Archive for October, 2014

Spooky Plants Week

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.

Tacca chantrieri plant

Tacca chantrieri, also known as the bat flower, is a member of the yam family and native to Southeast Asia. It has unusual black flowers and long whiskers. The “spooky” part about this plant (the name kind of gives it away) is that it looks like a bat. So it’s perfect for Halloween, and the fact that it’s blooming this time of the year makes it even more special. See it on display inside the Ripley Center kiosk entrance.

Brassavola nodosa  orchid

Also known as the “Lady of the Night” or “Flor de la Noche,” Brassavola nodosa has ghostly white flowers that emit a heady, nocturnal fragrance to attract night-pollinating moths. We have a few of these ethereal plants in the Orchid Collection at our greenhouses.

Cliff banana plant

The National Zoo has megafauna, but we have megaflora! Watch out, the Ensete superbum looks hungry . . . lucky for us, the plant only looks like it might be carnivorous. This herbaceous banana is native to India and more commonly known as the cliff banana. The plant may reach ten to twelve feet while blooming. This banana, unlike many others, does not produce suckers and only reproduces by seed. Our cliff banana caused many visitors to the Enid A. Haupt Garden to do a double-take all summer long.

Actaea pachypoda fruit

Found in the Urban Bird Habitat: Actaea pachypoda ‘Misty Blue.’ It is also called white baneberry or doll’s eyes because the fruits look like a cluster of eyes on red stems watching your every move in the garden. Some birds find the fruit to be a tasty treat, but beware, they are poisonous to humans. (Image courtesy of the National Museum of Natural History Collections.)

Solanum quitoense (naranjilla)

Solanum quitoense, known as naranjilla (”little orange”) is scary in looks only. Spines and purple hairs along the stems give this member of the nightshade family an otherworldly appearance that would be more at home in the Addams Family garden rather than the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden at the Smithsonian. If you can get past the strange looks of the hairy, orange fruit, a fresh glass of naranjilla juice is a sweet treat.

 

October 31, 2014 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

Pumpkin Season

With Halloween just around the corner and Thanksgiving on our minds already, we are celebrating the season of the pumpkin here at Smithsonian Gardens.

Marshall Garden, 1920. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens.

In the Archives of American Gardens, we have a beautiful glass lantern slide of pumpkins growing in a garden. Marshall Garden, Millbrook, New York, 1920. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Lois Poinier Collection.

Will you carve a pumpkin for Halloween? Jack-o’-lanterns as we know them today are rooted in European traditions. In Ireland and Scotland, people used turnips and potatoes to make scary faces that would frighten evil spirits. When immigrants from these countries came to America they began using pumpkins, a native fruit.

The modern-day pumpkin pie evolved from early recipes that arrived in the America from England and France. Pumpkins (called “pompons” in French) were stuffed with sweet fillings or were served in a pie crust along with apples. By the mid-nineteenth century the custard-style pumpkin pie (with a bottom crust and no top crust) was a familiar “Yankee” delicacy. This excerpt from the “The Pumpkin” by John Greenleaf Whittier (1850) pretty much sums up how we feel about this gorgeous gourd:

Then thanks for thy present!— none sweeter or better
E’er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o’er its baking than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own pumpkin-pie!

Over the years we have grown a variety of heirloom pumpkins in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History. This year keep an eye out for the ‘Long Island Cheese,’ pumpkin. Canned pumpkin has been a popular and convenient alternative to fresh pumpkin since the 1920s. For those who have the time to make a pie from scratch this season, Rebecca Sullivan, Fellow in Food History at the National Museum of American History, has a delicious recipe to share with you:

Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie with nut topping. Rebecca Sullivan, photographer.

Recipe for Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients:
-Filling:
2 cups pumpkin puree (steam 1 ¼ lbs. peeled pumpkin until soft, then puree)
3 eggs
1 ½ cups thickened cream
1 cup brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Zest of 1 orange

-Pastry:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons plain flour
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
¼ lb. unsalted butter (1 stick), chilled, cubed
1 egg

-Pecan, gingersnap layer and nut topping:
¼ cup pecans, toasted and ground
¼ cup crushed gingersnap cookies
½ cup almonds or in-season nuts
2 tablespoons maple syrup

-Maple cream:
1 cup light cream
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Directions:

  • Starting with the pastry, place the flour and confectioner’s sugar in a food processor and pulse for a few seconds. Add butter and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and process until the mixture forms a ball. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Once chilled, roll pastry out on a lightly floured workbench and use to line a lightly greased 9-inch pie pan. Place back in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill further. Next make the pecan gingersnap layer by toasting the pecans in the oven for 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool and then place the pecans, along with the gingersnap cookies, in a food processor and process until finely ground. Press this mixture evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of the unbaked pie crust. Cover and return the pastry to the refrigerator while you make the pumpkin filling.
  • Line the pan with baking paper, place the almonds and a drizzle of maple syrup on top of the baking paper and blind-bake for 10 minutes. Take out of the oven and set the nuts aside for later. Increase oven temperature to 420°F. Place pumpkin puree, eggs, cream, sugar and spices in a processor and whiz until smooth. Pour into the tart shell, then bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F and bake for a further 30 minutes. Take out of the oven and sprinkle the nuts on top of the pie, then return to the oven for a remaining 10 minutes. The pie should be just firm when cooked.
  • Cool, and then make the maple cream by pouring the cream into a small bowl and mixing with a hand mixer. As the cream starts to thicken, slowly drizzle in the maple syrup and mix until the consistency you desire. Serve the pie in slices with the whipped maple cream.

October 22, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

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


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