Sunday, November 19, 2017

Plant Story--Perplexing Pumpkins

We have no problem recognizing pumpkins

pumpkins

and yet, botanically they're difficult.

Four plant species are "pumpkins": Cucurbita moscata, Cucurbita argyrosperma, C. maxima and Cucurbita pepo.

That would not be particularly confusing, except that those same plant species also give us summer and winter squashes. Thus, different varieties of Cucurbita pepo, for example, are acorn squash, zucchini and sugar pumpkins.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Plant Story-- The Under-Appreciated Parsley

Parsley doesn't get much respect. Restaurants garnish plates with a sprig of parsley, but diners rarely eat it.

parsley leaves

And yet, parsley has a long history as a breath-freshener. And will help settle your stomach.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Glimpse of Northern Chile

Atliplano. eastern Chile
Altiplano, Chile
Northern Chile can be "down" in the Atacama Desert at 7,900', or on the Altiplano, averaging 12,000' above sea level, or higher, in the surrounding mountains. This is the second part of my description of a trip to northwestern Argentina and northern Chile, begun in last week's post (link).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Glimpse of Northern Argentina

North and west of Buenos Aires, Argentina becomes more and more tropical and then rises toward the Altiplano and the Andes. The rainfall drops to a few inches a year, which fall during the hot summer.
northwest Argentina
northwest Argentina
To the west, northern Chile sits on the Altiplano, over 10,000' above sea level, with the surrounding mountains even higher.
Altiplano, Chile
Looking across the Chilean Altiplano

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Plant Story--Sticklleaf, Mentzelia nuda

Mentzelia nuda, a short-lived perennial of sandy sites in the western plains, is called stickleaf and blazing star. My personal name for it was "quitting-time flower."
Mentzelia nuda in the late afternoon prairie
The white flowers are Mentzelia nuda stickleaf in the late afternoon prairie

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Plant Story--Rhubarb, A Curious Food

Rhubarb is an odd food plant: we only eat the leaf stems.

rhubarb
Rhubarb. Only the leaf stems are harvested and eaten!
I guess the same is true for celery, but celery leaves and roots are edible. Rhubarb leaves could kill you. Rhubarb roots were a significant traditional herbal medicine all across Eurasia, often as a purgative. So this food plant is raised only for its leaf stems (technically, petioles).

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Plant Story--Ragweed, Ambrosia, an American Wildflower

Ragweed. Makes you think of allergies, right?

ragweed, Ambrosia
ragweed, Ambrosia
But my title says "an American wildflower."

And it is.

The ragweeds, the genus Ambrosia, in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, are all endemic to the Americas. Of the 22 species native to North America, only five are widespread (see USDA maps). But two species are in every one of the lower 48 states, annual ragweed Artemisia artemisifolia, and western ragweed, Artemisia psilostachya. They look very similar. The annual ragweed has always been a plant of disturbed areas, spending the winter as seeds, needing relatively open conditions to prosper during its one year of life. Human disturbances have given it many more places to grow. The other widespread ragweed, western ragweed, is a perennial, and is found in native ecosystems all across the United States.