Posts tagged ‘plants’

Plant Pranks

It’s April Fool’s Day! You know what that means . . . Don’t worry, we don’t have any tricks up our sleeves today. We’re going to let the plants pull all the pranks. We asked Smithsonian Gardens horticulturists to think of a few of their favorite plants that deceive and mislead both pollinators and gardeners alike. (Yes, we are anthropomorphizing here; guilty as charged!)

Maianthemum racemosum

Maianthemum racemosum a.k.a False Solomon’s Seal -suggested by James Galgliardi, Butterfly Habitat & Urban Bird Habitat Garden horticulturist: From its foliage one would think this plant to be Solomon’s Seal, but this native plant reveals its true self in bloom. Instead of the drooping bell-shaped flowers from the leaf axils seen on Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum racemosum’s flowers appear at the end of the stems as fragrant plumy racemes. Attractive berries turn ruby red in summer. These berries serve as a food source for a variety of birds in the Urban Bird Habitat.

Lycoris squamigera

Lycoris squamigera -suggested by Brett McNish, Supervisory Horticulturist: This lily loves to play tricks on unsuspecting gardeners. The green foliage grows in the spring, then dies back in the summer, leaving little evidence the plant ever existed. In late summer the flower scapes shoot up quickly and burst with beautiful pink blossoms. This is why Lycoris squamigera is also know as the ‘Resurrection’ or ‘Magic’ lily. Isn’t nature cool? (Image via eol)

Exochorda

Exochorda -suggested by Erin Clark, Victory Garden & Heirloom Garden horticulturist: Exochorda, also known as pearl bush, has flower buds that look like little pearls. At a glance out the window, it can also fool some of us paranoid sun-seekers into thinking spring has dropped yet another snow. Not to worry, it is just a sign that spring is truly here. Watch for this to bloom within the month. While we grow an heirloom species, there are many modern cultivars to choose from. (Image via eol)

Lithops

Lithops- suggested by Joe Brunetti, Victory Garden & Heirloom Garden horticulturist: Lithops, also known as ‘living stone,’ is a succulent native to southern Africa. Mimcry helps this plant blend in with its environment. The leaf pairs look like rocks and pebbles, which helps the plant to avoid being eaten. Leaf pairs can be shades of brown, green, cream, or tan and produce yellow or white flowers.  (Image via eol)

Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens orchid specialist and horticulturist, had many suggestions! Orchids are masters of trickery and deception. 

Bulbophyllum beccarii orchid

Bulbophyllum flowers often look and smell like dung, dead animals, or bloody dismembered parts of animals. They do this to attract carrion flies which pollinate them . . . but alas, the flies have been duped and get nothing in return for their pollination services. (Pictured: Bulbophyllum beccarii via eol)

Ophrys orchid

Most famous are the various orchids such as Ophrys (from the Mediterranean ) that use sexual deception to attract bees to their flowers. They have lips that strongly resemble lovely female bees to attract the young, naive male bees. Furthermore, the fragrance of their flowers contains a bee’s sex pheromone, attracting the males and tricking them into ‘pseudocopulation’ to spread the flower’s pollen. (Pictured: Ophrys scolopax via eol)

April 1, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Back to School with Plants

As parents, teachers, and students wrap up the first couple of months of the new school year. Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist Christine Price-Abelow thought it would be fun to highlight a few plants with names linked to education. Keep an eye out for these plants growing in the museum gardens on your next class field trip!

1. Chinese Scholar-tree (Sophora japonica)

Chinese Scholar-tree (Sophora japonica)

Chinese Scholar-tree (Sophora japonica)

Chinese Scholar-tree is also known as the Japanese Pagodatree. In its native country of China the Scholar–tree was often planted near Buddhist shrines, hence the name. However it is commonly used as a city or street tree in the United States. It has a moderate to fast growth rate and usually reaches a height of 40-60’ with a nice rounded crown.  Sophora trees have a compound leaf which casts a light shade and they are very tolerant to heat, drought and pollution. They produce creamy white flowers in mid-July followed by a pod type fruit.  This “educational” tree can be found on the west side of the National Air and Space Museum near the McDonald’s trailer and seating area.

2. Princeton Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’)

Princeton Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’)

Princeton Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’)

The next time you visit Smithsonian Gardens and the National Mall, be sure to look up at the large towering trees shading the walkways. A large percentage of this tree canopy is made up of American elms, specifically the ‘Princeton’ American Elm. As you know, most plant cultivars are named for people and places and the ever popular Princeton elm is no exception. The Princeton elm was first introduced in 1922 by William Flemer of Princeton Nurseries located near Princeton, New Jersey. The Princeton elm was originally selected for its resistance to Dutch elm disease and aesthetic beauty.  There are many examples of the Princeton elm planted throughout the U.S. and they can be genetically linked to a 200+ year old American elm tree formerly growing at Princeton Cemetery near Princeton University.

American elms have a beautiful yellow fall color and make excellent shade trees. They are fast growing and reach a height of about 80’ with a spread of 50-60’. The Princeton cultivar is known for its disease resistance and large dark green leaves. They are also a great choice for urban landscapes. Plant your own piece of history!

Smithsonian Gardens is using Ulmus Americana ‘Princeton’ as a street tree and in the tree box planters surrounding the museums.

3. Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)

Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)

Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)

In keeping with our “Back to School” theme, our next featured plant is the pencil cactus. Though often referred to as a cactus, this plant is actually a succulent and a member of the Euphorbia family. The pencil cactus is native to Africa and India, therefore it is grown as a seasonal tropical plant or a houseplant in the Washington, D.C. area.  This euphorbia’s distinctive round, rod-shaped branches that resemble the familiar school implement give the plant its nickname.  They are very easy to grow and can be propagated by cuttings.

