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I have visited Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, several times. On those visits I spent much time, both day and evening, in the famed Butchard Gardens near to the town of Victoria. But this time, we visited the private garden of our friends; a garden lovingly carved from a bare block of land; a garden of peace and the joy of plants.

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The central feature of this garden is a Lily Pond. Most rooms of the house look out across this peaceful pond to a landscape of an inlet of water and to the mountains beyond.

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While I wandered in the garden, camera in hand, David talked to our friend about the plants in her garden and how they had designed the garden from a bare field.

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A hand hewn stream lent a gentle, bubbling sound to the ambience.

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A wide variety of well known flowers gave colour and shape to the design.

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I won’t attempt to name them all… I’d like you to just wander with me, taking our time to really see them individually and enjoy their beauty.

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We’ll wander in the gardens and woodlands behind the house next time.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

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One of our aims on this trip was to find and document as many flowering plants as we could. David is, after all, a horticulturist with “sap in his veins” and I’m enamoured of plants and flowers; what more motivation did we need!

Nugget Falls © JT of jtdytravels; P1130474

Nugget Falls © JT of jtdytravels; P1130474

So, now, let’s go plant hunting with David as he wanders towards Nugget Falls in the stunningly beautiful environment of Mendenhall Glacier. There’s not a lot of time for this exploration… time constraint is always a problem in the life of a plant hunter… but with David’s keen eye to find plants endemic to the area, there’s plenty to see and enjoy.

Plant names and notes are given to the best of our knowledge. Should you think otherwise, please let us know in the comment section below. I’ve also researched each plant that David photographed and have found interesting facts about each one to share with you.  

Mendenhall Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1130473

Mendenhall Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1130473

One fascinating part of plant hunting is to look out for the “succession factor”; in this case the way different plants take their turn in colonising the moraines left bare by a retreating glacier. We look down at a green swathe now, but that has taken maybe a hundred or more years to become established to this point in its evolution. I’ve added David’s photos in a way that will, hopefully, explain how the plant colonisation has happened here in Mendenhall.

Salix sitchensis Sitka Willow © DY of jtdytravels; P1100188

Salix sitchensis © DY of jtdytravels; P1100188

The first pioneer plants here are usually the ones whose seeds arrive on the wind, like the spores of mosses; plants that help to bind the rubble into mats onto which other seeds can find a place to grow. Like moss spores, the fluffy seeds of willows such as Salix sitchensis, or Sitka Willow, are so light, they travel on the breeze for some distance, even many kilometres. However, the tiny Salix seed has to find a suitable place to germinate very quickly because it only retains viability for about 24 hours. Undoubtedly, many of the abundant seeds produced by a Salix plant will fall on inhospitable surfaces and die. Those that live are true pioneers.

These willows can survive harsh environments without much nutrient. They reproduce quickly and abundantly but, as early colonisers, they are often stunted in growth and short lived. On their death, their decaying matter provides some nutrients for the next group of colonising plants which naturalists sometimes call “the homesteaders”.

Sitka Alder © DY of jtdytravels; P1100190

Alnus crispa ssp. sinuata © DY of jtdytravels; P1100190

These are the developing cones of Alnus crispa sp.sinuata, known as Sitka Alder, one of the dominant “homesteaders”. They are the first plants to really thrive in recently deglaciated terrain in Alaska and are important because their leaf litter adds nitrogen to the soil (in much the same way as clovers and legumes). With that enrichment of the soil, plants such as willows and cottonwoods have a much better chance of thriving.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1100192

Alnus crispa ssp. sinuata © DY of jtdytravels; P1100192

Mature cones of Sitka Alder, Alnus crispa ssp. sinuata may hang on the trees for long after their seeds are dispersed. Such cones are sometimes electroplated with gold and sold in the gift shops as jewellery. (They might have made the perfect souveneir for our Christmas tree but we didn’t see any for sale and in any case we can’t bring wood products into Australia.)

Boschniakia rossica Northern Groundcone © DY of jtdytravels; P1100193

Boschniakia rossica  © DY of jtdytravels; P1100193

The Alders play host to this unusual plant, Boschniakia rossica, commonly called Northern Groundcone, which looks very much like a bunch of pine cones stuck in the ground. It grows in the dense shade under Alder thickets where not much else can grow. It needs no light as it produces no chlorophyl. It is, in fact, a parasitic herb which lives on the roots of the Alder. What look like cone scales are really brownish, two lipped flowers. Grizzly bears like to feast on these thick fleshy plants… but none were around on this day, fortunately!

