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Shades of Red: New Trials & the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show

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Verbena x hybrida Lanai Twister Red
(Image from FleuroSelect)

The California Spring Trials, an annual week-long event featuring the newest and improved additions to the horticulture industry, will take place pretty soon in several locations near Santa Cruz. Sneak peaks are reflecting what’s been passing through the greenhouse recently, and I’ve been seeing quite a few shades of red.

The usual dizzying array of petunias (Petunia Good and Plenty Red) and calibrachoas (Calibrachoa Pomegranate Punch) have come through our cuttings room and more and more salvias (Salvia Grandstand Red Lipstick Pink). Then there’s the proven winners that have been around since the 2013 trials, such as the bold and endlessly blooming geraniums.

Some of my favorites have included the unique red hues and patterns on begonias, the streaked and more subtle scarlet waves on cannas, and the usual eye-catching Verbenas, especially the new Lanai Twister series.

While varying concentrations and cycles of naturally occurring chemicals within these plants are responsible for the colors perceived by different species (bees cannot sense wavelengths in the red spectrum and so they see flowers very differently from humans), some colors and especially variegation are caused by viruses.

Commonly seen are the leaves effected by the tobacco mosaic virus, which produces a mosaic of light and dark colors. Or perhaps you visited the 2017 Philadelphia Flower Show and learned about the virus responsible for the beautiful tulips that were all the craze in the early-mid 1600s. The white streaks in these tulips are simply an absence of functioning chloroplasts (cells responsible for photosynthesis and reflecting the middle range of the visible color spectrum, thus appearing green to us) caused by the tulip breaking virus in cells in development and early growth of the plant’s organs.

The virus, while producing gorgeous specimens that were all the rage for some time in Europe (and absurdly valuable), actually weakened the plant, and so you would’ve seen similar, genetically bred tulips at the Flower Show but not those of Dutch Golden Age fame.

And not all streaks and spots are caused by viruses, but that’s a post for another day. For now, enjoy the photos I didn’t take (all photos taken by Mom Dunlap).

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Philadelphia Flower Show 2017: Just a Peek

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“There’s no shortage of art in this city or in there.”

My tour guide friend’s words as he came out of the Flower Show are no exaggeration, and I can definitely say that this year’s Flower Show easily beats out last year’s rather lackluster national parks–themed displays.

I tried my hand at identifying the varieties of tulip — sources often break down Tulipa into 15 or so main categories. The following I tentatively ID’d, the Fringed variety being my absolute favorite. See if you can find them all at the Flower Show!

Of course, you won’t find the original “Rembrandt” variety of Tulipa, those tulips that looked as though they had been artfully painted by…well, not Rembrandt, because he didn’t paint flowers. But let’s say Monet.

The breath-taking, streaked tulips we see in paintings of old were a result of a virus, which, although it made beautiful and valuable, sought-after bulbs during the height of Tulipmania, made the flower’s stem weak and stunted and is now no longer commercially available. (But thanks to genetic modification and cultivation, a similar kind is available.)

While I went around and tried to identify the main varieties of tulips, I was also excited to see in real life plants I’ve only seen in pictures, such as Gaura lindheimeri, Snakeshead Fritillary, Trifolium repens, some beautiful California cedars, and more.

Later this week, I’ll explore more with my family the educational exhibits, such as the “Ecodome” and smaller terrarium and sculpture displays. In the meantime, if you’re in need of something indoors and with a burst of color, head to the Convention Center before the show ends this Sunday (and stop at the Independence Visitor Center to get discounted tickets!).

 

 

Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

March 14, 2017 at 6:43 pm

Spring Events & Attractions in Philadelphia

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The annual Philadelphia Flower Show is coming up quick (March 11-19), and we are so Spring ready at the Independence Visitor Center.

 

In my never-ending quest to push green activities in Philadelphia at the Center, I recently put up a display of my top favorite destinations for Spring. And as always, we receive the publication, Grid magazine, which is an excellent resource for ecological events in and just outside of Philadelphia proper.

