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Botany Photo of the Day
In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily.

Oct 29, 2014: Sorbus sitchensis

Sorbus sitchensis

BPotD Work-Learn student Tamara Bonnemaison is the author of today's entry. She writes:

Species of Sorbus have made a frequent appearance on Botany Photo of the Day, and it is no wonder, as UBC Botanical Garden hosts many beautiful specimens of this genus. Walking around the garden last week, it was impossible not to notice the white, pink, orange, and red fruits of the many Sorbus spp. in the collection. Daniel and other BPotD writers have posted about Sorbus pallescens, Sorbus commixta, Sorbus yuana, Sorbus scopulina, and Sorbus hupehensis. Today I have chosen to write about a Sorbus that I have seen frequently on hikes around southern British Columbia, Sorbus sitchensis, or Sitka mountain ash. This photo of Sitka mountain ash in flower was taken by Wayne Weber (aka Wayne Weber@Flickr) in Cypress Provincial Park. Thank you for sharing, Wayne!

Sorbus sitchensis is a large, multi-stemmed shrub (or small tree) that can be found along the northwestern coast of North America. It is quite similar in appearance to Sorbus scopulina, but here is one way to tell the two species apart: Sorbus scopulina has leaflets that are lanceolate and strongly serrated, while Sitka mountain ash leaflets are elliptical and only serrated at the ends. The small fruits (pomes) of Sitka mountain ash are red to orange, and are an important source of autumn and winter food for many animals. Previous Sorbus postings and discussions on Botany Photo of the Day commented on the love that American robins (Turdus migratorius) and other birds have for this fruit (and its intoxicating effects when fermented). Another animal species that favours Sitka mountain ash fruit is the American black bear (Ursus americanus), which takes advantage of the autumn berries to put on a few last-minute kilograms before winter hibernation.

Sitka mountain ash is a factor in the ongoing conflict between black bears and humans in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. Whistler is a globally-known ski resort that has expanded rapidly since it hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010. Because black bears are attracted to Sorbus sitchensis fruits, homeowners in Whistler have been asked to remove the trees from their properties. Also, new landscaping installations in Whistler can no longer include Sorbus species that are palatable to bears. In an effort to draw bears away from residential areas, the Get Bear Smart Society is planting Sitka mountain ash and Vaccinum species in remote parts of Whistler mountain, where the black bears will be able to feed undisturbed. This story is a good reminder that our choice of plants in landscaping decisions has a major effect on all wildlife, even those whose presence is less noticeable than the black bear's.

Oct 25, 2014: Franklinia alatamaha

Franklinia alatamaha

Visitors to UBC Botanical Garden during this time of year are strongly advised to spend some time in the Carolinian Forest Garden, primarily for the autumn colours and fruits. There are a few late-flowering plants, though, such as the species highlighted today.

I've had my eye on photographing this particular plant since September when I first noticed the flower buds forming, but it took until October before the first flowers opened. Some early photo attempts were also discarded; as you can see from the swelling buds above the open flower, the flowers are borne in the axils of the leaves, and from some of the easily-accessible places to photograph it, the blade of the leaf would cut across the flower and be a distraction. This necessitated waiting a few more days for different flowers to open. On this particular day, though, I had decided not to bother attempting to photograph it due to the wind. I changed that decision when I walked around the plant and noticed I could place the yellow foliage of a distant tree behind the plant. A fast lens and some patience in waiting for a gap in the wind yielded today's image.

Franklinia alatamaha is one of two species cultivated in UBC Botanical Garden thought to be extinct in the wild (with a few more on the brink). Known only from a small area in Georgia (in the USA) along the Altamaha River, Franklinia alatamaha was last collected in 1803, perhaps going extinct soon after. The first documented observation of the species was in 1765, though it took another two decades to scientifically publish the name. Named by William Bartram, this monotypic (single species) genus honours Benjamin Franklin, who was a friend of William's father, John Bartram.

