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Flôres do Brasil.

New Book Arrivals - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:32am
Flôres do Brasil.

Turkestanskiĭ khlopok / [risunki M. Rankova i E. Rodovoĭ.].

New Book Arrivals - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:32am
Turkestanskiĭ khlopok / [risunki M. Rankova i E. Rodovoĭ.].
Call Number: SB251.S65T87 1931

Thank you, Kris J. / Chicago Botanic Garden.

New Book Arrivals - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:32am
Thank you, Kris J. / Chicago Botanic Garden.
Call Number: SB466.U7C456 2017

Wild flowers of the world / Paintings by Barbara Everard. Text by Brian D. Morley. Consultant editors: W.T. Stearn [and] Peter S. Green.

New Book Arrivals - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:32am
Wild flowers of the world / Paintings by Barbara Everard. Text by Brian D. Morley. Consultant editors: W.T. Stearn [and] Peter S. Green.
Author: Everard, Barbara.
Call Number: QK98.M82 1970

Forest trees of Illinois : how to know them : a pocket manual describing their most important characteristics / revised by George D. Fuller, in cooperation with George M. Link and Anton J. Tomasek.

New Book Arrivals - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:32am
Forest trees of Illinois : how to know them : a pocket manual describing their most important characteristics / revised by George D. Fuller, in cooperation with George M. Link and Anton J. Tomasek.
Author: Illinois. Division of Forestry.
Call Number: QK484.I3M44 1941

Spring 1896 / the National Plant Co.

New Book Arrivals - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:32am
Spring 1896 / the National Plant Co.
Author: National Plant Co.

Floral list : spring 1898 / the National Plant Co.

New Book Arrivals - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:32am
Floral list : spring 1898 / the National Plant Co.
Author: National Plant Co.

Gillett's Fern and Flower Farm, Inc., 1878-1939 / Kennet E. Gillett, proprietor.

New Book Arrivals - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:32am
Gillett's Fern and Flower Farm, Inc., 1878-1939 / Kennet E. Gillett, proprietor.
Author: Gillett's Fern and Flower Farm.

Flowers from seeds / S.Y. Haines & Co.

New Book Arrivals - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:32am
Flowers from seeds / S.Y. Haines & Co.
Author: S.Y. Haines & Co.

Gifts of winter : catalogue of an exhibition 30 October 2000-28 February 2001 / James J. White and Lugene B. Bruno.

New Book Arrivals - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:32am
Gifts of winter : catalogue of an exhibition 30 October 2000-28 February 2001 / James J. White and Lugene B. Bruno.
Author: White, James J. (James Joseph), 1941-
Call Number: QK98.3.W45 2000

Botany and history entwined : Rachel Hunt's legacy : catalogue of an exhibition 16 September-15 December 2011 / Charlotte A. Tancin [and others].

New Book Arrivals - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 10:32am
Botany and history entwined : Rachel Hunt's legacy : catalogue of an exhibition 16 September-15 December 2011 / Charlotte A. Tancin [and others].
Call Number: QK98.3.H868 2011

Demystifying Seed Catalogs

Garden Blog - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 9:23am

The arrival of seed catalogs in mailboxes ranks as one of the most hopeful times in a gardener’s year, as it provides us with a welcome link to spring.

February is the perfect time to plan next spring’s vegetable garden. One of the first considerations is deciding what to grow. This can be answered by simply listing the veggies or asking your family to name the veggies they like to eat. There are a few other considerations before placing your order for next year’s garden—such as deciding if you should plant seeds or transplant vegetable starts. Seeds of many vegetables can be sown directly in the garden, including root vegetables like carrots, radish, and beets. Peas, beans, and squash are also best directly sown. Cabbage, tomatoes, and peppers are better given a head start inside first, and then transplanted into the garden as small plants, because they need a long, warm growing season.

Brassica oleracea 'Blue Wind' broccoli

For spring plantings, set broccoli transplants out two to three weeks before the last spring frost date.

 Planter potted up with edible greens.

Edible spring planters can be harvested and repotted with next season’s veg.