This year’s Flower Show, though highly focused on tulips and all their variegations, also highlights the Dutch horti- and agriculture’s need to utilize space ecologically and economically, given the country’s limited, below-sea-level geographical setting. And I find this year’s exhibition fitting and called-for in a place like Philadelphia, which in my mind should today be a Kew Gardens-ranking botanical destination.
Sadly, it’s not, and “park” designation is barely merited unless it’s including “-ing lot”. As a “greene country towne” home to some of the pioneers of American botany and horticulture, I feel Philadelphia is frustratingly and embarrassingly lacking promotion of what is was and could be.

While I’ve mentioned a few of the following sites in a previous post, it’s absolutely worth mentioning them again in the top places I recommend visiting for your Spring (and beyond Spring) visit/stay/ambiguous-duration-of-inhabitance-similar-to-my-own in and around Philadelphia.



Bartram’s Gardens

 

Where? 54th Street & Lindbergh Boulevard

How do I get there? While it’s a bit of a trek from downtown, Bartram’s is accessible by public trolley #36 to 54th Street. If you’re just paying for roundtrip, have exact change or tokens ($2.25 per token or combo price for purchase at major stations downtown or at Independence Visitor Center).

Cost? Usually free!

 

A bright yellow wood poppy bursting above its leafy canopy in Bartram's Garden

A bright yellow wood poppy bursting above its leafy canopy in Bartram’s Garden

This should be the Kew Gardens of America, and, yet, it’s not all it could be and isn’t so well known to visitors. Bartram and his son were American pioneers in horticulture/botany, and the former site of the Bartram residence and gardens is the place to go if you want to understand the beginnings and aspirations of Philadelphia. At Bartram’s Gardens, there are walking tours available, free kayaking events on the Schuylkill River, and volunteer opportunities on the farm.

Here, you’ll also find one of the oldest and largest Ginkgo biloba trees in the Americas, dating from the late 1700s, as well as a rare-ish Franklinia, tons of garlic mustard, and Celandine poppy/wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum).*

*Interestingly, according to one source, celandine poppy “is threatened by the invasion of Alliaria petiolate (Garlic Mustard)”, a subject touching on allelopathy (in this case, plants using chemical properties to inhibit other plants/competitors) I’ll be exploring soon.

 

John Heinz Wildlife Refuge

 

Where? 8601 Lindbergh Boulevard

How do I get there? By car – if you don’t have your own, take an Uber (bit expensive) or rent a car for the day from Hertz and maybe try fitting in the other recommendations here (Bartram’s or Morris Arboretum)

Cost? Free!

 

A thicket of milkweed, lanky grasses, butterfly bushes, and Melilotus officinalis

A thicket of milkweed, lanky grasses, butterfly bushes, and Melilotus officinalis

The 1,000-acre reserve is a bit surreal being so close to an international airport. Stop in at the Visitor Center to learn about the site’s sordid past, being a site of immense biodiversity and riparian importance turned into an industrial cesspool and now slowly being restored to its original ecological grandeur. There are seasonal plant hikes offered as well as numerous birding tours (the refuge is famous for its eagles’ nests), many of which are free to the public.

You can also volunteer here – for a couple of months, I helped weed out invasive poplars and garlic mustard and occasionally sitting the Visitor Center’s reception desk to answer questions about the refuge.

 

Morris Arboretum

 

Where? 100 E Northwestern Avenue

How do I get there? By car or by train then Uber (this one’s complicated – if you’re willing to half-bike it, send me a message)

Cost? $17 for Adults, $9 Youth/Students

 

A monstrous, Kraken-like Katsura in Morris Aboretum

A monstrous, Kraken-like Katsura in Morris Aboretum

Trees, wonderful trees. I’m more a fan of low-lying plants, but this arboretum contains some impressive tree species. I was, in the very true form of the word, awed by the Katsura and Blue Atlas Cedar trees on the property. And for someone who very much does not like roses…what a rose/herb garden Morris has.

