April 30, 2013

Wordless emerging ephemerals

Sanguinaria canadensis
Sanguinaria canadensis

Enemion biternatum
Enemion biternatum

Claytonia virginica
Claytonia virginica

Trillium erectum
Trillium erectum

Podophyllum peltatum
Podophyllum peltatum

April 26, 2013

My 40-hour sojourn in Milwaukee


Last week, I began training to become a Wisconsin Master Naturalist volunteer. Over the course of the next several weeks, our group will complete 40 hours of training in natural history, interpretation, and conservation stewardship.

Since the program is new in Wisconsin, we're the first group in the state to be officially certified!

What does that have to do with a "sojourn in Milwaukee"? The training is held at the Wehr Nature Center, in southwestern Milwaukee County. It's a lovely 220-acre property, with more than five miles of trails linking the center's five natural communities: woodland, wetland, prairie, Oak savanna, and lake.

At our class this week, as we explored the forest, I found myself thinking about different types of forests, and how they can feel welcoming and intimidating at the same time.

Related to this thought, back in January I decided to write at least one post a month that includes a nod to John Muir. And when we went to Florida last month, I found myself thinking about Muir's "A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf." In it, Muir recounts his adventures and impressions of the back roads and trails he traveled on his way to Florida.


Though I'd been to the Sunshine State several times before, I'd never really "hiked" in a Florida forest until last month's trip. People warn you about alligators if you go too far off the beaten track, so we stuck to a trail in a planned community. (I didn't have my camera along, so photos shown here were taken at the Marie Selby Botanical Garden.)

The vegetation along our Florida forest hike was so different from any other forests I've experienced. Strange bird calls and unique animal sounds made me a little uneasy. And huge Philodendrons--the largest I've ever seen--covered the trunks and dangled from the branches of Live Oaks and other trees.


Muir had a similar impression: "Florida is so watery and vine-tied that pathless wanderings are not easily possible in any direction ... It is impossible to write the dimmest picture of plant grandeur so redundant, unfathomable ... Oftentimes, I was tangled in a labyrinth of armed vines like a fly in a spider-web."


As incredible as it is, a Florida forest can seem intimidating to a northerner.


But then, so can a northern forest--with all its seasonal changes--to someone from the south. And either type of forest might seem scary to a person who has rarely stepped foot in one. But a forest of any kind is an incredible resource.


The rich fertility of a forest offers some of the best opportunities to study incredibly diverse life forms.

I'm looking forward to more exploring in the Wehr Nature Center. As the weeks of training continue, I'll share some of the highlights.


April 20, 2013

Plant of the month: Tradescantia spathacea

Sometimes it's the people associated with a plant that make it dear to us.

When I was in college in Iowa, many years ago, I met an inspirational woman. The purpose of our introduction is unimportant here, but over the course of several months I visited her a few times. She was in her late 80s or early 90s, living alone, still gardening, cooking, and caring for her home and herself.


The first time I visited this independent senior--let's call her Mrs. C--I noticed this unique green and purple houseplant, with little bracts loaded with white blooms. I asked her what it was called, and she said "Moses-in-the-Bulrushes." On subsequent visits during mild weather, her window boxes on the front of her house were stuffed full of the Moses plant. Because of my interest, she gave me a cutting of the plant in a pot.

Though I was a college student (and terrible at keeping houseplants alive), the Moses plant managed to survive. In fact, it was quite healthy and I gave cuttings to friends and family members, including my mom.

At this point, all of the credit goes to her, because my Moses plant died or was discarded somewhere along the way. Over the years, my mother--who has a green thumb with indoor and outdoor plants--always had a pot full of the Moses plant.

Fast-forward to March 2013.


While visiting Mom in Florida last month, I noticed she had a Moses plant near a small fence in her front yard. Of course, this brought back memories of both Mom's house over the years, and Mrs. C.

After noticing the plant at Mom's place (and at Florida botanical gardens, where some of these photos were captured), I did a little research.


The plant's Latin name is Tradescantia spathacea (synonym Rhoeo spathacea), according to the USDA plants database. Common names, in addition to Moses-in-the-Bulrushes, include Boatlily, Oysterplant, Men-in-a-Boat, and numerous variations of "Moses-in... ."

Here's where things get a little tricky. The Moses plant--native to Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden--is considered slightly invasive in parts of Florida and Louisiana. But it's a tropical plant and very sensitive to frost, so it doesn't survive as a perennial beyond zone 9.


For those who do plant it outside--during the summer or as a year-round perennial--it grows well in full sun or part shade. It's low-maintenance, evergreen, and spreads one to two feet wide and about one foot in height.

One warning: Dogs, in particular, seem sensitive to the Moses plant, according to several sources. Plant owners report that their dogs developed skin irritations after rolling in it.

If you keep it away from your dog (maybe on a shelf or in a window box outside), it's an excellent decorative plant, based on the experiences of Mrs. C and Mom.

What happened to Mrs. C? Unfortunately, I lost touch with her after I graduated all those years ago, and she has since passed on. But the Moses plant, which my mother has nurtured all these years, will always remind me of these two special women.


April 15, 2013

Abiding blooms and frozen foliage

Hyacinthus orientalis, which has looked the same for more than one week. Cayenne
pepper rabbit-deterrent spray has worked so far, but I'm getting tired of spraying
around this cutie after every rain. Time to plant some Daffodils nearby.

The robins are mating, the cardinals are overly chirpy, and the mourning doves seem happy and contented ... they must know something we can't see. Spring is taking her good time this year, and the humans are getting restless.

Of course, it could be much worse.

I'm not even going to mention the "s" word, although you'll briefly see the white stuff later in this post. Fortunately, we do have a few blooms and foliage making an appearance, so I'm linking in to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and Foliage Follow-Up.

