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Genus Abutilons for the Garden

Abutilon is a genus with about 150 species of herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees native to the tropics and warm temperate areas of the Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas.  It is a member of the mallow family, Malvaeceae, that also includes hibiscus, hollyhock, coffee, cotton, and okra. Although often called flowering maples, the plants are not related to maples and bear little resemblance to them.  The plants may be upright or trailing and grow up to 20′ tall in the garden but most species are much smaller especially when grown in containers.  The leaves are covered with hair or bristles, have toothed margins, and are attached to the stem by long petioles.  In summer the pendulous flowers are carried singly or in pairs at the tips of the branches or in the axils of the leaves  and are usually yellow or orange, occasionally rose or pinkish. Each flower is bell-shaped with 5 petals joined at their base and subtended by a 5-lobed calyx. Many hybrids have been developed that differ most significantly in size and flower color.  Several species can be grown as perennials in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-10 and also make good house plants in colder areas if given bright light and consistently moist, well-drained soil. One species, China jute (A. theophrasti) is a serious field weed in the US. The genus name Abutilon is the Arabic name for a similar plant. Photo Credit: Wikipedia [click to continue…]

Lyall’s angelica is a herbaceous perennial and a member of the parsley family, Apiaceae, that also includes carrots, celery, and Queen Anne’s lace.  It is native to western North America where it grows  in meadows,  marshes, bottomlands, along streams, and in montane zones from Alaska, south to Wyoming and California. Growing 2-7′ tall from a large often divided taproot, the plant has a stout, hallow, vertically ribbed stem and alternate somewhat triangular leaves that sheath the stem.  Each leaf is divided into eliptacal to lanceolate, sharply toothed leaflets 2-6″ long and has a pungent parsley or celery scent when crushed.  From late spring to mid summer small white to pinkish flowers appear in large flat-topped compound umbels.  The genus name, Angelica, is the feminine form of the late Latin word angelicus and alludes to the supposed magical properties associated with the plant.  The specific epithet, arguta, means toothed and refers to the  margins of the leaves. [click to continue…]

Book Review: A Seed is the Start

Melissa Stewart’s book A Seed is the Start  treats young readers to a botanical lesson about fruits and seeds.  Her refreshing approach focuses on the different ways a seed can be transported and spread from place to place and emphasizes the many wonderful adaptations that have occurred.  Employing a lot of action verbs like hop,splash, and explode, Stewart creates a lively narrative that captures the imagination of  young readers while still being true to the biological nature of seed dispersal.  She uses numerous examples of all sort of fruits from well known plants like dandelion,  Queen Anne’s lace,  and blue cornflower to the more exotic sandboxtree, Himalayan balsam, and red hamburger bean vine to illustrate her points and introduce her readers to the diversity of the plant world.   [click to continue…]

Shakespeare’s Garden: Piony

Paeonia redThere is considerable disagreement about the nature of “Piony” but some people believe the word refers to the genus Paeonia, the only genus is the family Paeoniaceae and with between 25 to 40 species. Most peonies are herbaceous perennials but some are shrubby and called tree peonies. This latter group is not a tree but is woody and does not die back in the winter. The herbaceous kinds are 1.5 to 5 feet tall while the tree peonies are 4.5 to almost 10 feet tall. Both have compound, deeply lobed leaves, and large flowers that are sometimes fragrant. The flowers appear in late spring to early summer and may be white, pink, red, or yellow. [click to continue…]

Also called Chinese bush clover, this semi-woody perennial is a member of the pea family, Fabaceae, that also lupines, mimosa, and alfalfa.  It is native to China, Korea, Japan, Formosa, and the Himalayas but was introduced into North Carolina from Japan in 1896 and was planted for erosion control, mine reclamation, and wildlife habitat.  Plants have formed dense stands in new and old forest openings, dry upland woodlands, moist savannas, and old fields and has become invasive in New England, Michigan, and Nebraska, south to Florida and Texas. Growing 3-6′ tall from a woody rootcrown with a taproot, the plant has one to many slender branching  gray-green stems bearing leaves composed of three narrowly oblong leaflets .4 to .8″ long.  Each leaflet is green above with light colored hairs below and is carried on a hairy petiole.  From July to September, 1-4 pea like white  flowers with a purple throat appear in the upper leaf axils. Each flower is .1 to .3 ” long and has a calyx with 5 long teeth that often turn purplish green.  The fruit is a single seeded green pod that turns tan when mature.  The genus name, Lespedeza, honors the Spanish governor of Florida, Vincente Manuel de Cespedes c 1790, but a spelling mistake obscures the intent.  The specific epithet, cuneata, is the Latin word meaning pointed like a wedge and refers to the shape of the leaflets.   [click to continue…]

beebalm & golden marguenta combinationA pleasing color combination of red and yellow plus a contrast in flower shape makes this combination a great addition to the sunny border in summer. Golden Marguerite begins to bloom in late spring and remains in flower until fall. Cambridge Scarlet joins the scene as summer rolls in and continues to bloom for eight weeks if deadheaded. Both plants like full sun and can do well in medium moist soil. Golden Marguerite is drought tolerant but ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ must not be allowed dry out. Both plants are short lived and susceptible to mildew so profit from good air circulation. [click to continue…]

Deep pink flowers with silvery reverses are borne singly or in small clusters and are 5” across, full, and very fragrant. Their thick textured petals, high bloom form, and long vase life recommend them for exhibition as well as cutting. The bush is vigorous and carries large, glossy, leathery, leaves that are susceptible to blackspot in damp climates. Its sport, Climbing Baronne Edmond de Rothschild, has even larger flowers but blooms intermittently after the first flush.   [click to continue…]

Book Review: Vegetable Literacy

Vegetable LiteracyRarely does a cookbook combine botanical and culinary information with recipes but Deborah Madison’s book, Vegetable Literacy, does it in spades. Drawing on her long experience as a gardener and chef, Madison has created a volume that gives a whole new meaning to the idea of garden to table cooking. She shows how vegetables in the same plant families can be used interchangeably and provides 300 recipes that explore perfect flavor pairings. [click to continue…]

George and Martha Washington enjoyed cherry bounce and so when cherry season rolls around you can mix up some too. According the my paternal grandmother’s recipes, it is traditionally, an infusion of fresh cherries, sugar and either whiskey, brandy or/or rum, but other authors suggest vodka too. Grandmother, Helen S. Wright, in her book Old Time Recipes for Home Made Wines, gives three recipes that vary primarily in liquor. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior)

Also called pig-potato and stiff cowbane, this herbaceous perennial is in the parsley family, Apiaceae, that also includes celery, Queen Anne’s lace, and poison hemlock.  It is native to eastern US from New York south to Florida and west to Texas and Minnesota where it grows in wet areas such as bogs, seeps, marshes, swamp, fens, wet prairies, and streambanks.  Plants grow 2-6′ tall from a fleshy rootsystem and have sparingly branched, medium green stems with conspicuous veining. The medium green compound leaves are up to 12′ long and have 5 to 11 leaflets 1.5- 4″ long.  Flat umbels 3-6″ across appear from late summer to fall and are comprised of 10-25 umbellets with up to 25 flowers each. Each flower is 1/8″ across and has 5 white spreading petals.  Both foliage and roots are toxic to mammals.  The genus name, Oxypolis, comes from the Greek words oxus meaning sharp and referring the awl-shaped secondary bracts, and polios meaning white an referring to the petals of the flowers.  The specific epithet, rigidior, is the Latin word meaning stiffer. [click to continue…]