Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

Earth Day Park

During this lunchtime bike ride, I discovered a very small park wedged into a narrow strip of land along 9th Street, stretching from Independence Avenue to C Street (MAP), and situated between the Federal Aviation Administration Building and the U.S. Department of Energy Building.  The land also serves as the roof of  the Interstate-395 Tunnel.  A small sign at the northern end identified it as Earth Day Park.  Having passed by it many times without ever noticing or hearing about it, I decided I needed to find out more.    

It turns out that the park was a combined effort of several government agencies, including the U.S. Energy Department, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the General Services Administration, and the D.C. Department of Transportation.  Apparently enough employees from the adjacent government buildings, including Department of Energy Secretary Hazel R. O’Leary, had gotten tired of seeing the neglect of this weedy, trash-strewn piece of land located adjacent to their buildings.  So contact was made with the General Services Administration, which manages and supports the land and buildings and basic functioning of federal agency facilities, who then coordinated the building of the park with the D.C. Department of Transportation, who owned the land.

Earth Day Park has a number of unusual aspects to it.  As part of the celebration of Earth Day 1994 President Bill Clinton outlined a series of recommendations for Federal agencies to increase “Environmentally and economically beneficial policies on Federal landscaped grounds.”  Earth Day Park embodies these “greening” principles.

The park utilizes solar energy, including an array of photovoltaic cells on top of the sign at the front of the park,  to provide electricity for the lamp posts and lighting.  The park also incorporates the use of different plants.  For example, it uses dwarf ornamental grass instead of lawn perennials and annuals, reducing the need for gasoline powered mowers, edgers and trimmers along with fertilizers and pesticides.  The park’s use of mulch and drought tolerant plant species, as well as the raised beds, allows for moisture to be retained by the soil, thus conserving water.   And the use of regional plant material, adapted to local climate and biological conditions,  provides a unique ecosystem that increases the rate of success of the plants.

And because of the incorporation of these principles, Earth Day Park requires far less maintenance than that of a traditionally developed park, making it a truly “green” park.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

NeabscoBoardwalk (1)

For this long holiday weekend I decided to get away for a little while.  And there is such a diversity of things to see and do in the local area that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to experience something new and different.  So this morning I went for a bike ride at the newly-built Neabsco Creek Boardwalk, located about 30 miles south of D.C. on the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail at 15125 Blackburn Road in Woodbridge (MAP), Virginia. 

The three-quarters of a mile long, 10-feet wide boardwalk, which includes a two-story observation deck, opened just last month.  It traverses Neabsco Creek, and allows bikers and hikers access to wetlands where the tall grasses and marsh filter pollution from the river and provide a rich habitat for great blue herons, wood ducks, mallards, sparrow and red-winged blackbirds, just to name a few of the winged wildlife known to populate the area.

The 3.8 million dollar boardwalk is designed to showcase Woodbridge’s most valuable natural asset — the Potomac Waterfront.  The boardwalk is compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and encompasses educational sites that highlight information on native wildlife and plants.  Guided tours are also occasionally offered.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors recently voted to combine the Neabsco Creek Boardwalk with the Julie J. Metz Wetlands Park, the Rippon Lodge Historic Property, Kings Highway, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and Rippon Landing Neighborhood Park, and designated the combined recreation and historic sites as the Neabsco Regional Park.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

NeabscoBoardwalkAir01

Aerial view of the boardwalk, courtesy of Prince William County.

The Annual Smithsonian and Botanical Gardens Orchid Exhibit

On today’s lunchtime bike ride, I stayed with this past week’s “floral theme” (magnolias and cherry blossoms) and went to an exhibit of another kind of blooms.  Entitled “Orchids: Amazing Adaptations,” the temporary exhibit is the 24th annual orchid display, which is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Gardens and the United States Botanic Garden, and was hosted this year by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery (SAAM/NPG).  The orchids are on display in the glass-ceilinged Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard of the SAAM/NPG, located at 8th and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood.

To best appreciate Orchids: Amazing Adaptations, it is helpful to first know what makes an orchid an orchid.  Although they come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, they all share three basic features:  the number of petals; a distinctive middle petal, and; a column.  Orchids have three outer petals, known as sepals, and three inner petals. The sepals help protect the inner petals, which are often highly elaborate.  An orchid’s distinctive middle petal, known as its lip or labellum, is often large and complex. It is designed to attract pollinators and may look like a pouch or an insect.  And in most orchids, the male parts (stamens) and the female parts (style and stigma) are joined together in a single organ, known as a column. Located opposite the lip, this is where pollinators pick up and deposit pollen.

