The Carolina Parakeet

The Carolina Parakeet, one of the bird sculptures currently on display in the Enid A. Haupt Garden, was distinguished by its beautiful plumage and its very long tail. Although it was initially found in vast areas of the United States, its numbers began dwindling in the 19th century. The last parakeet was sighted in 1904, and the bird was declared extinct in 1939.

The sculpture is part of The Lost Bird Project, which seeks to create awareness about our fragile bird species. The creation of artist Todd McGrain, the project has been sponsored by the Smithsonian and other organizations. Four birds will remain in the Haupt Garden until spring 2015; a fifth bird is in the garden of the National Museum of Natural History.

The Carolina Parakeet Sculpture

The Carolina parakeet sculpture in the Enid A. Haupt Garden by artist Todd McGrain.

The Carolina parakeet was found in forested areas and swampy regions of the United States, stretching from the southeastern United States to the Great Plains and west to the Mid-Atlantic region. A small bird, it weighed a mere ten ounces. It was distinguished by its colorful feathers, which ranged from yellow and orange to several shades of green. Due to urbanization, its habitats began to contract in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Even in 1831, John James Audubon commented that, along the Mississippi, the number of Carolina parakeets was less than half those that existed a mere fifteen years earlier.

The demise of the parakeet was the result of several trends or causes which operated individually and collectively; these can be summarized as deforestation, decoration, displacement, and disease.

Deforestation robbed the birds of food and nesting sites, thereby killing or displacing many flocks. Moreover, habitat destruction made hunting more effective because it concentrated the birds, making them more vulnerable to hunters. Farmers and those who had small orchards saw the birds as pests. Many parakeets fell prey to hunters trying to protect their crops. When one bird was wounded, it would cry in distress, a call that summoned others of the flock. Entire flocks were shot as the birds rallied around a wounded bird.

Carolina Parakeet by Audubon

Plate 26 of Birds of America (1827-1838) by John James Audubon depicting the Carolina Parrot. (via eol.)

The birds were also vulnerable to tastes in fashion: the parakeet’s beautiful feathers were used to decorate hats. In 1886, Frank Chapman, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York noted that, walking around Manhattan, he had spotted feathers from some 40 native species of birds decorating woman’s hats. The feather trade was a lucrative business, with hunters receiving twice the price of gold for an ounce of the coveted plumes. Although Congress enacted legislation to prohibit interstate commerce in certain types of feathers, the laws had too many loopholes to curtail the trade. By 1898 the prevailing fashion had had such an impact that environmentalists and ornithologists attempted to shame women for wearing hats with feathers. One New York Times article titled “Murderous Millinery” stressed that women invited public stigma “by exhibiting themselves . . . in the relics of murdered innocence.” The Audubon Society also urged “bird hat boycotts,” suggesting that women instead wear environmentally-correct “audubonnets” bedecked with ribbons and other non-feathered ornaments.

Another contributory cause of the Carolina parakeets declining numbers may have been the importation of honeybees, which evicted the birds from the cavities in hollow trees where they nested. Finally, some scientists have hypothesized that exotic poultry diseases may have decimated the parakeet population that had survived other threats and were in protected habitats. Whatever the reason or reasons, today Carolina parakeets can be appreciated only in museums and ornithological collections, where they are mounted specimens rather than part of a gregarious flock.

-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian Gardens volunteer

The Lost Bird Project is a companion exhibit to “Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America” on view at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries through October 2015.

October 14, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

In Pursuit of Primary Sources (National History Day Part II)

As a continuation to the National History Day post, we wanted to offer ways to find credible primary sources for any research projects. There is an infinite amount of information available to students today, but it is also infinitely important to know how to search for credible sources. Resources are available both online and in-person if you know where to look.

Collage of Archives of American Gardens primary sources.

The Archives of American Gardens is just one place to look for primary sources related to gardens, parks, and cultural landscapes. Landscape design plans, postcards, and photos can all provide rich primary source material for research.

If your student is looking for something available online these are great starting points:

However, not everything in an institution is available online. If your student has the ability to do so, visiting an archive is a great way to find primary and secondary sources. Local courthouses and city offices hold historical records such as property deeds or census records and registries. Art museums and galleries are also a great source. There may be local colleges or universities in your area with historical collections waiting to be explored. Don’t forget to look for historical societies, churches, and of course libraries which all may have primary sources about your area. All it takes is a phone call or e-mail stating your interest to find out what material is available to you!

