Saturday, January 31, 2015

New Growth


Crocus sieberi subsp. sublimis
I believe this to be the snow crocus, possibly the selection 'Tricolor' or at least similar to it. The one pictured in the foreground was the one featured a few posts ago, now with a second bud, and a third bud forming towards the base. Most Crocus have flowers that are photo reactive, only opening when the sun is out and the weather is not gloomy, like it has been here.

This is probably a hybrid of Crocus chrysanthus. Any suggestions to the true identity of this or any other Crocus I post are welcome.

More Crocus buds appearing, some seemingly overnight. This small patch will be completely orange in a week or two, if the deer don't get to them first. Jerks.


Henderson's shooting stars (Dodecatheon hendersonii)
This plant grows from a fleshy rhizomatous crown, often surrounded by tiny bulblets which can be dug and planted on their own when it goes dormant in late spring. The fleshy leaves appear in late winter, pretty much now, to photosynthesize before sending up the flower scapes in mid spring. This is native here in Oregon, and possibly Northern California.

A lone leaf of Galanthus nivalis, the common Snowdrop. This is a threatened and protected species from Europe. That is why they are so expensive, not even taking into account the "Galanthophiles", those who worship the Snowdrop in all of its species and forms. A single bulb of a unique form sold for £725, the highest price ever paid for any Snowdrop, equating roughly $1100 in US currency.

Scilla siberica are planted all over, as the deer seem to ignore them. Unfortunately, the slugs love them. The slugs have been bad this winter due to the mild conditions. That was the benefit of last years deep freeze.

How many individual species can you differentiate here? This is a space no taller than four inches.

A strange gathering of Bryophytes. I welcome any suggestions as to the identity of the cone shaped structures. This was a section no wider than two inches.

A tiny Lupinus seedling emerges next to this Bryophyte.

A few posts ago I posted a photo of Cynoglossum grande. This is the same plant taken from the same angle. Now you can see the leaves unraveling, looking like some type of hairy chard.

My seed grown Pulmonaria officinalis have flower buds, far ahead of the spotted forms I have. I always welcome early bloomers, as this extends the season for bees as well.

Winter is a time when the populations of the perennial colonies of honeybees diminish. Any bee caught outside the hive before nightfall will not survive. The individual bees require the warmth generated in the hive at night all year round. Bees also have limited lifespans. While Queens may live for a few years, workers live a much shorter duration. This bee may have been a ripe old age (for a bee), though it still makes me sad. Fortunately, I have not seen any signs of Varroa mites, and the hive is full of healthy bees awaiting the first major nectar flow.


Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
Asteraceae - Daisy family
A taprooted biennial or monocarpic perennial from Europe, Asia, and Africa. It has been introduced to at least the United States and is considered a noxious or injurious weed in many countries. The thorns can pierce gloves. A close relative of Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), the leaf stalks are likewise cooked and eaten, though I have never tried it.

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Scrophulariaceae - Figwort family
This is a biennial native to North Africa, Asia, and Europe. It has been naturalized in the US and is a common roadside weed. This one is a second year 'adult' that will likely flower this year. Last year I allowed one to grow in my garden, it reached a towering 12'! The flowers were worked by bees in the early morning in summer for both nectar and pollen. The thick hairy leaves give it the flattering common name: Cowboy toilet paper. No, I haven't tried it.

Verbascum thapsus, a young first yearling.

English Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
Plantaginaceae - Plantain family
Not in any way related to the cooking plantain (Musa sp.), English Plantain is another naturalized weed from Europe. The root and leaves are used medicinally, and the flowers are suggested as being good for beneficial insects, though I have seen no such interest.

Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare)
Boraginaceae - Borage family
A showy blue flowered herb I grew from seed. Touted as the best bee plant on earth due to the extremely productive nectaries and trichomes (hair-like structures) in the flower tube protecting the nectar from rain or evaporation.

Italian bugloss (Anchusa azurea)
Boraginaceae - Borage family
Seed grown plants, similar to Myosotis but larger in all aspects.

