Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fuchsia colensoi--Tree Fuchia

The buds and flowers on the bush sprout directly from the main branches in Fuchsia colensoi, which is blooming now at the UC Botanical Garden. This is called "Cauliflory." Usually flowers emerge from new growth or young leafy twigs. Some plants use this method to make the flowers more accessible to pollinators and seed dispersers. Sometimes the insects and fruit eaters just can't find the flowers and fruit in the dense leafy canopy. So the plants present their reproductive organs in an obvious way, instead of keeping hiding them in the foliage. Sometimes it doesn't make sense to keep privates private!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oxalis obtusa--Sorrel

Oxalis obtusa is related to sour grass, but it has lovely pink to apricot flowers, not brassy yellow flowers like the weed we see all over Berkeley.

The name "sorrel" is a bit of a mystery to me. It is named after Rumex, which has sour leaves, just like Oxalis. They both have oxalic acid in them. But "sorrel" mean reddish-brown, not sour. So apparently the Rumex was named after its reddish-brown seed head clusters, and Oxalis was named after Rumex. Does that make sense?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Eschscholzia californica--California Poppy

California Poppies are blooming everyplace, including the UC Botanical Garden. Their bright orange silky-shiny petals are such a treat! This has been a familiar plant for so long, I thought I knew everything about it, but there is always something new to learn. Like, it can be an annual or a perennial, depending on the climate. Or, native americans used the orange pollen to color their cheeks. Or, what surprised me the most, it can be invasive. A native plant can be a weed in its native range? Crazy!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stachyurus praecox--Spike Tail

The hanging clusters of chartreusey-green flower buds on this Spike Tail bush make for a stunning display. My pictures, as usual, do not do it justice.

It reminds me of Garrya, but that is in a different family, so apparently two unrelated plants both have flower clusters that look like graceful kinetic earrings.

Both are in bloom now at the UC Botanical Garden. Stachyurus is just coming into bloom, and the Garrya is a bit past its peak of beauty. An interesting comparison.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Picea sitchensis--Sitka Spruce

The Sitka Spruce is a coastal tree, native to northern California and north into Alaska. In fact, it was named after Sitka, Alaska.

As with many other trees, it has been used for lumber and paper. But the wood is so strong and lightweight, it can be used in ways that other woods cannot. For instance, when someone builds a plane their their garage, more than likely, it will be made out of sitka spruce. You might think that Howard Huges famous aircraft, the Spruce Goose, was made out of spruce, but no, that was made mostly out of birch. However, the de Haviland Mosquito, used in WWII, was made out of Sitka Spruce, and was the fastest plane in the world when it was first manufactured. The wood is also great for ladders, oars, boats and nose cones of missiles.

The wood is very resonant and is especially useful in the manufacture of musical instruments such as pianos and guitars. Only trees over 250 years old can be used for soundboards because a large piece with no knotholes or other blemishes is needed. The trees can live to 700 years, so even a tree of 200 years is rather young.

Native Americans used the roots to make baskets and rain hats.

It is a lovely tree and is sometimes grown as an ornamental, but because it can grow more than three feet a year and get more than 100' tall, perhaps it is better for larger properties.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Taricha torosa--California Newt

This is an egg mass of the California Newt in the Japanese pool at the UC Botanical Garden. The eggs can be easily see within the toxic gel which protects the eggs from predators. The newts themselves are also toxic and have be use for nefarious deeds. They are so toxic that few predators eat them, but garter snakes have developed a resistance and are able to consume. them. They are also in evidence in the pond, but they are camouflaged, so it take a bit of looking to find them. When you do see them, they look very comfortable in the water, but they are also comfortable on land; they are amphibians. They generally spend February to June in the water, and the rest of the year on land, although it may take the larvae a couple of years to mature enough to leave the pond. During their migration period South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park is closed to protect them from cars. Why does the newt cross the road? To get to the pool where it breeds.

News are predators, eating earthworms, snails, slugs, sowbugs, mosquito larvae, etc.

Some populations of newts have been reduced due to introduced species such as mosquito fish. I guess those fish have a resistance to the toxin also, and when they are introduced to kill mosquitoes, they also kill newts.

The Rough-Skin Newt also lays eggs in the garden, but that species lays eggs one at a time and wraps them in vegetation, so people are unlikely to see them.

The newts are active now and it is fun to watch their antics. I guess that is why some people keep them as pets. I wouldn't. I would not want a pet covered in toxic slime!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Heloniopsis acutifolia

These delicate pink flowers look they are blowing in the wind, but I think they just all like to grow in one direction. Or maybe it is gravity and they are all drooping. Heloniopsis is a woodland plant that likes shade and moisture, and this one is growing in a shady, moist spot near in the UC Botanical Garden. Very pretty.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Paeonia suffruticosa--Peony

After we finished propagating on Monday, we all went across the street to take a walk in the UC Botanical Garden. Rain had been forecast, but it wasn't raining. In fact, the sun was peeking out, and it was just so fresh and bright and beautiful! Both Janice and I wanted to get a picture of this superb peony. I bet her pics turn out better than mine, because I was busy getting a photo of her. Hurry if you want to see it, it is almost past, although other peonies are just coming into bloom. This is just one of many incredible peonies at the Bot Garden.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Arisaema--Cobra Lily

At the UC Botanical Garden, the Arisaemas are just now leafing out and coming into bloom. They are sometimes called cobra lilies. Most species grow in tropical climates, but one is native to the eastern US and is known as Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Indians ate the berries of that species, and also used the root for medicinal purposes. Another plant in the Araceae family, Philodendron, is used for a houseplant.

