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European cranberry is a large deciduous suckering shrub and a member of the moschatel family, Adoxaceae, a small family of flowering plants that includes viburnums and elders.  It is native to Europe and North Africa and northern Asia where it is found in wet, swampy sites, but was introduced into the North America as an ornamental and has become invasive in some states.  Plants grow 8-12’ tall and have coarsely toothed,  three-lobed leaves that are dark green until fall when they turn  red or red –purple.   In late spring to early summer 3.5” wide terminal clusters of small white fertile flowers surrounded by showy sterile flowers appear and are followed by edible red berry-like fruit that are attractive to birds and other wildlife. European cranberry has been used as a specimen, and in foundation plantings, mixed borders, hedges and screens. The genus name, Viburnum, is the Latin name for the wayfaring tree.  The specific epithet and varietal name, opulus, comes from the Latin word ops, meaning power or influence. [click to continue…]

coreopsis-asclepias combinationHeat up a sunny border in mid-summer with this sizzling combination of yellow and orange. The coreopsis is a golden yellow that seems to shine with inner warmth. The butterfly weed can vary in color from yellow to orange so search out the orange color to really make the combination pop. The coreopsis will bloom before the butterfly weed flowers appear and will continue to bloom long afterwards but while they bloom together, enjoy the vibrant combination. The round daisy-like coreopsis flowers contrast nicely with the fine textured the butterfly weed flower heads. More textural contrast is provided by the very fine foliage of the coreopsis and the coarse leaves of the butterfly weed. Both plants like full sun and dry to medium-moist soil that is well-drained. [click to continue…]

California lady’s slipper is a herbaceous perennial and a member of the orchid family, Orchidaceae.  It is native to  the mountains of northern California and southwestern Oregon where it grows in serpentine wetlands such as  seeps, bogs, fens, and margins of woodland streams in open coniferous forests.  Plants may grow up to 4′ tall and  often form very large clumps.  Stems each carry 5-10 hairy, oval leaves that are pleated and 6-8″ long.  Ten to twelve one flowers are carried on each stem in the axils of leafy bracts in late spring to early summer.  The flowers are about 1″ across and have yellowish brown sepals and petals, and  a white pouch sometimes  with brown or pink touches.  The genus name, Cypripedium, comes from the Greek words Kypris referring to the island where Venus was worshiped, and pedilon, meaning slipper referring to the shape of the flower. The specific epithet,  californicum, is the Latinized form of the plants native home state. [click to continue…]

Growing 20-30 ‘tall, choke cherry is a deciduous suckering shrub or small tree and a member of the rose family, Rosaceae, that also includes lady’s mantle, pyracantha, and almonds. It is native to North American and grows in most of the US, including Alaska , but not in some southeastern states. The egg-shaped leaves are up to five inches long, have sharply toothed margins, and are dark green above and gray-green below before turning golden yellow to orange in the fall. Fragrant white flowers appear in elongated clusters 3-6” long in mid-spring and are attractive to butterflies. Each flower is ½” across, cup-shaped, five lobed, and gives way to pea-sized berries that ripen to red, purple, or blue-black. The berries have a bitter and sour taste but are used for cooking, and are attractive to birds and mammals. Good choice for a native plant garden but be aware that it may attract tent caterpillars. Genus name, Prunus, is the Latin word for the plant. The specific epithet, virginiana, refers a location where the plant was found. [click to continue…]

Book Review: Poulets & Legumes

Legendary chef Jacques Pepin presents a selection of chicken and vegetables recipes in this charming little book, Poulets & Legumes.  All of the recipes have been previously published in his other cookbooks but deserve revisiting in this special collection.  Pepin is a French born American chef who brought techniques of French cooking to America and became a well-known TV personality and author of cookbooks.  His recipes have been popular for many years and the ones in this book are his special favorites. [click to continue…]