Timing is important in the vegetable garden, and knowing that our growing season has approximately 170 frost-free days helps guide decisions on which plants to plant and when to plant. Our risk of frost is generally from October 15 through April 27, but can vary two weeks in either direction. Understanding that vegetable varieties have varying tolerances to frost helps you plan your planting calendar. For example, those very hardy plants like collards, kohlrabi, kale, spring onions, pea, spinach, turnip, and cabbage can be planted out four to six weeks before our last frost date. Those called “half hardy” or “frost tolerant”—such as beets, Swiss chard, carrots, cauliflower, and mustard—must be planted a bit later; two to three weeks before the last frost date.

The best seed catalogs will help decipher a gardener’s questions, and help plot, measure, and sort out the seed math needed to get started on a vegetable garden. Most seed is available in organic and non-organic options, with the latter usually the least expensive. Good catalogs provide keys to help decipher the icons (vegetable resistance codes) in plant descriptions. After all, a seed company’s success is based on a gardener’s success with their products.

As our nutritional consciousness rises, the taste and the health benefits of growing your own organic produce is a pursuit worthy of winter afternoons spent planning.  

Here are a few of my favorite seed companies:
(Consider going paperless; all of these catalogs are available online.)

Johnny’s Selected Seed
www.Johnnyseeds.com (877) 564-6697

Johnny’s Selected Seed is a 43-year-old, employee-owned company in Maine, recognizing that “good food is the basis of our well-being.” Widely used by home gardeners and small market farmers, the seed selection includes hundreds of vegetable, flower, and herb varieties in organic and non-organic (options) seeds. The catalog provides grower’s information for the novice to advanced gardener—it’s a virtual garden education. Johnny’s provides well-tested tools for garden tasks from bed prep to trellising, to season extension, and cover cropping. Comparison charts like the one on leaf lettuce help gardeners select seeds based on their specific growing conditions. Charts and photos compare length, width of mature veggies, and harvest windows.

High Mowing seed catalogHigh Mowing Organic Seeds
www.highmowingseeds.com (866) 735-4454

High Mowing Organic Seeds simply provides 100 percent certified organic, non-GMO Project Verified vegetable and flower seed to organic growers. The helpful seed catalog key on page two of the new 2017 catalog includes a tutorial on how to read the individual variety descriptions that follow. Seed definitions of open pollinated (OP), heirloom, and hybrid seeds are aptly explained and marked throughout. Crop types are headed by general cultural information or the “how to” grow beans for example. Then each listing is complete with the days to maturity (based on conditions in Vermont where HMO is located), disease resistance and any special attributes of the plant including breeder credit. Don’t miss the invaluable planting chart on the last page. High Mowing Organic Seeds is an excellent resource for passionate organic growers.

The Cook’s Garden
www.cooksgarden.com (800) 457-9703

Burpee acquired The Cook’s Garden more than ten years ago, and it has helped nurture America’s love affair with healthy, delicious food by offering the best gourmet veggies, greens, and herbs from around the world. The catalog offers seeds and plants for gourmet gardeners, with vegetables and fruits often pictured in recipes alongside culinary tips. Offering well-curated collections of helpful horticultural gadgets, you’ll find ash-handled tools, trellising supplies, rain gauges, and garden hods (flat, wood-handled basket) to make harvesting a snap. The Cook’s Garden catalog offers a wide range of quality products to indulge your inner gardener-chef when produce arrives in the kitchen. They’ve got canning, preserving, and dehydrating supplies covered. If the ultimate luxury is having the right tool for the job, check out the herb snips, the strawberry huller, and my current obsession, the new pickle slicer.

Seed Savers Exchange
www.seedsavers.org (563) 382-5990

Seed Savers Exchange helped start the heirloom seed movement by locating and preserving almost 20,000 varieties by growing them and seed banking at Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa. The not-for-profit’s mission is to conserve and protect America’s culturally diverse but endangered food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing open pollinated seeds and plants. The catalog contains an anthology of stories and fascinating anecdotes connecting the reader to plant history, and has a comprehensive roster of vegetable seed many of which are certified organic. Be sure to check out the heirloom flower seed, garlic, and seed potatoes. It’s a great resource for seed saving supplies and helpful guides to get started planting and seed saving.

