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Science

A spectacular aurora photographed by Ryan Fisher in Canada's Northwest Territories on January 11, 2015. Click image to link to the aurora gallery at Spaceweather.

A spectacular aurora photographed by Ryan Fisher in Canada’s Northwest Territories on January 11, 2015. Click image to link to the aurora gallery at Spaceweather.

When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant. ~Author Unknown

House sparrows bathing. Photo Zachary, Creative Commons.

House sparrows bathing. Photo Zachary, Creative Commons.

Cat Grass for Cats – good or bad?
Though no one can deny that cats eat grass, there are only theories as to why they do. Some claim it is to get extra niacin, a B vitamin abundantly available in most fresh young grain grasses. Perhaps cats eat it to make themselves vomit. Some people believe cats eat it to help pass fur balls along while others say they just need the fiber for other nutritional purposes.
Geoff Stein/Dave’s Garden

Rise in mass die-offs seen among birds, fish and marine invertebrates
An analysis of 727 studies reveals that there have been more instances of rapid, catastrophic animal die-offs over the past 75 years. These mass kills appear to have hit birds, fish and marine invertebrates harder than other species.
Science Daily

Unusual number of UK flowers bloom
Botanists have been stunned by the results of their annual hunt for plants in flower on New Year’s Day. They say according to textbooks there should be between 20 and 30 species in flower. This year there were 368 in bloom.
BBC

Together, humans and computers can figure out the plant world
As technology advances, science has become increasingly about data–how to gather it, organize it, and analyze it. The creation of key databases to analyze and share data lies at the heart of bioinformatics, or the collection, classification, storage, and analysis of biochemical and biological information using computers and software.
EurekAlert

The Sustainable Sites Initiative
Landscapes are considered sustainable if they reduce water demand, filter and reduce stormwater runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, improve human health, and increase outdoor recreation opportunities.
United States Botanic Garden

Nectar of the Gods
The Exotic Love Vine (Ipomoea lobata) is proving to be the most vibrant and heavy bloomer in my fall garden — just when I think it can’t possibly get any better, it does.
Great Stems

William Curtis and “The Botanical Magazine, or, Flower-Garden Displayed”
The world’s longest running botanical magazine was (eventually) named after its founder William Curtis (1746–1799), who was an English botanist and entomologist. From 1771 to 1777 Curtis worked as demonstrator of plants and Praefectus Horti at the Chelsea Physic Garden…
New York Public Library

A Garden Aristocrat
The U.S. National Arboretum’s National Boxwood Collection is one of the most complete collections of boxwood in the world.  There are around 150 different species and cultivars planted in this verdant corner of the Arboretum.  Some have blue-green leaves, others have leaves variegated with splashes of cream or yellow.  Some are dwarf and mature at a height of less than two feet.  One variety, ‘Graham Blandy’,  grows upward in a narrow column like an exclamation point in the garden.
United States National Arboretum

Search the Botany Collections
The plant collections of the Smithsonian Institution began with the acquisition of specimens collected by the United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842). These formed the foundation of a National Herbarium which today numbers over 5 million historical plant records, placing it among the world’s largest and most important.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

20 gorgeous peonies
Our guide to favorite varieties in pinks, reds, yellows, and more.
Sunset

Designing with Dwarf Conifers
My tiny lot did not afford much space for full-size trees and shrubs, but I knew I could make room for a few dwarf conifers, which usually don’t get taller than 1 to 6 feet in 10 years.
Fine Gardening

Horticultural Artists Grow Fantastical Scenes at the Montréal Botanical Garden
The process works a bit like this. To start, horticultural artists build metal frames for their sculptures. They cover the frames with soil netting and then plant seeds of different flora in that soil, much like a ceramicist lays tiles in a mosaic.
Smithsonian Magazine

Sex and the single evening primrose
Sex or no sex? Using various species of the evening primrose as their model, researchers have demonstrated strong support for a theory that biologists have long promoted: Species that reproduce sexually, rather than asexually, are healthier over time, because they don’t accumulate harmful mutations.
Science Daily

Detail of the roof of the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California. Photo Almonroth, Creative Commons.

Detail of the roof of the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California. Photo Almonroth, Creative Commons.

Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart. ~Russell Page

Limonaia in Tower Hill Botanical Garden, Boylston, Massachusetts. "Preservation of citrus and other tender plants started out as crudely as building a pergola over potted plants or beds or simply moving potted plants indoors for the cold season. Known in Italy as limonaia, these early structures employed wood panels in storerooms or open galleries to protect from the cold," says Wikipedia. Photo Muffet, Creative Commons.

