Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cassia closiana--Golden Cassia

Now blooming at the UC Botanical Garden, this plant looks like a small hill of deep yellow flowers with a few leaves here and there. Stunning! It is in the pea family, but it doesn't have those typical sweetpea-shaped flowers. Drought tolerant and long blooming, it seems like a good choice for bay area gardens.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Phyciodes mylitta--Mylitta Crescent

What a deal! A butterfly for the butterfly blog! This is a Mylitta Crescent that was in a friend's garden in North Berkeley today. I see quite a few Mylitta Crescents around, but very little of the host plant. The caterpillars eat thistles, both native and imported. We have many weeds in the gardens of Berkeley, but few thistles among them, so I just don't know how this butterfly survives. More info about this insect here:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Anemopsis Californica--Yerba Mansa

This plant, Yerba Mansa, grows in the vernal pool area of the UC Botanical Garden. Clay or sand, sun or shade, it really doesn't care. It grows and spreads as long as it gets a bit of water. Since it grows in marshes and meadows, it seems like it should need lots of water, but I guess that just isn't true. Pretty white flowers in spring and summer. Red foliage in the fall. The plant has fragrant leaves, and Indians used it medicinally for a long list of ailments. An antibacterial tincture of the root is available for purchase from Amazon to treat problems with the stomach, lungs or urinary tract.This is a great plant that can be used around a pond or even as turf if you can give it some water. Available for sale now on the plant deck at the UC Botanical Garden.

Soapbark Tree--Quillaja saponaria

The Soapbark Tree attracted my attention because it sort of looked like a live oak with flowers. Oak trees do not have flowers in the traditional sense. But this is not an oak, it is actually in the rose family, and those flowers look a bit like plum or apple flowers. There are lots of flowers, but small and colored white and green, so the beauty is rather subtle. So, is the tree soapy? Sort of. The inner bark has saponins that foam up and can be used for soap. The foam is also used in foods, drugs, personal care products, and to fight fires. I guess the soapy foam reduces the temperature of the fuel and coats it, excluding the oxygen and putting out the fire. Pretty cool, huh?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Alstroemeria--Peruvian Lily

The Alstroemerias are in full bloom at the UC Botanical garden now. So pretty! It is a bit of a hike up the hill, but so worth it. I could find no sign for these bunches of flowers on the hillside, but I think they are true species. The Alstroemerias have been bred to create larger flowers with a wider color range with evergreen plants. The species are generally dormant part of the year. Okay, so this plant is native to Brazil or Chile, but it is called "Peruvian Lily?" Does that make any sense? The distinctive characteristic is that the leaves twist, so that the upside is down and the downside is up. I am going to have to look for that. I see them in many gardens around here, so they seem to grow easily. They also last a long time once cut. What a great flower!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Yucca Whipplei--Our Lord's Candle

Those creamy flowers are so beautiful against the white clouds and blue sky. See it today at the UC Botanical Garden. Supposedly the plant dies after it flowers, so maybe this will be your last chance to see it for awhile. Yuccas are pollinated by Yucca Moths (Tegeticula spp.). The plants can't set seed without the Yucca Moth, and the Yucca Moth caterpillars have nothing to eat unless the seeds develop, because that is the only thing they will eat. So these two organisms are dependent on each other. A female Yucca Moth gathers a ball of pollen. She pierces the ovary and lays one egg. Then she stuffs the pollen ball into stigma. The pollen grains grow down the stigma and into the ovary where they fertilize the seeds. The fertilized seeds grow, providing food for the larva, but not all are eaten. The uneaten seeds become the next generation of yuccas. For a more thorough explanation, read Waynes Word: The flowers are lovely, yes, but the plant/insect interaction is amazing!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Holodiscus discolor--Cream Bush--Ocean Spray