Pinetree Garden Seeds catalogPinetree Garden Seeds and Accessories
www.superseeds.com (207) 926-3400

Pinetree has been a year-round source for the home gardener for more than three decades. Their product lines go well beyond a fairly complete line of gardening gear, including soil kits and amendments, and animal deterrents. Also offered are natural bath and hair products, kitchen gadgets (I want the tortilla press), and bee, bat, and bird products. If you’d like fragrant oils and herbal teas to go along with your vegetable seeds, look no further than Pinetree. There is a comprehensive compendium of some of the best gardening books that I’ve seen.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
www.rareseed.com Fax: (417) 924-8887

Baker Creek offers 1,800 vegetable, flower and herb varieties claimed to be the largest in our country.  A focus on preservation, it not surprising they have one of the largest selections of seeds from the nineteenth century. The fittingly named Rare Seed Catalog is like the Vogue magazine of the vegetable world. It wins the prize for the most beautiful photographs of the most avant-garde produce collection, complete with nutritional factoids and culinary inspiration. Stories from seed collecting expeditions around the world—recently Thailand, Myanmar, and India—are in the Heirloom Gardener, an associated and nationally distributed magazine written as a tool to not only promote and preserve our rich agricultural history but as explanation of why we need to care about it. The Rare Seed Catalog provides a selection of 78 varieties of melon and 20 types of okra. Baker Creek has a limited but diverse availability of live plants to ship. If goji berries, ginger root, and dragon fruit tickle your fancy (and you either live in the subtropics or have a greenhouse available) look no further, they’re in the Rare Seed Catalog. Baker Creek encourages political activism, and the catalog is written with an underlying ripple that we’re reaching the tipping point in the struggle against GMOs.

Specialty catalogs

Vermont Bean Seed Company
www.vermontbean.com
Bush or pole? Round, broad, or flat-podded? Shellers or runners? Golden, purple, filet, or lima—Vermont Bean Seed Company’s catalog for home gardens has them all. 

Filaree Garlic Farm
www.filareefarm.com
Garlic immersion is made possible by paging through the Filaree Garlic Farm catalog. A certified organic garlic grower in Washington State, Filaree encourages placing early orders of favorite rocaboles, porcelains, and purple stripe garlic.

Totally Tomatoes
www.totallytomato.com
Whether you are growing tried-and-true tomato varieties or venturing on to new releases and heirlooms, Totally Tomatoes offers hundreds of tomato varieties to the avid tomato grower. Categorized by size, shape, and color, Totally Tomatoes is a veritable rainbow for the tomato connoisseur. Focusing on Solanaceous crops, dozens of pepper varieties are included, too. 

 A basket of garlic, with each bulb labeled with its cultivar name.

Try growing different garlic varieties to find the flavor you like best.

Varieties/cultivars and tips for direct seeding into spring gardens

It’s hard to resist a list of a few of my favorite varieties to directly sow into the spring garden. Knowing how much seed will sow a 10-foot row and the days to maturity (when the harvest can be expected) is the type of garden math that tangles up many a gardener, but quality catalogs will provide vegetable grower’s guides to help to sort out how much seed you’ll need. 

Radish: Direct-sow spring radish as soon as the ground can be worked, or four to six weeks before the last frost. Radish is best grown quickly in cool, damp conditions. It’s easy to grow, and requires only 28 days from planting to harvest. Try these spring radish cultivars: ‘Early Scarlet Globe’, ‘Rudolf’, and ‘Crunchy Royale’.

 Beets.Beets: Nothing says spring like tender, freshly harvested baby beets. Sow about two weeks before our last frost date and thin to 3 inches between seedlings. Fertilize with liquid seaweed. Beets have great culinary versatility, so plant a combination of gold and red. ‘Detroit Dark Red’, ‘Bull’s Blood’, and ‘Burpee’s Golden’ are great choices.

Swiss chard: We love ‘Rhubarb’ and ‘Five colored Silverbeet’. These greens can grow through the entire gardening season. By harvesting just the outer leaves with a harvest knife, the plant stays in place and the integrity of your design stays intact.

