Friday, September 30, 2011

Unfamiliar Flowers and Fruit of Fall

The Seven Sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides) has been blooming and attracting a wide array of butterflies this fall.  A Viceroy, mimic of the Monarch butterfly, dines on the nectar-rich flowers.  Look for Sevens Sons near the Fountain Garden and in the Perennial Garden.

Colchicums are also in bloom with there large autumnal flowers.  This clump is Colchicum byzantinum aka Colchicum autumnale major.  These deer and squirrel resistant bulbs are expensive but worth it as one bulb will sport all the flowers shown.  The leaves are large in spring and go dormant by midsummer so plan accordingly in the garden.  We think blue-flowering Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) is the perfect companion plant.  As soon as all the flowers are done and lie flat, you can separate bulb masses to propagate the plant.  Look for Colchicums on the Island, Rock & Waterfall and Perennial Gardens.
This is the second day flower of the Amazon Victoria (Victoria amazonica).  They are white the first day and have this pink center on the second day -- it has to do with cross pollination as the pollen is ready on the first day and the stigma is ready to receive pollen and be fertilized on the second day.  Victorias are pollinated by beetles in their native Amazon rivers but must be hand pollinated here.  Look for them in the Island Garden pools.
These brown fruit may look unappealing but are a delight to eat!  This is a selection of the Jujube tree (Zizyphus jujuba) called 'Coco' and has very sweet, crisp fruit.  Jujubes are popular in China and were the inspiration for the candy as the fruit can be candied for long term use.  Jujubes have no shelf life or shipping life so are not found in grocery stores.
Jujubes come in various shapes and sizes and this larger, pear-shaped variety is 'Black Sea' from the Ukraine.  Look for several varieties of Jujube trees in the Heartland Harvest Garden. 
The Starfruit tree (Averrhoa carambola) has been blooming and is setting some fruit.  This tropical tree comes from the Malay region and can be seen at Powell Gardens in the Heartland Harvest Garden's greenhouse.  Though this fruit is at many local grocery stores, many have not sampled this crisp fruit with a star-shape when sliced and a sweet-sour taste like rhubarb.

Make a date to visit Powell Gardens and find this sample of unfamiliar flowers and fruit -- there are many more than this!  We are in moderate going into a worse category of drought but the gardens are irrigated so cultivated plants are blooming and fruiting well.  Fall color is going to peak early because of the drought and already there are many beautiful native trees in gold to purples.  Come see the tractors on display this weekend (October 1 &2) but don't forget to take a walk through the gardens.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

September's Garden Charms

September may have the most beautiful weather of any month at Powell Gardens. Here's a bit of the serene scene and the floral rainbow captured this week, starting with a view of some visitors taking in the scene from the Island Garden. I have to site a Rutger's study: "flowers register an INSTANT impact on happiness, with lasting effects of boosting mood, enjoyment and life satisfaction." Come experience this September charm at Powell Gardens.

Gorgeous gaillardias blooming in a groundcover of contrasting hardy plumbago can be seen on the Island Garden.

The Island Garden's living wall is full of late summer beauties including this Orange Carpet California-Fuchsia (Zauschneria garrettii). This western mountain native is pollinated by hummingbirds (like so many tubular, red flowers).

Encore Azalea Autumn Sundance(TM) has the richest pink of any of these hardy repeat-blooming azaleas. Look for the 10 hardiest on trial between the Rock & Waterfall and Perennial Gardens.

Like a pink "baby's breath" Palafoxia (Palafoxia callosus) thrives in the space between the living wall and the path on the Island Garden. This annual wildflower thrives in rocky glades, railroad ballast and other challenging sites!

The double-flowering Japanese Kerria (Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora') is full of bloom. Many of us like the singe variety but it does not have the repeat bloom flower power of 'Pleniflora.' Look for this plant on the Island Garden and just off the dogwood walk.

