Friday, October 2, 2015

Autumn and the Full Moon

Acer rubrum
Few plants mark the change from Summer to Autumn as well as Acer rubrum. The red color is a bit of a mystery, however. If you were to pull a green leaf, it turns yellow or brown, not red. The red color of some species of tree leaves in the Autumn is theorized to be a way for the trees to protect their leaves from sun damage as the nutrients are recovered from the leaves and moved to the roots or other parts of the tree. Small amounts of the red and orange hues are in the leaves the entire growing season, but we can't see them in the summer because they are masked by the chlorophyll. In some trees, Acer for instance, glucose is trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis stops, which through the power of the sun and cool Autumn nights, turns red.

Full moon, Sept. 27th
Clear nights, and clear skies (not a rain drop in sight), allowed the full moon to be bright as can be! I love taking pictures of the moon, the camera can see things that I cannot with my bare eyes. The reflected sunlight is just too bright to see the moon clearly without technology. The camera, set to the fastest shutter speed on this particular model (1125th), allows me to take these extremely distant photos by hand! I do have a small tripod, one of the bendable ones that can wrap around things, but it is a bit wobbly, even when I use the two-second timer (hands free).

Tycho Crater
The Tycho Crater, the large conspicuous crater in the center right of this photo, always draws my attention with it's extended rays. For lunar features, it is young. It is estimated to be only 108 million years old, evident by its highly defined rim, unlike many of the moon's other craters that have been degraded by subsequent impacts. 

Pseudofumaria alba
Pseudofumaria alba (syn. Corydalis ochroleuca) is a lowland herbaceous perennial in the pea family (Fabaceae) native to the southern British and Irish Isles. I have it growing in a shady spot with other forest herbs. The flowers are very small, and unless the plant becomes covered with them it will not be a main attraction in that planting. But, my goal is to have continuous flowering throughout the year, and observe to see if any pollinators take an interest in the plant. So long as the plant is not invasive, harmful to its neighbors, or an eyesore than I will allow it. Fortunately this plant has attractive peavine-like foliage so if it were to spread a bit I would be delighted!

Antirrhinum majus with a Tettigoniid (katydid)
One of the most reliable and easiest plants in my garden, snapdragons grow in the most challenging of garden situations without any strife. The flowers are produced in early Spring and last until, well, now and on to the first hard frost I suppose. However they are deficient in attracting pollinators, the large flowers too difficult for most bees to open. Only once in five years have I seen a single queen bumblebee force her way in. Other times I have found bite marks towards the base of the flower, signaling nectar thievery. I am interested in acquiring different species of Antirrhinum, does anyone reading this grow other species?

Here I have found a katydid in the act of eating the flower itself. Though I have occasionally found them feeding on the nectar and/or pollen of a few flowers (Nepeta, Achillea), they are omnivorous like the earwigs, but having an overall benign presence in the garden that is likely more beneficial than harmful.

Calendula officinalis with Bombus
The past month has been terribly busy, mostly for good. Bees that are still active have been busy collecting Winter stores, or maybe continuing to build nests and possibly even continuing to lay eggs. Bombus hives are probably producing next years queens and males at this time of year, as the current queens will die at the onset of frost. The new queens mate, the males die, then the newly mated queens find a place to endure the brunt of Winter until maybe January when they tend to start appearing on and around the winter heath (Erica carnea) and maybe visiting some Crocuses.

Hylotelephium spectabile with a sweat bee (Halictus?)
This solitary bee, possibly Halictus, was busy working the florets of the stonecrop. This plant is very durable, enduring extreme drought with elegance. Unfortunately, deer will eat it is they happen to walk by, so a physical barrier or some other means of protection is necessary.

Lythrum salicaria
One day, on my way home from work, I decided to take a detour and check out the Rogue River (it runs through the town of the same name). It was raining, so naturally it was the perfect time to look for flowers and take photos of them. But I was in luck, down a path and just on the bank was a group of flowering plants. It was also partially protected from the rain, so I took a few pictures.

Purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, a native of the Eurasian and African continents, is a highly invasive in the Pacific Northwest (listed as a noxious weed in Washington and Oregon). They grow in wet places such as ditches, marshes, riparian habitats, and anywhere else water is plentifully available. It spreads readily by seed as well as clonally by an extensive woody root system. Besides pollinators, it does not offer food to wildlife (unlike Rubus), so large stands lack the necessary accommodations for waterfowl or other marsh dwellers.

Lythrum salicaria
For bees and other pollinators, the plants are quite useful. Beekeepers around the world have planted it (it's not invasive everywhere) as a reliable bee forage, producing a honey with a toffee-like flavor (with a hint of fennel, as every source states), although I haven't tried it.

Though the plants reproduce asexually, they have a complicated and interesting strategy for sexual reproduction. They are one of many species to exhibit sexual polymorphism. This species is tristilous, meaning there are three different types of flowers (each on separate plants) that are marked by differences in style and filament length. Two different morphs must cross pollinate to produce seeds.

Bidens vulgata
Under the cover of the trees lining the banks were a few scattered individuals known colloquially as tall beggarsticks. This is an apparently rayless (usually) annual species native throughout Oregon. Most sources list it as native to Eastern and Central America, being introduced here in the West. On Mark Turner's website,, it is listed as native to the Pacific Northwest with disjunct populations scattered all over from Northern California to the southern tip of British Columbia. I trust the native botanist over the world of misinformation that is Wikipedia.

Bidens vulgata

Euthamia occidentalis
A native goldenrod, there was a small group of these in the undergrowth, interwoven with other riverside herbs and shrubs. This plant is occasionally offered through specialty nurseries as a good plant for damp places, good for erosion control, and as being attractive to many pollinators including honeybees. Together with the other riparian species in flower now, I imagine this small wildflower patch (along with the invasive purple loosestrife) was alive with pollinator activity during more palatable weather.

Aster sp. in the afternoon shade
Back to my garden, the Autumn Asters have been in bloom. This is a pot I rescued from my wife Anna's grandma's house when she moved to a retirement community. In previous years I had kept the pot on the ground, but deer seemed to like to sample it so this year it is elevated on an old metal diner table base (a sturdy pole with a base and a flat piece on top for attaching the table top), something I had intended as a stand for a birdbath.

Aster sp. in an elevated pot
So the flowers, in their ridiculously superfluous pot, are now at eye level at the entrance of my shade garden. The morning sun they receive (see photo below) has stimulated a lot of flowering buds, better than any previous year and so far untouched by deer who seem too lazy to reach for it.

Aster sp. in the morning light

Aster sp. in Crescent City, CA
More Asters, here in Crescent City in California, are blooming. As mentioned in my previous post (Stout Grove Trail in Hiouchi, CA) my family and I took a weekend trip to the California coast. Most of the time spent was reserved for family time, but I did manage to do some botanizing in the style of "take photos, figure out what the hell it is later." Asters were in bloom all over the coast and by rivers where we were. I couldn't guess at the species, there are surely others more qualified than I. Any takers?

Can anyone tell me what this is? They grew in this habit, a low lying mat, at but not on the beach in Crescent City. A closer view is seen below. The photo was difficult because of the intensity of the sun, creating unpleasant shadows.


Ambrosia chamissonis, natural light (slow shutter speed & a tripod)
A lovely beach growing species in the Asteraceae (sunflower family) allied to Artemisia and likewise probably a wind pollinated species. The plants form large mounds with small three inch inflorescences protruding at somewhat regular intervals. The mounded forms are a common adaptation of beach- and cliff-growing species to protect them from the strong and regular coastal winds. Heat and sun are often blamed, perhaps on a subconscious level, for the desiccation of plants but wind is an even stronger force (especially when combined with the previous two forces) and can quickly strip moisture out of living tissue.

Ambrosia chamissonis, flash (automatic shutter speed)
These two photos of Ambrosia were taken at the same time, but shows the different outcomes when using or not using flash. Taking the picture without flash produces an aesthetically pleasing scene with the low light as it was nearing dusk, but it was a difficult shot requiring a slow shutter speed thus requiring a tripod and a timer (hand free, no shaking!) The second photo is a bit more stark but more botanically accurate, highlighting certain botanical features that help in identification. I often take photos like this, I never know which will turn out better until I view them on the computer screen and scrutinize them.

