Showing posts with label plant identification. Show all posts
Showing posts with label plant identification. Show all posts

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rockery Plants - Part 2

OK, here's Part 2 of our virtual plant identification tour of Seattle rockeries.
This is Bergenia crassifolia, or winter blooming bergenia. It is also called "pig squeak" because the leaves make a squeaking sound if you rub them when they are wet. This is an evergreen perennial that requires little care. Just cut away old or cold-damaged leaves and faded flowers to keep it tidy.

These chartreuse flower heads belong to Euphorbia (I'm guessing this is a young specimen of E. chariacias wulfenii) a large genus of plants that includes the poinsettia (E. pulcherrima). Be careful handling these plants. They have a milky, white sap that is very irritating to the skin - I always wear rubber gloves when working with them, having been burned (literally!) in the past.

Along with them, a collection of English bluebells have taken up residence. Rarely planted on purpose, you'll find these cheerful blue flowers in gardens and rockeries everywhere in Seattle.

Speaking of blue flowers, these are grape hyacinths (Muscari sp.) These also happily multiply wherever they are planted. The red plant below them is a variety of Sedum.

Of course, rockeries are not all planted with ground covers and small perennials. When the planting pockets are large enough, small trees and shrubs can do quite nicely. Here at the top of the rockery is a weeping Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Atropurpureum'), below it is David's viburnum (Viburnum davidii), and at the bottom, lavender (Lavandula sp.) is blooming.

Rockery gardening can be challenging because the planting spaces are often quite small and they dry out quickly in warm weather. Watering can be difficult because the force of the water stream can wash away some of what little soil is there. But after some trial and error, you will find a planting combination that will thrive with a minimum of care.

Missed the first part of the tour?
Go back to Part 1.

Rockery Plants - Part 1

As I said in my post on retaining walls and rockeries, Seattle is a city built on hills. Those hills are terraced with miles and miles of rockeries, which are planted, both accidentally and on purpose, with thousands and thousands of plants. Many of these plants bloom in spring, lining our streets with mini-explosions of color.

If you have ever wondered what any of these plants are, I'm here to help. In the next two posts, I'm going to take you on a little virtual tour of Seattle rockeries to help you identify some of the many plants you see blooming there this time of year.
This is a classic rockery plant combination: yellow Alyssum 'Basket of Gold,' paired with purple Aubrietia deltoidea. Aubrietia comes in both dark and lighter shades of purple; less common is a variety with deep rose colored flowers.

Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) is a tough perennial with a long bloom time. It's one of the true bright whites (along with shotweed flowers) that you see early in the season. If you have this plant in your rockery, be sure to shear it after blooming to keep it from getting leggy. 

The red and green succulent plant spilling out onto the stairs is one of the many varieties of Sedum available in our area. Sedums are particularly well suited to life in a rockery because they require very little in terms of water, nutrients and care. 

The pink flowers on the left are heather (Erica sp.), the medium blue flowers in the middle are Lithodora, and the light blue flowers at right are periwinkle (Vinca sp). As with candytuft, all three of these should be sheared or cut back after blooming to keep them compact. In the lower left corner, new fronds, called fiddleheads, are emerging from a fern. To keep ferns looking tidy, cut away old, dried out fronds in late winter/early spring.

Wait! There's more:



Friday, May 20, 2011

Picking Out the Pines

Do you have trouble telling one conifer from another? Do pines, cedars, firs and spruces all look the same to you? Well, after you read this post, you'll be able to tell the pines, at least, from all the others.

Here's how: pay attention to evergreen trees in your neighborhood this week. You'll notice that some of them have new shoots emerging from the tips of their branches that look like fingers pointing toward the sky.

These shoots look as if the tree is making the kind of rude gestures that humans do when they've been cut off in traffic. But don't take this personally, because these "fingers" are simply the beginnings of this year's growth for the pine tree. No other conifer produces shoots that look like these, so when you see them, you know the tree is a pine.

Over the next few weeks, these shoots, called "candles," will grow longer and shortly after that, new needles will appear along them. Depending on the type of pine, this will add anywhere from one to eighteen inches to the size of the tree.

You'll notice that some pines have white candles. (My guess is that these white shoots are what inspired people to start calling them candles.)

And that some have yellow candles. But they all work the same way.

You can shape a pine tree over the years by pinching the candles to stop or slow the growth of a branch. If you don't want a branch to add any new growth for the year, cut the candle completely off. If you want it to add some growth, but not too much, cut off just a portion of the candle. This technique is used in formal Asian gardens to train pines into a specific shapes.


As a bit of pine trivia, you might be interested in the fact that pine trunks offer a sort of record of the amount of rainfall from year to year. If you look closely at the tree on the left, you can see that there's bare trunk for several inches, then a whorl of branches, then more bare trunk, another whorl of branches, and so on. The distance from one whorl to the next is one year's growth. In rainy years, the trees grow more and the distance between whorls is longer; in drier years, it is shorter.





There are many pine varieties that grow well in the Seattle area. If you want to know more about them, the Sunset Western Garden Book has a lengthy section on types, growth rates, habits and more.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Favorite Plants: Solomon's Seal

One of my favorite woodland plants is beginning to unfurl in my garden right now. It is Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum).

