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Viola papilionacaea or sororiaThe common blue violet is a herbaceous perennial belonging the Violaceae family that also includes pansies. It is native to eastern US where it prefers moist soil but is drought tolerant when mature so adapts to a variety of habitats including ditches, roadsides, and railroad clearings as well as in fields, meadows lawns and garden beds. Plants grow best when temperatures are cool. They can be distinguished from sweet violet, a native of Europe and Asia, by their lack of fragrance. Both flowers and young leaves are edible and the latter is enjoyed by butterfly larvae, especially Fritillaries, as well as various mammals. The generic name Viola comes from the Latin name for sweet smelling flowers such as stock and wallflowers. [click to continue…]

Salix and S -caroliniana-multi-stemmedBlack willow is a deciduous single to multiple-stemmed tree native to North America from New Brunswick to Minnesota, south to Florida and Texas where it grows in low woods, floodplains, pond margins, and ditches. It is a member of the willow family, Salicaeae. that also includes poplar, aspen, and cottonwoods. Youg twigs are green and flexible while the dark brown to black bark on the branches and trunk develops fissure and may become shaggy with age. The linear pointed leaves are two to six inches long and have finely serrated margins. They are dark green with silvery undersides turning an uninteresting greenish-yellow in fall. Inconspicuous yellowish green male and female flowers are produced in separate catkins one to three inches long on different trees in spring as the new leaves emerge. The fruit is small capsule less than ¼ inch long filled with numerous minute seeds. Black willow is fast growing but short-lived, tolerates waterlogged soil and periodic flooding but has roots that often clog sewer and drains, suffers from a number of diseases, and has weak wood so is prone to breaking that can cause litter problems. Useful for an area with wet soil or one that has erosion issues. The generic name Salix is the Latin name for the tree. The specific epithet nigra comes from the Latin word niger meaning black. [click to continue…]

Shakespeare’s Garden: Parsley

parsley.leaf_curlyParsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a biennial native to the Mediterranean area. It grows wild from Sardinia east to Lebanon but is cultivated throughout the temperate zones. It belong to the Apiaceae family so is related to carrot, celery, cilantro, and poison hemlock. During the first year it produces a rosette of bright green leaves four to ten inches long and a substantial taproot, then dies for the winter. In spring growth begins again and the plant assumes a height up to 1.5 feet. It produces new leaves and a flowering stem with an umbel composed of numerous tiny greenish yellow, five petaled flowers. The seeds are small, have a thick seed coat, and can take up to six weeks to germinate. Two varieties of parsley are commonly grown; Italian with flat leaves, and curly with frilly leaves. Parsley likes full sun, and fertile, moist well-drained soil. It is hardy in USDA zones 3-9. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Rose Fourth of July

Rose FourthOfJuly2Known in England as ‘Crazy for You’ , Fourth of July ‘bears clusters of five to twenty red and white splashed flowers with attractive golden stamens. The flowers are crimson and pink at first but fade to oxblood red and white. The coloring varies considerable between flowers but presents such a bold effect that the flowers makes a big impact in spite of their small size and small number of petals. The plant is of the Floribunda type and has long lasting flowers. The vigorous bush grows quickly, is prickly, and has small, dark green leaves. [click to continue…]

Book Review: American Grown

In her book, American Grown, Michelle Obama details her experience establishing a kitchen garden on the White House’s South Lawn in an attempt to start a national conversation about the impact of the food our children eat on their health and well-being. She was concerned about the rising number of overweight and obsess children in the US and hoped that by sharing her story she could inspire families as well as schools and communities across the country to join together to build a healthier nation. This is a story of not just one garden it is the planting of a seed that will hopefully grow into a whole new way of looking at food. [click to continue…]

Cucumis-melo-var.-reticulatusMuskmelon, honeydew, Crenshaw, casaba, cantaloup, Persian melon Christmas melon, and Armenian cucumber (not really a cucumber) are all varieties or cultivars of Cucumis melo and can cross with each but NOT with cucumbers or squash. Watermelon is not related to any of the varieties or cultivars of Cucumis melo, is a different genus and species (Citrullus lanatus), and does not cross with them. If different varieties or cultivars of melon are grown together keep them separated by at least 200 feet to keep the stain pure if the seed will be collected for future planting. [click to continue…]

Gypsophila_muralisCushion baby’s breath, also called low baby’s breath, is an annual native to Europe, Asia and North Africa where it grows in disturbed sites such as meadows, fields, and roadsides. It is a member of the carnation family, Caryophyllaceae, that also includes pinks (Dianthus), Lychnis, and soapwort. The plants are strongly branched from the base and the stem linear dark bluish green leaves forming attractive mounds. The flowers are up to 2 1/5 inches across and are carried in open clusters from mid summer to fall. They have five pink to white petals with dark veins and are good cut flowers. Plants are less lime loving than most other Gypsophilas and are tolerant of heat and humidity. An excellent choice beds, borders, cutting gardens, and as a filler for containers. The generic name Gypsophila comes from the Greek words gypsos meaing gypsum and philos meaning lover, and refers to the need of alkaline soil bymost species. The specific epithet muralis is the Latin word meaning of the wall. [click to continue…]

amaranthus-caudatus-viridisAlso known as tassel flower, this annual is native to India, Africa, and Peru, and a member of the Amaranth family (Amaranthaceae), a diverse family that also includes beets, spinach, quinoa, and lamb’s quarters. The oval leaves are light green, up to six inches long, and are carried on branched yellow-green stems. The small petalless flowers are green or red and are carried in long pendulous clusters twelve inches and longer from mid summer until frost. Both the seeds and leaves are edible and the flowers are excellent dried or in fresh arrangements with a vase life of seven to ten days. I have used these flowers in center pieces, a bridal bouquet and a corsage with great results.  The genus name, Amaranthus, comes from the Greek word, amarantos, meaning everlasting referring to the flowers. The specific epithet, caudatus, is the Latin word meaning, “having as tail”, and refers to the appearance of the tassels of flowers of the common form of the plant. [click to continue…]

Tree Lupine is a evergreen shrub growing 5-7’ tall and endemic to coastal bluffs, and open woods in central California but has become an invasive species in Southern California and coastal Pacific Northwest. It is a member of the pea family, Fabaceae, that also includes beans, Baptisia, and mimosa. The green to gray-green leaves are palmately compound and have five to twelve leaflets .75-2.5 inches long. The fragrant bright yellow flowers, occasionally blue or purple, are carried in racemes from spring into summer and are attractive to bumblebees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. Seeds are attractive to birds and foliage serves as food for larvae of various butterflies. Like other members of the pea family, tree lupine is nitrogen-fixing and can change the composition of the soil which aids exotics at the expense of native species that are adapted to low nitrogen levels. Tolerates wind, salt, heat, drought, low fertility and fire but not shade or waterlogged soil. Flowers are good for the vase. [click to continue…]

Book Review: Because of an Acorn

Because of an AcornIntroducing children to ecology when they a young is a very good thing and Lola Schaefer’s book, Because of an Acorn, is a good way to do it. The author takes the readers on a visit to a oak forest and introduced some of the relationships between the plants and animals that live there. Written for children five and six years old, the book presents the concepts simply and uses the illustrations to further the concepts.
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