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Native to northern China, weeping willow is a deciduous tree valued for its beautiful form especially when sited on the edge of a pond or lake where its reflection adds to its overall appearance. It rapidly grows to 50’ or more but has a short life span of only 40-75 years as it is susceptible to breakage and pest and disease problems. Its tendency to lose limbs creates litter problems and its massive root system interferes with grass mowing, buckles sidewalks and driveways, and invades sewers and water pipes. Weeping willow is considered invasive in areas from New Hampshire to Michigan and Iowa, south to North Carolina and Louisiana; California and Utah, south to Arizona and New Mexico. USDA Hardiness zones 6-8 [click to continue…]

Also known as umbrella thorn and Israeli babool, this mediium to large tree is native to arid and semi-arid regions of Africa but grows also in the Middle East including Isrealwhere it grows in deserts, woodlands, and shrublands.  It is a member of the legume family, Fabaceae, that also includes beans, lupines, and black locust.  The umbrella shaped trees may have multiple trunks and grow 13-49′ tall but may be a shrub less than 3′ under very arid condition.  The stems bear two types of thorns, one long, straight, and white, the other small, hooked and brownish.  The bipinnate leaves are up to 1″ long and have 4-10 pinnae, each with about 15 pairs of tiny leaflets.  The sweet scented, creamy white flowers have extruded stamens and are carried in condensed, head-like spikes from late spring to early summer.  The flowers give way to  a flat, coiled, spring-like pod containing flat dark brown seeds. The wood of twisted acacia is a good as timber and the pods and leaves are as fodder for grazing desert animals. Plants are tolerant of drought, salinity, high temperatures, alkalinity, and wind and fix nitrogen in the soil so are valuable in reclaiming land in difficult sites.  The genus name, Acacia,  is from the Greek word akis, meaning a point or a barb and refers to the thorns.  The genus name, Vachell, honors George Harvey Vachell  (1789-1839) chaplain to the British East India Company in Macoa, plant collector in China.   The specific epithet, raddiana, honors  Giusepe Raddi (1770-1829), Italian botanist who studied the Egyptian hieroglyphs under the direction of Champollion.   The specific epithet, tortilis, is the Latin word meaning twisted and refers to the shape of the p0ds.   [click to continue…]

Corncockle is an upright annual native to Europe where it grows in disturbed sites such as fields and roadsides. It was considered a weed of wheat fields until the twentieth century when agricultural practices changed and is now cultivated as an ornamental. The gray-green leaves are narrowly lanceolate and are carried upright close to the stem. The five petalled flowers are trumpet shaped, magenta with black striping, and about one to two inches across. In summer they are borne singly on stiff stems that sway gently in the breeze and are subtended by narrow sepals that are longer than the petals.  [click to continue…]

A native of North Africa and Southwest Asia, marjoram is a tender perennial and a member of the mint family, Labiatae, that also includes basil, rosemary and beebalm.   Plants form upright mounts 1-2′ tall and have a shallow root system and a well branched square stem.  The ovate leaves are pale gray green, 1/4-1″ long, and have a spicy scent.  The tiny white to pale pink flowers are tubular, two-lipped, and appear in spherical clusters of three to five from mid to late summer.  Marjoram is hardy in zones 9-10 so is often grown as an annual. It likes full sun, and average, dry to medium moist, well-drained soil, and tolerates heat and drought well. Propagation is by seed that is small and slow to germinate.  The genus name, Origanum, comes from the Greek words oros meaning mountain and ganos meaning joy suggesting their admiration for a plant that grew wild on the mountainsides.  The specific epithet, majorana, has an uncertain origin but might be from the Latin word maior meaning greater.