Sometimes there is a blur that isn't visible on the camera screen. For this reason it is best to take as many photos as possible when photographing plants, especially if the location is far from home. Using different settings and experimenting with flash is also good. Avoid a "one setting for everything" approach, it will lead to disappointment. Remember that deleting a bad photo is easy if you have many other good photos to choose from, not so easy if you only have a handful of disappointing pictures.

Cakile maritima
Our second day in Crescent City we took our daughter to the beach. There was a breeze but it was warmer than predicted. She loved it! Though most of the beach time was spent literally chasing after Zia as she decided to just run in a straight line down the beach for several hundred yards (easier for little feet than for me!), I did spend a few minutes admiring the sandy flora. Cakile maritima, European searocket, is a mustard relative native to the continental European coastline, naturalized (invasive) here in the American West. It colonizes sandy beaches, in my observations growing far closer to the water than any other plant. It must have an extremely high tolerance to salt! I am curious, if anyone knows, how it became introduced to the United States? Did seed wash ashore after floating across the ocean?

Cakile maritima with a honeybee
Despite the breeze, honeybees were foraging for pollen and nectar on the plants.Nectar is easily accessed and takes little work for the bees to reach, resulting in short visits. The fleshy stems, leaves and pods are resilient to the sand blown in the wind, an important adaptation to the "sandblaster" affect of the beach winds. This adaptation is different to that of the mounding Ambrosia but serves the same purpose, one of the reasons I find nature so fascinating.

Abronia umbellata
Known as sand verbenas, Abronia is actually a member of the four-o'clock family (Nyctaginaceae). Abronia umbellata is an endangered species according to Wikipedia, formerly cited as being extirpated in the US and Canada by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The flowers are reportedly scented at night and moth pollinated, but for whatever reason I didn't stay on the beach all night to find out.

Abronia umbellata, coated in sand
Yet another unique adaptation to protect the plant from becoming desiccated from drying salts and ocean winds, this genus (or at least A. latifolia and A. umbellata) are covered, sans the flowers themselves, with resinous trichomes that collect the sand and thus gain the protection of a sand coating. I am curious to know how the sand protects the plants, and from what exactly?

This species shares the feature of fleshy foliage with other beach dwellers like Cakile maritima and Plantago maritima, a good adaptation for a place that requires some moisture retention yet doesn't experience freezing temperatures. This species also shares the feature of resinous trichomes like those of many species, for example: Madia elegans and Nicotiana sylvestris (coming into flower in my garden as I write); the trichomes help the plants retain water by slowing or interfering with evaporation. Abronia umbellata is well equipped for resisting desiccation, but I wonder if it is deficient in it's methods of water collection by having a relatively weaker or inefficient root system as compared to the other beach flora?

Clintonia andrewsiana seeds
Last week I shared my hike (debatable) down a path in or near Stout Grove in California. I had collected no less (and no more) than two berries of Clintonia andrewsiana from two productive and large plants close to the trail. Upon bringing them home, I broke open the ripe blue berries (I could tell they were ripe because birds had nibbled on some off the trail) over a sifter under running water and washed away the pulp. This is an important step for most berry producing plants, as the pulp of many contain germination inhibitors. In retrospect I wish I had used soap, but I sowed the seeds straight away in a well draining yet moisture retentive medium at a shallow depth, barely covered. Hopefully they will germinate and I will have some plants!

Monardella odoratissima seedlings
My seed trays have been coming to life, or at least a few of the pots anyway. Monardella odoratissima is the native coyote mint, a pretty non-invasive mint that is easy, forgiving, and rewarding. Some will be planted in my garden, others will go to my work to add some natives to the landscaping.

Mixed Lavendula seedlings
Occasionally I get a few volunteer seedlings of lavender in the garden, so I decided to try some in a pot! These are easy to grow, easy to transplant, easy to please. Like the Monardella they will be split between my garden and the landscaping at work.

