San Diego (Six on Saturday #37, November 10, 2018)

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The Botanical Building in Balboa Park

This week, I traveled to San Diego, California for a scientific conference.  It was my first trip to San Diego–my first trip to anywhere in California, actually–so it was exciting to see a new part of the country.  Even the flower beds around my hotel and the convention center were full of new and interesting things.

The meeting didn’t leave much time for sightseeing, but I managed to slip away one morning and take a bus up to Balboa Park, which houses the San Diego Zoo and a variety of gardens.  I considered just wandering around the free areas of the park but eventually decided that I couldn’t miss the world famous zoo.  That turned out to be the correct choice.  In addition to being an amazing collection of endangered species (the zoo is famous for its captive breeding successes), the grounds are also a very fine botanical garden.  The weather was cool, so the animals were active, and there were hardly any visitors.  I had a good long visit with the pandas (red and giant), koalas, Tasmanian devils, komodo dragon, giant tortoises, okapis, elephants, jaguars, and many other animals, but I took more pictures of the plants.

Today being Saturday, here are six things that caught my eye in San Diego–garden related, of course.

1.  Flowering trees.

November is clearly not the best time of year for blooming trees, but nevertheless, I saw some beautiful tropical and subtropical flowers.

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Ceiba speciosa (silk floss tree) in Balboa Park
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Ceiba speciosa flower
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Spathodea campanulata (African tulip tree) in Balboa Park
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Bauhinia x blakeana (Hong Kong orchid tree) at the San Diego Zoo

2. Bird of Paradise flowers

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Roadside Strelitzia reginae

Strelitzia reginae (bird of paradise) and Strelitzia nicolai (white bird of paradise) were growing (and blooming) all over town.  S. reginae is my wife’s favorite flower, so when we were first married I tried growing some from seed.  After fifteen years, I managed to get a only single flower from an enormous clump that took up a lot of real estate in the greenhouse, so I gave up.  Clearly, flowering is not a problem when they are grown outside in San Diego.

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Strelitzia nicolae on the patio of the convention center

3.  The Botanical Building

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The Botanical Building is a Balboa Park landmark that was originally built for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition.  Before seeing it, I had assumed it was some sort of greenhouse or conservatory, but there is no glass involved.  Instead, the Botanical Building is a giant lathe house, built of wooden strips that provide the perfect amount of shade and wind protection for palms, tree ferns, and other tropical/subtropical understory plants.

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Inside the Botanical Building
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Deppea splendens flowering in the Botanical Building.  Oh, how I wish this species would survive a North Carolina summer
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An enormous Ficus sycomorus growing behind the Botanical House.  A photo can’t do justice to the scale of its massive buttress roots.  According to the Gospel of Luke, Zacchaeus the tax collector climbed one of these trees so that he could see Jesus.

4.  Australian plants

Callistemon ‘Woodlanders Hardy’ and one or two eucalyptus are the only Australian plants I know of that can be grown in North Carolina, and even those are marginal outside of the coastal plain.  The climate of southern California is more similar to parts of Australia, so I wasn’t surprised to see a wider variety of plants from Down Under.

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Anigozanthos (Kangaroo paw) in a flower bed at the convention center.  I wonder if one of these could be grown in a pot in North Carolina, if protected from rain?
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A little grove of Brachychiton rupestris (Queensland bottle trees) at the zoo

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I assume this is Australian, because it was growing in the koala habitat at the zoo.  Australian readers, help me out. Is this some sort of Grevillea?  It was growing as a tall shrub, or small tree. [Update:  This appears to be Alloxylon flammeum.  Thanks to Jim Stephens for the suggested identification.]
5. African and Malagasy plants

The zoo has a really impressive collection of succulents from Madagascar and southern Africa.

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Alluadia procera (Madagascar) outside the Elephant Care Center
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Cyphostemma juttae (southern Africa)
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Pachypodium lamerei and Moringa drouhardii (bottle tree, smooth trunk on left), both from Madagascar
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Euphorbia spectabilis (Tanzania)
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Uncarina sp. (Madagascar)

6. Hawaiian plants

I suppose the climate of Hawaii, particularly on the drier leeward side of the islands, must be not entirely unlike that of coastal San Diego County.

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Brighamia insignis (Ōlulu, Cabbage-on-a-stick) growing among other Hawaiian plants at the zoo.  Despite the whimsical common name, this is a member of the Campanulaceae, not a cabbage relative.
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Pritchardia hillebrandii (loulu lelo palm) in the Botanical Building

For more Six on Saturday, click over to The Propagator, where you will find his Six and links to other participants.

