Garden staff members commit to working a few weekends a year. After all, it’s a public garden and the gates stay open on weekends. This past weekend was my turn, and on Saturday it rained most of the day, with a few solemn, overcast breaks here and there. Not many people came out, even though it was the official first day of our annual Sculpture in the Garden exhibition. Those who did come, however, were richly rewarded.
There is something enchanting about a garden on an early fall day when rain drips from every leaf and flower petal, and the first shades of red on our deciduous trees and shrubs are accentuated by a monotone-gray sky. In the Coastal Plain display garden, floating clouds of white-topped Boneset are set-off by the surprisingly sunny faces of Swamp Sunflower.
In the Sandhills part of the coastal display garden, yellow stars of Narrow-leaf Silk Grass (a composite, not a grass!) are sprinkled through the dense, low matrix of grasses and forbs.
Strange to think back to early spring when a scattering of green, new growth dotted the blackened, sandy landscape barely a week after we had burned off the whole thing.
Even the sculptures have a special charm in the rain. Steel surfaces are sleek and jeweled by raindrops. Colors deepen.
And just so with the red leaves of Winged Sumac!
A set of very unusual floating sculptures bob in a pond whose surface is sculpted by rain.
If you are in our neck of the woods any time in the next two months (until December 16, in fact), I urge you to come by to see Sculpture in the Garden. There are 45 pieces of wonderfully varying size, media, and placement. Some are humorous, others based on serious themes. The 30 artists who conceived and labored over these works of art possess the special talent to visualize their work in a garden setting. There really is something for everyone here and a mountain of effort went into each piece as well as into creating the entire exhibition.
If you can’t make it here—or simply to whet your appetite—view this photo gallery of the show (photos by Botanical Garden Foundation Board member Sandra Brooks-Mathers; titles of pieces and artists’ names are included): https://picasaweb.google.com/111905575414794028606/SculptureInTheGarden2012?authuser=0&feat=directlink
Here is a most interesting post from the UNC Herbarium’s Assistant Curator, Carol Ann McCormick …
It is rare that my pleasure reading and my work databasing herbarium specimens intersect. So I take this opportunity to recommend an audio book for a long car trip, and to encourage you to look for a particular plant if your travels take you to or through the Sandhills of the Southeastern United States.
First the audio book recommendation. The Saxon Stories is a series of historical novels by Bernard Cornwell that tell how Alfred, ruler of Wessex, united various factions to repel the Danes in 9th-century Britain. Alfred is the only English monarch to be honored with the epithet “the Great.” However the real protagonist of The Saxon Stories is a fictional character, Uhtred, a Saxon of Northumbria, who was captured as a child and raised by Danes. Uhtred’s home is Bebbanburg, the old Saxon name for Bamburgh Castle, and he strives to reclaim his castle and lands. One thread that runs though the books is the veneration of Anglo-Saxon monk and hermit St. Cuthbert (c. 634–687). Danish raids of St. Cuthbert’s burial place, Lindisfarne, in 875 prompted monks to flee the island with St. Cuthbert’s remains, which, according to legend, were incorrupt decades after his death. Throughout The Saxon Stories, Uhtred of Bebbanburg (or Bamburgh) is forced to deal with St. Cuthbert—at best to figure out a way to tote the saint’s remains around during a time of war, and at worst, to steel himself to kiss the lips of the mummified saint as proof of his devotion to King Alfred’s cause.
Above: Depiction of the opening of St. Cuthbert’s tomb in 698 from a 12th-century illustrated version of Bede’s Life of Saint Cuthbert.
While I am all for the written word, there are a few audio books that are so outstanding that I prefer them. Tom Sellwood’s readings of The Saxon Stories—The Last Kingdom (2004), The Pale Horseman (2005), and Lords of the North (2006)—are so wonderful that I encourage you to borrow the CD’s from you local public library and delve into history as you drive.
As for the plant that I encourage you to find, I am currently databasing our holdings of Cuthbertia graminea (Commelinaceae). “From late spring to summer Slender Roseling brightens the pinelands and sand ridges [of the Sandhills Region] with its vivid color. It is a wonder that such a delicate-looking plant can survive in the harsh conditions of droughty sterile soil and frequent fires,” writes Bruce Sorrie in his recent book, A Field Guide to Wildflowers of the Sandhills Region. “The genus is named for Alfred Cuthbert (1857–1932), a keen naturalist who collected plants in GA, SC, and FL,” continues Sorrie. The University of North Carolina Herbarium has about a dozen plant specimens collected by Alfred Cuthbert, a coal dealer, who collected plants wherever he lived.