-Catherine Bell, Archives of American Gardens intern

October 6, 2014 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

National History Day and the Archives of American Gardens (Part I)

Collage of Archives of American Gardens materials

The Archives of American Gardens contains a variety of materials including advertisements, hand painted glass slides, 35 mm film negatives, and postcards.

During a recent conversation, a parent of a high school student brought up the question of how to find primary sources to use in National History Day projects. That got the Archives of American Gardens staff thinking; maybe we have items that could help students find interesting and exciting ideas for projects. The 2015 theme for NHD is “Leadership and Legacy in History,” and a further description for the theme can be found here: http://www.nhd.org/images/uploads/Theme_2015_5-7.pdf.

NHD encourages participants to develop their understanding of history using both primary and secondary resources, finding new stories beyond what is generally taught in the classroom. While the NHD website offers some great ideas for topics, the staff at AAG have a few of our own to offer. Each of the topics listed are ideas or starting points for an NHD project, and we have included places to find further information and resources beyond AAG collections.

Garden Club of America dedication ceremony of redwoods grove.

Garden Club of America dedication ceremony. The first section of the GCA Grove was purchased in 1931 and formally dedicated in 1934. Photo courtesy of The Garden Club of America. Courtesy of Save the Redwoods League.

Legacy of the Redwoods: How the Garden Club of America saved a Forest:

Milton Hershey’s Legacy: Public Spaces at the Hershey Rose Gardens:

Sargent in the Library at the Arnold Arboretum examining Quercus herbarium specimens.

Sargent in the Library at the Arnold Arboretum examining Quercus herbarium specimens. Photo taken by T.E. Marr in 1904. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Collection.

The Leadership and Legacy of Charles Sprague Sargent:

The Leadership and Legacy of Frederic Law Olmsted: (Note: Materials listed are extensive)

Leader in Conservation: The Legacy of J. Horace McFarland:

Other ideas for further research include:

  • The Leadership of the W. Atlee Burpee Company
  • Legacy of Gardening in America
  • Changing the Landscape: the Legacy of Women in Landscape Architecture and Design
  • Public Parks: the Legacy of Public Spaces in American History

Whatever topic your student may choose, we hope these offer some unique opportunities to create an interesting project for National History Day. The Archives of American Gardens staff welcomes any questions regarding these ideas or collection materials and can be reached at aag@si.edu or 202-633-5840.

-Catherine Bell, Archives of American Gardens intern

October 1, 2014 at 7:45 am 1 comment

Volunteer with Smithsonian Gardens in the new exhibition “Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty”

Orchid exhibit logo

In January 2015, Smithsonian Gardens, the U.S. Botanical Garden, and the National Museum of Natural History will open a new temporary exhibit, Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty. This three-month exhibition (January 24-April 26, 2015) will feature thousands of live orchids and offer visitors the opportunity to explore how new ideas, technologies, and inventions change the way we study, protect, and enjoy these beautiful plants.

Volunteer orchid interpreters will have the opportunity to engage the public in this beautiful exhibition space and help visitors understand how each new innovation, like a puzzle piece, fills in gaps in our knowledge and creates a larger and more complex picture of orchids. As a volunteer, you will be trained to answer questions, provide additional information, and offer visitors short, hands-on activities to encourage them to think more deeply about how we study, protect, and enjoy orchids. You will also have the opportunity to assist with public programs and special events related to the exhibition.

Phalaenopsis Merlot Mist 'Cascade' orchid

Phalaenopsis Merlot Mist ‘Cascade’

Volunteer Position Duration: November 17, 2014 – April 26, 2015 (including training)

Training: Four training sessions beginning in November. Training sessions will include sessions on museum learning, visitor engagement, and exhibit content. Each session will be led by Smithsonian Gardens’ museum educators and orchid experts.

Qualifications: Volunteers should have an interest in orchids (though prior knowledge is not necessary) and in be comfortable working with diverse audiences. Good communication skills are a must. Experience teaching or delivering interpretive tours/programs is a bonus.

