Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sandra's Garden: When Corydalis Corydalisn't

Species name: Pseudofumaria lutea (formerly Corydalis lutea)

Common name: yellow corydalis, rock fumewort

Location: Sandra's garden

Looking at the pictures I took of this plant in Sandra's garden reminds me of how darn windy it was that day; it took me almost 12 pictures to get a decent shot of the flowers since they're so small. Seems like any time I want to take macro shots the wind picks up! This plant is often confused with a very similar genus, the one which the yellow corydalis gets its common name. There are some yellow-flowering corydalis species, and three of which are even native to this area. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them. This yellow corydalis, the rock fumewort, is native to Italy and Switzerland and can become invasive here if not kept in check. The leaves and flowers are both very similar to species of Corydalis, so its understandable for the confusion. Interestingly, the family that this plant belongs in is also often confused! While researching this plant, it was placed in either the Ranunculaceae, the buttercup family, or the Papaveraceae, the poppy family. Which one it truly belongs to I have no idea; since experts in the field can't seem to agree I'm not even going to try to make up my mind! What I do know is that the leaves, with the divided leaves that look similar to fern fronds, look far similar to members of the Ranunculaceae than the Papaveraceae.

The other common name of this plant, the rock fumewort, comes from its ability to grow in seemingly the tiniest of places in a solid rock wall. The seeds do not need a lot of soil to germinate and grow, and the roots can readily absorb nutrients from the smallest pockets of soil to provide the plant with energy. There are also specialized structures that the plant can produce in its roots that are similar to potatoes and meant for the same purpose: starch storage. This means the plant can accumulate sugars from the leaves while it has access to lots of nutrients in soil, and as the nutrients in the soil are depleted it can tap into its own starch storage for fuel to continue growing. This would be the same thing a potato or carrot would do if we gave it the chance! Typically when a plant has a common name with "wort" in it, which means "plant," often was once used for medicinal purposes. I'm not sure what an ancient medicinal use of this plant would be, but it is currently being examined for potential uses as an anti-psychotic drug for use in the treatment of psychoses associated with schizophrenia. Extracts are taken from the leaves and so far they've been showing promise with interfering with neurons (brain cells) at their synapses (where the cells communicate with each other) to prevent the communication between them. Normally this would be a really, really bad thing; if your neurons can't communicate then you can't exist as a normally-functioning human being. All of the information that you receive through your five senses is assimilated in your brain via neuronal synapses and neurons talking to each other. Sometimes, however, this effect can be detrimental if your brain "creates" things that aren't there via neurons communicating with each other when no external stimulus is present. We call these "creations" of the brain psychoses, deliriums or hallucinations (depending on how they're caused and what kinds of symptoms they present) and in psychotic schizophrenia (I'm sure there's a different name for it now; the names of mental illnesses change with the seasons it seems) this happens to an extreme. I'm certainly no neurologist, but some drugs target certain neurons at certain times in certain amounts, which can decrease the symptoms of schizophrenia. All sounds like a bunch of magic to me, which is probably why you should all be happy I'm not a neurologist!

So "can I eat it"? Well, like the last plant I profiled (the grape hyacinth, which you can read all about HERE), there's no suggestion that you can't eat it. But since extracts from the leaves and roots have the ability to interfere with your brain's ability to communicate with itself, do you really want to risk it? There are so many other wild plants that are edible I would choose a different one.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sandra's Garden: What's eating Gilbert Grape?

Species name: Muscari armeniacum

Common name: grape hyacinth

Location: Sandra's Garden

Grape hyacinths are wonderful little plants, if you're willing to put a wee bit of effort into keeping them tamed. Sometimes called bluebells (although not true bluebells), these plants are native to Europe from Greece to Turkey. They are planted usually from bulbs (although some cultivars do reproduce well from seed) and have a high likelihood to become invasive if you're not careful. Fortunately, they are not good competitors unless they are in full sun, so they, for now, are not invasive in natural areas. The easiest way to control their growth and prevent them from escaping your garden is simply by clipping off the flower heads once the flowers are spent and the fruit starts developing. There is usually a significant delay between the flowers dying and the fruit opening, so even if you miss the last flowers falling off by a couple of days you've still got some time to get your clippers out.

Sandra has two different cultivars of grape hyacinths planted, which are quite striking beside each other in the garden. The first one is the "regular" grape hyacinth with the typical blueish purple bell-shaped flowers with the white border that is slightly frilly. This would be the regular grape hyacinth that you would expect to see in the wild throughout its native range. These are also the kind that produce many, many seeds and almost all of them are fertile (so not only do they spread underground via their bulbs and bulbet production, but also spreading aerially via their seeds). The second one is the doubled grape hyacinth, a cultivar selected to have double the flowers on the stalk. Whenever a doubled cultivar is created, it almost always removes the plant's natural ability to reproduce via seed production. This is great in the case of the grape hyacinth because it provides the same splash of colour at the same time as a regular grape hyacinth but you don't have to worry about it becoming invasive. Best of both worlds!

Strangely enough, despite this being a popular garden plant, I can't seem to find any information on the toxicity of this species. Since it does grow from a bulb a good rule of thumb is not to eat it (onions and their close relatives like chives, garlic and leeks are the only bulbs that are reliably edible no matter what cultivar), and it's also probably a good idea to wear gloves since the sap that comes out of the bulbs when cut may be irritating to the skin. One great reason to plant doubled grape hyacinths in your garden if you live near a natural area is because of deer. Deer absolutely HATE grape hyacinths, and will avoid other plants that are near them. If you have some prized flower bushes or a young tree that you want to protect from deer grazing, planting a border of these plants around them would work very well. Then when the deer are no longer interested (or when your tree is large enough to tolerate having some of its branches stripped of leaves and bark), dig them up and transplant them to a new area that needs protecting!

Welcome to Summer!

Today is the first day of the glorious season we call summer (for those of you in the southern hemisphere, happy winter!). This is by far my favourite season of the year: heat, humidity, and sun. You know that feeling when it's 30 or 35 degrees (Celsius) and 80-100% humidity? When you walk outside and you instantly start sweating just from the effort you need to put into standing? I LOVE that feeling. If I felt that every day for the rest of my life, I would be a happy camper.

Last night I helped out with an event on campus that was an arboretum tour. An arboretum is kind of like a living museum; trees are catalogued as "exhibits", and each exhibit has a label. The label on the tree has the tree's common name, the Latin name, the family that the tree belongs to, where the tree is native to, and the tree's number in the arboretum's catalogue. All of the planted trees on campus are part of the arboretum, and there has been a marked shift in tree planting from the 1930s and 1940s (mostly Austrian pine and Norway maple) to now (mostly native species like tulip trees, hop trees, native dogwoods, and sugar maple). There are almost 2500 catalogued trees on campus, representing somewhere near 350 species. Not bad for a University campus! I had a really good time leading my tour last night and it seems like the participants enjoyed themselves, too. I should become a professional arboretum tour guide! :)

Enjoy the new summer blog colours! Here's to hoping for warm, sunny weather. And happy first wedding anniversary to my cousin Sharon and her husband Cavan!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sandra's Garden: The saddles are here, but the Dryads are missing

Species name: Polyporus squamosus

Common name: Dryad's saddle

Location: Sandra's garden

I'm a bit late for Fungus Friday and Shroom Saturday, but I'm just in time for Sunday Fungday (I just made that last one up)! So here's a mushroom post since I haven't done one in a while, and it fits right into the blog theme of "Stuff in Sandra's garden".

One thing I love about Sandra's philosophy to gardening is "if it grows or visits and I like it, it stays" and this idea is applied to literally everything in the garden from visiting neighbourhood cats to mushrooms growing on trees or in the soil. There's apparently a yearly bloom of earth stars (you can read about the ones I found in my garden HERE; these are usually fall or late summer fruiting fungi), and this colony of Dryad's saddle has been fruiting on half a dead tree for a while now. And who wouldn't want to keep this beautiful fungus around?! One absolutely fascinating thing to watch when it comes to the Dryad saddle is the release of spores. You have to wait until it's a sunny day with just a light breeze in the late spring or early summer. Park yourself in a chair (or on the ground) with a good view of the underside of this fungus and watch the show. Trillions of spores will be released from the pores on the underside of the fungus into the wind, and you can literally watch them blow away in a swirling cloud of (what looks like) smoke. I've only seen it once, but it was definitely a sight to behold.