The Crocuses (passé for gardeners in warmer climates, I realize) are lasting a record time this year. Usually they bloom and fade in a few days. This year, because of our cool temperatures, they've been blooming for more than a week.





Believe it or not, those photos show the same Crocuses, shown in chronological order as photographed over the course of a week. Yes, I captured the photo with the white stuff on Sunday, April 14 -- the same day as the last one, when the high later in the day was 54F (12C).

Other "early spring" bloomers are hanging around longer than normal, too.

Galanthus nivalis, April 8

Galanthus nivalis, April 14

Helleborus orientalis, April 8

Helleborus orientalis, April 14

Helleborus orientalis, April 9

Helleborus orientalis, April 14

Don't you just love the way Hellebores look like human hearts as they emerge from the mucky earth?

The Daffodils are waiting in a state of suspended animation, and showing signs of stress.

Narcissus (mixed) with closed buds for more than two weeks.

Narcissus 'Little Gem' struggling to find enough sun to green its foliage.

Others in a holding pattern are wisely staying tightly furled.

Syringa meyeri

Syringa meyeri

Hehe ... take that, pesky rabbits! These Lilac buds are beyond your reach!

The most hopeful signs of the growing season ahead are the plants just emerging from the cold soil. The following three captured my attention and seemed excellent examples of fascinating foliage.


Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Lupinus polyphyllus

We have so much gardening to look forward to! Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and Pam Penick at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-Up. Check out their blogs to find out what's blooming, emerging, and thriving in gardens around the world.

April 09, 2013

Terrified Tuesday:
The damage is done

This is the most difficult type of post for me to write and document. It isn't pretty. It's sad and disgusting and frustrating. For that reason, I'm starting with a photo of a happier time.

lilac love

But this is Terrified Tuesday, a meme hosted by Catharine at Catharine Howard Gardens. When I heard about this meme, I knew the subject of this post was a perfect fit.

Prepare yourself.

This is very disturbing.







Yes, if you guessed rabbit damage, you are correct. And the victim is my lovely Dwarf Korean Lilac (Syringa meyeri). It is, hands down, the sweetest scented plant in my garden. One whiff and you feel like you've died and gone to heaven.

What happened, and why doesn't this happen every winter? I guess it probably does happen every winter to some extent. But this winter we had more snow cover than average, and it stuck around longer and didn't melt between snowstorms as much.

Consequently, the rabbits had a stepping stool up to those tasty little Lilac buds and branches. Once they had a taste of that sweet ambrosia, they were hooked.

Darn! I can't really blame them ... well, yes I can.

Alright, let's try to look on the bright side. The plant needed trimming--maybe not so much trimming, but it needed a haircut. So the dastardly rabbits did me a favor ... sort of. The Lilac won't be as pretty this June, but it will survive. And it will be nicely formed for the next season.

Hopefully we won't get quite as much snow next winter.


April 03, 2013

Celebrating epiphytes, tree bark, and veggies

If you're ever near Sarasota, Fla., you must stop in at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. In fact, it's worth a trip to the Sunshine State just to see this public garden along with others dotting Florida's Golf Coast.


When I was in the Selby Gardens a couple of weeks ago, I only had a few hours to explore. I could have spent a week there, and I still wouldn't have discovered it all. Of course, that's true of most gardens, isn't it? Here are some of the highlights:


Across from the Christy Payne mansion, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is a lovely butterfly garden--the subject of a previous post. It's an excellent example of how to attract and feed monarchs and other butterflies, with plenty of Penta, Verbena, Coneflowers, and Milkweed.


We were fortunate to visit the gardens during the annual Rainforest Masks of Costa Rica exhibition. More than 200 hand-carved masks created by Borucan artists were on display inside the Christy Payne mansion. The masks are carved from 100% sustainable native wood.



Selby Gardens has an amazing collection of epiphytes, including more than 6,000 orchids, and numerous bromeliads, gesneriads, and other plants. If you don't look up (and all around) while walking through the gardens, you'll miss some amazing plants growing in nooks and along the branches of trees.

Bark Collage

I have a thing for tree bark. One of my favorites is Eucalyptus, shown in the middle of this collage. The first time I saw a Eucalyptus tree, several years ago, I couldn't believe the rainbow colors were real. On the left: Chorisia speciosa, or Floss Silk Tree. On the right: Pachypodium lamerei, a Madagascar Palm.



As in most botanical gardens, Selby includes many other fascinating tree species, including Pandanus utilis (Screw Pine) and Bombax ceiba (Red Silk Cotton). The latter captured the filtered sunlight so gracefully as I walked by, while its spent blooms littered the earth below.


It's always fun to see Bonsai trees cultivated from common and not-so-common tree species. With more time, I would have lingered over this display a bit more.


Selby Gardens has an entire garden devoted to Hibiscus plants ...



and a display of container-grown vegetables. (The Lettuce looked so fresh, I was tempted to forage for my lunch. It was difficult, but I did resist the temptation).


clerodendrum quad


Plenty of benches and sitting spots dot the gardens, including one with a spectacular view of Sarasota; many shaded benches under the branches of fascinating trees (shown in middle photo: Clerodendrum quadriloculare); and shaded patio tables and chairs near the Selby House Cafe.




So many fascinating plants catch the eye and find their way onto one's camera memory card, including Quesnelia arvensis, Platycerium bifurcatum, and Aechmea 'Blue Tango.' So many plants, so little time.


The arts of hardscapes and plant landscaping are apparent throughout the property.

orchid shop

And of course there are shops for purchasing souvenirs and plants, including a huge selection of orchids, bromeliads, and tropical plants.


If I ever get back to this garden, I think I'll spend more time at the incredible koi pond. And maybe I'll sit down right there and read a good book.