Human Flower Project


Friday, February 03, 2012

Widely Winged

After years of assiduous transnational work, botanists at Kew coax an iris into bloom for the first time.


Iris stocksii bloomed in cultivation for the first time 1/23/12, at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Photo: Andy McRobb

We imagine Tony Hall swinging through the door of a hospital maternity ward: “It’s an Iris stocksii!”

Congratulations to Tony, to Kit Strange, Juan Piek and everyone else involved in finding the rare bulbs in Afghanistan and handling them with such wisdom and care that the first flowered last month at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. (And our thanks to Allen Bush for informing us all along the way.)

We are delighted and grateful to post in full Tony Hall’s fine description of this beautiful flower, its “gestation” and birth. A more complete scientific description may be found here.

If you’ve ever wondered how a top notch working horticulturist thinks (hyper-observant, meticulously historical), this account is revealing. (We’ve taken the liberty of dividing Hall’s four paragraphs into shorter passages for ease of reading online.)

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Posted by Julie on 02/03 at 03:32 PM

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sed Qualis Illa Latine?

“But what is it in Latin?” With new international rules, plants will no longer have to be described in Latin.


The former Aster oblongifolius (now Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) has a complete description in Latin.

Photo: Illinois Wildflowers

Horticulturists, at least those fluent in English, just got a bye from the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN). As of January 1, 2012, plant scientists will no longer have to provide a Latin description of newly identified species in order to get these plants on the books, as it were. Now, such descriptions can be made in either Latin or English, and for the most part, the reaction among botanists has been very favorable.

By expanding the ways in which new species can be introduced, most experts say, discoveries in the plant kingdom can be more swiftly catalogued, speeding up research. Most critically, speeding up the international system of identification, many say, will make it possible to protect more endangered plants sooner, before they face extinction.

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Posted by Julie on 01/30 at 09:20 PM
Culture & SocietySciencePermalink

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ash Assassin

Taking out one endangered tree seems to cause more alarm than the threat to a whole species. Allen Bush takes out an ash and takes on the neighborhood.

imageThe Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis B)

Photo: Zin

By Allen Bush

Arborists cut down our big white ash tree a few weeks before Christmas. It had stood in the front yard since 1974. My neighbors weren’t happy with me. My pleas for any understanding fell on deaf ears throughout the holidays in coffee shops, at parties, on the street. I promised everyone that there would be a better tree that goes in its place.

“Good luck,” I was told.

“We’re tree huggers!” one critic added. No one seemed to know what kind of tree it was, or even care why I’d taken it out. None of that mattered. Our tree was their tree. “What a bummer,” one passerby lamented.

At least the neighbors weren’t marching down Top Hill Road in solidarity, carrying Louisville Slugger baseball bats made from white ash wood, at least not yet. “I see you took the down the tree,” is not a neutral declaration. It means I have looted the neighborhood. I am the ash assassin.

Nobody cared that the tree removal was a preemptive strike, ahead of the emerald ash borer (EAB). This insect has already launched an assault on tens of thousands of ash trees in Louisville alone. 

Our white ash (Fraxinus americana) should never have been planted in the first place, at least not in our front yard. (White ash grows naturally from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, south to northern Florida.  It extends west to eastern Texas and eastern Minnesota.)

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Posted by Julie on 01/14 at 05:25 PM
EcologyGardening & LandscapeSciencePermalink

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Unforeseen: Yahoo Falls

Plantsmen Allen Bush and Paul Cappiello, hunting for pink muhly grass, fall down a rabbit hole of botanical wonders in McCreary County, Kentucky.


Silene rotundifolia blooming near Yahoo Falls

McCreary County, Kentucky, November 2011

Photo: Allen Bush

By Allen Bush

I had no idea what was in store last spring, when Paul Cappiello began talking about an autumn day-trip to Eastern Kentucky. Paul is the Executive Director of Yew Dell Gardens in Crestwood, Kentucky. The premise – or the excuse for a fun walk in the woods - seemed simple enough: try to find cold-hardy native stands of the pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris. They were there, somewhere in the Cumberland Mountains; we knew that.  Julian Campbell had said so. And Julian knows where just about every native plant is, in every nook and cranny across the state. He had found pink muhly seedlings in Rowan County earlier in the year.

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Posted by Julie on 12/15 at 11:45 AM
EcologyGardening & LandscapeScienceTravelPermalink
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