Ocean Spray makes me think of cranberries. I guess it makes other people think of cranberries, too, because that name seems to have fallen out of favor. But it is actually very descriptive of a bush that grows near the ocean and has fluffy white flowers that look a bit like white caps. I think that this would look great planted with spirea, which has fluffy pink flowers. It blooms from May to July, so it is no surprise that it is in bloom at the UC Botanical Garden now. The fragrant flowers make a good filler in bouquets. The wood is very hard and Indians used it for making spears, arrows and harpoons. This very forgiving plant grows in sun or shade and needs no water after it is established. Maybe I should try it in my garden.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lilium pardalinum--Pitkin Marsh Lily

Sometimes there is not much to say about a plant besides, "My goodness! What a pretty flower!" This is one of those. This California native likes water and shade, as you might expect of something called "Marsh Lily." It grows up to six feet tall, so those love orange flowers with brown speckles are at eye level. Very lovely and blooming now at the UC Botanical Garden.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Battus philenor--Pipevine Swallowtail

Yesterday, I led a butterfly walk at the UC Botanical Garden. I brought a couple of hand raised butterflies to release. The Anise Swallowtail flew away immediately, but this Pipevine Swallowtail stuck around for awhile so everyone could have a look, and so Spidermom could take a picture. Thank you Spidermom! (gotta find out more about what they name means...)I explained structural color to everyone as we looked at this beautiful black butterfly with the shiny turquoise hindwings. Most colors are pigments, but the rainbows in the sky are not pigments; the color is created by the way the sunlight reflects off the drops of water. And in similar fashion, the shiny turquoise color is caused by tiny ridges in the structure of the wing that cause the sunlight to reflect only that color. CDs also have tiny ridges that create rainbows. You can tell it is not pigment, because as you move the compact disc, the rainbows move. Pigment does not move.

So, after everyone got a good look at the Pipevine Swallowtail, we walked over to the pipevine to see the caterpillars. There were several, but no large ones. We saw several different species of adults on the walk: Buckeye, Western Tiger Swallowtail, Mylitta Crescent, Skippers, and more I can't remember. People seemed to really enjoy it. I'm glad that people are coming to my butterfly walk.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Amorphophallus titanum--Corpse Flower

Okay, so it is not really the largest flower in the world, it is the largest unbranched inflorescence. Whatever. It is still very impressive. And smelly! Like rotting flesh. While the lovely smell of most flowers attracts bees or hummingbirds, the disgusting smell of this flower probably attracts carrion beetle or sweat bees. Carrion beetles lay their eggs in dead meat, which the larvae eat when they hatch. Sweat bees are attracted to perspiration because they like salt. But what is the deal with salt? It has no calories. Maybe it has vitamins and minerals. One sweat bee, the alkali bee, is used for pollinating alfalfa in California. Alkali bees nest in alkali beds where salt comes to the surface and makes a crust. Alfalfa growers construct alkali bee beds to maintain bee colonies near their crop for pollination. The alkali bees are much better at pollinating the alfalfa than honey bees. Anyway, the Corpse Flower (aka Titan Arum) is about to bloom at the UC Botanical Garden. I think it should be called "Sweaty Sweetie" in honor of the pollinator. But over 100 names were submitted, so I think my chances are low. Except, my name is the best and probably the only one that pays homage to an insect. We all love to hate insects, but they are an important part of ecology, and pollination is only one of many jobs they perform for us.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pickeringia montana--Chaparral Pea

With a species epithet of "Montana," you would think this plant would grow in that state, but no, it is native to California only. With glossy green leaves and bright pick flowers, it is a very showy plant. I am surprised that it isn't planted more often, especially since it has a long bloom season. It is drought-tolerant and great for erosion control. Blooming now at the UC Botanical Garden, and I have never seen one in a private garden.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Calycanthus occidentalis--Spice Bush

The California native Spice Bush is a big bush with glossy green leaves. The flowers has many maroon-pinkish flowrs. (sorry my pic is so blurry and the flower is old) It really looks quite different from the Sinocalycanthus. Apparently it is called "Spice Bush" because the bark can be used like cinnamon. However, since it is toxic, eating is not recommended. Evergreen and someone deer resistant, this plant can make a nice screen.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sinocalycanthus chinensis

