Sunday, January 30, 2011

Comarostaphylis diversifolia--Island Summer Holly

This plant has the urn-shaped flowers of a manzanita (Arcotostaphylos genus) but it is not a manzanita. This plant has big red berries, like holly, but manzanita has fruit that looks like tiny apples. That makes sense because in Spanish, "apple" is 'manzana," and "ita" means small.

In bloom now at the UC Botanical Garden. I'm going to have to come back in summer and see how the berries look.

Friday, January 28, 2011


With three leaves and three petals, no wonder this plant is called Trillium. This plant has a special arrangement with ants. The seeds have a fleshy attachment called an elaiosome that is essentially ant food. In exchange for a few calories, the ants plant the seeds. They take the ripe seeds from the ovary, carry them to their nest, eat the elaiosomes, then put the seeds in their garbage pile, where they sprout. As you might suspect, they are difficult to propagate, and they are rarely available for sale.

However, a few are now available at the UC Botanical Garden. A bit spendy, but they are so worth it!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Callicarpa mollis--Japanese Beautyberry

No wonder this plant is called Beautyberry! Those magenta berries are really something! Humans make them into wine or jelly, but birds eat them straight up, even though they are astringent. This species is from Japan, but C americana is from the Southeastern US. The USDA has proven that American Beautyberry leaves have insect-repellent properties and work just as well as DEET. Wow! Now they just have to figure out if it is toxic to people.

Rhododendron protistum--Big Tree Rhododendron

Huge pale pink flowers blooming now at the UC Botanical Garden. R. protistum grows into a tree-sized specimen, up to 75' tall. And the trunk can be 3' in diameter. That is not just a big Rhododendron, that is a big tree! I wonder how tall this cross will get...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Romneya coulteri--Matilija Poppy

The Romneya coulteri is in the middle of winter doldrums right now. The leaves are pale and frayed. The flowers have gone to seed. But not too many seeds. That is the thing with this plant. It produces very few seeds, and it is very hard to get those seeds to sprout. But come June, the big white crinkled flower with the deep yellow center will be so wonderful. Of course I want to propagate it. Some people have had luck with fire, so that is what I tried today. I planted seeds in a clay pot, watered them, then covered them with dry pine needles. Then I put the pot on concrete and set it on fire, keeping a hose nearby. Everything went smoothly, and now I just have to wait to see if it worked.

Ribes malvaceum cv Dancing Tassels--Chaparral Current

Dancing Tassels: this currant is perfectly named. The pale pink pendulous posy packs really do polka. (Silly alliteration, huh?) Currents are edible, but I think that the fruits are too small to bother with. The birds love them. In bloom now in the California area of the UC Botanical Garden.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Carex Baccans--Berry Sedge--Crimson-Seeded Sedge

It is obvious why this is called Berry Sedge; it is a sedge whose seeds look like berries. So pretty, it is sometimes used in bouquets. Apparently this is not common in cultivation, although it is supposed to be hardy. It likes partial to full sun and moist soil. This specimen is right next to the Japanese pool at the UC Botanical Garden.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Iris confusa--Bamboo Iris

Graceful leaves and frilled lavender flowers, so lovely! And in bloom now at the UC Botanical Garden at the edge of the lawn. And will continue for several months. It is called Bamboo Iris because the leaves have a bamboo look to them. The leaves lay flat on the ground later in the season and root, thus enlarging the patch. The rhizomes also spread. Very easy to grow, not particular about water or soil. It prefers part shade to shady conditions.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dragonfly--Varigated Meadowhawk

This dragonfly was just too still when I was taking a picture of it. I thought maybe it was dead. When I reached out to touch it, it still didn't move. But it was still flexible, so if it was dead, it had died recently. Both damselflies and dragonflies are common at the UC Botanical Garden where this one was found. They are not hard to tell apart. Generally, dragonflies are heavy-bodied and hold their wings open when they perch. Damselflies are thinner and hold their wings along their bodies when they perch.

I don't know which dragonfly this is, but it looks like a Variegated Meadowhawk to me, and that one occurs in this area (and also most of the western US). The VM perches on twigs. This one was on a leaf, but close to twigs. And also, the VM flies all year around in the south. So it would not be unusual to see it this time of year. So that is my guess. Varigated Meadowhawk. Maybe I will see if I can find someone to verify.