This herbaceous perennial (herbaceous meaning that the foliage dies down in fall; perennial meaning that it comes back year after year) is always one of those great surprises in the garden in spring. Even though I know where it is planted, it is astonishing to see it rise up out of the ground in just a matter of days, from little pointy "noses" barely poking out of the soil to 4 foot tall arching stems.
The underside of the stems is lined with double rows of bell-shaped flowers that are slightly fragrant. The flowers fade in time, but the arching stems continue to grace the garden until late October, when the leaves turn yellow and fall, and the stems die back.

Solomon's Seal likes shady, woodland garden settings. The cultivar, 'Variegatum,' has white edges on the leaves and its stems are dark red when they first emerge.

This plant spreads via underground rhizomes. To propagate, divide clumps in early spring. You'll need a sharp shovel for this job, as the root/rhizome balls are dense.

This plant is in the same family (Liliaceae) as the Northwest native, False Solomon's Seal, but not in the same genus. If you are looking for the native at local nurseries, the botanical name is Smilacina racemosa. The plants are easy to tell apart when they are in flower. False Solomon's Seal has a conical spray of tiny white flowers at the end of each stem and no flowers under the stems. Without flowers, the plants look very similar.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Is This a Weed?

Horsetail and henbit and shot weed, oh my! Nettles that sting, geraniums gone wild, and "dandy" lions - these are a few of the plants referred to as "weeds" in the Northwest. Can you identify them in your yard? Here's a quick tutorial.

This is horsetail (Equisetum hymale), one of the oldest plants on earth. If you have ever tried to get rid of it, you understand how it has survived since prehistoric times. This is one tough plant. Chemicals won't kill it. Pulling it out like a regular weed stimulates the plant to send up even more new shoots. The most effective way to get rid of it is to starve it out by cutting stems to the ground so leaves cannot photosynthesize. Covering the area with layers of newspaper topped with bark and leaving it alone for several months may finish the job.

This is red deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), a cousin of henbit. This plant is not invasive and can easily be pulled out if it is not to your liking. You'll note that it has square stems as do all members of the mint family. The stem tips and flowers are edible but not particularly flavorful. This is the only weed I know of that has its own Facebook page.

Shotweed (Cardimine hirstuta) is hard to photograph because its stems and flowers are so delicate they all but disappear. You can easily recognize the tight rosette of leaves at the base, however, and once those little white flowers fade, you can't miss the explosive burst of seed that comes your way when you touch the plant. The seed explosion is, of course, how it gets its name, shot weed. It also explains how it manages to be so invasive - seed goes everywhere. It is edible as a bitter herb.

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioecia) can certainly get your attention. Tiny hairs on the stems and leaves act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine, acetylcholine and serotonin, among other chemicals, into the skin which produces a profound stinging sensation. In spite of that, this plant has a long history of medicinal uses including pain relief, easing arthritis symptoms, hay fever and skin problems. Stinging nettles are edible - the chemicals responsible for the sting go away when the plant is immersed in water and/or cooked. The flavor is said to be similar to spinach and it is used in soups, polenta and even cheese making.
Wild geranium (Geranium robertianum) is also known as Robert's herb or "stinky Bob" because of the strong odor emitted when you pull it up or brush against it. In late spring, this lacy plant blooms with small, star-shaped, 5-petaled pink flowers. It is shallow rooted and probably the easiest plant to pull out of the ground there is. It isn't a particular problem in urban gardens, but in the forest it will quickly overtake native ground cover.




Of course, everyone knows this one, the dandelion (Taraxicum official). Much loved by children for their sunny, yellow flowers and big, puffy, seed heads, these plants present a problem for gardeners who let their populations get out of control. However, a soil knife  or dandelion weeder will easily pop them out. All you need is time and patience. If you have a particularly large crop, you might consider exploring this plant's various culinary and medicinal properties. Dandelion greens have long been used as a spring tonic. And the flowers are used to make wine.




Monday, October 11, 2010

A Rose Is a Rose, Is an Apple, Is a Berry

Botanically speaking, roses belong to the Rosaceae (ro-ZAY-cee-ee) family. This is a huge family, encompassing over 2800 species of plants, including fruit trees, shrubs, berries and, of course, roses. There isn't a single set of characteristics you can use to identify all members of this family, but there is one identifier that several genera share: a star-like shape at the base of the fruit.

Here you see cotoneaster berries with those distinctive "stars" on the bottom.

Once you know to look for this characteristic, you will begin to recognize other relatives in this family. These include: Hawthorn, Pears, Rowan, Cotoneaster and Pyracantha.

Fall is the best time of year for this, of course, because that's the season when these fruits are ripe.

Here you see the "star" at the base of an apple, another rose relative. You'll find stars on the bottoms of pears, too.

And notice the stars on rose "hips" this time of year.  (Pictured here are Rosa glauca hips.)

Beyond this bit of botanical trivia, it is useful for gardeners to be aware of these family relationships. Many members of the Rosaceae family share a susceptibility to fungal diseases, such as black spot on roses and scab on apples. Knowing this, a gardener can be prepared to take steps to keep plants healthy, which might include the use of dormant oil sprays, good sanitation practices and companion planting with members of the allium family (garlic, chives, onion, etc.)

So there's your mini botany lesson for today. Now go out and do your own version of "star search."