Elisabeth C. Miller Library

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Question:

Sometimes reference librarians ask ourselves questions—especially in times of social isolation! Since libraries are closed, I have been rereading my own collection of books. When I Lived in Modern Times is a novel by Linda Grant, set in 1940s Tel Aviv before Israel became a state. The main character refers several times to unnamed trees that are growing along Rothschild Boulevard (Sderot Rothschild). The trees are noteworthy, yet she cannot identify them. After having read this book twenty years ago, I decided it was time to solve the mystery!

Answer:

[mysterytrees] cover

By searching Google Maps, I could see there were two main types of trees. It's a mile-long road with a central pedestrian thoroughfare, and in researching sources like Tel Aviv municipal archives and local news, I determined that both Delonix regia and Ficus (F. microcarpa and F. sycomorus) grow there. Delonix, native to Madagascar, was introduced to Israel in the 1920s and may have been planted on the boulevard then or later. The trees are depicted in a 1937 painting by Yehezkel Streichman, "The Kiosk on Rothschild Boulevard." The ficus trees on Rothschild Boulevard were planted in the 1930s. Although jacaranda trees are mentioned in various historical sources, I did not see contemporary images of them, though a 1946 photo of Rothschild Boulevard at the intersection of Allenby Street (the very corner mentioned in Grant's novel) shows jacaranda and ficus branches overhanging a photographer's sidewalk photo-shoot.

Tel Aviv's founders—with one exception—believed they could 'make something from nothing' (yesh me'ayin) of this sandy location. The lone dissenter thought it folly and, in a 1909 photo celebrating the city's founding, he stands far apart from the others, atop a distant dune, possibly still muttering 'crazy people, there’s no water here' (meshuga'im—ayn kan mayim!).

Rothschild Boulevard was built in 1910, utilizing a sand-filled wadi (dry riverbed) which was not stable enough for buildings. The street's original name was Rehov Ha'Am, Street of the Nation (or the People). Cypresses formed the outline of the boulevard's edges, with grass and flowerbeds in the middle.

The city's first mayor Meir Dizengoff had grand and somewhat impractical urban planning ideas. He wanted to impress Winston Churchill (who was due for a visit in 1921) by creating a tree-lined boulevard to rival any in Europe. Mature trees were transplanted from nearby locations, but they did not have time to establish themselves in the arid soil. When people thronged to see Churchill, some climbed the trees, toppling them. Churchill reportedly said, "That which has no roots is bound to wither," a sly, barbed remark, coming from the man who was Secretary of State for the Colonies during the period of the British Mandate in Palestine.

In 1925, Patrick Geddes, a Scottish botanist and town planner, produced a plan for Tel Aviv. He envisioned a "garden city," with a blend of "mainways" (for vehicles) and "homeways" (residential interior streets), and a series of east-west green boulevards to connect key urban sites, so the city would have a strong sense of nature.

To this day, Rothschild Boulevard is a well-used tree-lined corridor through the heart of a busy city. Just as we have cherry blossom mania in spring here in Seattle, there is great excitement when the red flowers of Delonix regia (known as flame tree, Royal Poinciana, Flamboyant, Gulmohar, and in Hebrew tze'elon naeh) bloom in early June. The ficus trees with their pale trunks sometimes covered in a net of accessory trunks made of aerial roots, are stately but drop fruit that can be perilous for pedestrians. Still, they are a notable feature of the landscape; Tel Aviv-Yafo municipal agronomist Haim Gavriel even published a recent monograph about the Ficus of Israel's Boulevards.

Resources that were useful in researching this mystery include:

  • Mann, Barbara. A Place in History: Modernism, Tel Aviv, and the Creation of Jewish Urban Space. Stanford University Press, 2006. [accessed online 4/25/2020]
  • Mann, Barbara. "Tel Aviv’s Rothschild: When a boulevard becomes a monument." Jewish Social Studies, New Series, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Winter, 2001), pp. 1-38. [accessed online 4/24/2020]
  • Rosenberg, Elissa. "Tel Aviv never stops." Landscape Architecture Magazine 107 (11), 120-128

Question:

Who has moved into the tubes in my mason bee house? There are these strange bundles that seem to have dead crickets entombed in them. Do I need to remove them?

Answer:

Your description and photos convince me that these bundles were made by grass-carrying wasps (Isodontia species) who store food (such as crickets!) with their cocoons to nourish the larvae when they emerge. Your mason bee house was a convenient location to nest. They look for any hollow cavities (such as stems, trees, or even window tracks), and the mason bee tubes were a perfect spot.

They would have built the nest in early summer, emerging later (late July through September) to visit flowers for pollen and nectar.

Grass-carrying wasps are beneficial insects just like mason bees, and serve as pollinators, too. This article from Heather Holm’s Restoring the Landscape with Native Plants (author of Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide, 2017) mentions them visiting Solidago, Eupatorium, and Plantago.

As far as removing the grass-shrouded crickets or katydids, I would follow your normal mason bee housecleaning schedule. Usually, cleaning the tubes would be done between October and December. This page from David Suzuki's web page describes the process.

If you are curious to see a grass-carrying wasp in action, entomologist Michael Raupp's Bug of the Week page includes a video of a wasp creating its nest.

Question:

What is the difference between the buckwheat plant that is used as an edible grain, and the wildflowers that are also called buckwheat? Are they related? I saw a plant growing on a ridge in the Olympic Mountains that was later identified for me as cushion buckwheat. Also, are there flowering buckwheats that people grow as ornamentals in gardens?

