Tag Archives: plants

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (with a titan arum!)

Going to Edinburgh meant a chance to visit the Royal Botanic Garden, which is something I have wanted to do ever since I almost went there as an undergraduate exchange student many years ago. We went on a beautiful Saturday. As we arrived we saw signs promoting New Reekie.

New Reekie is in bloom!

New Reekie is in bloom!

The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) had started flowering just hours before we arrived. Considering the bloom time is ~48 hours, and it takes ~12 years to coax a titan arum into bloom, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was very excited.

The titan arum is also called corpse flower. When it blooms it develops the scent of rotting flesh, which helps to attract insects (the usual pollinators). We joined a queue to see the plant, excited to see this rare and fragrant flower.

When we walked into the warm, humid greenhouse the air smelled like something had died. However, because we entered so far from the titan arum the scent was subtle at first. By the time we reached the plant our noses were saturated by the  smell, making it seem rather mild. It was a very cool flower.

New Reekie in all its glory.

New Reekie in all its glory.

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After seeing the celebrity flower we roamed the glass houses. The fern house was a stunning display of both the sporophytic and gametophytic stages of the fern life cycle. I might have subjected my companions to some discussion of plant sex (we had Fifty Shades of Green going on in that glass house).

The fern glass house with big and little ferns.

The fern glass house with big and little ferns.

Fern gametophytes and sporophytes.

Fern gametophytes and sporophytes.

In the glass houses there were several areas dedicated to succulent plants. It was slightly amusing to see the large collection of California plants growing in a protected space (with heat and light added) this far from home.

This would thrive at our house.

This echeveria would thrive at our house.

Another of the glass houses had a section for water plants. One of the water lilies was a cultivar named Pamela.

The Pamela water lily.

The Pamela water lily.

After seeing the glass houses we wandered the gardens. I ran around taking pictures, while the rest of the group strolled and talked (and looked at plants, I hope). I did not manage to see the entirety of the gardens, so there is still more waiting for me.

A majestic maple that I ran ahead to photograph.

A majestic maple that I ran ahead to photograph.

I had never seen a Meconopsis in bloom before.

I had never seen a Meconopsis flowering before.

A red passion flower.

A red passion flower.

From the gardens the Edinburgh Castle is visible.

From some places in the gardens the Edinburgh Castle is visible across town.

I had a great time, and I took many pictures. Botanic gardens are a delight.

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The Gardens at Drummond Castle

During our visit to the Highlands we spent some time in Perthshire, Scotland. The draw for us was Drummond Castle, more specifically the formal gardens on the castle grounds. This was an excellent idea proposed by Lauren and Matt. I had no idea how spectacular this day would be.

Driving along Highland roads was a joy in itself. Green grass, blue sky, fluffy white clouds, rock walls, and sheep all over. The driveway leading to the castle is impressive. At least a mile long, with most of it tree-lined.

Navigating the scenic Drummund Castle driveway.

Navigating the scenic Drummond Castle driveway.

At the Drummond Castle Gardens Superadults get in for £4. I’m not sure what makes an adult super. I’d like to believe it relates to intelligence or athletic prowess, but I suspect it is merely age.

The Superadult sign.

The Superadult sign.

The doorbell at Drummond Castle is very old school.

Pam rings the doorbell.

Pam rings the doorbell.

The gardens are overwhelming at first. Formal gardens are not my favorite type of landscape, but they are certainly fun to visit. The precision and order were evident. The plant selection was exquisite. I saw species and cultivars I had never seen or heard of before. Very, very cool.

A Drummond Castle Garden panorama.

A Drummond Castle Garden panorama.

Another panorama from down in the garden.

Another panorama from down in the garden.

The garden features an obelisk sundial that was erected in 1630. You can see it in the center of the picture below.

The obelisk sundial from 1630.

The obelisk sundial from 1630.