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Holiday snapshots, botanical and otherwise

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View from the Raven’s Nest, Schoodic Peninsula

One of the reasons why posting has been sparse here recently is that we took our annual beat-the-heat trip to Maine a couple of weeks early this year.  For the most part, not much was different between late July and early August.  The friendly snowshoe hare who lives in the garden of the little house we rent was still there…

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…and the local eagle stopped by to say hello again:

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As in previous years, we spent our time fishing for mackerel, jigging for squid, cooking the mackerel and squid, and hiking along the intensely picturesque eastern Maine shoreline.

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Quoddy Head State Park.  Lubec, Maine is in the background and Campobello Island, New Brunswick is at far right.  This is as far east as you can go in the United States.

What was different, if only subtly so, was the array of flowering plants.

In August, I have seen a few Campanula rotundifolia (harebells) flowering on cliffs and headlands.  In July, there were many more plants in bloom.

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Campanula rotundifolia

At Quoddy Head State Park, I saw a single white specimen:

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C. rotundifolia, white form

Also at Quoddy Head, the last flowers of Kalmia angustifolia (sheep laurel) could be seen in the bog.  In previous years, there have been only seed capsules.

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Kalmia angustifolia

In the woods, I found another member of the Ericaceae. Monotropa uniflora (Indian pipes) lacks both leaves and chlorophyll and is parasitic on the mycorrhizal fungi of various tree species.

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Monotropa uniflora

Like the sheep laurel, I have seen Silene vulgaris (bladder campion) in previous years, but always in seed.  This year, plants were still blooming.

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Silene vulgaris

I finally was able to identify some of the Iris plants that grow near the sea.  On the headlands near the splash zone, I find very small irises that I assume are Iris hookeri (beach head iris).  A little further back, at the edge of the trees, I often find much taller irises growing where little streamlets are blocked by rocks or sand and form miniature bogs.  I wasn’t sure if the taller plants were the same species, growing larger due to the local environment, or a completely different species.  This year a few of the larger plants were still in bloom, and I could see that they are Iris versicolor (northern blue flag).

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Iris versicolor

And I never get tired of photographing Chamaenerion angustifolium (fireweed), one of my favorite wildflowers.

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Chameanerion angustifolium, Rosa rugosa, and Spiraea alba growing beside the Quoddy Narrows.

Houston: Mercer Botanical Gardens (Six on Saturday #32)

Mercer Botanical Gardens are located north of downtown Houston, very close to George Bush Intercontinental Airport.  I had visited the gardens once before, about seventeen years ago, but remembered very little, so during our recent trip to Houston, I took the opportunity to renew my acquaintance.

I had forgotten about Hurricane Harvey.  During the flooding last year, the gardens were submerged under eight feet of muddy, polluted water.  Clearly the floods did a lot of damage, and just as clearly the gardens employees and volunteers have been working very hard to repair the damage. This article from the Houston Chronicle describes the devastation, and a google image search will show you what the gardens once were.  These six pictures will give you a little taste of what the gardens are now, and a hint of what they will be again.

1.  Dead palm tree

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Some of the garden grounds were still closed off, and in the open areas damaged plants were still visible.  After the flooding, last winter included an unusually prolonged cold spell in the Houston area, which probably did not help the tender palms.  Virtually all of those that were still alive had damaged fronds, but that damage is temporary.  I’m not sure if this palm tree was left in the ground because the staff had been overwhelmed, or if they were waiting to see if it might resprout.

2.  Zephyranthes (rain lilies)

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Many of the plants that seemed to be in the best conditions were tropical bulbs and rhizomes, particularly those that tolerate wet soil (crinum, gingers, etc).  Presumably, these plants resisted being washed away by the flood, and any top damage was easily replaced.  I saw an enormous clump of Hymenocallis caribaea, unfortunately not blooming, that was in prime condition, but the best flowers were on these unlabeled Zephyranthes.  They were blooming all by themselves in a rock garden area that appeared to have been recently renovated but not yet replanted.

3-5. Tropical shrubs and trees

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Erythrina crista-galli, one of the parents of Erythrina x. bidwillii

Although many of the beds are thus far, still fairly barren, splashes of color from vigrous perennials and fast growing tropical trees and shrubs hint at how spectacular the gardens will be again in a few years.

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Huge, hot-pink flowers of Lagerstroemia speciosa
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Stachytarpheta mutabilis (coral porterweed)

6.  Anolis sagrei (brown anole)

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The gardens were swarming with little brown anoles.  A. sagrei is native to Cuba and the Bahamas, and it is an invasive species in the southeastern U.S.  where it often replaces the native Anolis carolinensis (green anole).  My parents’ garden south of Houston still has green anoles, but I didn’t see a single native lizard at Mercer.

