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

Apr 18, 2014: Delphinium luteum

Delphinium luteum

Another entry from Taisha today, who writes:

Delphinium luteum, known commonly as the yellow larkspur, is photographed here accompanied by an Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna). This capture was submitted to the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool by frequent contributor Sandy Steinman@Flickr. This photo was taken on April 11 in Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Berkeley California. Thanks for sharing, Sandy!

A member of the Ranunculaceae, Delphinium luteum is, like many members of the family, an herbaceous perennial. In the wild, the species is found on steep, rocky outcrops within the coastal sage scrub plant community of Sonoma and Marin Counties. This species has fleshy basal leaves and cornucopia-shaped yellow flowers; these have a posterior sepal elongated into a spur. Plants bloom from March through May, and the flowers are pollinated by visiting hummingbirds. Despite being self-compatible, seed set is much higher when outcrossing occurs.

Delphinium luteum exists naturally in fewer than a dozen populations, including some located on the privately-owned Larkspur Hill and Larkspur Rock. Delphinium luteum is listed by the US Endangered Species Act as endangered, with a similar status at the state level (Delphinium luteum on the CNPS Inventory). The yellow larkspur is threatened due to rock quarrying activities, overcollection, residential development, and sheep grazing. Fortunately, Delphinium luteum is easily grown in cultivation, with ex situ populations maintained by the University of California Botanical Garden, Berkeley and the California Native Plant Society (in at least a couple sites as of 2002).

Apr 17, 2014: Meliosma oldhamii var. oldhamii

Both the author and photographer for today's entry, Taisha scribes:

A couple of weeks ago, the Garden Blog posted a Q&A with David C. Lam Asian Garden curator and horticulturalist, Andy Hill. One of the questions asked of Andy was to tell us about a plant in the Asian Garden we likely hadn't heard of before. Andy responded with worm-head trees, or Meliosma spp, of which we have a few species growing in the Garden (Andy provided a map of the three species planted here). The genus name Meliosma, he notes, comes from the Greek meli meaning honey, and -osma referring to smell. He also mentioned that the buds of the immature leaves look like many worms all huddled together before they develop and open in the spring.

When I read the blog entry I realized I too was one who overlooked the Meliosma trees, despite walking by one every time I come to the garden (see point 'A' on the map link posted above). Intrigued by the common name of worm-head tree I thought I would pop outside and see these leaf buds for myself. Personally, I have never seen any worms huddle in a way that looks like the immature leaves, but was curious if this was some sort of worm phenomenon and did a few Google image searches (by the way, "worm huddle", "worm cuddles", and/or "worm gang" were not useful, while "worms on trees" and "worms attack trees" yielded some results). See my photos from a week ago of the leaf buds of Meliosma oldhamii var. oldhamii and decide for yourself about a resemblance to worm-clusters.

Meliosma oldhamii var. oldhamii is a member of the Sabiaceae, but sometimes classified in its own family Meliosmaceae with other members of its genus. The species is native to southern China, southern Japan, and Korea. It is named in honour of Richard Oldham, a botanical collector from Kew who gathered a specimen from Korea in 1867. This species has compound leaves with seven to fifteen ovate-lanceolate leaflets that increase in size toward the terminal leaflet. Despite Meliosma referring to a honey-smell, this species has a faint aroma of sour milk radiating from the leaves, particularly in warm, humid weather. The worm-head tree has small cup-and-saucer flowers that are produced in upright panicles after the leaves have expanded. The inflorescences, often produced at the tips of the branches, are large--sometimes more than 40cm tall and across. In the late summer, reddish drupes follow the flowers and add to the appealing exotic and tropical appearance.

This species information on Meliosma oldhamii var. oldhamii has been adapted from text that will be provided in the upcoming Vancouver Trees App. Over 1100 taxa are featured in the app that Douglas and Daniel (and many others) have been working on these past few months. The app will not only provide information on the genera, species and cultivars of trees in Vancouver, but also include maps of where to see individual specimens, photos and a glossary.

Apr 15, 2014: Rhododendron sp.

Rhododendron sp.

I tagged along while Douglas was leading a walkabout with the Horticulture Training Program students this afternoon, camera in-hand. I'd say all of the students with cameras stopped to take a photograph of this rhododendron. So, I did too. It's been a goal this year to make sure I have my camera with me while walking in the Garden for other tasks, be it for safety inspections or interviews or general walk-abouts, and it is revealed in the quantity of photos so far this year: roughly 3500 (many of these are duplicates, though, to attempt to improve focus or composition). That's ahead of my usual pace in a calendar year (from 9000 to 10500 in each of the last 4 years), as I've not had any significant travels for photography yet.

This is an as-yet-unidentified specimen belonging to Rhododendron, subgenus Rhododendron, section Rhododendron, subsection Triflora. With approximately a thousand species in this highly ornamental genus, rhododendron taxonomists and specialists generally find it easiest to work with a hierarchical subgeneric (below genus level) taxonomy. Norman Todd, a Victoria (Canada) rhododendron enthusiast, wrote about subsection Triflora for the Victoria Rhododendron Society: T is for Triflora.