Interested in volunteering or want more information? Contact us at gardenvolunteers@si.edu or apply online at www.gardens.si.edu/get-involved/volunteers

APPLICATION DEADLINE – OCTOBER 30, 2014

September 29, 2014 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Dishing up New Orleans Food History

This evening marks the end of the delicious—and educational—2014 FOOD in the Garden programming in the Victory Garden. This fall we explored a different key maritime region with connections to the War of 1812 each week: the Long Island Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and this week, New Orleans. What contributed to the global and unique cuisine of the Big Easy? How did immigrants shape the culinary heritage of the original foodie city? Our final week we’ll be joined by Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company, Capital City Co., and Phillip Greene in the marketplace and our very own James Gagliardi will be signing copies of Encyclopedia of Garden Plants for Every Location, the first Smithsonian Gardens book on gardening.

'Carolina Gold' rice growing in the Victory Garden

‘Carolina Gold’ rice growing in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History.

New Orleans conjures up images of ornate cast-iron railings, boisterous brass bands, and of course, red beans and rice. The cuisine of New Orleans is a true melting pot of flavors and cultures, a product of its unique location on a major waterway and its tumultuous and storied past. Jambalaya, beignets, and chicory coffee are the confluence of hundreds of years of cross-cultural connections and shared meals steeped in French, Spanish, Caribbean, American Indian, and African traditions.

The archetypal New Orleans meal (in this author’s non-scientific, Yankee opinion) is red beans and rice. Like much of the city’s cuisine, there is debate over the origins of this nutritious & delicious one-pot dish. Precursors of the dish can be found in Spanish, Haitian, Caribbean, and African cuisine. No matter the origins, each chef has their own idea of the “perfect” recipe for Monday dinner, the traditional day to dish up this classic. Before washing machines, Monday was customarily the day to spend hours scrubbing the family clothes. Because this was an all-day process a pot of beans with a ham bone and some vegetables was set to simmer for an easy meal after a busy and sudsy day. Dishes that originated in the working class and slave communities migrated to the elegant tables of the French Quarter and into the city’s lexicon of flavor via hardworking and innovative cooks utilizing a truly global arsenal of ingredients. From the tables of stately homes to mom-and-pop joints, you’ll find this king of dishes on the menu in Louisiana homes and restaurants today.

Rice, like the apples featured on the blog last week, is a species introduced from afar but an American dietary staple through and through. The history of rice in the United States cannot be untangled from our dark history of slavery. More and more scholars argue for a West African introduction of rice cultivation techniques to the Americas, with rice being transported over the treacherous Middle Passage and grown by enslaved Africans in their small garden plots. This year we’re growing ‘Carolina Gold’ rice in the Victory Garden. It was a successful plantation crop in the Carolina Lowcountry, its sweet and clean taste complementing delicate fish stews. However, ‘Carolina Gold’ was too finicky a crop to keep up with the mechanical, modern world and was almost lost to extinction. The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation and a small group of rice farmers are leading the charge to put this historic rice back on the table.

New Orleans native Louis Armstrong considered red beans and rice to be his favorite dish among many favorite dishes. He loved red beans and rice so much he often signed off on letters with “Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Louis Armstrong.” Not able to join us at FOOD in the Garden this evening? Whip up a pot of this New Orleans favorite with this recipe for red beans and rice from Armstrong and his wife Lucille, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum and NPR.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

September 25, 2014 at 4:32 pm Leave a comment

Beyond Apple Pie: Apple Cider

This week we are highlighting a tree that is not growing in our Victory Garden—yet. Every Thursday in September we are exploring one of four key maritime regions with connections to the War of 1812 at FOOD in the garden at the National Museum of American History: the Long Island Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and New Orleans. This week’s theme transports us to the Great Lakes region for a discussion of the ever-changing agricultural heritage of the “Eden of the West.” Join us in the Victory Garden for delicious food, cider-making demonstrations from Distillery Lane Ciderworks, rhubarb and apples pies from Whisked! Bakery, and more. Tickets available here.

Apples and cider

A display of apples and cider from Distillery Lane Ciderworks at the September 4th, 2014 FOOD in the Garden program.