Orchids are masters at evolving to survive, and their ability to adapt to different habitats not only make these plants amazing, but has resulted in them being one of the most widespread and diverse plant families on earth.  There are more than 28,000 species of orchids and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica.  And this year’s Smithsonian orchid exhibit focuses on and explores how they have adapted to a myriad of different habitats, climate conditions, and other living organisms.

An orchid’s leaves, roots, and flowers provide clues about the habitat in which it lives and what pollinates it.  Orchids with thick, fleshy leaves tend to grow on other plants or rocks, and use their leaves to store food and water during dry times, while orchids with thin leaves tend to grow on the ground, where moisture is more plentiful.  Orchids with roots covered in a white coating tend to grow on other plants.  This coating, called velamen, acts like a sponge, helping soak up and store water and nutrients.  Orchids with long, thick, fleshy roots tend to live on the ground. They use their roots to store food in environments where the climate changes seasonally.  And finally, orchid flowers have adapted their shapes, smells, and colors to attract pollinators. Their symmetrical shape helps them attract specific pollinators and transfer pollen effectively.

These differences in their leaves, roots and flowers have enabled orchids to not only survive, but to thrive.  And the vast differences in appearance and aroma that have developed among different orchids in the process of adapting make them infinitely interesting.  Sadly, not all 28,000 species of orchids are included in the exhibit.  But the exhibit does have a stunning variety of hundreds of diverse orchids on display.  And with the magnolias gone, and the cherry blossoms past their peak, the orchid display makes for a picture-perfect completion of the past week’s “floral trifecta.”     

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

NOTE:
The Smithsonian Garden and U.S. Botanic Garden’s 24th annual orchid exhibit runs through April 28, 2019, is open daily from 11:30am until 7:00pm, and is free to the public.

About Smithsonian Gardens:
Smithsonian Gardens has designed and managed the Smithsonian’s grounds and interior plant displays in D.C. since 1972.  Smithsonian Gardens enriches the Smithsonian experience through permanent garden displays, horticultural exhibits, collections and education.  The Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection, which was started in 1974, contains more than 8,000 hybrids and species.  And through the North American Orchid Conservation Center, based at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland, Smithsonian Gardens is dedicated to conserving America’s diverse orchid heritage.

About the U.S Botanic Garden:
The United States Botanic Garden is oldest botanic garden in North America. The Botanic Garden informs visitors about the importance and fundamental value and diversity of plants, as well as their aesthetic, cultural, economic, therapeutic and ecological significance. With over a million visitors annually, the Botanic Garden strives to demonstrate and promote sustainable practices. The U.S. Botanic Garden is actually a museum, a living plant museum, and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

The Magnolias at the Enid A. Haupt Garden

Today the cherry blossoms here in D.C. begin their “peak bloom.”  Peak bloom is defined by the National Park Service as the day when 70 percent of the cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin are open.  But the best time to see the cherry blossoms, depending on the weather, is four to seven days after peak bloom.  So I will be posting some photos of this year’s cherry blossoms later in the week.

During this lunchtime bike ride, I went out to see one of the cherry blossoms’ seasonal precursors, magnolia blossoms.  There are many places throughout D.C. where there is an abundance of magnolia trees, such as the U.S. National Arboretum, Rawlins Park, and Lafayette Square Park, to name just a few.  But on this bike ride I stopped by the Enid A. Haupt Garden, located at 1050 Independence Avenue (MAP) in the Southwest portion of D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. 

The garden is named after Enid Annenberg Haupt, an American publisher and philanthropist who, as an heiress to a family fortune, was able to make significant contributions to her personal causes and interests, including the arts, architectural and historic preservation, and cancer research.  But foremost among her interests and philanthropic endeavors was horticulture.  Her devotion to restoring and maintaining gardens around the country and the world earned Haupt a reputation as “the greatest patron American horticulture has ever known.”

The garden opened on May 21, 1987 as part of the redesigned Smithsonian Castle quadrangle, which was financed by a three-million dollar endowment Haupt provided for its construction and maintenance.  Initially approached with a request that she finance a small Zen garden within the quadrangle, after a review of the plans Haupt said that she was “not interested in putting money into a Zen garden … I’m only interested in financing the whole thing.”

The Haupt Garden is a public garden in the Smithsonian complex.  It is situated on just over four acres between the back of the Castle and Independence Avenue, and features an embroidered parterre in a geometric design of plants and flowers rotated seasonally, an Asian-influenced garden adjacent to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and a Moorish-influenced garden adjacent to the National Museum of African Art, and wide brick walks, and 19th-century cast-iron garden furnishings from the Smithsonian Gardens’ Garden Furniture Collection line the perimeter.

