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This vigorous deciduous woody vine, also known as woodbine, is native to eastern  and central North America south to Mexico where it grows in a variety of habitats including forests, woods, thickets, hillsides, valleys, and rocky bluffs.  It is a member of the grape family, Vitaceae, that also includes Boston ivy.   Plants grow rapidly and reach 30-50′ or more.  They may trail along the ground or climb by clinging to surfaces by stronglhy adhesive disks located at the end of the forked tendrils. The palmately compound leaves have five ovate leaflets that are 3-6″ long and have toothed margins. They are purplish in the spring, dull green in summer, and purple to crimson red in the fall.  In late spring to early summer greenish white flowers appear in the upper leaf axils but are usually hidden by the foliage.  They give way to small blue-black berries in the late summer that are attractive to birds but poisonous to humans if ingested.  A good choice for erosion control,  as a climber on trellises, arbors, fences, and other garden structure, or as a screen or cover  to hide eyesores such as tree stumps.  The plants are tough and tolerant of drought and urban conditions but can do considerable damage if left unchecked.  Although the disks do not penetetrate mortar, they are unsightly, difficult to remove, and can damage shingles or painted surfaces.   In addition, the vine may shadeout the plants that it grows over.  The genus name, Parthenocissus, comes from the Greek words, parthenos, meaning virgin, and kissos, meaning ivy, and refers to the first word of its English vernacular name, Virginia creeper, honoring Queen Elizabeth I who was known as the virgin queen.  The specific epithet, quinquefolia, comes from the Latin words, quinque meaning five, and folia, meaning leaf, and refers to the 5 leaflets of the compound leaves. [click to continue…]

Also called carpenter’s weed and wild sage, heal-all is a herbaceous perennial and a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, that also includes thyme, basil, and ajuga.   It is native to North America and occurs throughout most of the US.  Plants prefer moist soil in full sun and can be found in woodland edges, meadows, ditches, paths, roadsides, waste areas, gardens and lawns. [click to continue…]

Chinese hydrangea vine is a woody deciduous climber native to  rocky hillsides and forest edges of western and central China. It is a member of the hydrangea family, Hydrangeaceae, that also includes mock orange and  Deutzia.  Growing up to 32′  tall,  the vine will grow up trees, walls or other structures by means of aerial roots.  Growth is slow at first but becomes more vigorous with maturity.  The  broadly ovate, deep green leaves are up to 6″ long and have toothed margins and slender  pointed tips. The showy  creamy white flowerheads are up to 10″ across and resemble  those of lacecap hydrangea. The appear in early to mid summer and are composed of small flowers surrounded by  large conspicuous, white ovate bracts  up to 3.5″ long.  A good choice for shade, woodland, and wall garden. The genus name, Schizophragma, comes from the Greek words σχίζω (schizo) meanng to split and φράγκμα (phragma) meaning a fence and refers to the inner wall of the fruit capsule.  The specific epithet, integrifolium, comes from the Latin words integer meaning whole/entire, and folia, meaning leaf, and refers to the fact that the leaves are not lobed. [click to continue…]

Almonds are deciduous trees native to the Indian subcontinent,  North Africa, and the Middle East including Syria and Palestine.  The upright tree grows 25-40′ tall and has wide spreading branches and rough gray bark. The bright green leaves are simple and 3-5″ long. The white to pale pink flowers are 1-2″ across and have 5 petals. They appear singly or in pairs in spring before the leaves emerge and give way to oblong, brown fruits, 1 ½ inches long.   [click to continue…]

Lactarius_piperatusThe pepper milk cap mushroom may be found singly or in large groups from summer to fall usually in deciduous woodlands, less frequently in coniferous ones, in the northern temperate zone including eastern and central US where it forms a close association with beech and hazel. The mushroom is 3.5 to 6 inches tall with a cap 2.5 to 4.5 inches across. The cap is white, firm, tough, and forms a funnel shape with age. It has an inrolled margin and is dry, often splitting in dry weather. The gills are thin, crowded, forked, and white before turning yellow with age. The cylindrical stem is ¼ to 1 ½ inches across and smooth. The spores are white. When the flesh is broken it exudes a white liquid that has a peppery flavor and is the basis of both the common and botanical names. The generic name, Lactifluus, comes from the Latin words lac meaning milk, and fluo meaning flo. The specific epithet, piperatus, comes from the Latin word meaning pepper. [click to continue…]