Others have written on the story of the Franklin tree in detail, e.g., see Penn State Extension's Tree of the Month article on Franklinia alatamaha or's article on America's "First" Rare Plant. Seeing this plant always invokes in me thoughts about how many species have gone extinct in human history without any scientific (or cultural) trace of their existence (these thoughts then prompting a number of vexing questions on conservation efforts and extinction). Attempts to reintroduce Franklinia alatamaha into the wild have not been without controversy, as some still hold the hope that wild plants yet remain.

Oct 24, 2014: Viburnum betulifolium

A note to local readers before beginning today's entry: National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting will be presenting all-day in Burnaby tomorrow at the 2014 Abbotsford Photo Arts Club Seminar.

Following Martin Deasy's series from last week, we have another guest writer and photographer today. Patrick Phillips is a Plantsman and Head Gardener in the UK. He trained at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and shares this entry with us:

Every time I walk down the East Shrubbery, I am drawn to a mature Viburnum betulifolium which towers over me. At 4.5m (15 feet) high, it is one of the most eye-catching large shrubs in the garden. It is not its autumn colour that attracts me now (in fact, the leaves are still green) but instead the very heavy crop of juicy, bright red, spherical fruits which cover the plant. In fact, writing this in the late second week of October, the plant has been laden with fruit for at least a month and shows no sign of fading. Technically, the fruits are drupes (fleshy fruit containing a hard endocarp which contain a seed). Coupled with its floriferous display in mid-summer, this Viburnum stands out as a garden-worthy plant of great horticultural merit.

Viburnum betulifolium is a multi-stemmed deciduous, rounded shrub suitable for the back of a border where it can either stand out as an individual plant or as a backdrop to lower-growing perennials. As the epithet suggests, ("like the leaf of a Betula") the species is commonly known as the birch-leaved viburnum. The leaves show similarity to Betula in both the leaf shape and toothed edges. There is, however, great variation in the variety of toothed edges; some leaves are fully toothed and some partial. It flowers are highly conspicuous. Covering the entire plant in June and July, this local plant flowered spectacularly this year, with tiny, white, slightly fragrant, 5-petalled flowers in a corymb inflorescence.

Native to western and central China, including Yunnan, Viburnum betulifolium was introduced to Western cultivation by British born Ernest Wilson to the Arnold Arboretum in 1901 through seed collection and was later described by the Russian botanist Alexander Theodorowicz Batalin. Despite its ease of cultivation and accolade (Award of Merit given in 1926), it's surprisingly rare in cultivation and is a plant that should be more widely grown. It's suited to both a sunny and partial shaded situation on well drained slightly acidic soil.

Some literature suggests Viburnum betulifolium is used for ethnobotanical uses. Ju et al., in the 2013 article Eating from the wild: diversity of wild edible plants used by Tibetans in Shangri-la region, Yunnan, China reported "fruit is eaten fresh and used to prepare local wine" by indigenous people.

Taxonomically, Viburnum is in the Adoxaceae and contains about 165 species which are predominantly distributed in the northern hemisphere, though there are a few species scattered throughout Asia and South America. About half are used in cultivation, though outside botanic gardens and significant plant collections, it is sadly rare to find more than a handful of commonly grown species.

Oct 23, 2014: Schinus molle

Botany Photo of the Day work-learn student Tamara Bonnemaison writes today's entry:

As a child, I spent many winters traveling through central Mexico with my parents, who were enamoured with the stark landscapes of the southern Chihuahuan Desert. One of our favourite camping spots, deep in the state of San Luis Potosi, was in an abandoned homestead, complete with the crumbling walls of an old adobe house and a thriving coral made of planted nopal (likely Opuntia ficus-indica). Next to the ruins of the house was one singular, fragrant tree, the only plant larger than a shrub as far as the eye could see. This tree, which the locals called a pirul, was a young child's dream. It's long, drooping branches made a green and cool oasis around the tree's trunk, and the pirul's fruit were nearly always to be found; clusters of tiny, glistening, pink and purple pearls that I used as "food" for my dolls drooped plentifully from the tree's branches. When crushed, the fruit and leaves left a strong, peppery scent that has stayed with me into my adult life. Seeing Gabriella Ruellan's (aka Gabriella F. Ruellan@Flickr) images of Schinus molle brought back a flood of wonderful memories of my childhood, and allowed me to finally connect the magical tree of my memory to its botanical name. Thanks Gabriella for sharing these photos.

