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

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Plant Confustions for April 1

There are some plant confusions out there. Here are three, coral tree and kapok, tea and ti, cassia and cinnamon.

Coral tree, ceibo in Spanish, Erythrina crista-galli, is the source of kapok, the cotton-like fluff is produced in the seed pods and used as a mattress filling and similar applications.
Coral tree, Erythrina crust-galli, called ceiba in Spanish
April Fool!  There are two trees with nearly identical Spanish names. Coral tree is ceibo in Spanish, scientifically Erythrina crista-galli, in the pea familiy Fabaceae. They are moderate sized trees several native to Central and South America. Kapok is ceiba in Spanish, with the scientific name Ceiba pentandra in the mallow or hibiscus family Malvaceae. Native to Central and South Ameria they grow into huge trees. Ceibo is the national flower of Argentina and Uruguay, ceiba is the national tree of Guatemala. 

kapok, ceiba, Ceiba pentandra
kapok, ceiba, Ceiba pentandra. It has just put on leaves in spring, note the pods up among the branches.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Plant Story--The Beautiful Horrible Water Hyacinth

water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes
Floating water hyacinth, Eicornia crassipes
The water hyacinth is one of the plants I treasure because I learned about it before I knew what it looked like. Therefore, one day I had a moment of joy when all things I knew about it came together.

You see, there was Eichhornia crassipes with the complex breeding system, water hyacinth the terrible weed of subtropical lakes and streams and that handsome aquatic plant for sale at garden shops.

What? They're the same plant?

Yes indeed!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Visiting Wyoming--Wildflowers of the Snowy Range

It's early spring, a few plants are flowering but lawns are still brown and trees are leafless. So let's take a walk from a June trip into Wyoming almost three years ago. I was passing through, so these are easy stops along the highway. Wow!

Snowy Range, Wyoming

The Snowy Range sits along Wyoming's southern border. You drive west out of Laramie on secondary roads and there it is. The park you see on Google maps is Medicine Bow National Park. By either name a glorious place. Summer is short, the elevation is above 8,000 feet, rising on those mountains to over 10,000 feet, so the plants burst forth in profusion, mostly quite short but brightly colored.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Plant Story--Creeping Hollygrape, Berberis repens

creeping hollygrape, Berberis repens

It is spreading all over my yard, but I can't get its name right.

I'm used to calling it Oregon grape, but in fact, the one on the Front Range in Colorado is not really Oregon grape. The usual Oregon grape is Berberis aquifolia. It is Berberis repens that is common in Colorado. Common names for this plant include creeping hollygrape, creeping barberry, creeping mahonia, and creeping Oregon grape.