Horridculture – Stinky Flowers

P90807Wednesday is my day to rant. However, I neglected to get out to find a picture or even a topic to rant about. Instead, I found this ugly little . . . what I believe to be a dormant rhizome. It looks more like a tuber or a tuberous root, and very well could be. Someone at work brought it from his home garden, where countless more naturalized and became aggressively invasive.

I do not know for certain what it is. I only know that it is some species of Arum. We refer to it as the ‘death arum’ because, while in bloom, it smells like death. Yet, it seems to be immune to death. It is extremely resilient. All attempts to eradicate any of it have only angered it, and accelerated its migration into other formerly uninfested parts of the garden. Now we have it here.

I am told that the deciduous rhizomes . . . or whatever they are, remain dormant through summer, and then regenerate foliage once the rain starts in autumn. Their visually unimpressive but olfactorily objectionable flowers bloom by late spring or early summer. Foliage and bloom shrivel in warm summer weather, and the remaining seeded stalks collapse shortly afterward.

The thin rubbery leaves are intricately lobed and spotted, which is very distinct from foliage of other arums. Each thin bloom is comprised of a sickly greenish white spathe and a comparably sickly pale tan or yellowish spadix. Seeds are contained in tiny round fruits that resemble capers, that linger briefly on top of the spotted stalks of faded blooms. It all is as weird as it sounds.

I will can (pot) the rhizome . . . (let’s just leave it at that) before autumn, and see what it does. I certainly do not want to plant it into the ground where it can get established and proliferate. Perhaps I will just grow it as a potted foliar oddity, and snip off floral stalks before they bloom. Perhaps I should send it to my colleague in Los Angeles, three hundred and sixty miles away!

Like many of the genera in the family Araceae, what we know as the death arum exhibits an objectionable floral fragrance because it is pollinated by flies. It does what it must to attract the pollinators whom it relies on. The technique is obviously effective, because seeded fruit develops, and the seed within gets dispersed farther and faster than the rhizomes ( . . . ) can migrate.

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A Bee See

P90609They were impossible to miss. They came at a weird time too.
As guests were arriving for a big event, a fire alarm was activated, and compelled everyone to leave the building that they were gathering in. The swarming bees met the guests as they came outside. The bees just happened to show up in the same place and at the same time as the guests were forced outside. Fortunately, no one seemed to mind, and some found the swarming bees to be compelling enough to stop and take pictures.
Initially, all the bees were flying in a big swarm. Those closest to the middle of the swarm were flying fast, sort of like angry wasps. No one saw the queen that the swarm was centered around, but she apparently landed on this redwood limb about forty feet up. The swarming bees slowly collected in this mass around the queen. By the time I took this picture, almost all were attached to the mass, with only a few still flying about.
At least three swarms started to establish new hives in buildings near here last year, and needed to be removed by beekeepers. One hive started to develop where another had just been removed. Another swarm was removed before establishing a new hive.
Bees seem to be attracted here. Perhaps they appreciate all the flowers in the landscapes. It is unfortunate that they can not stay where they typically try to move in. Most of us really like them.
This swarm was still here when I left, so I do not know what happened to it afterward. Hopefully, it either left the area, or at least moved into a place where it will not be problem, such as in a rotten tree trunk out in the forest where bees belong.

 

Mellow Yellow

P90427KThis picture of a yellow Pacific Coast iris probably should have been incorporated into the Six on Saturday post earlier today. I omitted it because I was not so impressed with how the color showed up. It is really more yellow than it looks. In this picture, it looks more like a discolored version of the white Pacific Coast iris. This sort of variation, that might have been normal for old fashioned photography, is not expected of digital imagery.
It sort of reminds me of how some insects and other pollinators see flowers so differently with infrared or ultraviolet. Are infrared or ultraviolet faded in digital imagery as well? It would make sense, since there is no need for normal cameras to record colors that we can not see. Nor is there need for computer monitors to display such invisible colors. Ironically, modern technology can modify color to make that which in invisible to us visible.
Modern technology is always improving the quality of stored data, and the presentation of such stored data. Perhaps there really are ways to take pictures that record infrared and ultraviolet, although I can not imagine why there would be a use for such technology. Video is good about recording and presenting motion. Audio records and presents sound. Regardless, none of it is good enough to keep us from actually enjoying our real gardens.
Pacific Coast iris blooms in all sorts of weirdly bright colors now. Modern technology has certainly had its way with them as well. The flowers are bigger and bolder than they naturally were. The foliage is greener and fluffier. Yet, to me, the best are still those that grow wild and bloom on the coast of San Mateo County, with unassuming flowers in subdued shades of greyish blue, like faded denim.

The Birds And The Bees

80613thumbThere is so much more to gardening than mere horticulture. There is so much more to horticulture than mere plant life. Plants get eaten by insects and animals, and also take advantage of insects and animals for pollination and dispersion of seed. Some of us who enjoy gardening also like to attract some types of animals and insects to our gardens because they are nice to have around.

The birds and the bees, as well as butterflies, squirrels, lizards, snakes and other small animals add color, motion and vibrancy to the garden. Destructive animals like gophers, rats and deer, and cumbersomely big animals like moose and bears, are not so popular. Mosquitoes and flies are the sorts of insects that we would like to repel with aromatic herbs. Some but not all are welcome.

‘Pollinator’ flowers have become a fad recently, not only to attract bees, but also to provide them with more of what some believe they are lacking out in the wild. There is certainly nothing wrong with attracting bees. Those who are enslaved in honey production are best! Children learn as much about nature from bees as from other wildlife. The soft hum of big herds of bees is quite nice.

