This glorious week feels like springtime, with warmth, sunshine, a few plants starting to flower and singing birds in the garden and nearby woods. Get outside if you can. Step away from your desk and eat your lunch in the fresh air. Break the work spell. You owe it to yourself and you’ll have a better afternoon if you do. Maybe you’ll see the blue herons circling the woods north of Anderson Hall as they prepare their rookery for another breeding season. There’s so much to see…right outside your door.
For the first time in years, this winter I didn’t have to cover the olive trees (Olea europaea) with tarps to protect them from cold…at least not yet. We dipped below freezing a few times, but we didn’t get into the very low 20s F, the point at which olives, at least young trees as I have observed them here, begin to sustain noticeable damage. When we dip into the mid teens, they can die back to the ground. I’m hoping they will be able to withstand more severe cold as they get bigger. The Australian tea trees (Melaleuca alternifolia) and New Zealand tea trees or manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) also made it through uncovered. It’s been sunny this week with warm days and a touch of frost at night (at least in Rainier Valley, where I live), but most of the winter has been marked by heavy rains. In fact, this is already Seattle’s rainiest winter on record. And winter isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. The winter rain, which translates to snow in the mountains, is a good thing. That snow, when it melts, provides the water we depend on in Seattle. I think I’m in good company when I wish for a slow melting of the mountain snow and less heat this spring and summer than we lived through last year. Good luck to everyone on the east side of the state this fire season, especially the firefighters.
Soon we will be losing the Botany Greenhouse across the street from the Medicinal Herb Garden. That’s where I start all of my plants and share a small office with colleagues who run one of the best greenhouses in the country. The good news is that in two years, we will have a larger, fancy new greenhouse in more or less the same spot, attached to the new Life Sciences Building. I’ll be starting my plants on the other side of campus for a couple years, but there will otherwise be no interruption to business as usual at the garden. Stop by the greenhouse soon (before April) to see the amazing collection of plants. The next time you will see them will be in 2018 at the new greenhouse.
Last days of the Botany Greenhouse in all its glory. I have too many happy memories to count from this magical space and I will miss it dearly…but we will quickly learn to love and adapt to the new greenhouse (once I convince the planners to put in a soft serve ice cream machine…).
Sweet violets (Viola odorata) in section E are flowering. Usually they flower early, get hit by aphids, then flower a second time in early spring.
Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) in section E.
In a nearby bed, the sweet cicely is emerging from winter dormancy. Their green seeds, leaves and roots are sweet and anise flavored. It is the sole species in the genus Myrrhis and it requires little care and does well in shade or dappled light but can also handle sun. That’s my kind of plant.
Yesterday, while doing my morning garden inspection, I came across a strange contraption. It’s a little strange but not not too strange considering…I work at a university and thousands of people are running experiments at all times. Here’s what I saw.
A message on the little metal box in the lower picture says the researcher is measuring ‘floral volatiles’. The plant is Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) and I have to admit I haven’t sniffed their flowers…yet, but I’m curious. Anyone and everyone conducting research is welcome in the Medicinal Herb Garden. Hooray for strange contraptions.
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) in section B is a member of the dogwood family, the Cornaceae.
The very ripe fruit of cornelian cherry are delicious, but too astringent until they are almost mushy soft. Here’s an interesting article about their potential for treating liver conditions:
It will be many months before the fruit are ripe and ready to eat, but the flowers are out, as always, before the leaves and that makes for a striking sight in February…
…as does the winter hazel (Corylopsis spicata) between sections E and F, which also flowers before its leaves emerge. Winter hazel is a good looking plant the whole year if you keep it thinned out.
Nearby, in Cascara Circle, the Utah honeysuckle/red twinberry (Lonicera utahensis) is flowering.
According Daniel Moerman’s book, Native American Ethnobotany, the Okanagan-Colville people used Utah honeysuckle as a blood medicine, dermatological aid and laxative, all from infusions of branches. They also ate the fruit, though probably as a last resort.
Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) in section E.
Mandrake, a native of the Mediterranean region, is well adapted to hot and dry summers. It emerges from its underground dormancy early, flowers and produces fruit the size of a golf ball or larger, then senesces and disappears until the following winter. If you spot a sign in the garden for a plant that is nowhere to be seen, it could be taking a nap under the soil surface.
Italian arum or cuckoo pint (Arum italicum)…grrrrr!!!
I wish this plant would take an eternal nap on another planet in a galaxy far, far away. It’s also from the Mediterranean but it is rarely dormant. If you have this in your garden (poor you), please, at the very least, cut off the spadix (while wearing gloves and safety goggles) before the seeds turn red and fall off. This is Italian arum or cuckoo pint and is quite invasive and extremely difficult to eradicate. It has taken over much of the understory in many areas of campus. I got a tiny drop of its sap in my eye a few years ago and wound up in the emergency room to have my eye flushed. The calcium oxalate crystals in the sap cause excruciating pain for a long, long, long (much too long in my opinion) time. Don’t ever get the sap in your eye or any mucous membrane, if you know what’s good for you. You have been warned…
Manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.) along Okanogan Lane.
On a happier note, check out the delightful flowers of this large manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.) west of section C. What a display right now, from Stevens Way almost to the Chemistry building.
Goji (Lycium chinense) in section C.
At the bottom of section C, the goji has leafed out. Unfortunately, it will get powdery mildew in March and April. By May I will have to cut it way back. It takes a while to regrow but it’s very vigorous and produces flowers by late summer, then fruit throughout the fall and into winter. Imagine eating dried goji fruit from your own garden. Better yet, eat goji fruit from your garden. But first you have to plant one.
Yellow pheasant’s eye (Adonis vernalis) in section C.
Can you spot the slug on this yellow pheasant’s eye? Neither can I, but it’s probably in the picture frame, judging by the recent herbivory of the flower petals. Yellow pheasant’s eye is used in homeopathy to treat heart disease.
Wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) section D.
Inconspicuous flowers of the wild ginger are rarely seen by the casual hiker in the northwest forests. I had to move a leaf out of the way and flip the flower over for this photo. They’re well hidden. Wild ginger is in the same family as…
…California Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia californica) section E.
They’re both in the Aristolochiaceae, but the California Dutchman’s pipe flowers come out before the leaves. They’re not brightly colored but they’re hard to miss if you’re paying attention. Hopefully you will pay attention when you visit and stroll through the Medicinal Herb Garden.
fluid robin song
junco and towhee trilling
See you in the garden.