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Also called fawn’s breath,  bowman’s root and American ipecac, this clump-forming herbaceous perennial is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae, that also includes apple, lady’s mantle, and pyracantha.  It is native to eastern North America from Ontario and New England, south to Georgia, Kentucky, and Alabama where it grows  in open upland woods and clearings, rocky slopes, and roadsides, mostly in the mountains. Plants grow 2-3′ tall from a woody rootstock and have compound leaves with 3 oblong toothed leaflets up to 4″ long. The leaflets are olive green until fall when they turn bronzy red.  From late spring to summer the wiry branching reddish stems carry loose panicles of white to pink flowers.  Each star-like flower  is 1″ across and has 5 narrow petals and a red calyx that persists into fall after petal drop.  Plant are especially attractive when massed and flowers are good in the vase.  The genus name, Porteranthus,  honors Thomas Conrad Porter, 19th century American botanist, and is combined with the Greek word anthus, meaning flowered.  The specific epithet, trifoliatus, comes from the Latin words tri meaning 3 and folium meaning leaf, and refers to the three part nature of the leaves.

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Gyroporus castaneusThe chestnut bolete usually grows in small groups in deciduous forests of Eastern US from summer to fall. It is especially fond of oak stands but also can be found iunder conifers. The mushroom stands 2.4 to 4 inches tall, with a  dry, convex to flat cap 1.5 to 3.75 inches wide.  It has firm flesh and a tan to chestnut color with a velvety texture.  The tubes are white, short and almost free from the stem, the pores are white and tiny, and the spore print is pale yellow. The stem is relatively slender, firm, and develops chambers or becomes hallow. Both the stem and cap may split.  [click to continue…]

Also called brandy-bottle and spattercock, this aquatic deciduous perennial is a member of the Nymphaeaceae, a family of 75   specie of aquatic plants including and water lily. It is native to Europe, Asia, northwest Africa, eastern US, and the West Indies where  it grows in ponds, stream sides, and slow moving water.  From a large rhizome growing in the sediment, the plants send up separate shoots bearing either large leaves that float on the water or flowering stems with cup shaped yellow flowers.  The flat leathery leaves are up to 16″ long and are heart-shaped with wavy margins. Smaller leaves attached to the rhizome may appear below the water surface.  The greenish yellow flowers are 2″ across and have a brandy like fragrance that is unpleasant to some. The flowers half open in the morning and close at night for about 4-5 days from May to October before giving way to  brandy-bottle shaped seedpods that burst when ripe like those of the dock plant, giving rise to the common names brandy-bottle and spatterdock. Plants die back to the rhizome in the fall.  They are useful in ponds and large water gardens but spread quickly to form colonies and may need to be restrained.  The genus name, Nuphar, is the Persian name for the plant.  the specific epithet, lutea, is the Latin word meaning yellow and refers to the color of the flowers. [click to continue…]

Book Review: Seeds of Resistance

As our food supply is increasingly threatened by climate change, the importance of agricultural practices become more important and Mark Schapiro’s book, Seeds of Resistance, examines one of these: the control of the seed supply that is basic to growing food.  Alarmed by the fact that three multinational chemical companies control more than one half the commercially used seed, the author goes on to explain the connection between seed ownership and pesticide production and to discuss the hazards of monoculture and the importance of genetically diverse seed to ensure future food security.  Schapiro pays special attention to the role of GMOs in the rise of single-crop agriculture and the narrowing of seed diversity and explains the problems that will ensue if the present agricultural practices are continued.  The author finds hope, however, in the fact that many people and groups are becoming more aware and active in the struggle to reclaim ownership of seeds and finding new ways to deal with both old and new problems. [click to continue…]

calendulaThis short lived perennial is native to southern Europe and North Africa but has naturalized in much of Europe where it is grown as an annual. It is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae, that also includes daisies, sunflowers, and lettuce. The aromatic leaves are two to seven inches long and hairy. The single or double flowers are up to four inches across and may be yellow, orange, gold, cream or bicolored with dark centers. They appear from early spring to frost and were believed to be in bloom on the first day of every month, the Kalends in ancient Roman times, hence the genus name, Calendula. In the Middle Ages the plant was called Mary-bud and dedicated to the Virgin Mary because it seemed to always be in bloom on holy days. The flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies, and the nectar attracts aphids which in turn attract ladybeetles, hoverflies, and lacewings. The seeds attract small birds in the winter. Although considered easy to grow in almost any kind of soil, pot marigold does not do well where summers are hot. In USDA zones 8-10 pot marigold can be grown for winter color Plants self sow. Both leaves and flowers can be used in cooking although the flowers are preferred. [click to continue…]

