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Also known as Maltese fungus, Maltese mushroom, desert thumb, red thumb, and tarthuth, this perennial plant is not a fungus or even closely related to fungi.  It is a flowering plant in a plant family by itself, Cynomoriaceae, and in an order that includes witch hazel, stonecrop, and peony.   Tarthuth is native to the Mediterrean region where it grows as a parasite on salt tolerant plants. It lives most of its life as a rhizome underground attached to the roots of the host plant.  In spring  the rhizome produces above a fleshy, unbranched stem with scale-like leaves and a dark red to purple phallic-shaped structure up to 12″ long bearing tiny scarlet flowers that may be male, female, or both.  Once the flowers are fertilized by flies attracted to the sweet ordor of the plant, the structure turns black and small nuts are formed.  The stem of the parasite is considered a famine food but is valued more for its medicinal qualities.  Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons [click to continue…]

Also called grass rush, this aquatic perenial is native to in Eurasia and Africa  where it grows in the margins of still and slowly moving water including lakes, riparian zones, wetlands, and marshes.   It is a member of the Butomaceae, a small family of only one or two species, and is not a true rush.  The plants were brought from Europe to the US as  ornamentals in the early 1900s but have become invasive in the Great Lakes region and parts of the Pacific Northwest where it can displace native vegetation, alter water quality and supply, and impact recreational activities such as swimming and boating.    Flowering rush like full sun, wet soil and up to 9.8′ of water, but does not tolerate saline conditions. USDA Hardiness Zones 3-10  Photo Credit Wikipedia

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Wayfaring tree is a large deciduous shrub growing up to 15’ tall and wide and a member of the moschatel family, Adoxaceae, that also includes elders (Sambucus). It is native to open woodland and woodland edges in Europe to western Asia but has naturalized in the US and is considered invasive from Maine and Michigan, south to Maryland and Illinois. Plants like full sun to partial shade, and average, moist, well-drained soil but tolerate less. [click to continue…]

Sterile fronds

Native to eastern North America, Europe, and eastern Asia, this clump-forming, deciduous fern is a member of the Onocleaceae, a small plant family of ferns distinguished by having two kinds of fronds that differ in appearance. The sterile fronds appear as fiddleheads early in the growing season and form ka vase-shaped crown up to 6′ tall. They unfurl to form medium green, finely dissected, feather-like fronds resembling ostrich plumes before slowly deteriorating during the summer. The fertile fronds develop in mid-summer to autumn and are 2′ tall, brown when ripe, and persist into winter. Also known as shuttlecock fern and fiddlehead fern, ostrich fern prefers cool summer climates and is generally intolerant of the heat and humidity. They are especially attractive in woodland, shade, native plant, cottage, and bog gardens but are also valued for rain gardens and as plantings along streams and around ponds. The genus name, Matteuccia, honors Carlo Matteucci (1800-1863), Italian physicist. The specific epithet, struthiopteris, comes from the ancient Greek words στρουθίων (strouthíōn) meaning ostrich, and πτερίς (pterís) meaning fern. Photo Credit Wikipedia

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If you like dainty red flowers on a lacy, fern-like vine, you will love cardinal vine. But watch out; if you plant it in a spot that it likes you may be swept up in its lush growth and loose contact with the outside world until frost. The 2” tubular red flowers are attractive to butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds, as well as to people, so the vine is an asset as the center of fauna activity in a wildlife garden. Like its relative, the morning glory, the flowers open in the morning and close at night, a feature quite interesting to children.. The vine grows rapidly  if given decent conditions, and climbs up to 20’ but because it is lacey and delicate it does not hurt most structures, shrubs or trees that it may use for support. It is easy to grow from seed but seeds should be soaked for 24 hours before planting. Once established, it needs little care and tends to reseed so you will not have to buy new plants in future years. Be patient, however, seedlings emerge from the soil late and the vine does not add to the garden until mid summer. [click to continue…]

