Hayfever Means Spring

Cottonwood flowers_CanonCity-CO_LAH_0788

We’re all tired of being confined at home, and many of us are looking for any excuse to get outside—even though we’re pretty much limited to a walk in our neighborhood or puttering in our yard. But as much as I love to garden, I’m finding myself limiting my time outdoors. There’s pollen out there!

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Pollen Season

Ponderosa pollen_BlkForest-CO_LAH_7558-001For the past few weeks, my blue car has been yellow. Drifts of fine mustard-yellow dust cover our patio, our deck, and the floors indoors. I dust, and dust, and dust again; each time the rag comes up yellow. What is this dull yellow layer that covers everything? It’s pollen. More specifically, Ponderosa Pine pollen.

ponderosapollen - npsFor those of us who live with pine trees, the pollen season is a yearly event as predictable as the throngs of Miller Moths currently beating themselves to death against our windows, and happening at the same time of year. Because we had a lot of rain at the end of last summer, 2014 is particularly pollen-y. All those trees, once dying from thirst, have a new lease on life, and they’re taking full advantage.

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March Flowers

Populus tremuloides - Aspen @DBG LAH 184As I write this, the temperature outside is 10 degrees. Wind swirls snow into the air and howls around the eaves. It’s hard to believe anything is in bloom. Yet, some Colorado plants choose March as their best time to reproduce. Specifically, many trees are currently in full bloom—and I bet you haven’t noticed.

Unlike the showy flowers we grow in our gardens, the flowers of cottonwoods, junipers, and elms are not designed to attract pollinators. Rather, they rely on wind to disperse their pollen. It’s a hit-or-miss proposition, which is why these flowers produce clouds of the stuff—enough pollen so that some lands on another flower’s pistil, and plenty left over to aggravate our eyes and noses. It’s the flowers you don’t see that are out to get you.

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Seeds: Plants in Suspended Animation

Last month we talked about plant sex. If you missed that post, you can read it here. I’ll also post the same diagram from last time, from the University of Illinois Extension, so you can refer to it as we go along:flower12Imagine that the flowers in your garden are in full bloom. (I know, it’s still winter, but you can pretend.) The bees have been busy, and pollen from an anther has arrived at another flower’s stigma.  Now what?

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Where (plant) Babies Come From

Every spring, gardeners go out to plant. We prepare the soil and carefully bury a tiny seed. We might water, if the soil is dry. Mostly, we watch and wait. We fully expect that seed to germinate and grow to maturity. But what is actually happening beneath the warming soil? What is a seed, anyway? How does it know when to break dormancy and germinate? How does it know which way to grow? Since spring is approaching, I thought I’d write a series of posts on seeds—where they come from, what they are, what happens to make them grow. Continue reading “Where (plant) Babies Come From”

What are your flowers up to?

sex-in-your-gardenSex in your Garden, by Angela Overy

“In gardens, beauty is a by-product. The main business is sex and death.” —Sam Llewelyn

With the accuracy of a botanist and the flair of a Madison Avenue advertising agency, Angela Overy (yes, that’s her real name) has produced an exceptional guide to plants and sex. Lest you think this is a dull subject, let me assure you that you will be fascinated by her lurid descriptions of the myriad ways plants manage to achieve pollination.

As living things that can’t get up and pursue a mate, you would think plants are at a disadvantage when it comes to reproduction. Reading this book will dispel any such notions. Colors and scents are just the beginning. Some plants go to great lengths to please a pollinator, others actually eat those who try to help them. Bats, beetles, birds and, amazingly, possums join the ranks of those who do the plants’ dirty work. Even people get into the act.

I particularly love the way Overy juxtaposes photographs of flowers with pictures of models, largely taken from advertising. It seems that life is largely about selling, and we’re all going about it in the same way. Tantalizing forms, bright colors, offers of rewards … isn’t that how we make things attractive?

Enjoy this book and I promise—you’ll never again consider flowers in quite the same light.