And an amazing miniature railroad to boot!

 

Sculpture Bicycle, Fairmount Park Bike, & Mural Maps

 

Where? Independence Visitor Center, 6th and Market streets (1 N Independence W; GPS: 599 Market Street)

How do I get there? From the airport – Take the Airport line to Jefferson Station and walk or take the “L” subway to 5th and Market

Cost? Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee (except for Shofuso House)

 

I’m a huge advocate of bicycling. And Philadelphia is a huge fan of potholes and a-hole drivers. And soon, the Visitor Center will no longer offer WheelFun bicycle rentals. That being said, there’s still Indigo, hugely popular with locals and fairly well strategically placed throughout the city. While I’m not a fan of Indigo’s unwieldy bicycles, I’d much rather able, active, and adventurous folks to get around the city this way. With a little street assertiveness and keen awareness, visitors can get around quick and sightsee at the same time, able to hop off and check out anything at their own leisure – including Philadelphia’s unique collection of sculptures and murals.

At the Visitor Center, we not only provide both, but also promote our bicycle sculpture maps and, a recent addition, Museums Without Walls, a free program offered by Association for Public Art. Signs posted at various sculptures have a number that can be dialed, which connects you to a recording by an expert/professional explaining the art piece in front of you. The APA’s Museum Without Walls webpage includes an interactive map, or you can visit the Independence Visitor Center to grab a free city map as well as a Mural Mile Walking Tour Map, which lists some major murals in downtown Philly (out of over 2,000 murals in total!).

Lastly, although WheelFun bicycle rentals are ruthlessly being killed off by bus tours (don’t get me wrong – great way to see the city as well!) and backwards-thinking nonprogressives, I’ll still hold on to dear life our self-guided bicycle maps, which feature Fairmount Park, a beautiful greenway that includes the Japanese Shofuso House and Horticulture Center, our Schuylkill River Trail maps, and the a-bit-outdated 2014 Center City Bike maps.

 

Honorable Mention: Sister Cities Park

 

Where? 210 N 18th Street

How do I get there? Walking, public transportation, PHLASH (when in operation, seasonally), hop-on-hop-off buses

Cost? Free!

 

Tiarella, or foamflower, thriving in downtown Philly at Sister Cities Park

Tiarella, or foamflower, thriving in downtown Philly at Sister Cities Park

Across the street from an amazing cathedral and Philadelphia’s most famous interactive science museum, Sister Cities Park is a satellite location of Independence Visitor Center. While you can buy discount tickets here for some of the places I’ve mentioned in this post, you can also experience a bit of one of north Philadelphia’s green spaces, Wissahickon Park.

If you have a car, skip the small stuff and drive up to experience the real thing. If you’re passing through downtown Philly, be sure to stop with your kids (or just if you’re a plant fanatic like myself) to enjoy the part Visitor Center-part kiddie pool-part Café-part ecologically friendly park, styled after the Wissahickon with a mini, meandering waterfall and native plants like Tiarella, blueberry and cranberry bushes, and wild columbine.

While the ground plants serve in a stormwater management system, the building itself in which our Visitor Center/café is installed also serves as a “green roof”, a roof of sedums, sage, and switchgrass absorbing rainwater and “minimizing heat-island effect”.


And whether I’m stationed at Sister Cities or our 6th-street Visitor Center location, come in and say hello, buy some discounted Flower Show tickets, and ask me for more recommendations – I can do more than bore the bullocks off of you with plant-related information, I promise.

Weeks 6 & 7 Under the Greenhouse: Soilless Soil & Seeds of all Sizes

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“Soil?” Happy Friendly Mist Guy said (to keep names confidential, we’ll stick to job titles plus personality trait). “Well actually, this is soilless medium. This whole operation we’re running is basically hydroponics — that’s why we have to mist the cuttings so much throughout the day.”