This plant is closely related to the California native Calycanthus occidentalis. The bush looks similar, but the flowers are so different. The flowers on the native have many narrow petals and they are kind of a maroony-orange. These have large petals and are white. They both like shade and water. The Sinocalycanthus is growing essentially in Strawberry Creek at the UC Botanical Garden. Blooming now in the Asian Section.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pitcirnia--A Bromeliad

I don't know much about this plant which is blooming at the UC Botanical Garden, but isn't it pretty? Almost all plants in this genus are native to the new world. It is in the bromeliad family, whose most familier member is the pineapple. Pitcairnias apparently do well as houseplants, but this one does well growing outside.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oenothera elata--Hooker's Evening Primrose

Big yellow flowers, very fast growing. What's not to like? Well, it is not very graceful. But I love it anyway. Those yellow flowers are so cheerful! According to online sources, it is supposed to be fragrant in the evening and attract moths. Maybe the UC Botanical Garden will have another evening stroll soon so I can experience that myself.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Liriodendron tulipifera-Tulip Tree

When I found a flowering branch on the Tulip Tree on the ground, I decided to use it for my next entry. This tree is so tall, and the lowest branches so high, that it is difficult to reach a flower. In addition, the flowers have subtle colors, mostly pale green with a pale orange band, so that most people never notice them. However, people do notice that their cars get sticky when they park under theses trees, which are often planted along the sidewalk in Berkeley. That is what entomologists call "honeydew." It is actually barely digested plant sap called honeydew. The aphids on the tree have sucking mouthparts called "stylets" which they use to pierce the leaves to draw sap out of the veins. The pressure inside the plant forces far more sap into them than they can actually use, and it comes out the backside just about the same as it goes in and drips down, causing cars, sidewalks, etc, to get sticky. It is an annoyance. But it can also be a fantastic food source. In the mideast, it is collected and used as a sweetener. Nobody know what mana from heaven was, but the best guess of those who study such things is that it was honeydew. The Tulip Tree is native to the east coast and is now blooming at the UC Botanical Garden. (Sacred Plant)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pseudofumaria lutea--Yellow Corydalis

This sweet little ground cover grows all over the Asian section at the UC Botanical Garden, but according to Wikipedia, it is native to the Alps of Italy and Switzerland. It looks great and has a long bloom season (from now into fall) so I hope it stays. It seems to like the cool, moist shade that is so abundant near the stream in that section. But according to online info, it will grow in the sun; maybe if provided with lots of water. Several web photos show it growing out of rocks or rock walls, so I guess it likes those situations as well. No need to hurry to see this one. It will be blooming for months.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Romneya coulteri--Matilija Poppy

Sometimes this plant is called the fried-egg flower. I can see why; the 6" flower with white petals and yellow center does bear a certain resemblance to a sunny-side-up egg. And since both the scientific and common names are unpronounceable, "fried egg" would be the fallback. However, it is not hot and greasy and the petals look more like crepe paper than egg white. So I stuggle with the other names and people generally understand me. We in the native propagation area at the UC Botanical Garden have finally had some success with this plant, and the seedlings are now on their way. I am hoping to have plants for sale in a could of months. The plants are tall, about 6', and the flowers are generally at the top, so if you are planting one, it is good to find a spot where they can be enjoyed from above. Very drought tolerant and dependable once they are established. Another great California native for California gardens. Blooming now all over Berkeley.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Davidia involucrata--Dove Tree

When you step under the Dove tree, the light becomes very special. Sunlight filtered through the many white bracts (petals) of this tree is just DIFFERENT. And that is the first cue that you have found Davidia. The second maybe the many large objects on the ground that look like white leaves. Finally, you look up and see what look like many Doves sitting in the tree or many white hankerchiefs hanging in the tree, and you realized that this is Davidia, blooming now and worth the visit in itself. But there are so many other things to see! It grows streamside in one of my favorite spots in the UC Botanical Garden. It is shady, wet and cool next to the stream. But in just a few steps, you can feel like you are in the desert. And indeed, the desert and the woods are right next to each other in a fascinating juxtaposition. Plants from around the world arranged geographically make this a very special place.