But it was the saucer and tulip magnolias that I went to the park to enjoy today.  The magnificent trees do not have the same history and fame as do the cherry trees that line the nearby Tidal Basin, but these magnolias are equal in beauty with their more famous counterparts.  And the aroma of the magnolia blossoms filled the air.  It was a great way to spend the first day of the cherry blossoms’ peak bloom.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Update (4/4/2019):  What a difference a few days make.  The photo (below) is of the same magnolia trees three days after the first photo (above).  So if you’re going to come see them next year, make sure your timing is right.  The brevity of the magnolia blossoms is similar to that of the cherry blossoms.

Cherry Blossom Buds

Every year, the National Park Service, whose horticulturists care for D.C.’s famous and historic cherry trees, issues a prediction for when 70 percent of the blooms on the trees will be open.  This is known as “peak bloom.” And depending on weather conditions, peak bloom can last anywhere from four to ten days.  But it should also be noted, however, that different individual trees will still be blooming before and after the actual peak.

Yesterday the Park Service tweeted out its peak bloom prediction for 2019. This year, if all goes as planned, more than 70 percent of the blossoms on the trees around the tidal basin will flower between April 3 and April 6.  It should be noted that the prediction is subject to change as we get closer to the predicted dates.  Fluctuations in temperature and weather conditions between now and then can affect the accuracy of the prediction.  Warmer weather will lead to a faster peak bloom, and colder weather could delay it.  So the prediction is subject to being updated.  And it often is.
Last year the trees’ blossoms reached peak bloom on April 5.  And in 2017 it was on March 25.  The average peak bloom date is April 4.  So if this year’s current prediction holds steady, the peak should occur very close to the average date.  It would also fall near the middle of this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival, which is scheduled to run from March 20th to April 14th.

On this lunchtime bike ride, I rode by the Tidal Basin (MAP), and stopped at The Indictor Tree to witness in person the beginning of the blooming process.  And I was not disappointed.  There are already green buds on the trees, which is the first stage in the blooming process.  And while they are not blooms, they are beautiful in their own way.  Many say that the beauty and brevity of the blossoms symbolizes the life, which is beautiful but brief.  In keeping with this symbolism, I think the impending blooms signaled by the green buds make the buds symbolic of the hope and promise of life.

Note:  Here are some links to past years’ posts about D.C.’s cherry blossoms:
•  Photo Gallery of this Year’s Cherry Blossoms (2018)
•  Cherry Blossom Stages of Development (2018)
•  The Indicator Tree (2018)
•  This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch (2017)
•  The Amur Cork Tree (2017)
•  The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin (2017)
•  Sunrise with the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Peaking of the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Annual Cherry Blossoms (2015)
•  The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin (2014)
•  The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum (2014)

The Orchid Room at the United States Botanic Garden

During today’s lunchtime bike ride, I started off the month by once again stopping by the United States Botanic Garden, located near the U.S. Capitol Building at 1st Street & Maryland Avenue (MAP) in Downtown D.C.  In operation since 1850 and in its current location since 1933, the United States Botanic Gardens houses numerous themed rooms, and is home to almost 10,000 living specimens, some of them over 165 years old.  During this visit I stopped by to spend some time appreciating the flowering plants in The Orchid Room, which are presented annually in collaboration with the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection.

With blooms that are often colorful and fragrant, orchids are easily distinguished from other plants based on some very evident, shared derived characteristics, know as apomorphies.  Among these are:  bilateral symmetry of the flower, also referred to as zygomorphism; many resupinate flowers; a nearly always highly modified petal  orlabellum; fused stamens and carpels, and; extremely small seeds.

Orchids showcase a wide spectrum of color, shape, size, habitat, and scent, and with approximately 30,000 species are one of the two largest and diverse families of flowering plants.  The other are daisies.  And over the past 80 million years, orchids have successfully colonized every continent except Antarctica, and almost every conceivable habitat, from remote Mediterranean mountaintops to living rooms around the world.

And one of the secrets to their success is unusual and highly specialized pollination methods.  Many orchids provide food for insects and birds and even more have symbiotic relationships with micro-organisms that assist with nutrient cycling in the ecosystem.  Butterflies and moths are enticed to pollinate orchids that resemble flowers they normally feed on or orchids that provide a landing area and sufficient nectar rewards. Moth-pollinated orchids tend to have strong nighttime fragrances to attract their pollinators from great distances.  And in higher-elevation cloud forests where there are fewer pollinators, some orchids have evolved to have brightly colored tubular flowers with large nectar rewards to entice hummingbirds.