Beyond that, we should think outside the box of our home gardens. The unnatural disruption of local ecology can not be repaired by throwing more unnatural resources at it. Honeybees who were imported to make honey are not native, but displaced and interbred with natives enough to interfere with their natural pollinating behavior, as well as their resistance and susceptibility to disease.

Almost all plants in urban as well as agricultural areas were imported too. They were perpetuated until they dominated the localized ecosystems. There is now much more flora in places like the Los Angeles Basin and the Santa Clara Valley than there has ever been before! There is no shortage of bloom for bees. In fact, there is an overabundance of bloom potentially distracting bees from pollinating native specie who need them. Invasive exotic eucalypti might enjoy their popularity at the expense of California poppy.

Blue Princess and Blue Prince Holly

61207It is about time that someone reintroduced this technique! Blue Princess holly is now available together in the same pot as its male pollinator, Blue Prince holly (Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Princess’ and ‘Blue Prince’). With careful pruning to prevent one from crowding out the other, both can coexist and provide profuse, bright red berries every winter, indefinitely. As the plants grow, their main trunks will eventually graft together.

Blue Princess holly is purported to be the shrubbier of the two. Blue Prince might be a bit more compact, and might grow a bit slower. Both eventually get about seven feet tall and nearly as broad, with remarkably glossy evergreen foliage. Their rather wavy leaves have sharply pointed teeth. Fortunately, their teeth are not quite as sharp as those of traditional English holly, which happens to be one of their mutual parents.

If possible, it might be helpful to identify the two cultivars of holly in a mixed planting, and label them so that neither one nor the other gets pruned out. Blue Prince will be the plant that produces no berries. Of course, with selective pruning ‘Blue Prince’ can be confined and subordinated to the showier ‘Blue Princess’. Individual ‘Blue Princess’ holly plants are better for hedges, with separate ‘Blue Prince’ plants nearby.

The Secret Affairs Of Flowers

61207thumbThere are some things about plants that we might be better off not knowing about. For instance, their idea of sex is even weirder than that of humans! Generally, flowers of ‘monoecious’ plants have male parts and female parts that do what they must to produce seed, which is often contained in some sort of fruit structure. Some plants can pollinate themselves. Ick! Others require separate but compatible pollinators.

Some plants bloom with both but separate male and female flowers. Female pine cones that produce seed are very different from the male pine flowers that produce pollen. Female flowers of spruce and several other conifers bloom higher in the canopy than male flowers. This promotes better cross pollination, since pollen must be blown upwardly but relatively randomly to the cones instead of simply falling from above.

Dioecious plants might seem less . . . weird. They actually have separate genders. Some are female. Some are male. Female plants require pollination from male plants in order to produce seed and fruit, though some can provide a few of their own male flowers if they sense a lack of males in the neighborhood. Ick again! There are certain advantages to every method of pollination, whether it makes sense to us or not.

One advantage of dioecious plants that does make sense to us is that messy fruit can be prevented by growing one gender or the other. Modern cultivars of Chinese pistache and maidenhair tree (gingko) are male, so can not produce the messy fruit that older trees are notorious for. Female date palms recycled from old date orchards are unable to produce dates without the male pollinators that do not get recycled.

However, this is a disadvantage if holly can not make berries because it lacks pollinators. Decades ago, scions (stems) of male holly were grafted onto female plants. Alternatively, male plants were sold along with female plants.

Butterfly

P71022Before you send me a comment about it, I am already aware that this is a very bad picture. It was taken with my primitive telephone because it was convenient at the time. This tired looking butterfly might not have waited for me to get the camera. It passed away, seemingly peacefully, right there on the hood of the old Chevrolet. It did not seem to be injured in any way. It probably simply expired like butterflies do after breeding. It is a natural process that the butterfly did not seem to be too distressed about. It gets no obituary because I am not qualified to write one. We are not sufficiently acquainted. I do not even know the specie of this butterfly.

Now that he or she is deceased, I ponder the beauty of these insects. They are so graceful and very colorful. They flutter about like animated flowers. Everyone likes them. Some of us grow flowers that attract them to the garden, and plants to sustain their baby caterpillars.

All flowers are designed to appeal to their pollinators of choice. Those that are pollinated by wind lack color, fragrance and other bling, but are very abundant. Those that are pollinated by flies smell like what flies like. Those that want to attract nocturnal pollinators are fragrant, luminescent (with ultraviolet patterns that are invisible to us), and open at night. Bee pollinated flowers use infrared patterns, and lots of other colors that bees like, and reward them with nectar and superfluous pollen. Well, you get the point. Floral structure, size, patterns, color, fragrance and schedule are all designed around pollinators.

It is difficult to say what butterflies like. They visit such a variety of flowers. Some have abundant pollen. Others have a bit nectar. Some are tiny flowers in dense groups. Others are larger composite (daisy-like) flowers. Butterflies can see both infrared and ultraviolet color, so it is hard to know what they see in flowers.

Some of the clustered small flowers that butterflies like are alyssum, fennel, goldenrod, phlox, Queen Anne’s lace, verbena, yarrow and of course, butterfly bush. They also like flower of the mint family, such as bee balm, lavender, oregano, rosemary and the various sages. Their favorite composite flowers include aster, calendula, cosmos, marigold, coneflower, zinnia and all the daisies and sunflowers.