My First Free Weekend Walk

July 31st, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor

This is the first in a series of blog posts we will be sharing from our summer communications volunteer, Saffron Hefta-Gaub. Saffron is a sophomore at the Bush School in Seattle, Washington, and we are delighted to share her perspectives on UW Botanic Gardens’ spaces and programs. 

July 19th, 2015

Hydrangeas

On this lazy, hot, summer day, I embarked on my first event with the UW Botanic Gardens: the Free Weekend Walk. The great things about the tour are that it’s free, every Sunday, and open to all ages. The walking was brisk, and despite the heat, our guide Catherine kept us entertained. The theme of this day was Hydrangeas and Other Summer Bloomers. Themes like this switch every month to best fit the season.

Because I can’t drive, I was dropped off at the Graham Visitors Center, just before one o’clock. After inquiring at the desk, I waited until our guide came right on time, starting us out with a few introductory facts. I learned that the park was 230 acres, the majority of the land being owned by the city with the collections belonging to the Botanic Gardens. We were a group of twelve, including me, horticulturalists  and tourists alike. To begin, we circled around the parking lot, stopping by the greenhouse to see the large-leafed “dinosaur food” bog plant native to South America, with long, almost Pinecone-esque petalless  flowers. Behind the greenhouse was a gorgeous pomegranate tree, which, with the warm season we’ve been having, bore fruit.

After we looked at the various trees in the bright sun, we circled back around to the main path, which thankfully had patches of shade. It was 90 degrees out, mind you, and I had stupidly forgotten a water bottle. Our guide was good at keeping our minds off the heat, though my thirst for water preoccupied a third of my thoughts. The rest of my mind filtered through facts and phrases for this post, while another small section wanted to be binge watching my favorite show, though I shouldn’t mention that here, have to be professional. 😉

The tour, after all, was focused on the blooming hydrangeas, and the first one we accounted on the path was drooping from the drought. In fact, many of the plants we passed had brown, forgotten leaves. Facts from my 9th grade biology class kept popping up, an unplanned refresher in photosynthesis and the food web. The dead leaves on the underside of the trees were the plants’ way of conserving energy and water; leaves with less light had more energy going into growth than coming out of photosynthesis. We also spotted snag trees, dead plants that had become homes for insects, decomposers who feed off the bark. The insects attract hungry birds and bats, and soon you have full ecosystems on one dead tree.

Back to the hydrangeas: interesting tidbit, there are three kinds of hydrangeas: lace top, mop top, and the cone-shaped paniculatas. The flowerettes around the base of the lace top, when lifted up, are a signal to the bees that pollination should occur, and drop once there is nectar. Nature is amazing!

Next in our walk up the shadow scattered hill were the magnolias. Yet another thing that I learned was that because magnolias, evolutionarily, predate bees; the flowers are shaped and hang in a way so that they can be pollinated by ants and beetles. The magnolias have a nice citrus smell, and because of the unusual heat, many of the trees we passed were on there second bloom of the season, which our guide had never seen before. The magnolias also provided a much needed shade. Another tree we saw was the sassafras tree, the origin of root beer. The cool thing about the sassafras  tree was that was only one of two trees with the three kinds of leaf shapes: mitten, flame, and ghost. Seeing all the differently shaped leaves on this tree and the other species we passed was strange and interesting.

Magnolia

Finally, we got to the large collection of hydrangeas. There were many beautiful bushes, colored blue and white. Catherine informed us that these hydrangeas did in fact change color based on the PH of the soil. We also spotted a hydrangea that grew vine-like on a tree, but in a safe way. By now, it was time to turn back, and we headed on a gravel path through the forest, where it was shady and cool. The final fascinating fact I learned was that many of the magnolias and other “tropical” plants that thrive in the southeast United States are related to the plants of Asia, an offshoot from back when the land was all one continent.

