Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Daffodil Season

It seems downright insane that I have yet to blog about daffodils - at least not in any substantial manner. I mean, I'd say pretty much anyone with the most remedial plant knowledge would know a daffodil -- and most of those people would probably say they liked them, too, right? I mean, who doesn't like a daffodil?

The above is outside of Lewisohn Hall - the building that houses my department at Columbia. I have begun many first-day-of-class introductions outside that doorway and the red oak (Quercus rubra) you see in the courtyard is always featured as one of the first trees students will learn. The planting area looks pretty nifty right now, with hundreds of cyclamineus-type daffodils in bloom.

So. "Cyclamineus-type" daffodils -- what's that? Daffodils (or Narcissus) are classified into twelve (actually now, according to the American Daffodil Society, there are thirteen) divisions. Cycalmineus is one of the divisions and refers to the windswept or Cyclamen-like flowers.

Other divisions are named for the size of the flower's cup (the tubular part of the flower, technically called a corona) relative to the size of the floral leaves (or perianth). Both the flowers above and below have cups that are more than 1/3 the lengh of a petal, but don't exceed the petal's length, which means they are large cup division daffodils.

(By the way, even people who don't like bright yellow in the garden, can still have daffodils like the one above.)

If the cup was larger than the floral leaves (or if we want to be non-technical, the petals) they would be trumpet-type daffodils.

Other divisions include small cup, double-flowering, triandrus (or 'weeping'), jonquilas - which are small, fragrant and have one to three flowers per stem, tazettas (paperwhites), bulbocodiums - which have a very, very large cup and insignificant perianth, split-cupped (where as the name suggests, the corona is split into a 'second row' of petals), and division 12, which is a catch-all for types that don't fit in other categories. The ADS added the 13th division for wild, unhybridized types.

Lastly, I saved division 9 for last, since it's a favorite. They are the poeticus type daffodils, characterized by the extremely white perianth and small crinkled orange cup. Usually the cup is yellow with red trim. (I'll admit, this cup looks big for a poeticus and it could be a small cup type, but you get the idea. The true poeticus types are dashing.)

PS: I think we all know the story of Narcissus and his, well, narcissism. What I don't know is the story behind the common name daffodil - where that word came from. If anyone knows, please comment!

Friday, March 26, 2010


I snapped this photo on a run last Tuesday morning, after another rainy, rainy night. It reminded me of when I worked at the zoo.

The Bronx Zoo is over 300 acres in size and is equipped with many small ponds and streams. Some of them are natural, others are by design. But all of them are quite lovely. And yet, after a storm, we'd inevitably find ducks sitting in oversized puddles.

One day, while walking to an exhibit which was under construction, a colleague stared at two ducks splashing around in a water-filled pothole. In mock exasperation, he plead to them, "There's a pond -- right over there! Why don't you use that?"

Passing these ducks in the ephemeral pool above - with the Harlem Meer just 100 yards away - reminded me of that. ...I suppose ducks like a bit of variety as much as any of us.

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Snow Azalea

Well, first of all, if any common name conjured up the this time of year, I think it would have to be 'snow azalea' - the common name for Rhododendron mucronulatum. It's called that because it blooms so early in the spring that it could be sitting on a few inches of snow. I'm happy to say that when I encountered this plant this morning in Central Park, this was not the case.

On a personal note, this photo wasn't taken with my trusty Canon, but instead with a new toy - my new iPhone. There's a special joy in having this; now I can listen to streaming radio on a run in the park and take snapshots like this. Of course the quality's not quite as good, but it beats retracing my steps this Saturday with a regular camera, only to find the blooms have fallen.

Back to the plant. Rhododendron mucronulatum is native to Korea and parts of East Asia. It's natural habitat is on rocky slopes at elevations of one to five thousand feet. You can see how it would then enjoy this location, on a hillside in the park.

As I've mentioned before, Rhododendron, in Greek, literally means rose-tree (rhodo: rose; dendron: tree). The species name essentially means little points, referring to the small points on the end of the leaves. Evidently, when crushed, the leaves emit a pleasant fragrance. Though we need a bit more time before we can test that out.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Philly Flower Show, Odds & Ends

A yellow theme, brought to you by a tulip company:

Eremurus stenophyllus, or desert candle:

Fritillaria persica:

A mailbox in a Beatles-themed garden. I'm not sure how that relates to the 'Passport to the World' theme, but what's not to like in a yellow submarine mailbox?

Veltheimia bracteata, or forest lily:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Philly Flower Show - Brazil

So as I mentioned last week, the Philadelphia Flower Show's theme this year was Passport to the World. There was some looseness as far as geographical boundaries go (as even the most pro-native plant person can be at times) - in one case a New World plant was used in a Central Asian exhibit, but for the most part, it worked.

This photo below (sadly unfocused; I'm still not an expert on flashless photography indoors with a budget friendly camera, in crowded conditions, no less) was of the Brazil exhibit.

I wish I had a better shot of the plants incorporated, particularly these two beauties below, but like any other site visit, you can take hundreds of photos and still wish you had a few more.

These are a cultivar of the vase plant, or Aechmea. The cultivar name is 'Del Mar'. The most common Aechmeas are the silver vases, or Aechmea fasciata, though I think these blue and white checkered flowers far outshine that species.