Apr 11, 2014: Isodendrion pyrifolium and Solanum incompletum

Another entry from Taisha, who writes:

Today's images (original 1 | original 2 | original 3) are of two rare and endangered endemic Hawaiin species, Solanum incompletum and Isodendrion pyrifolium. These photos of cultivated specimens were taken by David Eickhoff (aka D.Eickhoff@Flickr) on the Hawaii'in islands in May of 2008. The first photo shows the foliage of both species, while the other two give you a better idea of Solanum incompletum in flower and fruit. Thanks for sharing, David!

Isodendrion pyrifolium, of the Violaceae, is part of a genus of slender, woody shrubs. Isodendrion is from the Greek isos, equal, and dendron, tree, referring to the subequal petals and woody habit of those within the genus (here's a picture showing the flower of the species from Cornell's EES Field Program in Hawai'i). The four known species of Isodendrion are endemic to Hawaii, and are under threat due to urban development, fire, invasive plants, predation, and herbivory. Isodendrion pyrifolium, known as Wahine noho kula, is a branched shrub that was once thought to be extinct, having last been seen in the 1800s. It was rediscovered in North Kona on the island of Hawai'i in the early 1990s. Historically, this species was found on the islands of Ni'ihau, on the slopes of Mount Ka'ala on O'ahu, Moloka'i, Lāna'i, Hawai'I, and reported by Hillebrand in 1888 from Maui.

Solanum incompletum was what caught my eye in the first photograph with its reddish armature on the stems and leaves. This species, known as Pōpolo kū mia or pōpolo, occurs in dry to mesic forest, diverse mesic forest, and subalpine forest. Solanum incompletum is endemic to the islands of Maui, Lāna'i, and Hawai'i, although the book, Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawai'i (volume 2), states that it also occurs on Moloka'i, Kaua'i. This species was also thought to be extinct for over 50 years. Despite rediscovery, it remains threatened by feral sheep, goats, pigs, alien plants, and fires.

Apr 9, 2014: Nemastylis geminiflora

Nemastylis geminiflora

Apologies for the few entries, everyone--chipping away at this app takes a fair bit of time. Taisha wrote today's entry:

Nemastylis geminiflora (original image) is commonly known as prairie celestial, prairie pleatleaf, or, occasionally, the celestial lily. This lovely photo was taken by frequent BPotD contributor Monceau@Flickr on March 23rd in San Antonio, Texas. Thanks Monceau!

A member of the Iridaceae or iris family, Nemastylis geminiflora is distributed from Tennessee and Mississippi west to Texas and north to Kansas and Missouri. Habitats include both grasslands (including pastures) and open woodlands. This perennial species grows from a bulb that is buried deep beneath the ground. Prairie celestial opens its blue tepals mid-morning. Bees, flies, and other insects only have a few hours to gather nectar and pollinate the flowers, as they wilt by the late afternoon or early evening.

Although Nemastylis geminiflora is occasionally called by the misnomer, the celestial lily, it is not a true lily. A quick way to separate the two groups: Iridaceae have three stamens and an inferior ovary, while the Liliaceae have 6 stamens and a superior ovary.

Apr 3, 2014: Pacific Spirit Regional Park

Pacific Spirit Regional Park

One of the things we don't emphasize enough at the Garden is the fact that we neighbour Pacific Spirit Regional Park. The cliffside forest to the west of the David C. Lam Asian Garden, the Garden's entrance and our parking lot provides biodiverse frames for our views of Georgia Strait and the distant Gulf Islands. This photograph, from our parking lot, shows what can happen (oh so very rarely) when one encounters a combination of late afternoon autumn light and a retreating (or advancing) fogbank directly above where the open water meets the cliff.

Ecological processes are difficult (for me) to photograph, but I do think this image at least partially illustrates the effect of vegetation on light attentuation--where the foliage is thickest, most of the light is absorbed or reflected. Thin or no foliage, of course, permits light to pass through. Figure 1 in Schäfer, K. V.R. & Dirk, V. W. (2011) The Physical Environment Within Forests. Nature Education Knowledge 2(12):5 shows how the intensity of light reaching the forest floor and lower levels of the forest declines with canopy height in an oak forest in the summertime.

The variable amount of light reaching the forest floor in different seasons can prompt niche differentiation, defined on Wikipedia as "the process by which natural selection drives competing species into different patterns of resource use or different niches". As an example, the floor of eastern North American hardwood forests, where one finds species such as Trillium grandiflorum flowering in the early spring, has a number of early spring-adapted plant species that complete growth and flowering before the leaves fully emerge on the canopy trees. The forest floor species that occupy the same physical space but instead grow and develop during the summer have to deal with the low intensity of light and generally drier soil conditions (but, conversely, do not have to be adapted for potential early spring conditions such as harsh frosts or snow). Occupying (potentially competing for) the same space but adapted to conditions associated with different times, spring- and summer- flowering species can be considered to niche differentiated.

