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Contents tagged with plant names

  • Native vs Non-Native: Cataloging Plant Species on the Nature Museum Grounds

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    Tags: plants, plant names, native plants

    Created: 12/10/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    During the growing season, I was charged with the fun and interesting task of compiling a list of all plant species growing in the Museum’s “habitat vignettes”. For those unfamiliar with this term, we sometimes use it to refer to areas of the museum grounds where we’ve worked to recreate plant communities that were typical of our area before European settlement. Frequent visitors know these areas well: the Black Oak Savanna, Burr Oak Savanna, Elizabeth Plotnick Tallgrass Prairie, the rooftop garden, (the section visible from the Bird Walk) and our portion of the North Pond edge.

    In creating the plant list, I counted species intentionally planted by us as part of our restoration efforts as well as those that showed up here on their own. The total number of species was 350! Being in list-making mode, I divided these into categories that had more meaning in relation to what we are trying to accomplish with the habitat vignettes. To wit:

    Native Species: 229

                   Planted by us: 159

                   Spontaneous:  56

                   Unknown: 14

    Non-Native: 123

    It’s worth noting that these categories are not cut and dried distinctions. There are differing opinions on whether some species grew here before Columbus. Also, several have strains both from North America and from other continents (which can behave differently ecologically). In these cases, I tended towards the majority opinion of authors who have studied our local flora, weighted by my own opinion. Then there was the matter of how local to get while defining “native.” In this case, I considered a species native if it was known from a county at least bordering Cook.

    A final distinction I wanted to make was whether a species was invasive or not. This entered even blurrier territory as, aside from a few of the worst offenders, there is far from a standard consensus on which species are invasive locally. I used a pragmatic approach, counting any species as “invasive” if we have actively attempted to control or eradicate it. The resulting list included 63 species – 12 of them native, 51 non-native. (Yes, native species can be invasive, too. But that’s a subject for another blog post.)

    Willow Herb

    Willow Herb, Courtesy of Frank Mayfield via Wikimedia Commons/cc-by-sa-2.0

    Surprises

    In creating any such list, there are bound to be surprises.  For example, I found two native species of Willow Herb in the Black Oak Savanna that are more typically found in wetland habitats. I suspect that seeds or seedlings of these plants arrived in the soil of native plant plugs. (We happened to see Willow Herb growing in abundance at a local nursery). I was also surprised that one of the species we’ve attempted to reintroduce over the years – Marram Grass – seems to have died out completely.  It almost certainly grew here centuries ago when lakefront dunes made up portions of the museum grounds, but now its failure here is a good example of the challenges posed by “restoring” nature in heavily modified environment.  

    Marram Grass

    Marram Grass, Courtesy of UIC

    Historical Perspective

    It is impossible to know the exact species list that would have emerged if I had compiled it a few centuries ago. Historically, this land was sand dune, marsh, oak savanna and probably some prairie. The lakefront was originally much closer to the museum. The topography, hydrology, and soil here have been drastically altered over the last couple centuries, making it difficult to recreate the conditions required by some of the presumed original species. Despite this, both the museum and the North Pond Nature Sanctuary have successfully reintroduced a good number of plants that once would likely have grown here. Have any of these original species survived on the property on their own throughout all of these changes? The answer, sadly, is probably not. However, some native plants were likely in the general area the whole time and would have been able to easily re-colonize the museum grounds. These correlate to the 56-70 species that I’ve listed as spontaneous. Why did some species need to be replanted, while others came back uninvited?    

    Weediness

    You may know that some plant species are extremely sensitive to specific conditions (like Leadplant), while others will grow almost anywhere (Hairy Aster). There is a general spectrum between these two extremes. The species we intentionally replanted tend towards the more conservative, “specialist” side, while those that found their own way here are on the other, “weedier” side. Another way to describe this equation ecologically is that climax species are on one end, and pioneer species are on the other. Pioneer species do well in disturbed areas where bare soil is exposed. This situation always existed in nature but is far more common today, as a result of human land use patterns. As a result, the seeds of these species are practically everywhere. But unlike these weedier species, when more conservative, climax species have been absent for a long while, their seeds are no longer in the soil (or in nearby areas), and thus they generally will not return on their own. 

    Change

    This list might be considered a “snapshot” of what was here in 2014. While I was positively surprised by the ratio of native to non-native species growing here, it should be noted that the species list doesn’t reflect how many individual plants of each species are present, which is what we hope to alter most as the years go by. The quantity of individual, reintroduced native plants will hopefully increase with time. The number of weedy native and non-natives will probably also change, as we extirpate some, and new ones arrive. Now that we have a list, we will be able to compare it to lists of future years, hopefully showing progress as we strive towards recreating lost native habitats.