As I walked around the garden I was like a kid in a candy store. I get that way in large gardens (and also at book sales). So much to see! I had a basic map of the grounds, with key plants identified. I walked rapidly from spot to spot, admiring and photographing plants in the large garden. My companions enjoyed the garden but played it a little cooler than me. They lounged on the grass and did some reading while I gawked at plants.

The Scotland residents in the sun, the Californian in the shade (and that's a whitebeam tree near them [Sorbus aria])..

My companions reading: the Scotland residents in the sun, the Californian in the shade (and that’s a whitebeam tree near them).

I walked around the gardens and covered the entire grounds, yet there was too much to fully take-in in the hours we were there. I took many photos. I might do a separate post in the future, just to talk about the cool specimens I got to see.

The pond at the edge of the garden.

The pond at the edge of the garden.

I can’t possibly pick a favorite plant from the garden, but one that made a strong impression on me was Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’ (golden full moon maple). I usually do not like yellow foliage during the growing season (only as fall foliage), but this plant was an exception. The leaves were a brilliant yellow. Sunlight streamed through them. The green grass, blue sky, and yellow leaves were perfect together. I didn’t edit the photo below–it was that brilliant.

A stunning maple.

A stunning maple.

Looking up through the leaves into the sky.

Looking up through the leaves into the sky.

The Drummond Castle Gardens are a plant lover’s paradise. I’m so glad Matt and Lauren recommended them. The day spent roaming this landscape was a delight.

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The Summer Nursery Tours Have Begun

One of my objectives for this summer is to tour nurseries in California. Today I ventured south to see two operations. The first one was ValleyCrest in Fillmore. ValleyCrest grows trees, large trees. They have several locations in California.

One of the things about California plant production that is still a novelty to me is tree production in boxes. You will not find balled and burlapped trees here. Trees are sold in containers or boxes. And the boxes might be very large (more on that later).

Trees in boxes.

Trees in boxes.

A newcomer navigating the ValleyCrest facility will require a map. I still managed to get lost a few times. The place is huge. Neighboring mountain ridges help a little with direction.

A small piece of the nursery.

A small piece of the nursery.

A nursery panorama.

A nursery panorama.

I saw plants in all stages of production. The propagation facility had tiny seedlings and small containers. The main growing grounds were filled with large containers and boxes. The picture below shows some plants that were situated near the main office.

Some trees awaiting sale.

Some trees awaiting sale.

You might be struggling to determine the scale. Just how big are those plants? Well, I decided to pose in the next shot to make the scale more obvious.

Yup, that's a big tree.

Yup, that’s a big tree.

Trees of this size are not impulse buys. You don’t toss one in the car and plant it on a Saturday morning.

I enjoyed seeing the ValleyCrest operation and hearing how they do things.

My next stop was San Marcos Growers in Santa Barbara. San Marcos Growers focuses on herbaceous perennial plants, shrubs, and some trees. Most of their plants they sell in containers, though some are in boxes.

Herbaceous perennial plants in production.

Herbaceous perennial plants in production.

Some plants were both in and on pots. Can you guess why?

Plants in and on pots.

Plants in and on pots.

These were the plants most susceptible to rabbit-inflicted damage. Only the Manute Bol of rabbits is going to eat these ferns.

I enjoyed seeing these two nurseries, and I’m grateful to my gracious hosts for their time. I learned a lot about nursery production in California today, and I’m excited about all that is still to come this summer. Maybe by the fall a tree in a box will look normal to me.

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Visiting the Arnold Arboretum

Last week I visited Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum while I was in Boston. When I first arrived I talked with Kevin, a researcher at the arboretum who is studying hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA). My M.S. research involved HWA, so we spent some time talking about methods and analyses. He showed me some of the hemlocks he is working with and gave me a quick driving tour of the arboretum. We also looked at a hemlock specimen on the grounds that is thought to be a new species, which is currently being called Ulleung hemlock (as far as I know it does not have a scientific name yet). It was fun to talk about research and hemlocks again.

