Huddled on a sand dune, the small community of bristly Lepidospartum burgessii plants would be easy for most of us to overlook. But to scientists from the Chicago Botanic Garden, the rare shrubs shine like a flare in the night sky. This is one of two known locations of the species worldwide—both in New Mexico—and the center of a rather dazzling rescue mission.
Evelyn Williams, Ph.D., a Garden postdoctoral research associate, is pulling out all the stops to save the sensitive species. Commonly called Burgess’ scale broom, it has suffered from a mysterious lack of seed production since the late 1980s.
Standing about five feet tall, the silvery-green plants only grow on gypsum dunes. They possess unique characteristics that allow them to help stabilize sand dunes in the desert conditions where they live.
“I’m interested in how we can use genetics broadly to address conservation and ecological restoration questions,” said Dr. Williams. Her curiosity led her to the Garden in 2011 to join a team of genetic experts for this formidable undertaking.
The team suspects that, because the two populations of Lepidospartum burgessii are relatively small, the existing plants have interbred and are now too closely related to pollinate one another—which means they cannot produce seeds and create new plants.
Williams set out to confirm this theory, gathering plant cuttings during summer fieldwork in 2013. She hoped to grow the cuttings into full plants that she could cross-pollinate and study at the Garden. She also took samples from 320 plants back to the Garden. There, using a microsatellite technique, she recorded the genetic pattern of each plant, noting similarities and differences.
“When we have all of these different shrubs from a population, we want to use a fine genetic tool to tease apart genetic variations,” she explained. The microsatellite approach allowed her to identify genetic markers occurring in multiple plants down to the finest level of detail.
The results were encouraging. Williams found enough genetic diversity within the two populations that they should be able to cross pollen, or DNA material, and produce seeds. “Because there is diversity in these populations, we’re really hopeful that if we do a genetic rescue we can get some seeds in these two different populations,” said Williams. A genetic rescue, she explained, is when a species is revived with the addition of new genes, which normally occurs during pollination.
That day didn’t come right away, as the cuttings failed to grow in the Garden greenhouses. Accustomed to the trial and error process of scientific discovery, Williams moved on to her backup plan.
She returned to the field in October, where she personally carried pollen-filled flowers from one population of plants to another, brushing the fluffy yellow blooms against other plants that may accept their genetic material. With plants as much as one mile apart, it was a process of patience and precision.
She will soon look for seeds in the resulting buds from that pilot study with an x-ray machine in the Garden’s Harris Family Foundation Plant Genetics Laboratory.
Williams is poised for the challenge of whatever she may, or may not, find. Ultimately, she hopes to convey a successful technique to land managers who carry out the daily work of furthering the species and enriching the biodiversity of the southwestern landscape.
“I really like that as part of the Garden we can help these public agencies and use our knowledge of genetics and conservation to stabilize and increase some of these rare populations. That’s really important to me,” said Williams.
She has been intent on advancing conservation science since childhood, inspired by her aunt, an ecologist. Her interest grew into expertise as she studied the genetics of ferns while earning her Ph.D. in botany at the University of Wisconsin.
In winter at the Garden, Williams takes every opportunity to walk through the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden. “I like being here in the winter and seeing a side of the Garden that’s unexpected: the snow and the beautiful structures in the Malott Japanese Garden,” she said.
Perhaps it is that perspective, of looking for the unexpected, that will unlock the mystery of Lepidospartum burgessii one day soon.
©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
As I stepped out of my house this morning, I thought: “I can smell winter.” It’s that subtle shift that you feel as the days click on, and we are led farther away from the beloved fall season.
The days continue to get shorter, and the sun doesn’t seem to shine quite as bright so naturally; moods shift, and energy becomes muted. I have a number of friends and family members who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Its abbreviation says it all: lackluster moods, low energy, and even mild depression.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is defined as depression associated with late autumn and winter, thought to be caused by a lack of light. Most people with seasonal affective disorder have symptoms that start in the fall and continue through the winter months, which in the Midwest, can seem endless. Lucky enough, there are many ways to remedy this SAD state of mind.
Let’s begin by talking about a few winter-themed Horticultural Therapy (HT) activities that will fill your home or office with the sights and smells of the season.
One of my favorite HT activities to do this time of year is our ‘Simmering Spices’ project. During this activity, participants mix together a wide array of spices to create a holiday sachet to use in their home or office, or give as a gift. This activity serves as therapy on multiple levels. It encourages participants to engage their fine motor skills as they measure, mix, and create the sachets. Perhaps more meaningful, however, are the vivid and wonderful memories that are brought forth with the smells of the spices.
Scent triggers the area of the brain that is connected to the experience of emotion as well as emotional memory. I see this time and time again in my sessions; a participant smells a spice such as rosemary and become engulfed with memories of his or her mother’s roast turkey during the holidays. Socialization plays a large role in horticultural therapy, and it’s a joy to share in the memories with my many participants; young and old.
Another fun, and inexpensive, activity is our ‘Holiday Greens Ornament’ project. For this activity, participants get the opportunity to create a beautiful ornament out of fresh, seasonal greens. When I bring this activity to one of my school classrooms, I like to incorporate a garden walk as part of the session. The students, teachers, and I take a quick (and if it’s cold, very quick) walk around the school gathering small acorns and pine cones to add more interest to the ornaments.
Most of the craft supplies for the activity can be found at your local craft store. I use clear, plastic ornaments, fake snow, and ribbon to add additional visual appeal to the greens. These ornaments make a beautiful addition to any tree or gift to a loved one.