    Want to check out the list for yourself? You can view and download a PDF of it by clicking here.

    Nate Fremont
    Assistant Horticulturist

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  • Music to Photosynthesize by -- The Favorite Bands of Plants (as Imagined by a Sleep-Deprived Horticulturist on a Rainy Day)

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    Tags: plant names, plants, music, bands

    Created: 9/15/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    It’s raining. Again. (For those of you keeping score at home, most of Chicago is now 8-12 inches above normal rainfall for the year.) This is a good thing in that I have barely touched a hose or sprinkler all summer. But there is also a downside to these soggy mornings, as I sometimes find myself spending too much time at my desk flipping through garden supply catalogs and clicking the email refresh button. On such occasions, inspiration for a great new blog post will sometimes mercifully find me. I’d like to say that this is exactly what’s happening just now – a genius idea is percolating in my mind, and it’s all I can do to keep it contained until it essentially writes itself. But today is not one of those times. Today, I am tired. It’s chilly in this office. I had Pop Tarts for breakfast. These and other excuses are why I am subjecting you to the following bizarre and half-baked blog entry. Sorry about this.

    So, here we go: Favorite bands of various plants – a thought experiment.

    Plant: Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) | Favorite Band: The Sex Pistols

    RagweedJohnny Rotten
    (John Lydon photo via Ed Vill/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)
     

    Ugly. Crass. Generally unwelcome and proud of it. These traits apply equally well to the plant and to stars of the early punk movement. Like a young John Lydon, ragweed hates you, and it does not care if you know it.  It throws pollen in your face and laughs when you itch and sneeze. And it sneers at the class system you’ve created to separate garden flowers from weeds – a system that relegates it to life in alleyways, ditches, and vacant lots. Out on the street, it grows angry and defiant, looking for ways to cause trouble. Lydon got the name Johnny Rotten because of his poor oral hygiene. Have you ever seen ragweed shopping for toothpaste? Just sayin’.

    Plant: Midnight Horror Tree (Oroxylum indicum) | Favorite Band: Slayer

    Midnight Horror TreeSlayer
    (Slayer photo via Francis/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)
     

    Why Slayer, the most metal band of all time? Because Oroxylum indicum is the most metal tree of all time. This plant gets its name from its long seedpods, which on moonlit nights look like swords or daggers hanging from the branches. Also known as the broken bones tree, its large leaf stems tend to accumulate at the base of the trunk, looking for all the world like a pile of ribs and femurs.  And of course, it blooms at night, attracting bats as its primary pollinator. Hails and horns, Oroxylum. Long may you Reign in Blood.

    Plant: Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) | Favorite Band: The Grateful Dead

    Harry Lauder’s Walking StickJerry Garcia
    (Harry Lauder's Walking Stick photo via Malcolm Gin/Wikimedia Commons CC BY SA 3.0, Jerry Garcia photo via Carl Lender/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)
     

    Harry Lauder’s walking stick, otherwise known as contorted hazelnut, is a cultivated variety of the European filbert. It is grown as an ornamental for its unusual, twisting stems. So how did they get that way? Well, imagine if you will, a young, naïve filbert tree at its first Dead show. It meets some new friends. One thing leads to another. The music begins, and soon, there is no more up or down for our little tree. Its branches, much like the band’s music, begin to loop and twist endlessly with no pattern or direction. Each song seems to last for hours as the concert stretches deep into the night. The tree is forever changed. The next morning, it hitches a ride to California in a VW Microbus with an artist collective called Dawnglow Machine. To this day, when it sees other filberts growing straight and tall and producing nuts, it shakes its head and thinks, “Man, what a bunch of squares, man.” Kinda sad, really.

    Plant: Metallic Palm (Chamaedorea metallica) | Favorite Band: pre-1994 Metallica

    Metallic PalmMetallica
    (Metallica photo via Kreepin Deth/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0
     

    Because post-1993 Metallica is nobody’s favorite band.

    Plant: Century Plant (Agave americana) | Favorite Band (Artist): Jeff Buckley

    Century PlantJeff Buckley CDs
    (Century Plant photo via WRT3/Wikimedia Commons CC BY SA 3.0, Jeff Buckley photo via nlaspf/Flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0)
     

    Century plant uses a reproductive strategy called semelparity. It grows for 10, 20, 30 years or more, then produces a single, glorious flowering stalk. Towering up to 40 feet high, rich with nectar and pollen, and producing edible seeds, it is truly a wonder of nature that anyone should feel blessed to have experienced. And then the whole plant dies…

    I’ve really depressed myself now.