 Carrots.Carrots: The sweetest, juiciest, and most flavorful carrots are the French heirlooms. Sow two weeks before the last frost date. Carrot is slow to germinate, so have patience. Our favorite varieties for Chicago growers: ‘St. Valery’, ‘Paris Market’, and ‘Scarlet Nantes’.

Spinach: One of the earliest-germinating cool season vegetables, spinach can be direct sown in 2-inch bands or rows four to six weeks before the last frost. Plant ‘Corvair’, ‘Tyee’, or ‘Donkey’ for the most reliable spring crops.

Lettuce: We love ‘Tennis Ball’, ‘Black Seeded Simpson’, ‘Rouge d ’Hiver’, and ‘Winter Density’. One gram of seed will sow a 15-foot row.

Spring greens: Try mache, arugula, or mizuna; 30 to 50 seeds will seed one foot of row when sown as a cut-and-come-again salad mix.

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Winter Bird Feeder Watch

Birding Events at the Forest Preserves - Sun, 02/12/2017 - 10:00am

What birds are visiting the feeders this winter? We’ll help you identify our resident birds and winter migrants and share ways to attract them to your own yard.

The post Winter Bird Feeder Watch appeared first on Forest Preserves of Cook County.

Designing the Orchid Show

Garden Blog - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 4:43pm

Take a sneak peek behind-the-scenes at the Orchid Show, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s biggest flower show of the year. Buy tickets here.

 Phalaenopsis Sogo Yukidan 'V3'

Phalaenopsis Sogo Yukidian ‘V3’

We’ve rolled out the tall ladders, prepped hanging baskets with Spanish moss, and worked hard to keep 10,000 warmth-loving tropical orchids happy (including an orchid that is rarely shown in the United States, Phalaenopsis Sogo Yukidian ‘V3’; be sure to check out the unusual number of big blooms on each spike).

It’s all hands on deck for the Show, which runs February 11 to March 26, following the Members’ Preview night on Friday, February 10. Volunteers across the Garden and beyond have pitched in to help from departments including Education, Model Railroad, and Horticultural Therapy Services, along with our Woman’s Board.

Volunteers from all departments unpack orchids for the Orchid Show 2017.

Volunteers from different departments unpack orchids for the Orchid Show 2017.

It all starts with ideas from our creative team, which starts brainstorming shortly after the end of the previous year’s Orchid Show. 

 Sketch of the Orchid Show designs for 2017.

Last June, horticulturist Brian Barker had an idea that looked like this.

The Orchid Show displays in the Tropical Greenhouse.

Now it looks like this: an arch of Vanda and Oncidium orchids between the palms.

Sketch of planter layout for the Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Three big planters are nestled amid the existing greenhouse plantings.

Manzanita branches cover the framework of the planters for the Chicago Botanic Garden's Orchid Show.

Manzanita branches cover the framework of the planters; orchids will fill the top and stem of the structures.

Setting up the structure for the orchid "wind chime"

Setting up the framework

In the completed archway, supporting vines are woven together and attached to a hidden framework. Notice the dangling aerial roots from orchids that are epiphytes—plants that grow on trees, with above-ground rather than in-ground roots.

Sometimes, things don’t always go as planned. Work on the 13-foot high orchid “wind chime” got delayed while we waited and waited for a delivery of bamboo supports from Colombia… Luckily, the shipment arrived before the Show.

When you walk into Nichols Hall, don’t forget to look for the dozens of blooms overhead.

The finished orchid "wind chime" in Nichols Hall

The finished “chime” looks deceptively simple…

This year’s theme is Orchids in Vogue, a playful look at the influence of orchids in popular culture, including fashion. Last summer, senior horticulturist Salina Wunderle came up with an idea for an orchid “dress.” Now we have three design teams working on orchid dresses; come see the final result.

 3 orchid gowns.

This materials sketch by horticulturist Salina Wunderle details one of this year’s highlights: orchid “dresses.”

Salina Wunderle's dress sketch shows how her material choices will be layered to create the final look.

Salina’s dress sketch shows how her material choices will be layered to create the final look. The availability and maintenance of the plants might mean some changes in the final design.