The common name vase plant is applied because the basal foliage is so tightly formed that the plant can collect water in its center, which helps the plant survive dry periods later on. Like Nepenthes this body of liquid is technically called phytotelma.

Aechmeas are in the Bromeliaceae family, a family of over 3000 species, half of which are epiphytes (like Spanish moss, another bromeliad). The remaining species are lithophytes or terrestrial plants. Lithophytes, as the name would imply, are plants that survive off of moss, old leaves or decaying matter. Of the terrestrial bromeliads, the most famous is likely to be Ananas comosus or the pineapple.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nepenthes densiflora

So how is it, that after more than two years of writing this blog, I've yet to mention what is perhaps the most infamous of plant types - the carnivorous plant? Well, I'll delay no longer and share some images of Nepenthes densiflora, which can also be referred to as pitcher plants or monkey cups.

To be utterly specific, the term pitcher plant refers to two different families of carnivorous plants: Nepenthaceae, which are old world vining plants and Sarraceniaceae, which are terrestrial new world pitcher plants. Nepenthes is the only genera in its family, whereas three genera exist in the Sarraceniaceae family.

leaves initially look quite ordinary, but soon a tendril forms at the tip which eventually becomes a pitcher or cup. The "lid" that forms above the pitcher is not to keep insects from escaping but instead is to protect the cup as it develops. When the pitcher is finally ready to capture its prey the lid opens more fully.

When the cup gets larger, it begins to inflate with air and consequently it collects liquid. The plant begins to emit an odor of nectar to entice insects. The insect enters the pitcher - perhaps alighting on the toothed peristome (rolled leaf) at the top of the cup. When it tries to walk on the peristome, the surface essentially flakes away, causing it to slip down the sides of the pitcher and into the liquid. As the insect struggles to escape, the movement triggers plant glands to emit digestive acids which can render a midge fly to a mere memory in hours. The largest of the pitchers, Nepenthes rajah can even digest mice!

Nepenthes is not the only beneficiary of the prey it traps. Over 150 species have adapted to survive the diabolical morphology of the pitcher plant. Mosquito larvae live in the pitcher and find sustenance in the decaying remains of insects and some species of Nepenthes even have developed "pockets" in their stems to provide habitat for ants. The ants crawl into the pitcher to help themselves to a freshly-trapped fly, bring the fly to the peristome and dismember it. Smaller pieces of the fly fall back into the phytotelma (a water body formed by a plant) and are digested. Crab spiders and frogs have also learned to benefit from some species of Nepenthes. However, that doesn't include Nepenthes rajah - which can make a diet out of frogs quite easily.

Nepenthes densiflora is native to the Sumatran highlands and thrives best in elevations of 8000 feet or more. The genus name is compliments of Linnaeus himself. It's assumed by most that he was referring to the mythological elixir Nepenthe which is referenced in Homer's Odyssey.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Victoria amazonica, or Water Platters

So here we are at the welcoming display for the Philly Flower Show. As I mentioned yesterday, the theme is "Passport to the World". This display, for the most part, had a South Asian/Southeast Asian theme.

As you can see in the foreground, there's Gynura sarmentosa or purple passion plant, which is native to the Philippines, and a species of Cycas which could (depending on the species) be native to the Philippines as well. In fact, 9 of the 70-odd species of Cycas are endemic to this country.

Of course, we go off script with a weeping cherry to the left and with the Cyperus papyrus near the footbridge. Another geographic anomaly would be the floating discs on display, but I can't fault the designer for adding them; these plants no doubt will capture the interest of novice plant lovers.

These are Victoria amazonica which, as you can gather from the species name, are new world plants, native to the Amazon basin. They are in the Nymphaeaceae family and are thus related to waterlilies, or Nymphaea.

Of course the differences among the genera are striking; water platters are not only far larger than waterlilies, but they have a scary-spiny underside. This helps the plant distribute its weight and indeed a Victoria leaf can support 70 pounds of load.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Philadelphia Flower Show

Well, it's been a hectic time here at the New York, Plants & Other Stuff headquarters. Last week, I was only able to post one measly item, though strangely it provided affirmation that my friends and family members actually read this blog -- I received more unsolicited remarks about that post than the last fifty!

Anyway, I was hopscotching through the middle Atlantic states last weekend, enjoying the spring weather, and was able to do a quick run through of the Philadelphia Flower Show.

I have a soft spot for these events. It's always fun to see weirdness like the image above. You'd never really encounter Forthergilla and Echinacea blooming at the same time unless some plantsperson forced the two at precisely the right schedule.

This year's theme was Passport to the World which I enjoyed quite a bit - participating vendors would select a region for their theme, and most would use natives that corresponded to said region accurately.

More later this week.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Picea abies

Remember in December when I posted about Picea abies? Probably not -- who am I kidding? But in any case, I had written that I have seen more than one modest rancher dwarfed by these trees. On first glance, I thought that situation was being played out at the farmer's market near Dia:Beacon.

But after getting a closer look, that's not quite the case.

Sure enough, the Beacon farmer's market cabin was built around the Norway spruce. I suppose, were I a more intrepid blogger, I would have asked someone the back story about the tree. But I was quickly distracted by the wine tastings and hot apple cider.