    Moving on…

    Plant: Hosta (Hosta spp.) | Favorite Band: U2

    HostaU2
    (Hosta photo via El Grafo/Wikimedia Commons CC BY SA 3.0, U2 photo via Zachary Gillman/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.5)
     

    Look, I like The Joshua Tree as much as the next guy, and hostas can find a place in just about any shade garden (like mine, for example.) But I’d bet dollars to donuts that an image search for ‘banal ubiquity’ turns up photos of Bono in a hosta nursery. These two are safe bets, reliable but never spectacular, the Toyota Camrys of music and horticulture. So when a hosta hits the iTunes store, it searches U2 first, then Taylor Swift for a little variety and some Dave Matthews Band if it’s feeling nostalgic. But don’t pity U2 – their harmless consistency has netted the band members a combined €632,535,925 (about $818,985,376) according to The Sunday Times. Reportedly, half of all album sales are to hostas.

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  • Wingnuts in the City that Never Sleeps

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    Tags: autumn, plant names, trees

    Created: 11/15/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Autumn in New York
    Why does it seem so inviting?

    New York

    Billie Holliday sang the praises of fall in the Big Apple, and if a recent weekend was any indication, it would be hard to disagree (though some might this year, thanks to hurricane Sandy.) There is something agreeably evocative about brownstone stoops strewn with cast off foliage and planetree leaves chattering down the sidewalk on a fresh breeze. On the way to JFK after a weekend with family, I took a detour to Brooklyn Botanic Garden to revel in the sunshine and autumn color, and while the grounds had sadly suffered a number of tree falls from the storm, it was nonetheless a lovely afternoon.

    The Garden was quiet and felt particularly dignified, perhaps due to the somber hues of drying leaves and the lack of energetic floral activity. However, one stop on my circuit of the Plant Families Garden sent me into fits of decidedly indecorous laughter. A grand, gnarled old tree – perhaps the largest and oldest on the grounds, and a species I was previously unfamiliar with – was earnestly labeled with its scientific name, Pterocarya fraxinifolia, and its common name, Caucasian Wingnut.

    While “Caucasian Wingnut” is a label some might choose to apply broadly, it seems a bit unfair to condemn an entire species to derogatory snickers and finger pointing. But at least the CWs, as I will mercifully abbreviate them, have plenty of company. Many a plant has endured a lifetime of awkward introductions at cocktail parties. Pity the poor Mountain Misery, Midnight Horror Tree, Beggar’s Tick, Corpse Flower, Mal Mujer, Crybaby Tree, Lousewort, Fly Poison, or Pleuro amparoana, also known as the Toilet Bowl Orchid.

    Deservedly or not, other species have fared quite well in the name game, such as Balm of Gilead, Fairy Petticoats, Sorrowless Tree, Enchanter’s Nightshade, Venus’ Looking Glass, Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, and a favorite here on the Museum's grounds, the Rattlesnake Master. Euphorbia leucocephala has it particularly good.  Its many common names include Snows of Kilimanjaro, Christ Child, and Little Christmas Flower. Other plants must get a lot of confused stares from doormen and receptionists:  Ramping Fumitory, Moses in a Boat, Napoleon’s Hat, Monkey Puzzle, and Rat Stripper to name a few.

    There are scientific names – always Latinized – that take the cake in both lyricism and absurdity.  Consider the poetic qualities of words such as Dasylirion, Mandragora, Bauhinia, Ipheon, and Vitex agnus castus, which translates to “chaste lamb of life.” Dread the doubtless horrors of Dracula nosferatu and Monstera deliciosa. Or, try some lingual calisthenics with a couple of cactus species, Weberbauerocereus cephalomacrostibas and Austrocephalocereus dolichospermatichus. Quiz tomorrow. Spelling counts.

    But back to New York and our dear CW. No matter how ridiculous its name, the tree I visited that afternoon was remarkable – venerable, steadfast, antediluvian. Perhaps we should thank Sandy for sparing it, but then, the tree has surely stood strong in the face of many storms. And perhaps, with maturity, it’s learned to laugh at its awkward moniker and even appreciate the chuckles of passersby. They say laughter is the secret to long life. Maybe this Wingnut is living proof.

    Seth Harper
    Horticulturist

     

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