The Dryad's saddle is a great example of a fungus that we believe very strongly to be a "native North American mushroom" but in all likelihood isn't. This fungus lives for the majority of its life cycle in dead or dying trees where it causes a disease called "white rot". This happens when the fungus releases enzymes from the fungal threads called hyphae that digest lignin in the wood. This is GREAT if you're into making paper; lignin is the number one cause of paper crumbling and yellowing with time. Normally the paper industry uses chemical bleaches to get rid of the lignin and turn the remaining cellulose (the light and fluffy part of the tree; the lignin is like a glue that holds everything else together and hardens significantly with age) white, but this fungus does it all on its own. Unfortunately for you, this also weakens the tree enough that it will likely collapse under its own weight or get blown over in a wind storm. If you're a crafty person though this could be a great source of inspiration and raw materials; well-rotted white rot trees are PERFECT for making your own paper. Take the squishy, sponge-like white rot and put it in a pot with plenty of water. Put it on the stove and cook, cook, cook. After it's literally mush, pass through a strainer to remove a lot of the water, put it in a food processor or blender, and blend to further break up the fibres. Once blended, pour a bit of your pulp over a screen with a wood frame submerged in some warm water to "block" the paper, pull straight up out of the water to set the pulp, press with a finer mesh screen to extract as much water as you can, then set in an oven on very low heat (as low as it can go; you don't want to be burning your house down!) for a few hours to dry. Once most of the moisture is gone, carefully peel off the screens and hang in the sun to completely dry. Voila! Paper. You can add some pretty things like small leaves or scented plant products to give your paper some extra oomph (lavender and rosemary work really well!), or some dried or fresh flowers (and who doesn't have an over-abundance of pansies at this time of year?). If this sounds easy and idiot-proof, you would be correct. Making your own paper is fun and easy, once you get the hang of it. And there are so many possibilities for thickness, colour, texture, shape, could spend your whole life just making paper every day! The paper-making industry is slowly starting to take note of "natural" ways to make paper; fungi like Dryad's saddle and other white rot fungi are currently being looked at as a natural means of ridding wood pulp of lignin and naturally bleaching the wood fibres before the paper is made. Perhaps one day we'll start seeing paper products advertised as 100% free of chemicals in the paper itself as well as the pulp production process. See?! Fungi are cool! As a side note, the same process outlined above can be used on the mushroom itself; different species of Polyporus have been used for centuries to make a cardboard-like paper.

Back on topic, the Dryad's saddle probably isn't native because of the type of hosts you most likely find this fungus on. Most of the trees it prefers to rot are European trees. If this was a truly parasitic fungus than you would expect to see that kind of relationship; a good example of this is the European Dutch Elm disease that is killing all of the North American elm trees. Since this isn't a parasitic fungus but rather an opportunistic rotter (something has to have already come along and weakened the tree in order for this fungus to colonize the wood; if there are no appropriate trees like that around it will exist solely on dead logs) it would prefer the wood of the trees it "grew up" or evolved with. This leads me to believe this is a European fungus that probably arrived very, very early in human colonization and has been here ever since. The other possibility is that this really is a North American fungus, and what is found in Europe is a completely different species. Both options are pretty common stories in the fungus world once a population-level analysis is done with special genes called microsatellites.

Apparently this mushroom is edible. To me it would be like eating cardboard, but when it's young you can slice off the edges of the fungus and fry them in bacon grease to get fried Dryad's saddle. To me, this is essentially making a mushroom taste like bacon, and who doesn't like bacon? You could make almost anything edible by frying it in bacon grease. Cooking it on its own sounds like you would end up being mighty disappointed with the results. If you have ever cooked up this mushroom and liked the taste and texture, let me know! I'd be interested in hearing about it and whether it was as uneventful as I'm imagining it would be.

Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sandra's Garden: This hawkweed has spots!

