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Archive for the ‘Botany 101’ Category

When we moved into this house in December of 2004, my son Thomas and I planted several bags of bulbs purchased from the local nursery bulb bin sale. There wasn’t any landscaping here at the time and it was the season for planting them, so that was pretty much the first thing I ever did to the house to make it a home. Years later, the purple Gladioli still come up, bright luscious purple happiness. Ahh, home.


There are more than 250 species of Gladiolus, most of them native to South Africa. Gardeners call them bulbs, but they are technically a corm. Bulbs and corms look alike and are mostly treated the same, but the difference is on the inside. If you cut open a bulb, you’ll see it’s made of layers of modified leaves called scales. Like an onion.

But, if you cut open a corm, it’s solid tissue all the way through. What you’re planting when you plant a corm is a piece of stem, complete with nodes that will grow into a plant and roots and give you a big happy purple flower. When a root grows directly out of a stem or a leaf, it’s called adventitious – which mostly means it’s in an unusual place.

The brown papery skin covering on a Gladiolus corm is called a tunic, another modified leaf that the plant uses for protection from animals and insects, or getting soggy when there’s too much water in the soil. It also keeps too much moisture from escaping the stem before it can start to grow into a plant.

Some corms have contractile roots. This means that these roots will literally contract under ground in a way that pulls the corm deeper into the earth allowing for temperature control and space for growth above the original corm.

As a matter of self defense from animals who find them tasty, corms will develop cormels which are tiny and get left behind in the soil to grow new corms.


Some corms can be dug up, cut into pieces and replanted for more new plants.

I don’t dig mine up, I leave them be and they do their thing.

The older I get, the more I appreciate plants that do their thing without my intervention.

These are among my favorite plants in the garden, mostly because of their color and the ‘fleshy-ness’ of the flowers.

They bloom in Spring at the same time as the Matilija Poppy flowers and the color contrast is gorgeous.

The best photos are actually taken in the evening when the darker shades of purple don’t get washed out by the Sun.

I always take a hundred photos of every flower.

No, I do not think that’s excessive in any way.

Here’s a rare photo of Tom in the garden.

I made him pose there so I could see how tall the Gladiolus growing in the meditation circle gets. This one was about 6’4″. It’s always much taller than me.

Next year they’ll come up again and I’ll be reminded of my favorite color, a day fondly spent digging in the Earth with my son, and the ever-eternal optimism that is Spring.

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I’ve been busy and didn’t garden the past week. But, as always, Mother Nature moves on without me. The Tiger Lillies are in full bloom. Quite spectacular aren’t they?

Tiger Lily - yellowish white with brown spots - Summer 2011


The white ones may be my favorite. Something about the barely there lemon yellow tinting and fleshy-ness of the petals, the soft brown freckles.

Catching the light of the Summer Sun


But then again, the yellow ones are like fireworks and never fail to catch my eye in the garden when they’re blooming.

Like fireworks on the 4th of July


The shot below is the perfect way to study plant parts, should you be so inclined. The long yellow stem-like things with the fuzzy brown package at the end are the stamens which are made up of the filament (the little yellow stem-type part) and the anther (the fuzzy brown package). The anther is in the business of manufacturing pollen, which is what the fuzzy brown stuff is. The stamens, including the filament, anther and pollen, are the male part of the flower.

The yellow stem-like structure with the brown ring around the end hanging down in the center is the female part of the flower, or pistil. It’s made up of a stem-like tube called a style and the little brown ring at the end is called a stigma. At the base of the style, deep inside the flower, are the eggs and ovaries. Sperm cells from a grain of pollen left on the stigma (little brown ring) will germinate and grow its own delivery system, called a pollen tube, that extends down the style to get to the ovules at the base of the pistil in order to impregnate the eggs – and that’s basic plant sex. Woo! This complicated process is aided by all the spots and stripes and contrasting colors, which are actually road maps to let pollinators (bees and birds and such) know where all the action is, like Mother Nature’s version of flashing neon signs in the Red Light District. Didn’t know you were going to have a brief sex-ed class today, did you!? Happy Monday!

This is where the Magic happens

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This week, I finally got an extra afternoon hour to go outside! I decided to hang the beautiful birthday gift from my friends Matthew and Sherry: the perfect box for strawberries! Now perhaps I can enjoy my strawberries before the sow bugs get to them. Strawberries, by the way, are not actually berries. They are an ‘aggregate accessory fruit’ which means that the edible part is not a single fruit from the plant’s ovary, which basically defines a berry. What you’re eating is fleshy tissue that surrounds the ovary and those tiny seeds on the outside are actually ‘achenes‘ or tiny little crunchy ovaries with teeny tinier seeds inside. Now you know.

A box of strawberries - March 2011


Also, I got to play in the grass! This is what our grass looked like that day. This was two days ago, so it’s even taller now. It’s up past my knees. I’m five feet tall so that’s not saying much, but it is like a prairie in the backyard, thanks to the last rain. I haven’t watered the lawn in months and this is how good it looks!

back home on the prairie! March 2011


I really love the color and texture of spring grass! We could hide some wicked eggs in this.

what the world looks like to a grasshopper


What I really wanted to do was grab a blanket and take a nap in the afternoon sun. Today is Friday, the normal day for the man who mows our lawn….I hope so anyways!

time for bare feet and a good book


In the world of agriculture, the name for what happens when a rice crop falls over, like the grass in my photo below, is called ‘lodging.’ It’s bad because you cannot harvest a plant when it’s laying flat on the ground. So, the agri-dudes in charge crossed tall rice plants with shorter rice plants because shorter rice plants don’t ‘lodge’ and now they get higher crop yields. Now you know. See, there are times in life when being short is ideal – ha!

lodging! March 2011

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