Limonaia in Tower Hill Botanical Garden, Boylston, Massachusetts. “Preservation of citrus and other tender plants started out as crudely as building a pergola over potted plants or beds or simply moving potted plants indoors for the cold season. Known in Italy as limonaia, these early structures employed wood panels in storerooms or open galleries to protect from the cold,” says Wikipedia. Photo Muffet, Creative Commons.

 

"Easy to mix them up!" Kelly Kindscher holds up two cuttings of common prairie plants. On the right is grass-leaved goldenrod. On the left is slender mountain mint

“Easy to mix them up!” Kelly Kindscher holds up two cuttings of common prairie plants. On the right is grass-leaved goldenrod; on the left is slender mountain mint.

“My work is about plants and people.” – Dr. Kelly Kindscher

Kelly Kindscher is a Senior Scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey and a Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Kansas, where his students call him “Kelly.” Many Kansans know him as “Mr. Prairie.”

A lifelong Kansan, Kindscher is a founder of the Kansas Land Trust, a statewide conservation group, and KU’s Native Medicinal Plant Research Program, which bio-prospects for medicinal compounds in native prairie plants. Somewhere in there, he found time to map coneflower populations in Wyoming; study wetlands in New Mexico; chart the plants in Kansas’ state parks; and publish dozens of papers and two books: Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie (1987) and Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie (1992); both published by the University of Kansas Press.

Kindscher propagating native plants in the greenhouse.

Kindscher propagating native plants in the greenhouse.

In 2006, Kindscher and University of Arizona ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan published Renewing the Native Food Traditions of Bison Nation, a manifesto calling for the large-scale restoration of free-ranging bison to large tracts of the Plains, and the renewal of food traditions unique to the region. Immense herds of bison modified the prairie landscape for thousands of years, creating rich habitat for many plants and animals, which in turn provided highly nutritious food for Native Americans–a population now plagued, like much of the nation, with diabetes.

Kindscher knows full well the wealth of the prairie. Thirty years ago he and a friend walked across Kansas, a 70-day trek in blazing summer, tracking the changes in vegetation.

Prairie turnip (Psoralea esculenta), chokecherries, lambsquarter, wild licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota), prickly pear cactus, leek-flavored Yucca blossoms and wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa; “The best prairie mint.”), were once used as food and medicine by Plains natives. Kindscher is powerfully fond of lambsquarter (Chenopodium album), a quinoa relative weedy enough to infuriate gardeners. He cooks big pots of it with olive oil. “I wish more restaurant chefs would catch on to lambsquarter,” he says. “It’s a hearty, flavorful green, a sweeter version of chard, and it grows wild everywhere. It gets a nine out of ten for flavor.

Kindscher in the field.

He also favors the puckery chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), once a dietary staple of Plains tribes, combined with bison jerky to make pemmican, the native American equivalent of a mega-energy bar. In the creek-laced woods are leafy stands of LINK pawpaws (Asimina triloba) with green, oblong fruits with a golden, custardy pulp that mingles tastes of pineapple and banana. “The pawpaw is the only tropically related fruit that has made it this far north,” Kindscher notes. He praises the buffalo currant (Ribes odoratum), especially “Crandall”, a Kansas cultivar prized by rural jelly-makers. “Jelly and preserves are a great way to capture phytonutrients,” he adds.

The wild prairie is abundant in edible roots, bulbs and tubers rich in complex carbohydrates–a trade-off for their often subtle flavors. “Most native root crops–prairie turnips, hog peanuts, Jerusalem artichokes–are too bland for modern palates,” Kindscher observes, “though they generally offer superior nutrition. You have to choose between healthy food and junk and sometimes that means different tastes.”

The wild tomatillo, Physalis longifolia.

The wild tomatillo, Physalis longifolia.

The concept of food as medicine looms large in Kindscher’s work with the Native Medicinal Plant Research Program (NMPRP). The NMPRP was granted a U.S. patent in 2012 for the discovery of new chemical compounds in the wild tomatillo (Physalis longifolia), a prairie fruit significant to the Indian diet. “Dried, they taste like sweet cranberries,” says Kindscher. The compounds in wild tomatillos also show promising anticancer activity in melanomas, thyroid and breast cancers, and certain leukemias.

The NMPRP’s work on the lonesome prairie has not gone unnoticed by the mainstream. In spring of 2013, Kindscher was contracted by Kellogg’s “to prospect prairie plants for healthful cereal products,” he says, “looking specifically for fiber and protein.” Someday there might be a taste of the wild prairie in your breakfast bowl.

