Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Herb of the Week: Fringe Tree

Chionanthus virginicus
Fringe Tree, Old Man's Beard, White Fringe Tree

Chionanthus virginicus, Fringe tree
The Fringe Tree is thought by some to be one of the prettiest trees native to North America. In late spring this small tree is covered in white blossoms that have long dangling petals - its "fringe." Hardy to zone 5, the fringe tree's native range is the south-eastern US from NY to Florida and as far west as Texas. This pest-free tree will grow in full-sun or partial shade. The attractive leaves are ovate and yellow in the fall. The fringe tree is dioecious and the female plants produce purple drupes that resemble olives.

Over the years I have added many native plants to my gardens and landscaping. Even more so when they offer up both beauty and herbal use like the fringe tree. Six to eight years ago, I added a tiny little foot tall fringe tree seedling. It barely grew the first couple of years, often coming back so slowly in the spring I doubted it made the winter. While its growth has been slow in my cold and moist climate at the edge of its northern range, over the last couple of years it has finally put on some size and extra branches. This spring, after the coldest and hardest winter in decades, it gifted me with blossoms - the first since I planted it. (See picture above.) While I only have one cluster of flowers this year, I look forward to even more in future years!

The fringe tree -- like so many native plants -- were originally part of various Native people's medicine traditions which were later adopted by white herbalists and healers into their own herbal practices. Traditionally the fringe tree root bark has been used for liver and gall bladder disorders as well as wounds and rheumatism. For more on fringe tree's uses, see PFAF's entry on it or Peterson's Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants by Foster & Duke.

Learn more:

Looking to add this tree to your place? Try Forest Farm like I did.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hot Stuff in the Greenhouse

Tree Philodendron
Be sure to check out my new article on Sonnenberg Garden's Strolling Through Sonnenberg blog.

It is about a plant world oddity that can be seen in bloom in the tropical plant collection in Sonnenberg's greenhouses. The strangeness is not so much in the fact that the plant is blooming, but in the characteristics that this plant, the tree philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum), exhibits in its flowers.


Things are Heating Up in the Greenhouse

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Herb of the Week: Blue Cohosh

I feel a day is wasted unless you have learned something new. It doesn't have to be a huge thing, just something new. After taking a recent hike to snap some spring wildflower pictures, I found out that new thing for the day. During the hike I saw some blue cohosh that had just sprouted up and was in flower (see picture below). It sported deep maroon flowers rather than the light green ones I was used too. I snapped some pictures and looked it up when I got back. This is when I learned that new thing.

I never realized there was more than one species of blue cohosh but it seems there are two. The maroon flowers were an indication of Northern Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) whereas the species I was more familiar with, Caulophyllum thalictroides, has more numerous, light green flowers.

Both plants overlay much of the same native range though C. thalictroides ranges a little farther south and west than its sister species. (See for range details.) As for how to tell which species it is other than by its flower? Well, C. giganteum blooms 10-15 days earlier and has larger and less pinnately divided leaves than C. thalictroides. Exact differences according to one source were:
The two species differ somewhat vegetatively. The ultimate leaf segments of  C. giganteum are 5–10 cm long and first leaf is 2- or, more commonly, 3-times pinnately divided. The ultimate leaf segments of C. thalictroides are 3–8 cm long and the first leaf is 3- or, more commonly, 4-times pinnately divided.
It was a good day for something new indeed!

Northern Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) in flower:

Northern Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) in flower

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) in flower:

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) in flower

Blue Cohosh foliage:

Blue Cohosh

Blue Cohosh fruits (green) early/midsummer:

Blue Cohosh fruits (green) early/midsummer

Blue Cohosh fruits (ripe) late summer:

Blue Cohosh fruits (ripe) late summer

Monday, April 14, 2014

Has Spring Sprung Yet?

Bloodroot is one of my spring favorites but I haven't spied yet, but my pussy willow, coltsfoot, and crocus are blooming. I guess I will have to keep my eyes open!