The plant is named after a Russian botanist, A.K. Boschniak. That’s not surprising since the Russians had a base in nearby Sitka from 1799 until 1867… the latter being the year that Alaska was purchased from Russia by the USA. 

Lupinus nootkatensis © JY of jtdytravels; P1130481

Lupinus nootkatensis © JY of jtdytravels; P1130481

A plant that is also important in the plant colonisation process here in Alaska is Lupinus nootkatensis, the delightful Alaskan Lupin, or Nootka Lupin, seen growing here in a bed of moss.  Lupins also add much needed nitrogen to the soil, enriching the environment for other plants to survive and thrive. Grizzly bears like to feast on the Lupin roots.

Lupinus nootkatensis is one of the Lupin species from which garden hybrids are derived. It was introduced into Europe in the 18th Century and now grows like a weed in northern Europe, festooning banks with colour in summer. In Iceland, it was introduced to try to stabilise soil, but, it has done so well there, that it’s now endangering native Icelandic plants.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1100177

Pyrola asarifolia  © DY of jtdytravels; P1100177

Another plant commonly found with the Alders are Wintergreens. This one, Pyrola asarifolia, or Pink Wintergreenis the largest of the Wintergreens in the Alaskan coastal forests. There may be 8 to 25  delightful bell or cup shaped flowers along a tall stem. These flowers seem to hang their heads demurely. Perhaps they are not sure what we might think of their secret! For these delicate flowers belong to a plant that is scientifically known as a semisaprophytic plant; it can make its own chlorophyl (hence the semi) but it lives mainly on dead plant and animal material. Saprophytic plants like these require the assistance of fungi to help breakdown the organic material. It’s a delightful but unusual plant!

Pyrola has been used in native medicine as a poultice for sores or swellings.

Lycopodium selago Fir Clubmoss © DY of jtdytravels; P1100203

Lycopodium selago © DY of jtdytravels; P1100203

Another plant used by the native peoples for medicinal purposes is the low growing Lycopodium selago, commonly called Fir Clubmoss or Mountain Clubmoss. It was used as a purgative, a “strong medicine”. It’s also reported to contain a chemical that may be effective against Alzeimer’s Disease. It seems that we still have so much to learn from plants!

Another interesting fact about club mosses is that their spore powder, known as “vegetable sulphur”, is very flammable and has been used to make fireworks and was even used in early flash photography.

The Club moss above is growing in amongst some other mosses. In general, however, many of the mosses and lichens don’t do very well in the leaf litter in the deep shade of Alders. They prefer to grow on the branches as epiphytes where they find some light.

Spruce Trees © JT of jtdytravels; P1130453

Emerging conifer forest © JT of jtdytravels; P1130453

The next stage in the colonisation process is the growth of conifers, especially Spruce and Hemlock. In this photo, Alders are in the lower right corner, while conifers have displaced them on the lakeside bank.  Young conifers may take 100 to 400 years before the Spruce and Hemlock forest, which is endemic to this area, becomes fully established.

Our time at Mendenhall was flying but we still just had time to visit the excellent “Discovery Centre”and take in the documentary made about this glacial area. The interpretative section of the centre was also very well done; I could have spent hours there. However, our time was almost up; the bus awaited our return.

As we walked back down towards the bus, the bank beside the footpath provided us with yet another opportunity to photograph flowers!  

Holodiscus sp. © DY of jtdytravels; P1130485

Aruncus dioicus © JT of jtdytravels; P1130485

This lovely plant is Aruncus dioicus (common name bride’s feathers).  It was growing on a moss covered bank of rocks which made a delightful back drop to my photo. It’s a hardy plant; there wasn’t much soil on this steep rocky bank.

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Holodiscus discolor and Ranunculus repens © DY of jtdytravels P1100205

Holodiscus discolor (Oceanspray) was growing on recently disturbed soil amongst a delightful swathe of Creeping Buttercup, Ranunculus repens. Note the reddish stems of the Oceanspray.  Another common name for this plant is ‘ironwood’, because of the hardness of those woody stems. Native peoples made these stems even harder by heating them over a fire before using them to make digging sticks, small spears, harpoon shafts, and arrows. Some native groups even used the stems for salmon barbequing sticks.They have also been made into knitting needles. Before the advent of nails, pegs made from the stems were used in construction projects.

