February 2010

Gardens and Flowers of Honolulu

When you first step off

a plane at the Honolulu airport on the island of Oahu, the air, no matter what time of year it is, is scented with flowers and a hint of the sea. Hawaii truly is a garden paradise, and for my taste, the native plants rule. They are absolutely splendid, and there's always something in bloom. There are "exotic" tropical plants everywhere, in people's yards, in planters at store fronts, in median flower beds at malls and shopping center. The official state flower is the yellow hibiscus hibiscus brackenridgei, known as the pua aloalo in Hawaiian. The yellow hibiscus is a native plant, but there are a large number of hibiscus varieties and several colors that are flourishing in the islands.

The Dogwood Tree: Used to Crucify Jesus?

 You may have known that the flowering dogwood is Missouri’s state tree, but did you know that a Christian legend says that the dogwood was used to create the cross that Jesus Christ was crucified on? Here are some more quick facts about this pretty tree.

Along with Missouri, dogwoods are the state flower of North Carolina.

Dogwoods bloom in a variety of colors. While white blossoms are very popular, red and pink flowering dogwoods are just as beautiful if not more so.

The dogwood is said to have been the largest and strongest tree in Jerusalem—much larger than it is today. The story goes that Jesus shortened and twisted the tree after his resurrection to stop it from being used to crucify other people, and transformed the flower structures to resemble bloody crosses.

The Firecracker Plant

A common garden plant of Louisiana, the Russelia, or Firecracker Plant, has bright, brilliant red or yellow flowers. Each flower is shaped like a tall, thin vase and grows in clusters up to ten inches in length. An individual flower may grow up to 1.5 inches, while each flower’s stamen does not grow farther than the length of the petals. The shrubs grow up to nearly six feet in height and can live in partial shade or full sunlight.

New York Ironweed

With New York so often referred to as “The Iron Jungle” (sometimes rather fondly, sometimes not), it’s no wonder that one of the flowers of the state is the New York Ironweed. Scientifically known as the veronia noveboracensis, New York Ironweed is, yes, a weed—which really isn’t saying much, is it? After all, if sunflowers and dandelions—my daughter’s favorite plants—are known as weeds, any beautiful plant can be referred to as such a nuisance.

Holy Rollers and Monkeys Mixing in Pittsburgh

I know flowers are often given some pretty strange names--but the mitella pictured here are also known as "Bishop's Caps." 
Here are more flowers that are native to the Pennsylvania area and have similarly bizarre monikers: Goat's Beard, Monkey Flower, Virgin's Bower, Dutchman's Breeches, Nannyberry, Jack-in-the-Pulpit...
What's the weirdest plant or flower name you've come across?


Pretty Black-Eyed Susan Flowers of Denver

Who doesn’t love a pretty Black-Eyed Susan? They are just such gorgeous summer wildflowers. Sure, they’re hard to pick, but why pick them when you can leave them in the yard as a beautiful accent all summer long?

(And actually, picking them helped my daughter develop some muscle strength while she was in physical therapy as a toddler!)

Like many areas across the United States, Denver is home to these lovely yellow flowers. Bright yellow with dark purple, almost black centers, the flowers can grow up to three feet and are covered with coarse, short hair. They bloom from June to August and come in four different varieties.

In Defense of Flowers as Medicine

A rather pompous acquaintance of mine who once worked as a pharmacist assistant once remarked to me (and anyone else who would bear his complaints) that herbal remedies “certainly did not work,” and that there was absolutely no merit in using plants as medicine, and that we should strictly adhere to whatever the drug companies and pharmacies dole out to us without any supplement, since supplements do not work.

U. S. Botanic Garden: The Living Plant Museum of D.C.

In any other context, a living museum sounds pretty creepy. It conjures ideas of real people frozen as statues or stuffed inside wax, or perhaps caged for viewing a la Planet of the Apes. But when it’s a living plant museum, it doesn’t sound so bad; in fact, it sounds like a lot of fun.

And that’s just what the U.S. Botanic Garden is. Congress created the garden in 1820 in the National Mall, right across from the Capitol building. Now, after major renovations spanning for four years, the indoor garden features around 4,000 plants—both tropical and subtropical, usually seasonal. The U.S. Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden that’s continually operated in United States history and is maintained through the Architect of the Capitol.

Virginia's State Flower and Tree: The Flowering Dogwood

Virginia is the only state to have the same state tree as its state flower since 1918—the flowering dogwood.

Other names for the flowering dogwood include the cornus florida, benthamidia florida, American dogwood, Indian Arrowwood, False Boxwood, White Cornel, Cornelian Tree, and False Box. Many of these names are considered archaic and are not in common use.

The small tree is native to the east coast of North America, but can be found throughout the country as well as in Canada. Some notable areas that the tree can be found in besides Virginia include eastern Kansas, southern Main to southern Ontario, Illinois, Florida, eastern Texas, and Mexico. The tree is also the state tree of Missouri.

The Jamaica Caper: A Miami Exotic Tree

When it comes to the coastal regions, tropical plants are often native rather than invasive species. Florida has a wide variety of exotic trees, flowers, and other flora in particular. One tree that southwest Florida—especially Miami—is known for is the Jamaica Caper Tree.

Also known as the capparis cynophallophora, caper bushes, caper shrubs, or capparaceae, this small tree—also available as a shrub—is generally used as a widely cultivated accent piece within the garden. It also provides generous cover and food for local wildlife. Some homeowners opt to use the popular tree to create jazzy informal hedges or buffer plantings around a landscape. In the wild, it can usually be found in thickets as well as coastal hammocks.