Under construction, this is one of 3 gowns made of orchids and other plants to be displayed at The Orchid Show this year.

We did some trial runs, testing materials to help determine weight and structure, and making sure they’ll stay fresh for the run of the Show.

 Cymbidium Sarah Jean 'Peach'

Cymbidium Sarah Jean ‘Peach’

Don’t miss our exclusive Members’ Preview night, Friday, February 10. Visit the Orchid Show February 11 to March 26, 2017. 

…and don’t forget to tag us in your selfies: #CBGOrchidShow

Photos by Maria Rebelo and Robin Carlson.
©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Six Reasons Why Orchids Are Cool

Garden Blog - Tue, 01/31/2017 - 8:44am

Think you can tell the difference between an orchid and a praying mantis? Or an orchid and a sugar flower?

See for yourself, and get ready to view 10,000 orchids in bloom at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Orchid Show, February 11 to March 26. This year’s theme, Orchids in Vogue, looks at the influence of orchids in popular culture.

Here are six fun facts on Orchidaceae—one of the largest, most diverse, and most beloved of all plant families.

A beautiful (and edible) orchid adorns this cocktail from Chef Daniel Boulud.

A beautiful (and edible) orchid in an ice sphere adorns this cocktail from chef Daniel Boulud. Photo via marthastewart.com

Why, yes, that’s an orchid in my cocktail

Noted French chef Daniel Boulud paired with a mixologist to come up with a white cosmopolitan recipe that calls for elderflower liqueur and a frozen orchid sphere.

The "aromatic" Platanthera_obtusata, photographed by Jason Hollinger

The “aromatic” Platanthera obtusata, by Jason Hollinger [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

File this under “orchids are clever”

Researchers have discovered that a bog orchid (Platanthera obtusata) lures its pollinator—tiger mosquitoes—by giving off a smell similar to human body odor.

Sugar Cymbidium orchid by Robert Haynes. Photo ©Tony Harris

Sugar Cymbidium orchid by Robert Haynes. Photo ©Tony Harris

Have your orchid and eat it, too

London-based sugar artist Robert Haynes specializes in creating, and teaching others how to make, “botanically correct sugar flowers.”

Hymenopus coronatus orchid mantis.

The remarkably floral orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) fools many a pollinator. Photo by Frupus [CC 2.0]

Bee careful…

Entomologists are studying the evolution of a praying mantis that looks like an orchid. The female Malaysian orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) attracts orchid pollinators such as bees—and then eats them. 

Get an orchid in your name.

Get a really special orchid for a loved one…

(Your name here) orchid

A Virginia orchid grower will register a new orchid hybrid in your name with the Royal Horticultural Society (the official international register) for $1,500.

Some greenhouses will babysit your orchids for you.

Out-of-sight, out-of-mind until bloom time

Orchid boarding school

Some nurseries will care for your orchids if you’re busy or on vacation, or simply prefer to have experts raise them until the plants are ready to bloom. “As your orchid begins to send up a bloom spike, it is tenderly staked and tied, ready to return to you as it comes into bloom,” says Hamilton Orchids & Plantscapes in Sonoma, California.

 

Buy your Orchid Show tickets in advance for faster entry. Planning a date night? Save more than 30 percent on a special offer for two.

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Winter Bird Feeder Watch

Birding Events at the Forest Preserves - Sat, 01/28/2017 - 10:00am

What birds are visiting the feeders this winter? We’ll help you identify our resident birds and winter migrants and share ways to attract them to your own yard.

The post Winter Bird Feeder Watch appeared first on Forest Preserves of Cook County.

Studying Fungi Amid the Ghost Orchids

Plant Science and Conservation - Tue, 01/24/2017 - 10:05am

Just like magic, a ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) appears overhead in a Florida swamp. Its pale roots extend like gloved fingers across the bark of a pond apple tree (Annona glabra), while its graceful flower reflects onto the shadowed water below.

