≡ Menu

Also known as kuth, putchuk, and  kosht (קשט), this herbaceous perennial is native to high elevations (8,200 to 9,800 ft) in South Asia especially India and Kashmir.  It is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae, that also includes daisy, thistle, and lettuce.  The plants grow up 6-9′ tall and have a rhizomatous root system and lyre-shaped leaves that are 12-16″ long and have toothed margins. The terminal flowerheads appear in summer and are 1-1.5″ cross and composed of purple florets.  Th tiny dry fruit (achene) bears conspicuous grooves lengthwise.  The plant has been cultivated for its root since ancient times as a medicinal herb,  spice, and ingredient in perfume.  Larger pieces of the root are usually cut into pieces and dried while small pieces are ground into powder and made into incense sticks.  Most of the roots are shipped to China and Japan.  The plant is considered endangered and trade is regulated by the government.  The genus name, Saussurea, honors Horace Benedict de Saussure (1740-1799), who was a primary investigator of the geology, meteorology, and Botany of the High Alps.  The specific epithet, costus, is the Latin word meaning ribbed, and refers to grooves on the fruit. [click to continue…]

Catmint ‘Walker’s Low’ and Sisyrinchium striatum combinationSoft blue and yellow make this duo a dreamy combination in the early summer border. Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ produces an abundance of small lavender-blue flowers carried in loose whorls atop gray green foliage while Sisyrinchium striatum provides spikes of pale yellow cup shaped flowers with golden centers from clumps of gray-green sword shaped leaves. Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ will continue to add color over a long bloom time if deadheaded or sheared back. Both plants grow well in full sun, medium moist, well-drained soil but tolerate some drought once established. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Holm Oak (Quercus ilex)

Also known has holly oak, this evergreen tree is native of the Mediterranean region and  belongs to the beech family, Fagaceae, that also includes chestnut.  The tree grows up 40-70′ tall and wide  from a taprot and has many low hanging branches and a dense rounded crown.  The  bark is gray to black and  the leaves are  lanceolate to ovate, up to 3″ long,  and dark glossy green with downy gray undersides.  When young the leaves have toothed margins like those of holly, but as the leaves age the margins become entire.  Small greenish yellow male and female flowers appear in spring on the same plant.  The female flowers are in small clusters while the male flowers are in pendulous catkins.  The fruit is a 1.5″ wide acorn enclosed in a cap that has downy scales and covers 1.3-1/2 the acorn.  The fruit ripens in the fall.  Holm oak is a good choice for a shade tree and street tree, and can be pruned into a hedge.  It is tolerant of saline soil and wind so can be used in a coastal garden.  The genus name, Quercus, is the classical Latin name for oak.  The specific epithet, ilex, is the classical name for holly, and refers to the resemblance of the oak’s leaves to holly leaves. [click to continue…]

Also known as common saltwort,  prickly Russian thistle. windwitch, and tumbleweed, this  native of Eurasia  grows widely in arid and semiaride regions and is considered an invasive weed in many areas.  An bushy annual, fuller’s soap  is a member of the goosefoot family, Amaranthaceae, that also includes celosia, beets, and spinach.  Plants have a  taproot up to three feet long with extensive lateral roots.  Its highly branched stems grow eight to thirty six inches long and usually have reddish to purplish stripes. The stems are soft and green at first but become somewhat woody with age.   The first  leaves are  one inch long, dark green, cylindrical and fleshy at but later leaves are stiff and short with a sharp tip. The flowers lack petals and are produced in the upper leaf axils, subtended by a pair of small spine tipped bracts.  They appear from mid summer into fall and are followed by black, shiny,winged seeds that remain in the leaf axils until the plant dies, dries, breaks off at soil level, and becomes a tumbleweed, dispersing the seeds as the plant is blown about by the wind. Photo Credit Wikimedia [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia)

Also known as Chinese cinnamon, this evergreen tree is native to southern China and used there for 5000 years.  It is a member of the laurel family, Lauracaea, that also included avocado.  The tree grows  up to 50′ tall and has grayish, aromatic bark, and leathery,  oval leaves that are 4-6″ long and reddish when young.  Panicles of small greenish-white flowers appear in spring and give way to clusters of purple-black drupes.  The trees are cultivated for their bark, buds, twigs and friuts which are used to make cinnamon used in cooking and herbal medcine.  The bark of Chinese cinnamon is thicker and harder to crush than that of of Ceylon cinnamon and its  flavor less delicate. Most of the cinnamon sold in the US is probably Chinese cinnamon.  Growing Chinese cinnamon in the US is limited to areas with a warm moist climate but the plants can be grown in containers and purned to maintain size.   The genus name, Cinnamomum, is derived from the Maylasian/Indonesian word kayu manis meaning sweet wood.  The specific epithet, cassia, is the Latin word meaning stip off bark.
[click to continue…]