Answer:

Edible buckwheat generally refers to Fagopyrum esculentum. If you were to find it growing wild in Washington State, it would be considered an escaped cultivated plant (i.e., weedy). It is sometimes grown as a cover crop, in addition to the use of its ground seeds for buckwheat flour. It is called a pseudograin or pseudocereal because it is not in the grass family (in the same way that amaranth, chia, and quinoa are pseudocereals).

Cushion buckwheat is Eriogonum ovalifolium. Like Fagopyrum, Eriogonum is in the knotweed family—Polygonaceae. There are about twenty native species of Eriogonum in Washington. Many of them grow east of the Cascades. Many more species of Eriogonum are native to California. (This article by Jennifer Jewell, Pacific Horticulture, April 2013 is a good introduction.) Many are best appreciated in the wild. If you want to grow buckwheat ornamentally, try to select a species that suits your garden conditions (ideally, in full sun, in soil that is well-drained and not overwatered, and mulched with gravel). Jewell's article suggests that penstemon, salvia, and grasses might make good garden companions for the right species of Eriogonum. Plant expert Linda Cochran has experimented with growing a variety of Eriogonum umbellatum in her Olympic Peninsula garden.

Here is some interesting trivia about the scientific names for these different kinds of buckwheat, Eriogonum's name is derived from Greek: Erio = wool / gony = knee, referring to hairy nodes of the first scientifically described species E. tomentosum. Fagopyrum comes from Latin fagus (beech) and Greek pyrus (wheat) because the achenes (dried fruits) resemble beechnuts.

Question:

Last year I purchased a plant at a plant sale. The tag said simply 'celandine.' It is flowering now, and its flowers are like yellow poppies. The leaves are attractive and very distinctive—deeply cut margins, kind of like oak leaves. But when I think of celandine, I think of the Cicely Barker flower fairies books from childhood. I am not sure this is the same plant.

Answer:

You are not alone in experiencing 'celandine confusion,' discussed in this article from The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College. The confusion rests on the use of that common name to describe a plant that is a Washington State-listed Class B noxious weed in the buttercup family, and two different plants in the poppy family.

If you remember the illustration for "The Song of the Celandine Fairy" depicting 'the lesser celandine,' the illustration shows Ficaria verna (also called Ranunculus ficaria). There is also a 'greater celandine' fairy in Barker's books, and that image looks more like Chelidonium majus which is in the poppy family and is a native of Europe. It is a bit harder to tell the difference between Chelidonium and Stylophorum diphyllum. Your plant is most likely one of these. Other common names for Stylophorum are 'celandine poppy,' and 'wood poppy.' Stylophorum is native to moist woodlands of eastern North America. Here's what will help you tell one from the other:
According to Andrew Bunting, curator of the Scott Arboretum, "Stylophorum has broader leaves and Chelidonium leaves are more dissected. Also, the flowers are smaller on Chelidonium." These images from Kathy Purdy’s Cold Climate Gardening blog neatly illustrates the differences in flower and leaf size. Further, when they reach the phase of producing seed pods, the difference is striking.

For additional information about Stylophorum, including suggestions of plant combinations for gardens, see this link from University of Wisconsin-Madison's Master Gardener Program, and this one from Bruce Crawford, director of Rutgers Gardens, on the plant that launched his career in horticulture.

Question:

I planted some Galanthus 'Flore Pleno' three years ago. For all three years, the foliage comes up, buds form.....and then nothing. The buds swell and begin to color, but they never 'drop,' and will remain on the plants for up to two months without change. They never open, but very gradually become desiccated. They do not turn brown like daffodils with bud blast, and I see no signs of fungal disease. The foliage appears totally healthy. They are planted in a north facing bed, soil is medium-heavy but not waterlogged. I have done research but have found no explanation. Any thoughts are appreciated.

Answer:

A general article by Christopher Lloyd on snowdrops in The Guardian (2001) makes a brief mention of heat causing bulbs to go blind (i.e., not flower), but this is said in the context of growing them indoors. Lloyd also mentions that Galanthus bulbs "are at their happiest in a clay/humus-rich soil that will be damp in winter and spring and dry during the summer." They do not thrive in soil which is too rich or too acidic.

Another possibility is that you may need to divide them. Seattle's Dunn Gardens has a helpful care sheet for growing snowdrops. Here is an excerpt:
"In the garden snowdrops do best in a partially shaded situation. If you have a very sandy, free-draining soil, amend it with compost. They love damp ground especially in the winter/spring. After the plant has finished flowering, allow the foliage to fully die down on its own. Do NOT cut the foliage off early, nor twist or braid it. Yes it will be ugly, but if planted around later emerging perennials, it won't be so offensive.
"The Narcissus fly is the bane of snowdrops. After flowering, the fly will lay eggs on the foliage. The eggs hatch and the maggots will eat their way down into the bulb, destroying it. We've found that siting this bulb, where it gets afternoon or full shade after flowering, greatly reduces the chances of infestation. There is little in the way of chemical control, and what there is, is nasty.
"To bulk up galanthus, liquid feed after flowering, with a half strength solution of a water-soluble fertilizer, every two weeks, until the foliage has died down completely. If you notice that the clumps are becoming congested (bulbs are starting to push up out of the ground), divide immediately after flowering."

I recommend Naomi Slade's book, The Plant Lover's Guide to Snowdrops (Timber Press, 2014). In it, she describes in great detail the Fibonacci series by which snowdrops multiply: some varieties do this quickly, others slowly, in a mathematically governed sequence. The result of this natural system of propagation is that you will eventually have a dense clump of snowdrops that needs splitting up every few years if the bulbs are to have sufficient resources to produce flowers.