Human Flower Project


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Glimmer Twins of the Western Slope

Talk about a dream hike in the Rockies…two expert mountain plantsmen meet at last, and lead the way to Pike’s Peak.


A “bun” of Phlox condensata

growing at Colorado’s Cumberland Pass

Photo: Allen Bush

By Allen Bush

Eighty-two % of Colorado’s population lives on the Front Range megalopolis—north and south of Denver—but, if you’ve got a shred of interest in alpine flowers, curiosity will lead you west across the Continental Divide to hidden treasures on the Western Slope. Two gifted gardeners first met here over the July 4th weekend: one a Western Sloper by birth, the other a Western Sloper by the grace of god. (Pardon the variation on the Southern USA car bumper sticker.)

Panayoti Kelaidis is the pride of Oak Creek. Kirk Alexander is the best-kept secret in Carbondale. Lucky is anyone who has the good fortune to travel for a few days with them, the very best talent the Colorado Rockies have to offer.

Their meeting place, with an arresting view of snow capped Mount Sopris, was the spectacular hand-built home and garden that Kirk Alexander shares with his wife, Sue. They live in the hills above the Roaring Fork River, a tributary of the Colorado near Carbondale.

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Posted by Julie on 08/16 at 09:36 PM
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Monday, August 08, 2011

Torreya taxifolia: Seeing Is Inciting

Some plants are worthy of a pilgrimage. And as any pilgrim will tell you, such journeys have a way of changing one’s view of the world.

By James H. Wandersee and Renee M. Clary

EarthScholars™ Research Group

imageSurviving native range of Torreya taxifolia in northwestern Florida

Map: The Torreya Guardians

The month is August. It’s sunny and nearly 100° Fahrenheit outside, with 92% relative humidity. We have journeyed by pick-up truck to sparsely populated northwest Florida, near the small city of Bristol, to an area long ago claimed to be the site of the Garden of Eden by one Elvy E. Callaway.

We have come for a live plant encounter with one of our nation’s most venerable, rare, and critically endangered species, Torreya taxifolia, commonly called the Torreya tree (pronounced tor-REY’-ah).  Only about 500 specimens of this tree, a conifer and primitive member of the yew family, are estimated to be left in the wild, and this is the best place in the world to see some.

Having survived over 100 million years, according to the plant fossil record, the Torreya tree is now teetering on the edge of extinction. (The aforementioned Mr. Callaway thought this tree was the biblical gopher wood tree used to build Noah’s Ark—hence his Garden of Eden claim.)

It should be noted that the tree’s namesake is the famous American botanist John Torrey (1796-1873).  His eponymous genus, Torreya, has six species—but Torreya taxifolia is by far the rarest.  All six species are small-to medium-sized evergreen trees, ranging from 15 ft. to 60 ft. in height when mature.  Torrey is also honored today through the famous Torrey Botanic Society Journal and the renowned Torrey Pines Golf Course near San Diego, California.

The trees we visited were growing inside Torreya State Park, a 12,000-acre Florida State Park which lies along the Apalachicola River. It cost us only $3 to enter the park,  a well maintained, lush, and serenely beautiful area.

We found that few park visitors come here specifically to see the Torreya trees. Surprisingly, our analysis of 276 of the most recent handwritten, spontaneous visitor comments in the park’s guestbook uncovered no comments written specifically about the Torreya trees!

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Posted by Julie on 08/08 at 09:37 PM
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Palash Will Do, and How!

The Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand split in November 2000. One of them had to find a new floral emblem.


Dressed up in dye from the palash flower for Holi

Barsana, India

Photo: Phat Beats

When political boundaries are redrawn, people usually don’t have flowers foremost in mind. Perhaps that’s why it’s taken Uttar Pradesh nearly 11 years to decide on a new state flower.

This huge and populous region of northern Indian was divided in November 2000. The northwesternmost territory, nearly all of it in the Himalaya, was split off to form the new state of Uttaranchal, renamed Uttarakhand (north country) in 2007. We would have guessed that Uttar Pradesh would have been entitled to retain its state flower, Saussurea obvallata, also known as Brahma Kamal, but no. In fact, this is an alpine plant that grows all over Uttarakhand but isn’t nearly so abundant in the lower lying provinces of Uttar Pradesh.

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Posted by Julie on 07/19 at 05:47 PM
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Monday, July 04, 2011

Fern Fetish

Plant experts from the U.S. and the U.K. unite to tour “the crossroads of sporangia,” otherwise known as Kentucky. Thank you, Allen!

imageRalph Archer leads a bi-national tour of Whitehall’s woodland garden, named for him, Louisville, KY

Photo: Allen Bush

By Allen Bush

Sarah Palin, the revisionist expert on Paul Revere’s warning, never saw the British coming, yet the occasional elected official and non-stop self-promoter needn’t worry about foreign invaders, at least not these: Royal subjects with a fetish for ferns, members of the British Pteridological Society, came to Louisville, Kentucky, near the summer solstice, heeding a call to join their counterparts from the American Fern Foundation for a two-week tour of southeastern natural woodlands and shade gardens. You’ve never seen a busload so excited about sporangia.

According to Ralph Archer, the Louisville tour guide,  Kentucky is a happy hunting ground for hardy ferns. He was responsible for planting host Whitehall’s fern collection – now called the Ralph Archer Woodland Garden at Whitehall. (Mike Hayman, Leslie Pancratz and a devoted group of nine Master Gardeners keep the garden in fine shape now.)

Kentucky is at fern crossroads of the United States – the nexus between the flora of the east and west and north and south.

The garden visitors, slowed by the weight of a humid morning, didn’t need to be told that it was hot at these crossroads. But they did miss the boat on some beautiful blooming plants.

Did they see the hedging Hydrangeas in various shades of white, pink and blue?  Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tokyo Delight,’ a lacecap form with blue and white blooms was exceptional. (I suspect someone at Whitehall has dosed the soil to lower the pH to a more acidic range to get the blue coloring. I sit on a limestone outcrop, not far away, and the pH is a sweet 7.2.  This would turn the blooms a pinker shade.) It’s a shame the visitors missed the bright red Crocosmia ‘Lucifer,’ and the gold shades of Alstroemeria ‘Sweet Laura’ and Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ in the sunny long border.

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Posted by Julie on 07/04 at 12:27 PM
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