I've been sitting on this blog post for a couple of days because I've been really unsure of the correct ID for this species. I was pretty sure I had it once...but then changed my mind. Then I was pretty sure I had ID'd it correctly again...but then changed my mind again! Now I've got it. I think. If you think I'm wrong, feel free to point it out in the comments section and lead me to a more appropriate name. This is one of the reasons why I hate trying to ID "dandelion-like flowers"--they're just so gosh darn hard to get the right name if you don't have a microscope and a full identification key handy!

Species name: Hieracium maculatum

Common name: spotted hawkweed

Location: Sandra's garden

This species of hawkweed, incredibly common throughout Europe where it is native, is also now becoming more and more common in Canada. Here it's considered a weed since it thrives in highly disturbed areas which include that garden you just dug up to plant new flowers, or the area around where you just cut down the tree and don't know what to replace it with. In Sandra's case it's growing right beside her driveway (made out of gravel, not asphalt), but it's also serving as a great example of what the definition of a "weed" is: a plant that's growing somewhere where we don't want it. Sandra's got a great philosophy towards gardening: "if I like the plant, then it gets to grow." While most of us would have ripped this plant out a long time ago because it looks far too much like a dandelion for our liking, Sandra lets it thrive behind a rock that serves as a buffer between the driveway and the mulched garden. Enjoy your time while it lasts, little plant!

Hawkweeds are some of the most successful plants in disturbed areas because of the way they reproduce: they make asexual seeds. This phenomenon is incredibly unusual overall in the plant kingdom, and when a plant decides to reproduce asexually (which in itself is actually quite common) or clonally it rarely chooses to do so via seed production. Rhizomes, tillers, offsets or offshoots, suckers, foliar embryos, splitting, layering--all of these are common phenomena displayed in various plant species (sometimes even in groups as large as families) that rarely results in a seed-like structure being produced. In fact, plants that reproduce asexually prefer to do this over reproducing sexually but yet retain the ability to do so if growth conditions change. Reproducing asexually is much faster than producing seeds, and seed production is very energetically taxing on the plant (sometimes even killing the plant afterwards!). On top of that, you never quite know what kind of gene combination you're going to end up with since you shuffle all of your genes and they are randomly distributed (along with your mate's genes) into the seeds; each seed still gets one copy of each gene (or two, or four, depending on the plant...) from each parent, but each parent can have two different copies. Which one your offspring gets (you might have two good copies, one good and one bad copy, or two bad copies) is luck of the draw. Why would you risk giving your offspring a bad copy of a gene when you can just pass on all of your genetic material, exactly as it is, to your offspring so they can thrive like you do in the environment you're in? Seems like a no-brainer. But when the environmental conditions change and you are challenged as a plant in your environment, you might decide it would be best for you to roll the dice and take a chance at shuffling your genes so your offspring have a better chance in this new environment. Thus, seed production. But ASEXUAL SEEDS? This just seems crazy.

And for some plants, deciding whether to produce asexually or sexually is way too much work, and since your gene combination works for you it should also work perfectly well for your offspring, aka your clones. Almost the entire genus of Hieracium species reproduce exclusively via asexual seeds that are dispersed in the same way that dandelion seeds are in the wind; this process is called apomixis. This leads to the debate of "what is a species?" which is currently getting quite heated between experts that study this plant in Europe and in the United States. Some say that each clone should be considered a different species, since if you don't reproduce sexually it's impossible to tell who is your closest relative (a perfectly valid argument; one that has been raised in many other plant, animal and fungal species). That would give us about 10,000 species of Hieracium. Others argue that species should be defined based on broad morphological differences, which would give us about 800 species of Hieracium. Just a little difference! No matter which way you choose to define species, I think it's safe to say that there's a lot of them. If you tried counting to 800, it would take you a while; that's my definition of "a lot." There are a lot of species of Hieracium. There. Problem solved!

