This site is for people who like plants -- growers, enthusiasts, aesthetes, novices and professionals, those who appreciate wild things and those who appreciate the cultivated. I garden in Chelsea, and I've been visiting people's yards for 20+ years in the course of my work. My goal is to make this blog a community project, so if you share my interests, please consider becoming a participant and contributing content -- Guerin. Info:

Monday, July 25, 2011

When good plants go bad

GreenStreet was called by the city of Ann Arbor after midnight to take care of a tree that split apart in Burns Park and was threatening to fall across a driveway and onto the sidewalk. At 2:00 a.m., as we were completing the work, a neighbor came out of his house in his pajamas and loudly complained, "Can't you see that people are trying to sleep! Do you have permit for this!?"

Uh, no, we've just been falling behind so we thought we'd run a midnight shift.

But driving through Ann Arbor at 3:00 a.m. to get back to the shop was an eye-opener. It was as if all the people you see during the day had been replaced by animals -- raccoons, possums, deer -- and skunks moseying down the sidewalks with their briefcases!

the entire lot is filled with sprouts
Another plant that went bad was a tree-of-heaven on Felch St near our office. It was cut to the ground. Then it sent up sprouts from the roots. Then these were cut down, and the number of root sprouts increased by a factor of five. Here's a picture from last week. The growth you see is from just two seasons.

I have more pictures of good plants going bad, but if you can't find the humor in a good phallic image, proceed no further. I'm serious. This could ruin my good reputation -- like the way this latest scandal at the News Corporation has marred the good reputation of Rupert Murdoch. Go ahead and click for more, but only if you promise not to hold it against me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A "blue" Corydalis that still stands

Remember when those blue-flowered Corydalis strains were being sold in the nurseries and markets? And people would take them home, and the plants looked so impressive for a month or so until they disappeared mid-summer. And then the nursery-workers would explain that these strains were summer-dormant and would return in the spring. But of course the plants didn't come back in the spring, and you and I and everyone figured we were just bad gardeners and must have done something wrong.

But maybe you had a different experience. If so, tell me. But, truly, you just don't see those plants in the trade anymore.

what I found today in my garden

And just last week I was wondering what ever happened to the famous Corydalis 'ex Dufu Temple' that I got from Arrowhead Alpines many years ago. Unlike those other blue members of the genus, this one would lightly seed around and provide years of satisfaction without being a nuisance. But I couldn't recall when I had last seen it. Well, I discovered today that I still have it in the garden, and I am hoping the ants do their job of spreading it around some more.

A final note on Corydalis: if you are ever offered C. incisa, run away. It's a nice enough plant, but you won't be able to contain it as it seeds around much too prolifically. And another final note: our native 'rock harlequin,' C. sempervirens, is a most lovely thing. I used to grow it, but it's not very perennial. I miss it. Look for it up north in rocky, gravelly, disturbed sites. Collect some seeds. Bring them to me.

Always the best orange

There's no better orange than that of our fabulous, familiar, native butterfly-weed, i.e., Asclepias tuberosa. Go west of Ann Arbor into the dry hills of the Pinckney and Waterloo Recreation areas and you'll see it everywhere. Go east of Ann Arbor and I don't know what you'll see because I hardly ever go in that direction. For those who take great offense to seeing the color orange in the garden, nice yellow strains have been developed. But the orange works just fine for me, thank you very much.

photo courtesy of 'world wide web'
Here's something about the milkweeds that I learned in plant systematics and continue to appreciate today: the pollen of milkweeds doesn't just lie there like so much dust; instead it comes packaged in little saddlebags (called pollinia) that get caught up in the feet of pollinating insects. These insects then act as postal workers, carry these saddlebags to another flower, and the saddlebags slip into little slots on the receiving end. How unlikely is that??

