada, St. Louis, Missouri

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Our Natives are Weeds

 "We have a marketing failure with natives," Doug Tallamy wrote in Nature's Best Hope. While I think the "grow natives" movement is helping correct that, the fact that many natives are called weeds does discourage loving them. 

fireweed, Chamerion
fireweed, Chamerion

Lots of our native plants are weeds. That is, they have weed in their common name. Fireweed (Chamerion), milkweed (Asclepias), jewelweed (Impatiens), Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium), and ironweed (Vernonia) to name a few. 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Up the Snake River into Hell's Canyon

We took a motorized boat --jet boat--tour up the Snake River from Clarkston Washington to Hell's Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America (7.993 ft). The river was wonderfully reflective as we left Clarkston. 

Clarkston, Washington

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Plant Story - Flixweed, Tansy Mustard, Herb Sophia, Descurainia sophia, Weedy Spring Mustard

 As a group, the plants in the mustard or cabbage family, Brassicaceae, are cool weather plants, growing well early in the spring, flowering as the temperatures warm, going to seed in the heat of summer. Familiar mustards are cabbage (Brassica oleracea), broccoli (Brassica oleracea), and mustard itself (mustards are species of Brassica, Rhamphospermum and Sinapsis). These edible mustard family plants were domesticated in Eurasia and they are a small selection of the more than 3,700 species worldwide. North America has 634 native species in the mustard family. It also has more than 100 exotic mustards. 

Flixweed, Descuriania sophia
the plant this blog is about 

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Plants of Lewis and Clark

 My recent cruise down the Snake and Columbia Rivers retraced some of the steps of the 1804 Lewis and Clark Expedition. Also called the Corps of Discovery Expedition, they were sent to explore the area of the new Louisiana Purchase (link) and the region west of it to the Pacific Ocean. The Expedition has grabbed the imagination of people for two centuries now, as they imagine being in a small corps of men (and one woman) going into unknown regions. The Expedition walked, rode, and boated for over 8,000 miles in under three years, roundtrip.

Crow Butte, Washington
Crow Butte, Washington

Looking in detail at the discoveries of the Expedition is a reminder of how much the United States didn't know in 1800. 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Polyploidy 4. Distribution of Autopolyploidy

Polyploidy is whole genome duplication, a genetic phenomenon which is widespread in plants and uncommon in animals. The ancestry of most if not all plants includes a doubling of all the chromosomes. In addition, many plant species were formed by crossing between two existing species, with subsequent doubling of the genome which made the hybrid fertile. (See previous blogs Intro to Polyploidy, Crop Plant Polyploidy, Speciation via Polyploidy).


Long known and still poorly understood is variation in polyploidy within a species. 

fireweed, Chamerion
fireweed (Chamerion) has within-species polyploidy

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Travel Story - Landscapes of a Cruise Down the Columbia River

I took a river cruise (with Lindblad/National Geographic) down the Snake River from Lewiston Idaho to the Columbia River to its mouth on the Pacific Ocean west of Portland, Oregon. Many interesting places went by while in the bus or on the ship. Here is a tour: the trip through the window. 

My husband and I flew to Spokane, Washington, so the trip actually started with a bus ride 100 miles south to Lewiston, Idaho. It was April 7, a cloudy early spring day in Spokane.  There is a spectacular city center I hope to walk through one day.
Spokane, Washington
Spokane Washington

Spokane, Washington
The Spokane River, Spokane, Washington

Monday, April 15, 2024

Growing Natives in Colorado

 There is a national push for homeowners in the U.S. to grow plants native to their area (see previous posts  part1part 2; part 3; HNPwebsite). The number of birds and insects have been dropping over the last 50 years. Lack of food is blamed because we replaced native habitat with lawns and parking lots. Rewilding our neighborhoods is not a realistic solution; what is suggested is that we each grow regional natives on our properties, making our yards contribute to local habitat. 

native alpine wildflower
Alpine clover Trifolium dasyphyllum, an alpine tundranative that won't survive
in Denver, though the distance is only 50-60 miles.

What to grow in Colorado is a challenge. First, Colorado has unique native wildflowers, so advice from the coasts is often misleading. Second, Colorado is complex, with natives changing as you go up in elevation, over the Continental Divide, or from north to south; getting really local information is difficult. 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Strawberries, Fragaria, Beloved Fruits. 2. Uses and Folklore

Strawberries are popular fruits, eaten world-wide. This is despite the fact that fresh strawberries do not improve after harvest and cannot be stored for very long. So popular are they that we have bred them to produce fruit throughout the growing season, not just briefly in June or July, and ship them from warmer climates or big greenhouses for year-round fresh strawberries, and we freeze them or preserve them as jams and jellies to them always available.

fruit salad with strawberries
fruit salad with strawberries

Monday, April 1, 2024

Plant Story -- Strawberries. Fragaria, Beloved Fruits 1. Distribution and Botany

Strawberries, genus Fragaria in the rose family, Rosaceae, are a popular fruit and have been for millennia. Twenty to 24 species are recognized, with cultivated strawberries adding many hybrids and varieties. They are native around the world, mainly in the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere, plus a few Southern Hemisphere species.

strawberries, Fragaria species
strawberries, Fragaria

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Polyploidy Part 3. Patterns in Nature: Speciation

 Polyploidy is whole genome duplication, when all the chromosomes and so, all the genes, of an organism double. In plants, it is very common; easily 3/4 of plants are polyploid. 