My final recommendation to combat those winter blues is to fully embrace the beauty of the season. Winter is not always the easiest season to get along with; that much I’ll admit. It’s cold and gray and seemingly endless, but it’s also fascinating and full of unique beauty.
If you’re feeling blue, bundle up and take yourself on a walk around your neighborhood, and appreciate our region and its four distinctly different and beautiful seasons. As you walk, gather some pine cones, and create a fresh wreath using natural supplies. Activities like these will turn a SAD state of mind to a glad one, with just a bit of effort. And of course, if all else seems gray, a nice hot cup of hot cocoa (which always tastes better in the winter) and some whipped cream will surely add a bit more enjoyment to any activity or winter’s day.
They share seeds. They share plants. They share tips.
They share the knowledge accumulated during a lifetime of gardening.
And of course they share the harvest.
This fall I had the opportunity to share in a celebration of the harvest. I traveled to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s great Virginia estate (in the fine company of Chicago Botanic Garden horticulturists Lisa Hilgenberg and Nancy Clifton) for the annual Heritage Harvest Festival there. It was my first visit to the garden on the mountaintop, and in a whirlwind weekend of seminars, tours, and tastings, it changed the way that I think about growing food.
Architecture, history, and nature come together in a powerful narrative at Monticello, and the Harvest Festival brought the story of the place to life. But it was in the vegetable garden—carved into the side of the hill, with a simple layout and a world-class view—that I learned some important things about how Thomas Jefferson gardened.
#1: He shared seeds and plants.
In our still-young country, folks foraged for food—there weren’t a lot of native crops being grown. So Jefferson swapped seedlings with other farmers and gardeners. He asked embassies from around the world to send him seeds. He grew out plants and tested them to see what would grow on the mountain at Monticello. And he shared what he learned by keeping amazing records—check out his Garden Book at the Massachusetts Historical Society website.
#2: He experimented constantly.
Jefferson was our first “foodie,” who grew his own produce for the food that he wanted to eat and serve. He experimented with crops that sound unusual even today: he tried raising sesame for its oil (he liked the taste) and he grew artichokes, still rare in American gardens. He decided to grow hot-weather vegetables (tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers) at a time when cold-weather gardening (cabbages, onions, greens) prevailed. His experiments proved that it could be done…the practice caught on…and today we consider tomatoes a basic garden crop.
#3: He wasn’t afraid to fail.
One of Jefferson’s great desires was to grow grapes for wine. Although he later came to be called the “Father of American wines,” Jefferson failed many times with grapes. But he kept at it, took notes, tried again. And eventually he succeeded with 23 different grape varieties.
Same with fruit trees. Jefferson tried peach, apricot, pear, cherry, plum, nectarine, quince, and 18 varieties of apple trees at Monticello. Plus figs, which, it turned out, grow fabulously along a protected site in the orchard. (Best Monticello moment: the orchardist telling us all to pick a fresh fig and eat it on the spot.) Many trees succumbed to the weather or to lack of water, but Jefferson persevered. The orchards bear fruit to this day.
As this harvest season comes to a close, and as we gather ‘round the table to celebrate, I am profoundly grateful for all that my garden and gardening friends have shared with me. I’m thinking differently about next year: I want to experiment with new crops…try growing a couple of fruit trees…order some really unusual seeds…and fail spectacularly at a thing or two. And, of course, share the harvest.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
It’s a big week for cooking, for getting out the china, crystal, and silver, and for setting a holiday-worthy table…but have you thought about a centerpiece yet?
A cornucopia, or horn of plenty, is a classically beautiful, easy, and crowd-pleasing way to pull together a centerpiece without a lot of fuss or expense. Last year I taught a fall cornucopia class, and last week I had the pleasure of appearing on WGN-TV with tips for making an edible fruit-and-vegetable cornucopia. This week, I thought I’d share a few tips that both cornucopias have in common.
Whether you’re using flowers or fruit or vegetables, the process of assembling a cornucopia is basically the same. Once your supplies are gathered, it should take less than an hour to put together.Gather the basic tools.
Horn-shaped cornucopia baskets are readily available at craft and hobby stores. In addition to a basket, you’ll need pruners, floral picks, a hot-glue gun, a small plastic liner tray that fits into the front of the basket, and a chunk of floral foam that fits into the tray. If you’re using fresh flowers, prepare the floral foam by soaking it in water.Gather the bountiful ingredients.
No two cornucopias are the same; the ingredients will vary, of course, according to availability and personal taste.
For a fall cornucopia, your ingredient list might be: millet, wheat, gourds or mini-pumpkins, flowering kale, dried artichoke, green apples, stems of hypericum, a small bunch of long-stemmed mums, sunflowers with long stems, baby corn, dried yarrow, sweetgum leaves on a twig with seedpods, and a variety of nuts.
For an edible cornucopia, your ingredient list might be: an assortment of apples and nuts, Indian corn, pumpkins and squash in various shapes and sizes, and a bunch of fall flowers (widely available at grocery stores).Assemble the base.
Set the floral foam (dry for fruits/vegetables, wet for fresh flowers) into the small tray and into the forward portion of the cornucopia basket. Anchor the foam on a prong if desired.
Starting with the largest material—pumpkins, gourds, large corncobs, and large sunflowers. Insert floral picks and position them in the foam. Heavy, rounded items should be at the bottom, toward the front.Layer in the smaller items.