Kindscher’s knowledge of prairie plants takes him to the classroom and the field, the kitchen and the community pot-luck, the laboratory and the dais, the courtroom and the publisher. “I’m a jack-of-all-plants,” he laughs. And how does a jack-of-all plants unwind at home at the end of another flora-filled day? He tends a vegetable garden that most people would call a small farm.

Flower of Physalis longifolia, near Cimarron, Kansas.

Flower of Physalis longifolia, near Cimarron, Kansas.

Ripe fruit of Physalis longifolia. The fruits were eaten raw, cooked and dried by the Zuni, Hopi and other Native American tribes

Ripe fruit of Physalis longifolia. The fruits were eaten raw, cooked and dried by the Zuni, Hopi and other Native American tribes

Food is medicine. The cancer-fighting properties of an ancient native food, the wild tomatillo (Physalis longifolia), are under investigation at the Native Medicinal Plant Research Program (NMPRP), here in Lawrence, KS. Dr. Kelly Kindscher, lead botanist for the Program, likens the taste of the wild tomatillo to “an effervescent, under-ripened strawberry, or, when dried, like a cross between a raisin and dried cranberry.” Click photo to link to the NMPRP site.

Researchers Hope Prairie’s Wild Tomatillo May Provide Medical Breakthrough 
in Cancer Fight
“We’ve found compounds from the wild tomatillo that have strong anti-cancer properties against breast cancer, skin cancer, thyroid cancer and brain cancer in our early studies,” said Mark Cohen, cancer physician and research scientist who has been working with the plant for more than two years.     Wichita Eagle

Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis
Prairie dropseed is a fine-textured, distinctive bunchgrass with leaves that curve gracefully outward forming large, round tufts. Delicate seedheads appear above the tuft in midsummer, rising 2 ft. high. Fall color is tan-bronze. Prairie dropseed is a perennial. Snow does not flatten the plant, so it is visible even in winter.    NPIN wildflower.org

The Shoe-Trees of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts
In several remote areas of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts a curious custom has developed. Isolated roadside trees will become festooned with shoes and other objects, placed in them by young people from the nearest local communities, and occasionally by travelers.    J.L. Hudson, Seedsman

Towers of Vegetables Go Up As Singapore Builds First Vertical Farm
Short on arable land? One solution would be to plant…up. Singapore, a small country that imports most of its food, has now begun selling vegetables from its first vertical farm. And even while they’re more expensive the vegetables are already selling faster than they can be grown.     Singularity Hub

The Bridge of Flowers
Antoinette Burnham had the vision to take a community problem of a discontinued trolley bridge and turn it into a beautiful Bridge of Flowers. In April 1929, 80 loads of loam and several loads of fertilizer were put on the bridge.     Bridge of Flowers

Fantastic Native Cultivar: Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’
The horticultural world is still rightfully swooning over its feathery cousin, Arkansas Amsonia (Amsonia hubrichtii), recent winner of the Perennial Plant of the Year. I will make the claim, however, that Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ may be the more versatile and durable plant.     Grounded Design

Birds Can Get Deadly Drunk on Fermented Berries
Last summer, British veterinary officials were called to a primary school in Cumbria, England, to solve the mystery of a dozen young blackbirds that were found dead, many with clear physical injuries. …But at the scene, the researchers recovered a live bird that was acting strangely.     LiveScience

Sheep Sorrel; What’s up, dock?
Children love sheep sorrel. Somehow, thousands of children across the country have learned to eat sheep sorrel without being instructed by any adult. And once they learn, they pass it on to each other. It spreads like wildfire.    WildFoods

Ash Dieback: Government Faces Possible Legal Action
A nursery forced to destroy 50,000 ash trees after a fungal disease was found is considering taking legal action against the government for failing to block imports sooner. …In the last six weeks, 100,000 ash trees have been destroyed and experts say it may be too late to stop the spread of the fungus.      BBC News

“Duet” Beautyberry
A sport of the white-berried Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Albifructus’ with stable, cream-colored variegation at the leaf margins, “Duet” grows as an arching shrub to six feet with an equal spread. Released jointly by the U.S. National Arboretum and Tennessee Technological University in 2006. Recommended for Zones 5-8.     HortScience

Genetically Engineered Tomatoes Decrease Plaque Build-Up in Mice
For the first time, genetically engineered tomato plants produced a peptide that mimics the actions of good cholesterol when eaten, researchers reported at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2012.     Science Daily

Hang in there, buddy! This tentative pine tree looks like a gymnast doing the splits on two chairs. Such is the tale of the inexorable process of erosion. Photo: Rainyleaf, Kalaloch Beach, WA. Click image to link to the Rainyleaf blog.

