Friday, August 21, 2009

Sibene stimulea...Amanda was stung by a Saddleback Caterpillar today

Hey, but she womaned up and brought it in so we could look at it! It's a striking caterpillar. And it hurts if you touch it. It's a not particularly common caterpillar, actually a "slug caterpillar" but a regularly encountered resident of most of eastern North America. The spines penetrate skin and produce sharp pain.

Brad noted that they seem to enjoy Cordylines and one year planting a lot of Cordylines had produced a large number of Saddlebacks. The literature suggests that they like palms which also have relatively thick and unappealing leaves, to eat that is. Like many a spectacular caterpillar, they metamorphose into a fairly nondescript moth.

It looked ominous this afternoon, but we ended up with a little lightinig and about a minute and a half of rain...

Oh well, maybe we can squeeze a little rain out of the conjunction of Hurricane Bill and this huge high pressure cool front we've been waiting for all week. Pat says it's because Washington is the gateway to Hell and all precipitation just vaporizes before it can hit ground. I'm sure he means it in a non-political way. I don't believe it anyway though THIS WEEK we have had two huge areas of rain move directly through us and reassemble themselves to the east without hitting us at all??? I don't know. I do know that this summer has been more traditional weatherwise in that we have had thunderstorms here and there so that there was no extended period without rain. I can't really complain.

Plus, when I got home I found almost .4" in the rain gauge...we're a bit north of the gateway to Hell.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Plumeria, Frangipani...the stuff the leis are usually made of

Everybody knows Plumeria. This one is flowering in a container on the East Terrace of the Administration Building at the Arboretum. It is wonderfully fragrant as the white ones (P. alba?) tend to be. One of the Flea Markets in Florida that I monitor for unusual plants has a vendor who offers cuttings of 40? different Plumerias. I was unable to choose and so didn't buy any. Sometimes I wonder about myself!

Strobilanthes wallichii has been flowering for over a month in the middle of China Valley

And I've been photographing it for much of that period with very limited success. Part of the problem is me and part of the problem is that this is a plant that's best appreciated in its small parts. It's an open perennial upright to something under a meter. It just doesn't work especially well as an element in the landscape, but it has beautiful flowers and cool leaves. The flowers are over 3 cm long and much more purple than I was able to capture. They practically glow in the morning sunlight. I got the leaf pretty well with its intricate incised veining.

I find the common name Kashmir Acanthus or Kandali Plant in Wikipedia along with the curious notation that it blooms only every 12 years, an occasion for the Kandali Festival. Oh, that Wikipedia. I'm pretty sure it flowers every year in China Valley but I'll let you know for sure next July. It is in the Acanthus Family which is almost exclusively tropical. Not this one, though. I did put a Justicia carnosa, Brazilian Plume, in the Beltsville Library courtyard on the advice of a good plantsman who swears that it has been root hardy for him in USDA Zone 7. I would almost bet money against it but it's well established, I'll much heavily, and it's in a warm sheltered courtyard. We shall see!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Abelia chinensis: if you're tired of Butterfly Bush, this is another nice Asian butterfly magnet

There is a drift of mature plants that I recall from the early 1990s that runs from just below the path that parallels the road down to the next switchback. These plants are maybe 15 feet in diameter and 8 feet tall. They really were covered with butterflies today. They also had a good number of Hummingbird Moths but I have so far failed to get a good picture of one. My motto of course is, "don't spend more than a minute on a picture!"

But wait.....I reminisce

I spent the better part of the last two days finishing an inventory of the northeasternmost sections of China Valley. Inventory is an interesting experience. You start with a printout of what the last person found plus whatever has been entered since, minus whatever has been removed, or recorded as dead. Then you go out into the collection and try to find all those plants. Some are easy, like the ancient Cedars. Some difficult like obscure tiny perennials buried under drifts of their more vigorous relations. Anyway at some point you take your list with its notations and go inside to a computer and log on to BGBase. BGBase is a relational database and the repository for all our records at the Arboretum. Each plant is identified unambiguously by a unique combination of a 5 digit number and a qualifier.

Anyway, you log them in as Alive, Dead, Removed, or Unable to locate, or whatever obscure other alternatives are available. Essentially you add a line giving the date, the condition, and your name. There's also a field for comments, observations, notations, whatever. I'm personally grateful to whoever D. Sisas is; in 1996 she noted rough locations for almost all the plants she located. Very helpful. I have to admit that Stefan usually noted locations for plants that he planted or relocated.

I was chugging along on autopilot Monday when I came to an entry that meant more to me that it did to BGBase. 65074*J, Ophiopogon japonicus nana. The dwarf Ophiopogon that grows between and beside the stone steps leading down from the Red Pagoda to China Valley. L. Lee, Larry Lee, the curator of the Asian Collections for my first stint, entered the first fieldcheck in December of 1991. D. Sisas followed, but not until 1996, dutifully noting the location. Then Carole Bordelon (my curator), then Pat Lynch, and then Stefan. Sequential and interesting.

But I remember building the steps with L. Lee standing over me directing the placement of every stone. And I remember red-headed Alistair, newly emigrated from England and who would later design a Pagoda to replace the, then rotting one, helping Roger, soon to become another tragic victim of AIDS digging the plants from near the big Davidia, carrying them to the Pagoda and spacing them out. They cover the ground nicely now; it's one of the most attractive spots in an attractive garden. The recollections make me both happy and sad.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dolichovespula maculata nest in the National Grove of State Trees: it turns out Bald-faced hornets are really a type of yellowjacket

Who knew? And Ohio should be very proud that they chose to make their nest in one of the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes look good this year. They seem to have finally turned some corner and have started to grow. I noticed they set a good amount of fruit this year. They are (the buckeyes) of course, good for throwing.

These guys have always frightened me. I used to see their paper nests in Cedar trees in China Valley. Here's the thing though, unlike the insects that we know more colloquially as yellow jackets, they will not sting you just for the fun of it. Nor will they crawl inside your soda can or beer can and sting your lip. And they're easy to identify and their nests are beautiful. Gotta take the bad with the good I guess.