Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Q-Tip Plant’s Act of Self-Denial

Now blooming in the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, the q-tip plant performs more sleight of hand than its name alone suggests.

Two striking plants are in bloom in the tropical house of the conservatory (late January 2013). One, the powder puff tree (Calliandra haematocephala) looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss tale with its airy, brilliant flower sprays. The other, the Q-tip plant (Clerodendrum quadriloculare), resembles, you guessed it, Q-tips, except that Clerodendrum’s are washed with purple and arranged in a starburst or fireworks-like pattern. Both plants figure into human horticultural affairs mostly because they make good landscape plants in tropical areas.

On the q-tip plant the male part of the flower—the stamens—elongates and sheds pollen first.

Beneath its pretty face, however, the q-tip plant has another story to tell: protandry, in which male function precedes female function, allowing the flowers of a q-tip plant to avoid self-pollination. In other words the male part of the flower—the stamens—elongates and sheds pollen first. Once that’s finished the stigma elongates and is receptive to pollination from other flowers of the same species.

Visit the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens soon and take a break from the winter drear. And don’t miss the q-tip plant and the powder puff tree.

Friday, January 25, 2013

At Matthaei, Pesky Flies Face a One-way Sticky Ticket

Shore flies and fungus gnats, beware. You’re on the Matthaei-Nichols hit list of unwanted insect pests in the greenhouses and conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Pictured sticking to the card are mostly shore flies and fungus gnats. The tiny creatures are so named for their affinity for moist areas, perfect breeding grounds for algae and fungus, according to horticulture manager Mike Palmer. Flies are attracted to the yellow color on the cards, which are coated with a non-drying, sticky substance. Once the flies alight, they’re stuck. The cards betray the presence of these pests and are another weapon Matthaei-Nichols staff use as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) program, says Palmer.

Besides the yellow cards, it’s standing water that really attracts shore flies and fungus gnats, and they both like moist organic matter, explains Palmer. “Soil that contains peat moss and is kept too moist is an ideal breeding ground for them,” he adds. Look for shore flies lifting in small clouds the next time you’re walking along the edge of a lake where algae collects.

While the adults of both shore flies and fungus gnats don't eat much, the larvae do: shore fly young thrive on organic matter and algae, and fungus gnat larvae eat saprophytic fungus on the soil surface, as well as organic matter and the root hairs of plants, “so they can be pretty damaging,” says Palmer.  A saprophyte is an organism that lives on dead or decaying organic matter.

Shore flies and fungus gnats are almost always present in our greenhouse areas, says Palmer, but “we control them by letting the soil dry out on the surface of the pot, using the sticky cards, and making sure floor drains are clear. Clogged drains lead to standing water and the formation of algae.”

Homeowners often find these greenhouse pests hitching rides on new houseplants. To control them says Palmer, let the soil of your new house plant dry a bit between waterings, try using yellow sticky traps (available at online merchants), and don’t let water stand in the saucer for any length of time. You can also replace or rough up the top layer of soil in a pot. This helps remove some of the larvae and gives the soil a better chance to dry out, making the environment less hospitable for larvae survival.

Monday, January 21, 2013

New Bonsai Tree Boosts Matthaei-Nichols Collection

The bonsai collection at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum is another tree richer, thanks to a stunning new Ficus plant recently donated by Ohio collector Melvyn Goldstein. Goldstein, a Michigan alumnus (AB '59 LSA, AM '60) is the John Reynolds Harkness professor of anthropology and Co-director of the Center for Research on Tibet at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He began collecting and working with bonsai trees in the 1990s, and has entered his trees in numerous invitation-only national and international competitions. Professor Goldstein’s tree will be on view when the new Bonsai and Penjing Garden at Matthaei opens in spring 2013. Thank you, Professor Goldstein.

The tree in 1992
For a sneak preview of the tree, visit the Botanical Gardens the week of Jan. 21, where the tree is on display in the temperate house of the conservatory.

Pictured here is the tree in 1992 and in our greenhouse in January 2013. Quite an evolution in shape and form!

And in January 2013

Friday, January 18, 2013

At Matthaei-Nichols, Collecting Seed Spreads Diversity

Ever wandered through the Arb and Gardens and wondered what happens to all that seed after the flowers fade?

Many of the native plants that grow at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum produce abundant quantities of seed. Collecting and processing the seed ensures robust future generations of native plants. As botanical gardens shift from displays of strictly pretty (and often nonnative) plants and flowers to hardier native types that thrive in their own regions, the practice of encouraging native species continues to grow.

