Tag Archives: yellow

An Unexpected and (Re)Productive Study of the California Poppy

21 Mar

Sometimes, blown car tires lead to unexpected opportunities. While in California on our way to Monterey, our tire blew out on the freeway and very spectacularly separated itself from the rim. Our oldest son was driving and successfully steered the car to the side of the road, with the help of a kind truck driver, who stopped traffic in the right lane to let us over. While the spare tire was being put on, I noticed a cheery patch of poppies down a small hill, and headed there with my camera, whereupon I had an impromptu lesson in reproduction–of the floral kind.

The Golden State loves golden symbols, so it’s no surprise the California Poppy is the state flower. It’s a favorite of many gardeners, but also grows wild across California and elsewhere; masses of poppies make some Western mountains look as if they have been dusted with orange-yellow confetti. They also grow by the roadside, where I was lucky enough to get to study them for a little while. In that scraggly patch, there were poppies at all stages of development, from buds to full flowers, to seed pods.

The flower buds are encased in a calyx made up of two fused sepals; the papery cap slowly gets pushed off as the four overlapping poppy petals begin to unfurl.

Inside the cup-shaped flower itself are the stamens (pollen-tipped male reproductive organs) and the pistil (female organ), waiting for pollinators–usually bees, but also beetles and flies–to help ensure a new generation of Eschscholzia californica. This is the plant’s  very civilized (and somewhat passive) Plan A in terms of reproduction.

But, there’s a Plan B, too–and it’s a bit more lively. Once the poppy’s main flowering cycle comes to an end, the petals start dropping off, revealing an elongated seed pod (fruit) sitting on the disk-like torus. The pod gets longer and bigger, starts drying up in the sun, and finally bursts open, ejecting seeds as far as 6 feet away. This type of seed dispersal has a great name: explosive dehiscence.  Oh, how I wish I could have seen it in action.

So, what pollinators cannot achieve, the plant takes care of on its own, spreading its wealth just a bit further one seed pod at a time. Something to admire this April 6, which is California Poppy day.


Black-Eyed Susan: Inspiration for a Horticultural Adventure

12 Jul

Not  far from a mailbox near our house is a cheery patch of yellow flowers commonly known as Black-Eyed Susans.  When I went to confirm their scientific name (Rudbeckia hirta), I discovered that–much to my chagrin–they are the state flower of Maryland, which has been our home for the past 12 years. I have no excuse. I really had no idea, despite having some Black-Eyed Susans in the garden of our old house (also in Maryland). My current garden does feature a close cousin: some tall and graceful Rudbeckia maximas. I’m hoping I get some bonus points for that family connection….

This bout of state-related ignorance has inspired me to go from having no idea to having a nice idea: in two weeks, we will drive across the United States (from the West Coast back home to the East Coast). So my admittedly joyful task will now be to make note of each state flower along the route and see if I can take a picture of it. In the meantime, here is the lovely state flower of Maryland:

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring

3 May

When I think of Spring, I think of flowers and new life.  This Tulipa “Ballerina” is one the the earliest and cheeriest flowers in my garden, and a look inside the tulip reveals some essentials about plant reproduction.

This close-up focuses on the three-lobed stigma (the top-most section of the tulip’s female reproductive parts, known collectively as the pistil), which catches pollen via its sticky and fuzzy surface. The pollen then travels down the tube-like style to the ovary where  fertilization takes place (if the pollen came from a tulip plant), ultimately leading to the production of seeds. The six pollen-covered anthers (the top-most parts of the male reproductive organs, known collectively as the stamens) are blurred in the background; the stamens emanate from the base of the pistil.

Tulips are considered “perfect” flowers because they contain both male and female reproductive organs. They can self pollinate, but can also cross pollinate in the wild with the help of bees and other pollinators. Alas, most commercial tulips, including this one, are sterile hybrids. But the good thing is that tulips also reproduce via their bulbs, which allows gardeners to enjoy them anew each spring.

