Cute as a bunny…or not.

A few mornings ago, as I set off to water on the east end of the garden, I passed through section C. That’s the section where the grains have been mysteriously disappearing into the stomach of the phantom herbivore. Make that formerly phantom herbivore:

What the…? Are you eating the ragleaf bahia (Bahia dissecta)?

What the…? Are you eating the ragleaf bahia (Bahia dissecta)?

Yes.

Yes, the bunny is finally busted.

Rabbits are fast and able to turn on a dime. Off s/he went to the protection of the thicket on the west edge of section C.

Rabbits (this is a young eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus) are fast and able to turn on a dime. Off it went to the protection of the thicket on the west edge of section C. Grrr!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure what to do. Eventually, I might get a live trap and relocate any rabbit(s) I catch to somewhere far enough away that returning will not be a viable option. The barred owl (Strix varia) seems to have moved on but maybe it will be back. Barred owls eat rabbits. But for now, I’ll wait to see how bad the damage gets and how dense the rabbit population becomes. The good news is that that so far, with the exception of the grain bed, damage hasn’t been too bad. A lot of nibbled areas here and there, but nothing has been decimated. Peace for now, bunny.

While weeding recently, I came across these two:

Junco chicks (junco hyemalis) whose nest was hidden beneath leaves and understory plants on the garden's edge. I encountered them while weeding and the alarm calls of their parents tipped me off. The parents were getting pretty agitated so I had to quickly snap this shot and move on.

Junco chicks (Junco hyemalis) whose nest was hidden beneath leaves and understory plants on the garden’s edge. The alarm calls of their parents tipped me off. The parents were getting pretty agitated so I had to quickly snap this shot and move on.

It might be my misperception, but it seems like there is an increasing number of juncos and a decreasing number of white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) in the garden over the last decade or so.

They're less than an inch long, but Pacific crab apples (Malus fusca) have a bright, tangy apple taste. They were traditionally eaten by Pacific Northwest natives, from Alaska to California. Bark from the trees was used to treat long, heart, skin and eye conditions among other things.

They’re less than an inch long, but Pacific crabapples (Malus fusca) have a bright, tangy apple taste. They were traditionally eaten by Pacific Northwest natives, from Alaska to California. Bark from the trees was used to treat lung, heart, skin and eye conditions among other things. I’ve seen Pacific crabapple trees growing in an estuary in BC, near Bella Coola. They were sometimes flooded with brackish water and appeared none the worse for it.

Wild plums (Prunus americana) ripening near Cascara Circle. The skin is a bit thicker than most domesticated plums and the flesh resembles apricot (Prunus armeniaca).

Wild plums (Prunus americana) ripening near Cascara Circle. They have thicker skin than most domesticated plums and the flesh resembles the consistency and flavor of apricot (Prunus armeniaca).

Leafy goosefoot (Chenopodium foliosum) has edible, nutritious leaves. Its attractive red fruit are also edible but insipid. Leafy goosefoot used to be in the Chenopodiaceae, a plant family that included spinach (Spinacia oleracea), lamb's quarters (Cheopodium album), and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). All of the above are now in the Amaranthaceae. In an act of generic cleansing, the Chenopodiaceae has disappeared into the Amaranthaceae. It's hard to keep up with all of the changes happening in the world of plant systematics. Some labels in the garden are woefully out of date.

Leafy goosefoot (Chenopodium foliosum) has edible, nutritious leaves. Its attractive red fruit are also edible but dull. Leafy goosefoot used to be in the Chenopodiaceae, a plant family that included spinach (Spinacia oleracea),
lamb’s quarters (Cheopodium album), and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). All of the above are now in the Amaranthaceae. Recently, the family formerly known as Chenopodiaceae has disappeared, subsumed into the Amaranthaceae. I get dizzy, trying to keep up with all of the changes happening in the world of plant systematics.

Fruit on the Ephedra plants in the xeriscape bed. I'm growing two New World species, Ephedra chilensis and Ephedra nevadensis. Neither species is known to contain significant amounts of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or norpseudoephedrine. Some of the Old World species, like Ephedra sinica (ma huang), contain significant amounts of ephedrine alkaloids.

Fruit on the Ephedra plants in the xeriscape bed are edible. Though several sources describe them as sweet and insipid, I get a hint of sweet and a hint of bitter, and yes, they are insipid. I’m growing two New World species, Ephedra chilensis and Ephedra nevadensis. Neither species is known to contain significant amounts of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or norpseudoephedrine. Some of the Old World species, like Ephedra sinica (usually the species used in the ma huang of commerce), are high in ephedrine alkaloids. I would grow ma huang here but it has been stolen(repeatedly) in the past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's been a long time since I drank grape Kool-Aid or ate a grape Jolly Rancher, but those are what I think of when I smell the scent of this tarwi (Lupinus mutabilis).

The fruit of this plant in section B, near the fig tree, are lupine seeds but the flowers smell like grape Kool-Aid or  maybe grape Jolly Ranchers. It’s tarwi (Lupinus mutabilis), a food crop grown in the Andes. They get powdery mildew around this time every summer, but they’re covered in flowers right now, so smell them if you get the chance.

There's nothing about the indigo plants (Indigofera tinctoria) in section C that points to their importance as a dye plant of the bluest of blues. I expected them to at least have big blue flowers but they're small and pink.

There’s nothing about the indigo plants (Indigofera tinctoria) in section C that points to their importance as a dye plant of the bluest blues. I expected them to at least have blue flowers but they’re small and pink. Indigo is supposedly a zone 9 plant, so it might make it through the winter outside with protection around here.

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Flowers of the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), north of section A are similar though a bit larger than the flowers on the Chinese chaste tree (Vitex negundo) near section B. The seeds of chaste tree are sometimes referred to as monk’s pepper because they are considered to be an anaphrodisiac. They are currently used to help regulate the female reproductive system, especially to treat symptoms of PMS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of you might have heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I think I caught it on film. Either that or qu mai (Dianthus superbus).

You might have heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I think I caught it on film. Either that or qu mai (Dianthus superbus).

You can spend a lot of money buying summer purslane (Portulaca oleracea) as a fancypants vegetable at your local farmers market. Or you can come to the Medicinal Herb Garden and get an official authorization from me that will allow you, for a very limited time, to harvest as much summer purslane from the garden beds and pathways as you and you mule can carry home. Really.

Spend a lot of money buying summer purslane (Portulaca oleracea) as a fancypants vegetable at your local farmers market. Or you can come to the Medicinal Herb Garden and get an official authorization from me that will allow you, for a very limited time, to harvest as much summer purslane from the garden beds and pathways as you and your mule can carry home. Really.

