Thursday, April 28, 2011

PCH Iris

The Pacific Coast Hybrid Irises are now in bloom. Prettyness in so many colors! Of course, I like the purple best, but wouldn't you know it, I don't have a pic. Oh well. The yellow and white, canyon snow, is beautiful and also vigorous. A very nice choice.

So I knew that these were hybridized from iris native to the west coast, and I thought that meant douglas iris and maybe a couple of others. But it turns out there are at least six species native to the area: I douglasiana, I innominata, I macrosiphon, I munzii, I purdyi, and I tenas. But they all have the same range of colors; cream to yellow to purple. So how do they get maroon out of that? Ah, the wonders of plant breeding.

They are all easy to grow. They like partial shade and drought tolerant, although they do better with some deep watering in summer. Best transplanting season is fall. Very deer resistant, even the flowers. Hardy to 15 degrees F.

They are pretty when first planted, but after a few years the clump gets big and puts on an amazing display.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ceanothus Berry Hill

We have Ceanothus foliosus Berry Hill for sale at the UC Botanical Garden. But the sign has no picture because there doesn't seem to be one on the internet. So, I am filling in that gap. Except that this plant has no flowers. I wonder if it already flowered or if it will flower later this spring....? I am tempted to hold on to one of the plants so that I can get a photo of the flower. Hmmmmmmm!

Anyway, it obviously has tiny leaves and is evergreen like all (most?) Ceanothus. Internet sources say that it is a variety of "Wavyleaf Ceanothus" and that it mounds to 2-3'. Hardy to 10 degrees F. Brilliant blue blossoms in spring. From the book "Ceanothus" by David Fross: "It is unlike any other ceanothus available in the trade. Wiry stems are lined with tiny, pebbled leaves that have a glossy, polished appearance. Plants mound to 2 feet high with a 4-6 foot spread and are covered each spring with small, round clusters of vivid blue flowers. Although it is not a particularly garden tolerant selection and often short-lived, its distinctive character is compelling. 'Berryhill' is useful in rock gardens, perennial borders, and on dry slopes, the bright shiny leaves adding year-round interest."

Maybe you want to try it in your garden? No room in mine!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cistus albidus--White-Leaved Rockrose

The rockroses are beginning to bloom in the Mediterranean area of the UC Botanical Garden. The flowers on this one are bright pink and do look a bit like roses. The foliage is sticky and strong scented.

For hundreds or maybe even thousands of years the exudate has been used as a perfume fixative, or base. It was collected by running rakes with stringy leather tines through the bushes or by allowing the goats to roam among the shrubs. Then the gluey stuff was removed from the leather or goats' fur and mixed with other scents. Cistus labdanum was an especially well-loved species.

Labdanum should not be confused with laudanum. Just exchanging a "b" for a "u" makes a world of difference. Laudanum is a product of the opium poppy discovered in 1500s and used ever since to control pain. In fact, with a prescription, you can still get it. In Victorian times, when few other effective drugs were available, it was used with abandon. I think people liked it because in addition to killing the pain, it had euphoria as a side effect. Perhaps the opium tincture name is based on the Cistus resin name, but maybe it is based on the latin, laudere, "to praise." Nobody really knows.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Physocarpus alternans--Dwarf Ninebark

I am planning to sell this Dwarf Ninebark at the next plant sale at the end of this month. They are only in four inch pots, but they look good right now. Who knows what they will look like by the time they are put into gallons? I have been looking for info on the plant, both in books and on the internet, but finding little. I guess that is good in a way. The plant is rare in the trade and maybe some collectors will want it. But on the other hand, I can't even find a picture of the flowers. How do you sell a plant if you don't know what the flowers look like? If any of you out there in cyberspace have a photo you want to donate, please send it my way. We will put it to good use.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Puya berteroniana--Turquoise Puya

The Turquoise Puya is now in bloom at the UC Botanical Garden. The waxy greenish-blue flowers with the orange anthers are stunning. It is in the Bromeliad family, which also contains pineapples and Spanish moss. It is pollinated by birds that like to sit when they eat, and the plant has conveniently provided perches which look like fancy horns sticking out from between the flowers. I have never seen this growing in a private garden. Perhaps because it is too big and the leaves have sharp edges, so placement would be difficult. It seems to grow well in this climate, and can take the usual frosts we get in Berkeley, but it likes well-drained soil, which is hard to find around here.