Add picks to apples, dried artichokes, and small gourds. Layer them singly at angles to the heavy items. Try to cover the corners of the floral foam.
Next, layer in fresh or dried flowers, using them in small bunches rather than individual stems. Insert some leaning high and toward the back of the basket, and others leaning low and toward the front, creating extension and depth.Fill in the gaps.
Add hypericum or mums in clusters to hide empty spots. Then add single flowers as needed to help pull all the elements together. A finished cornucopia has height, balance, and both forward and backward movement.
Finish with millet for “line,” plus foliage and nuts. (The glue gun comes in handy for attaching nuts to floral picks.) The overall effect should be one of spilling bounty.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
When last we saw Botanical Bill, our resident groundhog mascot, he was having a big adventure right before Groundhog Day. Since then, Botanical Bill has had a great summer—he spent it with his Marmota monax family in a burrow at the edge of McDonald Woods.
Groundhogs (also called woodchucks) usually hibernate from October to March, but Botanical Bill is getting a late start this year, since the mild autumn weather lasted so long. Now he’s got the urge to hibernate—and to look for a winter burrow in which to enjoy a nice long nap.
Turns out it’s not so easy to find a place that’s just right…
Home, sweet home! C U Feb. 2!
©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
Just when the hostas, lilies, and other garden perennials are going to bed for the season, these bulbs are waking up.Arum
Arum first emerge in the late fall. The broad, arrow-shaped leaves of Arum italicum are highly ornamental and sturdy—quickly perking up after hard freezes, providing a welcome spot of green in the winter garden. Throughout the winter, they remain green and full, providing a welcome burst of green in the winter garden. In the late spring, they send up creamy white flowers that resemble calla lilies (Zantedeschia sp).
Soon after flowering, the leaves die for the season, revealing showy, fruiting stalks of bright red, highly ornamental berries. While these berries are quite attractive, do be aware that they’re poisonous and should be planted where they won’t tempt any children or pets to eat them. If located in an ideal site, they will reseed and form a ground cover. There are dozens of varieties, each with its own unique leaf patterns.Fall cyclamen
There are two primary types of cyclamen that are hardy in Chicagoland. These are the fall-blooming Cyclamen hederifolium and spring-blooming Cyclamen coum. The fall-blooming Cyclamen hederifolium have ivy-shaped leaves with stunning silver patterns and small, windswept-looking flowers. Cyclamen coum blooms in the late winter or early spring, and has heart-shaped leaves with silver patterns.
Both plants grow their leaves in the fall and carry them through the winter before going dormant in the spring. Their flowers range in color from pinks and lavenders to white. Cyclamen prefer a shady spot that doesn’t stay wet; otherwise the bulb will rot.
A great place to plant cyclamen is under deciduous trees, where the leaf canopy will protect the dormant tubers from excess rain. If sited properly, they will reseed and form a ground cover.Fall allium
Among the latest-blooming bulbs are the often overlooked Allium thunbergii ‘Ozawa’ and A. thunbergii ‘Ozawa Alba’. These relatives of onions form grassy clumps that look green and fresh all summer long and suddenly burst forth with small clusters of flowers resembling pink-and-purple lollipops in late October, often continuing until mid-November. (As of November 17, these were still going strong in the Farwell Landscape Garden, even after hard rain, several hard freezes, and a light snowfall!) Allium thunbergii prefers to be located in a sunny, well-drained location, where it will continue to grow and thrive for many years. These are great plants for a sunny rock garden, where they provide a welcome shot of color at the end of the season.
©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
Some vegetables are more satisfying than others when it comes to harvest. Parsnips are in that category, as we discovered the other day (just three days before it snowed!), when we harvested a crop that’s been quietly growing in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden since April.
The sun was out, the air was crisp, and the nights were frosty: parsnip weather. Cold weather is actually a good thing for parsnips—in fact, they need it to convert the starch in their roots to sugar, transforming them from lowly, nose-turned-up roots to gourmet, thumbs-up side dishes. We used a pitchfork to loosen the dirt deeply around each parsnip top—a gentle harvest is required, as parsnips are brittle and can snap if eager hands try to pull the roots by their leaves.
Aren’t they gorgeous? We planted ‘Albion’ this year, a variety that’s creamy white and elegantly long and tapered. Inspired, we’re adding two other varieties to our seed list for next year: ‘Lancer’ and ‘Half-long Guernsey’.
Speaking of seeds, parsnips can be a bit fussy about germination. Knowing that, here’s the strategy we employed for sowing this year:
- Plant fresh seed. Parsnip seed viability is short, so plant only newly-purchased seed every year.
- Sow heavily. We’ve found that germination can be spotty in our heavier clay soil. Of course that means we had to…
- Thin ruthlessly. We thinned four times to guarantee them the wide spacing they need.
- Mark the rows. A few radish seeds (which germinate in a few days) marked the ends of each parsnip row—which took their sweet time to germinate, in about three weeks.
Once germinated, parsnips are low-maintenance veggies in the garden—as befits a vegetable that takes 120 days, plus a cold spell, to reach maturity.
A gardener’s patience with parsnips really pays off in the kitchen. How can you serve parsnips?
- A bowl of parsnip soup.
- In a roasted root vegetable side dish.
- As a snack of parsnip “fries,” brushed with coconut oil, sprinkled with salt, and baked in the oven.
- As a secret ingredient in mashed potatoes.