All in all it was a great way to spend my afternoon. Our guide Catherine made it entertaining, educational, and we got in some exercise! All three e’s! The Botanic Gardens have my interest, and I am sure they will have yours if you take the chance to visit. The Arboretum is beautiful, the paths are easy to use, and with these guided tours, navigating and fact-learning is easier. I’d highly recommend it. :)

 

Another collection stunner blooming now

April 19th, 2015 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

RhododendronoccidentaleAlong Azalea Way this time of year, as many of you know, the Rhododendron cultivars, Redbuds & Dogwood Trees are putting on their show of stunning blossoms.   Amongst all these flowering shrubs and trees it is sometimes hard to discern any individual plants, but its always worth it for me to stop at the group of Rhododendron occindentale at the North end of Azalea Way.   These Rhododendron species, commonly known as Western Azalea, get my attention because in addition to the clusters of pretty flowers (and unlike most Rhododendron species) they have a wonderful scent.  My nose could spend a lot of time near these shrubs.  This grouping of about 10 shrubs (located in the very NW bed along with several other pink/orange flowering cultivars) were planted in 1946 and now each plant stands about 8-10 feet tall.

The R. occindentale is one of two native west coast Rhodies (the other being R. macrophyllum, our state flower) and is found mainly in the mountain and coastal areas of southern Oregon and Northern California.   Because our climate and soils are similar, they are a plant that transfers quite well to our PNW gardens.  They are a slow grower which can take sun or shade and seem to adapt to a variety of soils.  Their native environments range from coastal marshes, river and lake sides and up to mountain meadows.  But that’s not all – the other perk to these shrubs is that they can bear a lovely orange/red fall foliage color.

Come along on one of our Free Weekend Walks and enjoy a guided tour of these and many other collection plants in their full spring glory.   No registration, visitors meet at the Graham Visitors Center at 1:00 pm each Sunday.

For more detail on these shrubs in their natural environment click the article link from Pacific Horticultural Society

Autumn Is Amazing

October 18th, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

liquidambfallcolorThe Liquidambar styraciflua, or Sweetgum, is one of autumn’s most brilliantly colored trees, its leaves showing off every color in the spectrum.

The Liquidambar was wide spread, existing all over the Northern Hemisphere during the Tertiary Period (250-65 million years ago), but mostly disappeared due to glaciation during the ice age. Now this tree is native only to the SE United States and some areas of Mexico and Central America.  These deciduous trees can grown to 80-100 feet tall & live up to 400 years.  Its species name in Latin means ‘flowing with resin’ as the sweet resin in this tree was originally used for chewing gum.

They can be mistaken for maples as they have a similar palmate leaf. The Sweetgum leaf has 5-7 pointed lobes, but is usually flat along the bottom. They also have a distinctive spiky  brown fruit in autumn.

Our free Weekend Walks 10/19 – 11/16 will take visitors to view this and other deciduous plants in our collection.  Please join us.  See Visit > Tours for more information.

Fruits & Nuts appear in autumn

September 23rd, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

Read the rest of this entry »

A Local Beauty

July 27th, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

tplicatabranchesThis photo is of a native Thuja Plicata (common name; Western Red Cedar) and shows the great J-arm branches that these trees feature. Although the Puget Mill Company logged most trees on the site by 1900, this particular Thuja was perhaps overlooked by the loggers and is therefore one of the oldest and largest specimens in the arboretum. It is located between the Witt Winter Garden and Azalea Way.
This tree species was valued by the local Salish tribes who called it the “tree of life” as it provided them with bark for clothing, dried leaves for a medicinal tea, and planks for longhouses among many other uses.
Our August Free Weekend Walk’s topic is Native Plants & People; a knowledgeable guide will talk about this tree and various other native plants and their ethnobotanical uses.

Another stunning Rhody

April 19th, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

Rhododendron macabeanum is one of the finest big leaved Rhododendron species and has received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award Of Garden Merit.  It has larR.mcabeanumge yellow/white flowers often blotched purple inside with an interesting bright pink stigma.  The leaves are a dark glossy green and about 1′ in length with a light colored indumentum on the underside.  It also bears a nice silvery young leaf and bright red bud scales.

Native to India at high elevations, this plant was introduced to the West in 1927.  We have a wonderful specimen in the arboretum.  It is blooming right  now and is located between the SE corner of Loderi Vally and the Magnolia Collection.  Our April Free Weekend Walks on Sundays at 1:00 pm will continue to feature this and other amazing Rhododendrons in the UWBG collection.