What is it about certain shades of yellow and white that confounds my cheap little camera. I couldn't focus, but finally decided the dreamy, haunting haze around the flowers was, no kidding, just the effect I was looking for. The plant is sweet yellow bells (Hermannia incana) from South Africa. It was used traditionally to treat diarrhea, stomach ache, nausea and vomiting. It's effectiveness in treating diarrhea has been confirmed by recent tests on rats. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20383343

What is it about certain shades of yellow and white that confounds my cheap little camera? I couldn’t focus, but finally decided the dreamy, haunting haze around the flowers was, no kidding, just the effect I was looking for.
The plant is sweet yellow bells (Hermannia incana) from South Africa. It has been used traditionally to treat diarrhoea, stomach ache, nausea and vomiting. Its effectiveness in treating diarrhoea seems to be confirmed by recent tests on rats. Living in a wealthy, industrialized nation, it is hard to believe, but the World Health Organization reports that diarrhoeal diseases are the second leading cause of death  worldwide, for children under the age of five.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flowers of thyme-leaved savory (Satureja thymbra) in section B. I recently bought a big jar of Lebanese olives that was packed with thyme-leaved savory. It added a bitterness that was addictive. Olives, who can eat just one.

Flowers of thyme-leaved savory (Satureja thymbra) in section B. I recently bought a big jar of Lebanese olives that was packed with thyme-leaved savory. It added a bitterness that was addictive. Olives, who can eat just one?

The manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) that I planted a couple of years ago has grown quickly. I wonder if it isn't a different variety than I've grown in the past. We have had some hot summers and warm winters, so that probably is a factor, but the newer manuka is as tall as I am and the much older plants are less than a foot tall

The manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) that I planted a couple of years ago has grown quickly. I wonder if it isn’t a different variety than I’ve grown in the past. We have had some hot summers and warm winters, so the weather could be a factor, but the newer manuka is as tall as I am and the much older plants are less than a foot tall. Hmmm.

It's easy to walk past wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Its pale pink flowers aren't as showy as scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma), but it's worth inspecting more closely the things we take for granted. The flowers have a subtle beauty up close.

It’s easy to walk past wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Its pale pink flowers aren’t as showy as scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma), but it’s sometimes worth inspecting more closely the things we take for granted. The flowers have a subtle beauty up close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild senna (Senna marilandica) flowers profusely every year and the plants are vigorous. Unfortunately, the plants rarely produce seeds. I'm not sure why.

Wild senna (Senna marilandica) flowers profusely every year and the plants are vigorous. Unfortunately, they rarely produce seeds. I’m not sure why.

Leaves on one of the chokeberry bushes have started to turn bright red, as they normally do in autumn.

Leaves on one of the chokeberry bushes have started to turn bright red, as they would normally do later on in autumn. It might be caused by drought stress.

Sometimes the flowers compose themselves in such a way that I can't help taking a picture. The pink flowers are showy tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense), the yellow are safflowers (Carthamus tinctorius) and the blue are gentian sage (Salvia patens).

Floral display in the border between sections A and B. The pink flowers are showy tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense), the yellow are safflowers (Carthamus tinctorius) and the blue are gentian sage (Salvia patens).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you make it to the Medicinal Herb Garden, be sure to walk across the street and view the site of the future Life Sciences Building and Biology Greenhouse. It changes from day to day.

If you have a special attachment to the southwest corner of the Plant Lab basement, this is the last shot you will ever see of it. It's amazing how quickly this is going from a demolition site to a building site.

If you have a special attachment to the southwest corner of the Plant Lab basement, this is the last shot you will ever see of it. It’s amazing how quickly this lot is going from a demolition site to a building site.

 

 

 

 

surprised once again

as always by late summer

we savor these days

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

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The phantom herbivore, new open space and other wonders

Somewhere in or near the Medicinal Herb Garden lives an herbivore whose ways are quite mysterious. It has eaten all the oats (Avena sativa) and has moved on to the spelt (Triticum spelta) and the einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum). Last year I thought it might be birds, but now I don’t think so.

Nibbled stalks in the grain bed in section C. Who is eating the grain? Mountain beaver, rat, rabbit? I wish I knew. There's no scat or prints left behind. A recent rabbit sighting (first ever, to my knowledge) has me worried. Rabbits are not a gardener's best friend. Oh well, life in a public garden..what can you do?

Nibbled stalks in the grain bed in section C. Who is eating the grain? Mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa), rat (Rattus sp.), rabbit (until proven otherwise, I will assume ours are the introduced eastern cottontails, (Sylvilagus floridanus)? I wish I knew. There’s no scat or prints left behind. A recent rabbit sighting (first ever in the garden, to my knowledge) has me worried. Rabbits are not a gardener’s best friend. Oh well, life in a public garden..what can you do?

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The stalks provide a nice thatch for the soil and probably help retain moisture but…small consolation for losing all the grain. And the song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) and juncos (Junco hyemalis) are eating the smaller grains. It’s always something.

Well, after much preparation, the clearing of the space for the new Life Sciences Building and Biology Greenhouse has begun. The contractors work really fast.

The former fruit forest area being cleared.

The former fruit forest area being cleared.

Don't blink. It happened quickly.

Don’t blink. It happened quickly.

The greenhouse was next.

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First the south side.

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Then the north.  The pile in the center looks a little like a piece of John Chamberlain sculpture.

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Then the Plant Lab. They should paint that demolition excavator to look like Tyrranosaurus rex.

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Now they’re sorting out recyclable metal, leveling the ground and doing what needs to be done to build a new building.

Meanwhile, back in the garden, I have a followup report from the last blog post. No, the other yi ye qiu (Flueggea suffruticosa) is not female so I need to get more plants started and yes, the Leccino olive (Olea europaea) has a few olives forming, so it must be marginally self-fertile.

Exhibit A, Leccino olives.

Exhibit A: a few Leccino olives forming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a good time to visit the Medicinal Herb Garden if you want to see flowers on display, or insects sipping nectar and gathering pollen, birds and maybe rabbits eating the grains from the grain bed and even a raccoon taking a nap in a tree. Listen for the crows who see all and report on it to those who listen.

Crows alerted me but they quickly lost interest when they realized s/he was taking a nap and not out foraging for eggs.

Crows alerted me to you-know-who, but they quickly lost interest when they realized s/he was taking a nap and not out foraging for their eggs.

Tufted evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) in section C. Though it is a perennial, it rots in our wet winters. Next year I'll try growing it in the xeriscape bed to see if it will overwinter.

Tufted evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) in section C. Though it is a perennial, it rots in our wet winters. Next year I’ll try growing it in the xeriscape bed to see if it will overwinter.

Blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis)…is an iris…but who's counting?

Blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis)…is an iris…but who’s counting?

Farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena) has several varieties and subspecies, some 'showier' than others but I prefer the subtle coloration these display. They're in the border between sections A and B. The Miwok people of what is now northern California, traditionally ground the seeds for food.

Farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena) has several varieties and subspecies, some ‘showier’ than others but I prefer the subtle coloration these display. They’re in the border between sections A and B. The Miwok people of what is now northern California, traditionally ground the seeds for food.

Great golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus). They feed exclusively on flower nectar and plant sap which they're apparently finding on the goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), a plant that draws in a lot of insects. If I weren't being paid to do other things, I could stand there for hours watching the insect visitors to the goldenrod and hundreds of other plant species in the garden. What's your excuse?

Great golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) foraging in section D. They feed exclusively on flower nectar and plant sap which they’re apparently finding on the goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), a plant that draws in a lot of insects. If I weren’t being paid to do other things, I could stand there for hours watching the insect visitors to the goldenrod and hundreds of other plant species in the garden. What’s your excuse?