Or as my chef-friend Brad does, make parsnip cakes for a light main meal or delightful side dish. Here’s his recipe as he knows it by heart:
Boil parsnips in salted water for 3 minutes. Grate with a medium fine blade, then add one egg, white onion, flour, salt, pepper, and lots of Italian parsley. Form pancakes about ½-inch thick and 3 inches wide, and fry in oil on medium heat until parsnips are cooked through and cakes are golden brown and caramelized. Yummy with a roast chicken!
When I met Larry Marchetti at a model train show in 2002, I had no idea he was connected to the famous Como Inn restaurant, or that it would be the beginning of a 12-year friendship, full of fun and hard work together.
I was displaying my N-gauge layout at a show put on each year by the Fox Valley Division of the National Model Railroad Association. Larry stopped to look and we got to “talking trains.” I had been operating the Model Railroad at the Chicago Botanic Garden for two years, and we were expanding and looking for people to help us. Larry mentioned that he had a G-scale layout in his basement and, as they say, one thing led to another. I thought to myself that this was a fella who knew trains, was at ease talking to people, and someone I could get along with.
Larry soon joined us as an engineer and I realized I was very lucky in finding him. He turned out to be quite handy with tools and machines and, as he already had a lot of the same type of rolling stock that we had, was expert with repairs. It wasn’t too long before he became our first chief operating engineer.
We clicked and it worked very well. We eventually came to a point where we could kind of anticipate what the other guy was thinking of doing next. We had some squabbles and some hearty disagreements but they never got in the way of our respect for each other or the ends to which we were working. Some people forget, that is what a good friendship is.
Larry teased and cajoled with everyone in the Model Railroad Garden, always creating laughter and having fun. He was seven years my junior and he never let me forget that I was “the old man.” Another one of his favorite names for me was “shorty.” The “old man” one I comprehended but, “shorty,” I’m still working on. Larry was an infectious personality. He grew on you. He helped create our motto, “If you are not having fun in the Model Railroad Garden, you don’t belong there.” But when you are playing with trains what isn’t fun?
During our time together we would talk about our childhoods, our “war stories,” and our families. It was then that I found out that Larry grew up in Lemont, Illinois, on his family’s farm with a lot of animals and farm work. We realized that we had that in common, as I grew up in a similar way. I also learned that the Como Inn was the family business for many years. No wonder he had the gift of gab and found it easy to talk with our Garden visitors. He was a natural, and our visitors enjoyed his explanations of what the different cars and engines were used for and how railroads really worked. He would make the railroad an educational experience.
During the 12 years he worked here, Larry put his heart and soul into making the Model Railroad Garden better with everything he did. Every time he came up with an idea, we would kick it around and invariably it would turn out to be something really cool. There were so many that I can’t remember them all. Let’s put it this way, if it weren’t for many of his ideas the railroad wouldn’t be as great as it is today.
Larry, of course, was also heavily involved in Wonderland Express when it arrived on the scene and had a tremendous amount of input regarding the logistics of its construction and operation He did it with the same intensity he put into the Model Railroad Garden. He was a great detail man and during the construction of Wonderland Express we all would give him a hard time about being picky and he would give it right back to us, all in good fun. That could have been another motto of the railroad. ”If you can’t take some fun poked at you, you might not want to hang around with these ‘Railroad Rowdies’.” Once in a while, when Larry and I talked to friends, we would joke about spending more time together at work than we did with our wives at home. It wasn’t too far from being true.
Now you know why the Como Inn was chosen to be displayed in Wonderland Express in Larry’s fond memory and to commemorate his life with us. Applied Imagination has done an outstanding job of replicating it in great detail, for which we thank them.
Thinking of you, Larry,
I have been waiting weeks for my favorite moment in fall. It’s almost here! My ginkgo is turning golden and is getting ready to drop its leaves!
It might not be an exciting prospect for some people but the fall leaf drop of Ginkgo biloba is something I find amazing and wonderful. Before I get into why, let me tell you about this fantastic tree.
Ginkgo biloba is a living fossil—fossils of Ginkgo biloba date back 270 million years, predating even the dinosaurs. This tree is truly durable and long lasting. They make excellent street trees, tolerating restricted soil space and pollution. Several even managed to survive the detonation of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan!
Though ginkgo tree habits tend to vary between cultivars, they can grow anywhere from 50-100 feet high and 30-40 feet in diameter. When left to grow naturally, these trees will grow slowly, but growth can be accelerated with the help of fertilizer and watering. Young ginkgoes can often be very open and awkward-looking when left unpruned, and this is clearly visible with some street trees. Their habit, however, will improve with age as these young, long branches will become massive and reminiscent of old oaks over time.
Ginkgoes can be male or female, and identification is easiest at this time of year. Your nose can tell you if a ginkgo is male or female before you even see it. The female typically produces an abundance of fruit with a bad odor. In fact, the University of Illinois has a female ginkgo tree near the center of campus where students frequently walk, and it is not uncommon to see people checking their shoes, thinking they “stepped in something.” This fruit frequently makes a mess on lawns, paths, and sidewalks. That is why males are usually preferred for landscapes.
In spite of the fruit odor, and beyond their ornamental value, some research suggests that the leaves can be used to improve memory and concentration. The leaves also increase the body’s production of norepinephrine, which can increase heart rate. The seeds of the female tree can also be used in cooking and are sometimes considered an aphrodisiac. If you are interested in picking the fruit, however, make sure to pick fallen fruit and wear gloves, because some people will have an allergic reaction from contact with the fleshy coating.
