Greetings and Welcome to Berry Go Round #30, the blog carnival which celebrates all things botanical!
Kind thanks to the coordinators from Seeds Aside and A Neotropical Savanna for inviting me to host BGR. This month’s submissions hail from many blogs that I do not normally frequent, which has made this issue a delight to compose.
Fortunately for all of us, there are many smart people online writing about what they know, and today we get to hear from people who know plants. This issue represents scientists, hobbyists, artists, educators, botanists, writers, gardeners, forest dwellers, outdoor enthusiasts, and the rainbow of curious among us.
I sense that these bloggers share a common hope, will, desire, impetus perhaps, to help all us homo sapiens reconnect ourselves with the earth’s systems in a very basic way: through dirt, and wind, and green things, and things that go raaaawwwrrrr.
I invite you to spend the month exploring these articles, and to give yourself a chance to read every one.
Note: Whereas some botanists, paleobotanists, and geeks of their ilk seem to share a general nerdy love of intellectual discussion occasionally punctuated with expletives and sexual innuendo, I’ll offer a blanket PG-13 rating to this month’s carnival.
Our first peek is for the orchid lovers out there (of which I am but one of countless hopeful amateurs). Mr_Subjunctive of Plants are the Strangest People shares Geneticist (Phalaenopsis cvv.), Part I, a fun and insightful discussion about why there aren’t many yellow- and red-flowering Phalaenopsis varieties. Mr_Subjunctive gives us enough background and peripheral knowledge to make the discussion relevant and understandable, while keeping us entertained with the facts of life, and a smattering of speculative footnotes ranging from tetraploid humans to bananapocalypse. There’s plenty more at this blog to whet any cultivator’s appetite, so be sure to poke around the pages.
Elaine Medline of Memorizing Nature waxes whimsical with wildflowers including Daisy (Asteraceae), Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris), buttercups (Ranunculus), blackberries (Rubus), strawberries (Fragaria), and thistles (Cirsium) in Beauty in the Ditch. Her prose reminds us to keep our minds and senses open to the unexpected – good advice for scientists and artists alike. Wander around and read her other recent musings on turtles (Testudines), honey bees (Apis), bulrushes (sedges, Typha I believe), and Canadian geese (Branta canadensis).
Speaking of sedges, from the New York Flora Association Blog I was delighted to get a look at numerous rare plants shared by Steve Young of the NY Natural Heritage Program, including white-edge sedge (Carex debilis var. debilis), and sticky sundew (Drosera filiformis) which I heretofore have known only from fairy tales.
This seems like the perfect time to share a little about the Sustainable Prisons Project, a partnership of the Washington State Department of Corrections and The Evergreen State College. The Sustainable Prisons Project found its roots when my friend/mentor Dr. Nalini Nadkarni got it in her head to work with prisoners to experiment with cultivating mosses for use in the floral industry (wild harvesting of mosses takes a heavy toll on Northwest forests). Take a look at their mission statement:
Our mission is to reduce the environmental, economic and human costs of prisons by training offenders and correctional staff in sustainable practices. Equally important, we bring science into prisons by helping scientists conduct ecological research and conserve biodiversity through projects with offenders, college students and community partners.
Talk about positive intersections of plants and people! Read the stories, take a look at their accomplishments, and if you need a starting point I suggest that you visit the blog to hear journal entries from Graduate Student Carl Ellot in Growing Plants and Potential: Stafford Creek Nursery Project. [Note: If you’re a scientist looking for similar opportunities to make meaningful connections with the public, I recommend another one of Nalini’s branch projects, the Research Ambassador Program.]
Now let us wander to the foothills of the Ozark Highlands where research entomologist Ted C. MacRae of Beetles in the Bush shares the Friday Flower – Dwarf Spiderwort, also known as a wild crocus. Ted offers exquisite images of the shy Tradescantia longipes, including details on where and how it grows and the tricks it seems to use to attract insect pollinators in the absence of nectar. Needless to add, Ted has a wealth of information available on beetles to satisfy your every inquiry.