Garlic mustard is a biennial weed in the mustard family, Brassicaceae, that also includes broccoli,  radishes, and alyssum.  It is native to Europe, western and central Asia, andnorthwestern Africa but was introduced to North America by the settlers who used it in cooking as a flavoring.  Garlic mustard naturalized and is now found growing in poor, dry soil and shady areas in waste areas, woodland edges, and roadsides in most of the Northeast and Midwest.   [click to continue…]

Common hawthorn is a thorny deciduous shrub or small tree and a member of the rose family, Rosaceae, that also includes cherry, lady’s mantle and almond. It is native to Europe, northwest Africa and western Asia but was introduced into the US and has become invasive in some areas. Also known as mayblossom and English hawthorn, plants grow 10-30’ tall, are densely branched, and have gray- brown bark with vertical orange fissures. The glossy green leaves are 1-1.5” long and have 3-7 deeply incised lobes. Clusters of 5-25 small white, five-petaled flowers have numerous red stamens and an unpleasant odor. They appear in late spring and give way to a one seeded red berry like fruit that is attractive to birds and other wildlife that aid in seed dissemination. Prolific seed production is responsible and wide dissemination has led to the invasive nature of the plant. The genus name, Crataegus, comes from Greek word krátaigos, the name of a related hawthorn. The specific epithet, monogyna, comes from the Greek words monos meaning single, and γυνή (gunḗ) meaning woman, and refers to the presence of a single stigma (female part of the flower). [click to continue…]

Also known as cilantro and Chinese parsley, coriander is a warm weather annual and a member of the carrot family, Apiaceae, that also includes celery, parsley, and Queen Anne’s lace.  It is native to southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean but is widely cultivated elsewhere as a culinary herb including the US, mostly in California.  Growing 2-3′ tall, plants form a basal clump of pinnately compound leaves with the lower on  roundish and lobed, the upper ones finely divided and fern like.  The very small white to pinkish  flowers appear on short stalked umbels 2″ across and are followed by brownish yellow, spherical seeds.  The leaves, stems, roots and seeds are edible and popular in the cuisines of Mexico, south Asia, China, and Middle East.  The leaves and stem have a citrusy sage taste to most people but a soapy taste to some.  The roots have a similar taste  but are also nutty and the seeds lack the sage flavor and are citrusy.  Plants need fertile, light, well-drained soil and full to partial sun.   They have a long tap root and do not transplant well so seeds should be sown in place.   The genus name, Coriandrum, comes from the Greek word κορίαννον, koriannon, derived from  Greek word κόρις, kóris , meaning bed bug and refers to the foul smell of the unripe fruit.  The specific epithet, sativum, comes from Latin word meaning cultivated.  [click to continue…]

Great bellflower is a coarse, clump-forming herbaceous perennial and a member of the Campanulaceae family that also includes balloon flower, lady bells (Adenophora), and Lobelia.  It is native to Europe and eastern Asia to Kashmir where it grows in woodlands and forest margins.  Plants grow 3-4′ tall and have hairy unbranched stems with toothed, ovate leaves up to 6″ long .  The leaves have long petioles at the base of the stem but become smaller,  narrower, and sessile as they ascend.   Short terminal racemes of purplish-blue bell-shaped flowers up to 2.5″ long appear in the upper leaf axils in early summer. Great bellflower does not tolerate heat and may need staking so is best used in  a cool region in an informal setting such as a cottage or woodland garden.  The genus name, Campanula, comes from the Late Latin word, campana, meaning bell and refers to the form of the flowers.  The specific epithet, latifolia, comes from the Latin words latus meaning wide, and flora, meaning leaf, and refers to the width of the leaves.   [click to continue…]

Rachel Ignotofsky’s book, The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth, introduces young readers to ecology using a combination of science and art.  Beginning with concepts such as energy flow, succession, and ecosystem the author lays a foundation for understanding the relationship between all living things and the problems that arise as humans interact with their environment.  Written for children ages 10-17, the book urges readers to learn more about the planet so they can take from the earth without destroying it, and protect it for the future. [click to continue…]