My favorite thing about ginkgoes, however, is their dramatic fall color and leaf drop. The leaves of ginkgo turn a beautiful golden yellow that rivals the fall color of birches. Beyond their fall color, the real drama happens after the first few golden leaves fall. After this, you can expect the rest to fall within the next 48-72 hours, carpeting the ground beneath it in golden yellow leaves.
If you’re thinking about growing a ginkgo, it is important to always consult with a nursery about the varieties they have, and the gender of the trees. Buying an unnamed cultivar grown from seed is a big risk if you don’t want to be cleaning up the fruit later. (It takes 20-50 years for a ginkgo to produce fruit, so you may suffer the consequences if you don’t attend to the details when you make your initial purchase.)
I hope you can find your way to the Garden and check out all our wonderful ginkgoes!
©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
Over the summer I had the chance to visit many places, from arboreta, native plant gardens, and desert gardens, to cemeteries—all in an effort to interact with additional leaders in the field and get inspiration from other gardens across the country. This was all possible due to the Chanticleer Scholarship, which supports educational opportunities for public-garden professionals. I arranged to spend a full day touring with each expert. While each place I visited was totally unique and showcased a vast array of plants, it was the San Francisco Botanical Garden (SFBG) that intrigued me the most.
I arranged to meet with Bob Fiorello, who is an award-winning horticulturist and pest-management professional with more than 25 years of experience in public gardening. Mr. Fiorello has been a gardener at SFBG since 1998 and started both the San Francisco Integrated Pest Management Task Force and the Sustainable Parks Information Network (SPIN).
Mr. Fiorello gave me a very elaborate tour, informing me that the San Francisco Botanical Garden makes up 55 acres, convenient for tourists visiting Golden Gate Park. I noticed that the paths are wide, yet there are many smaller paths that allow you to admire every one of the 8,000 different types of plants from across the world. Most of the collections are displayed geographically, so I felt as if I were walking through distinctive habitats on other continents. Most of the plants I witnessed are the result of collecting expeditions to diverse parts of the world.
The most unique habitats rendered are cloud forests. Cloud forests are distinctive areas prone to continual fog and are mainly found in Central and South America, East and Central Africa, and Southeast Asia, where temperatures are mild all year round. San Francisco has abundant fog in summer and rarely drops below freezing in winter, so cultivating plants from these environments makes sense, especially when these habitats are diminishing in nature due to human destruction.
Brugmansias, fuschias, and salvias were some of the radiant flowers I witnessed throughout the MesoAmerican Cloud Forest. Even brighter were passionflower vines climbing up trees and shedding neon orange and pink blossoms across the paths. This particular cloud forest has become established as a national and international resource by the North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC) for scientists and researchers and is one of the few specialized collections focusing geographically on a diverse group of plants. Most other gardens, including the Chicago Botanic Garden, simply focus on collecting plants within a certain genus, with the goal of being experts of that group.
Mr. Fiorello wanted me to see his favorite genus, Banksia. For that, we had to travel to an area devoted to the flora of Australia and New Zealand. The saw-tooth leaves on Banksia serrata were unusual. In fact all the plants in this collection were strange in appearance when compared to other vegetation. The red-colored aerial roots of New Zealand Christmas tree (Metrosideros excelsia) were sort of creepy, while the red-hued fronds of the Pukupuku fern (Doodia media) were quite attractive. Even the hot pink fruit of the lily pilly tree (Syzygium smithii) looked tasty (though I hear it is not).
I am crazy about native plants, and California hosts more wild plants than any other state. I was told that the greatest numbers of natives are displayed across the bay at Berkeley Botanical Garden, where they make up a third of that garden. The San Francisco Botanical Garden’s native plant collection differs however, being heavily designed and with less emphasis on individual plant communities. While they have fewer natives than Berkeley, the selected plants are grown in much broader sweeps and in beautiful combinations that really put on quite a show.
The native that wowed me most was Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri). The blossoms are enormous and resemble sunny-side-up eggs, held on tall grey-green foliage. The other eye-catcher is flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum), a fifteen-foot-tall, irregularly shaped shrub with fuzzy lobed leaves and prolific flowers that are yellow-orange.
There is nothing more festive than wandering the replicated redwood grove. Below the colossal tree trunks, I found a solid carpet of green comprised of shamrock-like redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana), robust fronds of sword fern (Polystichum munitum), bold leaves of Western coltsfoot (Petasites palmatus), and lacy-looking Inside-out flower (Vancouveria hexandra). This was a great prequel to what I would enjoy while hiking Muir Woods and perfect for tourists who may not have the chance to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.
My tour of SFBG taught me that plant-collecting expeditions can be one of the most gratifying means of obtaining plants. I also found that not every specialized collection has to fall under the same rules to be recognized by the NAPCC. For instance, we at the Chicago Botanic Garden are among the few gardens that attempt to preserve cultivars of plants while most public gardens focus on the wild collected species of plants.
Even after almost eight hours, I still had not seen everything. I thanked Mr. Fiorello for his gracious time and insight and insisted he go enjoy his weekend. I continued to wander the grounds for another three hours filling my camera with photos and enjoying the cool autumn air.
If you find yourself in San Francisco, do take the time to visit the San Francisco Botanical Garden. You will not regret it. Although you might be sorry that you flew and cannot bring home all of the gorgeous and inexpensive plants sold in their incredible gift shop (as I was).