This month I enjoyed one of the many benefits of plant blogging: plant bloggers who are smarter than me. I blogged about the wild cones growing on a Christmas tree planted ten years ago, only to learn that the tree had been mislabeled, and I had never thought to double check its identity. Thanks to the keen eye and swift detective work of The Phytophactor, the tree has been correctly identified as a Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) and not a Blue spruce (Picea pungens). I invite you to visit The Phytophactor for the glorious Friday Fabulous Flower – Sacred Lotus, among other thought-provoking blog posts.
Sarcozona of Gravity’s Rainbow gives us a unique glimpse at a pretty sanded cross-section of pinyon pine bark and core. Also recommended by Sarcozona: from the DISCOVER Not Exactly Rocket Science blog, an article describing how Mosses use explosive cannons and mushroom clouds to spread their spores. This is a fascinating article revealing how peat moss (Sphagnum), apparently one of the more common plants on earth, employs spore cannons to propel precious genetic material high enough into the ether (a whopping 10 centimeters) in a sort of ‘vortex ring’ so as to be caught and carried by air currents for the furtherance of the species.
Take a break from reading and visit Greg Laden’s blog on ScienceBlogs for the eye candy tour of Plants = Love at Coon Rapids Dam East. Shown here are wildflowers from a prairie ecological restoration project just downstream from Coon Rapids Dam on the east side of the Mississippi River. As reflected in the comments, it’s easy to spot one or two invasives which have wiggled their way among the many gorgeous intentional plantings, but speaking as a gardener, I’ve learned that one must forge a sort of ruthless persistence balanced by an acquiescent peace with the invasives. Face it – a lot of invasive plants are really pretty, really fragrant, and really easy to grow, (*cough* Buddleia davidii *cough*).
Also from Greg Laden, Nature Stinks, a discussion about the notorious corpse plant (Amorphophallus titanium), aka “Big Giant Formless Penis,” which as he aptly describes is a popular yet stinky specimen found in many botanical gardens, (not excluding the University of Washington’s “Waldo,” recently on view at Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory on Capitol Hill).
Greg next submitted “How to Become a Yucca Moth”: An interview with researcher Jeremy Yoder by Chris Clarke of Coyote Crossing. I’m including this piece because of how nicely it shows the interrelationships between people, biota, and landscape and connects each of us to these peculiar trees. Before the interview, Chris gives us a quick synopsis of Joshua trees’ mutualism with two species of moths:
“Tegeticula synthetica (which works with the western population of trees, these days dubbed subspecies Yucca brevifolia brevifolia) and Tegeticula antithetica (the partner of the eastern subspecies, Yucca brevifolia jaegeriana). The tree can’t reproduce without the moth, and the moth can’t reproduce without the tree.”
Stepping out of the wilderness and into agribusiness, Jeremy Cherfas submits posts from the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog written with compadre Luigi Guarino. These articles discuss agricultural trends, plant domestication, and the tricky business of reconstructing the evolutionary past of important staple crops. First, we explore some arguments (and counterarguments) on discussions which pitch organic agriculture against industrial agriculture.
Next, we hear about the challenges in peasant agriculture with Detoxifying Cassava. I like the way Jeremy and Luigi tend to discuss issues from several different perspectives – take some time to read through this article and ponder what it means to say, “This crop needs peace.”
In Looking for leimotifs in the early history of wheat and rice, we are all welcomed to the rich archaeobotanical table heaped with mystery, complexity, and more than a modicum of wonder. As in, I wonder how many of us think regularly about the long-reaching relationships between homo sapiens and so many species of plants? I really appreciate how these two bloggers manage to distill big ideas into meaningful discussions for all us lay-folk.