What’s all this? Soilless medium.

The Canna in question

The Canna in question

According to Upstart Farmers Network, soilless medium like ours contains “…no inorganic matter like sand, silt, or clay involved, which means that the mix technically isn’t soil.” The greenhouse’s particular brand states that it contains “long-fiber sphagnum peat moss, perlite and vermiculite.”

Perlite in particular, with it’s tiny, irregular grooves, has been demonstrated to have excellent water-retaining properties, leaching out the water when needed by the plant. The substance is actually volcanic glass and expands under high heat conditions and is inert, so it has no harmful effects on the plants.

All of which makes me feel very stupid for crushing the white pellets, thinking I was helping the plant take up the nutrients better – although it does feel pleasing to crush those pellets.

The other ingredient in our soilless mix is one of some controversy, being that it is also a nonrenewable source but comes from the bottom of bogs, some the biggest reserves being in Western Siberia and Canada.

While in the early 2000s, many papers came forward dooming the earth’s atmosphere from overharvesting peat bogs (peat bogs are carbon sinks, and it’s been argued that harvesting releases too much of the gas) like the very confident report, The Myth of Permanent Peatlands by Linda Chalker-Scott, there are scant reports of negative impacts of harvesting and instead reports of rehabilitated bogs and sustainable harvesting practices, especially in Canada.

The small, ridged seeds of Daucus carota (either wild or the cultivated form we’re all edibly familiar with), difficult to grasp or suction mechanically

Anyhow, back to our greenhouse medium — while the plants in the greenhouse are routinely misted and kept in high humidity under T5 fluorescent grow lights, the medium is important from the get-go and explains why every mint cutting I’ve taken home has failed to root in the rich, thick potting soil I purchased from Home Depot; the soil tends to become waterlogged, suffocating the roots and allowing fungus to flourish on the leaves. I also need to stop bringing home so many discarded cuttings — I think I’m developing an unhealthy addiction.

Moreso, since this soilless soil is so much more aerated than my store-bought actual soil, cuttings are easier to stick and can grow out their roots, apparently even transplants from starter trays that get smooshed into the the larger tray holes. One of my favorite and easiest to transfer is Canna, a plant that vexed me and my massive Facebook fanbase – my mother and a very correct former (and excellent) high school teacher of mine.

Initially, I had it from one authority at the greenhouse that the blue ball was the Canna seed itself — Happy Friendly Mist Guy, who I now defer to for all my botanical questions, confirmed my teacher’s comment that the blue layer is rather technically a coating, which is applied in a process known as pelleting.

While Canna does, not all seeds come in globular form, a form that so happens to make it easier for both machines (see video below) and people to grip the seed and place into the soil. Some are astoundingly minuscule, for example the seeds of Begonia species, one source measuring each at 1/100th of an inch (the frustration of planting of such seeds just gives me one more reason to hate on Begonias). Other record breakers include Petunias as well as mustard and orchid. Orchid species have claim to the smallest known, while mustard was once thought to be from biblical references.

And while it’s not the case for our Cannas at the greenhouse, some pelleting is applied for pesticidal purposes. Non-pesticide coating binder (holding the coating material together) can consist of “various starches, sugars, gum arabic, clay, cellulose, vinyl polymers, and water” according to the formula listed by one pelleting company.

So there, the mystery solved: no exotic birds with a penchant for 400-nm wavelengths, although we know plants that do use color to attract specific pollinators and vectors such as bees. But I’m all the wiser, and I now have a font of knowledge, Happy Friendly Mist Guy, who’s happy to attempt answering the infinite questions I have at the greenhouse, and an equally wise high school teacher who I’m now worried is shaking his head over my abysmal blog writing and use of “font of knowledge”.

So many cultivars of Canna! Salmon, Burgundy, Tropical Rose, Variegated, Dwarf, and on and on and on.

So many cultivars of Canna! Salmon, Burgundy, Tropical Rose, Variegated, Dwarf, and on and on and on.