Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Green Hawthorn

I was in my old neighborhood in the Lower East Side yesterday and saw a row of trees from across the street. I thought they may have been hawthorns, though was doubtful. It would seem like they would have been long past blooming this late in the spring. But sure enough, I found the entire block of Stanton Street was planted with Crataegus viridis or green hawthorn.

As you can see from the photo below, the bloom has dulled a bit and I'm sure these specimens looked much better a week ago. But I've wanted to blog about this plant for so long and have yet to get around to it so I'm not going to wait a whole other year!

Crataegus viridis is a small ornamental flowering tree with corymbs of white flowers in mid spring. The flowers are not as showy or colorful as a Malus or Prunus but they are quite lovely. And hawthorns have several other advantages to offer. Namely, depending on the cultivar, the plant is laden with showy, persistent berries in the fall and winter. 'Winter King' has long been a favorite due to it's gorgeous fruit set each year.

New leaves are quite different in shape
than the more mature ones.

Another advantage is this plant's status as a native to the southeastern US. Perhaps related to this, the plant is very tough and is not prone to the many diseases that haunt crabapples.

The bark is somewhat fibrous looking,
with longer vertical splits.

Finally, hawthorns provide habitat to many local wildlife species. The berries provide food for birds and the plant itself is a great supporter of butterflies. In fact, wikipedia has a great list of butterfly and moth species that find sustenance from this tree. However, one species that does not like the hawthorn is deer. Which is another terrific advantage. For the most part, deer avoid foraging on this tree, unless they are really, really hungry.

This could have something to do with the large thorns on the tree as well. The one above is a new thorn, but as they age, they harden into sharp, woody needles. I was on a job site at the zoo once and (not prepared, and wearing the wrong type of shoe) a needle went clear through the sole of my shoe and into my heel. It hurt. A lot.

Hawthorns are named as such because one definition of "haw" is "fruit". It can also mean hedge and in England Crataegus monogyna is often used as a hedge. Crataegus itself is derivative of the Greek work 'kratos' which means 'strength'. The origin refers to the hardness of hawthorn wood.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rosa rugosa

A couple weeks ago I visited my folks at their place on the Jersey shore and was thrilled to see that the rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa) we planted last year are thriving. I can't say I was particularly worried about their survival -- rugosa roses are practically bulletproof, so long as they are planted someplace dry and sunny. Indeed, like the heroine in any bad chick-flick (I'm looking at you, Katherine Heigl), rugosa roses thrive on neglect.

The flower above is from one of the shrubs we planted at my folks' place. I prefer the single-flowering varieties, because I like seeing the very showy stamens. However the multi-flowering varieties are beautiful, too. The samples above and below are both hot pink, though you can find Rosa rugosa in red and white, as well.

Below is the same multi-flowering specimen, rambling along some beach fencing, not far from the spot where I posted some photos of Virginia Creeper a few autumns ago. As you can see, it's spreading prodigiously and since this shot is taken a few hundred yards away from the coastline you can surmise the plant can grow in 100% sand. In fact, it's often employed for dune restoration.

I love the thick, fleshy foliage of Rosa rugosa and the hips are quite showy as well. I've been told they can be used to make a wonderful tea.

Last summer, my parents needed a plant to use in the corner of their property, which is also at the intersection of two streets. I insisted they plant this. It's not native, but it does have a cultural relevance to beach locations since it's ubiquitous in such areas. Rugosa rose was introduced to North America in the mid-18th Century and so far, the plant has not proven to be invasive. I've even seen this species appear on lists of acceptable dune restoration plants in townships that are strict about using native or ecologically-responsible species.

Of course, the plant is thorny as all-get-out. Which makes for a tricky installation, but does keep people from cutting across the corner of our yard. I wrapped the shrubs gently in old beach towels to place them and of course used heavy duty gloves. I am happy to say I walked away unscathed after planting them.

We only put three roses in an area that is probably about 200 square feet. It looked a bit spare last summer and I had to fight off my parents' urges to plant some perennials in the bare spots. But this year, the plant has already begun to sucker, and by next summer the area should be filled out. Just like that heroine in the bad chick flick, patience is a virtue.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monkey Pod Tree

I mentioned Albizia saman in last week's post about Asplenium and then promised to comment more on this lovely tree in the future. Well, that time is now.

