Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cuphea procumbens 'Rico Red'

I bought this in Florida as a bedding plant (it just jumped into the cart!), brought it back to Washington, stuck it in a mixed container on the front deck and it has been flowering ever since. It's been planted about 5 months and before I cut it back this morning it was about the size of a basketball with ?100 flowers.

I love kneeling down and examining the flowers but it's one of those plants that is never as good in the garden as it is in the shopping cart. There are so many perennials and annuals with beautiful, multicolored, complicated flowers that don't do much bedded out. Containers work for me. For one thing, they legitimize planting single plants, a practice that produces a spotty garden I admit guiltily. As a bonus, large containers bring the flowers closer to eye level.

Cuphea is a medium sized genus of new world plants mostly tropical or at least southern, with a few ranging up into Zone 6 or even beyond. Because of the oil content of their seeds (note the common name waxweed) some Cupheas are being investigated as potential fuel sources. One of my favorite plants in the Florida garden and one of the only ones we kept from the inherited landscaping is Cuphea micropetala. It's evergreen in Wildwood and is usually flowering for the winter holiday season. On my list of things I have been meaning to do but haven't is: bring a piece up here and try it as a dieback perennial. I bet it would live at the base of the east-facing wall. Someday.

Centrosema virginianum not Clitoria mariana

I brought a flower in for identification purposes because, of course, I wanted to be certain. Apparently mistakes have been made in this area before. Just joking. Actually the identification is pretty unambiguous; the calyx on Clitoria is distinctly tubular. There are so many places to go with this post and they are all bad. Oh well, here goes.

This is from seed wild collected in Alabama last year. We identified it in the field as Clitoria but this plant is clearly Centrosema. Back in the day, when I was just a young pup, there was a great deal made in popular literature (particularly women's magazines) about the importance of being able to identify the "Clitoria". I think most of us are pretty good on that now and we've moved forward to other important issues. Apparently though, for example in this case, we can backslide so vigilance is of the utmost importance.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Yellownecked Caterpillars are a type of gregarious caterpillar, one of the more disgusting elements of summer

Pat found these on a Chinese Castanea across the road from the entrance to China Valley. They had completely stripped the foliage from a 3' branch on the ~15' tree. Gregarious caterpillars hatch together and stay together feeding in bunches. Some sort of "collective awareness" allows the to move as one in response to various stimuli. It is curious to see them moving their bodies and heads together as though choreographed. Kind of spooky actually.

Fern Valley wet meadow has certainly come around after about one year!

This is a view from below the lower basin looking over the bridge and across the road. The three trees on the right hand side are Taxodiums. I believe the tree on the left is a Quercus petrea cultivar. Extensive planting has paid off in the wet meadow; the vegetation is lush, varied, and appropriate. The fauna is interesting too: dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, both
tadpoles and mature frogs. It's a great place. Actually I spent some time walking through all of Fern Valley before going home today and the whole collection is wonderful. All it took to make it come together was my leaving! Well, probably not, but it is wonderful even though there aren't a lot of flowers right now. There's Chelone, Physostegia, and a few others under the forest canopy, and of course the meadow is filled with Bidens et alia.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Paeonia obovata fruit...they don't even look real!

But this is what they look like, I swear. No photoshopping here. This plant is near the pagoda in the Asian Collections. The flowers were okay in the spring, but the fruit is the real show.

Oxydendrum arboreum...a well grown speciman of Sourwood is among the most beautiful of North American trees

Unfortunately its a fairly difficult, or at least not easy, plant and most mature trees don't look great. Most of the seedlings are beautiful though. I noticed them this morning as I was checking the water on the Chinese plants.

We, Joan and Amy and I, collected this seed at Anniston Army Depot in Alabama last year. It will be great to get Sourwood from wild collected seed in the Native Plant Collection. I'm sure they'll grow well in Fern Valley.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Passiflora incarnata, the native Passionfruit, flowering beside the road at the bottom of Fern Valley

That's one incredible flower. Due to scrupulous weeding last winter they were a long time coming this year, but worth the wait. It's a fun plant to grow and hardy to USDA Zone 7 (maybe 6) but it can be a bit "enthusiastic". I don't care, but be aware. The fruit is edible, actually the seeds, but make sure they're ripe or it won't be fun.