By the way, great golden digger wasps are very gentle and won't sting you if you don't try to handle them. They are solitary, make their nests in the ground, catch and paralyze katydids, grasshoppers and cicadas which they fly or drag back to their nest. There they deposit one egg on each insect they collect. When the eggs hatch in a few days, the larvae begin eating the insect beneath them.

By the way, great golden digger wasps are very gentle and won’t sting you if you don’t try to handle them. They are solitary and make their nests in the ground. Their claim to fame: they catch and paralyze katydids, grasshoppers and cicadas(and who knows what else) which they fly or drag back to their nest. There they deposit one egg on each insect they collect. When the eggs hatch in a few days, the larvae begin eating the insects beneath them. Be glad you’re not a katydid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The downy sunflower (Helianthus mollis) is an altogether joyful plant to behold. It is pretty drought tolerant and will fill in wasteland to crowd out invasive colonizers of disturbed soils. I love this plant…but something about this picture of a developing flower gives me the creeps.

The downy sunflower (Helianthus mollis) is an altogether joyful plant to behold. It is pretty drought tolerant and will fill in wasteland to crowd out invasive colonizers of disturbed soils. I love this plant…but something about this picture of a developing flower gives me the creeps. It’s in section D.

Dayflower (Commelina tuberosa) has starchy, edible roots which like to spread, so, beautiful though it is, you might want to plant it in a wild border. Wild borders are all I have in the garden. Borders, in my opinion, are a good place to let plants establish their own order

Dayflower (Commelina tuberosa) has starchy, edible roots which like to spread, so, beautiful though it is, you might want to plant it in a wild border. Wild borders are all I have in the garden. Borders, in my opinion, are a good place to let plants establish their own order.

Section B 'just-so' composition.

Section B ‘just-so’ composition.

Common mallow (Malva alcea) in section A.

Common mallow (Malva alcea) in section A.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You saw the flowers of mountain avens (Dryas octopetala) in a previous post. Their seed heads resemble those of prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) another member of the Rosaceae.

You saw the flowers of mountain avens (Dryas octopetala) in a previous post. Their seed heads resemble those of prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), another member of the Rosaceae.

If you have wandered through section C and wondered what is going on with the mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum), fear not. This has been a big year for aphids on a lot of plants, but the predators finally arrived. I smushed many aphids at first, but once the ladybugs showed up, I passed the duty to them.

Larval stage of the ladybug (Coccinella sp.) on its way to cleaning up the aphid explosion.

Larval stage of the ladybug (Coccinella sp.) on its way to cleaning up the aphid explosion.

Chinese chaste tree (Vitex negundo) branch whose flowers refused to be photographed in the light breeze. They're small enough to go unnoticed but they're worth close inspection.

Chinese chaste tree (Vitex negundo) branch whose flowers refused to be photographed in the light breeze. They’re small enough to go unnoticed but they’re worth close inspection.

The whole Chinese chaste tree in its full glory. I'm planting at least one of these in my yard as a neighbor screen.

The whole Chinese chaste tree in its full glory near the garden shed. I’m planting at least one of these in my yard as a neighbor screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update:  Most of the herons have flown the coop. To the best of my knowledge, all of the fledglings made it. Maybe the eagles were busy with the larger rookery in Ballard.

The flower show doesn’t last forever, so hurry if you want to see the garden at its peak. Life is short and it’s good to get outside. Really good.

 

 

 

 

glare of hot gravel

cool shade of Chinese chaste tree

a day in July

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Warm spring, cool summer and some close encounters

At the risk of jinxing the string of recent good gardening weather, I have to say it’s been nice to get some rain and cooler temperatures after the extreme heat of spring. It rained last night and the night before. It’s cool and breezy today and the air has the freshness of April, but not this April, which felt more like August. After an explosion of flowers on the Leccino olive tree, I had high hopes that we might get another good crop, two years after the first. But I noticed yesterday that neither the Arbequinas nor the Manzanillos flowered at all. Dang! It so happens that, of the three cultivars, only the Arbequinas are supposed to be self-fertile. So the Leccino, unless another olive cultivar was flowering synchronously nearby while I had my back turned, will likely be barren again this year.  Ouch.

Luckily, the fig in section B is finally recovering from the radical reconstructive surgery I performed on it over the last five years. It’s more like a fig bush than a fig tree now, but it’s bearing fruit again. The fruit used to go almost entirely to the birds, but humans are now sharing the bounty.

It is July and, of course, many flowers and fruit are still in the process of developing, but others are in full display. The native roses have already flowered, but their fruit persist on the plants for a long time, food for an array of herbivores, including some humans.

Wood's rose (Rosa woodsii)

Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii) in Cascara Circle.

Cluster rose or pea rose (Rosa pisocarpa) in Cascacara Circle.

Cluster rose or pea rose (Rosa pisocarpa) in Cascara Circle. They haven’t turned red yet, but they will.

Baldhip rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) in Cascara Circle.

Baldhip rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) in Cascara Circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) in Cascara Circle.

Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) in Cascara Circle. They have the largest fruit and I would imagine that they would provide a nice, tart paste if run through a food processor.  By the way, Cascara Circle is a little grassy glade at the west end of the garden and it has almost exclusively Pacific Northwest native plants, although some of our natives are circumboreal, so they also occur in other parts of the boreal (northern temperate) regions of the world.

Fifty feet to the west, the American plum has produced fruit. Last year’s heat (or something) caused it to abort all of its fruit. I think they will ripen this summer.

American plum (Prunus americana) on the outer northwestern edge of the woods, north of Cascara Circle.

American plum (Prunus americana) on the outer northwestern edge of the woods, north of Cascara Circle.

According to the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens (KRBG) website, Alexander the Great, while out conquering and adventuring, lost men who made the mistake of skewering their meat for grilling on the toxic branches of oleander. Yes, it is quite toxic, but, as KRBG also points out, oleander can be used by some heart patients as an alternative to digitalis. The same is true of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis). The oleander in the garden made it through the last (mild) winter with no damage. How it will do if temperatures get below 20F for a week or two, I don’t know. I’ll have to wait and see.

Oleander (Nereum oleander) in section B.

Oleander (Nerium oleander) in section B.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most species of milkweed in the Medicinal Herb Garden have no discernible scent (nothing that I’ve noticed anyway), but the showy milkweed has beautiful, star-shaped flowers with a delicious aroma that draws people in as if by gravitational pull, as they try to figure out where the scent originates. Perhaps they’re human-nose pollinated. Once before, I grew showy milkweed in section C and it performed dismally. It seems to like its new spot and is thriving as one of the garden’s more charismatic specimens. If it spreads out of its bed like the nearby Chinese licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis) and American licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota), well, so be it. Garden borders are an unnatural encumbrance (as are gardens…) and I support all plants that will not be neatly domesticated. Amen. Anyway, it’s a small price to pay for being able to grow wild plants.

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) in section B.

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) in section B.