First of all, what a beauty, eh? I am *in love* with the elegant, almost overreaching canopy. The form is so striking and, as common as this tree is in Oahu, I think I will always equate monkey pod tree with my wanderings on this trip.

Not that Albizia saman is native to the Hawaiian islands, it's instead native to Central and South America, distributed between Mexico and Brazil. Indeed, due to the region's geologic history, Hawaii is fairly sparse in terms of native plants. More often that not, the plants that are most popular here are native to other areas and were planted by colonists or passers-through. (Somewhat relevant to this information, in last week's post about breadfruit my friend Matthew asked if Artocarpus was endemic to Hawaii and it's not. It's native to the Malay peninsula and the surrounding islands.)

Here above is another shot of the tree pictured at the top of this post. You can gauge from the Monstera leaves below how big this trunk is. I'd say its diameter was probably around 9-10'. A woman at the Waimea Botanical Garden says the arborists speculate this specimen is over 200 years old. In that case it is quite like the "Samán de Güere" a Venezuelan national treasure and landmark. That specimen was originally recorded by Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist and one of the founders of biogeography, in his trip to South America between 1799 and 1804. You can see an old print of this Venezuelan icon here. Unfortunately, there's scant information about this tree online, in English (and my Spanish is pretty shoddy these days).

I know I'm quite smitten with a new species when I have a ton of photos of the feature I like so much (in this case, the branching habit) and one cursory shot of another key characteristic (in this case, the leaves). In fact, I was relieved to find I had even one picture of the species' pinnately compound leaves. Knowing that the leaves are pinnately compound, you could hazard a guess that Albizia is a member of the pea or legume family, and you'd be right. Technically these days, you'd say it is a member of the Fabaceae family, though Leguminosae is still commonly used and considered acceptable. In either case, Fabaceae trees have similar leaves and pea-pod like fruits. Other species of this family which we have previously discussed are Gleditsia, Robinia, Sophora, Lupinus, Cercis and Cladrastis.

Finally, on a very unscientific note, every time I look at this photo, I can hear Meryl Streep saying in her Danish accent "I had a farm in Africa." Indeed, monkey pod tree is related to Albizia amara, a tree that is found in the dry scrublands between Sudan and South Africa.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Artocarpus atilis

Here in Waimea Valley Botanical Garden, we now visit the breadfruit tree, or Artocarpus atilis. I saw this tree elsewhere in Honolulu and was always struck by the huge feathery leaves. With such big leaves (check out the bottom pic, my foot's about 8" long so the leaf must be close to 20") you'd expect a coarser texture in the canopy but the deep narrow leaf sinuses soften the whole look.

Sadly, this member of the mulberry (Moraceae) family was not in fruit, as I would have loved trying it out. It's called breadfruit, obviously enough, because the plant is very, very starchy. It's about a quarter carbs and the rest is water. Because of it's starchiness, it's often baked or fried.

Breadfruit is also a very high-fruiting tree, producing impressive fruit yields. In fact, Captain William Bligh and his infamous Bounty crew was tasked with harvesting breadfruit from Tahiti so the British could cultivate it in the Caribbean. They aimed to do so because the plant would be a fast and cheap source of food for British slaves. Ugh.

Artocarpus is literally Greek for breadfruit. Artos means bread and carpus means fruit or body.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bird's Nest Fern

We have talked about epiphytes a few times on this blog and really, there can't be a better place to revisit the subject than in a valley forest in Hawaii. Below, you can see several different epiphytes growing in the canopy of a monkey pod tree (Albizia saman, more on that later).

Perhaps most beautiful are the apple green leaves of bird's nest fern (Asplenium nidis). Bird's nest ferns share their genus with 700 other species, some of which are very similar and often confused with Asplenium nidis.

This particular species can grow in trees as it is above or can grow terrestrially. They are also popular houseplants. Many of the species of Asplenium are generally referred to as spleenworts. This knowledge may give us pause as we consider the genus name again: Asplenium literally means "without spleen". It was thought, due to the spleen-shaped spores on some species of this genus, that this plant would help reduce swelling of the spleen.

