Posts tagged ‘flowers’

Explore Smithsonian Gardens’ Orchids Online!

At the end of April, after ten months of planning, coordinating, and troubleshooting, the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection (SGOC) went live. No, we didn’t kill off all of the plants over the winter and revive them for this announcement . . . I mean live as in on-air, online, and freely accessible! SGOC is now available for the world to explore on the Smithsonian Collections Search Center and is the only living collection to join the multitudes of objects, specimens, and archival records that are contained within the site. Below is a snapshot of what an individual catalog record looks like:

Collection, Orchid record sample

Example of a Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection record in the Smithsonian Institution Collections Search Center.

Records are updated twice a month and contain basic information about each accession, such as scientific name, flower color, range (if a species), and taxonomy. One of the best parts of having the collection online is being able to peruse the beautiful images taken by our talented volunteers Gene Cross, Bryan Ramsay, and James Osen.  So far, about a third of the records have images associated with them. We only photograph the orchids when they are in bloom, but many of our orchids (especially the species) are either too small to bloom, or haven’t yet bloomed during their time at the greenhouses.

SGOC’s presence on the Collections Search Center is serving as motivation to improve Smithsonian Gardens’ collection records in BG-BASE and correct plant identification errors.  Our hope is that these records can be a valuable resource for educators, students, researchers, and curious individuals, and a source of orchid inspiration year-round.

-Julie Rotramel, Smithsonian Gardens Living Collections Contractor

July 9, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

The Magic of Rain Lilies

The common name rain lily comes from this plant’s tendency to bloom after a good soaking from Mother Nature.  They are native to tropical and semi-tropical regions of the Americas.   There are 3 genera commonly known as rain lilies – Zephyranthes, Habranthus, and Cooperia.  Rain lilies are a perennial bulb with a hardiness of USDA Zones 7 to 11 for most species.  They come in various colors, mostly ranging from pinks, yellows, and whites and new colors are popping up through hybridizing and breeding all the time.  Although the common name would suggest that they are in the Liliaceae (lily) family, they actually fall under Amaryllidaceae.

Zephyranthes candida

Zephyranthes candida (Kai Yan, Joseph Wong, photographers. Image via eol.)

Rain lilies are often grown in containers where they can be placed on a front porch or around a deck and will reward all season long.  I have found that if grown in containers, they seem to prefer being slightly crowded and even somewhat pot-bound.  They also look great along a pathway or in the front of a sunny border and are often used in rock gardens.  To get the finest show, Rain lilies look best planted in masses.  Most Rain lilies will bloom several times a season, usually after a good downpour.

If you live in a zone where Rain lilies are not hardy they are easy to overwinter.  When it starts getting cooler, simply bring them indoors (either the container or, if planted, the dug up plants – if possible give them a quick potting) and keep them dry all winter, then set them outside again in the spring.  You can pull off the foliage as it dies to keep them clean.  You may want to either add soil or rough the edges of the pot prior to setting them outside if the soil has shrunk over the winter.

Habranthus tubispathus

Habranthus tubispathus, also referred to as Habranthus texanus (Stan Shebs, photographer. Image via eol.)

Rain lilies grow best in full sun to partial shade.  They prefer to be kept evenly moist but can tolerate periodic dry spells without problem.  During summer months use a well-balanced fertilizer (either liquid or slow release).  The bulbs produce offsets which can be divided and planted in spring or you can sow seeds if you wish.  If you are collecting seeds, sow right away before they dry as they tend to lose the ability to germinate and may take extra time to do so.  Rain lilies are very gardener-friendly as they have no serious pest or disease issues.  I have had problems with mealy bugs, however, but that is because I start watering them earlier in the season than normal and I keep them in the greenhouse for a fuller plant come spring.  Be aware that all parts of the plant can be toxic if ingested.

After reading this, you may be eager to see some Rain lilies for yourself, so please stop by the Ripley Garden at the Smithsonian Institution this summer and enjoy their beauty.  Some of the ones we display are Zephyranthes flavissima, Habranthus robustus ‘Russell Manning’, Habranthus texanus, and Zephyranthes candida.

 

-Matt Fleming, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist

May 25, 2014 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

It’s official: Spring is coming soon!

One of the most glorious harbingers of spring, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ is in full glorious bloom in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.  The blooming of the Witch hazels is a sure sign that the end of this dreadful winter is near.

Hamamelis 'Arnold Promise'

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’

You cannot miss these beauties—they are often referred to as trees, but in actuality they are mature shrubs.  The specimens in the Ripley Garden are probably over forty years old and are about twelve feet tall and fifteen feet wide and covered in small golden spider-like flowers.  What I find so magical is that the flowers will curl the petals up on a cold day and unfurl once again when the sun hits them.  Although they look dainty, they are built for cold temperatures.  I have often seen them blooming while covered in snow.

Witch hazel in bloom in the Ripley Garden.

Witch hazel in bloom in the Ripley Garden.

Hamamelis 'Arnold Promise' (with yellow flowers) and Acer 'Sangu Kaku' (with red stems)

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ (with yellow flowers) and Acer ‘Sangu Kaku’ (with red stems)

Oh, and did I mention the fragrance?  Exquisite, dreamy sweetness.   The entire south end of the garden is perfumed.

Also in bloom, but a little more subtle:

Adonis amurensis

Cheery Adonis amurensis

-A couple of newly-planted Adonis amurensis have recently bloomed. Golden two-inch flowers peak out just above the soil on naked stems. After the flowers start fading the lacy foliage will emerge for a few months then go dormant in the summer.

-Dainty little yellow Eranthus hyemalis—this ground-hugging Winter aconite looks like little yellow bubbles above a ruff of foliage.  The “bubbles” are actually the five-petaled flowers curled up before they fully open.