Also called chocolate vine, this semi-evergreen to deciduous woody climber is native to rocky places in the woods and thickets of  Japan, Korea and China. and is a member of the Lardizabalaceae, a small family of about 40 species.  The branching stems rapidly grow up to 40′ long and trail on the ground or twine up nearby plants and structures.  The palmately compound leaves have three ovate, slightly lobed leaflets and are often bronze-tinted when young.  Short pendulant racemes of dark purple cup-shaped female  and smaller male flowers appear on the same plant in mid spring and are followed in the fall by light purple, sausage-shaped fruits  up to 3″ long that are edible and can be made into jelly.  Fruit production requires cross pollination.  The vigorous rapid growth of the plant makes it a good choice for a ground cover and for growing on fences and other structures, especially useful for creating a screen or hiding an undesirable object.  The genus name, Akebia, is the Latinized Japanese name for another species in the genus.  The specific epither, trifoliate, comes from the Greek prefix tri- meaning 3, and the Latin word folia meaning leaf, and refers to the 3 lobes of the leaves. [click to continue…]

This Thebaid attributed to Gherardo Starnina (1354-1413) is one of many such painting that told the stories of some early Christian monks and hermits who went in the areas of Thebes, the ancient capital of Egypt.  While living in the desert these individuals supposedly lived and prayed in solitutde and privation but were often tempted by devils of various sorts.  Starnina’s interpretion of the genre shows a somewhat desolate area full of animals and people including at least one hermit with a small abode and a garden. [click to continue…]

This evergreen shrub or small tree is native to the western US and Canada where it grows in arid and semi-arid conditions in cold desert, steppe, amd mountain habitats.  It is  also known as big sagebrush and Great Basin sagebrush, and is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae, that also includes daisy, yarrow and lettuce.  Plants have a deep taproot with spreading roots near the surface of the soil and grow 3-15″ tall with a short trunk that become twisted with age.  They are well branched and have highly aromatic, wedge-shaped, silvery-gray leaves that are covered with fine hairs and usually tipped with three lobes or teeth.  In late summer or early fall, elongated clusters of small yellow flowerheads appear and give way to seed-like fruits.  Sagebrush provides food and cover for a variety of wildlife including pronghorn antelope and sage grouse.  It is extremely drought tolerant and can be used for erosion control, and as a hedge, screen or groundcover.  The genus name, Artemesia, honors the Greek goddess of the hunt, the moon, and chastity.  The  specific epithet, tridenta, comes from the Latin tri- meaning three, and dens, meaning tooth, and refers to the three lobes or teeth at the tip of the leaves. [click to continue…]

Also known as umbrella thorn and Israeli babool, this medium to large tree is native to arid and semi-arid regions of Africa but is also found  in the Middle East including Israel where it grows in deserts, woodlands, and shrublands.   The umbrella shaped trees may have multiple trunks and grow 13-49′ tall but may be a shrub less than 3′ under very arid condition.  The stems bear two types of thorns, one long, straight, and white, the other small, hooked and brownish.  The bipinnate leaves are up to 1″ long and have 4-10 pinnae, each with about 15 pairs of tiny leaflets.  The sweet scented, creamy white flowers have extruded stamens and are carried in condensed, head-like spikes from late spring to early summer.  The flowers give way to  a flat, coiled, spring-like pod containing flat dark brown seeds. Photo Credit Wikipedia [click to continue…]

Shakespeare’s Garden: Rice

Oryza sativaThe rice mentioned by Shakespeare is probably Asian rice, Oryza sativa, a member of the true grass family, Poaceae. It has a jointed stem that can grow two to ten feet long and carries the long slender leaves. The small flowers are borne in arching to pendulous panicles that are twelve to twenty inches long. The edible part of the plant is the husked seed called a caryopsis or gain. Two subspecies are recognized: japonica or sinica that is short grained and sticky, and usually cultivated in dry fields; and indica, long-grained, not sticky, and grown submerged in tropical areas. [click to continue…]