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Native to southern Europe and the Middle East, this deciduous flowering shrub grows on dry rocky slopes, wood, margins and thickets and is a member of a small family,  Styracaceae.  The shrub grows up to 16′ tall and has felted young shoots, leaves, and young flower stalks.  The stems are reddish and carry widely spaced eliptical to oval or round leaves  that are 2-4″ long  and have a small light green axillary bud.   Loose cluster of 3-8 axillary, bell-shaped, white flowers appear from spring to early summer.  The flowers are fragrant, 3/4″ long,  and have 5-7 petals surrounding numerous yellow anthers.  The plants have been known from ancient times for the fragrant exude of wounded stems, stacte,  that was used for incense, perfume, and medicine.  The genus name, Styrax, was the classical Greek name derived from a Semitic name for these resin producing plants. The specific epithet, officinalis, is the Latin word meaning sold in shops and is used to indicate that the plant has medicinal properties. [click to continue…]

Deciduous Shrubs with Colorful Autumn Foliage

We often associate fall color with trees but there are some outstanding deciduous shrubs that provide impressive displays of yellow, orange, red and purple foliage to the autumn scene.  True, shrubs tend to be smaller than most trees and therefore have less impact when standing alone, but mass them or use one to a few in a small space and you can have a sensational display that can bring weeks of pleasure in the garden just when most other plants are going dormant. Photo Credit: Zoom Zoom, Wikimedia Commons [click to continue…]

Also called nard, nardin and muskroot, this  aromatic herbaceous perennial is native to the montane and subalpine zones of the Himalayas  where it grows on steep, grassy slopes.  Growing 4-20″ the plants have  a taproot  with  30-50 brown tapered rhizomes that are covered with the petioles old withered leaves and appear hairy.  A lightly hairy stem has 6-8  basal leaves that are slightly hairy and 6-8″ long,  and cauline leaves that are opposite, oblong to subovate, and up to 3/4″ long.  In early to mid summer, depending on elevation,  3-7 condensed cymes  appear bearing 40-50 bell-shaped, pinkish red to bluish white flowers.  The fruit that ripens in the fall is covered with short hairs.  Spikanard is valued for the highly aromatic amber-colored oil that is distilled from the rhizome.  The oil was very expensive and often mixed with other cheaper oils.  It was  is used as a perfume, incense, sedative, and folk medicine. Photo Credit Ed Shaw
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Question Mark 2 openThe Question Mark butterfly is in the genus with the common name of angelwings characterized by wings with ragged borders. They can be found east of the Rockies from southern Canada to Texas and Mexico and east to the Atlantic Ocean including Florida where they live in open sunny open spaces such as woodland glades, roadsides, parks, orchards, and streamsides. There are two forms; summer and winter. The upper side of the wings of the winter form is bright rust-orange with black spots. The hind wings of the summer form, however, are black. The hind wings of both forms have distinct tails although those of the winter form are longer and violet-tipped. The lower side of the wings of both forms are violet or red-brown in fall and spring, brown mottled with maroon and blue in summer. The underside of the hind wing has a marking that looks like a question mark giving the butterfly its common name. When the butterfly has its wings closed in looks like a dead leaf or the bark of a tree.The wing span is 2.25 to 3 inches. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)

Native to southern Europe, central and  western Asia, and North Africa, this herbaceous perennial is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, that also includes basil, rosemary, and beebalm.  Plants grow 10-18″ tall and have branching, hairy stems that are square in cross section.  The soft, hairy, gray-green leaves are oval to round and  up to 2″ long.   They have a crinkled texture, toothed margins, and woolly underside.  Dense whorls of white, tubular, two-lippped flowers  appear in summer in the leaf axils of the upper part of the main stems.  Horehound has been used as a medicinal herb to treat respiratory problems and as a culinary herb to flavor candy and beverages.  The  flowers attract bees  but the plant can become weedy and invasive.   The genus name, Marrubium, is the ancient Roman name for the plant.  The specific epithet, vulgare, is the Latin word meaning common.  This plant is oftern called white horehound to distinguish it from black or stinking horehound (Ballota nigra), a strong smelling weed that can be toxic in large quantities. [click to continue…]

golden mum & prairie dropseed combinationFor beautiful color in the garden during the fall, try a dark red mum like ‘Raquel’ and the grass, prairie dropseed. Early in the season the grass forms fine textured clumps of very slender medium green leaves. In the fall the leaves take on orange hues that fade to light bronze in the winter. The pink to brown tinted flowers are produced in open branching panicles and rise well above the foliage in late summer. The garden mum is best treated as an annual and planted at the beginning of September to replace an annual that has faded. Praire dropseed is tolerant of many soils and can be grown in the consistently moist soil needed by the garden mum although it prefers soil on the dry side. Both plants enjoy full sun. [click to continue…]