-The first signs of Daffodil ‘Rinjvelt’s Early Sensation’ –not a prize daffodil, but one of the earliest, so thus it is very special to me!

-And a few Crocus tommasinianus, the sweet, self-sowing, little ‘Tommy Crocus’ which I have planted under a mature Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana).

Come on out – I am sure every day something new will be emerging from a snowy slumber. We will post more photos of the Ripley Garden soon.

-Janet Draper, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist

AFTERNOON UPDATE:

Did I jinx myself by saying that I had seen the Witch hazel in the snow?  Guess what is happening in Washington, D.C. right now?. Yep,  More snow. YUCK.  (But, I must confess, right now it is pretty magical out there.)

Just of few things that caught my eye:

Galanthus (Snowdrops)

Galanthus (Snowdrops)

Hamamelis 'Arnold Promise' braving the snow.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ braving the snow.

Young stems of Acer 'Sangu kaku' -(Coral Bark Maple)

Young stems of Acer ‘Sangu kaku’ -(Coral Bark Maple)

Ripley Garden wit ha dusting of snow on February 25, 2014.

Ripley Garden with a dusting of snow on February 25, 2014.

Eranthus hymalis flower "bubbles"

Eranthus hymalis flower “bubbles”

February 25, 2014 at 10:30 am 2 comments

Summer Solstice Celebrations

Friday, June 21 marks the 2013 summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, when the tilt of the Earth’s axis reaches its steepest incline towards the sun. It is the longest day of the year, as the sun hangs at its highest point. The solstice represents only an instant in time, but the day of its occurrence encompasses celebrations around the world throughout history. The day of the solstice, or midsummer, offers an excellent opportunity to celebrate the sunny days ahead as well as reflect on the approaching decline into autumn and winter.

In Western culture, midsummer has many ties to pagan magic. Folklore links many plants with the event in many magical capacities, like being able to see the fairies that emerged for the night, protection from natural and spiritual forces, and healing. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) maintains a strong connection to the holiday. Traditional wisdom tells us that the bright yellow flowers hold the sunny energy of midsummer, making the herb effective at treating depression, and that it can protect against thunderstorms.

St Johns wort

St. John’s wort, NMNH Botany Collections

European midsummer festivities also have abundant connections to fertility. The Swedes have an excellent saying:  “Midsummer night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking.” Cultural traditions provide ample opportunities for young people to pair up and sneak into the night, such as looking for the flower of a fern that only blooms at night in Estonia. Midsummer celebrations often involve bonfires, which play an important role in many myths, such as a jumping through a fire to aid fertility.

The West does not, however, hold a monopoly on summer solstice celebrations. Eastern cultures often observe solstice festivities, as well as Native American cultures. The ancient Chinese celebrations of the summer solstice, honoring the earth, femininity, and “yin,” complemented the heavenly, masculine, and “yang” centered winter celebrations.

Native American rituals varied by culture, and some traditions survive today. The National Museum of the American Indian Heye Center (New York) hosted an event on June 15th entitled “Circle of Dance! Inti Raymi.” The event included a family-oriented activity session to create gold foil pendants to recognize the importance of the Inti (sun) to all life, as well as a lecture session on the celebration of Inti Raymi by indigenous peoples of the Andes. The traditional festival included music, dancing, colorful costumes, and the sharing of food.

Despite being the longest day of the year, the solstice isn’t necessarily the hottest day, which means it could be a wonderful day to enjoy the outdoors. Celebrate the height of summer by working in the garden, hosting an outdoor solstice party, or building your own Stonehenge.  There are plenty of beautiful flowers in bloom right in time for the solstice, like this great flower in bloom at the Smithsonian Gardens, Oenothera fruticosa ‘Summer Solstice.’  It’s vibrant “sundrop” flowers will brighten up any day!

summer solstice

Summer solstice flowers, NMNH Botany Collections

Amber Schilling

Education and Outreach Intern

June 20, 2013 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

Roses are red, Violets are blue: What are these flowers saying to you?

Mary Vaux Walcott, Pink Rose with Violet, watercolor on paper, 1876. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Walcott, Mary Vaux. Pink Rose with Violet, watercolor on paper, 1876. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Sugar is sweet.

And so are you.”

The sweet and playful lyrics of this poem are found among the nursery rhymes of Mother Goose and often make their way into the sentiments of Valentine’s Day cards.

Is there more to this sweet refrain? Attaching meaning to certain flowers has occurred throughout history, but during the Victorian era the ‘language of flowers’ was turned into a studied exercise. This was a code that attached characteristics and expressions to all types of flora. Entire dictionaries were also published to pair each flower and its color to a specific meaning.

When we consider the verse again using the language of flowers as our guide, the words of the familiar poem have a renewed sense of purpose.

Roses are red: The meaning of roses varies according to their color; the red rose is one of the flowers most associated with Valentine’s Day because of its connotations of love, passion, desire, and beauty. To give a red rose is to say, “I love you.”

Violets are blue: Though we see violets used less frequently than roses in a valentine bouquet, they are forever associated with one another in these verses. Meanings of modesty, faithfulness, humility, and simplicity are embodied in the delicate violet, and it holds the answer to the bold statement of the red rose. To give a violet is to reply, “I return your love.”

Reconsidering this simple rhyme with the meaning of the red rose and its companion the blue violet, the words and the flowers they invoke reinvigorate the quaint nursery rhyme, and reveal truly romantic sentiments to be combined in the perfect bouquet on Valentine’s Day.

-Janie R. Askew
Research Assistant, Smithsonian Gardens
MA Candidate, History of Decorative ArtsThe Smithsonian Associates – George Mason University

February 14, 2013 at 11:00 am Leave a comment


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