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis

Monday, March 17, 2014


Heirloom Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes grown from seed
Recently I was asked for where I buy my seeds from for my vegetable garden. I end up getting them from a lot of different places including local home & garden shops. Why so many?  Mostly because each vendor has their own specialty varieties. But here are some of my favorite seed sources - I hope you enjoy them too!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Keep Calm and Think Spring

Recently I saw an image that said, "Keep Calm and Think Spring." After the long and cold winter it has been, I think we are all beginning to think spring. Actually, it is probably more than just thinking of spring. It is needing spring. As such, we begin to look for those harbingers of spring -- and we all have specific ones we look for.

When I think of early spring, I begin to think of certain flowers blooming and certain animals making their appearance. Last spring I wrote about Turkey Vultures making their spring return appearance. On another blog, I've also written about Pussy Willows BloomingSeeing Spring Ephemerals, and other signs of spring.

But today, I'm thinking about the late spring sights. I guess I'm tired of winter's browns and grays and need that emerald green of verdant May. So what do I think of in bloom come mid to late May? Many things to be sure! But today the mid to late spring sight that is on my mind is the Lily-of-the-Valley. Give them a shady spot, and they will fill the area with their tulip-like leaves and racemes of tiny bell-like flowers. The best part of these flowers, is their scent. It is heavenly and rich and it always reminds me of being a kid for my mom had these in her gardens. I loved picking a few to make a tiny bouquet for her. She had a special little bud vase for such tiny bouquets. Despite their petite size, these bouquets would perfume a room.

A few lily-of-the-valley tips:

  • They do spread via rhizome so take care of placement for they will crowd out other plants, weeds and other flowers alike. Can be a blessing and a curse so add wisely. 

  • Unlike many shade loving plants, these plants can tolerate a dry shade. In shady areas near your house's foundation, downspouts, under bushes, etc. where little else can grow, these plants can survive and thrive.

  • All parts of these plants including the red berry-like fruits are highly poisonous. The plant has at least 40 different cardiac glycosides. As you can guess, those compounds are not so good for the healthy heart.

    If you are worried about young children and poisonous plants, then skip this one. But as I've said before, you should be teaching your young children plant safety! I was picking bouquets of these when I was 4-5 years old for my mom. I didn't get poisoned for at that tender age I had already learned plant safety from my mom. In fact, she made sure to specifically tell us about lily-of-the-valley's poisonous nature. Don't dumb down things for your kids. Treat them like the intelligent, responsible people you want them to be. And always make a good hand-washing when coming in from outdoors a requirement like my mom did. 

  • With their tiny bells they make a great fairy garden plant.

  • The scent is intoxicating that no fake, store-bought lily-of-the-valley fragrance can compare to. If you have scent or moonlight garden, this is a must.

  • I like the standard white variety best, but other cultivars are available including double and pink flowers plus variegated foliage.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Do You Know the Quince?

Quince trees used to be common place. They are easy to grow and produce wonderful pink blossoms that turn into delicious yellow fruit. Oh yes, they are delicious but they require cooking before eating. Here's an article with some quince recipe links to get you started. And the fruit is also wonderfully high in natural pectin making it a perfect addition to any homemade preserves.

But to get you appreciating the beauty of this tree, here are some pictures of the blooms and its fruit. If looking for this variety, it is a Russian variety named, "Aromatnaya."

Buds just opening - Notice the large green sepals? They make the blooms look very rose-like.

Quince flower buds
Quince flower buds

Fully open blooms - The picture doesn't do the blooms justice. They are more pink and rose-like in appearance. The leaves have a silver fuzz to them. 

Quince blossoms
Quince blossoms

Immature fruit - The young fruit still bear the green sepals that were so prominent on the blooms. The fruit already has its distinctive yellow color. The fuzz on the fruit stays until it is manually rubbed off the mature fruits.  

Immature quince fruit
Immature quince fruit
Mature fruit - Late in the season, October here in Western NY, the fruit are ready for harvest. The fruits of this variety are larger than most apples. 

Mature quince fruit
Mature quince fruit