Evergreen forests, like the second-growth forest of Pacific Spirit Regional Park, do not have the same springtime phenomenon. However, one can still observe the effects of light attenuation by paying close attention to the changes in species composition as one transits from the edge of the forest to the core (as one might also observe in forests bordering clearcuts, or riverbanks in the tropics). High light levels at the forest edge generally promote an elevated diversity of shrubs and herbaceous plants, whereas the forest core tends to have fewer of these types. Do note that it is not necessarily an elevated diversity of native species, as invasives tend to be better competitors in these edge sites (at least early on).

I had promised to share photograph details from time to time. This image is actually 3 photographs composited together, using a technique known as tone mapping, which "addresses the problem of strong contrast reduction from the scene radiance to the displayable range while preserving the image details and color appearance important to appreciate the original scene content". In other words, it is a high dynamic range, or HDR, image. The three photographs were exposure bracketed, so one underexposed, one was overexposed, and one was somewhere in the middle. These were then combined in software that algorithmically composites the three into a single image, essentially drawing from the highlights of the underexposed image (so that the photo is not entirely blown out), the shadows of the overexposed image (to preserve detail in the shadows) and pulling both of these closer to the middle exposure of the photo. I'm oversimplifying, but that's the gist of it.

HDR images have a poor reputation among many in the digital image world, with the critique that most applications of the technique exceed the boundaries of believability. If done subtly, though, the tool is useful for overcoming the limitations of a single exposure on a camera while still preserving what was seen by the photographer. I hope that today's photograph falls into the believable group, but feel free to disagree.

Apr 2, 2014: Zea mays (black-fruited selection)

Zea mays (black-fruited selection)

Taisha wrote today's entry. We were both challenged to find the bona fide botanical name for this taxon, and had to give up (no results in the USPTO database, for one), so we left it as a black-fruited selection (read more below). Taisha writes:

The past two days in Vancouver have been quite warm and enjoyably sunny--prompting many to get out into the garden. Some have begun planting seeds indoors or in greenhouses, and it won't be long until we can directly seed outdoors. Today, we have a photo of some caryopses of Zea mays. This black-fruited selection is a heritage strain of popping corn, popularized as a gourmet popcorn from Illinois (see notes associated with the original Flickr image for the name). Zea mays has been featured once before on BPotD, highlighting the work of Dr. Michael Blake from UBC's Department of Anthropology. Today's photo was uploaded to the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool by Eric Hunt@Flickr. Thanks, Eric!

For those in the temperate northern hemisphere who are anticipating growing plants from seeds soon, I thought I would help explain some oft-used seed terminology. When flipping through seed catalogues or browsing online, you may come across seeds marketed as "certified organic", "heirloom/heritage", "open-pollinated", or "hybrid". What are the differences?

Certified organic (with an emphasis on Canada, as definitions and regulations are different depending on country): Organic seeds are seeds that are harvested from a plant grown in a way that meets organic regulations. According to Canada's organic production systems standards (there are provincial as well as international standards), methods are to be used to nurture ecosystems in order to be sustainably productive, increase biodiversity to provide weed and pest control, recycle plant and animal residues, select and rotate crops, manage water, and use tillage and cultivation techniques. A number of substances, methods, or ingredients are prohibited which include (but aren't limited to) products produced from genetic engineering, synthetic pesticides or other pesticides, containers containing synthetic fungicide, synthetic growth regulators, fertilizers, and sewage sludge (see: Canada's Organic Production Systems General Principles and Management Standards (PDF)).

Many seeds may be labeled organic, and since 2009 the official Canada Organic Logo has been voluntarily used to mark products that are organic. The certifying body must also appear on the label or at the point of sale.

Heirloom/heritage: Heirloom or heritage seeds are seeds collected from an open pollinated plant that has been cultivated for a number of years, which usually is around 50 years or more (it ranges from company to company). With heirloom/heritage seeds, each generation has been selected for specific characteristics and when grown, harvested, and propagated correctly the characteristics will be retained in each generation. Choosing heirloom varieties that have been grown in one region may be beneficial as they may have adapted to local conditions or may have tolerance to insects or disease that are known to be prevalent to the area.

Open-pollinated: Open-pollinated seeds are collected from plants that have been pollinated by insects, birds, wind, humans, or other natural mechanisms. Because the breeding is uncontrolled, plants may be more genetically diverse and exhibit differing traits. Over succeeding generations, the taxon may slowly adapt each year to local climate and growing conditions. Maintaining a strain may be difficult, as you must avoid the introduction of pollen from other varieties. Some choose to grow heirloom varieties in isolation either by creating barriers, enclosures, or planting in greenhouses.

Hybrid: Hybrid seeds are products of elite plants with specific traits that are cross-pollinated. The generation grown from the seeds of this cross (the F1 Hybrid) is likely to exhibit improved growth and yield through heterosis or hybrid vigour. A warning though--if you were to collect and grow the seed from the F1 hybrids, you would have an F2 generation that lacks the consistency of the desired traits seen in the previous generation.

With this information, I hope you will be able to make the best choice of seed for planting in your own garden. For local gardeners, suggested planting times for Vancouver can be found in local or regional publications (such as almanacs) or from local seed companies such as West Coast Seeds (PDF of planting chart).

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