©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
As I compiled the latest rare book exhibition at the Lenhardt Library, I got to know several fascinating women from the past. They were among the first women to be recognized as botanical illustrators, and their work opened doors for generations of women to follow. The exhibition, Feminine Perspective: Women Artists and Illustrators, running through November 10, traces the development of women in the field of botanical illustration from at-home hobbyists to professional artists who were published under their own names, with their works represented in the respectable journals, displayed in galleries and art shows, and accepted professionally.
For Henrietta Moriarty who published in 1807 London, botany was a moral dilemma. The renowned botanical theory of plant classification by Carl Linnaeus discusses plant reproduction and reproductive plant parts; the material was decidedly not appropriate for a proper Victorian woman and outright dangerous for a young girl. Moriarty solves this moral dilemma by writing and illustrating her own book, Fifty Plates of Green-House Plants, Drawn and Coloured from Nature, with concise descriptions and rules for their culture. Intended for the improvement of young ladies in the art of drawing, second edition, 1807.
Her 50 botanical illustrations are each hand-colored and focused on the beautiful flower with a botanical description but lack any discussion or representation of plant reproductive processes. Moriarty, a widow with children, needed to support her family and found writing and illustrating a botany book to be productive. She presold 180 copies by subscription. View each page of this lovely book online at the Illinois Digital Archives.
To hear more stories on the personal circumstances and the success of women in botanical illustration, come into the library! We’d love to share more about these illustrators and more:
Henriette Antoinette Vincent (1786 – 1830)
Ellen Robbins (1828 – 1905)
Lady Harriet Ann Thiselton-Dyer (1854 – 1945)
For a schedule of upcoming exhibitions and library talks, click here.
I’ve just touched down at home after five days in New Zealand at the 5th Global Botanic Gardens Congress; 329 delegates from botanic gardens and arboreta from 45 countries gathered together in Dunedin, New Zealand, to learn how to strengthen our horticulture displays and plant collections, education and visitor programs, and plant conservation science. Our Chicago Botanic Garden motto is “Save the Plants, Save the Planet,” and what an amazing experience it is to spend time with people—mostly brilliant plant scientists—who share this passion and mission, and who will travel from every corner of the globe to help realize it.
Here are two particularly good slides that show some of the big-picture goals presented by Peter Wyse Jackson, Ph.D., president of the Missouri Botanical Garden and chairman of the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation (GPPC).
I had the honor of representing our garden in Chicago four times throughout the Congress, organized by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). I presented at a symposium with colleagues from England, Austria, and Jordan about botanic gardens’ role in social change; chaired a panel of compelling speakers from Jordan, Mexico, Australia, and the U.S. who shared examples of how to engage communities in conservation; was challenged by the audience at an open forum with Stephen Blackmore, Ph.D. (Edinburgh), Dr. Tim Entwistle, Ph.D. (Melbourne), and Jack Hobbs (Auckland); and delivered a plenary address. If you want to see the range of topics and gardens represented, take a look at the BGCI Congress site; the Twitter comments #BGCI2013 also give highlights. In a few weeks, videos of the plenary addresses will be available.
My Chicago Botanic Garden colleagues Greg Mueller, Ph.D., and Kayri Havens-Young, Ph.D., also attended and presented their work (and we had a lot of fun, too).
Being relatively new to the field of plant conservation, I set as one of my Congress goals the memorization of international conservation acronyms. To effectively make our way in any land we need to learn to speak the language!
So now, after writing down and decoding (i.e., asking the nice person next to me for help or drawing on the seemingly endless patience of my colleague Greg Mueller), the acronyms I heard, I am now semifluent (in that college French kind of way). Below, I offer a plant-conservation-centered sample of what I’ve learned—hopefully this primer will be helpful as you get involved in plant conservation. If you catch a mistake, please let me know!
A superb, professional explanation of UN environmental conventions, and how botanic gardens can support international goals (and more acronyms), may be found in the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation, 2nd edition.
Chicago experienced its first autumn frost while we were away, but spring in the southern hemisphere was in full bloom. Enjoying the remarkable flowers and landscapes of the South Island of New Zealand only intensified our passion for plants and the joy of gardens and nature.
Thank you BGCI, colleagues, the Dunedin Botanic Garden (and Shane the amazing bus #3 driver) for your leadership, friendship, and hospitality. Until Geneva 2017!
We recently toured the Chicago Botanic Garden with Boyce Tankersley, director of plant documentation, to see what’s in bloom and in fall color.
We started outside the Visitor Center, where you will find fall color on Autumn Blaze pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Autumn Blaze’) and bloom on the mum towers (Chrysanthemum x morifolium ‘Dazzling Stacy’).
We noted fall color on sugar maples (Acer saccharum sp.) in the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden and throughout many other Gardens.
We spent some time in the English Walled Garden, where mums such as Clara Curtis hardy mum (Chrysanthemum ‘Clara Curtis’) and hardy garden mum (Chrysanthemum ‘Hillside Sheffield’) looked wonderful, as well as the late-blooming azure monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’). The purple fruit on Korean mountain ash (Sorbus alnifolia) was looking very attractive and foliage was about to turn peach and yellow.
Just outside the Krasberg Rose Garden, we found a nice specimen of Kousa dogwood with fall fruit and some gorgeous fall color. Nearby was a great collection of purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) with purple berries and foliage about to turn yellow.
Click on the video link above to get the full tour! Use the Garden’s App to find these plants and more in bloom on your next visit.
This is a treasure hunt to find trees.