Wooly lambs ears (Stachys byzantina)
Lamiaceae - Mint family
An easy deer resistant non-aromatic mint relative that spreads large clumps over time with the aid of adventitious roots. The flower spikes are hairy and covered in purple florets. This plant is very tolerant of drought, and of almost any soil that isn't waterlogged.


The reason I have brought all these plants together is to show you the 'rosette' leaf structure that is common among many plant families. Not pictured, but also sharing this leaf form are plants in the families Asteraceae, Crassulaceae, Papaveraceae, and Saxifragaceae, among others and genera such as Agave, LactucaPapaverSaxifragaSempervivum, Senecio, Taraxacum, and countless others. The rosette offers plants protection from a variety of possibly harmful influences.

The center of the rosette often conceals the sensitive growth point from adverse weather, cold temperatures, and insects. A multitude of fine hairs, another theme of these photos, also aids the plants by insulating them, as well as possibly averting attack by insects when the hairs are dense enough. The hairs also help to conserve moisture in the heat of summer, slowing the effect of evaporation from wind and sun as well as catching moisture from morning fog. 

Some of the rosette forming plants, such as Verbascum thapsus, form rosettes that are quite large in diameter. The size of the outermost, oldest leaves helps to keep competition low by disallowing encroachment of nearby competing plants. The leaves also help retain soil moisture content and probably help to insulate the root crown to some extent.

I'm sure there are other benefits to the rosette leaf structure that I haven't thought of, but I encourage you to look at the ground and see if you can identify any such structure for yourself. You will see that this is extremely common, particularly for weedy non-native plants in lawns, roadsides, and empty lots. Plant life is resilient, and ingenious form results in superior success.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Various contagious forms of Influenza are circulating the American population, and my workplace and town are no exception. Obviously, this is the best time to stand out in the cold and take pictures! 

Agapanthus seedlings sown last Autumn. The mild conditions of this so-called "winter" have allowed these supposedly semi-tender seedlings to grow without any issues. The seeds were sown just under the surface as soon as they were collected from plants growing in a neighbors garden nearby. They were left outside under grow lights with a heat pad. The soil mix is mostly sand and sifted compost, 3:1 parts respectively. Seeds sown under a layer of grit in another pot (a test) have not appeared, suggesting that scratching the seed into the surface is better. These small types of experiments make growing plants from seed fun! Green thumb is a learned skill, anyone can learn how to grow plants from seed by experimentation.

Hazelnut, Corylus sp.
The female flowers are now starting to open. They consist of a few small red stigmas sticking out of small buds near the branch tips. You can see them here at the center top of the photo.

Here you can see the flowers of what I believe is Alnus incana, or a subspecies of it, growing in an arboretum down the road. The small cones are the female flowers. Alder trees have the ability to "fix" nitrogen from the air into a form that plants can utilize, which is obviously beneficial to the vegetation surrounding them. Unfortunately, the invasive Rubus armeniacus (Armenian blackberry) that shares the riverside habitat with the Alnus sp. probably benefits the most from this ability.

Alnus incana has somewhat looser catkins to those of the Hazels, with the addition of red color on the tiny individual florets. The Alnus species here grow in more shade relative to the Hazelnut trees.

Hedera helix
English Ivy is extremely invasive, spreading by adventitious roots and seeds, which are probably spread by birds who eat the berries. It is shocking to me to see it for sale, anywhere, particularly because of its ability to smother trees and damaging buildings if not managed extensively. Why it is not on more noxious weed lists is beyond my comprehension. Any responsible, or even rational gardener should avoid allowing this plant to grow in their garden, if not for the invasive nature and difficulty of removal, then for the heavy workload this plants' maintenance entails.

For those familiar with the genus Aralia, it shouldn't be a surprise that it is a member of the Araliaceae, or Aralia family. Pictured here are the unripe Ivy berries. They are toxic to people, though have been used medicinally as an expectorant.

An ingredient in gin, Juniper berries are actually small cones with fused scales.

Leaves emerging at the crown of a 100' Oak (Quercus sp.) using the powerfully clear zoom on my Nikon Coolpix P600 (best Christmas gift ever, by the way!)