Flowers Above

27 Mar

Recently, when walking to and from work or through my garden or around my neighborhood, I have tended to keep my eyes at ground level, on the alert for early blooms and signs of spring. But this evening, in the magical hour before sunset, I looked up… and was immediately rewarded by the sight of emerging flowers on local trees, a glorious sight indeed–and a reminder that good things also come from above.

Red Maple flowers

Emerging Cornelian Cherry Dogwood flower cluster

Red Maple flower cluster, photographed on black table

Recipe: Red Lentils with Coriander and Cumin (Masoor Dal)

27 Feb

The first time I ever cooked red lentils, they promptly turned yellow and fell apart–which is what they are meant to do, only I didn’t know it then. Red lentils are lentils with the hulls removed; in addition, they are also usually split in half, so they cook (and disintegrate) fairly quickly. I look forward to this transformation, because the resulting golden, buttery, and aromatic stew-like dish is the ultimate comfort food served on top of rice, or even eaten on its own.

Most dal recipes call for spices cooked in oil (a tadka) to be added to the lentils at the end of the cooking time. This recipe also calls for cooked onions, garlic, and spices to be added at the beginning, too. Mmm good. And even better because my husband made the version shown below (pictured with brown rice). This dal is great the second day because it thickens slightly and the flavors deepen, so it’s an excellent make-ahead dish.

Red Lentils with Coriander and Cumin (Masoor Dal)

1 c. red split lentils (masoor dal)
4 c. water
2 tbsp. canola oil
1/2 large onion diced
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tbsp. butter (optional)
finely chopped cilantro (optional)
fried onions (optional)

1.  Pick over the lentils, rinse thoroughly in a fine-meshed colander, and place in a heavy-bottomed pot along with the 4 c. water. Bring to a boil over high heat and remove any foam that rises to the surface.
2. Heat the 2 tbsp. canola oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onion and cook until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the coriander seeds, ginger, and turmeric, and cook for 1 more minute. Add this mixture to the lentils; set the skillet to one side for later use.
3. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for about 30 minutes or until lentils are tender. The lentils will turn yellow as they cook and will disintegrate.
4. Toward the end of the lentils’ cooking time, heat the other 2 tbsp. oil in the same skillet over medium heat and add the cumin seeds. Let sizzle for a few seconds, then add the ground coriander and salt. Cook for 1 minute, then add the spices and oil to the lentils, along with the butter (if using). Stir to mix well.
5. Before serving, garnish with chopped cilantro and/or fried onions  if desired.

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

27 Nov

This photo is of something I was not expecting. During my recent trip to Rwanda, this gorgeous leaf formation caught my eye. I had never seen anything quite like it. It was a striking burst of color on an otherwise fairly bare branch. When I asked someone what it was, I was surprised to discover that it was a poinsettia, and that poinsettias can grow into small trees up to about 10 feet in height. I had no idea, because to my untrained eye this looks nothing like the potted poinsettias that abound at Christmastime (except perhaps for the red leaves). I’ll take the tree!

So an unexpected encounter led to an unexpected discovery — and I couldn’t be more delighted. The red leaves are called brachts; the actual poinsettia flowers are tiny and yellow.

Fall Colors

24 Oct

It’s that time of year–a time where I am loath to leave the warmth of my bed in the dark and chill of the morning, a coat is becoming a necessity, and the thermostat beckons. It is fall. But this crispness in the air brings with it a relief from the hot, muggy, dog days of summer and, even better, it brings vivid autumnal colors.

Here are some photos from a recent walk around my neighborhood and Rock Creek Park.

Rudbeckia maxima: A Natural Bird Feeder

21 Sep

Last year I discovered that while my two bird feeders were quite popular, there was another very attractive source of seeds in the yard that was equally as appealing to certain birds: the Rudbeckia maxima (Giant Coneflowers) I had planted near a wrought-iron fence. I watched one day as a small bird flew by, grabbed a stalk in its little talon, pulled the stalk over to the fence, and perched there, nibbling seeds off the cone.