Allium senescens ssp. montanum seedlings
These seeds have been the source of a fair amount of amusement and education for me. They were received as Allium tanguticum, a Chinese species that is not currently in cultivation. The selection 'Summer Beauty,' most likely an A. montanum hybrid, but also sold as a selection of angulosum, tangulosum (not a real species), and lusitanicum, is no exception and is definitely not a selection of A. tanguticum. The species that is often passed on as tanguticum is actually A. senescens ssp. montanum according to the onion man Mark Mcdonough. Allium tanguticum grows from a bulb while A. senescens ssp. montanum grows from a rhizome, so the two are easily distinguished. The leaves and flowers are also a bit different, the leaves of senescens ssp. montanum being substantially wider and slightly twisted. Time will tell, but I'll trust Mark on this one and I probably have A. senescens ssp. montanum.

Allium subhirsutum seedlings emerging
Along with the previous Allium this one was another acquisition from the Pacific Bulb Society Seed Exchange. According to the PBS wiki: "Allium subhirsutum is a Mediterranean species. It has finely ciliate (hairy) leaves, from which it gets its specific name." I am hoping that it is fully hardy, but just to be safe I might grow it in a pot for a few years before planting it out (caged!)

Second year Muscari "bulblings"
Of my young bulbs, last years seedlings, the Muscari is the first to emerge. At the beginning of September I began to water all my bulb pots, taking a cue from Ian Young. This is normal behavior for Muscari, mature bulbs often send up leaves at the first sign of Autumn rain, either persisting through Winter or dying back and returning in the Spring with flowers. Ipheion in the rock garden are doing the same thing, reminding me where I've planted them. It is surprising to me that they have survived, many of the Alliums (a close Ipheion relative) in that bed were ravaged by voles. Muscari are eaten by deer, and I think that some rodents like the bulbs, but they must not be particularly tasty to anyone since they seem to perform well anyway, even showing up in strange places far from their original planting (thanks to rodents, perhaps?)

Prospero seedlings
Prospero seedlings persist. Mature bulbs flower anytime from late Summer to frost. I am hoping for a mix, but time will tell. Though I've been told of their apparent hardiness (this seed came from southeast Michigan, not known for its warm Winters!), I will put this pot under lights until Spring and keep them growing for as long as possible before they slip into dormancy.

Rosa, a long way to go
Last year I collected various rose hips from my wife's parents garden just to see if anything would grow. Three seedlings emerged! One died almost immediately. Another, the more robust of the two survivors, was pulled out and left for dead by the f***ing wild turkeys (bastards!). This is the lone survivor, apparently a host for leaf miners. But it is looking good otherwise, so perhaps there is hope. I've never been a huge fan of roses, too many leaves and thorns, not enough flowers (at least on the horticultural varieties). I'm sure many would argue that, though. I certainly am not a fan of doubled flowers, any regular readers will understand why.

Salvia microphylla?
This lovely flower appeared in the gravel in front of one of the hose spigots. I have no idea how it got there, I've never grown this species! I am hoping it will produce seed, which I will sow in a pot and plant out around the garden. It has volunteered in a shady moist spot in gravel (leaky spigot), so I will do my best to plant it in the same if I ever get any seedlings.

Geranium sanguineum freshly opened flower
A very reliable geranium, yet one that is eaten by deer if I'm not careful. I observed something interesting recently, practically by accident. The flower above is freshly opened. The flower below is around a day old. Note the reproductive parts. The pollen is available soon after the flowers open (a grayish blue), yet the style is not receptive at that time. In the older flower the anthers have dropped and the style has branched and is now receptive. Interesting! This means that the flowers cannot self-pollinate simply because the two parts needed for pollination aren't available in the same flower at the same time. This is somewhat common in plants, being observed in one form or another in genera such as Narcissus and Persea (avocado). I'm not sure if the ripening and dehiscence of pollen before the stigma is receptive is considered a case of dichogamy, but the result is the same.

Geranium sanguineum aged flower

Cyclamen hederifolium
A few more Autumn flowers. I love Autumn. Next week I will show you the opened Nicotiana flowers, three inches long!

Nicotiana sylvestris

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