The early morning sun shines, appropriately? through the Power Plants Exhibit

The exhibit showcases some of the plants that we are either using already or studying for use as energy sources. Sunlight + Carbon dioxide + Water , in the presence of chlorophyll, produces Oxygen, Water, and chemical energy in the form of a simple carbohydrate,. The magic of plants! All green plants produce this chemical energy but some convert it to products that don't need to be manipulated a lot before we can use them. For example, many plants produce seeds with a high oil content that's basically ready to use. Other products involve more complicated processing The exhibit includes the Poplars, through which the sun is shining, corn (back left), and a number of others.

Power Plants has really never looked as good as it does now. Partly that's because the Poplars and some of the perennial forbs have grown to a nice size, partly because the turf has come in and is regularly mowed and edged. And no weeds! That's all to the credit of the "Flowering Tree Walk" intern. Good work!

Hemaris thysbe, the hummingbird moth visits Leptodermis oblongata

the Leptodermis is in its second flowering which is pretty impressive anyway. It abuts the China Valley Path not too far off the road on the downhill side. I have been noticing butterflies attending upon the flowers for the last few weeks; today I noticed this moth. Since the plants were in full sun the shutter speed was fast enough to stop the wings.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ed brought this Monarch caterpillar in at break, so of course we all took its picture

Mist is pooling on the Ellipse most mornings these days

It's still unpleasantly warm many afternoons, but nights are beginning to be consistently cool producing heavy dews and often this low fog around the ponds and in the Ellipse. Days are shorter; in the longer nights the chorus of insects dominates. Fruits are ripening to a rainbow of colors and soon Summer will be gone.

There are three fairly common leaf galls on Celtis induced by feeding psyllid larvae

Unfortunately this doesn't seem to be a typical form of any of them! Blister Galls aren't stalked, Nipple Galls....well they aren't this shape, and we'd see Petiole Galls somewhere else on the plant. I'm sure someone can identify these galls. (hint hint) They're attractive in a curiously horrible sort of way.

If they are psyllid galls the literature suggests that trees don't suffer appreciably from extensive yearly infestations. Hard to believe. The insects, when they emerge as adults will obviously be numerous (every leaf on the tree is covered in galls) and apparently can be annoying in quantity. I guess that's the price we pay to see the galls!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tricyrtis macropoda....The Toadlilies are coming and we've got a lot of them!

This is an odd one wouldn't you say? Double-decker flowers. Native to China and Korea, this one likes the usual conditions: humusy woodland soil, dappled sun, and regular moisture.

Akatsuki No Tsuya (top) and 'Tie Dye Blue' (bottom)....Japanese Morning Glorys

Seeing these incredible Morning Glories was a bonus for watering the trees! Apparently one strain of obsession running through Japanese Gardening, is a fascination with Morning Glories, or Asagao. They have been bred determinedly producing flowers of all colors, sizes, shapes (some of these are crazy odd!), with stripes, speckles, infinitum. There is a Asagao Festival and there are shows where small potted flowering plants are displayed and judged. On some site or other I remember reading that the beauty of the Asagao viewed in the morning makes it a little easier to get through the ferocious heat of summer. I bet that's true.

Anyway, Amy and Ked have, I think from seed, produced a number of spectacular Morning Glories that would be worth the price of admission if we had one! A little poking around online produced a variety of suppliers of seeds and next year I will surely grow a couple. We always do Moonflower, Ipomoea alba, and they are wonderful and fragrant. Actually the scent is coming in the window right now, but they only flower at night.

Today I watered the dwarf trees of the USNA Bonsai and Penjing Museum

The collection is in 4 parts: The Japanese Pavilion, The Chinese Pavilion, The North American Pavilion, and the Museum. It is a remarkable collection and always makes it awkward visiting a Public Garden with a Bonsai collection. We have so many old, mature , wonderful trees that other collections usually just don't even register.

I always like assignments that take me to other parts of the Arboretum; they force me to go places I ought to go anyway. Everybody was gone today so, because I had mentioned a few months ago that I'd be willing to learn the water the trees, Carole thought of me. I got a walk through and tutorial from Jack Sustic last week and his cell phone number and today was the day.

Chris Carley and I were talking this morning; he is an occasional backup waterer and pointed out how cool it is to become part of the chain of caretakers in the life of these plants. One of them has been under cultivation since 1625. We're planning its 400th birthday party. Just kidding, but wow! I don't think any of them suffered today from my watering so that's good.