The fog and the sky of this "winter" offer many unique backgrounds to the bare branches. The stark blues and grays of the cold seasons offer a unique contrast to the yellows of summer. It is worth taking the time to go stare at the desolate lifelessness that is quietly preparing to explode into life as the days get longer. Try not to get sick! Which reminds me, I'm running low on Echinacea tea...

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Crocus sp.
This is the first Crocus to flower this year. It is way ahead of some of the others, some of which haven't even appeared above ground yet.

The sun was out and the weather was warm enough for this flower to open showing the beautiful interior. The stigmas of Crocus are often branched and interesting, always divided into three main sections from a single stigma at the base of the flower tube, which remains underground during flowering.

Dandelion (Taraxacum sp.)
Though considered a weed, it flowers so early in the year it is undoubtedly useful to pollinators. Strange that Taraxacum sp. have been shown to produce seed without pollination, either self- or cross-pollination.
It's a method of asexual reproduction called apomixis, where the seed produced is genetically identical to the parent. Bees and flies make use of the early flowers.

Winter heath (Erica sp.) is in bloom from late fall to spring. Bumblebee queens, and later bumblebee workers, love this plant and work it for nectar and probably pollen as well. A closer look at this photo shows pollen grains all over this large queen.

Here you can see the bee attaining nectar from the flowers. If you look carefully you might locate the proboscis probing the flower for the nectar.

This is a shoot of Toxicoscordion micranthum (syn. Zigadenus micranthus) also known as smallflower deathcamas. It is a toxic bulb, which is known to be toxic to bees, though it is not fully understood why it has evolved this way.

Friday, January 23, 2015



Pictured here are new shoots of Chlorogalum pomeridianum, and just as these new leaves announce the coming spring, it feels right to start sharing my pictures and thoughts in this format.

I endeavor to observe and explore mutualisms in the plant kingdom, though my vantage point is limited. Without a formal education, I may not be able to readily recognize all the complexities of the natural world around me, but it gives me great pleasure to watch and learn. Nature is a great teacher, and can offer lessons that would be abstract or out of context in a classroom. My goal is to share what I discover and hopefully clarify what it is that fascinates me about the subtle life cycles and mutualisms that take place literally beneath our feet. I'm not the most gifted writer so hopefully the pictures will speak for themselves. Enjoy!

Corlyus sp.
Filbert or Hazel, which I mistook for a species of Alder. The two genera have similar looking male catkins, but Alder have small 1" female cones, while species of Corlyus do not.

I planted Crocus in this 4' stump, which was rotted out in the center. The rocks allowed me to mound the compost up high in the "pit", and also help keep it from washing out in the rain or from birds who might want to scratch through it. These corms seem happy, and they might just be out of sight from the deer who would happily eat them to death. Rodents shouldn't be a problem because it is high off the ground. Time will tell.

Emergent leaves of Colchicum cilicicum. These are the first to appear of the few Colchicum's I have so far. They are perfectly toxic, so are avoided by animals, yet flower in the fall when bees are collecting winter reserves and so much else has ceased flowering. My short time with these plants, I have fallen for them.

Tips of what I can only guess as Iris reticulata.

Just as the Chlorogalum are emerging in the wild, the seeds are beginning to germinate. It is fascinating how the seeds of most perennial plant species germinate at the same general time as the adult plants emerge. It is probably more pronounced in regions with clearly delineated "growth seasons" and where plants greatly benefit from dormancy. Our hot dry summers and wet cold period from fall to spring require these adaptations.

Hair covered pioneering new leaves of Cynoglossum grande, tightly bundled, capitalize on the wet season by starting growth early. The white pubescence and tightly wrapped new leaves probably help the new growth endure less than favorable weather, while preparing to be in full leaf by the time the conditions improve, thus having more time to store energy before going dormant at the end of spring into summer.

New growth of seed grown Pulmonaria. These turned out to be a spotless form, unlike those most often sold in the horticultural trade. I find these equally interesting, as they compliment the spotted forms I do possess. Perhaps they will cross with the spotted ones to give me some unique offspring?