Follow the clues to find them with ease.
Each clue has a hint to the tree’s location,
And a few facts for identification.
The numbers provided are GPS* clues,
Just in case our rhyming stumps you.
When you get to each tree you’re meant to find,
Read the message on the large brown sign.
*GPS coordinates give the general area and my not be exact. Use them to get in the vicinity, then look for a tree that fits the clues. (All trees can be found in adjacent gardens on the west side of the main island.) Don’t have a GPS device? You can use your iPhone or Android phone’s compass utility to follow the clues. Remember: leave any seeds you find for the critters that need food for winter!
Enter a Garden of native flowers and grasses;
Walk ’round the fence and try not to pass this.
It’s tall and stately, and rough is its bark;
Look up to see woody, small berries, which are dark.
If you go past the fliers, frozen midflight,
“backtrack” your footsteps to the tree that is “right.”
GPS: N 42˚08.899′, W 087˚47.510′
iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’54″ W 87˚ 47’31″
If these trees were shorter, this clue’d be a hard one.
Follow the path through the Landscape Garden.
An evergreen trio are loaded with seeds;
They form narrow cones—look up high to see.
You may cross a stream discover these gems,
Enjoying the moisture, to the water they bend.
GPS: N 42˚08.879′, W087˚47.499′
iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’53″ W 87˚ 47’31″
For those who love fall color it’s plain to see,
Edna Kanaley Graham would have loved this next tree.
Come into the garden, where spring bulbs sleep.
Look right in the entrance and take a quick peep.
This tree’s fruits (now all fallen) are small prickly balls,
Star-shaped leaves are what’s left now—orange and yellow in fall.
GPS: N 42˚08.890′, W 087˚47.566′
iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’53″, W 087˚ 47’34″
Near the Circle Garden and the whistling of trains,
A group of large trees makes nuts from sun, air, and rain.
Squirrels and critters think that these nuts are great;
It’s also a favorite of Ohio State!
Can’t find our trees on your wander? Look down:
This time of year, fruit and husks litter the ground.
GPS: N 42˚ 08.849′, W 087˚47.465′
iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’50″, W 087˚47’34″
From here, it’s off to the Enabling Garden you go;
Where a smattering of these trees you’ll find in a row.
This specimen grows very large heart-shaped leaves;
Long, narrow seed pods hang from its eaves.
Either side of the path they drip like fresh wax;
We hope from these clues you discover the facts.
GPS: N 42˚08.810′, W 087˚47.416′
iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’49″, W 087˚ 47’25″
- Hackberry (Celtis Occidentalis)
- Norway spruce (Picea abies ‘Acrocona’)
- Moraine sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Moraine’)
- Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)
- Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
Garlic is so easy to grow that the instructions could be just one sentence long:
In October, separate a large head of garlic into individual cloves, and plant 3–4 inches deep in well-amended, well-drained, and well-mulched soil until harvest next July.
But let’s dig a little deeper into that sentence for a few tips on growing a gorgeous garlic crop.
In October… Fall is the season for planting garlic in our area. Wait until the first light frost to plant, and don’t worry if you see a few garlic sprouts popping up before winter sets in.
…separate a large head of garlic… Which garlic to plant? Experiment with different varieties to find the flavor you like best. Nurseries and seed catalogs offer seed garlic (grocery store-bought garlic isn’t as reliable as seed). There are two main types:
- Hard-necked varieties grow well in northern climates like ours, where winter is cold and spring is long. As the name implies, hard-necks produce a rigid flower stalk or “scape” with aerial bulbs. The scape should be cut off at about 10 inches long so that the plant continues to put its energy into the underground bulb. Don’t toss the scapes—eat them, instead, in soups, sautés, etc. ‘Music’, ‘German Extra Hardy’, and ‘Chesnok Red’ are hard-neck varieties known for their wonderful, complex flavors.
- Soft-necked varieties don’t produce scapes; their soft foliage can be braided for easy hanging/storage. While soft-necks flourish in the South, some varieties, such as ‘Inchelium Red’, can be successfully grown here.
…into individual cloves… To grow the largest garlic heads, plant only the largest garlic cloves, and leave the papery “tunic” intact. Cloves can rot without their protective tunic! Hard-necked garlic heads yield large cloves in small numbers (often 4–6), while soft-necked garlics bear more numerous cloves, often in several layers.
…and plant 3–4 inches deep… Plant cloves roots down, points up, about 6–8 inches apart.
…in well-amended… Soil prep is key to a successful crop, no matter what type of soil you have. Garlic is a heavy feeder, so the soil needs to provide plenty of nutrients, air, and water. Amend your soil with compost or well-aged manure until it feels loose and airy. Aim for a neutral pH of 6.5.
…well-drained… While it needs to be kept watered, it is important to plant it in a spot where the soil is moist, but not too wet. Garlic doesn’t like “wet feet.” Once foliage appears in spring, water consistently (about 1 inch per week) until two weeks before harvest in July.
…and well-mulched soil… After a hard frost, cover the garlic bed loosely with a thick layer of mulch (about 6 inches of straw, leaves, and/or grass clippings). Mulch acts like a blanket over the bulbs and soil, holding in moisture and keeping down weeds, which can easily overwhelm and outcompete garlic. Leave mulch intact through the season—garlic sprouts will make their way through it—but remove it when things warm up in the spring.