And then there’s yi ye qiu; the flowers are tiny and unremarkable, but who cares? It just happens to be one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. It doesn’t need to look good. Unfortunately, I neglected to look closely at the flowers on the other plant. Yi ye qiu is dioecious, meaning there are both plants with only male flowers, and plants with only female flowers. These pictured below are male (or staminate) flowers, so, first duty on Monday is to investigate the flowers on the other plant to see if they’re female (or pistillate). If not, I need to start more plants to hopefully grow a female to plant near the male and get some fruit (small, unremarkable seed capsules…).

Yi ye qiu (Flueggea suffruticosa) in the northern border of section A.

Yi ye qiu (Flueggea suffruticosa) in the northern border of section A.

This has been a banner year for the eastern prickly pears in the xeriscape bed, but this is the only species of Opuntia that is flowering. Don’t ask why. What you see is what you get.

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) flowering in the xeriscape bed.

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) flowering in the xeriscape bed.

Look at those flowers!

They just keep flowering.

Nearby the Opuntias, showy evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) in xeriscape bed foreground with butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in the background.

Nearby the Opuntias, showy evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) in xeriscape bed foreground with butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) directly behind it.

Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) a few feet away in the xeriscape bed. It's putting out new growth from the base of the stem, just when I thought it might be on its last legs.

Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) a few feet away in the xeriscape bed. It’s putting out new growth from the base of the stem, just when I thought it might be on its last legs.

Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) growing next to Benson Hall. These loquat trees were planted by Dr. Art Kruckeberg while he was a professor of Botany at the UW. Loquats are delicious, relatively free of pests and diseases, its flowers are scented and it's foliage is evergreen. If you can't find one at a local garden store, you can order them by mail from the excellent Burnt Ridge Nursery.

Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) growing next to Benson Hall. These loquat trees were planted by the late Dr. Art Kruckeberg while he was a professor of Botany at the UW. Loquats are delicious, relatively free of pests and diseases, with scented flowers and attractive, evergreen foliage. Most of the leaves in the picture are inverted. The tops of the leaves are glossy, dark green. If you can’t find one at a local garden store, you can order them by mail from the excellent Burnt Ridge Nursery in Onalaska, WA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White marsh marigolds (Caltha leptosepala) that I photographed recently near Bald Mountain in the Cascades. There were some in the Cascara Circle stream but they mysteriously disappeared last year. They look better in the mountains.

White marsh marigolds (Caltha leptosepala) that I photographed recently near Bald Mountain in the Cascades. There were some in the Cascara Circle stream but they mysteriously disappeared last year. They look better in the mountains.

 

That’s the flora report. Now for the fauna report. Raccoons, herons and coyotes…and now deer. The edge of the University of Washington campus has a lot of green space connected to other green spaces around the city. These green spaces are excellent corridors that allow animals to pass through the city without being seen. Sometimes it feels more like a park than a college campus.

My new friend. This raccoon (Procyon lotor) keeps popping up in the herb garden. S/he doesn't mess with the plants so we are peacefully coexisting.

My new friend. This raccoon (Procyon lotor) keeps popping up in the herb garden, often in this Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis). S/he doesn’t mess with the plants so we are peacefully coexisting.

Across Stevens Way, these fledgling herons (Ardea herodias), if you can spot them in the blur of my weak zoom lens, are testing their wings, ready for their first attempt at flight. Maybe they will have taken flight by Monday. Good luck, big birds!

Across Stevens Way, these fledgling herons (Ardea herodias), if you can spot them in the blur of my weak zoom lens, are testing their wings, ready for their first attempt at flight. Maybe they will have taken flight by Monday. Good luck, big birds!

I wanted to get pictures of the coyote (Canis latrans) pups by the Union Bay Natural Area (near where I’m starting my plants for the next two years, until the new Biology Greenhouse is built), but I was too late. Apparently a few of the  neighbors felt they could not live near coyotes that had a den nearby, so they called in the USDA to shoot the mother and two pups last week. I suspect there will be more coyotes. They’ve been seen in that area for years, so the habitat must be good for them. They haven’t acquired the title of Trickster for nothing. My guess is that shooting a few coyotes, assuming at least one escaped, is the first step in selecting for stealthier, wilier coyotes. If they learn to stay out of sight, only those of us who look for their signs will know they’re here.

Last week, on the same day I heard about the coyote extermination, my source told me that a deer (Odocoileus virginianus) had been seen walking through the same area. There aren’t many off-leash dogs running around the north end of the city and there are a lot of  gardens with tasty plants to browse, so it’s probably a pretty nice place for a deer to bed down for a while. It’s exciting to know that a walk at first light or evening twilight might lead any of us to a close encounter with a wilderness visitor, creeping in at the edges, outside our control. Here’s a YouTube link to a favorite song  by Exene Cervenka, written from the perspective of that irreverent  outlaw, the coyote.

 

 

 

 

eyes catching firelight

nearby but beyond our reach

watching us depart

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Busy, busy spring

I took some photos a while ago, hoping to write an April blog post but that didn’t happen. It has been very busy around here. Spring is the busiest season at the Medicinal Herb Garden and in most gardens. It always feels like a juggling act with hundreds of seedlings to be planted, unpredictable weather, the challenges of slugs and snails and weeds.  The extra stresses of the move out of the greenhouse and having to maintain my plants in multiple locations have sapped my energy a bit, and writing blog posts has been low on the list of things to do. But here’s a slim update.

It was the hottest April on record here in Seattle,  and May started out hot, but it is cool and overcast and we’ve had some good rains recently. What a blessing spring rain is in a Mediterranean climate. If we can get another couple of inches before summer hits, I will be very happy. Plus, this rain is good for the morel and spring porcini forecast. Porcini!

Here are some recent(ish) photos from around the garden.

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Eriogonum umbellatum (sulphur-flower buckwheat) in full floral display, section C.

Dictamnus albus var. purpureus (gas plant, dittany) in section C.

Dictamnus albus var. purpureus (gas plant, dittany) in section C.

Chionanthus virginicus (fringe tree) from southeastern USA flowers in May and June and is quite a spectacle. It's west of Cascara Circle.

Chionanthus virginicus (fringe tree) from southeastern USA flowers in May and June and is quite a spectacle. It’s west of Cascara Circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sanicula europea (wood sanicle) in section E is one of the few plants to thrive in the dense shade beneath the giant oak.

Sanicula europea (wood sanicle) in section E is   one of the few plants to thrive in the dense shade beneath the giant oak.

Dryas octopetala (mountain avens) is a circumpolar species from the tundras of the world. It creeps inconspicuously along until it flowers.

Dryas octopetala (mountain avens) is a circumpolar/boreal species from the tundras and  mountains. It creeps inconspicuously along until it flowers.

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Prunus americana (American plum) west of the woods to the north of Cascara Circle. The drought (or something) last year caused it to abort its fruit. The April flower display this year was a good sign.

Procyon lotor (raccoon) in the woods north of section D.

You again! Procyon lotor (raccoon) in the woods north of section D. I have nothing against raccoons, but it would be nice to get some more coyotes (Canis latrans) on campus to keep them on their toes.

Valeriana sitchensis (Sitka valerian) in section A. On a backpacking trip in the Cascades, on Pilot Ridge, I collected the seeds to grow these plants. The sour smell of valerian is well known to anyone who hikes the western mountains in late summer.

