- Witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’)
The red-flowered witchhazel blooms first, and it must have gotten started last week because the small tree I came across this morning was in full, rusty burgundy splendor. The flowers have a nice light scent which is unfortunately absent when it’s raining sideways. Oh, Oregon.
- Burmese Mahonia (Mahonia lomariifolia)
Haven’t seen it yet, but I know it’s going or will be in the next few days. Excellent early nectar and pollen source for ambitious honeybees who sneak out to investigate on warm days in January and February.
- Hazelnuts and the various Corylus spp. cannot be far behind
- Cherry buds are thinking about waking up; buds are probably physiologically active (it’s alive!) but not outwardly swelling yet
A friend discovered these deformed leaves on a tomato we’d planted in her garden just a month earlier. It had been blooming and doing fine, until one day, it wasn’t. It was also covered with webbing, and many of the leaves were chlorotic – bright chartreuse with darker green spots and veins. We talked for awhile and I learned that a landscaping service came in weekly to care for the lawn and clean up. Looking around, I realized the field of Vinca and Ivy that normally grew next to her house was gone. It didn’t look mowed; the plants were just…gone. Aha! Herbicide.
The deformed leaves in the picture are a sign of herbicide injury, particularly of growth regulators. Epinasty occurs when one portion of the plant’s tissue grows faster than another, or continues to grow while the other portion ceases. Leaves and stems can twist and elongate and club. In this scenario, it looked like 2,4-D damage. Once the plants were stressed from the injury, spider mites got the advantage – the source of the fine webbing.
The appropriate people were called and admonished, the plants were replaced, and all was well in the world. But it reminded me: the problem with plants isn’t always right there on the plant. Sometimes it’s in the bed adjacent, or coming from the house next door, or visiting from the woods nearby (deer, I’m looking at you).
Yes, Vox Hortus got another update! Now it’s all horticulture, all the time. And entomology. And that’s it. Now, here’s a crane fly on a Nasturtium leaf while you get used to the idea.
Before I knew anything about insects, I was told that these guys eat mosquitoes. Not so. The adults actually don’t eat at all, though the young larvae feed on decomposing vegetation, and they can be a pest in turf grass. They like to get into the house in my neck of the woods, and it’s dicey taking them outside without injuring their legs. They go frantic when you pick them up. They’re harmless though. And they don’t eat mosquitoes. Bummer.
Flannel bush, Fremontodendron, is one of those beautiful mediterranean plants I grew to love in California (though it actually hails from Mexico). Snuggled next to stucco walls and tucked under a red tile roof, it just glows, demanding attention. You may plant it as a background plant, but it will assert itself to be the star.
Some crazy (brilliant) person planted one up here in the PNW, and I’ve been stalking it to see if it lived and thrived. Fremontodendron doesn’t like wet feet, and we pretty much float the grass 7 months of the year here. But look, here it is, blooming and brilliant.
You can see that it grows in a gangly, open habit. I’ve seen it hedged into a shape of some sort and can’t recommend that approach. The leaves are very mallow-ish – they feel like suede and in fact the little hairs can be a contact skin irritant. A small price to pay for it’s incredible yellow brilliance.
It’s a favorite of Ceratina, the small blue carpenter bees, and I’d imagine bumblebees and all the other bees of note like it too.
Picture it: Sapphire Blue Oat Grass or blue Senecio planted about its base. Fabulous contrast. Okay, I’ll stop gushing about it now.
Having just had a smidgeon of a friend’s strawberry-rhubarb preserves on toast – a piece of toast that made me do the happy dance around the kitchen, exclaiming and ooo-ing – I realized that I have a kitchen FULL of homemade food gifts from various folks.
There’s blood orange marmalade, honey from three different keepers’ hives, vintage sourdough starter that half the town is also in possession of, home brewed beer, a freezer container full of the viscous sugary delicious base for hot buttered rums, homemade champagne vinegar, and the aforementioned nectar from heaven of strawberry-rhubarb preserves. (Seriously, they are unbelievably good, like fresh, ripe strawberries. Better than the preserves at the Big Yellow House in Santa Barbara, and that’s saying something.)
I have been offered, but refused due to lilliputian kitchen dimensions, locally grown and freshly milled whole wheat flour (25-pound bags only!), a vinegar mother, dried chanterelles (honestly, I didn’t know what to do with them), grated and frozen zucchini, a metric-yard of eggplant, homemade dog food (I don’t have a dog), a yogurt mother culture (for making your own yogurt), and on 3 different occasions, homeless swarms of bees.
If I recall correctly, my rental agreement specifically forbids keeping bees in my kitchen.
Despite the ecstatic toast incident, the day has pummeled me. I planned to work some more this evening, but I feel a mouth breathe coming on.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the more knowledge we have, the more gray areas appear in the distinct divide between black and white.
It’s easy to identify n00bs because they have tidy, streamlined, carefully reasoned positions on big issues. Logging? Always bad! Restoration activities? Always good! GMOs: bad. Organic agriculture: good.
Meet burdock (Asteraceae: Arctium minus). Or burr dock, if you so desire.
Burdock is a European introduction, a noxious weed in two states, and ubiquitous in North America.
Noxious and introduced? Bad!
It’s also a source of nectar and pollen for foraging butterflies, bees, and wasps.
Food for beneficial insects? Good!
It eats Ruby-crowned Kinglets (Regulus calendula). Its flower heads are prickly, tangled and sticky and ensnare these tiny birds.
Bird eating weed? Most definitely bad. (The birds are common and not endangered if that makes you feel any better. I know, it probably doesn’t.)
The tap root is tasty and the leaves have been used for a variety of medicinal purposes across a number of cultures.
Medicinal and delicious? Good. Invasives as a food source? Even better.
The flower heads stick to fur and make pets sick if ingested.
Barfing dogs? Très bad.
Here’s a good one: Burdock was the inspiration for Velcro. True story.
You can see where I’m going with this. Ecology isn’t easy. It’s complex, and it’s always about competing objectives. The ornithologists see one priority. The farmers see another. The botanists have an opinion, and so do the entomologists. Citizens are enthusiastic opinionators, and the land manager is faced with a huge task: to manage the needs of the plant community and the animal community in line with prevailing ecological goals and economic mandates.
I would say here that I sure wouldn’t want that job, but I totally do.