Friday, June 29, 2012

A Royal Welcome

Speaking of monarch butterflies, Monarch Watch, an educational outreach program, recently designated Matthaei-Nichols as monarch waystations

We're all monarch mavens here, and welcome hundreds of these regal butterflies to our properties each summer. Look for the waystation signs---and the monarchs!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Milkweed: Not Just for Monarchs

Yesterday, Judy Dluzen, one of Matthaei-Nichols' horticulturists, pointed out an interesting bunch of tiny caterpillars on one of the milkweeds between the greenhouses. We knew they weren't monarchs, and after a little research discovered them to be early instar milkweed tussock caterpillars. Toxins found in the milkweed called cardenolides provide the caterpillars a chemical defense against predators such as bats, birds, lizards, and other insects. Doesn't this late-instar tussock caterpillar pictured here looks a bit like the monarch caterpillar?

Here's a link to an article on the milkweed tussock moth. Look for them on your milkweed!

---Steve Parrish, Matthaei-Nichols

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sensational Nature

Pollinator Week is coming up (June 18-24). To help you celebrate and learn about the many pollinating bees, flies, birds, and other creatures so critical to our ecosystem, check out our Sensational Nature children's programming this summer at Matthaei.

June 20: Butterflies and Dragons---go on a scavenger hunt for hummingbirds, dragonflies, and other signs of summer. Includes crafts, games, and guided hikes.

June 22: Bugs Are Beautiful---Take a hike to look for pollinators and build a model flower and fantasy pollinator to celebrate our winged friends.

Register today!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Name that Peony

As part of a multi-year, multi-faceted project, Matthaei-Nichols staff and a special panel of experts work to identify peonies from the Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden

Thursday, June 7, University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical GardensOn this warm late-spring day, buckets of cut-peony bouquets in hues of pink, white, and red dazzled Greenhouse 3. A rosy peony aroma hung in the air.

Harvested in bud stage days earlier and kept cool until they could be forced to open, the cut peonies evoked a powerful memory of the now mostly faded peony garden itself.

Left to right: Peony Council member Scott Parker, Matthaei-Nichols staff member
Carmen Leskoviansky, and Council  member Reiner Jakubowski. The Council arrived at
Matthaei Botanical Gardens last week to help identify hundreds of peony stems that had been cut days earlier.

The flowers awaited the collective wisdom of the Peony Advisory Council, a group of local, regional, and international peony experts, growers, horticulturists, business owners, and historians. The Council reconvened this June to continue its work on helping Matthaei-Nichols staff conduct the Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden Initiative, a multi-year renovation project.

Staff and the Council are aiming for a positive identification of all the plants in the peony garden. No easy task, since peony names, forms, colors, and other attributes have in some cases shifted over the years.

While many of the peonies in the garden are believed to be correctly identified, there are some plants of questionable identity and approximately forty mystery plants. Verifying the identities of these plants will provide Matthaei-Nichols and the Council with a complete and correct catalog of the collection. In turn, the project will transform the garden into an internationally recognized reference collection that will serve as a conservation model for other historic cultivar collections and a destination for peony lovers.

To make the ID possible, exhaustive records are consulted. Council member Reiner Jakubowski in particular has amassed thousands of carefully organized records over decades into an enormous database created from historic peony manuals, catalogs, growers’ descriptions, and more.

In Greenhouse 3, already grown too warm by mid-morning, Matthaei-Nichols staff removed tagged stems of peonies, some with names. Carmen Leskoviansky, a staff horticulturist who leads the Peony Garden Initiative, read from descriptions based on Jakubowski’s work.

The council members examined each flower, comparing it against the description. Notes were taken; intense discussion ensued. Then the stem of flowers moved down the line where a photo volunteer clicked several pictures of the peony, including identifying features such as petals, stamens, and the name tag itself.

With the Council’s help recently, several unknown cultivars have been identified, including the rare ‘Silvia Saunders.’ Along the way, Arb and Garden’s staff have learned a great deal about peony culture and disease.

Stay tuned as work on the largest collection of heirloom peonies in North America continues. For more information, visit the peony section on our website.