Valeriana sitchensis (Sitka valerian) in section A. On a backpacking trip in the Cascades, on Pilot Ridge, I collected the seeds to grow these plants. The sour smell of valerian is well known to anyone who hikes the western mountains in late summer.

Malus fusca (Pacific crabapple) with buds getting ready to open (...on April 6).

Malus fusca (Pacific crabapple) with buds getting ready to open (…on April 6).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rheum palmatum (Chinese rhubarb) in section C, unfurling its leaves after a winter of rest.

Rheum palmatum (Chinese rhubarb) in section C, unfurling its leaves after a winter of rest.

 

There’s so much more to see but this will have to do for now. I’m exhausted and very soon I will need some blissful time in the mountains to recover.

 

 

 

 

May soil slowly warms

under intermittent rain

flowers appearing

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March winds

A couple of weeks ago we met with a windstorm that took a toll on some of the big trees of Seattle. In the Medicinal Herb Garden, a large, upright branch of a deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) came down on the southwest edge of Cascara Circle.

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The monkey saw it happen.

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Mooseberry/highbush cranberry (Viburnum edule…barely visible in the center of the picture) on the edge of the bog was crushed…but it survived. Plants are tough.

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Those branches each weigh hundreds of pounds. Ouch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The jack pine (Pinus banksiana) that I started from seed a decade ago was flattened under this tree debris.

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But it popped right back once I cut away everything on top of it.

 

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Raccoons (Procyon lotor) on the move.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe this pair lost their nest tree in the storm and were out searching for a new home, when out of nowhere popped the paparazzi. I tried to be discreet but they wanted none of it. Usually people move away from raccoons. They seemed uncomfortable with my breech of protocol as I moved closer to snap their picture.

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Why can’t we be friends?

I once tried to shoo a raccoon off my enclosed front porch. It was eating the garbage from a garbage bag I’d put there…to keep it away from the raccoons. The intrepid, wily omnivore got on the porch by pulling open the screen door. So I opened the kitchen window a crack and thrust a broomstick out to jab it and scare it off. It grabbed the broomstick with its teeth and tried to pull it out of my hands, then charged me when I wouldn’t relent. That was enough for me and I retreated. Raccoons are tenacious.

And so are some seeds, clinging to dormancy when they should be germinating. Starting seeds seems like a pretty simple proposition. If you’re starting broccoli seeds, it is. Your wait will be short and your rate of germination will be high. But wild plants can be a bit trickier. They exist beyond the pale of human selection, so they have evolved in environments with very specific natural conditions. What months does the rain fall, and how much rain? How cold are the winters and how long? In what sort of soil do they grow? How hot are the summers, what is the elevation and latitude, which herbivores (if any) consume and spread the plants’ seeds, etc., etc.  There are many pieces to the puzzle of how to propagate wild plants from seeds, trying to replicate the conditions of their natural habitat. Some are so easy and some are so hard. Cracking the code of how best to germinate seeds (and keep them alive) is the mission of plant propagators everywhere. Patience can pay off sometimes.

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Eleutherococcus henryi…finally!

I received and quickly planted these Eleutherococcus henryi seeds in March of 2014. They got ninety days of cold (in the refrigerator) then proceeded to do nothing all summer in the hoop house behind the greenhouse. The next winter they got five months of cold and still there was no action that spring and summer. This winter, they got another five months in the refrigerator. When I pulled them out in late February, I had low expectations. Then they all started to sprout. So it took three winters and two summers, plus scarification with some rough sand paper (Eleutherococcus seed coats are hard) before sowing to get these plants started. You can see all the moss that has grown on the flat. I broke it up each spring to make it easier for the seedlings to grow through.

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More or less the same story with this Sanicula marilandica, though three seedlings came up last spring. The balance seem to have sprouted this spring. Good things come to those who wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Even the Eleutherococcus sessiliflorus got into the act. Don’t, repeat, don’t throw out your ‘failed’ seed flats in frustration. Hang in there, have hope, be patient. It’s worth it.

 

More perennials are emerging from their underground dormancy. This week we’re supposed to have temperatures pushing 70 F.

Codonopsis tangshen/spring growth

Codonopsis tangshen/spring growth. Of the three species of Codonopsis I grow, C. tangshen is always up first.

March is a transition month here. Most of it is technically winter but gardeners in the Pacific Northwest know that spring begins long before March 20.

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Owl clover (Aralia californica) making its first appearance after winter dormancy on March 24. It is the only member of the ginseng family (Araliaceae) native to California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus).

Speaking of the Araliaceae, in a nearby bed is one of its more charismatic members, the Siberian ginseng, a tough, spiny shrub. Common names are often confusing. Though it is called ginseng, E. senticosus is in a different genus than the plants we normally call ginseng. Those plants, both the Old World Panax ginseng and related species, and the New World Panax quinquefolius, are herbaceous perennials, not shrubs.

The other skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) from eastern North America, smaller than our western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). Both fall into the category of marginal survival foods of last resort. As we mushroomers say, better kicked than picked.

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

The other skunk cabbage, from eastern North America, is smaller and less striking (though these are just two years old) than our western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). Both fall into the category of marginal survival foods (after cooking) of last resort. As we mushroomers say, better kicked than picked.

Camphor bush (Cinnamomum camphora) is a native of eastern Asia, from warm temperate zones to the tropics.

Camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camphor tree is a native of eastern Asia, from warm temperate zones to the tropics. An essential oil with a wide range of medicinal uses is extracted from the leaves and twigs. A really cold spell here in winter can kill off much of the top growth. We’re not quite zone 9 yet. But we’re getting there…

Oxlip (Primula elatior) at the east end of the garden. Its young leaves are edible and its roots are both diuretic and expectorant.

Oxlip (Primula elatior) at the east end of the garden. Its young leaves are edible and its roots are both diuretic and expectorant.

Caraway (Carum carvi) is biennial, meaning it goes to seed and dies in its second year. It's a great plant to let naturalize in your garden. All parts are edible.

Caraway (Carum carvi) is biennial, meaning it goes to seed and dies in its second year. It’s a great plant to let naturalize in your garden. All parts are edible.

Chinese angelica (Angelica sinensis)

Chinese angelica/dang gui (Angelica sinensis) waking up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peony/bai shao (Paeonia lactiflora)

Peony/bai shao (Paeonia lactiflora)

Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa) that I moved to the outer edge of Cascara Circle. It flowers so early that I worry about it not getting pollinated. Fingers, crossed I look forward to eating cherries this summer.

Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa) that I moved from the former fruit forest to the outer edge of Cascara Circle. It flowers so early that I worry about it not getting pollinated. Fingers crossed, I look forward to eating cherries this summer.

 

 

 

 

 

rain and hail today

tomorrow sunny and warm

 fickle days of March

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

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Springing out of winter

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.

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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 violets (Viola odorata) in section E are flowering. Usually they flower early, get hit by aphids, then flower a second time in early spring.

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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.

This and...

This and…

this.

this.

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.

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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:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4006099/

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…

The winter hazel (Corylopsis spicata) between sections E and F, also flowers before its leaves emerge. Winter hazel is a good looking plant the whole year if you keep it thinned out.