JSK from Anybody Seen My Focus? shares the lovely Pale Beardtongue or Eastern White Beardtongue (Penstemon pallidus) wildflowers, complete with photos captured at Fort Yargo State Park. Meanwhile TGIQ of Fall To Climb gives us an up-close-and-personal glimpse at the deceptively humble carnivore, common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris).
And Sandy Steinman at Natural History Wanderings gives us a lovely slide show revealing Very Tiny Wildflowers of White Mt. and Mono Lake Areas.
This month from Seeds Aside we get a good look at lasagna garden beds – a gardening method which builds beds with many thin layers organic matter. We see healthy cucurbits, tomatoes, and… potatoes sprouting in this soil experiment (hop over and play “Name that strain”). After picking up a copy of The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, I too have learned to adopt a similarly practical gardening approach and can speak to its success. Seeds Aside also suggests Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding! by Patricia Lanza.
At A Neotropical Savanna Mary Farmer brings us Cissus the Scrambler, documenting the careful plant identification process one step at a time. First, the vine is distinguished by the leaves (alternate and compound), and is determined as a member of the Vitaceae family with the aid of the tendrils. For anyone new to botany and plant identification, I’d like to point out Mary Farmer’s Plant Article resources from Learn Plants Now, including 19 Basic Botanical Terms.
I see clouds moving in, which means it’s time to visit fellow Pacific Northwest resident Mike of The Slugyard. This month I wrote The Makings of Good Tree Forts, in which I mention the use of creeping plants or long grasses to lash and bind sticks. And as serendipity would have it, Mike blogged about the plant I knew from my youth by the neighborhood-kid-appellation “stickyweed” (we had a few similarly unscientific names which basically referred to its all-purpose function as a playtime binding agent). In Cleavers sticks to you, Mike gives a name and references one of my personal favorite identification books for these parts, Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, to tell us more about this clingy little creeper. Thanks, Mike, for matching a name to a fond plant memory.
Head over for a visit with Watcher at Watching the World Wake Up for Idaho Vacation Part 2: The Weird Flowers of the Lochsa Valley. If you stopped by Watcher’s place while reading BGR 29, you may have already read Idaho Vacation Part 1: Trampy Flowers, Running Bears and Glacial Moraines. Look for follow-ups in Fat, Low & Orange: Catch-Up, Corrections and Filler.
Feel the thick, restive humidity of summer at Rock Paper Lizard, starting with Bee’s Work whereupon the magic of photographer and pollinator reveals the globe thistle (Echinops). Or sit back and regard The State of Things with Santolina, blue elderberry (Sambucus), and creeping Crassulaceae.
Naturally, there is a lot to see over at A Plant A Day, so I’ll conclude our issue with yet another pretty (albeit, poisonous) flower: Mountain Deathcamas-Zigadenus elegans of the lily family. I’m landing you here to drift off and peruse the pages for plenty more plant fun.
I want to thank everyone who submitted links, to nature bloggers everywhere, to the coordinators who keep this green blog carnival alive, and to all our readers. And with that, I’m off to play outside…
But wait — the fun doesn’t end here!
Everyone is invited to keep the celebration kicking this August 1st with issue 50 of The Festival of the Trees, themed especially to examine trees from from a kid’s-eye-view with host Roberta Gibson of the Growing With Science Blog. (Can you name her mystery seed of the week?)
Berry Go Round is always looking for volunteers to host future carnivals. To learn how to submit or volunteer to host, visit the coordinating blog.
When I was young I spent much of my time, especially my summertime, making and playing in tree forts. Although my sister and I took advantage of the neighbor boys’ tree house, I always felt more adventurous while cleverly ensconced at the feet of the trees.
My father engineered our first tree forts around the yard as it evolved, and my sister and I worked with the tree-house-owning neighbor boys to develop ground-bound tree forts sprinkled about the local woods. I learned to translate my techniques for playground use (where permanent tree forts were not permitted).
Let us examine some of the key qualities of good tree forts:
1) There are no rules for the construction of tree forts.