So what are hawkweed species good for? Absolutely nothing (sorry for just getting that song stuck in your head)! Actually, the plants themselves and the seeds are important food sources for a lot of animals, but one moth in particular: the large yellow underwing moth. This insect species is a great example of an insect that is expanding its range in response to warmer, shorter winters. Prior to the mid-1980s it was found exclusively in Europe and the Middle East, but after its introduction to Nova Scotia by accident in 1985 it has spread all the way to California and Alaska in 20 short years. Prior to that it had never been found further north than the southern edges of Russia! A pretty incredibly feat for a bug.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sandra's Garden: Vancouver's Centennial

Species name: Pelargonium x hortorum 'Vancouver Centennial'

Common name: 'Vancouver Centennial' geranium

Location: Sandra's garden

Geraniums themselves (not real geraniums, of course, but Pelargonium plants) are incredibly popular garden plants around the world. I've blogged about a red-flowering cultivar already, and you can read all about it HERE. This cultivar, however, is a special type of hybrid that has then been selectively bred for leaf shape and leaf colour. The first time I had ever seen this specific cultivar was in Sandra's garden. Since then, I've seen it literally everywhere I've looked. Isn't it funny how things like that happen? Someone brings your attention to something, then you start noticing it a lot more often.

Contrary to what you might think, this cultivar was not created in Canada (despite being named after Canada's famous Vancouver, not one of the United States' many, many Vancouvers) but in the United States. Rumor has it that it was named in honor of Vancouver's 100th birthday, which would have officially been in 1986 (the city was officially incorporated using the name "Vancouver" in 1886; prior to that it was Gastown which was settled in 1867 and grew to become the town of Granville until the renaming in 1886). I'm not sure if this is true or not, but a nice story. The leaf shape was selected by growers to minimize the "frilling" that can be seen in most geranium cultivars, and the leaf colour was selected based on the maximum amount of red that could be bred into the plant until it was no longer healthy and couldn't survive. Leaves are green for a reason; the pigments in the leaves responsible for photosynthesis (the creation of sugar from carbon dioxide, water and light energy) end up giving the leaf its green colour. If you maximize the amount of pigments other than chlorophyll you end up decreasing the plant's ability to make its own sugar, resulting in a weakened plant. At the end of the day, the amount of green and reddish pigment balance that optimized a visually-pleasing leaf but also enough green to maintain the plant's photosynthetic ability was about half-and-half: the green around the border of the leaf and the red on the inside. The decreased frill also ended up with a leaf that is strikingly similar to a maple leaf, giving this plant its other common name: the maple-leaved geranium.

Like many non-native plants, this cultivar of geranium is incredibly slow-growing (which is unlike many of its relatives which are fast-growing) and very sensitive to too much and too little water. Until the plant becomes established in the soil, periods of drought can be seriously detrimental to the health of the plant. Once established, flooding and standing water are its biggest enemies. Surprisingly, this cultivar is much more cold-tolerant than its relatives so will last further into the fall than the average geranium will. It is still frost-sensitive and definitely won't tolerate snowfall or freezing, so there is no need to worry about the potential for becoming invasive (at least in Canada).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Sandra's Garden: When two become one

Species name: Picea sp. (probably Picea mariana)

Common name: spruce (probably black spruce)

Location: Sandra's garden

The reason why I have no idea what species of spruce these photos represent is because I didn't care to be honest. The trunk characteristics of this tree are far too interesting to care which species it is :) It's either a red, white or black spruce. Black seems unusual due to the height and the general shape of the tree, but white spruces usually have much larger cones than this one has. Red spruce has very different bark...

If you would like to know more about a bunch of different species of spruce, you can learn about the Norway spruce HERE, the Colorado blue spruce HERE, and the black spruce HERE.

So what's so exciting about this tree? This tree has managed to graft itself, then lose one of the scions (the portion of the plant above the grafted location) so that it looks like an upsidedown-Y tree. Normally grafted trees are no big deal. In fact, there are so many grafted trees sold in nurseries unless you really knew what you were looking for you would never notice the difference. A lot of fruit trees, especially those in the rose family (like apples, pears, plums, cherries, peaches, etc.) are grafted because their root stock isn't very hardy. Since the top of the tree essentially "dies" during the winter then is miraculously "revived" in the spring, obviously some part of the tree stays active all winter in order to perform basic maintenance on the above-ground tissues. That's actually the main reason why cryogenically preserving humans can't work yet: when you freeze our bodies, we actually...freeze. Ice forms in our cells, rupturing the membranes. Because our tissues are frozen solid you don't notice. But as soon as the body starts to thaw, the frozen tissue turns to mush and ends up going necrotic (turning black). Bananas do the same thing; that's why a thawed banana isn't a pretty banana! But great for making banana cream pie...but I digress.