But the most unusual method is employed by the Ophrys apifera, also known as the “bee” orchid.  The bee orchid, or the “prostitute” orchid as it is less politely called by some botanists, has what is probably the most unusual pollination method.  It can best be described as sex, or pseudo-sex.  Small but flamboyant, the bee orchid is one of nature’s great mimics. Perched within the large pink sepals are petals shaped and colored like a visiting bee. The pink sepals look like wings and there are furry, brown lips that have yellow markings just like a bee.  But the deception goes further than visual appearance alone.  The flower takes on the tactile experience, and even emits the scent, of a female bee.  But the orchid offers the bee no nectar reward or pollen meal.  Instead, it attracts amorous male bee pollinators with the promise of bee sex to ensure its pollination.

So the next time you are walking through The Orchid Room, or admiring the beauty of some orchids, keep in mind that there is often more to them than meets the eye.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

More May Flowers

Posted: May 31, 2018 in Gardens, Photos
Tags: , ,

More May Flowers

The city’s cherry blossoms are world renowned, attracting millions of visitors during their peak bloom, which usually occurs during the month of April.  Sadly, many of those visitors then leave without being here to see the beautiful blooms that are here during the following month.  But the month of May should not be overlooked when it comes to beautiful blooms.  Although the cherry blossoms are usually long gone by the time May arrives, the variety of the flowers blooming during May are every bit as beautiful as the more famous cherry blossoms, as these photos show.

Much like last year’s post, the photographs in this blog post are some of the ones I took during the month of May. There are thirty-one photos included in this post, one for each day during the past month. I chose them based on the photo itself, and not just the flower in it. But I also tried to include photos of a variety of flowers so as to show the diversity and beauty of the gardens and grounds of many of this city’s homes, where all of these photos were taken.

I’d also like to remind you, however, that I am not a professional photographer and I do not have a fancy camera. These photos, like all the ones in this blog, were taken with my cell phone. I think they turned out fairly well though. So be sure to click on the thumbnails for the larger versions so you can see the intricacy, complexity and the full beauty of the flowers. And I hope you enjoy these photographs as much as I enjoyed riding around and taking them.

 

[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Photo Gallery of this Year’s Cherry Blossoms

The  much anticipated peak bloom for this year of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin has officially arrived.  The National Park Service originally predicted at a press conference on March 1, that D.C.’s iconic cherry blossoms would reach their peak bloom for 2018 between March 17th and 20th.  But after an unusually warm February, March was much cooler than normal.  In fact, March actually ended up being colder than February.  So although the cherry blossoms got off to an early start, their progress slowed considerably in the subsequent cooler temperatures.  So on March 12, the Park Service revised the prediction to between March 27th and 31st.  Then on March 23, they pushed it back again to between April 8th and the 12th.  Judging that 70 percent of the buds had reached the “puffy white” stage, the final development stage before peak bloom, on April 1st, the Park Service once again adjusted their prediction, and on April 3rd they moved it up to between April 5th and 8th.  And they were correct.  The blossoms are now in peak bloom.  But they will only be that way for a few more days.  And if the weather forecast of snow for Saturday is correct, they will be gone after tomorrow.  So hurry and get to D.C. if you want to see this natural spectacle.  But if you can’t, enjoy these photos that I took earlier this afternoon.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  Here are some links to past years’ posts about D.C.’s cherry blossoms:
•  Cherry Blossom Stages of Development (2018)
•  The Indicator Tree (2018)
•  This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch (2017)
•  The Amur Cork Tree (2017)
•  The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin (2017)
•  Sunrise with the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Peaking of the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Annual Cherry Blossoms (2015)
•  The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin (2014)
•  The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum (2014)

1 20160311_141244     2 2016-03-21 14.55.17     3 2016-03-21 14.06.22

4 2016-03-21 14.13.26     5 2016-03-21 14.56.48
[Click on the thumbnails above to view extremely high resolution photos]

Horticulturalists at the National Park Service are predicting that the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin here in D.C. will peak sometime between this coming weekend and the following Tuesday.  One of the methods by which they make this prediction is by gauging the stages of development of the buds on the indicator tree and then comparing that to the development of the buds on the other trees.

There are basically four stages of development for cherry blossoms before they reach their peak bloom.  The first stage is referred to as the green buds stage. This stage, when green color begins to be visible in the small brownish buds, usually occurs between late February and early March.  Cherry blossoms emerge before the leaves on the trees do, and the first sign of their impending arrival are green buds on the branches of the tree.

In the second stage of development florets begin to be visible as the buds slowly open.  This routinely occurs from early to mid March, and anywhere between 12 and 17 days before peak bloom.

