Category Archives: Botany

Fabiana imbricata: the Andean Un-Tomato, a Non-Heath That Looks a lot Like its Cousin Cestrum

800px-Fabiana_imbricata_HRM2

Fabiana imbricata has an appearance much like the upright and shrubby Erica arborea…maybe mixed with an upright form of Rosemary…providing a remarkable texture in the garden.

In gardening and botany one of the first things we learn is that not everything looks as we might expect that it should!  Fabiana imbricata, is a member of the Tomato Family, the Solanaceae, yet, if you don’t look too close, it looks like it might belong to the Ericaceae.  At one time I was planning to take advantage of this similarity as I was attempting evoke a South African feel in part of my garden substituting this for one of the many tender South African heaths as the correct Erica species are either too tender, of borderline hardiness for my conditions or are simply difficult to come by.  It was sharing an area in the garden with Restio capensis, Eucomis spp., Melianthus spp. and others to give an impression of South Africa, not a strict species for species duplication of a community.  I didn’t quite pull it off….I’ve done much the same thing when substituting tropical looking temperate plants for the real thing when evoking a tropical feel.  It’s a matter of manipulation…a sleight of the garden hand.

Its Chilean Home and Garden Merit

Fabiana imbricata is not from South Africa, though it shares Gondwanan roots, and is endemic in Chile, occurring very frequently throughout much of its Andean range.  It is in fact identified as a ‘keystone’ species strongly effecting the composition of its local plant communities.  It can be found growing from well into the dry region of Coquimbo in the north, just south of the huge Atacama Desert, south into the wet Aysen region with its many islands and inlets south of the Lake District or Zona Sur.  The vast area stretches along much of Chile’s length which can be driven, on often tortuous mountain roads, for over 1,700 mi., stretching from the arid city La Serena to the small, rainforest town of Tortel, in the south, a distance almost 500 miles further than the drive from Vancouver, BC to Los Angeles, CA….There are not that many plant species in the world that span a similar latitudinal range with its accompanying climate differences.  As you look for this plant moving from north to south through Chile, the soils and its particular niches change along with the temperature and rainfall.  You are more likely to find this growing exposed in rocky scree in wetter regions to the south, while it tends to be more commonly found on sites more protected from the sun’s intensity and into better soils as you move into the arid and hotter north, more protected from the sun’s tropical intensity.  No surprise there, but overall this is an adaptable plant succeeding in cool rainforest to arid, desert like, conditions.  As would be expected across the more arid portion of its range fire is an important factor in maintaining the plant communities balance, riding it of other competing woody plants  and even aiding it in germination, when followed by ample winter/spring rainfall, though this is obviously not essential for its continuing survival in rainforest areas where fire is much less frequent.   This is a very adaptable species and as we live near the Pacific Coast in the northern hemisphere, which mirrors much of the range of conditions, we should be able to have success with it, if we pay attention to its cold limits.  Those away from the Pacific Coast, especially those with ‘continental’ climates or strong influences from them, will have to pay closer attention. Continue reading

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The Fascicularia and Ochagavia Question: Two Worthy and Relatively Hardy Bromeliads

 

The inflorescence of Fascicularia bicolor with its blue flowers. The center of the foliage on a blooming rosette, turns red when the flowers appear and then, like many Bromeliad, that rosette dies replaced be previously formed offsets. My blooming plant had multiple rosettes at the time, three of which bloomed. Taken in my garden, Sept. of ’17.

If you’re not into blood and guts, consider this genus, as on my scale of one to ten as described above with ten warning of near complete evisceration if one is fool hardy or reckless, this one’s a solid 4, dangerous enough but not stupidly so.  Fascicularia pitcairniifolia.  You would think that in a genus composed of one or two species things would be pretty well settled taxonomically, guess again. Originally described as F. bicolor it was reclassified as F. pitcairnifolia and later changed back to F. bicolor.  Subspecies were proposed.  Changes retracted.  There are significant differences in the sampled populations, but were they sufficient to constitute separate species??? Adding confusion at a different level are those who say the species name indicates that it is from Pitcairn Island.  It is not.  The specific epithet simply recognizes a similarity to the foliage in genus, Pitcairnia, another Bromeliad member.  This Fascicularia is from the lower Chilean Andes, allegedly north of the other Fascicuaria species, F. bicolor which is suppose to be slightly hardier and occurs at least occasionally as an epiphyte!  Some botanists have argued that F. pitcairnifolia possesses thicker, slightly wider leaves. and some minor differences in the timing of flowering and is reputedly slightly less hardy.  The ranges of both overlap  Good luck sorting this out. Continue reading

Our Gardens as Teachers

 