Back to roots. Roots stay alive all winter, and the microbial symbioses between tree roots and the microorganisms that live in the soil can actually generate enough heat to melt permafrost in the arctic! That's an impressive amount of heat. The problem is getting the right amount of these symbioses to maintain a ground temperature above freezing so you can heat the rest of the tree by flowing warm water through the vascular system to prevent the tree from freezing solid. Some trees are better at this than others, hence why some trees are winter-tolerant while others are killed when the ground starts to freeze. Members in the rose family have their roots frozen quite easily, so how can we have apple orchards in Ontario? The ground freezes here every winter. The secret is in the grafting process. The scion of the graft is the apple part, while the rootstock is the tolerant of freezing part. The most common trees to use for rootstocks are also "water scavengers" during times of drought; if you've ever had a willow tree in your back yard and have been unfortunate enough to have a sewer running anywhere in the vicinity, you might be aware of what I mean by a "water scavenger". Willow trees are notorious for their ability to break through concrete and colonize sewers with roots in order to absorb more water. What better way to find a water source (unless you're a homeowner...)?! If you want a nice apple orchard that produces juicy apples, putting your apple scions on willow rootstocks seems like a no-brainer and that is how we "make" apple trees. We don't grow them from seeds at all!

So what does this have to do with these spruce trees? Well, usually when you do a graft you start with one scion and one rootstock and you get one plant. If you start with two scions and two rootstocks you get two plants. Three of each? Three plants. These trees, however, fused together then one of the scions was sacrificed, probably by the other one being too "greedy" and taking too many resources during a time of stress. The scion died but the rootstock remained. It should be no surprise that this tree is significantly taller than its neighbours; it has two sets of roots feeding the crown (the top) of the tree! If that's not cool, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Allz you ever wanted to know about Rhododendrons

Species name: Rhododendron sp. (perhaps a cultivar or variety of R. wardii but I'm not positive)

Common name: rhododendron

Location: Sandra's garden

Rhododendrons are really gaining popularity in North America as garden plants, especially those species that are native to this continent. Most gardeners aren't actually aware that we have many native North American species of rhododendron, since the most widely available and easiest to grow are those native to China (like this one probably is), Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Rhododendrons prefer acidic soil which is most commonly found under very old coniferous trees. So if you have some pruned firs, spruces or pines (so that the lowest branches are several feet off the ground and the base of the tree receives a fair bit of sunlight) and want to plant something under them, rhododendrons would be a good bet! Just make sure they will receive enough sunlight; they do best in full sun. Make sure you take care in paying attention to what species you're planting and where you live; various species of rhododendrons can be highly invasive in locations where they are not native.

If you grow your own honey, which is also gaining in popularity with gardeners with large yards since bee populations are on the decline, it is strongly suggested that you do so only when your bees wouldn't have ready access to rhododendrons (and other species in the same genus that we call azaleas because the flowers only have five anthers instead of the usual ten; you can read my previous blog about azaleas HERE). The pollen and nectar of rhododendons contains a toxin called grayanotoxin, which can cause hallucinogenic and laxative effects. Not exactly the kind of thing you're expecting when you consume honey! Horses have an even more extreme reaction to grayanotoxin: it can cause seizures and even death. Thankfully for horses, they usually avoid rhododendons based on the smell alone and would rather look for something else to eat. Cats and dogs also have adverse effects to rhododendrons, but the effect is much more pronounced in dogs than in cats (are cats smarter for staying away from the plant more often? Perhaps. Is this my bias for what pet I prefer more? Perhaps...). Dogs like to chew on sticks, so if you prune this plant and leave the sticks laying around your beloved pet might be in for a surprise. Symptoms include digestive issues, heart palpitations, heart attack, and liver failure. Eventually these symptoms will lead to death if the animal is left untreated. Supervise your pets around your landscape plants!