So, that’s Six on Saturday and a very brief look at Mercer as it is now.  For more Six on Saturday, head over to the blog of The Propagator, who started this weekly exercise and collects links from other participants.

Houston: Brazos Bend State Park

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This week we traveled to see family in Houston.  While there, we visited two places that may be of interest to readers of this blog:  Brazos Bend State Park and Mercer Botanic Garden.

Brazos Bend State Park is a 4897-acre park on the banks of the Brazos River in rural Fort Bend County, about 45 miles from downtown Houston.  It contains prairie, bottomland forest, and various wetlands, and it is one of my favorite places to visit in the Houston area because of its varied wildlife.

The primary appeal of Brazos Bend–at least for our family–is the large population of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis).  On a warm summer day, they are everywhere.

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Be careful if you decide to sit on a log.
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And pay attention if you go down to the water’s edge.
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Don’t dabble your fingers or toes in the duckweed.

In the winter, we sometimes don’t see any, but this week was hot (95 F) and very, very humid–perfect weather for gator viewing.  The kids stopped counting at thirty.

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The rangers recommend that visitors stay 30 feet away from alligators.  That can be difficult when they park themselves beside the trail.

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Discretion is the better part of valor, and it is usually best to turn down another trail. Nevertheless, some people get a bit too close:

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I prefer to trust in a good zoom lens.

In addition to the alligators, there is a lot of other wildlife in Brazos Bend.  On past visits, we have seen armadillos and feral pigs, but this year all of our sightings were in and around the water.  We saw three red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) laying eggs and a fourth lumbering across the path, probably on its way to build a nest or returning to the water after finishing.  We didn’t bother to count the turtles in the water.

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Red-eared slider on her nest.

There were also a wide variety of water birds, including:

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Black-bellied whistling duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
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Common gallinule (Gallinula galeata)
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A black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) who looks as though it is up to no good.
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Green heron (Butorides virescens).  There were also a number of little blue herons (Egretta caerulea), but none held still for a photograph..
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Great egret (Ardea alba)
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A bedraggled anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) drying itself after a swim.

Just about the only animals we saw that weren’t aquatic or semi-aquatic were the golden silk spiders (Nephila clavipes) that had spun their webs along (or across) the trail in wooded areas.

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We also saw some of the same animals a little closer to home.  One morning, I strolled down to the spillway near my parents’ house, where the neighborhood lake drains into Oyster Creek.  A handsome family of black-bellied whistling ducks was sheltering on top of the spillway.

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Mama duck was keeping all of the ducklings tucked under her wings, probably because several herons were skulking nearby, ostensibly fishing but probably keeping an eye open for stray ducklings.

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Great blue heron (Ardea herodias)
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Black-crowned night heron

The herons flew away, complaining loudly, when eldest offspring and I walked down to see what we could see in the creek, and as soon as they were gone, mama duck let the babies out.

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That’s probably enough photographs for one post.  I’ll save Mercer Botanic Garden for another day.

Trilliums at Plant Delights Nursery (Six on Saturday #22, February 24, 2018)

This weekend is the first Plant Delights open house for 2018, so the whole family made the pilgrimage down to Raleigh to sign over our paycheck (and possibly first-born offspring) to Tony Avent.  After buying a few more plants than planned, we took a walk around the gardens.  The Agaves and other desert plants were looking a little the worse for wear after the cold snap in January, so the shade garden was where all the action was.  A variety of spring ephemerals were starting to bloom, but my attention was captured by the trilliums and their fantastic mottled foliage.  It being Saturday, here are six of them.

1.   Trillium x Freatum PDN #14

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This plant was absolutely my favorite of all the trilliums in the garden.  I love the combination of  brownish mottling and yellow flower with darker orange overlay.  If someone (hint, hint, PDN staff) were to tissue culture this plant, I would buy the heck out of it.

Trillium x Freatum is Plant Delights’ own hybrid of Trillium “freemanii” x Trillium cuneatumT. “freemanii” seems to be an unpublished name for a Trillium population, possibly allied to T. cuneatum, in Hamilton County, Tennessee.

2. Trillium maculatum ‘Kanapaha Giant’

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3.  Trillium stramineum

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4.  Trillium decipiens

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5.  Trillium reliquum

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6.  Trillium “No Tag”

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For more interesting ‘Six on Saturday’ blog posts, click over to The Propagator.  You’ll see his contribution and links to those of other participants.