Life Inside the Cell: Waking Up to the Miracle, part 1

Understanding the New Phylogeny of Angiosperms, part 1

[This is the first in a series of three posts, this one on life within the cell, the second, on the evolution of plants, and the third on the New Phylogeny and Eudicots.  While trying to understand the later, I found it necessary to better understand the others, what was behind this reorganization of how we look at plants.  To do that requires going back in time and scale to see what we are really taking about when we consider plants and the life within them.]

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I begin here with the cell.  I will not spend time discussing its structure and various parts, the differences between those of plants, animals, fungi and bacteria.  That has been done by many others, elsewhere.  Instead I want to present here what I’ve learned about what makes the cell, its existence and life within it, so amazing, something that which should give us all pause, when we consider our own lives and what we do.  When scientists ‘split hairs’ in their arguments on which group to assign a species, when they attempt to link them to their ancestors, many of which are now long extinct, to understand their relationships with other organisms, they have a purpose.  They are looking much deeper into what a plant is, what constitutes life and how it evolved.  Phylogeny, the science that attempts to establish relationships between different organisms, different species, to link one to the other across time, is about both the history and the continuing journey of life on this planet.  It promises to tell us much about our own place as well as that of the hundred’s of thousands of other species with which we share it.  Ultimately, if we choose to understand this, it will change the way we garden and our relationship with the many landscapes that cover the Earth.  Our gardens are our own personal expressions, works of ‘art’, and must live within the parameters of life in effect on our little pieces of ground and the Earth.  They reflect our understanding of the limits and possibilities at work here.  The better that we understand this the ‘better’ our gardens will be, the more in synch they will be with life.   Continue reading

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My Father’s America and Tomorrow

My father in 1930 on the Green Ridge family farm

My father was born in 1922 on Denman Island, a small island, roughly 12 miles long, on the coast of British Columbia, located about 124 miles north of Victoria, BC.  His family lived there on a small subsistence farm without electricity, indoor plumbing, a car, a truck or a tractor.  To get work done required their own muscle or the help of their horses or neighbors.  Water came from a hand pumped well, heat from trees they took down on their land.  They produced much of what they ate in a large vegetable garden and orchard storing it in the root cellar below their house, and the occasional deer and fish they could make time to catch.  They had chickens for their eggs and meat and kept pigs to sell as well as for meat.  They kept bees for honey.  A herd of dairy cows, Guernsey’s, because of their high butter fat milk, was their primary source of income, separating out the cream each day, storing it in large cans that they would lower down into their well to keep cool so that it wouldn’t spoil.  Once a week they and other farms hauled it by wagon to the general store.  There it would be picked up by a truck that came over on the ferry which would carry it to the plant in Courtney for processing into butter and other products.  What skim milk they didn’t use they fed to the livestock.  They would slaughter extra calves for their own consumption.  It was a relatively common life, not that many years ago, that to today’s highly urbanized, consumer population, might seem light years ago.  I’ve often wondered at the ‘adjustments’ my parents had to make to make sense of this world today.  I’m beginning to understand now that I am well into my 60’s and retired myself. Continue reading

My Red Abyssinian Banana: Testing its Limits to Cold This Winter.

It’s alive!!!

My Ensete appears to have survived my mistreatment/testing of it having left it in the ground until Tuesday after Christmas. The photo shows that it has pushed 3/4″ of new growth since I cut it back and placed it in its corner in the basement. The NOAA weather station at PDX reported 17 freezing minimums to that date, eleven prior to December 20, ranging form 22º to 32º, nine of them below 30º, four below 25º. Over this period my local temperature, bizarrely, dropped to 30º, once, maybe. A second cold spell hit here from Dec. 20-27, again less severe than that at PDX, but closer. The Reed College weather station recorded five freezing minimums over this period, 32º on Dec. 12, 30º on Dec. 21, 28º on Dec. 24, 30º on Christmas and 27º on the 26th. Reed College is about 3/4 of a mile south of me on similar terrain with the same aspect. The freezing, cell shattering, of my plant’s leaves was very evident after this latest cold snap. During December’s first cold spell I was generally a degree or two warmer than the Reed station’s minimums. Over the second cold period my area was more consistent with the PDX temperatures, but still on the warm side. So, yay! My red Ensete has indeed survived 5 significant freezing minimum temperatures, as low as 27º! Those of you who dig yours in October take note, your gardens can benefit from these statuesque specimen much later into the local winter season here…and, return to their garden locations earlier as well.
 
How do I know its alive? Bananas are all monocots and their dividing/growing meristematic bud is on top of the rhizome, just above ground. If this bud freezes your plant cannot grow any longer. As I pointed out, mine has been growing, slowly, in my cool basement. Would it have made it down to one night at 25º…I don’t know. It is also difficult to say how many more days it could have survived down into this minimum range. Remember that it isn’t just the absolute minimum temperature we need to worry about, but the duration as well. Three of the coldest days had very cold highs as well just making it above freezing allowing the cold to penetrate tissue more deeply.
Here is the link to the values reported at the Reed College weather station in December.  Here is the link for the values from the NOAA station at PDX.