The middle stage is referred to as peduncle elongation.  This may be my favorite stage for no other reason than just because of the name.  This is when the blooms grow stems and emerge outward from the buds.  When this stage occurs it is usually about 5 to 10 days until peak bloom.  However, this stage is very susceptible to weather, particularly frost, which can delay the process.

The last stage of development before peak bloom is referred to as puffy white.  This applies to all blossoms, regardless of color.  This averages between four and six days prior to peak bloom, and is characterized by the blooms begin to open up.

Finally, the tree’s peak bloom arrives.  How long the bloom last depends on how long they have been exposed to cold temperatures.  A warm spell in the 60s or 70s will produce blooms lasting four to five days, while colder temperatures could extend the blooming period so that it lasts between seven and 10 days.

Interestingly, during the blooming stage not all blossoms remain the same color.  Many are dark pink when in bud, lighter pink when they first blossom, and then eventually pale pink or white.  Others may open as a white flower and change color to pink over the course of a few days.

The entire blossom season is relatively short.  Full bloom, known as mankai in Japanese, is usually reached within about one week after the opening of the first blossoms, or kaika.  Another week later, the blooming peak is over and the blossoms are falling from the trees like snow from the sky.  Strong wind and rain or other adverse weather can cut the blooming season even shorter.  So don’t hesitate going.  If you do, you may be too late.

Note:  After enlarging it, see if you can find the photo-bomber in the photo for the Green Buds stage.

The Poinsettia Room at the United States Botanic Garden

The Poinsettia is particularly well known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays.  No flower says Christmas like the beautiful Poinsettia.  I particularly remember them being used to decorate the pulpit and front of the sanctuary in church when I was growing up.  Our family’s church would sell them during December to help raise money during the holidays for the poor.   The people who bought them would then pick them up after the Christmas Eve worship service to take them home.  And each year my parents would buy several, including one for an elderly widow in the church, who would take it home and eventually plant it in her garden.  A particularly difficult plant to keep alive when planted outdoors in areas that experience colder climates, the widow not only planted it each year, but they thrived.  She had a garden full of the Poinsettias my parents had given her.

During this lunchtime bike ride I made a stop at the United States Botanic Garden.  I was unaware of it until I was actually in it, but they have a Poinsettia Room.  And I was used to Poinsettias with traditional dark red blooms and green foliage, but the Botanic Garden Poinsettia Room is full of a wide variety of different Poinsettias of varying colors.  Though once only available in red, there are currently more than 100 natural and hybrid varieties of Poinsettias available in burgundy, pink, white, yellow, purple, salmon, and multi-colors. They have names like ‘Premium Picasso’, ‘Monet Twilight’, ‘Shimmer’, and ‘Surprise’.  The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts, which are modified leaves.  The colors of the bracts are created through “photoperiodism”, meaning that they require darkness for 12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row in order to change color.  Then, once Poinsettias finish that process, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color

The word Poinsettia is traditionally capitalized because it is named after a person.  Poinsettias received their name in this country in honor of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced the plant into the country in 1825.  Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. Poinsett sent cuttings of the plant he had discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina.  The poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10-15 feet tall in their native Mexico, where they are found in the wild in deciduous tropical forest at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Chiapas and Guatemala.  They are also found in the interior of Mexico in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Gurerro and Oxaca.  In Mexico they are known as “”La Flor de la Nochebuena”, meaning “Flower of the Holy Night, or Christmas Eve.

Paul Ecke, Jr. is considered the father of the Poinsettia industry due to his discovery of a technique which caused seedlings to branch. This technique allowed the Poinsettia industry to flourish, and for the Ecke Ranch in California to nearly corner the market.  Today Poinsettias are the best selling potted plant in the United States and Canada, and the Ecke Ranch grows over 70 percent of all Poinsettias purchased in the United States and about 50 percent of the world-wide sales of Poinsettias.

A popular rumor over the years resulted in the misperception that Poinsettias are poisonous if eaten.  However, scientific studies have determined that, for example, a 50-pound child would have to eat more than a pound-and-a-quarter of Poinsettia leaves, which is the equivalent of between 500 and 600 leaves, to have any side effects. The same is true with animals. The most common side effects that have been reported from Poinsettia ingestions are upset stomach and vomiting. The leaves are reportedly not very tasty, so it’s highly unlikely that kids or even pets would be able to eat that many.

Today is Poinsettia Day, which marks the anniversary of the death of Poinsett in 1851.  So enjoy the following photos of some of the different Poinsettias I saw today.  And I encourage anyone who is able to stop by the Botanic Garden between now and January 1st to see the Poinsettia Room and all of the other holiday decorations and displays.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]