Native to the semi-desert areas of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle-East this  herbaceous perennial is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae, that also includes daisy, yarrow and lettuce.  It has a thick, woody, verticle root and produces a rosette of leaves  that gives rise to a low branching stem with 10 or more branches bearing pinnately dissected, toothed leaves measuring  2.7-12″ long and tipped with spines. The prominent mid- and side- veins are white sometimes tinged with purple and the leaf surface may be covered with spider-like hairs.  The terminal compound flower heads are spiny, appear from late winter to mid spring, and consist of a single a floret surrounded by its own involucre. The florets may be cream, white, yellow, greenish, purple, reddish or silvery.  The fruit is an achene.  As the plants mature they dry up, and from late spring to summer detach from the root and are rolled by the wind as a tumbleweed, dispersing their seeds over a wide area.  All parts of the plants are edible and are used as food while while the milky latex is used to make chewing gum.  In addition,  the plants have significant medicinal value and can be used to treat a variety of diseases. Recently Gundelia has become of interest because its pollen was discovered on the Shroud of Turin and some authorities have suggested that this indicates that the crown of thorns was made of Gundelia. This theory, however, is disputed.  The genus name,  Gundelia,  honors Andreas von Gundelsheimer (1668–1715), a German botanist who accompanied Tournefort on his collecting trip to the Levant.  The specific epithet,  tournefortii, honors Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, a French botanist, who  first collected, described, and illusrated the plant in the Levant. [click to continue…]

Plants of the Bible: Bulrush (Cyperus papyrus)

Also known as  paper reed and Nile grass, this tender aquatic herbaceous perennial is native to lakes, rivers and swamps of northern Africa, and was cultivated in the Nile Delta in ancient times.  It is a member of the sedge family, Cyperaceae, that also includes water chestnut and nutgrass, a common lawn weed.  The plants are up to 16′ tall and form grass-like clumps.  They have thick woody rhizomes that are covered by red-brown triangular scales when young.  Triangular green  stems support dense umbels up to 12″ across  of  thin bright green thread-like structures up to 10″ long.  Greenish-brown flower clusters appear at the ends of the threads and give way to brown, nut-like fruits. Photo Credit Wikipedia [click to continue…]

Cowslip (Primula veris) is a herbaceous perennial native to most of temperate Europe and western Asia. The spring blooming plant produces cluster of deep yellow flowers that are valued for both wine and vinegar. In the 1931 children’s book “The Country Child” by English author Alison Uttley, the 9 year old farmer’s daughter participates in the family’s preparation of cowslip wine that is served in “little fluted glasses” with a biscuit and was considered “more precious than elderberry wine.” My paternal grandmother, Helen S. Wright, included a recipe for cowslip wine her her 1909 book, Old Time Recipes for Home Made Wines. Photo Credit Wikipedia

In the words of my grandmother:

“To three gallons of water put seven pounds of sugar; stir it well together, and beat the whites of ten eggs very well, and mix with the liquor, and make it boil as fast as possible. Skim it well, and let it continue boiling ten hours; then strain it through a hair sieve, and set it a cooling, and when it is cold as wort should be, put a small quantity of yeast to it on a toast, or in a dish. Let it stand all night working; then bruise one-half peck of cowslips, put them into your vessel, and your liquor upon them, adding three ounces of syrup of lemons. Cut a turf of grass and lay on the bung; let it stand a fortnight, and then bottle it. Put your tap into your vessel before you put your wine in, that you may not shake it.”

To buy Old Time Recipes for Home Made Wines by Helen S. Wright from Amazon.com  Click Here.

Native to Central and northern South America, this short-lived tender perennial is also known as beefsteak plant, blood leaf and Joseph’s coat.  It is a member of the Amaranth family, Amaranthaceae, that also includes cocl’s comb,  gomphrena, and sugar beet.  The plants grow 1-5′ tall and have red stems  with 3-6″ long,  oval leaves that have notched tips and are variegated with burgundy red, hot pink, yellow or white.  The inconspicous  flowers are greenish white and should be removed in order to encourage the foliage.  Chicken gizzard plant is an excellent bedding plants, does well in containers and can be grown indoors. If taken indoors in the fall reduce water and place in bright light.  The genus name, Iresine, comes from the Greek word  εριος (erios), meaning wooly, and refers to the hair-like structures of the flowers.  The specific epithet, herbstii, honors Hermann Carl Gottlieb Herbst (c. 1830-1904) Director of the Rio de Janiero Botanic Garden.

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This vigorous, easy to grow, perennial lily from Asia captures the eye with its large tumpet-shaped flowers produced in profusion in mid summer.  The 5″ wide flowers are orange with maroon to black spots, and are nodding with reflexed petals.  Up to 40 blooms may appear on a single stem!  Growing 3-5 ‘ tall, the plants are disease resistant and thrive in sun to partial shade and consistently moist, well-drained soil.  The plants are attractive in beds, borders, and containers, and the flowers are beautiful in the vase.  Photo Credit Wikipedia

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