Of all the things our gardens do for us, arguably the most important is their role as our teachers, even in winter when a temperate garden ‘rests’, its surface crust or top few feet, frozen, maybe sheltered beneath the cover of snow, or, as ours so often are, simply too cold for active plant growth, the soil wet, the rain too heavy to percolate fast enough down through its layers, without the active aid of either the direct heating of the sun or its effect on plants, through evapotranspiration, pumping water back into the air as the plants grow.  Gardens teach patience.  They encourage us to become more careful observers…to think and plan, to anticipate and prepare, to understand that there is more going on here than we can readily see…and they teach us about faith and trust in the natural world, that there is always more going on than we can see. Continue reading

Growing and Understanding Globe Mallows in the Urbanized Maritime NW: Sphaeralcea spp. and Cultivars

Every plant evolved in and lives in context.  They are dependent upon it for continuing support, not just for their survival, but for their well being as they grow, mature and attempt to reproduce.  It is not just competition out there.  Though we may order them from a catalog, grow them from carefully collected seed, receive them as gifts from a friend or purchase them from the shelves or rows at a garden center, they are individual plants, removed from their context…their futures’ will be short if we don’t make some attempt to recreate it.

Sphaeralcea ‘Childerly’, from the Dancing Oaks catalog, though it’s not currently listed.

Sphaeralcea are often called Globe Mallows and are another member of the large Mallow Family, the Malvaceae, some 244 genera with 4,225 known species.  I’ve written recently of Anisodontea another genus of the family.  Most of the 40-60 species of Sphaeralcea are North American natives of dry areas, growing from the Great Plains west and south into Mexico, with a few occurring in South America while a few others reaching into southern Canada.  They include annuals, perennials and shrubby species, I’m looking here at perennials, all of which have very long bloom times, often spanning the entire summer into fall.

Sphaeralcea (ambigua) ‘Childerley’

Sphaeralcea ambigua, one of the largest growing species of the genus, at up to 3′-5′, often found considerably smaller, is native to the US Southwest, SW Utah, Nevada to Arizona and southern California down to Sonora and northern Baja, Mexico.  They are found east of California’s Sierra Nevada and the several other smaller ranges of southern California, which shield them from moisture coming from the Pacific.  It is the most xeriphytic of the genus, meaning, the most tolerant of drought.  The USDA breaks the species into four separate subspecies, S.a. ssp. ambigua, the most commonly occurring form across the four states with the typical orangey flowers, S.a. ssp. monticola, the one occurring at higher elevations, beyond the Sonoran Desert and covering its Nevada range, S.a. ssp. rosacea which is limited to the San Diego area east to Maricopa county in Arizona, of the warmer Sonoran Desert, with a flower that is rosy-pink and S.a. ssp. rugosa which is limited to the Mojave Desert area with the more expected orange-red flowers.  Both S.a. ssp. ambigua and S.a. ssp. monticola grow on north of the Mogollon Rim, an east-west running escarpment,  the abrupt rise in elevation marking the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau.  The other two subspecies grow below this and largely south and west of it. Continue reading

Bocconia frutescens: Choice Tender Garden Plant or Invasive?

 

Bocconia frutescens with its inflorescence of single seeded fruit, one of the ‘woody’ Poppies that comprise the genus.  Macleaya cordata, from the same family, has a similar look, though topping out at around 8′ and is herbaceous in habit dying to the ground each winter.  Another Wiki picture of Bocconia f.  growing in Hawaii’ where it has escaped cultivation and threatens the few remaining native landscapes, particularly historically dry and mesic forests.

The title’s question isn’t something we in the Pacific Northwest need to worry about.  It will take an awful lot of global warming to make this plant cold hardy here and that may be part of its enticement!  I chose this from Jimi Blake’s list…because I am a sucker for cool foliage.  Sometimes called the Mexican Tree Poppy this is a Poppy, a member of the family Papaveraceae, a family currently containing 42 genera and 775 species, which is within the the ancient order, the Ranunculales, an order that includes some of the earliest of the ‘modern’ Eudicots to evolve.  This doesn’t mean that this species of Bocconia was around at the beginning of ‘time’, or even of this order, just that it comes from that particular genetic line, a line that has been traced back to its beginning, millions of years ago.  Recall that every plant, every organism is in ‘process’, that given the appropriate supporting conditions, consistent over time, will keep reproducing, generation after generation…and, that given the appropriate inducements, of consistent, changed conditions, different from those today, will work to adapt to them, each generation ‘responding’, those better adapted, surviving and reproducing, altering the species and, perhaps even becoming, producing, a new one.  One of the characteristics of this family and order, having arisen in a time when genetics and characteristics of plants were less strictly defined, is a wider range of physical or morphological variation than you might expect, which is evident when you look at the flowers of the many diverse species within these genera, this family and order…Bocconia frutescens’ small flowers looking very unlike those we would commonly think of when we picture a Poppy. Continue reading

The Banana Industry and Panama Disease, the Ongoing Devastation Caused by Fusarium Wilt, Tropical Race 4

Developing fruits on a Cavendish banana, the remains of the female flowers still attached. Many banana cultivars are sterile and don’t require pollination. Their fruits contain very small and sterile seeds.