Unknown to my childhood self, Schinus molle, or Peruvian pepper tree, is not native to central Mexico, and instead comes from the Peruvian Andes and northern South America. The seeds can be used as a replacement for the true pink peppercorns of the Piperaceae (the pepper family). During the 16th century, explorers and traders were quick to recognize the value of Schinus molle as a spice and rapidly spread the species around the globe. This hardy, drought-tolerant and beautiful species has become naturalized and even invasive in many parts of the world. It has become a serious problem in warm, arid areas including parts of South Africa, Australia, and the USA. It saddens me to think that it is inadvisable to plant Peruvian pepper tree anywhere outside of its native range.

Gabriella's photo shows bore holes in the fruit of Schinus molle. In the comments along with her image posting on Flickr, Gabriella hypothesizes that insects eating the seeds help keep this species in check in its native range. Peruvian pepper tree has been used and investigated for its insecticidal and insect repellant qualities, but it seems the insects that damaged the seeds in Gabriella's photo have not read those studies! While trying to investigate the insect that caused the damage shown in the photo, I learned that the peppertree psyllid, Calophya rubra, feeds on the tree's leaves, causing pits and leaf curls. Also, the omnivorous looper caterpillar, Sabulodes aegrotata and many scales are considered Peruvian pepper tree pests. It is not altogether surprising that I could not find an example of a borer that favours Schinus molle, given that I am entirely unfamiliar with the insects of Latin America. If any BPotD readers can shed some light on this subject, please share!

Oct 22, 2014: Chondracanthus exasperatus

Chondracanthus exasperatus

Another new writer today: Cora den Hartigh is a Botany Photo of the Day work-learn student. Like Tamara, Cora is joining us for at least the next six months. For her first entry, Cora writes:

Instead of land plants, here is something associated with the ocean courtesy of mycologie@Flickr (original photo). Thank you for the refreshing splash of maroon!

This resplendent red macroalgae is known as Chondracanthus exasperatus, or Turkish towel, and it is a rather common species along the Pacific coast of North America from Alaska to Mexico. Its rich colour is due to phycoerythrin, an accessory pigment that works in tandem with phycocyanin to facilitate light harvesting at depth. When wet, Chondracanthus exasperatus may take on iridescent tinges not unlike the stunning Mazzaella splendens (previously known as Iridaea splendens,which I personally think was a very lovely name). The iridescence is akin to the rainbows caused by oil or gasoline in water - in fact, layers of oil or cuticle in these seaweeds are indeed what refract light differently, reflecting various colours. It is particularly difficult to capture this refraction and reflection in a single photograph. It is easier to see in-person or with a video like this one, from a diver who chose to record the underwater shimmer! If you are interested in learning about a few other types of seaweed along the western North American coast, see An Introduction to the Seaweeds of British Columbia, an excellent overview written by UBC graduate Colin Bates.

Back to Chondracanthus exasperatus! Preferring lower intertidal zones, this raspy algae attaches to rocks with a disc-shaped holdfast, sort of like an anchor. Its long leaf-like blades can grow over a meter long and often wash up after storms, to the delight of the discerning beachcomber! Papillate blades of Chondracanthus exasperatus have excellent exfoliant properties and can be used in the bath or shower in lieu of a loofah (hence the common name). These bumpy papillae are quite variable; this photograph demonstrates some marvellous undulation, as opposed to the coarser textures that might indicate a vegetative state. Both antibacterial and high in carrageenan (also a food thickener), these natural scrubbies are often sold as beauty aids. I myself have attempted to gift precious specimens of this seaweed in the past, but the recipient was not impressed: "Ick! It smells like saltwater! You think I'm going to use THAT in the shower?!" Despite my assurances that the algae's cells were highly saline, would burst when faced with fresh bathwater, would disintegrate after about three or four days, and would never clog plumbing, my words were not convincing. Perhaps you will appreciate Turkish towel's ocean charms!

Can't get enough seaweed? Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre's OceanLink has a helpful page on algae of the red persuasion, and their overview of seaweeds is a valuable resource too!

