Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why do they call it Clitoria?

A couple of years ago a potted vine came in to Fern Valley from a nursery that produces plants from seed collected from native plants in the state of Maryland. It was a nice perennial in the pea family and when it flowered, the blooms looked a lot like this but they were subtly different. The label read: "Centrosema virginiana or Clitoria mariana"; they weren't certain of the identification. Well, when it flowered, Joan and Alan (USNA botanist) looked at it and concluded, to my great relief, that it was Centrosema.

All was well except that I am having a difficult time finding a site that suitably displays it, provides good growing conditions, and in which it won't be overrun by more vigorous elements. Anyway all was well until last week when we found abundant examples of Clitoria in Bibb County Alabama. We collected a good amount of seed and will doubtless be able to produce nice plants in the next year or two. Maybe we can label it so well that no one will ask me its name, but its a beauriful plant and....I see questions in the future so I'm going to go with the concensus "Atlantic Pigeonwings", which also seems like it works visually.

PS I am not the kind of guy who will bury you in links and flack every cool website I see, but there's just something about this one: Memorial Ecosystems

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Grass-leafed golden aster, Narrow-leafed Silkgrass: I never heard it called any of those names

Sometimes you just like a plant; I like Pityopsis. I like it a lot. It has virtues, it's tough and blooms late in the season. The silvery-green foliage is reason enough to grow it. Reseeding dependably but not intrusively, it is native to the Coastal Plain from Maryland through Florida and along the Gulf Coast to Texas.

Actually, not limited to the coastal plain, it climbs into the mountains. We saw it on sunny roadsides in North Carolina on the Shortia trip. Even in the Okefenokee Swamp it grows around the elevated bases of Longleaf Pines. You see it everywhere in its range where there is dry soil and sun.

In the garden it is a good companion for what I call the "hard" herbs, the ones that like heat and drought and relatively infertile soil; rosemary, sage, thyme, germander, and their ilk are complemented by the silver vertical foliage. Yes, the flowers are a brassy yellow gold but they don't look like dandelions, actually they look like hawkweeds, another of my favorite plants. The essence of this plant though has nothing to do with flowers. The silky silver of the linear leaves creates a unique texture that add something special to any xeric sunny planting. But still, I seem to value it as more than the sum of its virtues. Sometimes you just like a plant.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Retroactive Post 9/17......Botanizing along the Cahaba River sout of Birmingham

Fred Spicer (below), the Director of the Birmingham Botanical Garden and Patrick Daniel (right), the curator of the Kaul Wildflower Garden, guided us on our exploration of the peculiar flora of the Ketona Dolomite Glades along the Cahaba River.

Bibb County, Alabama is famous for the uncommon and endemic species that populate exposures of the Ketona Dolomite. Magnesium is a trace element, required by plants in very small amounts; higher amounts are toxic and the Ketona Dolomite is high in magnesium. Only specialized plants live there including a number of endemics. We saw most of them and collected seed from a few. A Botanical Lost World: Bibb County Alabama is a wonderful short summary of the flora.

Container area at MNCPPC growing facilities in Upper Marlboro

The blog will now have a subtext if not an actual plot line. Will I be employed after November 17, 2008? My four year term position at the National Arboretum expires the middle of November and the rules about term appointments expressly disallow being rehired in the same position; when it's over, it's over. This is presumably a measure to protect us from employment, oops, I mean exploitation. Thank you everyone.

Today I went on a job interview for a greenhouse grower's job with the Maryland National Capitol Park and Planning Commission, MNCPPC in Upper Marlboro. I had a good time at the interview and got a quick tour of the facilities. The greenhouses were in good shape and they grow an incredible range of plants. They provide annuals and perennials for the grounds of their many facilities around the county, "rental houseplants" for events as well as supplying various lobbys and offices with specimen plants. The plants I saw were all in very good condition, not overwatered and free of pests and diseases.

Tonight I filled out an application for another, different!, 4-year term position at the Arboretum. I am old though,56, and although I know I am good for another 15 years, I don't relish the idea of selling myself as a 60 year old gardener in 4 years. I don't know, but we will see.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Little River Canyon Alabama:There were scenic views along the rim

One, of the many, things that Joan (curator of native plants USNA) is really good at is wringing the most out of the time we spend on collecting trips. We start every day early and we end every day late and we visit more different sites than I can ever believe. Our last stop on this trip, Little River Canyon, in northern Alabama, though it was actually only a launching pad for Friday's long drive home, turned out to be the most beautiful area we visited, second in botanical interest only to the dolomite glades of Bibb County, and well, just a special place.