Cuthbertia graminea (Slender Roseling). Photo by Bruce Sorrie,
As for the conjunction of Alfred the Great, Uhtred of Bamburgh, St. Cuthbert, Danes, Cuthbertia graminea, and Alfred Cuthbert, consider this label of a specimen in the University of North Carolina Herbarium that I databased recently:
Cuthbertia graminea South Carolina: Bamberg County: sandy pine-oak wood, 0.9 mile north of junction SC. 70 and County 33 on County 33 (west of Denmark). Collector: Harry E. Ahles #35977 and John G. Haesloop Date collected: May 26, 1957.
Good reading & good botanizing to you this year!
[Note: St. Cuthbert was in the news this past April, when “St. Cuthbert Gospel,” the oldest intact European book in existence, was bought by the British Library for 9 million pounds. See http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/cmt/?p=2366 for details.]
It has been a curious pleasure to watch the explosion of mushrooms over the last couple of weeks. Seems that one day the gravel drive is smooth and undisturbed, and the next, a rising bubble of white fungal flesh is cracking open the hard-packed surface.
Two days ago I took a few photos to document some of the variety I am observing. Note how the colorful, bracket-style fungus below (2nd photo) is pierced by blades of grass! And that triple-decker beauty is something I’ve never seen before (it’s actually 3 mushrooms emerging at once, one nearly on top of the other).
Late August and September (even October) is typically a good time to see mushrooms in the NC Piedmont, presumably because we tend to get a little more rain then. Indeed, the last few weeks have brought a lot of rain here, though not to other parts of the United States. (On August 7, the US Drought Monitor reported that more than 62% of the contiguous United States was under moderate or worse drought conditions. Add in those regions with “abnormally dry” conditions and the number goes up above 78%.)
Keep in mind that the mushroom you see sprouting along the trail is one small part—the spore-producing part—of a massive network of fungal threads beneath the soil surface: the mycelium. Fungal mycelium is “a complex fabric of cells permeating virtually all land masses of Earth, from the tundra to the tropical rainforests” (to quote Paul Stamets, author of Mycelium Running). Only a portion of the fungal species actually produce the mushrooms that we see; many others have microscopic or sub-microscopic fruiting structures. And what do we know about the diversity of the mycological kingdom? One expert has estimated that only 5% of fungal species on Earth have been described!
The North Carolina Botanical Garden is involved in the effort to learn more about the diversity of fungi, through the specimen collections of the UNC Herbarium. It turns out that our Herbarium holds more than 25,000 fungal specimens. This mycological collection was started early in the twentieth century by Dr. William Chambers Coker, botany professor and founder of the Coker Arboretum, and was added to significantly by Dr. John Couch and Ms. Alma Holland Beers, later botanists at the University of North Carolina. The fungal collection is getting an overhaul and reorganization this summer by intern Daniel Adams, who will also begin the process of digitization to make this resource available to scientists everywhere. This work is part of a very large, National Science Foundation–funded project called The Macrofungi Collection Consortium: Unlocking a Biodiversity Resource for Understanding Biotic Interactions, Nutrient Cycling and Human Affairs. The UNC Herbarium (and, by extension, the NC Botanical Garden) is one of more than 30 institutions cooperating to make the information on fungal specimen labels available online. Read more about our Charles T. Mohr Herbarium Intern and his work with the fungal collection, here: http://herbarium.unc.edu/2012internMohr_Adams.htm
You might ask, “Why?” From the Macrofungi Collection Consortium description:
From wood-rotting fungi that clear the forest floor of dead wood to the chanterelles and truffles in our food, mushrooms and other large showy fungi (macrofungi) play a critical role in the lives of plants and animals, including the health and welfare of humans. Yet the numbers of different species of these fungi are largely unknown.
Understanding the biodiversity of fungi will be critical in analyzing the effects of habitat change, nutrient cycling in ecosystems, and distributions and diversity of host organisms.
Scientists in the United States have been studying and collecting macrofungi for the past 150 years, which has produced a legacy of some 1.4 million dried scientific specimens, in 35 institutions in 24 states.
These institutions joined forces in an effort to digitize and share online data associated with these specimens. The resulting resource will enable a national census of macrofungi, and will allow researchers to better understand the diversity of these organisms and the relationships between macrofungi and the other species, such as lichens, in which fungi and algae form a wide variety of biotic partnerships.
One of the uses of mushrooms/fungi that I find most interesting, and that isn’t specifically mentioned in the above “justification” for the Macrofungi project, is bioremediation. Because of their ability to break down the molecular structure of some difficult to destroy toxic substances, fungi seem to have great potential for helping to clean up toxic spills (including petroleum) and polluted water supplies. See for example: http://www.fungi.com/blog/items/mycofiltration-for-urban-storm-water-treatment-receives-epa-research-and-development-funding.html
Meditate a while on that, if you will. It’s a good time of year to do so.
