Saturday, December 31, 2016

In praise of Moreton Bay Figs

I've noticed them here and there around Southern California, but this trip the enormous Australian figs (Ficus macrophylla) impressed me enough to do a little research and find out they have a pretty extensive range in Eastern Australia, and are commonly planted in many subtropical regions--with many enormous specimens throughout coastal Southern California. The ones above and below were both photographed last Thursday (December 29) at the park surrounding the Point Fermin lighthouse in San Pedro, California. Jan (above) joined by her mother Anita (below) give a sense scale..

There was quite a variation in the shape of the boles, and in the size and form of the buttressing roots.


The graceful, broad shape of the crown of the tree is especially impressive--this was a perfect specimen, photographed here from the southwest looking west towards the sea.

The same tree, taken from a slightly different angle with more of a silhouette--with Catalina island visible in the distance.

And this smaller specimen in the middle of the Boulevard in Palos Verdes estates--forming especially prominent buttresses.

When one becomes familiar with a tree such as this, suddenly you begin to see them everywhere. Although, alas, not in Colorado! Where I'm watching the last minutes of 2016 slip away...

Here's to a new year! May you be as stalwart as a Moreton Bay Fig in the coming year!

The view

I should say "views"--they're never the same! For the last five (or six?) Christmases, I've been lucky to join my partner Jan on a trip to join her family in California for the holidays. We usually stay with her cousin Kristin in an idyllic home overlooking the Pacific. These are a few glimpses of "The View" as I call it--from various vantage points to the West. They say you are either a mountain or a sea person. Of course, I'm a mountaineer--but who couldn't use a bit of a sea glimpse now and again. I spend more time than I should wandering to the West windows, then outside. And almost every night everyone gathers for sundowners...

The Grill work has the name of the house (Casa de la Colina).in wrought iron.

I love watching distant ships...

And glimpses of  the Catalina islands...

This was not the most spectacular of sunsets--but they're all enchanting nonetheless...

And this morning soon will be the last dawn of 2016, now in Denver again....but ten days of Southern California sun and warmth (and lots of rain and green to boot) have done my soul a world of good. Thank you Kristin (and Jan) for a real vacation!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The willows of Reyjkjavik

 Willows are one of those groups (like sedges, Apiaceae, and large parts of Asteraceae or most grasses) that most of us never get around to really studying. Speaking of course for myself. Of course, we all know a FEW willows: weeping, pussy, arctic perhaps. Navajo willow if you travel the Colorado plateau. but I (for one) am moving onto Terra incognita when you ramble the endless willow bogs of rhe Rockies. Which is why I'm posting these: I happen to know the Willow Man (Michael Dodge) who owns Vermont Willow Nursery, (Do click on that!)--THE mail order source for willows in North America.

I've known Michael for many years--he has a long and rather glorious career in horticulture, in both his native England and North America. He knows all manner of plants from alpines to trees, but he has this special knack with a group of plants that haunts us....

It's been over a year and a half since I wandered the botanical garden (and streets) of Reykjavik en route to Copenhagen and my Chanticleer supported research in Greece and Turkey. I highly recommend Iceland Air--a wonderful airline, which offers a break in your European flight: few interludes can be as pleasing as 18 hours or so in Reykjavik: NEXT time I fly Iceland air I'll take a few days and visit Akureyri as well. Hell I may take a week and do hot springs! Iceland is a wonderful country where they jail felonious bankers. We elect our criminals to the highest offices! But enough politics...let's get back to willows!

I have a hunch Michael will be able to guess one or two of the un-named willows I found on that magical day...

Salix barrariana (From the Pacific Northwest)
One of many willows at the botanical garden: I doubt I photographed more than a fraction: sorry, Michael! But I did think of you as I took these pictures!          

Salix ceretana (from the Pyrenees(

I took this picture downtown: either this willow, or several very much like it, were used in landsaping all over Reyjkavik.

Salix phlebophylla
 Horrible picture. But I did get the label.

Salix repens

Unknown Salix sp. at Reykjavik B.G.
 I was charmed with this one, but couldn't locate a label.

Closeup of the last

Salix at Reyjkavik B.G.

Salix sp. outside Reykjavik B.G.

Closup of the previous

Salixsp. Reykjavik botanical garden

Salix sphenophylla

Hardly a Jacquie Lawson card, but a gesture at least to my peripatetic friends (Nova Scotia, Vermont and Santa Fe)...

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Escobaria vivipara: what's in a name?

