Tag Archives: plants

Botanical Garden of Rome (Orto Botanico)

29 Sep

Sometimes, after a week spent dealing with the logistical and bureaucratic aspects of moving to a new country (opening a bank account in Italy and accessing online banking are not for the faint-hearted, for example), all you want is a tiny bit of peace. That can be hard to find anywhere near the usual sights of Rome. But there are two spots where it is possible if you get to each when they open: the walled-in ‘Non-Catholic” Cemetery in Testaccio (burial place of Keats, Shelley, and other luminaries), which I will write about later, and the Botanical Garden of Rome in Trastevere, which is featured in this post. Despite having lived in Rome before, we had never been to this lovely spot; beyond the horticultural appeal, it would have been a fantastic, open place to take our (then young) children and let them run around. That is why you should get there right when it opens, especially on weekends–Roman families start arriving later in the morning.

Entrance sign; View of fountain

Hybrid Tea Rose ‘Altesse;’ White Gossypium (cotton) flower

White water lily and its reflection; Ferocactus pilosus (cactus)

View from Medicinal Garden; Tropical Greenhouse

Giant Water Lily pad; a young pad unfurling

–More photos from the Botanical Garden of Rome here.

Plants: Why it Pays to Be Prickly

5 Apr
Didierea madagascariensis (Octopus Tree)

Didierea madagascariensis (Octopus Tree), close-up

While most people would bristle at the thought of being called prickly, a plant would consider it quite the compliment.

For us, prickliness has negative connotations. A prickly disposition means someone is easily irritated, a prickly sensation is one that is itchy and scratchy, and a prickly situation is one to avoid.

But for a plant, prickliness pays. It is a protective adaptation that allows the plant to survive while facing multiple challenges, the main one being herbivores hoping for a nice snack. In my garden, carnivores of the canine variety are the bigger problem; their rampages through the flower beds in pursuit of squirrels have felled less-protected plants. But even they now know not to tear through the rose garden.

In common parlance, the terms “prickles,” “thorns,” and “spines” are often used interchangeably, but botanically speaking, they are different things: prickles come from a plant’s epidermis (the outermost cell layer) and break off quite easily, thorns are modified plant stems, and spines are modified leaves or parts of leaves. Rose “thorns” are actually prickles.

In this post, I’ll focus on spines. Why? Because it still boggles my mind that spines are ….  (modified) leaves.

Didierea madagascariensis                                       Pachypodium lamerei

Aside from being a source of protection, spines serve an important function for xeric plants (xerophytes: plants that have adapted to survive in environments with little water; cacti, aloes, agaves and other succulents are xeric plants). In desert areas, most plants with large, thin, flat leaves wouldn’t last very long; they would lose too much water. So desert plants had to adapt, or die. One of their adaptations was the modification of leaves into spines. Compared to traditional leaves, spines have a very small surface area, which reduces water loss. They reflect sunlight, deflect drying winds, and provide shade to the plant. At night, when it’s cooler, spines collect and drip condensed water vapor.

Knowing all this has expanded my thinking about “prickliness;”  in this case, the pricklier the situation, the better!

Cleistocactus winteri (Golden Rat Tail cactus)


Tis the Season for…Crape Myrtle

31 Jul

It’s that time of year. All over our neighborhood, Crape Myrtles (also known as Crepe Myrtles) are in bloom.  The long-flowering trees and shrubs originated in Asia, but made their way to the southeastern part of the United States more than 200 years ago after a pit stop in Europe. With so many different sizes and colors to choose from, there is bound to be a Crape Myrtle for almost every garden.

Our Siren Red is a relatively small variety–it will only be about 10 feet tall when fully mature, which is just right for our townhouse yard.  Of course, I also thought the Porcupine Grass was just right for our yard, but failed to adequately imagine what 8-foot tall clumps of  vibrant ornamental grass would look like at their peak; with two of them on either side of the Crape Myrtle, it is in danger of becoming the filling in a Porcupine Grass sandwich. I’m hoping the Crape Myrtle will soon outgrow the Porcupine Grass. If not, I’ll have to think of a Plan B.

I chose the Siren Red because of its size, and also because of its beautiful deep-red flowers. With crimson-colored new-growth foliage that turns green, and berry-like buds, every part of Siren Red is a pleasure to behold: