Human Flower Project
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The Botanist Gene
Is there a plant scientist among the limbs of your family tree? What kinds of fruit do botanists bear?
Tweedy’s Willow (Salix tweedyi): Thanks, Uncle Frank!
Image: State of Washington
Is there a gene for botanical talent? John Bartram seems to have passed it on to son William. There were the famous Hookers, father William and son Joseph, who both directed the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. And the Millers: Philip of the Chelsea Physic Garden and his son Charles, who became first Curator of the Cambridge Botanic Garden (1762).
On the eve the Tweedy family reunion out in Knickerbocker, Texas, this weekend, we are elated to have found a botanist-ancestor to call our own: Frank Tweedy (1854-1937). He worked for the U.S. Geological Survey in the late 19th century, exploring and collecting mainly around Yellowstone National Park, and several species from Washington State and the Rockies bear proof.
Cisanthe tweedyi (formerly known as Lewisia tweedyi) is all anyone could want for bragging rights. This beauty, native to Washington’s Cascades, is “valued by many experts as the world’s premier rock garden plant.” (Sounds like something alpine gardeners could debate long into the night.) Marc Dilley writes:
“It was named after Frank Tweedy, a U.S. Geological Survey botanical collector who made the first ascent of Mt. Stuart on August 5, 1883. Much of L. tweedyi’s renown is due to its extravagant bloom.”
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Iris stocksii: Your Day Is Coming
Alpine horticulturists around the world, including Allen Bush, wait with excitement as cultivation of a rare Juno iris, collected in Afghanistan, begins.
Tony Hall working on a frame of Juno Iris
Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, 2009
Photo: Jim Almond
By Allen Bush
I spent one sleepless hour after another on my London flight in late May walking the aisle while staring at an unconscious planeload. I tried to play catch-up. Two glasses of airline wine and an Ambien didn’t do a bit of good. A day later I came calling on Tony Hall cross-eyed with jet lag. Sleep walking for a couple of hours around the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew seems now like a dream—full of memories of a friend.
I tumbled out of the car on Kew Road at Primrose House and graciously agreed to be picked-up sooner or later. Later preferred. I feared sooner since neither Kew Gardens nor precious time with Tony Hall should be done on the fly. Hall has retired – sort of. He was for nearly thirty years the Manager of Kew’s Alpine Unit, caring the alpine plants and bulbs and overseeing the Alpine House and Woodland Garden. Hall, renowned for his knowledge of Iris, is the leading authority on Juno Iris and working toward a botanic monograph. Kew continues to provide facilities for Hall’s Juno Project.
Tony buzzed me in and was eager to get moving. A special package had just arrived: four bulbs and nearly fifty seeds of the very rare Iris stocksii.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Guts, Glory: Clerodendrum bungei
Some houses are haunted. Others come with stealth, showboat shrubbery.
Rose glorybower is a beauty and a curiosity
but is she a winner?
Image: Human Flower Project
Several weeks ago friends Jeannie and Jim Harbour had us out to their beautiful new place west of Austin. The previous owner had turned over the keys with one request – “Please don’t cut down those strange black sticks all over the side yard.” She knew they’d be tempted. These slightly gnarled pokers has sprung up tall, about 4 feet high, with no sign of greenery in April, but by May big heart shaped leaved had grown, and then small bud clusters appeared, weird, like little bundles of matchheads, on the top of each leafy spike.
Two weeks later Jeannie and Jim understood what the seller had been talking about. The “match tips” had each opened up into a starry pink blossom, making bloomsheads big as hydrangeas. At the Natural Gardener they learned that along with the house and pool, they’d purchased a little grove of Rose Glorybower (Clerodendrum bungei).
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Maps + OIL + Plants
Without detailed geological information about Block 252 in the Gulf and the chemistry of dispersants that have already been thrown into the water, how can we expect to clean up the coastal wetlands?
A dragonfly stuck with oil to marsh grass, Garden Island Bay, near Venice, Louisiana, May 18.
Photo: Associated Press
By James H. Wandersee and Renee M. Clary
EarthScholars™ Research Group
This past spring we had the chance to see the so-called Impossible Black Tulip of map collecting — the huge and detailed, 60-square-foot, 1602 Ricci Map of the World. It was on display at the Library of Congress before being moved to its new permanent home at the University of Minnesota. The James Ford Bell Trust bought the map for $1 million from Bernard J. Shapero, a noted dealer of rare books and maps in London, for the university’s James Ford Bell Library. The Ricci map had formerly been owned by a private Japanese collector.
Never before seen in the US, it is the first Chinese map to show the Americas, and was drawn and highly annotated by an Italian-born Jesuit priest named Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) when he was a missionary in China.
The Wanli Emperor had invited Ricci to become an advisor to the Imperial Court in 1601 because of his accurate scientific predictions of solar eclipses. Thus he was the first Westerner ever to be invited into China’s Forbidden City. Ricci placed China at the center of his map as a Jesuitical attempt to win converts to Roman Catholicism, while also exposing China to Europe and the Americas.
Father Ricci wrote, “This was the most useful work that could be done at that time to dispose China to give credence to the things of our holy Faith…. Their conception of the greatness of their country and of the insignificance of all other lands made them so proud that the whole world seemed to them savage and barbarous compared with themselves.”
Maps can indicate—and sometimes impose—great power. Today, we often assume that the maps we need are comprehensive, accessible to the public, objective, and unbiased. None of those assumptions is true. All maps actually distort reality in specific ways in order to depict some data better than others, according to their commissioned purposes.
Maps have also served as secret tools, intended to be used to gain a knowledge-advantage over one’s competitors. From ancient times onward, rulers have insisted that their countries be placed at a map’s center to convince others how important their kingdoms are. Only by being aware of the subjective omissions and distortions inherent in maps can we make sense of the information they contain.
Authors of Washington’s Blog wrote May 24, nearly a month ago: “We can’t understand the big picture behind the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill unless we know the underwater geology of the seabed and the underlying rocks…. We don’t know the geology under the [Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon rig] spill site. BP has never publicly released its cross-sections of the seabed and underlying rock. BP’s Initial Exploration Plan refers to ‘structure contour maps’ and ‘geological cross sections,’ but all the detailed geological information, maps and drawings have been designated ‘proprietary information’ by BP, and have been kept under wraps.”