Epiphytic ghost orchid roots cling to pond apple tree. Photo @ Lynnaun Johnson

Epiphytic ghost orchid roots cling to a pond apple tree. Photo @ Lynnaun Johnson

Doctoral student Lynnaun Johnson wades over for a closer look. Habitat is shrinking for this reclusive orchid, and he is using a unique approach to better understand the species’ uncommon lifestyle.

During March 2016 fieldwork in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Johnson went deeper every day—even when it meant paddling his canoe within 10 feet of a sunstruck alligator to reach the widely dispersed plants. Each time he located an orchid, he looked past the plant and took a sample from the bark of its host tree.

“What I’m interested in primarily is identifying the fungi within the habitat of these particular orchids,” said Johnson. “If you are going to place a ghost orchid out in nature and it can’t acquire nutrients or it doesn’t form the right associations with mycorrhizal fungi, it’s not going to survive,” he explained. “If these trees have a particular suite of fungi, that might be something that we need to consider in terms of a healthy population.”

Species within the orchid family are generally known to depend on fungi to help them through key stages of life, such as growing from a seed into a seedling. But there are differences in how those partnerships work. When an orchid lives in soil, the fungi help move water and nutrients to and from the roots. But when the orchid lives on a tree, scientists are less certain of what occurs.

Lynnaun Johnson wades toward a ghost orchid.

Lynnaun Johnson wades toward a ghost orchid.

Until recently, they believed that orchids growing on trees were less likely to depend on fungi long term. This belief was encouraged by the discovery that the prominent roots of plants like the ghost orchid actually conduct photosynthesis—a process in which sunlight becomes sugar. That process is managed by leaves in many other orchid species. If the roots are so full of nutrients, do they really need any help from fungi?

A ghost orchid grows in the wild. Photo © Rebecca Weil.

A ghost orchid grows in the wild. Photo © Rebecca Weil.

They sure do, said Johnson and his collaborators, who examined the roots of another tree-bound orchid species, the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia). Using modern technology called high-throughput sequencing that can produce more detailed results than ever before, they found that epiphytic orchids—those that grow on trees—also rely on fungi to carry out essential functions. “We know the importance of photosynthesis, but that doesn’t mean if a plant is photosynthesizing it’s healthy. It means it will continue to rely on fungi to grow and develop,” said Johnson. He recently documented the presence of fungi in the roots of ghost orchid root samples from his field work.

Back in the field, Johnson wondered if the type of fungi present on certain tree species is what led the ghost orchids to select them as their home over other trees. In the Florida refuge, the orchids are found only on pond apple and pop ash trees (Fraxinus caroliniana). So during his fieldwork, he sampled both types of trees, some with and some without orchids. As a point of comparison, he also sampled the bark of bald cypress trees (Taxodium distichum). He plans to conduct more fieldwork this spring before examining the bark for fungi.

The number of ghost orchids in Florida has dwindled as more and more swamps have been drained to build new housing complexes to accommodate a growing population. There have also been times when the trees in the swamps were logged.

Lynnaun Johnson samples bark.

Lynnaun Johnson samples bark.

Johnson will later examine the roots of other orchid species that neighbor the ghost orchids on trees. This will further clarify the importance of fungi to the ghost orchid, which he suspects relies on the fungi more than neighboring orchid species. He also has his eye on a population of orchids growing naturally in Cuba on a larger number of trees that he hopes to study as well.

Johnson aims to help people understand that there is more than a one-to-one relationship in nature, and that multiple partnerships contribute to the health of each species and system. For example, “if we understand the significance of host trees, then we can preserve both the host trees and epiphytic orchids at the same time,” he said.

Orchids may become a lifelong pursuit for Johnson, who moved to Illinois from his childhood home on the island of St. Lucia to pursue his studies. He hopes to specialize in the study of fungi as it relates to plants and the conservation of wild lands and waters.

Read more about orchid research at the Garden, and be sure to visit the Orchid Show, open February 11 through March 26, 2016.

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Studying Fungi Amid the Ghost Orchids

Garden Blog - Tue, 01/24/2017 - 10:05am

Just like magic, a ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) appears overhead in a Florida swamp. Its pale roots extend like gloved fingers across the bark of a pond apple tree (Annona glabra), while its graceful flower reflects onto the shadowed water below.