I found seeds for sale online; ten seeds for $3. It takes at least 6 years to reach blooming size, but they are supposed to be easy to propagate. Maybe I should give it a try.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sphyrapicus ruber--Red-Breasted Sapsucker

I don't know what this tree is, I think the label I found is for another plant. Maybe it is some kind of aspen or alder, because that is the kind of tree that Red-Breasted Sapsuckers prefer to use. The leaves are closer to something in the Betulaceae family than to something in the Leguminosae. Legumes usually have divided leaves. I don't know if this tree is suffering, but it doesn't look happy to me. The leaves are rather sparse, but maybe they will fill in later in the season.

Anyway, the series of regular holes in the bark of this tree are characteristic of RBS damage. They make holes in the bark and eat sap, as their name would imply. The cool thing is, that if you or I made a hole, the sap wouldn't flow. The RBSs seem to have some kind of "anticoagulant" to keep the sap flowing, like mosquitoes have to keep the blood flowing. They make use of the sap, but other animals do also. They have a close association with the Rufous Hummingbird, which also likes to feed on sap. The hummingbird will even follow the sapsucker. Insects like bees and flies will also make use of the sap. The RBS has a hairy tongue that makes it easy to collect sap. It and other birds also eat the insects that come to eat the sap.

The RBS is a black and white woodpecker with a red head. It looks more red-hooded than red-breasted to me although the red hood does come down on the breast a bit. Berkeley is its wintering ground, so I wouldn't expect to see them anytime soon at the UC Botanical Garden. But the holes are there all year for anyone to marvel at. The pattern is so regular!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rhus integrifolia--Lemonadeberry--Anacardiaceae

This shrub is called "Lemonadeberry" because the berries can be used to make a drink a bit like lemonade. It is flowering now at the UC Botanical Garden. Beautiful pink and white fragrant flowers!

Rhus is in the same family as poison oak. If you get the sap on your skin, it can cause an allergic reaction.

The fallen leaves can be used to make a brown dye. Oil extracted from the seeds can be used to make candles.

R. integrifolia can grow 3-25' tall and can make a nice hedge. Deer resistant. I guess maybe they are allergic to it, too. Birds eat the fruit, and butterflies use the nectar. It is frost tender, but otherwise easy to grow and good for erosion control. Drought tolerant. Native to coastal areas of Southern California.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Salvia Spathacea--Hummingbird Sage--Lamiaceae

This is a well-loved sage with flowers that come in two colors; pale yellow and deep pink. People who live in north Berkeley are always looking for deer resistant plants, and sages fit the bill. Deer don't like the strong flavor of sages. Many plants have a scent that is too harsh for me, but this one smells sweet and pineapple-y. This one is nice because of the big flowers that attract hummingbirds. It is easy to grow, and can tolerate both full sun and full shade. It needs no water once established. It spreads by rhizomes. Usually I don't want the plants I write about, but I want this one! It would be perfect under my oak!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Allium hyalinum Paper-Flowered Onion

This plant spreads easily and can take over a whole bed. But it seems to be behaving itself in this situation at the UC Botanical Garden, where it is blooming now. It is acting like a sweet little wildflower along a rock edging. The flowers produce lots of nectar and attract bees and butterflies. Sometimes they are pinker than in these pics. And sometimes they are described as "glittery" or "glassy" but they just looked white to me.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Nymphalis californica--California Tortoiseshell

The California Tortoiseshells are flying again at the UC Botanical Garden. Usually I first see them in the middle of March, but this year it was raining. So I guess they are a bit late. They lay their eggs on the flowers of Ceanothus. Yesterday morning I saw one on a building. Then in the afternoon I took a walk to look for them on the Ceanothus, but didn't find any there. Maybe next week. They are only in lowland California for a short while before they fly to the Sierra.