…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 is flowering.

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.

 

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

Inconspicuous flowers of the wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) in section D. I had to move a leaf out of the way and flip the flower over for this photo. They're well hidden.

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.

…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

springtime symphony

 

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Midst of winter

It hasn’t been terribly cold this winter, but cold enough to keep the snow falling in the mountains. What a good feeling to look east at the Cascades or west at the Olympics and see whole mountain ranges deep in snow, as they should be. The last straggling leaves have finally fallen from the deciduous trees and shrubs, and the stalks of herbaceous perennials and annuals are fading to brown, ready to return to the soil and recycle their nutrients for the next round. Wander through the misty pathways and catch a fleeting glimpse of a raptor or the last migrating Townsend’s warbler on its way to the tropics, look up at the sound of crows and you might see a family of raccoons asleep in a nearby tree, or follow the scent of truffle or some other mysterious fungus hidden beneath one of our oak trees; midwinter visitors to the Medicinal Herb Garden have much to experience if they pay close attention.

Speaking of mysterious fungus. This is growing on a wattle fence post north of Cascara Circle.

Speaking of mysterious fungus. This is growing on a wattle fence post north of Cascara Circle.

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Pipevine’s (Aristolochia macrophylla) twining mass of vines are leafless but mostly still green.

I've said it before but I'll say it again, wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is a better looking plant in winter than in summer.

Wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) spent inflorescence, now full of tiny seeds.

Snow berries (Symphoricarpus albus) could not be more aptly named. A native shrub yet no animals seem to eat their fruit.

Aptly named snow berry (Symphoricarpus albus) is a native shrub, yet no animals seem to eat the fruit. Supposedly, some of our native birds, such as resident towhees (Pipilo maculatus), robins (Turdus migratorius) and other thrushes, including the hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus) and varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius), and the waxwings (Bombycilla spp.) that pass through the garden in winter, will eat the fruit of snowberry, but you couldn’t prove it by me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dried vines of wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) . The deciduous tree at left in the background is the black cherry (Prunus serotina).

Dried vines of wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) . The deciduous tree at left in the background is the black cherry (Prunus serotina), a North American native whose bark is used to treat coughs. Three cheers for deciduous plants that add so much to the winter landscape.

Chuan dang (Codonopsis tangshen) still has fruit with some pigment though most have dried and turned brown. The mild weather is responsible for this irregular ripening.

Chuan dang (Codonopsis tangshen) still has fruit with some pigment though most have dried and turned brown. I believe the mild weather is responsible for this irregular ripening.

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) frit interwoven with Japanese wild yam vines (Dioscorea deltoidea).

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) fruit interwoven with Japanese wild yam vines (Dioscorea deltoidea). Unlike true bamboo which is in the grass family (Poaceae) and includes many genera and many, many species within those genera, heavenly bamboo is in the same family as Oregon grape, the Berberidaceae. Its red fruit, in large quantities, are toxic and even fatal to birds, but they go uneaten around here so I keep this plant in the garden. I’ll pull it if I hear compelling evidence that it is a serious threat to birds in this area. There’s so much else for them to eat in Seattle, even in winter, that an upset stomach or two after sampling these fruit probably leads them to steer clear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's already time for the mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) to wake up.

It’s already time for the mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) to wake up.

And the dwarf daylilies (Hemerocallis minor).

And the dwarf daylilies (Hemerocallis minor).

And something else in the family formerly known as Liliaceae.

And something else in the Liliaceae or one of the many families that have spun off from the Liliaceaea. Those taxonomists…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The camellias (Camellia japonica) on the northern border of section D have started flowering.

The camellias (Camellia japonica) on the northern border of section D have started flowering.  I’m not a huge fan of camellias (except tea, Camellia sinensis!) but they do brighten the winter days.

Camas (camassia leichtlinii) shoots already pushing up on January 25.

Camas (Camassia leichtlinii) shoots already pushing up on January 25.

Yesterday I heard cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) in the Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis). As usual, they wouldn't let me get close, hence the fuzzy zoom shots.

Yesterday I heard cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) in the Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis). As usual, they wouldn’t let me get close, hence the fuzzy zoom shots. This was their reconnaissance tree and…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was their destination, the cotoneaster (Cotoneaster racemiflorus). The fruit are quite bitter and I don't see the birds eating them until the middle of winter. Cotoneaster is a bit of a weed. The seeds pass through the birds and seedlings pop up wherever the birds' droppings land and there is bare soil. I wish someone would breed cotoneasters with ediblefruit. There's a lot of potential food biomass on a tree.

this was their destination, the cotoneaster (Cotoneaster racemiflorus). The fruit are quite bitter and I don’t see the birds eating them until the middle of winter. Cotoneaster is a bit of a weed around here. The seeds pass through the birds and seedlings pop up wherever the birds’ droppings land and there is bare soil. I wish someone would breed cotoneasters with edible fruit. There’s a lot of potential food biomass on a tree.

 

This is the time of year for filling seed orders and ordering seeds from botanic gardens all over the world. The middle of winter is a good time to plan for the future. Looking over a map of the garden and juggling where the new plants will go (if the seeds come up!) is a good challenge. There’s only so much space in a garden but…there’s always room for more plants.

The shipping and receiving area for seeds. Outgoing envelopes on the right await customs labels and then they're off to the far reaches of the world for a new life in some other garden.

The shipping and receiving area for seeds. Outgoing envelopes on the right are full of seeds and awaiting customs labels. Then they’re off to the far reaches of the world for a new life in some other garden.

Recently received seeds from France, Japan and Hungary.

Recently received seeds from France, Japan and Hungary.

Seed heads and seeds I collected in autumn.

Seed heads and seeds collected from the Medicinal Herb Garden in autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s the news for a quiet January. I hope everyone has some time and a safe, warm place to rest and reflect, sip tea and watch the rain (or snow) come down.

 

 

 

 

mandrake awakens

beneath the feeding waxwings

this midwinter day

 

 

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

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Into a new year

After a few hard frosts, we’re back to classic Seattle fall and winter weather. It’s been very rainy in the lowlands with daytime temperatures in the 40s and nights in the 30s, heavy snow is accumulating in the mountains and short days seem even shorter because the sun is nowhere to be seen. But today the days start getting longer. It’s winter solstice and a new year has begun.

Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana) leaves are still clinging to their branches, but most deciduous trees and shrubs are bare now.

Cascara tree in Cascara Circle.

Cascara tree in Cascara Circle.

Something likes to eat cascara leaves.

Something likes to eat cascara leaves. I wonder if the leaves are laxative like the bark.

 

The chestnut (Castanea sativa) stump next to the bus stop held its leaves until last week. I’m going to stop cutting it back and let it grow into a tree now that the fig tree (Ficus indica) has been ‘shortened’ and is out of the way.

The glorious chestnut stump.

The glorious chestnut stump.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roots, bark and leaves of bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) were widely used by northeastern Native Americans for a variety of conditions, including liver, urinary and lung complaints. Branches with fruit attached are sometimes woven into holiday wreaths back east.

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Bittersweet fruit in section E.

