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Plant Profile: Lovage (Levisticum officinale)

This herbaceous perennial is native to the Mediterranean where it grows wild in the mountainous area of southern France, northern Greece, and the Balkans.  It is a member of the carrot family, Apiaceae, that also includes celery, parsley, and Queen Anne’s lace.  Although valued in past times for  its medicinal benefits there is no medical evidence to support its use for health care and it is now considered valuable primarily as a culinary and aromatic herb.  Plants grow 5′-8′ tall from a thick fleshy root 5-6″ long.  Hollow ribbed stems branch at the top and have a basal rosette of dark green leaves and  smaller stem leaves. The basal leaves are up to 28″ long and are tripinnately compound into wedge-shaped to triangular pointed leaflets with toothed margins and a celery-like aroma when bruised.  From late spring to early summer, tiny yellow to greenish flowers appear in terminal globose compound umbels 1.5-5.9 ” across and give way to a dry, very aromatic, 1/4″ long fruits that mature in the fall.  Lovage is easy to grow and makes a good background plant in the border but is not striking in appearance.  It is best considered a culinary herbs with seeds and leaves being used in such dishes as stews, salads and sauces.  The genus name, Levisticum, is a corruptionof the word Latin word ligusticum meaning of Liguira, northwest Italy, where the herb was grown extensively.  The specific epithet, officinale, is the Latin word meaning sold in shops, applied to plants that were believed to have medicinal properties. [click to continue…]

Craterellus_cornucopioides_Wikimedia commons John Kirkpatrick Mushroom ObserverAlso called trumpet of the dead, this culinary prize is found primarily in moist areas in deciduous woods of North American, Europe and Asia. It occurs in dense colonies from late to summer to fall but is difficult to find because its dark color blends in with the leaf litter in which it grows. The funnel shaped mushroom is l.5 to 4.5 inches tall and l.75 to 4 inches across. The cap is black and has a fringed reflexed margin that becomes lobed with maturity. The spore-bearing surface is smooth to slightly wrinkled, and grayish black, distinctly lighter than the cap. The hollow stem is black and ¼ to ¾ inch in diameter, the spores are white, and the flesh is gray to black. [click to continue…]

Botanical Latin: Angustifolia

lavender-leavesAngustifolia (an gust i FO lee a): from the Latin angustus meaning narrow, and folia meaning leaf.

The term, meaning narrow leaf, can be used as a specific, cultivar, or varietal name, and distinguishes the plant from other similar plants on the basis of the width of the leaf. The term is relative and so can be used to describe a leaf that is 1/4 ” wide or 4 inches wide or wider. [click to continue…]

This vine-like sprawling evergreen shrub, also known as  thorny olive, spiny oleaster, and silverthorn is native to China and Japan.  It is a member of the oleaster family, Eleagnaceae, that also includes sea buckthorn.   Plants grow 12-15′ tall by 15-18′ wide and are densely branched with stems that are covered with brown scales and usually have spines 2-3″ long.  The elliptical to oblong leaves are 2-4″ long,  have wavy margins,  and are variegated green with white or yellow above and covered with silvery scales below.  Both the the main veins and petiole are covered with brown scales.  In the fall, axillary clusters of 2-3 very fragrant, silvery white  flowers appear.  The inconspicuous flowers are 1/4″ long, lack petals, and are bell-shaped.  The one-seeded fleshy fruits are 1/2″ across,  reddish brown when they ripen in the spring,  and are attractive to birds. Many cultivars are available.  Thorny eleagnus is tolerant of  heat, drought, salt and pollution so can be used in xeriscapes, urban plantings, and seaside gardens.  It can be sheared into a formal hedge and can be used as a screen, windbreak, or for erosion control as well as for bonsai.   Unfortunately, it is a very vigorous grower and can become invasive, forming dense thickets that crowd out native species.  The genus name, Elaeagnus, comes from the Greek words elaia, meaning olive tree, and agnos meaning  chaste.  The specific epithet, pungens, is the Latin word meaning sharp pointed and refers to the spines on the branches. [click to continue…]

This twiggy, deciduous to semi-evergreen shrub is native to western US from southern California east to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas where it grows in semidesert foothills, canyons, and arroyos.  It is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae, that also includes cherry, almond, and lady’s mantle.  Growing 3-8′ tall the plant has many thin branches with whitish stems and exfoliating bark.  The dark green, hairy, pinnate leaves have silvery undersides and 3-7 lobes.  They are up to 1/2″ long and have margins that roll under.  In late spring and early summer  solitary, white, 5-petaled flowers  appear that are up to 2″ across and attractive to bees and butterflies.  The flowers are followed by seed capsules with feathery lavender plumes up to 2″ long.  Plants are heat and drought tolerant, a good source of forage for wildlife,  effective for erosion control and a good choice for a border,  native plant or wildlife garden especially in a xeriscape.  The genus name, Fallugia, honors Abbot V. Fallugi of Vallombrosa,  Italian botanist,  c. 1627–1707.  The specific epithet, paradoxa, is the Latin word meaning contrary to expectation. [click to continue…]

