Posts Tagged 'flowers'

Tree Omnibus

The trees are singing. If only we would listen. Tolkien suggested it might be quite hard to hear them, since they sing on a whole different time scale. David George Haskell is listening with microphones and an acute biologist’s senses. The Songs of Trees was one of last year’s best naturalist books, beautifully written and globe-spanning in reach. If you missed it, go get it.

The fig is absolutely remarkable. Of course, there isn’t just one fig; the Ficus genus has 750 plus members, from the house plant standard to the edible fig to the strangler species which dominate tropical forests. Each one of these species has at least one tiny fig wasp species that specializes in pollinating the “fruits” — which actually aren’t fruits but rather collections of inward growing flowers — in what are essentially suicide missions. I’ve written about figs before. Mike Shanahan has written a short, engaging book on the genus, and the vital role figs play in vast life webs around the world. Go exploring Ficus with Shanahan from the bodhi tree to Wallace to the Rhinoceros Hornbill to the Mau Mau rebellion, with a dozen or so creation myths thrown in. Was the fig the forbidden fruit of Eden? It sure is sexier than the apple, which definitely wasn’t the verboten fruit.

Shanahan notes that a 100 meter by 100 meter piece of old growth rainforest in Borneo (what’s left of it, anyway) can harbor 600 tree species. In Britain, by contrast, there are 36 native tree species. There, in 1664, John Evelyn’s Sylva was published by the Royal Society. This famed work, one of the first English language books about the cultivation of trees, was inspired by the Royal Navy’s worries about the shortage of timber for its boats. An example: the Mary Rose, launched in 1511, required 1,200 trees, mostly oaks but some elms as well; later and larger ships gobbled up 2,000 oaks each. The white pines of North America were a major draw for the journey across the Atlantic.

Now comes The New Sylva by Gabriel Hemery and Sarah Simblet to update things. There are certainly more than 36 tree species in Britain today. Actually, Hemery and Simblet say there are 60 native species, subspecies, or hybrids in Britain. They note that the native cut-off (1492 for us) stretches back circa 8,200 years for Britain, to when the land connection to continental Europe was submerged by the rising ocean. American readers, meanwhile, will recognize quite a few of the species in the transatlantic botanical exchange, species we gave them/species they gave us. Note that this book is primarily about silviculture, or timber-hunger, not the complex ecosystems known as forests, but then the un-human touched woodlands is non-existent today. Which reminds me: shouldn’t we date the Anthropocene back to the killing of Huwawa/Humbaba, the guardian of the sacred cedars, by Gilgamesh?

Simblet’s black and white drawings, from microscopic to landscape in detail, are wonderful. This book certainly works on a coffee table.

Off the subject, but Mike Wallace’s Greater Gotham, which I’m still reading, is majestic. It covers just two decades of NYC’s history, but these were the years the city became a world capital of capitalism. More than a century later, we still live there.

And the new edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein “Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds” turns out to be quite a course in ethics.

Botanisk Have

A selection from Copenhagen’s botanical garden. Their native plant section was mostly gone to seed, but a few flowers were still bravely waving.

Yes, a little awkward cataloging this post under “Sweden” but the Danes held the part of Sweden we visited for centuries, so I’m sure, in the spirit of Scandinavian cooperation, everybody’s going to be chill about it all now.

Speaking of identity: a fascinating look at Northern Ireland’s tripartite either/or/and, with lessons for all of us citizens of Earth.


A late summer bloom. Isn’t the flower rather reminiscent of a camellia? In fact, the Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) is in the same family, Theaceae, as the camellias, along with as its fellow natives Stewartia and Gordonia.. But this North American native is presumed extinct in the wild; it hasn’t been spotted since the early 19th century.This one is in the NYBG’s Native Garden. All known living specimens today are presumed to be ancestors of the seeds collected by Willian Bertram in 1773. He and his father John found them a few years earlier on a not very large tract on the Altamaha River*. It’s still not known why they disappeared in the wild. Was it climate change, over-harvesting by collectors, or the introduction by a pathogen via the cotton production that took over the region?

William Bertram wrote about “This very curious tree”: “we never saw it grow in any other place, nor have I ever seen it growing wild, in all my travels, from Pennsylvania to Point Coupe, on the banks of the Mississippi, which must be allowed a very singular and unaccountable circumstance; at this place there are two or three acres of ground where it grows plentifully.”

*Somewhere in its wending way, the Altamaha lost the extra “a” of Bartram’s day.

On the Button

The deciduous shrub known as Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) for its round flower heads is a fantastic pollinator-magnet. The plant loves its feet (roots) wet, and, as we discovered recently at the edge of Beaverdam Reservoir in Virginia, it also attracts hummingbirds. Who knew? Well, everybody in the pollination biz, but it was a lovely discovery for us. This Ruby-throated (Archilochus colubris) was supping at the last remaining flower head.

Swamp Loosestrife

Decodon verticillatus is also called water-willow and whorled loosestrife. The flowers are spectacular, but you sure have to get close to them.These leaves certainly look rather “willowy,” but the species isn’t related to Salix. It is related to Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), the dreadful invasive, but D. verticillatus is a native from Maine to Louisiana. Talk about liking to get its feet wet! It grows in fresh water. One source says muskrats like to munch on these bulbous underwater bits.

Milkweed Madness

A field of Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, home to just above everybody.Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus).Fourteen-spotted Ladybeetle larva, Propylea quatuordecimpunctata.Large Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus.Above and below are two variations on larval stage Harmonia axyridis, the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle.Don’t forget all the flies and bees. Also, Yellow-collared Scape Moths.Anthrenus genus carpet beetle, I think. Tiny.And Oleander aphids (Aphis nerii).

The Buzz

For a number of plants, including such delicious Solanaceae (nightshades) as tomatoes, potatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, and peppers, the frequency of a bumblebee’s buzzing is what releases pollen. The bumble grabs ahold of the anthers and vibrates the pollen loose. Honeybees, who get more credit they they deserve, don’t do this; they pick up exposed pollen, but they can’t unlock the anthers of plants that require the buzz. Here’s a short video on buzz pollination.A closer look at the flower of what I think is Horse-nettle (Solanum carolinense), a delightfully weedy nightshade, shows the horn-like anthers that the native bees’ buzz  shakes open.

As you can see from the linked video, a tuning fork can also do it. The internet — oh, you crazy internet! —  says that a vibrator and an electric toothbrush will also do the trick, I mean, if you wanted to do it personally….


Bookmark and Share

Join 516 other followers


  • Daily Raptor: Red-shouldered Hawk over Green-Wood. 8 hours ago
Nature Blog Network