It’s Rhododendron season

April 5th, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

The Rhododendron occidentale is one of two NW native Rhododendron species (the other being our Washington State Flower, Rhododendron macrophyllum).
Commonly called Western Azalea or Honeysuckle Shrub, it is found along the Pacific Coast from lower Washington to central California. This specrhododendron occidentalisies shrub is tolerant of wet soils and can be found in wetlands and along creeks in its native environment.
These Azaleas can grow to 15 ft. in height and do well in our Seattle climate when provided some shade, though they are not drought tolerant in summers. They are prized for their beautifully colored pink/white/yellow flowers, which are extremely fragrant this time of year.
John Muir encountered the shrub in the Yosemite region & said of it, “It is very showy & fragrant, & everybody must like it not only for itself but for the shady alders & willows, ferny meadows, & living water associated with it.”
Our UW Botanic Gardens’ Free Weekends Walks for the month of April will feature Rhododendron species and cultivars during their their peak bloom time. Please join us any Sunday at 1:00pm at the Graham Visitors Center to learn more.

Winter Blooms Abound

February 2nd, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

Hamamelis flowerThe winter blooming shrubs Hamamelis, or Witch Hazels, are currently at peak bloom sending out their lovely aroma and luring visitors into The Witt Winter Garden. This plant and other winter bloomers will be featured during the month of February on our Sunday Free Weekend Walks.
This large shrub or small tree is native to North America, Europe and Asia and features the species Hamamelis virginiana, H. ovalis, H. venalis, H. japonica & H. mollis.
The origin of the plant’s common name comes from the Old English word ‘Wych’, meaning ‘bendable,’ and has evolved into the modern spelling of ‘Witch.’ The limbs of this plant were traditionally used for Dowsing which is how it came to be know as Water Witching.
Hamamelis is Latin for “together with fruit” which refers to the simultaneous occurrence of flowers with maturing fruit from previous year. These fruits can split explosively at maturity, ejecting seeds up to 10 meters.
Native Americans used Witch Hazel bark to treat sores, tumors, bruising and skin ulcers. Boiled twigs were used to treat sore muscles and a tea was used to treat coughs, colds and dysentery
The nutty seeds from the Witch Hazel were also a Native-American favorite because of their flavoring, which is similar to pistachios.

Seeds that pop!

January 4th, 2014 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant
Euonymus europaeus 'atrorubens'

Euonymus europaeus ‘atrorubens’

Tucked away behind the Cedrus knoll in the Arboretum’s Pinetum is the Euonymus europaeus ‘atrorubens’. At this time of year it is showing off its colorful seed pods, which hang all over the defoliated branches. A plant that has pink and orange fruits really catches your eye when you pass by.
This shrub is native to Europe and Western Asia and its common names are Spindle Tree and Cat Tree. It grows to 8′-10′ making it a good plant for a sunny spot in an urban garden. The flowers are borne in the spring and are insignificant, but the plant is used ornamentally for its red fall color and brilliant winter seed pods.

Salal, a summer beauty

July 31st, 2013 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant
Gaultheria shallon

Gaultheria shallon

In the midst of our dry NW summer, while many plants look worse for wear, our native evergreen Salal shrubs, Gaultheria shallon, are shiny and healthy. Salal flowers in the spring with pinkish-white bell-shaped flowers in groups of 5-15 on racemes; very similar to the Pieris japonica flower. Both plants are in the Ericacea family. The Salal shrub can grown to 16′ tall and forms a dense mass that creates habitat and food for local birds and animals. It is a coniferous forest understory plant that is widespread in lower, coastal elevations.
Salal is used world-wide in floral arrangements for its long lasting fresh evergreen foliage and is harvested locally in a multimillion dollar industry. However, the harvesting of the foliage in the wild is protected by the US Forest Service by issuance of permits – this is to save our native plant from over harvesting and ensure its continuance in the wild.
The name Salal is derived from the Chinook language. The small sweet blue colored berries, which are ripe right now, were harvested and eaten by the local Salish peoples; consumed as a fresh fruit in summer, used to sweeten fish roes and soups, and mixed with fish oil and dried in cakes for winter consumption (an early version of fruit leather).
Salal is one of the NW native plants that will be featured in August’s Free Weekend Walks at the Washington Park Arboretum.