Also known as Greek hay, fenugreek is a herbaceous annual native to the Mediterranean and Middle East and dates back to 4000 BC in Iraq.  The ancient Romans grew it as feed for cattle and may have used it to flavor wine, while Jews grew it as a staple food in the first century AD, and monasteries in the Middle Ages grew it in physic gardens.    It is a member of the legume family, Fabaceae, that also includes beans, lupines, and black locust.  Plants grow 1-2′ tall  and have single or branched stems carrying compound leaves  with three oblong leaflets that are up to 2″ long and toothed.  In mid summer white, pea-like flowers 1/2″ long and with hairy calyxes, appear singly or in pairs in the leaf axils.  The flowers give way to curved seed pods, 2-3″ long containinig 10-20 smooth brown seeds.  The genus name, Trigonella, comes from the Greek tri- meaning three, and gonia, meaning angle, and refers to the triangular appearance of the flowers.  The specific epithet, foenum graecum, comes from the Latin words faenum meaning hay and gracum meaning Greek, referring to the supposed use of the plant by ancient Greeks as fodder, and providing the common name, Greek hay. [click to continue…]

Shakespeare’s Garden: Anemone

Anemone_blanda)Anemone is a genus of about one-hundred-twenty and belongs to the buttercup, or Ranunculus family. The flower described by Shakespeare in Venus and Adonis may be the Grecian windflower, Anemone blanda. It grows about six to eight inches tall and has a large round tuber, deeply cut fern-like foliage, and dark blue flowers two inches across that bloom in early spring for about two weeks. The flowers lack petals but have showy sepals that appear to be petals. Plants are hardy in USDA zones 4-8 and like dappled shade, and fertile, moist, well-drained soil. They go dormant after blooming. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria)

This thicket-formng evergreen shrub or small tree is native to sandy woods, dunes, open fields, forest edges, and wet swamps especially in the coastal plain and maritime forests from Virginia to Florida, Arkansas, and Texas.  It is a member of the holly family, Aquifoliaceae, that consists of one genus, Ilex, with 480 species.  Plants grow 10-20′ tall and have glossy, dark green, eliptical to oblong leaves  up to 1.5″ long and with wavy toothed margins.  In spring, fragrant, inconspicuous greenish-white male and female flowers appear on different plants and are attractive to butterflies..  The female flowers give way to red berry-like fruits about 1/4″ across that persist into winter and are attractive to birds.  Plants can take hard pruning so are good subjects for topiary and edging of parterres.  They form good hedges, screens and windbreaks and can be used in wildlife, butterfuly, and native plant gardens.  Many cultivars are avaialble that vary most signficantly in size. The genus name, Ilex, is the Latin name for holm-oak and refers to the similarity of the leaves of holm-oak and yaupon holly.  The specific epithet, vomitoria, is the Latin word for causing vomiting and refers to the use of the plant by native American  as an emetic.   [click to continue…]

Foliage can add both texture and color to the landscape to create a mood and enrich the visual quality of the garden.  Leaves may be glossy, matte, large, small, leathery, prickly, or hairy and add interest through contrast.  Leaves also vary greatly in color from pale green to kelly to olive green and others may be silver or variegated with yellow or white so can brighten a dark spot or tone down a bright one.  Both color and texture can be used to create contrast,  patterns, and variety all of which enhance to the garden experience.   [click to continue…]

4 wing saltbush bushAlso called shadscale, this evergreen shrub is native to western and midwestern US, from the Dakotas south to Texas and west to the coast.  It is a member of the goosefoot family, Amaranthaceae, that also includes beet, celosia, and Russian thistle.  The specieas is highly variable and plants can grow from 1-10″ tall although 3-6′ is most common.  The dense branches and small spoon-shaped, grayish leaves up to 2″ long are covered with dense silvery soft hairs.   In the summer, spike-like panciles of male or female, yellow-green flowers lacking showy petals appear on different plants. The gender of the plant is not genetically fixed and any given plant can change gender in response to environmental cues.  Fertilized female flowers give way to unique large fruits that have four  densely packed wings roughtly situated at 90 degree angles and the stems bearing fruits resemble a mass of corn flakes.  Plants are fire resistant, very drought tolerant, and are able to grow in saline soil.  They are an excellent choice for xeriscapes, seaside, and desert gardens where they can be used as hedges, erosion control, and food for wildlife but can be invasive in wetlands.   The genus name, Atriplex, is the Greek name for orach, a related plant that can be used as spinach.  The specific epithet, canescens, is the Latin word for having off-white hairs, and refers to the hairs on the stems and leaves. [click to continue…]