As a medicine, some groups made an infusion of the brownish fruiting clusters to help stop diarrhoea. The infusion was also used as a blood tonic and to counteract measles and chickenpox.  Indeed, a particularly useful plant.

Epilobium latifolium © DY of jtdytravels; P1100211

Chamerion angustifolium © DY of jtdytravels; P1100211

On the same bank David found this very common roadside plant, a member of the Evening Primrose family, Chamerion angustifolium, formerly known as Epilobium angustifolium. It is known by the names of Tall Fireweed, Great Willowherb or Rosebay Willowherb. Is it any wonder we need the Latin names for plants; so many common names for one plant.

Unlike other types of Fireweed, this one has unbranched erect stems. The buds grow on tall red stemmed spikes. They burst into flower from the lowest buds first. Again, this plant looks delightful against a background of golden moss.

Locals in Alaska make a syrup from Fireweed and they also enjoy Fireweed honey. What they also know is that when Fireweed stops flowering, winter is upon them!

Yellow Daisies © JT of jtdytravels; P1130484

Yellow Daisies © JT of jtdytravels; P1130484

It always amazes to me that, almost anywhere you go in this world, at least one member of the daisy family, Asteraceae, will find a place to make it’s sunny presence felt. This is not a planted garden; it’s a natural bank of plants. They are always a welcome sight to me.

Bank of white daisies © JT of jtdytravels; P1130488

Bank of white daisies © JT of jtdytravels; P1130488

And just before I climbed on board the bus after a most enjoyable afternoon, I stopped to admire a bank of white daisies; how appropriate near a glacier!

Fly pollinating white daisy © JT of jtdytravels; P1130456

Fly pollinating white daisy © JT of jtdytravels; P1130456

And, of course, I couldn’t resist a closer look! Simple, very common and yet…

so stunningly beautiful.

Our plant hunting in Mendenhall might be over but there is plenty more to come!

It’s now time to get ready to board our home for the next week,

the small, but good ship, “Sea Lion”

Jennie and David

Thought for today:

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed

and to have my senses put into tune once more.

John Burrough (1837 – 1921)

American Naturalist

More of our travel posts can be found on

www.dymusings.com

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From visiting all of those historical ruins, we moved around the coast to a Robert Stevenson lighthouse, built in 1821.  This lighthouse sits atop Sumburgh Head, the southern most tip of the Mainland, the biggest island in the Shetland group.  When this light was automated in 1991, the keepers’ houses were converted into holiday accommodation.  The lighthouse is protected as a category A listed building and is presently undergoing restoration work including the building of an Information Centre.

Of more importance to me than the lighthouse were the cliffs the lighthouse was built on. Sumburgh Head is a busy place in summer, when thousands of seabirds return to breed. Then the cliffs teem with birds such as kittiwakes, gullets, razorbills, fulmars and those great little characters, puffins.  I’d only seen fleeting glimpses of puffins before but here they were quite close. They were fascinating to watch… and photograph.

Puffin at Sumburgh Head   (P1000311 © DY of jtdytravels)

Puffins mate for life, and return to the same burrow every year. Laying only one egg, both parents take turns incubating their egg for around 40 days. Once the egg hatches, the adults are kept busy finding fish, particularly sandeels, to feed their hungry chick until it is ready to leave the burrow under the cover of darkness and fend for itself.

A pair of puffins   (P1000304 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Puffin (P1000329 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Puffin (P1000343 © DY of jtdytravels)

I’m quite sure that puffin photography could become quite addictive – they are such wonderfully interesting creatures.  I was mesmerised.

Puffin (P1000348 © DY of jtdytravels)

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There were other birds – like this gull. (P1000356 © DY of jtdytravels)

After spending lots of time’ with those puffins, I turned my attention to finding wild flowers.

Daisies at the cliffs (P1000321 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Puffin surrounded by grasses (P1000317 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Tiny, delicate, Eyebright, Euphrasia sp.   (P1000361 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca (P1000359 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Cotton grass (P1000375 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Monkey flower, Mimulus guttatus (P1000238 © DY of jtdytravels)

This beautiful Mimulus is not really a wild flower in the Shetland Islands.  It’s a naturalised garden escapee that originates in North America.

A stunning view (P1000371 © DY of jtdytravels)

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All this and wonderful views as well.  A day to remember.   D

Photography  ©  DY of jtdytravels

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