…until harvest next July. In July, garlic foliage begins to turn brown, signaling that harvest is near. Wait until just five green leaves are left on the plant. Then use a pitchfork to gently loosen the soil beneath the bulbs and bring them to the surface. Resist the urge to pull them by their stalks, taking care not to damage the papery tunic! Brush off most of the dirt, then allow your harvest to cure:
- Spread out the bulbs (with foliage intact) on screens, or tie them in loose bundles and allow to dry in a shady, well-ventilated area, such as a back porch or garage.
- Do not wash the bulbs to remove soil! Leave them undisturbed for 4–6 weeks, during which time they’ll dry out completely.
- After curing, trim the roots and cut stalks to about 1 inch from the bulb.
Many of these same cultural practices follow for shallots and other allium varieties.
One last tip: Store your garlic at 50 to 70 degrees—but not in the refrigerator, as cold makes bulbs sprout early! With proper curing and storage, your bulbs should last about four months.
©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
A few months later, in August, we taped Episode 4, focusing on my work with plants and pollinators, (launching today!) and Episode 5, which will feature the work of Mike Moore of Oberlin College on gypsum-endemic plants (to be released later this year).
So what exactly is Plants Are Cool, Too!?
After hearing kids in his summer nature camps recite things they knew about animals, Chris Martine created the web-based series, Plants Are Cool, Too! in 2011 to address a critical gap in the nature show genre. There are no shows focused explicitly on plants that might engage people, from elementary school kids on up. Chris set out to create a series focusing on some of the coolest plants, their stories, and the scientists who study them. As of today, 4 episodes have been released:
Episode 1 — The Pale Pitcher Plant
Episode 2 — Fossilized Forests
Episode 3 — Undead Zombie Flowers of Skunk Cabbage
Episode 4 — Desert Plants and Marathon Moths (my show—see it at the end of this post!)
Adventures with botanists and filmmakers
So what does it take to create an episode? And how about 2 episodes at once—in just 3 days? Certainly, lots of planning, people who know the lay of the land, and a fantastic film crew. Thankfully, Chris is really good at what he does—the team of people he pulled together couldn’t have been better.
Our first site for filming was Yeso Hills, just southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico. We arrived at the golden hour, when the sun is near the horizon and casts a golden light on everything. As we turned off the highway onto a gravel road, we encountered a sea of sundrops (Oenothera hartwegii and O. gayleana). I had a hard time containing my excitement. I’ve seen photos of populations like this, but nothing like it in person. There were plants everywhere, hundreds of them, their yellow flowers on full display, glowing magnificently in the setting sun. I suspected it would be a fantastic night for hawkmoths—how could they not be drawn to this fantastic population? So many plants, so much nectar! It was going to be awesome.
Until it wasn’t.
The sun set and we taped a handful of things: setting up the “moth sheet,” collecting floral scent, nectar, size measurements. And we waited and waited for the hawk moths to show up; after about two and a half hours, we headed toward Carlsbad for the night. While I couldn’t imagine a better place for a hawkmoth to be, they clearly could.
The following morning, we headed for White Sands National Monument, home of the world’s largest deposit of gypsum sand dune field, just west of Alamogordo, New Mexico. August 21 was a special night at White Sands—Full Moon Night. The park stays open until 11 p.m., and visitors come from near and far to experience the magic of the white sands by moonlight—which was one of the main reasons we were there. The flowers of the Hartweg’s sundrops glow in the moonlight and are very easy to see when the moon is full, by both us and their hawkmoth pollinators.
After checking in with the National Park Service office, we set out to find Hartweg’s sundrops. The dunes provided the perfect white backdrop to capture hawkmoths visiting the flowers. Usually it’s hard to follow an individual moth at dusk; they become lost in the vegetation unless they’re quite close to you. At White Sands, you could follow an individual hawkmoth easily, from flower to flower, plant to plant—that is, if they showed up.
For a second night, we were out at the golden hour. Everything was beautiful, bathed in the light of the setting sun. We were feeling optimistic. Considering that this was our last chance to capture moths on film, we were prepared to stay as late as necessary. Looking around at everyone, I realized just how lucky I was, how lucky we all were to be there, together, at this incredible place, on what was sure to be an incredible night. Could we also be so lucky as to be graced by the presence of hawkmoths? We had come so far to capture this moment, and I have experienced many nights when conditions seemed ideal for hawkmoths to show up, only to be stood up instead—like the night before, at Yeso Hills.
Before long, the sun had dropped over the horizon and the timing seemed right. I mentioned to Chris that I wouldn’t be surprised if we started to see some hawkmoths. As if on cue, a moth flew right by Chris’s head, close enough for him to hear its papery wings fluttering about—all as the camera was rolling! To say I was excited is an understatement. One moth turned into 2…3…6…10—visiting flowers, drinking nectar and picking up pollen on their tongues, faces, bodies, moving it from flower to flower—doing the ever-so-important job of pollination. You see, these plants will not produce fruits or seeds on their own—they require pollen from a different plant to do so, and that pollen has to be transported by a pollinator.
So after much nervous anticipation, the hawkmoths had arrived. And now you can see the full episode and how our adventures fit together into a nice story about desert plants that flower at night and their hawkmoth pollinators!
Many thanks Chris, Tim, and Paul, for being so incredibly fantastic to work with, and Mike, Norm, Hilda, Helga and Patrick, from whom I learned a great deal about the New Mexico flora and gypsum endemism. Thank you to Sophia Siskel and the Chicago Botanic Garden for providing financial and institutional support. This trip was truly the experience of a lifetime.
©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org