In the spirit of the name of this blog, I’m going to share with you a bit of what is going on “around the garden” these days. It has been a very hot summer in this part of the country—many days with temperatures well above 90 degrees F. So, there is watering to do, and the job of keeping up with the growth of wanted, as well as unwanted, plants, even though we are short-handed.
This week, some of our Horticulture and Conservation staff are at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference in western North Carolina, learning and networking with other folks who are devoted to propagating and preserving native plants. Thanks to the conference organizers, some of our student interns could attend as well, on scholarship. If you don’t know about this annual event, you should!
There are lots of these beauties, above, blooming here at the Garden: Crimson-eyed Rose-mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) is in our Coastal Plain Habitat garden and other beds and ditches about the landscape. Interesting how nice the spent flower appears after it twirls itself shut and falls onto the worn boardwalk:
And have a look at this pink-flowered variety, which is planted right in front of the Education Center:
For weeks now, I’ve admired the quantity of pollinators visiting the many different species planted in the new Piedmont Habitat Garden. Here are some wasps (sorry, I haven’t ID’d these yet) on Northern Rattlesnake-master (Eryngium yuccifolium):
Here is a tall and stately grass that I am partial to: Gamma Grass (Tripsacum dactyloides). It is a relative of corn, and apparently deer love to eat it. I took this photo a couple of weeks ago of a plant outside our deer fence—need to go back and see if it has been munched. The male flowers, with dangling anthers, are toward the apex of the inflorescence, whereas the female flowers, which will become the tasty kernels, are toward the base—you can recognize them by the forked/branched two-part stigma.
Returning to the fruiting theme of last month’s post, here are two fruits on their way to ripening, but not quite yet: Northern Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)—the drupes will turn bright red by fall:
and, our old “weedy” friend, Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana):
Isn’t it great that you can find purple berries, green ones, and even a few last white flowers, on the same plant?
Finally, the North Carolina Botanical Garden has been doing its part to encourage youngsters to connect with nature this summer. Last week’s session of Nature Explorers camp, “Junior Naturalists” (for 8- to 10-year-olds), included some memorable moments with birds and insects at Mason Farm:
as well as fun in the classroom, where campers turned one of their counselors into a “tree”:
We feel pretty fortunate to be in the thick of all this natural and human activity.
Recently, while immersing my senses in a bowl of peaches and blueberries, I thought about the marvelous presence of fruit in our world. Here I sat, eating some of the sweetest products of nature, oblivious to the fact that my behavior has been carefully tuned by the plant world.
I am referring to the fact that fruits essentially exist so that animals like me will eat them and move the seed/s buried inside to a new location—where at least some of the seeds will stand a good chance of sprouting and making new plants. Never mind the fact that in our current situation, we usually flush our “waste”—containing those blueberry seeds—away! Peach pits do land in my compost pile and occasionally sprout, but they don’t usually make it to tree stage, sadly.
This year the fruiting season seems to have come early: not really a surprise, as we observed many plants flowering early. Have you every stopped to notice the many, many kinds of fruits out there in our woods, fields, roadsides? Now please note that I am using the term fruit in the most generic of senses, as you can see by the photos below:
This Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) makes a thimble-shaped head of achenes—which are rather dry, hard, thinly covered (no “flesh” to speak of) seeds. You can see that “thimble” forming when the plant is in flower. Maybe the achenes are not eaten, for come winter, the heads explode with fluff, which makes me guess that they float away on winter winds.
This Baptisia makes pods that contain several “beans.” I wonder who eats these legumes?
Wish I’d gotten a better photo of the fruits of New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus): the 3-lobed (3-seeded) “drupes” are so compactly triangular, and they are blushing red right now.
It may be hard to think of a Hemlock cone as a fruit—and really it is not. But the winged seeds (“samara”) developing in there will provide a dense form of protein for many birds and mammals.
I was surprised to see, already, the ripening clusters of drupes on our potted Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) plants last week. What a plant for color! Fuzzy, red clusters of fruit amid those luxuriant leaves on pinkish stems. When the leaves turn red in late summer/fall, it is spectacular. By the way, some of the fruits we eat are defined as drupes—peaches and cherries for instance, as they contain a single stoney seed with a fleshy outer layer.
The berries of Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum racemosum) are green now, but pretty soon they’ll ripen up with fine red spots all over, giving them a ruby red look. The way this plant leans over, I am guessing that some fairly small, low to the ground animal eats those berries—though I did read in one source that birds consume them.
I hope you will take notice of the abundant and diverse fruits that our native plants provide. Many of these will be ripe and ready food for wildlife in the cooler, darker seasons when insects are less available.