Above you see some additional epiphytes, including staghorn fern (Platycerium) and what appears to be an epiphytic bromeliad, perhaps Nidularium.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spathoglottis plicata

Spathoglottis plicata is another one of the plants I saw on my nursery visits in Oahu. I was struck by the great, strappy leaves - they almost remind me of Acorus leaves. And of course, I am an absolute sucker for this shade of deep pink. I love it.

Even from afar, something about this plant says 'orchid' and sure enough when you look at the individual flowers, they look like miniature Vandas. Unlike Vanda, Spathoglottis is a terrestrial orchid, that is, they don't grow epiphytically. Instead they grow in soil like any other herbaceous plant.

Spathoglottis literally means 'spathe tongue' and refers to the tongue-like flower lip. Plicata means 'pleated' and refers to the leaves.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Traveler's Palm

This recent trip turned me around when it comes to Ravenala madagascariensis, or traveler's palm. Previously, I had kinda pooh-poohed it. The form is just so...unnatural for a tree. People always seem to plant them because they like the flat rigid form then are dismayed when they see the wind shred the leaves to tatters. It always seemed a bit...gimmicky.

And if I had only encountered this plant in Waikiki then I think my opinion would remain unchanged. But luckily I went to the north shore for some vacation time after my site work and stumbled upon the Waimea Valley Botanical Garden. I was going to Waimea valley primarily to seek out the waterfall, so imagine my delight when I saw there were thousands of plants, all with labels.

I can only imagine how difficult it is to maintain a garden in a jungle valley and sure enough the landscape of the Waimea Valley Botanical Garden is sprawling and a bit shaggy. Personally, I preferred that; it would just seem wrong for a tailored garden to appear in a site like this. And I especially liked encountering this massive clump of traveler's palm growing alongside a path. It reminded me of the many people who have sought fresh water in the crevices of the leaves while on long, isolating treks (indeed, this is why the plant is called traveler's palm). Someday, when I have my Hawaiian villa, I think I will grow a few traveler's palms and let them run wild, clumping into an almost unmanageable grove.

Despite the use of "palm" in the common name, Ravenala madagascariensis is actually more closely related to bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae) than any true palm. The flowers are similar too, though Strelitzia's blossoms are more colorful and a bit 'neater' looking.

Finally, as the species name would imply, this plant is not only native to Madagascar but is endemic to the island. It is not found in the wild anywhere else. In fact, many posit that the traveler's palm and one of its pollinators, the ruffled lemur co-evolved. This is likely based on the shape and size of the lemurs muzzle and the Ravenala's blossom.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cycas circinalis

Most of my work in Waikiki was on-site, coordinating installation and making sure that all the plant material was acceptable for installation. But on Friday, I was able to spend the day with the landscape contractor, visiting various plant nurseries on the island. I was to inspect the plants that had been tagged for our installation as well as look for some additional plants to use.

Spending a day walking around plant nurseries in the company of someone who could answer me knowledgeably every time I pointed at something and said "What's that?!" is pretty much my idea of heaven (or at least one of them). It was a great day.

We started out heading to nurseries in Mililani Town then headed north to Wahiawa. I'll spend a few posts sharing pics of the plants I saw during this excursion. First up, Cycas circinalis or queen sago.

Most people probably know the king sago (Cycas revoluta), though I like this plant more; the leaves are much less spiny and the long, feathery fronds are quite beautiful in the sun. The term cycad refers to the plants in the Cycas genus as well as all plants in the Cycadophyta division. They are generally all living fossils and have a fossil record that dates back to the Early Permian Period, 280 million years ago. Cycadaecae family plants are somewhat younger, having only existed for the past forty-odd million years - their earliest fossils have been found in China and Japan. The earliest human documentation of Cycas occurred in the 9th Century, when Arab naturalists noted its use by Indians to produce flour.

The specimens at this nursery have been 'limbed up' to show the plant's trunk. Our plan for the site (these were tagged by our consultants) will be to let the lower fronds stay put, giving an overall effect of a feathery, floating plant. However, I have to say there's some profound beauty in the shadows that are cast by these leaves.