Hope for festive fruit on the tian men dong (Asparagus cochinchinensis) proved delusional. I had assumed they would look like the bright red fruit of garden asparagus (Asparagus officinalis). They’re about the same size and shape but not red.

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The ho hum fruit are barely visible. They look more like…

...look at the cool frog egg fruit!

…frog eggs than Christmas tree ornaments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the woods north of Cascara Circle, the male cones of the sugi or Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) are getting ready to drop their pollen some time this winter. Sugi, which can grow up to 200 feet or more (though usually less), is often planted around temples and shrines in Japan where it is native. Ours at the Medicinal Herb Garden has stayed small and bushy. I suspect it is a dwarf cultivar. There are much larger ones in Seattle, but I remember seeing a very impressive specimen at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, a Shinto shrine in Granite Falls, WA.

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Male cones on our sugi tree/bush.

A few yards away, a hedge of wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is looking better in winter dormancy than in summer growth. There’s something magical about the dried foliage of herbaceous perennials and the skeletal, sculptural branches of deciduous woody plants. I think it’s the negative space that opens up around these plants in winter. Wild hydrangea root is a diuretic that has been used to treat kidney stones and irritation of the bladder, urethra and prostate.

Wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) in the woods north of Cascara Circle. Some plants look better in winter

Wild hydrangea in the woods north of Cascara Circle. Reading Daniel Moerman’s wonderful book, Native American Ethnobotany, I discovered that the bark of wild hydrangea was used as both an emetic and an antiemetc by the Cherokees. I wonder if something wasn’t lost in translation by the recording ethnographer.

Even after its leaves have dropped, the eastern North American paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is the centerpiece north of Cascara Circle. Love that tree.

Even after its leaves have dropped, the eastern North American paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is the centerpiece north of Cascara Circle. Love that tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But not everything is dormant. Neither our native blackberry (Rubus ursinus) nor our two introduced blackberries (Rubus armeniacus and Rubus laciniatus) that grow in Medicinal Herb Garden borders do much resting in winter. They’re essentially evergreen here and they stand out when plants around them drop their leaves.

Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) showing why it's such an unstoppable weed. It's virtually evergreen around here.

Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) grows in all border areas.

Cutleaf or evergreen blackberry (Rubus laciniatus).

Cutleaf or evergreen blackberry (Rubus laciniatus) only grows on the west border of section C.

Trailing Pacific blackberry (Rubus ursinus) is native but quite invasive in the garden border areas.

Trailing Pacific blackberry (Rubus ursinus) is native but quite invasive in most garden border areas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luckily, all blackberries have edible fruit and medicinal leaves that are astringent, anti-inflammatory and high in antioxidants. I’m sure they have many more health benefits, and they’re free and almost everywhere. There’s no excuse not to have some of their dried leaves in your tea supplies, along with locally harvested dandelion roots (Taraxicum officinale) and stinging nettle (Urtica dioica).

 

 

 

 

dim light of solstice

reflected on rainy glint

of blackberry leaves

 

 

 

See you in the garden.

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November snapshots

It’s not yet winter but we’re off to a good start with wintry weather. We got a lot of rain in the lowlands and snow in the mountains earlier in the month and now we’re getting clear skies and cold nights. Many of the deciduous trees are still holding onto their leaves, the green largely replaced by yellows and reds. Sunny days of autumn are a gift in Seattle and it is so good to be working outside. For those of you who don’t get out of the office much and those far away, here are some pictures of the garden before winter sets in.

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Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) conferring in section B. There’s something about crows in November: autumn is their season in Seattle. They’re already congregating at twilight in the cottonwoods (usually Populus trichocarpa around here) and alders(usually Alnus rubra around here) by the edge of Union Bay. Sometimes thousands roost at once, cawing and cawing as the sun goes down. It’s one of the great Seattle experiences to walk among and below them and their haunting chorus at day’s end, from Marsh Island to Foster Island and the north edge of the Arboretum and many other areas around the city. They’re engaging in some sort of ritual that is far older than human history.

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They’re also willing to eat slugs and cutworm (Noctua spp) pupae which I toss to them when I’m digging, as they follow me around, waiting to see what little creatures wind up on the soil surface. I once watched a crow peering intently at the ground  in one of the garden beds. Then it made a quick thrust into the soil with its beak. It had been watching a mole’s (Scapanus sp.) progress as it tunneled, slightly displacing the soil and betraying its position. Up came the beak with a small mole. It didn’t surprise me. Crows are smart and they’re always watching…everything…or so it seems.

Hops (Humulus lupulus) flowers long past the stage when they can be harvested for tea or beer.

Hops (Humulus lupulus) flowers in section A, long past the stage when they can be harvested for tea or beer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) still flowering in late November.

Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) still flowering in late November.

Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) in section D is one of the last plants to flower.

Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) in section D is one of the last plants to flower.

Trifoliate orange, zhi shi (Poncirus trifoliata) covered in green fruit which should turn orange if they don't freeze.

Trifoliate orange, zhi shi (Poncirus trifoliata) covered in green fruit which should turn orange if they don’t freeze.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) in section B.

Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) in section B.

Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) fruit in section D did well in the warmth this summer. It was a bumper year for fruit.

Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) fruit in section D did well in the warmth this summer. It was a bumper year for fruit.

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) fruit stay green all summer and then turn red in fall.

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) fruit stay green all summer and then turn red in fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit that split in the heavy rains.

Pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit that split in the heavy rains.

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Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) leaves in section A.

Western sweet shrub (Calycanthus occidentalis) catching the last light of afternoon in Cascara Circle.

Western sweet shrub (Calycanthus occidentalis) catching the last light of afternoon in Cascara Circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) with our guardian monkeys in the foreground and various conifers behind. I love that tree.

Golden foliage of the paper birch (Betula papyrifera) with our guardian monkeys in the foreground and various conifers behind. I love that birch tree.

Skunkbush (Rhus trilobata) in Cascara Circle looks a bit like western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). It's good to know the difference.

Skunkbush (Rhus trilobata) in Cascara Circle
looks a bit like western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum). It’s good to know the difference. Skunkbush is used for natural dyeing and basketry.

Wild oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) in section D.

Wild oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) in section D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis) seed pods in section D.

Canadian milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis) seed pods in section D.

Purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) section D

Purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) in the same bed.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) foliage lighting up the woods north of Cascara Circle.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) foliage lighting up the woods north of Cascara Circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the leaves fall on the deciduous trees, it will become easier to spot the garden’s predatory bird visitors. For now though, the crows and jays lead me to their roosts. The barred owl (Strix varia) has been spending time in the conifers at the west end of the garden, but most recently at the east end of the garden. It’s pretty tolerant of my intrusions so I keep taking its picture.

Looking here.

Looking here.

Looking there.

Looking there.

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Those dark eyes don’t miss much…I’m glad I’m not a rat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hidden by day’s light

holding nighttime in their eyes

they wait for sunset

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An owl, a pomegranate, some untimely flowers and a free clinic

It’s almost Halloween and look who’s back.

Barred owl (Strix varia) in woods north of Cascara Circle.

Barred owl (Strix varia) in woods north of Cascara Circle.

Hello.

Hello.