“It seemed to my friend that the creation of a landscape-garden offered to the proper muse the most magnificent of opportunities. Here indeed was the fairest field for the display of the imagination, in the endless combining of forms of novel beauty.” – Edgar Allen Poe

Here’s a rare sight. Not only are we looking at a picture of the Sun (!), we are seeing three simultaneous Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) on the Sun’s western limb, 11/3/12. A CME is is a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields rising above the solar corona or being released into space. Click image to link to The Watchers.

“Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the singing bird will come.” – Chinese proverb

A Lovely Stone Table. Photo Norman Haddow. “I saw this feature in the garden where I was staying for part of my recent visit to Canada. It was built by Colin Shaw-Rimmington who is a well-respected Toronto chef. He is not a mason but I believe he managed to combine beauty with function in a way which many of our professional wallers find difficult to achieve.” Click image to link to Haddow’s “Dry Stone Walling.”

“In garden arrangement, as in all other kinds of decorative work, one has not only to acquire a knowledge of what to do, but also to gain some wisdom in perceiving what it is well to let alone.” – Gertrude Jekyll

Nineteen Species of Fern Named for Lady Gaga; Researcher Says the Inspiration Was Literally Written in the DNA Sequences
Pop music megastar Lady Gaga is being honored with the name of a new genus of ferns found in Central and South America, Mexico, Arizona and Texas. A genus is a group of closely related species; in this case, 19 species of ferns will carry the name Gaga.     Science Daily

Canna Storage Suggestions
Canna rhizome winter storage has many possibilities but one must understand that some cultivars store much easier than others. Ideally cannas should not be lifted for storage until after a light killing frost or even a moderate freeze. This allows the rhizomes to begin the normal semi-dormant cycle.   canna2grow; GardenWeb

Karchesky Canna
We grow our cannas cold climate Pennsylvania USA zone 6/5 at a higher elevation and where winters are cold but summers can be quite warm. Cannas grow very well here from May through October until frost takes them around Halloween.   Karchesky

Love-in-a-Puff vine
I didn’t recognize those first leaves and nearly pulled it.  Curiosity nearly always gets the best of me, though, so I waited to see what would happen.  When it started to get tendrils and tiny white flowers, I finally caught on — Love-in-a-puff vine!    A Charlotte Garden

Coffin used as flower planter sold for $150K
In a Dorset garden, a Roman marble coffin was detected by auction valuer Guy Schwinge on a routine valuation, the BBC reports. While walking the grounds, Schwinge saw the coffin “peeping out from under some bushes.”     Yahoo Sideshow

Early September and Thunbergia Heaven
Another two I have tried for the first time this year are Thunbergia aurantiaca ‘Gold Eyed Susan’, which has a smaller orange flower about 1ins across, with a pale green eye, while  Thunbergia alata ‘Sunrise White’, as its name suggests, is white with a black eye. There is also a pure white form called Thunbergia fragrans which is easily grown from seed, though they can be hard to find.
The Exotic Garden

Hardy Tropicals for Zone 5
Pictures of tropicals that have survived Zone 5 winters in my yard… (with some protection, some Wilt-Pruf and possibly some luck.)     Rick; Manchester Garden Club

Buffalograss Brief
I love my buffalograss lawn and wouldn’t trade it for the world.  It doesn’t need to be mowed as frequently as most other turfgrasses, and I rarely give it extra water except in the worst of Kansas summers. If you like the fine texture of bluegrass, then you’ll be amazed at buffalograss. My children have always loved the feel of walking on it barefooted; soft and very dense. Yes, it fades in the fall to a nice buff brown color, but the color is very even-toned and pleasant, and your mowing ends with the first frost.   Kansas Garden Musings

Aw Yeah Vertical Gardens!
A place to collect pictures and information about vertical gardens.     AYVG

Camera Technique Captures New View of Time and Space
What if you could compress a video clip into a single image? That’s what Jay Mark Johnson, an artist and visual effects director, has accomplished through the use of a special camera technique. He calls the images “photographic timelines,” and his collected works offer quite a shift to conventional perception.     Singularity Hub

The love of gardening is a seed, once sown never dies.” -Gertrude Jekyll

The Hurdle-maker. Photograph by Gertrude Jekyll. Old West Surrey (1904). “[An] industry that goes on in the copses in winter and spring is probably much older and is still well alive. This is the making of wattle hurdles for sheepfolds. They are made of hazel, ash, or willow.” Click image to link to more of Jekyll’s photographs on VictorianWeb.