Epiphytic ghost orchid roots cling to pond apple tree. Photo @ Lynnaun Johnson

Epiphytic ghost orchid roots cling to a pond apple tree. Photo @ Lynnaun Johnson

Doctoral student Lynnaun Johnson wades over for a closer look. Habitat is shrinking for this reclusive orchid, and he is using a unique approach to better understand the species’ uncommon lifestyle.

During March 2016 fieldwork in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Johnson went deeper every day—even when it meant paddling his canoe within 10 feet of a sunstruck alligator to reach the widely dispersed plants. Each time he located an orchid, he looked past the plant and took a sample from the bark of its host tree.

“What I’m interested in primarily is identifying the fungi within the habitat of these particular orchids,” said Johnson. “If you are going to place a ghost orchid out in nature and it can’t acquire nutrients or it doesn’t form the right associations with mycorrhizal fungi, it’s not going to survive,” he explained. “If these trees have a particular suite of fungi, that might be something that we need to consider in terms of a healthy population.”

Species within the orchid family are generally known to depend on fungi to help them through key stages of life, such as growing from a seed into a seedling. But there are differences in how those partnerships work. When an orchid lives in soil, the fungi help move water and nutrients to and from the roots. But when the orchid lives on a tree, scientists are less certain of what occurs.

Lynnaun Johnson wades toward a ghost orchid.

Lynnaun Johnson wades toward a ghost orchid.

Until recently, they believed that orchids growing on trees were less likely to depend on fungi long term. This belief was encouraged by the discovery that the prominent roots of plants like the ghost orchid actually conduct photosynthesis—a process in which sunlight becomes sugar. That process is managed by leaves in many other orchid species. If the roots are so full of nutrients, do they really need any help from fungi?

A ghost orchid grows in the wild. Photo © Rebecca Weil.

A ghost orchid grows in the wild. Photo © Rebecca Weil.

They sure do, said Johnson and his collaborators, who examined the roots of another tree-bound orchid species, the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia). Using modern technology called high-throughput sequencing that can produce more detailed results than ever before, they found that epiphytic orchids—those that grow on trees—also rely on fungi to carry out essential functions. “We know the importance of photosynthesis, but that doesn’t mean if a plant is photosynthesizing it’s healthy. It means it will continue to rely on fungi to grow and develop,” said Johnson. He recently documented the presence of fungi in the roots of ghost orchid root samples from his field work.

Back in the field, Johnson wondered if the type of fungi present on certain tree species is what led the ghost orchids to select them as their home over other trees. In the Florida refuge, the orchids are found only on pond apple and pop ash trees (Fraxinus caroliniana). So during his fieldwork, he sampled both types of trees, some with and some without orchids. As a point of comparison, he also sampled the bark of bald cypress trees (Taxodium distichum). He plans to conduct more fieldwork this spring before examining the bark for fungi.

The number of ghost orchids in Florida has dwindled as more and more swamps have been drained to build new housing complexes to accommodate a growing population. There have also been times when the trees in the swamps were logged.

Lynnaun Johnson samples bark.

Lynnaun Johnson samples bark.

Johnson will later examine the roots of other orchid species that neighbor the ghost orchids on trees. This will further clarify the importance of fungi to the ghost orchid, which he suspects relies on the fungi more than neighboring orchid species. He also has his eye on a population of orchids growing naturally in Cuba on a larger number of trees that he hopes to study as well.

Johnson aims to help people understand that there is more than a one-to-one relationship in nature, and that multiple partnerships contribute to the health of each species and system. For example, “if we understand the significance of host trees, then we can preserve both the host trees and epiphytic orchids at the same time,” he said.

Orchids may become a lifelong pursuit for Johnson, who moved to Illinois from his childhood home on the island of St. Lucia to pursue his studies. He hopes to specialize in the study of fungi as it relates to plants and the conservation of wild lands and waters.

Read more about orchid research at the Garden, and be sure to visit the Orchid Show, open February 11 through March 26, 2016.

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Headbangers World

Birding Events at the Forest Preserves - Sun, 01/22/2017 - 1:00pm

Woodpeckers are vital to the health of woodland ecosystems. Learn basic species identification and anatomy.

