Month: November 2012

Native vs. Cultivar: a Plant Quiz

Native vs. Cultivar: a Plant Quiz

Trout lily

When looking at photographs of plants, the size or even the angle at which the subject was photographed can deceive the viewer.  At the November meeting of Chester Garden Club, members were presented with a series of photographs and then challenged to identify the native plants and distinguish  them from common cultivars. The interactive presentation was handled by Brenda Hiltz, a Master Gardener, who provided all participants with paper and pencil and then showed them a series of over 40 slides of plants, some in flower and some with fruit. Participants were asked to write down the name of each plant shown and to specify whether it was a native species or a cultivar.  On completion of that task, to help everyone mark their scores, Brenda showed the crowd the same photos in the same sequence but with the botanical and common name of each plant added to the image. As each name was revealed, gasps of surprise (or delight, if a plant had been correctly identified) could be heard throughout the room.  After tallying their scores,  most members were quite chagrined to realize how many plants they had misidentified but all agreed that, in future, they would be more aware of the native plants that add a significant decorative element to the natural landscape.  A small selection of Brenda’s floral mystery photos and relevant information is included in this post.

trout lily colony
A trout lily colony

As an inveterate hiker and canoeist, Brenda has been photographing native plants throughout the province for many years.  The trout lily [Erythronium americanum] is a herbaceous flowering plant that blooms in early spring.  The plants grow in colonies, some of which have survived as long as 300 years.

Anemone canadensis

Another native species is the Meadow Anemone above,  commonly known as Crowfoot.  It blooms from late spring to summer and its seeds are borne in achenes (which are small, dry, hard one-seeded fruit). It was used by North American indigenous peoples as an astringent and as a styptic for wounds, sores, nosebleeds and as an eye-wash.

Jack-in-the-pulpit berries

This herbaceous perennial is native to eastern North America and is found in  moist woodlands. In contrast to the medicinal properties of Crowfoot, Jack-in-the-pulpit contains oxalic acid, which is poisonous if ingested.  Even if only handling the seeds and pulp, it is advisable to wear gloves.  The plant’s flowers are contained in a spadix, which is covered by a hood, giving the plant its distinctive appearance.


Although the fruit of  the Daphne mezereum is poisonous to humans, many birds eat them and then spread their seeds via their droppings. The scented flowers of this Eurasian shrub are produced in early spring on bare stems before the leaves appear.

Firethorne blossoms
Firethorne berries

Pyracantha angustifolia, a species of shrub in the rose family, commonly known as Firethorne, is native to China but has been introduced to North America  as an ornamental plant that also serves as a prickly hedge because of its sharp spines.  The small orange or red pomes (fleshy fruit) are astringent and bitter-tasting to humans but a good food source for birds.

Another imported plant that is widely used in North American gardens is the Gerbera daisy, or African daisy. This tender perennial is attractive to bees, butterflies and birds but resistant to deer – an important feature for many Chester gardeners!  This genus from the sunflower family, with about 30 species in the wild, is found in South America and tropical Asia as well as Africa.  It has thousands of cultivars, which come in many colours and sizes,  and it is a popular cut flower (being the fifth most-used cut flower in the world, after the rose, carnation, chrysanthemum and tulip).

African daisy
More on Autumn Leaves

More on Autumn Leaves

Having observed a rather rapid transition in the “red to dead” leaves in our area this year, one that resulted in a shorter period to enjoy nature’s autumn tapestry, I was intrigued by a couple of related articles in a recent issue of Dave’s Garden Weekly Newsletter. This is an excellent compendium of information, with contributions from professionals and amateurs many parts of North America.  If you haven’t yet come across this site, you can find it at  If you register (i.e. create an account, which is free) you will automatically receive the weekly newsletter.

Soft colours form a muted tapestry in early November

The November 12 edition contains Carrie Lamont’s account as to Why Trees Lose their Leaves in the Fall.  Her spritely approach combines clear information with clever illustrations, and provides a refresher course in the annual phenomenon that we all learned long ago in elementary school but are now hard-pressed to explain to another adult. Her basic thesis is that all plants first evolved in tropical climes when stems and fern-like leaves were sufficient to do the photosynthesis job. Later, evolution produced different plants which had broad flat leaves that were good for absorbing sunlight and for evaporation in warm air.  As temperatures cooled, those leaves were eventually adapted to be disposable in times of cold and dry air (as in our winter conditions). That’s why, in our climate, leaves fall in the fall; and round out the cycle of life by enriching the soil where they fall, with nutrients for the very tree or shrub from which they had been cast off.

A century-old apple tree still puts forth fruit, which is enjoyed mainly by local wildlife

By scrolling down Dave’s newsletter you can find articles from previous days of the week.  In this edition, they include other articles related to fall, like Gloria Cole’s “Fall and Winter Gardening ” (and, here,  a reminder that our own Niki Jabbour  published a comprehensive book entitled “The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener” last winter).