Rhododendron species are very important to different cultures around the world. For example, different species of rhododendron are the national flower of Nepal, the state flower of both Indian-administered and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, the state tree of Sikkim and Uttarakhand in India, and the state flower of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Washington in the United States. Not bad for a plant!

I normally don't do this...

...but for family things are a bit different.

Normally I would flat-out refuse to do a whole blog post as a plug for someone else's blog, but I think this time calls for an exception. I guess family is special or something because you only have one.

My cousin Debi, who I don't see often because she lives in the middle of nowhere in BC (I think I can count on one hand the number of times we've met), has a great blog. I don't even remember how the blog started, but eventually it became a blog about her recent battle, and victory, with breast cancer. I cannot even imagine how difficult that battle must be, especially when you hear about the survival rates of breast cancer being what they are for metastatic cancer, but to top it all off she had just lost her mom (my aunt and my dad's oldest sister) only 17 months before. During her battle, she also lost her older brother.

So instead of doing what most normal people would do and wallow in her sorrows (and probably flush those sorrows down with a drink or two), she fought back. She has a great blog about standing up to cancer, and she writes books. Right now she's trying to get a book taken on by a marketing director of a publishing firm in BC so her books reach a wider audience. One of her self-marketing strategies is to get more hits on her blog, and to get people to follow her ramblings (she's a self-described sufferer of ADD, something I think we share when we're writing since we're both all over the place).

And now we come to my request. Could you click on the link below once? Even if you don't stay to read, you might contribute to the difference between her getting her book about fighting breast cancer picked up by a marketing and distribution firm or not. If you'd like, you can stick around and read some of her posts. Some are funny, some will make you cringe, some are emotion-envoking, some will make you think. If you'd rather not, that's fine. :)

Dribbles From DebiLyn

Enjoy the weather! It's going to be a beautiful week here. And if it's not where you are...enjoy the crappy weather! :)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sandra's Garden: onion you grow for a flower, not for food

Species name: Allium aflatunense

Common name: flowering onion

Location: Sandra's garden

There are two main species of ornamental purple-flowering onions, and this is one of them. The true flowering onion is native to central Asia but has been spread around the world as an ornamental bulb. It produces these brilliant purple globe-like flowers in the spring, seeds in the fall, and then dies off during the winter to regrow the next year. In most areas, reproduction by seed of this plant is abysmal at best so there isn't a risk of it becoming invasive (the growing season isn't long enough for the seeds to germinate, and by the time spring rolls around the winter has killed the seeds in the soil). There are other ornamental onions that don't have purple flowers that are highly invasive species, so make sure you know what you're planting and what you're getting yourself into!

The other species of purple-flowering onions is the giant onion or Allium giganteum. These two species are relatively easily distinguished because the giant onion has a much more densely packed flower head, which is much larger in diameter. It definitely earns its name! Before we moved we had these planted in our garden, and they were one of my favourite flowers we had there. It's a shame I wasn't into plant photography while we were living there; we had some unusual plants in our garden that would be fun to profile. Both the giant onion and the flowering onion are great species to plant in your garden to attract all sorts of pollinators, but especially bees and other pollinating insects.

The flowering onion and the giant onion are both in the same genus as regular onions (A. cepa, which you can read a bit about HERE), chives (A. schoenoprasum), leeks (A. ampeloprasum), and garlic (A. sativum). I have also profiled another member of the genus Allium a while back, garlic chives (which you can read all about HERE).

Like the carrot family, the onion genus is made up of a group of plants that are edible, and a group of plants that you probably don't want to be eating. Unless you are absolutely certain of your plant's identification, you probably shouldn't decide to eat it! The flowering onion and the giant onion are non-edible plants, meaning they won't make you sick if you eat them but they certainly aren't good. Many wild varieties of onions and garlic are so potent they will actually burn your mouth and cause blisters if you try to eat them, let alone the damage they'll cause to your stomach! Some species of onions are also highly toxic to cats and dogs even if they won't harm humans, so make sure you prevent your beloved pets from munching on these species! Most of the time they'll stay away anyway because the smell is potent enough that they figure out it's not good, but when these plants are young they haven't developed their strongest potency yet and might fool even the most discriminating nose into thinking it's grass.