Note pollinia on front right leg (thank you anon for photo)
A fun project for the curious: take a pin or a fine pair of tweezers and you can actually pull out the odd little mechanisms from a ripe flower. A hand lens or a stereo dissecting scope helps with the closeups. (Consider getting a dissecting scope -- they are useful for all kinds of tasks, and the Chinese have made them very affordable).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Around town with corktrees

The corktree is a hardy and handsome shade-tree from Asia that has made it onto the short list of trees recommended by Michigan Extension and the City of Ann Arbor. The corktree is also on the list of noxious invasive pests published by the Bureau of Land Management. Read on and then go figure.
One of many on Brooks
The Amur corktree, Phellodendron amurense, likely made its first appearance in Ann Arbor at Nichols Arboretum in 1920. Additional plantings were made in subsequent years of that decade, and there may(!) remain several large specimens in the glade at the bottom of the hill. Around town you might run into the occasional mature specimen growing in yards in older residential areas. The City of Ann Arbor also started planting them in modest numbers along the sidewalks starting in the 70's.
a specimen at Felch/Miner
The overall form of the corktree is distinct -- assuming you are practiced in that kind of thing. The tree can can be told from a distance by its shelf-like branching, somewhat resembling a menorah. Typically with a short trunk, it often grows at least as wide as tall. The bark is light-grey and corky, although 'cork' as a product is not derived from this tree.

Another Brooks St specimen
You might confuse a corktree for the more familiar ash. Both groups have stout twigs on which pinnately-compound leaves are arranged in pairs.  The cork-tree leaf, however, will emit a turpentine aroma when crushed (the tree is in the citrus family); and the twigs never have a terminal bud.

The fruit, when fresh, looks like a small cherry. Older fruit can be retained for a year, in which case it is hard and dark. Both smell just like the fruit of our local Zanthoxylum (prickly-ash, which is also a citrus relative), and a lot like sumac fruit and the rind of a lime.

The tree's bad reputation comes from its tendency to appear as a volunteer in unwanted places. Matthaei Botanical Gardens director Bob Grese said, "I don't know if I would plant any more of these trees." He said the Arb workers have had to pull out thousands of seedlings. The plant is also shows up in city parks that are being restored as natural areas.

Whereas cork-tree hasn't yet made it onto the list of "Least Wanted" trees in Michigan, it has proven to be a locally noxious pest in the New York City Parks, several Audubon wildlife sanctuaries in eastern Massachusetts and around Philadelphia.

To visit some local corktrees,  check the out two largish specimens growing along the driveway entrance to Matthaei Botanical Gardens. In town a very interesting specimen graces the front lawn at 513 Onondaga; and on the west side you can admire a tall specimen at 1937 Ivywood. And let me know if any of these have been removed, if you would. Some city street-side plantings are found at the corner of Fifth St and Pauline (on Fifth), 1111 Miner, 1129 Bydding and along Brooks starting in the 1000 block.

Mimosa in Michigan

Isn't the mimosa a plant of the deep south? Well, it's close to 100 degrees today, and there's one of them in full flower on West Liberty. Kind of cool to see it here. This Asian species is a popular tree in the southern states, due to its ferny foliage and attractive flowers. It also one of those pesty things that seeds itself along roadsides and in disturbed sites at every opportunity. You might even call it a kind of biological pollution. But I'm staying away from terms such as 'unwanted introduced alien' -- too politically loaded.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why all the spruce tree decline?

At GreenStreet Tree Care, every other phone call to the office concerns spruce trees that are turning shades of purple and brown, dying from the bottom, or just plain crapping out. There is no short answer to this big problem. Michigan State University recently published a great article updating what we know (and don't know) about the recent surge in spruce decline. Check it out if you are interested.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Climbing hydrangea: watch it grow

Schizophragma hydrangeoides is called 'climbing hydrangea' as is the more common Hydrangea petiolaris, but today I'm really digging on the former (digging, as in 'liking'). They are both plants so vigorous that you can sit back and watch them grow. They flag only in the driest of conditions. But my Schizophragma is growing in 'soil' that could be packaged directly for use in a sand-box, and I have never given it supplemental water. Wow. It flowers a week or two later than its more common cousin, and the flower clusters are surrounded by white paddle-shaped bracts to bring in the pollinators. I'd pollinate that, thank you.