Sunday, May 20, 2018

Visiting Oahu--Wahiawa Botanical Garden, Tropical at 1000'

Heliconia flowers

In the center of the island of Oahu is the Wahiawa Botanical Garden. Part of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens system, it is at about 1000' above sea level and contains tropical plants that like a lot of rain at cooler temperatures.  Conveniently located half way between Honolulu and the beaches of Oahu's North Shore, it features heliconias, figs, and economically important tropical plants such as coffee, chicle (source of chewing gum) and cinnamon, as well as spectacular ornamentals.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Plant Story--Daylilies, From Asia, Beautiful and Not Lilies

day lily Hemerocallis
Everyone always has grown daylilies and their story is well-known. It seemed. When I looked carefully, I totally rewrote this blog post.

Daylilies have been in U.S. gardens since the 1600s. It is commonly reported that both Dioscorides and Pliny in ancient Rome (1st century AD) wrote about them, but careful analysis has shown they were describing a lily, not a daylily. Daylilies came to the West from China, after 1500.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Visiting Hawaii--HIstoric Foster Botanical Garden

Path, Foster Botanical Garden, Honolulu
I recently took an off-season holiday in Honolulu, Hawaii. Inevitably, my steps took me to botanic gardens. One of Honolulu’s highlights is Foster Botanical Garden. In the heart of modern Honolulu, it was once part of the estate of the Hawaiian Queen Kalama (1817-1870), was planted with tropical trees that might become cash crops on the Islands by Dr. William Hildebrand (1821-1886) in the middle 1800s and ultimately donated to the City and County of Honolulu in 1930 by Mary Robinson Foster (1844-1930), of royal Hawaiian descent and widow of sea captain Thomas Foster (1835-1889). 

Many of the trees are huge, for example:
Queensland kauri, Aganthis robusta, an Australian tree in the Auricariaceae, a family of Southern Hemisphere conifers. They can grow 150 feet tall and 24 feet wide and produce lots of desirable wood.
Queensland kauri, Aganthis robusta, Honolulu


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Visiting Northern Colorado--Early Spring Wildflowers

Devil's Backbone, Loveland, Colorado
Plants seen along the Devil's Backbone Trail, Loveland, Colorado
This year, spring in northern Colorado has been punctuated with cold snaps and snow storms, which have delayed the appearance of spring wildflowers.

Well, that is one way to say it. Another is that the cool temperatures extended the visibility of the early flowers.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Cosmopolitan Weeds--Friends of the Botanical Traveler

Victoria, Australia
Victoria, Australia
Thousands of miles from home, surrounded by plants strange to me, I am delighted to see a plant I know.  Look, a dandelion!

dandelion, Taraxacum officiale
dandelion, Taraxacum officiale
They probably are weeds to the people who live in Australia, just as they are in Colorado, but surrounded by unknown plants, the dandelion looked like an old friend.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Visiting Costa Rica--Very Seasonal Guanacaste Province

lowland rainforest, Costa Rica
Costa Rica has been a destination for ecologists since at least the 1970s, well before it had ecotourism infrastructure--one of its strengths today. The attraction of Costa Rica to professional biologists was having so many different tropical habitats in a small area. Naturally, at 9 degrees north of the Equator, there is tropical rainforest. A line of mountains runs down the center of Costa Rica, so while the rainforest as sea level is always very warm, as you go up there are a whole series of fascinating very wet montane forests.  Cross over the mountains and lowland rainforest is there but it is not quite the same.
lowland rainforest, Costa Rica
lowland rainforest, Costa Rica
Finally Costa Rica has dry tropical forest, a region that is very rainy half the year and rainless the rest of the year.  This a climate extends along the Pacific coast of Central America, ending in Guanacaste Province, in northwestern Costa Rica. Many elements of that community are shared with Mexico and even Arizona.

I had imagined the tropical rainforest but tropical dry forest was quite unexpected.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Plant Story--Lovely Lilacs

lilac flowers

Lilac bushes grew in the yards of the houses in which I grew up and I assumed Americans had always had lilacs. After all, Under the Lilacs written in late 19th century New England, was one of Louisa May Alcott’s classical children’s stories. But lilacs are from Eurasia, and the classical lilac-colored lilacs, Syringa vulgaris, are native to eastern Europe. 

The word lilac is derived from a word for blue, though the experts don’t agree quite which language started it. You can read that it comes from Persian and Spanish but those are far from the native range of lilacs so likely not the source. Geographically, lilac is likely from a Balkan language, Albanian for example, but I have found no clear linguistic argument. Since lilac is a color word in English, it has come full circle: the plant was called lilac describing the flower colors and then in other languages, the name of the plant, lilac, became the name of a color