What is more American than apple pie? At one point in American history the answer might have been apple cider. Cultivated apples (Malus domestica) originated from the wild species Malus sieversii in Asia and were brought to North America by European colonists in the seventeenth century. Much of the climate of North America was found to be amenable to growing apples. Through the process of grafting, regional varieties proliferated to create a distinctly American pomology. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew apples on their farm estates (here at Smithsonian Gardens we like to think of them as the founding gardeners) and produced cider. Today cider usually refers to the sweet, non-alcoholic variety. The cider (or “cyder”) of the 18th and 19th centuries was a fermented, alcoholic beverage and much different than the commercially-available hard cider today. Dry, cloudy, and lightly effervescent, cider was brewed in relatively small batches and tasted distinctly of the maker’s favorite blend of local apples. Cider apples are more bitter than apples used for baking and eating fresh, and there were hundreds of choices. Jefferson preferred ‘Golden Wilding’ and ‘Red Hughes’ for his cider. According to author Frank Browning in his book Apples, casks of cider were even used as an informal currency, an acceptable payment for goods and services.

Every apple-growing region in the United States was once known for their locally-developed cultivars. Lumpy or squat or pink on the inside, apples can express a certain terroir particular to the people and places who gave them root. Apples with names like ‘Chenango Strawberry’ and ‘Black Oxford’ are stories begging to be told. In the twentieth century Prohibition left cider production at a standstill and a more robust national transportation system put apples on the table no matter the season. Now, at most grocery stores only about a dozen varieties are available, cultivated over the years for their hardiness and sweeter flavor. The United States is now the second-leading producer of apples in the world, after China. ‘Red Delicious’ reigns as local apples have faded away, some lost but others making a comeback as interest in historic American food and foodways grows.

Once “new” to the Great Lakes region, apples are now deeply ingrained in the cultural and culinary heritage of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. At FOOD in the Garden this week our panel will discuss apples and other exotic (and sometimes invasive) species introduced to the Great Lakes region as settlers moved westward in search of fertile farmland. Tim Rose of Distillery Lane Ciderworks will be joined by Jodi Branton of the National Museum of American Indian and Rick Finch, interim director of the Glenn Miller Birth Place Museum for the discussion.

We hope to see you tomorrow evening in the Victory Garden as we raise a glass of cider to food history!

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

September 17, 2014 at 4:23 pm Leave a comment

The Fish Pepper

This is the second in a series of blog posts highlighting heirloom plants growing in our Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History with ties to the FOOD in the Garden theme of the week. Every Thursday in September we are exploring one of four key maritime regions with connections to the War of 1812: the Long Island Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and New Orleans. We hope to see you tomorrow evening in the Victory Garden as we enjoy garden-fresh food, cocktails and hard cider from New Columbia Distillers and Distillery Lane Ciderworks, and learn more about two hundred years of Chesapeake Bay foodways. This week’s event is sold out, but you can follow @amhistorymuseum on Twitter for live updates. Tickets for the programs on September 18th and 24th can be purchased here.

The 'Fish' Pepper

The fish pepper in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History.

This spicy heirloom pepper has deep roots in African-American history, the fishing industry, and the food traditions of the Chesapeake Bay region. The fish pepper is both a decorative and culinary treasure; beautiful variegated foliage provides an attention-grabbing backdrop for the striated peppers that range from white to green to deep oranges and reds. It’s a workhorse plant that’s pretty enough to show off in the front yard as an ornamental and produces peppers with a mellow heat all summer long.

The heirloom 'fish' pepper

A young fish pepper on the left, and a more mature pepper with stripes on the right. The fruit matures to a vibrant red.

The origins of the fish pepper (Capsicum annum, the same species as the Tabasco pepper) are mysterious, but it likely arrived in North America by way of the Caribbean. A possible genetic mutation caused the plant to produce the prized spicy, light-colored peppers. African-American slaves and freedmen in Antebellum Maryland used the pepper to add an unanticipated heat to fish, shellfish—and even terrapin—stew. It was a prized “secret” ingredient in white sauces. The creamy, green young peppers added undetected heat to a white sauce without muddying the color. According to the authors of Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots along the Pepper Trail, the decline of the fish pepper (and its brush with extinction) is closely tied to the decline of the fishing industry in the Chesapeake Bay, though this heirloom is now is making a culinary comeback in the Baltimore area and is available from some seed companies.

Here are two past blog entries from Smithsonian Gardens and the National Museum of American History on the history of fish pepper. Enjoy!

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

September 10, 2014 at 3:21 pm Leave a comment

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