The Samhain Winter Garden in Brigit’s Garden, Galway, Ireland. “The festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-en), or Halloween, falls on October 31st and marked the beginning of the yearly cycle for Celtic peoples.” Click image to link to Brigit’s Garden.

A picture from the Mars Rover? No. This landscape sculpture, nearly six feet in diameter, is 80 feet underwater off the coast of Japan. Diver Yoji Ookata took this photograph in August 2012. Who, or what, made it? Aliens? Click image for the answer.

100 Must-Have Garden Plants
The list of the 100 must-have garden plants, chosen by people like Dan Pearson, Piet Oudolf, Fergus Garrett and others, has just arrived here with my latest copy of Gardens Illustrated.  Even though some old favorites appear among the selections, I have included the entire list with the hope that it might get you to try out something new this season. Inspiration for 2013, but its going to be hotter – Tom.     Juniper Hill

Naked German Monk Likely a Victim of Hallucinogenic Berries
A concerned hiker who spotted the naked man and tried unsuccessfully to assist him notified police in the Bavarian town of Unterwössen, according to news reports. Police found the man cold and disoriented and took him to the hospital.     Yahoo News

Heptacodium miconioides
Although this China-native, fountain-shaped shrub or small tree may now be extinct in the wild, it is becoming increasingly popular as a unique and attractive landscape specimen. The common name refers to the fragrant creamy white flowers in clusters of seven that bloom profusely from late August to late September. Flowers are followed by an equally showy display of purplish-red “fruits”.      Missouri Botanical Garden

Flax
Flax was one of the most important crops to early American farmers and to the economy of our emerging nation. Grown in almost every state east of the Mississippi River, and some beyond, flax was literally the fiber and preservative that helped sustain our people.    Jefferson Institute

Gardener’s Delight Offers Glimpse Into the Evolution of Flowering Plants
Dandy peony, the Double Peppermint petunia, the Doubled Strawberry Vanilla lily and nearly all roses are varieties cultivated for their double flowers. The blossoms of these and other such plants are lush with extra petals in place of the parts of the flower needed for sexual reproduction and seed production, meaning double flowers — though beautiful — are mutants and usually sterile.
Science Daily

Rumex Ruminations
Mainer Merritt Fernald, who was the Harvard wunderkind of botany from around 1900 to 1950, said all of the 17 native Rumex species in North America were edible. He completely failed to mention most of them are so bitter it would take days of boiling to make them palatable, if ever.     Eat The Weeds

Commelina communis
The flowers of this species have a “true blue” color that is found in few other plants. Usually, most “blue” flowers are closer to violet or purple. The Asiatic Dayflower has become the most common Commelina sp. (Dayflower) in Illinois for reasons that are not entirely clear.
Illinois Wildflowers

Oedo Island
Just imagine an island which is green 365 days a year and always covered with beautiful blossoming flowers and trees, most of which you probably know only from botanic textbooks or TV programs showing pictures of remote tropical countries.     Korea Travel Club

Summer-y Summary
Autumn is upon me, here in the nether region between I Don’t Want to Live Here Anymore and Now I Live Somewhere Else.  When you exist in a shadow world such as this, you tread a fine line between the Things that You Have to Do But Don’t Want To and the Things That You Just Aren’t Going To Do Anymore.      A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

A Brief History of Seeds and Plant Domestication
Seed varieties have declined significantly since the beginning of time, and even more so with plant domestication. World blight may come upon us if we continue to depend on limited varieties of corn, soy and wheat. (Hat tip to James Grauerholz.)      Utne Reader

The Sideyard Garden Takes Front and Center in Historic Charleston
What might strike you right away is that there is rarely a front yard here; it is all about the side yard in Charleston. A side yard in my neck of the woods is usually a gardening afterthought or it is used as a storage area for supplies or trash bins. But the side yard is to low country Charleston gardens like shrimp and grits are to its cuisine.     Garden Envy

Rembrandt Peale, “Rubens Peale with a Geranium,” 1801. Click image for Rembrandt Peale Wiki.

Ceanothus (California Lilac), a genus of about 50–60 species of shrubs or small trees in the family Rhamnaceae, is one of the plants I sorely miss from my California gardening days. Colonies of Ceanothus and Manzanita cover miles of the Big Sur coastline. The pictured cultivar, “Dark Star,” grows to eight feet tall and blooms in early spring, filling the air with sweet fragrance. Photo by Pete at East Bay Wilds, a first-rate native plant nursery in Oakland, CA. Click image for more of Pete’s photos of Ceanothus species and cultivars.