Tiger Tots greenhouse tour on a very hot day

Kate Chaumont (my new greenhouse employee extraordinaire) conducted a tour in the Tucker greenhouse today for two groups of students from Tiger Tots Child Development/Early Learning Center.  Since it was going to be a scorcher of a day today, Kate made homemade fans for the students out of paper ‘leaves’, she gave them all their own little succulent plants from her home stash, she placed chocolate bars on the cacao tree, a bottle of vanilla near the vanilla orchid, plastic dinosaurs near the cycads and ferns, and plastic frogs and turtles throughout the greenhouses.  She even brought in her gecko from home named Bootstrap.  She let all the students pet him.  This was a greenhouse tour the students will never ever forget.

    

The genus Silphium

The Tucker mini-prairie, located just to the south of the Tucker greenhouse is home to lots of members of the Asteraceae family.  This family, also known as the sunflower or daisy family is one of the largest plant families on the planet, next to the Orchid family.

Right now there are lots of yellow flowers blooming in the mini-prairie and lots of these belong to the sunflower family.  Some members of the Asteraceae family that are blooming right now are Ashy sunflowers, or Helianthus mollis, Gray-headed coneflowers, or Ratibida pinnata and two members of the genus, Silphium.  We also have Mullein, or Verbascum thapsus found in the Scrophulariaceae family.

In this post though, I plan to briefly discuss the two members of the genus Silphium.  They are the Compass plant, or Silphium laciniatum and the Cup plant, or Silphium perfoliatum.

The Compass plant is so named because their very oddly-shaped leaves actually orient themselves with the flat portion of their leaf blades facing east-west.  Check out http://www.kswildflower.org/flower_details.php?flowerID=182

http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/prairie/plantx/compassx.htm

  

The Cup plant is so named because its odd leaves attached to the stem opposite from each other and form a cup that can hold rain water.

  

Read more about the Cup plant here http://www.kswildflower.org/flower_details.php?flowerID=499

http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/prairie/plantx/cupplantx.htm

Some of the insects who visit milkweed plants

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Oncopeltus fasciatura (Hemiptera), or large Milkweed bug.  The picture above shows a group of milkweed bugs in various stages of growth on a milkweed seed pod.  These bugs undergo incomplete metamorphosis.  The nymphs look just like the adults, but don’t have wings and are a different color.

Oleander aphids on milkweed pod

Oleander aphids on milkweed pod.

Oleander aphids, Aphis nerii, are bright yellow aphids that feed on several ornamental plants within the Apocynaceae family.  You may see an occasional brownish looking aphid in the bunch.  These have been parasitized by the parasitoid wasp, Lysiphelbus testaceips.

If you get a chance, look closely at a milkweed plant.  Chances are, it will be covered with insects of all kinds.

Drama maritima is blooming

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Drama maritima, commonly called Maritime squill or Sea squill is found in the Asparagaceae family

Drimia maritima, commonly known as Sea Squill is found in the Asparagaceae family and the subfamily Scilloideae.  Sea Squill grows from a very large bulb. It is native to southwestern Eurasia, and north African coastal regions, mainly along the Mediterranean Sea.  This large bulb sends ups 8 to 10 leaves in the spring, and by fall these large, leathery, linear leaves die back.  At that point, the bulb then produces a tall spike-like racemose inflorescence (blooming first from the bottom upwards).

The Tucker greenhouse Sea Squill is located in the hallway to the right of the entrance doors right before entering the north greenhouse.

Carissa grandiflora smells divine

Carissa grandiflora

Carissa grandiflora, commonly called Natal Plum, and found in the Apocynaceae family is a native of South Africa.  Stop by the Tucker greenhouse, enter the Desert room, and immediately smell the Natal Plum’s perfumed scent……it’s lovely.  This plant is quite drought tolerant.  The Tucker greenhouse specimen has never produced any plums, but I’ve learned that they are edible.

Like most members of the Apocynaceae, or Dogbane family, the Natal Plum has white, sticky sap that can be toxic. The plant itself can grow to heights of 5.5 meters, and it has double-pronged thorns almost 5cm in length.

Balloon flowers in full bloom

Platycodon gradiflorus, commonly called Balloon flower is found in the Campanulaceae family.  Balloon flowers get their name from the shape of their unopened buds.Balloonflower1

This unopened flower bud looks a little bit like a balloon.  As the bud develops and the flower eventually opens, you’ll see five purple petals in a bell-shaped or campanulate flower shape.  You’ll also see an anther tube through which the style grows before spreading apart (plunger pollination).

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As the style elongates through the anther tube, it gets covered with pollen and the five light-colored anthers lay prostrate against the petals or corolla.

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Eventually, the style opens up into a five-branched stigma.

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“What are all of those those yellow flowers?”

yellow flowers

Helianthus mollis or Ashy sunflower is found in the Asteraceae family.  These dense heads are loaded with pollinators right now.

Helianthus mollis, commonly called Ashy or Downy sunflower is a predominant species in the Tucker Mini-Prairie, and it has been blooming for weeks now.  This plant belongs in the Asteraceae or Daisy family, one of the largest plant families on earth.  The root system of this plant is rhizomatous, allowing it to spread uncontrollably underground.  It can spread very aggressively, and its root system exudes allelopathic chemicals that can inhibit the growth of other plants surrounding it. Common habitats for this plant are dry to mesic prairies, sand prairies, rocky glades, & roadsides.  This plant would take over this tiny patch of ground called the Tucker Mini-Prairie if we didn’t constantly cut it back and remove seed heads.

Lots of different types of pollinators visit the flowers of the Ashy sunflower. Primarily bees visit the flowers for nectar or pollen.  Goldfinches are partial to the seeds of this plant.  Two caterpillars of the butterflies Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) and Chlosyne gorgone (Gorgone Checkerspot) feed on its leaves.

Yes, we have bananas!

The Tucker greenhouse contains collections of many different types of fruit trees, from Guavas, to Cacao, and from Pomegranates to Suriname Cherries.  But today, we have Bananas.  They’re not yet ready to eat, but I’ll be posting photos of the banana flowers as they mature, and I’ll be including photos of the harvest and the eventual eating of a Tucker greenhouse grown banana.

Bananas are found in the genus Musa, and the family Musacaceae. The banana inflorescence is surrounded by a maroon colored bract.  This leaf-like bract does two things; it protects the inflorescence, but its color also acts to attract pollinators like bats or birds in the wild. The banana plant has unisexual flowers.  The flowers in the photo below are female flowers.  The unopened bract hanging down below the female flowers contains the male flowers.  If you look closely, you can see tiny green banana fruits below the female flowers.  Botanically speaking, a banana fruit is actually a fleshy berry formed from an inferior ovary.

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