Since then, I have been happy to share the flowers with the birds. I can see the attraction; the Rudbeckia are stunning–they are tall (about 7 ft.) and cheerful, with clumps of silvery-blue foliage and lovely yellow ray flowers pointing down from the base of the cone. The cone starts off light green but then turns dark brown as the plant matures and the seeds come in. And then, it’s buffet time for finches, chickadees, and other birds. A self-service seed bar, courtesy of Mother Nature.
Even after the petals have dried up and fallen off, Rudbeckia maxima seed heads can play a striking role in the autumn garden: here is a whole one and a section in close-up.


Bay Area 1: Berkeley–Town and Gown

22 Jul

I just spent a beautiful vacation week in Northern California, our former home of 6 years. During those years, diapers and baby bottles featured more prominently than flower beds and vegetable gardens, though I did manage to always have some lantana growing in a barrel in our courtyard–it looked just like this (I took many photos of lantana while on my trip for old time’s sake–I can’t grow it in Maryland):

I didn’t have much time for gardening in those days (I recall I foolishly signed up for a community garden plot while pregnant, spent days/weeks getting all the weeds out with two toddlers playing alongside me in the dirt, planted some vegetables, then had to hand the plot over to a neighbor when the baby came). The lantanas, which require no attention, were all I could manage.

But once the kids got bigger, my thumb got a bit greener–helped along by the lovely friends and neighbors who were so generous with advice during our time in Australia, which is a land of avid gardeners.  Armed with a perspective I did not have when we lived in Berkeley, I spent this visit looking at things with a new eye, admiring all the plants in bloom and taking full advantage of the wealth of botanic offerings on hand. In Berkeley alone there is the University of California Botanical Garden, the Botanic Garden at Tilden Park, and the Rose Garden. I made a pilgrimage to all those places, but found that there were beautiful things everywhere (yes, I did include a few non-botanical items….). Here are some highlights from Berkeley proper (to be followed later by highlights from the various gardens in Berkeley,  plus Sonoma Valley and Stanford/Palo Alto) :

A view of San Francisco Bay from Cesar Chavez Park,

a close up of the scroll work on Sather Gate on campus, as well as some Blue Salvia and

a Blue Potato Bush near Walden School in town, and

a copper Kangaroo Paw and a Redwood tree on campus.

Garden Pests: Meeting a Soapy End

5 Jul

Turns out, while we were busy laying a patio and admiring our zucchini crop, certain nefarious activities were taking place in the garden. I must be a bit slow on the uptake, because I only noticed a day or so ago that many of the large leaves on our exploding Hibiscus (Kopper King) were being eaten into oblivion. Upon closer inspection (and these days, I have to get quite close to see anything that small), I noticed tiny green caterpillars happily chomping away.

The green “caterpillars” are actually the larvae of the Hibiscus Sawfly (Atomacera decepta). The adult female Sawfly very kindly lays eggs on the leaves, viewing them as a great source of food for the next generation. And those larvae sure know how to eat–they pick the leaf clean. How they can eat that much leaf without falling into the void is beyond me, but I am certainly not going to waste any time worrying about them. I also have bigger bugs to battle. Here is a Japanese Beetle on a Rose of Sharon leaf. Clearly, both pests have similar tastes, though in this case I cannot appreciate their discerning palates.

What to do? Battle Tactic #1: Put on the garden gloves and flick the larvae and beetles into a bowl of soapy water. I positioned the bowl under each Hibiscus leaf where larvae were visible, and pushed them straight in. I lost count of how many larvae met their fate this way, but I only came across one Japanese Beetle–on the Hibiscus, not the Rose of Sharon.  The two Rose of Sharon plants looked suspiciously pest free early this morning; will have to check up on them later.

This skirmish goes to me–but I came in a bit late in the game, so the victor of the battle itself remains to be seen.