Donkey Tail (Euphorbia myrsinites) is drawing a lot of attention on the Island Garden with its beautiful blue-green foliage. It is invasive in the West (cannot be planted in Colorado or Oregon) but is a behaved garden plant here.

The native Hardy Ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum) is an invasive wildflower that has its place for tough, wet, low-maintenance areas. It is NOT a plant for a refined garden where it self-sows and runs. Use a native plant like this to your advantage and admire its blue late summer blooms that are very rich in nectar and attract lots of beneficial insects, pollinators and butterflies.

Just this week the Colchicums appeared like magic through the beds of hardy plumbago. This fall-flowering bulb has some of the most beautiful flowers but remember it has big foliage in the springtime so hardy plumbago is a great companion as it is slow to emerge in spring and by the time the colchicum foliage starts to wither it is in full swing to replace it!

The Missouri native Eastern or Savanna Blazingstar (Liatris scariosa) is also in bloom. This wildflower moves around in the Perennial Garden. Some years we can have large masses and then few the next. It's corm is a favorite food of Woodland Voles which were in abundance last winter. We always allow this beauty to self-sow in the garden to stay one step ahead of the voles. It is a fantastic nectar source for Monarchs which are now in full swing of fall migration.

Ouchita Ironweed (Vernonia lettermanii) is a wildflower from the Ouchita Mountains of Arkansas and the most refined and gardenworthy of the ironweeds just now becoming available to gardeners. It has fine, narrow leaves and only grows around 2 feet tall. Look for this beauty on the east side of the Island Garden.

The first fall color is starting to appear in the woodlands around Powell Gardens: the White Ash (Fraxinus americana) turns pumpkin oranges to purples this time of year.

The prairie grasses are also starting to put on their fall show. This is a magnificent clump of Cloud Nine Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) on the Island Garden.

The Canada Red Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) also appears in purple fall color but this tree starts out green then turns purple through the summer, deepening until the leaves turn yellow to orange and drop next month.

A gray treefrog can't match the foliage of this Sanguineus Castor Bean outside the Visitor Center. This frog can be blends and marbling of green to gray but it cannot master purples of this leaf for camouflage!

The autumn fruit and cone crop is pretty low after the harsh summer but the Baldcypress trees (Taxodium distichum) are heavily loaded with their unique spherical cones.

The orange fruit of the Redleaf Rose (Rosa glauca) on the Island Garden captures attention. Look for the best display of rose hips in the Heartland Harvest Garden as they are edible and make great preserves rich in vitamin C.

The Red Sunset Trumpetvine (Campsis radicans) is in bloom over the wall outside Cafe Thyme. This native woody vine is another garden thug but can be grown where its runners can readily be removed or mowed off. Some of its cultivars like 'Flava' and this red-flowered one appear to be better behaved in the garden. We grow it because it is a favorite nectar source for our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Here's a 45 second clip looking at one of our three hummingbird feeding stations in the Hummingbird Garden outside Cafe Thyme. It has been a joy this fall to dine on the terrace and watch these little miracles of life twitter and chase each other. There have never been so many hummingbirds in the garden as this year. The video is from the camera phone so not a closeup but captures the little birds, some butterflies and the background buzz of a cicada.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Trail Trek on the Byron Shutz Nature Trail

60 hikers participated in our first annual Trail Trek on the 3.25 mile Byron Shutz Nature Trail on Saturday morning. This was part of our first Run Fast, Eat Slow event. I was the "caboose" of the trail trek to make sure everyone found their way and what a glorious experience it was. Here are some images I took along the way (with my camera phone).

The trail head of the lies just north of the Visitor Center just beyond the Fountain Garden. You can see we had a little bug friend admiring the sign.

The bug was a female Walking Stick. It is always a joy to spot and admire this marvelous insect.