Dividing Iris x pacifica and the Species of I. californicae

 

Tis the season…. it’s Fall, the rains have begun and the species pacific coast Irises’ roots are growing. This is the time to divide. I dug about half of a clump leaving the remainder undisturbed. I cleaned the soil away from the other portion wiggling, teasing, pulling, even cutting a few of the rhizomes, to separate them out into nice size starts.  Continue reading

Argyle Winery: A Look at a Landscape in Dundee as an Example for Those on the Trail to Xeric Design and Sustainability

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This strip planting dominated by a Carex and a taller, 7′ or better, spine of the feathery Rhodocoma capensis from South Africa, rated at zn 8b. Mine, in my home garden, survived two nights down to 15ºF this last January with very little damage.

I don’t usually do this, write about a particular landscape with which I have no history, so this is a bit of  a departure for me.  I’ve know Sean Hogan for quite a few years, consider him a friend and a highly influential mentor of sorts.  His encyclopedic knowledge of plants, his boundless enthusiasm, has been infectious and inspirational over much of my career as a horticulturist while I was working for Portland Parks and Recreation.  I’ve benefited from the existence of his nursery and his commitment to horticulture picking his brain for plant and design suggestions as I attempted to broaden my own repertoire. Continue reading

My ‘Droughted’ Weedy Lawn: What do I do With it Now?

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This little stucco house, in the Woodstock neighborhood, is one of Julie’s favorites. It sits on a little rise clothed in an unbroken sea of Juniperus sabina Tamariscifolia (?) punctuated with several Italian Cypress. This landscape has been here for decades and appears to be completely weed free. It’s xeric with enough density to choke out weedy interlopers.  By not adding supplemental water many of our more common weeds are discouraged. Even if you wanted to apply a pre-emergent herbicide I don’t know if it could get to the soil. There is no way for anyone to enter this to remove volunteer Blackberries, Clematis, Canada Thistle or anything else for that matter. Junipers are strongly allelopathic containing chemicals in their shed foliage that build up in the organic layer on the soil surface discouraging successful weed germination.  Many other plants including our West coast Manzanita are allelopathic as well and can be used similarly.  Generally, allelopathic plants require several years to build up an effective layer of weed controlling old leaves to be effective, so our efforts will be necessary for some time.  At minimum don’t remove this layer of old and decaying leaves!  Junipers are also highly competitive in terms of their roots for water and nutrients.  Do I recommend this landscape…not necessarily, as it provides little ‘useful’ space offering little more than a very ‘defensible’ border, though it does have its attraction.   It provides shelter for some birds and critters, including rats, unfortunately, and fruit to those interested, while posing a minimal weed/seeding hazard to other landscapes.  It is a very simple landscape.

We can do much better than we have been doing with our landscapes…we have to!  It is incumbent upon each of us to grow our landscapes well, whatever they are, whatever they demand of us.  Our inability or unwillingness to do this is symptomatic of a society today that doesn’t  place priority and value on life, first!  (If you are reading this, you probably aren’t part of this ‘we’.)  The fact that we don’t have the time, resources or interest is indicative of how far out of balance our own lives are.  This isn’t a new phenomenon.  I don’t mean to shame or blame anyone here.  Modern societies have long been out of step.  We place a premium on our personal freedom, the idea that we have moved beyond nature, that technology will do for us whatever we need.  Nature will keep ‘chugging’ on without us so that we can devote ourselves to our more personal goals…and so ‘nature’ has been left largely on its own as if what we do will have no significant or damaging effects…but that isn’t really the way it is.  So, what do we do about that dead weedy lawn out front? Continue reading

The Droughted Lawn

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A golf course is dependent upon a healthy, vital and uniform turf. It directly influences a courses playability. Even if you don’t play golf, courses evoke a calm with their pastoral, expansive lawns and views. This is a view down the 14th fairway at Eastmorland Golf Course. The perimeter rough areas receive no water and minimal maintenance. To the left is a swath of Blackberry. Other areas are over grown with weeds with fence lines draped with the invasive Clematis.

[A reader asked me to do an edited down version of this article to make it more accessible for those less interested, but in need of its message.  This is a stab at that.]

The suburban American lawn has been identified with the fall of nature by many.  Today, a good and green American, certainly us Portlanders are included in this, rejects the perfect monoculture of the lawn.  Nature:good; lawn:bad.  Our lawns demand water that could be better used growing food and assuring healthy fish populations, our lawnmowers spew air pollutants damaging to us all, our fertilizers leach away and move off site contaminating ground water and stream flow while our pesticides used on them, more directly attack nature all around us, all of this for no justifiable benefit, only fulfilling some narrowly defined human desire for an outdated aesthetic.  Detractors of the lawn argue against the waste of resources they require and they are difficult to justify if their purpose is restricted to providing a neat and ‘defensible’ perimeter for each house, the appetites of golfers and the youthful fantasies for power and dominance of sport, all increasing the consumption of land ‘stollen’ from nature to sate our hunger for it.  But this view of the lawn does it a disservice. Continue reading