The post Headbangers World appeared first on Forest Preserves of Cook County.

Share seeds, swap stories…while contributing so much more

Garden Blog - Thu, 01/19/2017 - 9:38am

Seed saving is an art, not to mention fun and empowering. Plus, it’s a valuable contribution on a deeper level: agricultural biodiversity matters, and seed saving in home gardens is mainstream conservation of biodiversity!

 John Withee bean collection.

A highlight of our 2013 Seed Swap was the John Withee bean collection. A family tradition of “beanhole” cooking led John Withee to collect and organize 1,267 bean varieties. He donated the collection—and its handcrafted case—to Seed Savers Exchange before he passed away.

Here’s why you, the home gardener, should start a seed collection:

Seed saving promotes self-reliance, and swapping seeds connects and builds community. It connects us to our agricultural roots. Additionally, it helps conserve our agricultural resources. Preservation matters. Once varieties are lost, they cannot be recovered. A century ago, seed houses had hundreds of varieties, and now just a few remain. Think about this vegetable fact: In 1903, 544 varieties of cabbage were listed by seed houses across the United States. By 1983, just 28 of those varieties were represented in our national seed bank at the National Seed Storage Laboratory (now the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation).

Saving seeds encourages adventurous eaters. Growing heirloom varieties holds culinary appeal because it offers the opportunity to grow interesting vegetables that aren’t readily available in grocery stores.

Thrifty seed collectors save money because there is no seed to buy each spring. They maintain a personal seed collection.

Seed savers are lifelong learners, and home gardeners play an important role in helping to preserve our diverse seed histories. Home gardens become living laboratories to learn about plants. Seed saving builds observation skills, and there is a need for more seed growers to evaluate varieties for disease resistance and variety. 

Finally, saving and sharing seed just feels good. 

 Broccoli seedlings

Broccoli seedlings

Which seeds should be saved (and are the easiest to save)? 

Deciding which seeds to save requires a working knowledge of several definitions:

Hybrid varieties (F1) produce seeds that, when grown the next year, are unlikely to resemble the original plant. Don’t save seeds from a hybrid vegetable. Seeds should be saved from open-pollinated plants (OP), those stable varieties that can reliably reproduce themselves generation after generation. As long as open-pollinated plants don’t cross pollinate with other varieties of the same species, their offspring will carry the distinguishing characteristics of the variety. Heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated plants that produce seeds passed down from one generation to another, often with historical connections and stories. Heirlooms carry special value and are usually old varieties.

Deciding which seeds to save requires a basic understanding of how plants reproduce:

Very simply, plants either mate with themselves or they mate with other plants. Self-pollinating plants have all the flower parts (anther and stigma) to transfer pollen within their own flowers (achieved by physical contact of male and female parts), or between separate flowers on the same plant (helped by wind or insects). In other words, they mate with themselves. Cross pollination takes place when pollen is transferred from one plant to another plant by insects, birds, or wind. Crossers can’t move pollen without help as the selfers do. Offspring of plants that cross pollinate may have different characteristics than the original variety unless they are isolated from plants of the same species.

Seed packet with description designating F1 seed.

If a package is labeled F1, seeds should not be saved, as they are unlikely to reliably reproduce the same plant as the parent.

A couple of tips on planning a garden for seed saving:

  • Start small and keep it simple.
  • Balance the many factors that comprise the art and practice of seed saving.
  • Begin by choosing a couple of self-pollinating annuals. Peas, beans, tomatoes, and lettuce are easiest to save. Insect- and wind-pollinated annuals may require isolation distances so they don’t cross pollinate.
  • Thoughtfully map out the garden to make efficient use of space. Growing plants for seed may take up more room for a longer period of time. While radish may be harvest-ready after growing 30 days, it may take much longer for your radish crop to produce its seeds.  

Take our classes during the Super Seed Weekend to learn more about planning a garden for seed saving.

Seed savers contribute! Come to learn, swap seeds, and share stories at Super Seed Weekend and experience the satisfaction that comes along with being a seed saver. A broad community of seed savers (new friends) awaits!

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

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