Also called western marsh rosemary, this mounding evergreen herb or subshrub is a member of the leadwort family, Plumbaginaceae, that also includes thrift.  It is native to western US from Oregon to California where it grows in coastal habitats such as salt marshes, prairies,  and dunes.  Plants grow  from a rhizomatous fibrous root system and have a woody caudex that produces a basal rosette of oval, thick leathery leaves up to 12″ long and with sunken salt glands on their underside. From summer to fall terminal clusters of flowers appear on stiff branched panicles up to 14″ long.  Each flower has 5 white to pale lavender petals and 5 brownish white ribbed sepals.  California sea lavender is appropriate for ponds and bog gardens.  The genus name, Limonium, comes from the Greek word leimon, meaning meadow, and refers to the common habitat of the genus in saltmeadows.  The specific epithet, californica, refers to the geographic location of the plant.

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Genus Lychnis for the Garden

Lychnis coronariaThis genus of fifteen to twenty-five species is native to Europe, Asia, and north Africa and belongs to the family Caryophyllaceae, also known as the pink or carnation family. The plants are biennials or short lived perennials, have bright red, orange or rose colored flowers that are carried singly, in twos or in clusters. Each flower has four to five petals that are notched, rounded, or fringed at the tips. The leaves are roundish and often hairy. Plants are well branched and grow twelve to twenty four inches tall.  The genus name Lychnis may come from the Greek word lychnos meaning lamp, and refer to the ancient use of leaves of woolly species for wicks. [click to continue…]

Winterfat is a long-lived  evergreen small shrub and member of the amaranth family, Amaranthaceae, that also includes celosia, spinach and beet.  It is native to western North America from Saskatchewan to Washington, south to Texas and California into Mexico where it grows in dry plains, xeric scrublands, dry valley bottoms,  mesas and in salty soils such as those of the alkali flats in the Great Basin, Central Valley, Great Plains, and Mojave Desert. Plants grow up to 4′ tall from a long taproot with lateral branches and have flexible stems covered with dense white hairs and carrying small, woolly blue-green linear leaves that become reddish with age. From early spring to summer, dense terminal and axillary  spikes of inconspicuous apetalous male and female flowers appear. The male flowers have large woolly leaf like bracts while the female flowers have small bracts and produce tiny white seeds with silky white hairs during the fall.  Winterfat is an attractive ornamental for the xeric landscape and serves as forage for grazing  cattle and wildlife. It also can be used for erosion control and revegetation. The genus name, Krascheninnikovia, honors Stepan Krasheninnikov, an early 18th century Russian botanist and explorer of Siberia and Kamchatka.  The specific epithet, lanata, is the Latin word meaning woolly and refers to the covering of hairs on the stems and leaves. [click to continue…]

Book Review: And Then the Seed Grew

Marianne Dubuc book And Then the Seed Grew explores how a community of characters that live in a garden react to change.  The community includes Mr. Gnome and his little son Jack who lived above ground, Yvonne the mole, the Field Mouse family, Paulie the earthworm, and Colette the ant who all live below ground.  Life is good and they are content until a seed drops from the sky and begins to grow.  No one notices at first but slowly the roots of the plant begin to cause problems like a crack in Yvonne’s bathroom, filling the living space of the Field Mouse house, and blocking the tunnels of Pauli and Colette.  Even poor Mr. Gnome and his son are trapped in their house by the many branches and lush branches that grow from the plant.  The residents of the garden get together and decided to take action, each with an assigned job, but just as they are about to begin they see that the plant has borne fruit and everyone sees the plant in a new light and learn to live harmoniously with it.  [click to continue…]

Shakespeare’s Garden: Samphire

Samphire-Rock-The samphire mentioned by Shakespeare is probably rock samphire, Crithmum maritimum, a coastal species which grows on the southern and western coasts of Great Britain and Ireland, as well as on the coasts of Mediterranean and western Europe, the Canary Islands, North Africa, and the Black Sea. It is a member of the Apiaceae (aka Umbelliferae), also known as the carrot or parsley family. Other members of the family are Queen Annes’ lace (Daucus carota), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and sea holly (Eryngium spp.). The plant grows one foot wide and tall and has fleshy, aromatic, divided pale green leaves and small white flowers which open from June to August. A perennial, the plants prefer full sun, well-drained soil, and can tolerate infertile, and very alkaline and saline soils. They are hardy in USDA zones 5-9. [click to continue…]