Part of the beginning of the trail goes through some rich low woods with tangles of brush and vines. We spotted a very rare butterfly in this rich habitat here during our 9th annual North American Butterfly Society butterfly count on July 30th. It was a Gemmed Satyr butterfly which requires this type of habitat and hasn't been seen in Greater Kansas City since 1950 but its former habitat is now Shawnee Mission Medical Center. The closest other Gemmed Satyrs can currently be found only in Missouri Counties that border with Arkansas.

Here is our old field habitat which was recently re-cleared with a monies from the National Resource Conservation Service to provide habitat for unique birds and beneficial pollinating insects. The brush piles will be made into pelleted fuel after they dry. You can see the field is currently a sea of gold wildflowers: flowering Bur-Marigolds or sometimes called Tickseed Sunflowers. All the flowers are natural and they are the first wave of succession as the old field will gradually grow back to brush so we can repeat the project in another 10 to 20 years. If we did nothing this would become woodland and habitat for a whole group of unique plants and animals would be lost.

Here is a closeup of the Bur-Marigolds or Tickseed Sunflowers (Bidens polylepis) though some current botanists lump this and another into Bidens aristosa. This native, annual wildflower graces many roadsides and low meadows at this season.

Here's our bridge over the intermittent stream that bisects Powell Gardens' 970 acre property. The stream flowed all of last year but dried up in the heat of this summer. It is always a peaceful respite with an understory of redbud trees and towering quaking-leaved cottonwood trees above.

Here's one of our prairie restoration areas you will experience further along the trail. We reclaimed almost 20 acres of native prairie remnants through grants from the Missouri Department of Conservation and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Without management these areas would have also been swallowed up with brush and trees and the unique creatures and wildflowers would have been lost. They are currently at peak flower with classic flowers in gold, white and lavender so typical of the native prairie wildflower palate.

Here's a closeup of one of our unique prairie wildflowers: the Eared False-Foxglove (Aureolaria pedicularia). This wildflower was reviewed as a candidate as a Federal Endangered Species but enough populations were located in the Heartland that it is now listed as a species of special concern. It's a great example of what we would have lost without proper management of our prairie remnants. I had never seen so many plants here before so it is a botanical success story.

Here's a beautiful billow of the Bur-Marigolds again -- they were simply stunning on Saturday! This species does not have the seeds that stick to you like the other members of this Genus (hence the name bur or tick in the name of flowers in this group) -- but Unbur-Marigold or Tickless-Sunflower are even worse names!

The beautiful Rough Blazingstar (Liatris aspera) was in full bloom Saturday too. It is a magnet for migrating Monarch butterflies to nectar on.

Here's a view looking back across the largest area of our prairie restorations. Once upon a time the whole ridge was prairie with just scattered brush and copses of trees. You can see the distant clouds coming in from the north by late morning.

The shrubs with the white berries along the trail are Rough-leaved Dogwood (Cornus drummondii). These are a major food and fuel source for migrating birds as they're very rich in fats. The hot & dry weather this summer lowered the amount of berries produced so birds will have to work a little harder to find food as they migrate. The parched areas south of here in Oklahoma and Texas will be another hazard for migrants on their way back to their winter homes in the tropics of Latin America.

The bright green foliage in this scene are fresh new leaves on the hackberry trees! We had such a super abundance of two butterflies: the Hackberry and Tawny Emperors this year that their caterpillars stripped many hackberries bare. Many of the smaller hackberry trees sent out new leaves this fall.

The American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) have fully taken over our Clay Pond along the trail. Just two weeks ago some of these were still in flower: our most spectacular native wildflower with magnificent yellow blooms that peak in July and August.

The clouds over the clay pond was a perfect "Mackerel" sky: a precursor to a coming rain! Yes this type of cloud is named after the fish and I hope you can see the resemblance here.

Many gnarly old Osage Oranges (Maclura pomifera) can be seen along the trail and in some spots you can even see that they are in hedgerows that once were living fences planted on the plains before barbwire was invented.