 

A barred owl was often around the Medicinal Herb Garden in 2013, but not so much in 2014. They’re good ratters and it’s exciting to see one in the garden. Owls are magical birds in myth and lore. They seem to have the power to hypnotize other birds as they sit in a tree, impassively waiting for night to fall. Two years ago, in woods adjacent to the Medicinal Herb Garden, a group of garden visitors and I watched two crows, a Steller’s jay, a hummingbird and a robin all perched on a branch and staring at another branch a few feet away, on which perched a barred owl who appeared to be casting a spell over them. The crows and jays normally make a racket around birds of prey, but they seemed calm, unconcerned and even entranced. If I hadn’t seen it I might not have believed it. Maybe our barred owl is a bard owl.

Some people in the Pacific Northwest don’t like barred owls because they have expanded their range from the east to the west and are alleged to be displacing the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis ssp caurina).  It appears they are guilty on both counts…but it’s not their fault. The most popular natural history narrative seems to be that they stayed on the eastern half of the continent for thousands of years because Native Americans kept the Great Plains as grassland by regularly setting fires. As the story goes, the treeless plains acted as a barrier for the owls. But European settlers planted trees as they spread  their homesteads, then towns and cities, westward. The barred owls followed the trees and the rats that came with the humans and their farms.  A few land managers have recently tried killing barred owls in spotted owl habitat but that could be a difficult management strategy to maintain (owls can fly, after all…). I haven’t heard of  any spotted owls on campus so I’m pulling for you, barred owls.

Earlier in the week, I harvested the biggest pomegranate in the Medicinal Herb Garden. I wanted to wait but it had a brown spot on the rind and I didn’t want to lose the fruit to rot.

Ready or not...

Ready or not…

...it's time for the table.

…it’s time for the table.

It's red inside. Good sign!

It’s red inside. Good sign!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At some point, you have to rip it apart and eat it. Eating pomegranate is a celebration.

At some point, you have to rip it apart and start eating.

 

To be honest, it was a bit tart, tarter than a pomegranate should be, in my opinion, and the seeds were proportionally bigger in the red, juicy arils than they are in the best store-bought pomegranates. But the most mature Medicinal Herb Garden pomegranate shrub is producing larger, juicier fruit every year and there are three younger shrubs growing on the garden’s borders.

The heat and drought this summer caused some plants to slow down and stop flowering…only to begin flowering again, much later, as the rains and cooler temperatures returned.

Purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) flowering again on October 21.

Purple poppymallow (Callirhoe involucrata) flowering again on October 21.

And the

And the European cranberry bush/crampbark (Viburnum opulus) is flowering right now on the border of section C. It normally blooms in May and June and it did that, but here it is, doing it again. If it’s happened before, I haven’t noticed.

This common dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) on the western border of the woods to the north of Cascara Circle has not, that I've noticed, flowered a second time in autumn...until now.

This common dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) on the western border of the woods to the north of Cascara Circle has not, that I’ve seen, flowered a second time in autumn…until now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the asafoetida (Ferula asafoetida) is springing back into action with new flowers.

Even the asafoetida (Ferula asafoetida) is springing back into action with new flowers. This picture was taken on October 20.

Slender cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis) normally flowers in early summer. This did and...yes, you guessed it, it's flowering again in late October.

Slender cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis) normally flowers in early summer. This did and…yes, you guessed it, it’s flowering again in late October.

ditto the arnica (Arnica montana)...

ditto the arnica (Arnica montana)…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...and this western snakeroot (Ageratina occidentalis).

…and this western snakeroot (Ageratina occidentalis).

I’m sure I missed other unusual plant behavior. I’ll be interested to see what changes the spring has to show in the garden. Because each year in the Medicinal Herb Garden I collect seeds for our international seed exchange program, I have written records of seed collection dates and whether there was a lot, a little or no seed collected each year from each species. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to study patterns of flower and seed production from year to year. It’s hard enough keeping the soil and plants healthy.

The spiders are looking great, as always. Though giant house spiders running along the walls and floors still give me the creeps, I love to have spiders in the garden. Talk about persistence and focus.  Bash through their webs accidentally, as I do almost every day, and they’re already starting repairs.

Zen master spider

Zen master spider

Ever at ease and ever ready. Let that be a model for all of us.

Ever at ease and ever ready; let that be a model for all of us.

I’ve not managed to penetrate the complexities of spider taxonomy…yet. But I’m working on it. Seems like these are some sort of garden orb weavers…or something.

 

Behold a Halloween miracle in the garden shed: the grannyvine that wouldn’t die. I needed to plant clover in its bed so I snipped the plants off at the soil level, then carried their tripod trellis into the garden shed. That was a month ago but…

It kept on flowering. This was on October 15, a month after I put them in the shed.

…it kept on flowering. This picture was taken on October 15, a month after I put them in the shed.

And this was on October 21. If the undead are to inhabit the garden, it might as well be the beautiful grannyvine whose seeds have been used traditionally in southern Mexico as a sacrament to open the portal to the realm of the gods.

And this was on October 21. If the undead are to inhabit the garden, it might as well be the beautiful grannyvine whose seeds have been used traditionally in central and southern Mexico as a sacred substance to be ingested before shamanic rituals.

 

Right on schedule, just as frost threatens and the pollinators are preparing for winter rest, out pop the monk’s hood/fu zi (Aconitum carmichaelii) flowers. Section F is a bit of an underdog, surrounded by big trees and somewhat hidden from view, but the fu zi catches the eyes of strollers in October. It is a powerful plant which can be quite poisonous, even in small doses, but its roots are used as an effective heart medication in traditional Chinese medicine.

Monk's hood/fu zi flowers showing off in section F.

Monk’s hood/fu zi flowers holding down the fort in section F.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And last but not least, I recently had the privilege of attending the Dandelion Seed Conference in Olympia, Washington. I was impressed by the herbalists, growers and wildcrafters attending the conference, the excellent presenters (I met Mimi Kamp! Yes, that Mimi Kamp.) and the organizers who made things run so smoothly. The conference was a benefit for the Olympia Free Herbal Clinic.

http://www.dandelionseedcollective.org

Olympia has a free herbal clinic right downtown. Free, as in all of the dedicated herbalists and support people donate their time for the cause. Take a walk through downtown Olympia and you will see a lot of homeless people, many of them quite young. Living on the street takes a toll on the body and the spirit and, homeless or not, there aren’t a lot of alternative health care options when you’re uninsured and unemployed or low-income. Please give generously to this excellent community health clinic if you have the interest and the resources. Their services are free but their rent isn’t. The clinic is a beacon of light far beyond the city limits of Olympia. I hope their model can be widely replicated, especially in Seattle, where homelessness and drug addiction, especially to heroin, are the worst I’ve seen in my 31 years here. The wave of wealth that has swamped this town in recent years has not lifted all boats, but capsized many and, to torture the nautical metaphor even further, left many high and dry. Something is seriously wrong in a city where rents for long-term tenants can double when a new owner buys a building. A lot of people are in need of some healing (and affordable homes, not just tents by the freeway off-ramps).

 

 

 

in cool forest shade

crouched beside oplopanax

taking just enough

 

 

See you in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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