Our gardens connect us to the world through the plants that we grow.  Our choices have reverberations through the knowledge we gain, the demand we create through our purchases and even our decisions to grow and thus protect plants that are critically threatened or extinct in the wild.  Similarly, what we choose to eat impacts the wider earth shaping the landscape locally and across the planet.  Sometimes our choices create demand for exotic foods, other choices, demand for common foods…out of season, that must come from the opposite hemisphere.  All of these choices together can bring prosperity to others thousands of miles away and suffering to others while simultaneously creating a demand for more land and resources there to produce the bananas, grapes, beef, etc. we want, while putting wild species under threat, reducing the genetic diversity these same lands once effectively supported.  Other times, the consequences can flow more directly back at us, when the crisis we have added to there, comes back at us in the form of crop failures, price increases and the absence of these foods from our grocery stores, as does the increasing spread of disease currently threatening much of the world’s banana production.

I love bananas.  I probably eat more of them fresh than I do apples over a year, and, apparently, so do most Americans.  Statistics say we eat about 26lbs. of bananas a year per capitata here, none of which are grown in the US (Small amounts are grown in Hawaii and some local areas in the far south of the US, but those are consumed locally, not distributed elsewhere.)  If we think of the plants and the growing of them at all, many of us tend to assume that most bananas produce edible fruit, but they don’t…at least nothing we’re used to eating!  While gardening in the public sphere downtown I had many people ask me, as they looked at the occasional flowering on the Musa basjoo, one of the four bananas that had taken up semi-permanent residence in three of my large display beds, if they fruited and could be eaten…my usual response, yes, but you wouldn’t want to.  The temperate world’s experience of bananas is largely limited to the produce section at the grocery store.  Most of us would be surprised to learn that sweet bananas, which are typically eaten fresh, and cooking bananas known commonly as plantains, together, comprise the fourth most important food crop around the world, in terms of volume of production, after only Rice, Wheat and Corn…ahead of soybeans which go into tofu, soy sauce, which are consumed by much of the world and as a common component of livestock feed.  That’s an amazing statistic!  The banana is cultivated as food in 100 tropical and sub-tropical countries.  In some parts of the world the fiber from the pseudostems is harvested and used locally for making twine and sometimes a coarse cloth.  In Okinawa friends have told me that Musa basjoo was once a common source of fiber for a cloth.  Other bananas are utilized in other ways, the corm of the  African, Ensete ventricosum has traditionally been ‘processed’ by indigenous people as a ‘survival food’ for periods of drought when other sources have failed. Continue reading

Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’ (Bengal Tiger) and the Banana Story: Evolution and Cold Adaptation

Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’ taken three years ago…before this Tiger lost its stripes!

Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’ backlit. If I saw this plant in a nursery today, I’d be sorely tempted to buy it…again.

Another Jimi Blake plant.  I have history with this choice of Jimi’s…and the NW has a history with Bananas as well!

There’s an old hand colored postcard floating around the Washington Park office of bananas as part of an elaborate bedding out scheme around the ‘Chiming’ Fountain, near the Sacajawea statue.  If memory serves, it is Ensete ventricosum, which have a uniquely identifiable form.  Back in the day, Ensete v. seems to have been a thing.  It is a non-suckering species, unlike the spreading, mat forming Musa spp. and cultivars, and is commonly grown from seed.  It is interesting to me that they were available prior to the 1900’s and relatively common, probably up to 1929 and the stock market crash…at least for  the more horticulturally involved, as specimen in annual display beds.  Gardeners must have dug them out in the fall and hauled them to greenhouses to ‘protect’ them for use in the following year.  I did some research in the early ’00’s of catalogs and area nurseries to get an idea what was available in the 19 teens, and of a few Park’s planting plans of this period, influenced by the Olmsted’s and under the direction of Emanuel Mische…. Compared to typical planting plans of more recent years these were relatively adventurous, especially given that acquiring such plants was often a much bigger deal in the nineteens and twenties than it is today.  Back then if you weren’t wedded to a particular clone and you could find seed for it, exotic bananas were a possibility.  There was an excitement around the novel and exotic that had spilled over from Europe.  Local inventories also included a wide array of bulbs which could be more easily shipped than grown plants widening the range of choices.  They often times had choices that you would have to spend some time searching for even today.  With the economic collapse of ’29 it is no surprise that tastes and possibilities became much more conservative.  There were those who clung to the use of some of the old exotics, but you would have to look hard for them in public places and gardens. Botanical gardens became refuges for the forgotten and newly collected.   It took many years before enough of the gardening population reclaimed their sense of wonder and awe enough to create a new market for the plant’s of the world.  We experienced a similar contraction of the nursery industry in the Fall of 2008 when the real estate boom stalled and demand for plants collapsed causing the closure of many nurseries and a reduction in the selection available from local garden centers.  Locally gardeners have become increasingly interested in such plants and have continued to support the many small specialty nurseries that provide them Continue reading