Boneset seeds (Eupatorium) as seen through a seed-sorting screen

Breaking open a rip milkweed pod

A hairdo fluff of blossoming milkweed seeds
Collecting seed from these native plants fosters eco-diversity, explains Connie Crancer, Matthaei-Nichols horticulturist and native plant specialist. “We use the seed, which is collected by volunteers, work-studies, interns, and staff, for restoration efforts in our various ecosystems in our natural areas and for some of our display gardens, and to replenish depleted native seed bank where the soil has been disturbed.” If you visit Matthaei Botanical Gardens in the winter or spring of 2013 you’ll see a good example of a disturbed area along the service drive at Matthaei that was excavated for the new water main. This area was reseeded with a prairie savanna seed mix created in-house instead of being sown with non-native grass seed.

A perfectly formed plug of milkweed seeds seems lit from within
Following collection the seed is allowed to rest—a process called after-ripening—and then dryThen the seed is removed from the inflorescence or fruit and the largest plant parts are discarded. What remains is the seed along with some of the chaff or floral parts. This process is usually straightforward, such as passing it through a screen, scrunching it with a rolling pin, or using a specially retrofitted house blender. It can be dramatic, too, particularly when fire is used to quickly burn off the plant down from milkweed seeds. The flash burn doesn’t negatively affect germination.

Milkweed down bursts into momentary flame
Getting rid of all the non-seed parts isn’t essential, adds Crancer. Seed companies sell perfectly cleaned seed, free of chaff and other plant material, but Matthaei-Nichols’ goal in seed collection isn't about seed sales, though sometimes the seed is traded with other organizations. "The seed we process is isolated from the floral parts enough for optimal germination and the extra chaff and plant parts that go through the processing is tolerated and actually helps when we direct sow the seed," she says.

Good record-keeping is also essential, with data gathered on when and where the seed was collected. Finally, when all of the seed has been processed, staff and volunteers weigh it for volume and create special seed mixes for restoration and special projects. The remaining seed is packed into plastic bags and stored in a cold room, where it will last for 3 to 6 years.

Photographs courtesy Sarah Michayluk.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Taking Care of the Caregivers (Video)

The Michigan Alzheimer's Disease Center has created a video on their amazing new program called "Catching Your Breath" that's held at Matthaei Botanical Gardens each month. The programs are designed to promote health and well-being for family caregivers and adults living with memory loss or dementia.

According to its website, the MADC was "established at the University of Michigan Health System, through affiliation with the Department of Neurology . . . and aims to a) conduct and promote research on Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders; b) ensure state-of-the-art care for individuals experiencing cognitive impairment or dementia; and c) enhance the public’s and health professionals’ understanding of dementia through education and outreach efforts."

For more information about Catching Your Breath, read a story in the winter 2013 Matthaei-Nichols newsletter or visit the MADC website.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Photo Exhibit at Matthaei Botanical Gardens to Celebrate African American Gardens

Places for the Spirit

Traditional African American Gardens
An exhibit of photographs by Vaughn Sills

January 18–March 10, 2013
Matthaei Botanical Gardens
Free admission; open daily 10 am-4:30 pm; Wednesday until 8 pm
Two free public lectures by Vaughn Sills, Jan. 29. See below to sign up.

Experience an exhibit of black-and-white fine-art photographs of African American folk gardens and their creators. Author Vaughn Sills, an associate professor of photography at Simmons College in Boston, traveled throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina in search of these evocative gardens, and her photographs capture a vanishing element of the American landscape.

Vaughn Sills writes: "In my search for gardens I drove through small towns and cities and along country roads, stopping when I saw a certain kind of beauty. As I look at my photographs now and try to define what compelled me, I see a sense of both order and mystery, with a visual and soul-satisfying contrast between open space and dense arrangements of plant life. In many of the gardens I was drawn to the myriad objects placed to reflect light, to create structure, to delight and, it seemed, to entertain. I soon learned that all of this beauty was far more than entertainment, for beyond that there was meaning of the greatest import.

"These gardens hold a place for spirits: the gardeners provide the means to communicate with ancestors, fend off harm, and offer security to those who enter."

Free public lectures by the author: All invited to "The Roots of Trust" a free public lecture at Matthaei Botanical Gardens by Vaughn Sills on Jan. 29. The author will discuss the importance of establishing trust with the creators of the gardens in her photographs. Limited seating available; reserve your place today.

A part of the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts winter 2013 "Understanding Race" Theme Semester.

Above: Pearl Fryer's Garden, Bishopville, N.C.  Right: Vaughn Sills.

Date Palm Is Blooming in the Conservatory

The date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, is blooming in the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.  See photo below.

The date palm is another species of plant that is "dioecious" - that is, an individual plant is male or female.  Thus if a plant is male it has only male flowers and if female it has only female flowers. Our plant is a male. To have fruits produced we would have to have a female plant in the conservatory which would have fruits if pollinated by this male.  Male plants never produce fruits.

Technically, the photo is of the inflorescence made up of hundreds of male flowers.