*A note of caution, you should always wear gloves when working around this plant; it exudes a milky, latex-type sap that can cause an allergic skin reaction for some people.

This plant can be found growing in a large container in the Ripley Garden.

-Christine Abelow-Price, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist 

October 17, 2013 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Botanical Scrapbooks

Collecting and preserving plants has always been a popular pastime, especially in the 19th century. Both men and women pressed flowers and foliates (leaves) to keep in botanical scrapbooks. This activity served a variety of interests, both scientific and sentimental.

Whatever their purpose, plants that were collected were prepared and added to scrapbooks in a similar fashion. Flowers typically were pressed in between the pages of a book by the amateur hobbyist while the more serious collector often used a field press. The field press was superior because of its ability to preserve a plant’s color and create a more precise specimen.  Field presses were composed of two boards of wood, leather straps and sheets of blotting paper. The process was simple: a plant or flower would be placed between two pieces of paper, then placed between boards. Leather straps would be tightly wrapped around the packet and firmly secured. When sufficiently dry, the specimen would be removed from the field press and glued, sewn, or attached with thin gummed strips to a scrapbook page.

The way in which these items were displayed depended on the type of book the collector wanted to create.  Scrapbooks for botanical study usually included a taxonomic description (family, genus and species), a physical description of the plant as well as the date and location of when and where it was collected.  Scrapbooks created for sentimental reasons might have been created as a craft project or to serve as a memento in remembrance of a person, event or place.

The Smithsonian Gardens’ Garden Furnishings and Horticultural Artifact Collection includes three examples of 19th and early 20th century botanical scrapbooks.

Scrapbook as Herbarium for Botanical Study

A botanical scrapbook (FJP.1987.364) dated 1905 was created by Margaret May Hill and is an example of an herbarium or collection of dried flowers that are labeled and described for botanical study.

Pressed pinks

Pressed pinks of the Caryophyllaceae (pink family or carnation family)

Taxonomic description of pressed pinks

Handwritten taxonomic and physical description of pressed pinks on opposite page.

Botanical Scrapbook as Memento

The botanical scrapbook titled “Flowers of Remembrance”  is a sentimental travel log of visits to sites all over Italy during the 1850s.  Instead of a travel journal with written entries, the pages are filled with flowers and plants collected from various sites as mementos. One page shows pressed flowers collected at the Roman Coliseum in 1853, 1854 and 1856 all on the same page.

DSC_0118

Botanical Scrapbook for Study and as Memento

A book of dried water ferns (Salviniales) is both scientific and sentimental as it illustrates both the incredible variety and beauty of water ferns. The front of the book reveals that it was a gift from a grandmother to her grandson (Hester Schell to Howard Schell) on November 11, 1900.

DSC_0110 DSC_0111

For further Reading:

Puckett, Sandy. Fragile Beauty: The Victorian Art of Pressed Flowers. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1992

Whittingham, Sarah. The Victorian Fern Craze. Oxford: Shire Publications Ltd., 2009.

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

June 26, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

October is National Rhubarb Month

I bet  you are asking, ‘why October?’ I am not quite sure.  This doesn’t quite make sense because rhubarb is very strongly associated with spring in the northern United States. In October it is just starting to go dormant with the first few frosts.  If we were in the Southern hemisphere, however, we would just be starting to harvest the stalks this month. Maybe we celebrate rhubarb in October just so we have it in our thoughts year-round and can be jealous of those on the other side of the world enjoying its delicious sweet-tart taste now when we have to wait another six months for it.

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum, Rheum x hybridum)

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum, Rheum x hybridum) is a cool season, perennial vegetable with long leaf stalks, or petioles, that hold large, triangular leaves. We eat the red, fleshy stalks of the plant that are quite tart when not cooked. In the culinary world it is considered a fruit because it is often sweetened and used with other fruit in desserts and baked goods, hence its nickname of  ‘pie plant’. Rhubarb pairs perfectly with strawberries because of the flavor and the shared early growing season.

Keep rhubarb on your mind until next spring when you can plant crowns or divisions to grow your own and use some in your favorite recipe or stick with the traditional favorite and celebrate National Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day on June 9th. If you are going to try to grow rhubarb yourself make sure you give it a nice spot where it can live for up to twenty years without being disturbed.  To see some plants in person come check out the Victory Garden at the Museum of American History!

October 12, 2012 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

Blooming online!

Welcome to our new blog!

This is an exciting place where you will get to see and read about what’s happening in and around the spectacular gardens here in Washington, DC. Routine posts will be made by our very own horticulturists, and garden enthusiasts including upcoming events, photos of the gardens through the seasons and back stories you wouldn’t hear anywhere else. It is a creation done by Chloe Prince, an Informatics student from the University of Michigan, who volunteered to intern with us for one week on an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program.

ASB Intern

“Working with Smithsonian Gardens has been an amazing experience! This is my first time visiting D.C. and the gardens and the people behind them are more extraordinary than I could have ever imagined! Located throughout the city, they add serene beauty year round and really make exploring the monuments and museums a magnificent experience! Walking through the Orchid Mystique: Nature’s Triumph exhibition was truly a dream! It was incredible to see and smell the stunning collection of thousands of orchid varieties from around the world! I have had a wonderful first experience to the city and Smithsonian Gardens. I can’t wait to come back and visit again!”
Also be sure to check out our start on Pinterest.com, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr!

 Chloe Prince, Intern

March 2, 2012 at 4:56 pm 1 comment


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