Yet another, Colocasia esculenta, also known as taro, is used for food. It is native to Asia and has been in cultivation for a long time, even though it is slightly toxic. The calcium oxalate crystals in the plant can burn the mouth and cause swelling for weeks, but cooking reduces the problem.

And of course, Calla Lilies are in the Araceae family. These easily grown, elegant, white flowers from South Africa are right at home in Berkeley. They seem to grow everywhere here, with no care. A few years ago we destroyed our Calla bed when we dug it all up to put in a French drain. I was appalled at the price of rhizomes, so I delayed buying new ones. Good thing! Within a couple of years, the Callas had zoomed back. Very dependable!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Berberis darwinii--Darwin Barberry

Can you see those little spines on the leaves? Ouch! I tried to hold the plant still for a photograph, and I found out just how sharp they are. As I was researching this plant this morning, one website I found said, "Handle with extreme caution." Now you tell me!

This glorious bush with tons of amber yellow flowers is in bloom now at the UC Botanical Garden. In September, it will be covered in beautiful deep blue edible berries. They can be eaten fresh, frozen, or dried like raisins. Alternatively, birds love them, so they can just be left on the bush for the birds and their ornamental value. The species is native to South American, and the indigenous people there have eaten the fruit for thousands of years. Darwin collected this plant in 1835 during the voyage of the Beagle, so the plant is named after him.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Metasequoia glyptostroboides--Dawn Redwood

I do believe there is a typo in that sign! Do you agree? I think "Dawn Redwood" is correct. I don't know why it is called the "Dawn Redwood." Maybe because the species is so old it is from the dawn of time.

These trees at the UC Botanical Garden make a small grove trees that look like they have magical qualities. I can imagine faces in the trunks with colorful fairies flying from the grooves. Beautiful sculptures!

These trees were only known from fossils more than one million years old before live trees were found in China in 1941. These trees have been growing at the Bot Garden since 1949. I think many of the Dawn Redwoods seen around Berkeley got their start in the 1940s.

Unlike its cousins, the Giant Redwood and the Coast Redwood, this one is deciduous. People don't expect conifers to lose their leaves, so sometimes they are thought to be dead and are cut down. The fall foliage is an attractive golden brown and is one of this tree's wonderful qualities. Plant a redwood and still get winter sun!

This tree grows rapidly to about 50-160'. I was surprised to learn that they like moisture, and will even grow in a swampy area, just like a bald cypress, to which it is related. In the area of China where it was found, the locals refered to it as "Water Fir." Although it was used for construction in the area it known to scientists, it is now protected. It is widely available and grown as an ornamental in the west. Anyone can buy a Bonsai or a golden cultivar online.

A gorgeous tree! Highly recommended!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Osmanthus delavayi--Delavay Tea Olive

This bush fills the air nearby with a soft fragrance. It reminds some people of peach yogurt, others of baby powder. It is blooming now at the UC Botanical garden, and is covered in white flowers with curled-back petals. Osmanthus is in the olive family, but people eat the flowers, not the fruits. They are used as a garnish, in potpouri, or to flavor tea in the same way that jasmine is used.

It is a sacred plant and grown on the courtyard gardens of Chinese and Japanese temples. It has been cultivated for hundreds of years. People kneel before this plant as they would bow to a deity. The fragrance is considered an offering to the Gods. In the fall when most of the Osmanthus bushes bloom, festivals are held to honor them.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Omphalodes cappadocica--Navelwort

So blue! And so many flowers! The first time I saw this, I thought it was a holey blue tarp with some leaves sticking through. But no, it is Navelwort, a plant in the forget-me-not family. Navelwort is a funny name. I thought maybe it was "naval" and had something to do with the color of the sea. But, again, no, the seeds have a divot that looks like a bellybutton. Whoever named it must have had fine powers of observation, the seeds just can't be very big. It is beginning to bloom now at the UC Botanical Garden, and should be even more lovely in another week or two.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Argania spinosa

The Argania spinosa tree at the UC Botanical Garden is only a couple of feet high, but in Morocco where it is native, it can grow up to 30' high. The nuts of this tree produce a highly prized oil, but it is difficult to extract because the nut is so very hard. So, for hundreds of years, people have used the easy way. They let their goats climb the trees (!) and eat the nuts. The outer fleshy portion is digested, and the hard layer protecting the nut is softened. Then the humans collect the nuts from the dung (!!) and pound them between two rocks to extract the oil. This is a slow laborious process that the goats make a little bit easier. Traditionally, the oil is used in cooking, cosmetics and for treating diseases. And, as you can see from the advertisement, you can now buy hair conditioner with argan oil: Organix Renewing Moroccan Argan Oil is available at your local Walgreen's. Looking at the ad, one would think that the argan oil is the main ingredient. But it is ninth on the list, after "parfum," so I am guessing that there is little actual argan oil in the bottle. It is too expensive!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Berzelia lanuginosa--Buttonbush

Those flower clusters look just like cute little buttons, no wonder this plant is called Buttonbush. The description I read indicated that it grows 6' tall and 4' wide, but I think this one at the UC Botanical Garden, is bigger. This very handsome evergreen, which is endemic to the fynbos of South Africa, has a long bloom season and tiny leaves covering the stems.

I thought that saying a plant was from the fynbos was like saying it is a chaparal plant. But that isn't true. The fynbos is the smallest of six Floral Kingdoms. The US is in the Holarctic Floral Kingdom, which also includes Canada, Europe and Russia. Huge!

The tiny leaves of B. lanuginosa is typical of plants of the fynbos, and in fact "fynbos" or "fine bush" refers to the needle-like leaves found on many of the plants native to the region. This area has a Mediterranean climate, like the San Francisco Bay Area: winter rain, summer drought, mild temperatures. No wonder plants from South Africa grow so well here! Other plants common in the fynbos are restios and proteas.