Oct 18, 2014: Fothergilla major

Before starting today's entry, a note to local readers -- there are still many apple varieties available for the second day of the Apple Festival tomorrow, including one of my favourites, the Salish apple.

Thank you again to Martin Deasy for guest-writing and photographing a series on the Hamamelidaceae. Martin, who trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in its Kew Diploma in Horticulture program, concludes the series with this entry.

The bottlebrush-like inflorescences of Fothergilla major--unlike anything else in the Hamamelidaceae--are just one more example of the family's remarkable diversity of floral morphology. As with Parrotiopsis, what look like flowers are in fact pseudanthia--compound inflorescences that "mimic" individual flowers. What appear to be petals are in fact clavate (club-like) stamens with inflated filaments, up to 32 in each flower; numerous reduced flowers are packed together on a rachis to form a single inflorescence.

An upland species native to the highlands of the southeast U.S.A. (the Appalachians of North Carolina and Tennessee), Fothergilla major occurs at altitudes of up to 1000m, particularly on dry ridges. It grows into a small deciduous tree, to ca. 5m, often suckering from underground stems to form dense thickets. The relatively late (for the family) anthesis in late April-May likely represents an adaptation to the harsher climate at altitude (the other Fothergilla species--the less hardy Fothergilla gardenii--is restricted to the coastal plain of the south-eastern U.S., and flowers in mid-April).

Absence of petals is an inherited trait (symplesiomorphy) of tribe Fothergilleae, whose members exhibit a progression from insect- to wind-pollination. The two insect-pollinated taxa, Fothergilla and Parrotiopsis, are also both the most basal; the more derived taxa (respectively Parrotia, Sycopsis, Distylium and Distyliopsis) have adopted wind as the principal means of pollination.

The comparison of Fothergilla and Parrotiopsis is revealing: the two genera are extremely closely related; yet each has recruited a different organ as attractant, lending their inflorescences radically different appearances. Nevertheless, the infructescences are very similar--indeed fruit morphology is astonishingly highly conserved across the entire Hamamelidoideae, a subject for a future post.

Oct 17, 2014: Malus 'Belle de Boskoop'

Malus 'Belle de Boskoop'

It's that time of year again--UBC Botanical Garden is hosting its annual Apple Festival this weekend. Like most previous years on BPotD, we're highlighting one of the 70+ apple cultivars available for sale (more for tasting and viewing). This year's image is similar, but different, to the one that Taisha did last year of Malus 'Okana'. Other previous entries: 'Rubinette', 'Creston', SPA493 (now known under the trade name Salish, one of my favourites), 'Cox's Orange Pippin', 'Golden Russet', 'Melrose', 'Elstar', and 'Jonagold'.

'Belle de Boskoop' has been in cultivation for over 150 years, originating as a chance seedling in or near the horticulturally-famous Boskoop, a town in The Netherlands. I don't have any personal experience with this cultivar, other than tasting it today. I would like to say it is "out of this world" given the concept behind today's image, but though I liked the acidity of the apple, the texture was a bit soft for me. From what sources suggest online, the edibility improves over time--time which one has, as it keeps for up to 6 months, with the flavour improving as it ages. My understanding from speaking with some of the Friends of the Garden is that it is also a very popular seller to people who grew up in northern Europe (in fact, one Danish commenter on another site mentions, "This is not considered an eating apple, but THE cooking apple for much of northern continental europe." Read a review, plus this comment and many others here: 'Belle de Boskoop' on Adam's Apples). To read more thoughts, also check out this 'Belle de Boskoop' review on The Fruit Gardener weblog (and additional comments).

There perhaps might be some questions about how today's photograph was done. The photo was taken from inside my office, using external flash units for much of the lighting. The flash looks overdone for my taste, but dialing the flash down or adjusting the position of the flash units in order to create shadows on the surface of the apples resulted in the rain-droplet "stars" on the window pane being diminished, so choices were made. I would have preferred to have also gotten the shadow across the body of the apple effect that Taisha succeeded with in the 'Okana' photograph, but I think I would had to have made an exposure for that and an exposure for the background, then blended the two images together. As it is, the image-editing program was used to remove the narrow supports below the apples (which I also taped to the glass to stay in place).

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