27 Jan 2011: Several sources have confirmed my ID.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rhododendron arboreum

I think that is the logo. The logo for the UC Botanical Garden is now in bloom at the UC Botanical Garden.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Comarostaphylis arbutoides AKA Arctostsaphylos arbutoides

This has flowers and fruit at the same time (NOW at the UC Botanical Garden). In its native habitat, it has flowers and fruit all year long. I'll have to watch this one and see if it does, too. Can you tell how bumpy the surface of the fruits are? Some people put it in a separate genus because of that. Plants in the Arctostaphylos genus are supposed to have smooth fruit. But they both have those distinctive urn-shaped flowers.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Euphorbia millii v. roseana--Crown of Thorns

Like most Euphorbs, this one has toxic milky juice which deters herbivores. We get latex, used in gloves, balloons, rubber bands and pencil erasers, from a plant in the Euphobiaceae family, Hevea brasiliensis. No wonder so many people have a reaction to latex, it is designed to keep animals away! The sap of E. candelabrum is so toxic it has been used to make poison arrows. E. cooperi is so strong that breathing in the vicinity of a broken stem can cause throat irritation. E drupifera has been used to remove warts. E. sheffleri has been used as a fish poison. These plants create some strong stuff!

I now have a new appreciation for plants and a new respect for Euphorbs. Be careful when you are weeding those spurges!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Euphorbia perrieri

Here is another Euphorbia. This one is blooming now in the Arid House at the UC Botanical Garden. I love the spines that form several helices. I have read that it is easier for a plant to spiral as it grows, because getting each level exactly in line with the last is difficult. The spines have a different origin in cactus than in euphorbs. Cactus spines are modified leaves. Euphorb spines are modified stipules (tiny bits of green at the base of a leaf. Look for them sometime when you are near a plant.)

The flowers on this plant are also completely different than cactus flowers. These flowers have a green funnel for a flower. Cactus flowers have many petals and are usually brightly colored. Check my post from a couple of days ago for an example.

I think this plant is special because of the umbrella of leaves and the flowers that stick out the top. Different from anything I have seen before.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Euphorbia echinus

This succulent looks just like a cactus to me, but it isn't. It has those fat stems full of water and needle-like weapons to keep the herbivores away that are common to both the cactus and euphorb families. However the flowers are very different, so they are only distantly related even though they have such a similar form. This is called convergent evolution.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mammillaria bombycina--Silken pincushion

What an odd name, Mammillaria. These cactus were named for the tubercles that look like nipple, which are not obvious on this specimen. How ever, this particular species has milky latex, adding even more amusement to the mimicry.

The magenta flowers are beautiful, especially against the woolly furriness that portects the plant from the hot summer sun.

More info about this genus here:

Blooming now in the Arid House at the UC Botancial Garden.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Grevillea lanigera--Woolly Grevillea

The Grevillea is in the Proteaceae family, which is known for its dense clusters of bottle brush flowers. This plant does not have those dense clusters, but the flowers still have the basic family anatomy. If you look closely, it seems to have plenty of pistils, but no stamens. Before the flower opens, the anthers deposit pollen onto the stigmas, which then act as pollen presenters. The anthers remain hidden.

This family occurs naturally in Australia, Africa, South America, India and other places mainly in the southern hemisphere.

Some plants in this family have very sticky flowers that trap insects. Maybe that attracts the birds. Maybe the birds are the real pollinators. But nobody knows.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Eucalyptus kybeanensis--Kybean Mallee Ash

This is one of my favorite trees at the UC Botanical Garden. I love the way the trunks twist and the bark shreds and hangs. So melodramatic! I can almost hear the organs...

An Australian marsupial, the koala, has a very close relationship with eucalyptus. In fact, they eat very little else. It is a difficult diet, because it is low in protein, mostly indigestible, and contains many toxins. I can't imagine eating eucalyptus. Too strong!

Any diet has its pros and cons. For the koala, it has little competition for the eucalyptus, no other animals eat it. So it is easy to find enough food without having to fight for it. But they have to put so much energy into dealing with the toxic leaves, they don't have much left over to develop any brain power. Almost half of the skull is filled with cerebrospinal fluid. No other mammals have such a reduced brain.

The digestive tract of the koala is has adapted to handle the strange diet. The hind gut is enlarges and harbors special bacteria to ferment the leaves. The mother passes these bacteria to her offspring when she excretes pap for them to eat. The pap is soft, runny droppings that the mother produces. It is one of the first things koala babies eat when they are being weaned. In fact, they lick it from her anus while they are leaning out of the downward-facing pouch. It seem disgusting, but if they didn't ingest the bacteria from their mom, they wouldn't survive.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hebe speciosa--Showy Hebe

This beautiful purple-majenta hebe is starting to bloom now at the UC Botanical Garden. The buds are almost as pretty as the flowers, don't miss them!

Hebe, in addition to begin a genus of plants native to New Zealand and South America, is also the Greek Goddess of youth. The plants in this genus are characterized by leaves that are in decussate pairs. Decussate. Good word? It means that the pairs cross each other, so that they are in four rows. In some species the leaves are lined up like soldiers down the stem.

Beautiful flowers in January! Love it!