2) Do what you can with what you have.
3) Shade, privacy, and secret-hiding-spots are ultimate.
4) The less non-forest material you bring in, the better (pack it in, pack it out).
5) Beware of ants’ nests and bees’ nests.
6) If you live in an area where ticks are present, clear the underbrush.
7) If you’re not having fun, you are probably doing it wrong.
[Now that I look at my list, I see that it could potentially apply to many fun forest activities. But I digress…]
To start, you want to select a site for your tree fort. Kids know how to do this, perhaps by instinct.
If you’re a kid you already know where you want your tree fort, and if you don’t, you just need a little walk around your yard or neighborhood to pick your spot. Remember, you can always make another, even better one if this one sucks or gets taken over by neighbor kids.
If your home doesn’t have a yard, it just means you have to be more creative with location, and minimalist with construction. It also means that you need to travel to the site (say, once a week), ‘cause what’s the point of having a tree fort, if you don’t use it?
Public parks and public school playgrounds can provide a helpful compromise for those without yards. With these kinds of tree forts, you’re looking for places which already have big trees in close proximity so that you make no changes to the landscape (for example, I just visited Wilcox Park in Lynnwood for the first time a few weeks ago – it has tree groves perfectly suited to tree fort purposes). You will not be able to move, stack, weave, and/or brandish branches in public parks as you can on your own private property. [You may be permitted to erect picnic canopies for the day, so check your local park for rules.]
What you want is a forest floor and canopy. Early mornings are often the BEST times to be at parks, when they are cool and quiet. And remember: you can’t own the park, so consider the diplomatic approach when another group of kids shows up and wants to play in your tree fort too.
If you are a parent or guardian, pay attention to the shady green spaces where your kids are attracted to play and explore. These places are often near or at the sources of local creepies and crawlies such as frogs, snakes, lizards, or tadpoles, and they may also coincide with edge spaces like culverts, construction sites, abandoned lots, and quiet street ends. You want to help your kids find the right balance of safety and privacy.
To find a good public park, take your kids to as many in your local area as possible, and get a sense for the parks they like best. Follow your kids’ lead to identify the top two park choices with good trees, playgrounds, and other qualities such as: good morning bird songs, pens with farm animals, really good swings that let you go super high, water access, mud access (yes, I said mud access), well-maintained trails, wide open run-around-crazy spaces, good wheelchair/stroller accessibility, good benches for kid watching, good parking, safe and managed, etc. Having two choices available means you can alternate parks according to convenience, availability, mood, etc.
Make it as relaxing and enjoyable as possible for yourself, and your kids will enjoy themselves too (in other words, don’t pick the park across town if you have to drive through lame traffic every time you visit). See note in previous section regarding early mornings.
If your kids (or you) aren’t used to playing outdoors, or if they (you) cry when unplugged, you may need to ease into the transition to the open world. I suggest that you start by incorporating affordable toys which are easy to take outside (and easy to give out in quantity to many kids at a time), using a different toy for each outing. Examples include bubble soap with wands, plastic snap-out “light sabres”, wax lips, pencils/watercolors and sketch books, noise makers, pinwheels, squirt guns, super balls, big rubber balls, and absolutely anything messy, stinky, noisy, and colorful. Work your kids up to outdoor toys and games once the park setting is comfortable and familiar (and remember the sunscreen and brimmed hats).
Finally, good plant and animal identification books are awesome for parents and kids alike. Binoculars, magnifying glasses, and flower/leaf presses are helpful tools. It’s never too early or too late to learn about what lives where you live.
If we refer to the key guidelines above, we know that there are no rules about what trees make good tree forts. Your tree forts will be different depending on what grows where you live.
I grew up in western Washington near Seattle where good tree fort trees include young Red Alder (Alnus Rubra) stands, old Western redcedar (Thuja plicata) trees, Big Leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) woods, mature Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii ssp. menziesii) stands, and large Pacific coast rhododendrons (Rhododendron macropyllum). Naturally creek banks and lakeside woodlands are extra-awesome tree fort sites – weave back the salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis) and voilà!