Pumpkins and fall flowers take pride of place when one has missed an opportunity to photograph a true vegetable market

Another entry entitled “Bulbs – a year in bloom” provides a primer on growing a wide selection of “bulbs” throughout the year.  But first, author Toni Leland clarifies the terminology used to differentiate the many plants that are commonly thought of as growing from bulbs.  Ms. Leland states that bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes all belong in the category of geophyte. They have fat underground roots or stems that keep the plant alive during cold or drought. A true bulb is actually a short stem and packed scales that contain nutrition and embryonic leaves and flowers; corms are enlarged stems containing a bud on top and covered with dry leaf bases; tubers are swollen with food reserves and have several “eyes”; while rhizomes are horizontal stems from which the stalk and leaves develop.   Whatever the term, in the Chester region it is not too late to plant geophytes now for “flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la”.  In fact this month is also a time to start potting up narcissus, hyacinth and amaryllis geophytes for forcing indoor blooms.

An article entitled “Are Falls Getting Shorter?” caught my eye because it seemed to reinforce my perception that the season was briefer this year.  In fact, I believe the author,  Adina Dosan,  was merely nostalgic for the past and lamenting the fact that as we age time appears to move more quickly.  Nevertheless, she included some lovely images of fall colours.

As a contrast, to show how the camera can sometimes fool the eye, I’m including a photo below that appears to be snow-covered branches sheltering two deer. In fact, the “snow” is lichen that is growing on some very old apple trees that were part of a local farm well over 100 years ago. I was standing on a raised deck at quite a distance from the animals (the closest I could get before they bounded away) when I took the photo and it was only later, when cropping and thus zooming in on the subject, that the lichen forms looked different.

Thanks for the windfalls. Sorry we gotta eat and run…

Fall Weather Has Gardeners Looking to House Plants

Fall Weather Has Gardeners Looking to House Plants

A cold north wind and much lower temperatures have arrived, following the warm wet weather that we had experienced when the fringes of Hurricane Sandy blew past Chester. Now that a hard frost has finished off most of the annuals in the garden and fall’s colourful foliage is no more than a memory, some gardeners are turning once again to indoor plants.

A novice’s experiment with orchids has resulted in a growth spurt of large leaves emerging from a repotted mystery plant, along with a corresponding gradual loss of blooms from a lovely fuschia Phalaenopsis.  When the latter was bought in May, it sported a single stalk of blooms and later developed another stalk without help from the owner! Now that the flowers are dropping off (six months later) it is time to seek advice concerning the care and feeding of orchids. The next step will be to contact the local orchid society and, as usual, surf the net.

Christmas cacti are now beginning to add their exotic floral contributions to this indoor display. Somehow, early November seems a little early for a plant tagged “Christmas” but mine always appear about the same time every year.

The orchid on the right, seen against the background of a snow-covered lawn, was photographed in a past winter. There hasn’t been a snow-fall here yet!

One of the less common house plants in this community is the Anthurium, a tropical plant that does best in medium light. Having recently received one of these plants as a gift, it seemed appropriate to find out how to care for it, which is why I turned once again to the internet.  There, I found the site, a comprehensive source of information devoted to several species of tropical plants including Anthuriums as well as Spathiphyllums and Orchids.

Anthurium, variety unknown

Written by Steve Lucas, with credits to professional botanists, the site provides detailed information on the basic factors to consider when growing any of those tropical plants. Sections describing the best soil composition, preferred light conditions and considerations re humidity and watering are clear and consistent. Botanical terms are provided in a lengthy glossary; photographs illustrate the varying species; and, throughout the different sections, one basic theme concerning the feeding and caring for these tropical plants is repeated : “Listen to Mother Nature. Her advice is best.”

I learned that the “flower” of the Anthurium pictured above,  is more like a “flower holder” since it is a modified leaf, or bract, known as the spathe. Together,  the spadix (a sort of tongue that grows up from the spathe) and the spathe form a collective structure called the inflorescence.  Actually, the spadix at its centre can grow a group of very tiny flowers but, as Steve Lucas writes,  most people need a magnifying glass to see them.

There is a wealth of information on this site, which owes much of its photography to the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis although the author’s own botanical garden is in Arkansas. The information ranges from helpful hints for creating an ideal composition of loose soil, to the importance of avoiding limestone for the pebble base underneath plants that are sitting in a water-tray, to tips on building your own rainforest habitat.  The site covers so much material that I felt I was studying for a Master’s course but it also provides other useful (if more mundane) content, such as the simple definitions that clarify the difference between a “stem”  – which is the plant’s base or axis –  and a “petiole”  – which is the stalk that connects the leaf blade to the stem.

The site also includes the option of a virtual tour through a private botanical garden, complete with the sounds of tree frogs and a waterfall.  And once you’ve come back to reality, ready to face Chester’s grey November landscape, remember to hightail it to the club’s Annual General Meeting on Monday, November 19, where Brenda Hiltz will discuss some of the native and imported species of flora in our area.  As for the fauna, we hope those deer hightail it out of our yards too!

White-tailed deer dash away from under your blogger’s apple trees