Oenothera, evening primrose
an Oenothera

Because polyploidy is a genetic effect that takes place inside the cell's nucleus, it is not casually observed. But botanists discovered polyploidy as soon as they had microscopes to look at the contents of the nucleus and when they tried crossing polyploids and got results that didn't make sense based on diploid genetics. (Diploid = 2 copies of the genome, polyploidy = numbers over 2, like 3, 4, and 6  see previous posts in this series link link). Study of polyploidy began in the early 1900s.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Plant Story--Catnip, Nepeta cataria, a Well-Known Weedy Herb

 Catnip, Nepeta cataria, is one of the better-known little herbs because it is a drug for cats. Cats respond to catnip for about 15 minutes, with distinctive behaviors from rubbing on their faces and rolling in it to grooming and salivating. Young kittens do not respond and some adult cats never do. On the other hand, the response is widespread among cats of all kinds, lions, tigers, cheetahs, lynx, pumas and so on, but not dogs or rabbits or rats or other groups of animals. Since cats are common pets, people provide or grow catnip for them, with the result that catnip is known to many people.

catnip, Nepeta cataria
catnip, Nepeta cataria

Sunday, March 10, 2024

April in Tokyo

Here is a photo album of pictures from Tokyo in April. Beautiful spring flowers.

The photos are from April 2017 but if you hurry, you could still get there to see what it is like in 2024: 

Classical Japanese design

garden, Tokyo

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Polyploidy Part 2. And Crop Plants

Polyploidy is whole genome duplication, where all the chromosomes double. Animals rarely survive major chromosome changes, but plants usually do, leading to aspects of plant genetics that are quite different from animals. 

strawberry, Fragaria ananassa
strawberry, Fragaria ananassa

Even though you cannot easily spot a polyploid by looking at it, polyploidy is not obscure. Many common, important plants are polyploid, for example bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), white potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), coffee (Coffea arabica), sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa) and cotton (Gossypium tomentosum). Researchers estimate that 75% of all plants, and likewise, 75% of crops, are polyploids.  

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Still Winter? More Flowers!

It is still winter for me. The ground is brown and cold. Oh, I can see a trace of green in the lawn and a new shoot or two on the iris, if I look carefully.  My snowdrops and crocuses are out of the ground, but not yet flowering. So, here are photos of summer flowers for cheer. Just a few more months...

sunflower Helianthus annuus

Annual sunflower, the cultivated Ukrainian sunflower, Helianthus annuus

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Polyploidy, Multiple Copies of the Genome. Part 1. Basics

One peculiar characteristic of plants, not much shared by animals, is polyploidy, multiple copies of all the chromosomes. In plants and animals, DNA, the genetic material, is bound up in protein-wrapped bodies called chromosomes. Organisms have several to many chromosomes, usually as pairs. For animals, each species has a characteristic number--humans 23 pairs, dogs 39 pairs--with very little variation. One of the ways that plants are DIFFERENT is that chromosome number can vary a lot, between species but also between plants of the same species growing next to each other.  

carrot flowers
carrots, flowering

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Plant Story--Sambucus nigra, Black Elderberry Uses and Folklore

Since prehistory times, humans all over the world have collected black elderberries, the fruit of black elder (Sambucus nigra, viburnum family, Viburnaceae) (see previous post: link). The plant has been used medicinally for that long as well. In addition, it grows into a nice tree, 20, sometimes 30, feet tall, with useful wood. The leaves were used as insect repellents. Folklore abounded, some protecting the plant, some considering it accursed. My herbal, traditional, and folklore books have long sections on elder. Here is a selection of what they say.

elderberries, Sambucus nigra
black elderberries, Sambucus nigra

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Plant Story--Sambucus, Elder or Elderberry, Widespread Tasty Berry

Species in the genus Sambucus are called elder. That somehow doesn't sound right to my eastern North American ear, so I always say elderberries. That name I prefer is clearly weird--the tree doesn't always have berries, or the berries are just the fruit of the elder--but I'm not alone in this speech pattern, you can see it in a lot of U.S. writing. Historically and properly, it was elder, but bear with me, I keep sticking -berry on the name.

Elder with berries, southern Scotland
Elderberry with berries

They are shrubs or small trees with richly green long divided leaves. They produce big clusters of small white flowers that turn into brightly-colored berries.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Flowers, Since its Midwinter

 It has been snowy and cold, icy and cold, windy and cold, and just cold the last week. So here are so plant photos to remind you of warmth. 


Sunday, January 14, 2024

Travel Story--Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

It was a rainy September day two years ago when I visited the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. We walked from our hotel, down old streets and past local markets. 

fall in Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh in September

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Plant Story--Lovely Fernbush, Chamaebatiaria millefolium

The plant I call fernbush is an American shrub native to the U.S. west, from eastern Oregon and Idaho south to California and New Mexico. It grows to be about 10 feet tall, spreading to 10' wide. It has leaves with lots of divisions, hence the name fernbush, with a rich spicy scent. The flowers rise in spikes of white flowers with yellow centers. The USDA plants data base calls it desert sweet. An older plant book called it tansybush, because the leaves look like, and smell a little like, the garden plant tansy (Tanacetum vulgare). 

fernbush Chamaebataria millefolium
fernbush Chamaebataria millefolium

Monday, January 1, 2024

Botanical Garden Observations

Botanical gardens are zoos for plants; places where plants from around the world are conserved. Frequently they are public but they do not have to be. Frequently also the staff conduct research on topics relating to plant propagation and identification.

Singapore Botanic Garden
Singapore Botanic Garden