While living in eastern Pennsylvania I didn’t get a chance to build a tree fort, but I did scope out good potentials. Hedges are good candidates, especially those which have been sculpted over generations with Pin cherries (Prunus pensylvanica) and brambles such the Multiflora rose. The Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is considered an invasive species in this region because of how much it likes to make big, impenetrable cane stands (it was once encouraged for planting in gardens). American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) stands have a nice openness about them, but it’s important to be aware of the poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and other plants which are not safe to touch. Black walnut (Juglans nigra) trees seem to be good candidates because their allelopathic qualities tend to eliminate most other plants around them. [NOTE: if you live where ticks live, ALWAYS CHECK FOR TICKS after playing in tree forts. Clear the underbrush and low hanging branches to help reduce ticks.]
Considering what a beautiful diversity of ecosystems exist on Earth, I’ll end my speculation there and invite you to share your favorite tree-fort-tree candidates in the comments.
If you want to plant trees: you can plant trees now and have the makings of a tree fort in a few short years. Young trees still make good tree forts! Before you select and plant your trees, take some time to learn what trees grow best in your soil and climate, what trees are considered nuisance trees in your area, what qualities you want in your trees (evergreen or deciduous? flowering?) and how much maintenance they require (do you have to rake leaves? will sweet gum balls fall on the main walkway?).
It’s also important to “think-tree” when you plant: trees grow up, down, and side-to-side. You don’t want to plant trees too close to your home, your utility lines or your other trees. BEFORE you dig, you may need to call utilities to mark underground power, water, gas, or communications.
Visit The Arbor Day Foundation online to read more information on tree planting and care, including these articles:
And remember, if trees are scarce you can always build a sunflower fort on the lawn.
The Fun Part
Finally, the really fun part about tree forts: playing with them. Referencing again our “no rules” guideline, remember that you can do whatever you want with tree forts. That said, here are a few things which I learned in my tree fort days:
Branches are great for stacking and weaving into walls, barriers, and canopies.
Look for weeds which are long and strong – strong grasses and reeds, creepers and vines, or anything that’s abundant and handy – these can be used to tie sticks together, join branches, and other good stuff. [NOTE: Poison ivy and poison oak are NOT SAFE TO TOUCH – learn how to identify these and other poisonous plants where you live.]
Boys and girls have different ideas about how to make tree forts. You want input from both if you’re gonna make an ultimate tree fort.
Brings snacks in baggies and water in bottles. It sucks to have to go home for stuff.
Remember to take your trash home with you.
Work with what’s already on the ground when you can – if you strip stuff off of living trees, it will take a long time for it to grow back.
Mosses make good seats. Collect pieces and keep them damp to help them grow into mats.
Big rocks are useful for many things. Keep some in the sun, and some in the shade, and you’ll have hot rocks and cool rocks.
Fallen logs work really well, which is why I believe that a large fallen log on a forested hillside is possibly one of the best places to start a tree fort (but I’m biased).
If you’re a parent sculpting a tree fort out of grown trees in your yard, read up on good tree-trimming technique, and remember that less is more: a couple entry points and a clear interior space is your goal. If you open it up too much with heavy trimming, you leave the fort feeling exposed.
While attending The Evergreen State College, I accidentally located a domed tree-fort-in-progress. Whatever its intended purpose, the construction was as follows: large/long branches erected in a stable hemisphere with enough crisscrossing branches to create a web. Mosses, ferns, and forest duff were being woven through the web to make a complete (and living) enclosure.
In closing, I’ll share one final suggestion, to always, always remember:
The first step in making a good tree fort is a concealed lookout along the front (and another at the back… don’t want anyone sneaking up!)
Please share your own tree fort ideas in the comments, including your favorite tree fort tree species where you live.