Escobaria vivipara var. bisbeeana

One of my cactophile Facebook friends has challenged me to do a blog about cacti:I could, should and probably will do dozens if not hundreds of blogs about succulents--since these are among my favorite groups of plants...and one species in particular is near and dear to my heart. One of the most widespread ball cacti in North America is Escobaria vivipara: it can still be found abundantly here and there throughout the West from Canada to Mexico, and from the Great Plains to the Great Basin. If you happen to grow one or two accessions of "nipple cactus" (alas, its best known common name), you have barely begun to test it. It grew wild a few blocks from my home at the edge of Denver where Harlan Hamernik collected a batch of seed he grew and sold through Bluebird Nursery for years. That colony is now an apartment complex (I believe there are more another mile or so down the road). I have seen it in Kansas and many places in Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona--and all over my native state. Each colony seems a little different, and varietal names have been coined for some extreme forms you see here. What unites them all is that they tend to be quite adaptable and easily grown--from seed preferably!

Here are a few shots from my archives...

Escobaria vivipara var.rosea

This rare subspecies from Nevada was given to Denver Botanic Gardens almost 34 years ago by botanists from the B.L.M. Long gone, alas--except for this scanned image.

Escobaria vivipara var. buoflama
I got this one from Mesa Gardens...

Escobaria vivipara var.cicipara
I photographed this in central Kansas.

obaria vivipara var.cicipara
Here is a New Mexican form growing with a Turkish succulent in a trough in my garden.

Aobaria vivipara var.deserti
Amother very different one--growing in the Barnett Garden in Pueblo (more about them in the end)

Escobaria vivipara
I was shocked to find these long, columnar forms growing in the display garden at Wild Things in Pueblo==I never dreamed they'd grow so tall!

Escobaria vivipara var.cicipara and Convolvulus boissieri v. compactus
The one on the left came from my ex-wife's ranch in West Texas near Abilene. Growing with a very different plant from Turkey on the right...

Escobaria vivipara var.cicipara
One of my favorite sites for this cactus in the wild in Wyoming not far from Laramie.There are hundreds there in the grass growing with a welter of choice wildflowers. I brought Ron McBeath (head of Alpine and Herbaceous plants at RBG Edinburgh at the time) here many years ago--and he couldn't believe it!

Escobaria vivipara at Wild Things
William Weber stupidly accuses the "International Rock Garden Trade" of exploiting these cacti in the wild in the intro to several of his Floras. Of course, most rock gardeners avoid cacti like the plague. Besides,they're being produced in enormous numbers by nurseries like Wild Things where this was photographed: I don't believe many hobbyists collect ball cacti any more: why bother when you can have an unblemished nursery specimen cheaply? I've known Bill since I was a child--and he writes beautifully and well, but he is horribly ignorant about anything touching on horticulture. Had to spit that out.

Aha! I've lured you to the bait!

This is all preamble to let you know that Escobaria vivipara and dozens of other taxa are much more exhaustively treated in this wonderful new book than you can begin to imagine, starting with county map distributions, and fantastic photography throughout. Just click on the Cactus of Colorado and
you can order your copy! (Full disclosure: I did write the Foreword--but I don't get any kickbacks!)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The ancients

 [Note, published on Christmas's Eve, 2016 and dedicated to Allan R. Taylor, my brother-in-law on his birthday. Not that he's so very ancient...]

Last July 25, several of my colleagues joined Conifer guru Jerry Morris to explore two special spots in the Mosquito range a few hours West of Denver. I'd been to Windy Ridge on Mt. Bross--but not to the groves east of the gravel road where Jerry took us. And I'd driven by the Limber Pine grove dozens of times on the way to Horseshoe Mt. and Mt. Sherman--but this was the first time I'd taken the time to hike over the creek and onto the enchanted grove. There are many magical places in my native state--none are lovelier than these two spots!

They're even amazing when they're long gone!

The Engelmann spruce cones were glisteniung,,,

And a closeup of a Bristlecone cone to show the reason for the name...below, the ancients hardly need a commentary...

A grouse (and hidden chicks were a welcome distraction...

 Not as statuesque as the pines, a Juniperus communis was nonetheless striking in its own right...


 On to the Limber Pine grove above Fairplay...

In this season of "Tannenbaum" and plastic trees, it's good to perhaps think of these inspiring ancients that were here long before humanity. They put "civilization" into a sort of proper context.

I know he doesn't LOOK so very ancient, but Allan and I do go back a bit: he was engaged to my sister Mary 60 years ago: he enchanted her (and my mother and all of us) with his expansive personality then and continues to do so. I owe Allan my love of gardening and much of my interest in philology and more: he has been a mentor and inspiration for all these years--and continues to inspire me with his energy, passion and incisive intellect. Πολλά χρόνια! κουνιάδε. Βιος ανθοσπαρτος! 

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