After our conversation I started walking through the arboretum. It contains 265 acres, with winding trails and large open plantings, so I spent many hours traipsing around. Very few plants were in bloom, so I had to imagine what many of the plants would look like in their peak flowering season and in the fall when their leaves changed color.

Hamamelis mollis (Chinese witch-hazel) at the Arnold Arboretum.

I saw some great Hamamelis and Clethra specimens–including Clethra acuminata, a plant I’ve been wanting to see.

In one garden there was a unique azalea. It was flowering when few other shrubs were in bloom, so there were many flying things around it. It looked like a deli counter at noon. I managed to isolate one patron in this picture:

A butterfly visits an azalea.

Clematis hexapetala (six petal clematis) surprised me, I did not realize there were any Clematis species that were not vines. It turns out there are several.

Clematis hexapetala at the Arnold Arboretum.

A weeping European larch caught my eye. It’s the plant equivalent of a Shih Tzu.

A weeping European larch.

When goldenrain trees are in bloom they are striking. Two goldenrain trees were in bloom at the Arnold Arboretum.

Goldenrain trees.

In the middle of the arboretum there stands a little hut; the hut is locked and alarmed. It contains the Lars Anderson bonsai collection, with specimens dating back into the 1700s. I took this picture up against the bars on one side, giving the illusion that I was inside the cage.

Part of the Larz Anderson bonsai collection.

I walked up Hemlock Hill, which was fun. I’ve read about Hemlock Hill, so being there and seeing the plants was great. Chinese hemlocks are being planted in some of the areas where eastern hemlocks have been devastated by HWA.

The path that leads to the top of Hemlock Hill.

The morning was hot and sunny. As the afternoon progressed I noted that clouds were rolling in. In the late afternoon the wind began to pick up, and I decided to head for my car. Soon after I arrived at my car the rain began to fall. I’m glad it only began in the late afternoon–once it started it continued for many hours.

I’d love to visit the Arnold Arboretum again in the future. I’m sure the lilac display must be nothing short of amazing in the spring.

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The Fruit of Maples: Samara or Schizocarp?

What is the fruit of maples (Acer spp.) called? I’ve always thought of maple fruit as a samara. In fact, I think of maple fruit as the classic example of a samara. A samara is a winged achene. So the fruit is an achene (a small, indehiscent, single-seeded fruit, with the seed and pericarp attached only by a funiculus) which is paired with a wing.

The achene at the bottom of the wing.

But there is a problem with this. Maple fruit consists of two samaras that are joined together. So are the samaras just held in pairs, or is there a better word to describe what they are?

A typical maple fruiting structure contains two joined samaras.

Enter schizocarp. A schizocarp is a dry or fleshy fruit derived from a two-to many-carpellate gynoecium that breaks into one (or few) seeded segments at maturity. Wings are not part of the definition. But do not lose hope! A winged schizocarp is described as a samara-like schizocarp or (in my favorite phrasing) a samaroid schizocarp.

References will conflict on the classification of maple fruit. My experience is that most formal botany sources will side with a version of schizocarp, most informal tree guides and horticultural books will side with some use of samara.

This is an example of plants choosing not to fit perfectly into the categories we have created for them.

You might think this is worthless information, but I bet you’ll find a way to drop this in conversation if you try. Samaroid schizocarps are worthy of some attention.

References:

Judd, W.S., C.S. Campbell, E.A. Kellogg, P.F. Stevens, and M.J. Donoghue. 2002. Plant systematics: A phylogenetic approach. 2nd ed. Sinauer Associates. Sunderland, MA.

Murrel, Z.E. 2010. Vascular plant taxonomy. 6th ed. Kendall Hunt. Dubuque, IA.

Raven, P.H., R.F. Evert, and S.E Eichhorn. 1999. Biology of plants. 6th ed. Freeman Co. New York, NY.

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