Posts tagged ‘plants’
BOO! In honor of Halloween, we are celebrating another #SpookyPlantsWeek. Here’s our round-up of the weird, creepy, gross, scary, and wonderful plants that we featured on Facebook this week. All can be found growing in our gardens at the Smithsonian museums or in our greenhouses in Maryland.
This monocarpic, herbaceous banana is a wonderful specimen in any garden. Monocarpic describes plants that flower, set seed, and then die. Ensete superbum, or cliff banana, is native to India and has a conical pseudo-stem made up of overlapping leaf sheaths. Its bright green leaves, reaching six feet in length, drop during winter. The plant may reach ten to twelve feet while blooming. The inflorescence (or flower head) is a curved terminal spike with triangular oblong fruits and reddish brown bracts that persist for some time to add ornamental value. This banana, unlike many others, does not produce suckers and only reproduces by seed. In some extraordinary cases, plants in the wild can go into a three to four year dormancy period.
This rare plant in now on display in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. You can see it for a limited time just inside the west entrance to the garden, close to the entrance to the S. Dillon Ripley Center.
-Matt Fleming, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist
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!)
Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens orchid specialist and horticulturist, had many suggestions! Orchids are masters of trickery and deception.
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 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’)
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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) 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!
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.
“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!”
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