The prairie remnants long the trail display many wild grasses like these Wild Ryes (Elymus sp.). I haven't yet keyed out which one this is and it may be a natural hybrid between the Canada and Hairy Wild Ryes.

Here's another composition from one of the prairie remnants. Gold goldenrods (Solidago sp.), white Late Boneset (Eupatorium serotinum) and the lavender flowers are our native thistles (Cirsium discolor and C. altissimum)! We remove the invasive "noxious weed" non-native thistles but save the native ones as they are very important nectar plants and their seeds and down are utilized by many birds, especially the goldfinch which times its late nesting to coincide with their bloom.

Here's a look back at the final prairie remnant and you can see the clouds are almost overhead.

Here's a shot from our pine grove with a teenage Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) as the focus of the shot. Pines were planted at Powell Gardens when it was a boyscout camp but have naturalized in this area that was formerly an orchard. Our new pine forest is composed of Loblolly, Virginia and Jack Pines -- the farthest north place in the heartland where Loblolly pines have naturalized.

I couldn't resist a shot up into the crown of a large White Ash (Fraxinus americana) next to the trail. You may all know that this tree, with valuable timber and source of the finest baseball bats; is threatened by the escape of the Emerald Ash Borer -- the tree has been destroyed wherever that Chinese bug has invaded. Will we be able to enjoy these magnificent trees here for generations to come?

Just down the path I had to take another tree shot: the crown of a Black Walnut (Juglans nigra). Here's another tree that is abundant at Powell Gardens, THE most valuable timber tree and threatened by a Western disease, the thousand cankers disease, which is moving eastward. It will certainly be a tragedy if these trees are killed in the future and it goes well beyond their $$$ value into the ecological disaster. Many insects are tied to this tree and thus many birds -- it's the favorite host plant (caterpillar food) of our spectacular green-tailed Luna Moths.

Near the end of the trail you cross the northwest corner of a hayfield that was recently baled. A backlit shot but a classic pastoral scene that is part of the trail's experience! We cut the field only after August 1st to ensure the Eastern Meadowlarks and other grassland birds have had time to nest and fledged their young.

Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) sports its clusters of red, fuzzy fruit and is already starting to turn the brilliant warm tones it displays for autumn. This is the only woody plant native to all 48 of the lower United States and is very tough. Its fruit is an emergency source of food for birds in winter and it will probably end up an important food source for birds this year. Only female plants produce the berries so those without berries are likely male.

The final hedgerow you pass through at the end of the trail has lots of vines on it: Heart-leaved Ampelopsis or Raccoon-Grape (Ampelopsis cordata). This rampant but native woody vine is a major wildlife plant but is considered too invasive for most gardens. It has gorgeous porcelain violet-blue berries (yes it is the native version of the porcelain vine) but the fruit is not edible like its grape cousins.

The trail used to end in a grove of Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris) but pine wilt disease has killed almost all the trees.

We planted many little Green Giant Arborvitae between the pines as we knew the epidemic was coming and we are glad we did. Note the wonderful arborvitaes are nearly 20 feet tall now.

I always stop by the Rock & Waterfall Garden on my way back from the end of the trail. It is such a lush respite during the growing season. The large-leaved tree in this picture is the Missouri native Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) which adds a tropical looking flair to any woodland garden.

Kansas's state flower the Annual Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) graces the meadow (prairie planting) between the Rock & Waterfall and Island Gardens. It is one my favorite and quintessential wildflowers of the season!

A view to the chapel reveals the unique clouds of the disturbed weather that was arriving. It actually didn't rain until late afternoon.

Last stop a look at the Island Garden and its pools filled with gorgeous water plants. The Waterlilies are at their peak of bloom now.

Consider a trek on the Byron Shutz Nature Trail during your next visit to Powell Gardens. It is great exercise and provides a look at the wild side of the gardens 970 acres. Now may be the premier season for its wildflowers and the weather couldn't be better!