Scotch broom is a deciduous to evergreen, nitrogen-fixing shrub growing 4-8’ tall. It is native to dry, sandy soils in central and western Europe but was introduced into North America as an ornamental in the 1800s, has naturalized and become invasive in disturbed sites in California, Oregon, and Washington in the West and Maine to Alabama in the East. Its success is due to prolific seed production, long viability of seeds, green stems that allow photosynthesis all year around, and the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its roots that enrich nutrient poor soils.   The trifoliate leaves are sparsely distributed on slender branches and have ½” long leaflets. The bright yellow flowers are fragrant, up to 1” long and give way to flattened, pea-like green pods up to 2” long. When the pods are mature they are brown to black and explosively eject their seeds. Several cultivars are available varying most significantly in flower color. USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8 [click to continue…]

Native to the semi-arid regions of northern Africa, Asia Minor and India, this perennial shrub is a member of the mallow family, Malvaceae, that also includes  coffee, okra, and hollyhock.   It grows 2-6′ tall and wide, and has wide hairy leaves with 3-7 lobes, heart-shaped bases, and long red-tinged petioles.  Flowers 2-2.5″ across appear in summer and have 5 yellow to white petals with purple spots at their base.  The flowers give way to globose pods called bolls that burst open in hot weather to expose  seeds with 2″ long cotton fibers attached.  Plants are not considerered ornamentally valuable but are often grown as annuals for their medicinal, culinary, and fiber potential.  The fibers, however, are shorter and more yellow than those of the upland/Mexican cotton (G. hirsutum) which supplies most of the  fiber for cloth.  Levant cotton is moderately salt tolerant but needs protection from wind.  The genus name, Gossypium, comes from the Greek name for the plant, γοσσύπιον. The specific epithet, herbaceum, comes from the Latin word herba meaning grass or herbage, and refers to the soft nature of the stem in contrast to the woody stem of trees and some  other shrubs.

[click to continue…]

Native to central Asia, this deciduous small tree is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae, that also includes  cherry, almond, and lady’s mantle. The trees grow 26-39′ tall and have a dense, spreading canopy of ovate leaves 2-3.5″ long, with toothed margins and 2 small glands at the base of the blade.  In early spring before the leaves appear, white to pinkish flowers appear singly or in pairs.  They have 5 petals and give way to fruits called drupes that are fleshy, yellow to orange tinted with red, each with a single seed enclosed in a hard ridged stony shell.  Fruit production is very difficult because flower buds are very sensitive to early frost but the tree is well worth growing for its ornamental value.  [click to continue…]

Pleurotus_ostreatus_JPG6The common oyster mushroom grows in subtropical and temperate deciduous forests throughout the world but is also widely cultivated. It is saprophytic and appears from fall to winter growing in large compact tiers on stumps, logs, and dying trees especially elm and beech. The fan-like fleshy cap is ¾ to 8 inches across and varies in color from cream to gray, yellowish, or black. It has a smooth, shiny surface and inrolled wavy margin. The cream colored gills are crowded and run down the very short thick stem when it is present. The spores are very pale, lilac gray. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)

Also known a Ceylon cinnamon tree, this small evergreen tree is native to Sri Lanka and a member of the Laural family, Lauraceae, that also includes avocado and cassia.  The tree grows up to 50′ tall and has spreading branches with smooth, ash-colored bark.  Young leaves are reddish bronze in color while mature leaves are green, ovate to oblong, heavily veined, and up to 9″ long.  Panicles of greenish flowers with a distinct odor appear from spring to summer and give way to a purple drupe with a single seed.  Plants are grown commercially for the inner bark that is used to make the spice cinnamon for cooking as well as herbal medicine.  The trees do well in pots and can be grown indoor during cold weather and moved outside during the summer.  Warm moist climates are most suitable.  The genus name, Cinnamomum, is derived from the Maylasian/Indonesian word kayu manis meaning sweet wood.  The specific epithet, verum, is the Latin word for true, suggesting that this species is superior to some other plants that have a similar taste and smell. [click to continue…]