Chuquiraga aurea is among the most common and largest cushion-forming plants. This spiny aster relative can form cushions the size and height of a Volkswagen bug! Bright yellowish gold strawflowers lend an air of everlasting flowering to the plant, which is rarely cultivated. All images by the authors.
The largest families of plants that now dominate steppe floras around the world—Asteraceae, Poaceae, Brassicaceae, and Scrophulariaceae—are believed to have arisen and evolved fairly late in the current Cenozoic era, long after much of the mountain-building in steppe regions was under way. Since herbaceous plants—especially those from xeric or alpine environments—are rarely preserved as fossils, much of the paleobotanical data is inferred by genetics and current distributions. It is likely that distant ancestors of these large families may well have occurred in more than one of the steppe regions: a significant proportion of the floras of North America and Eurasia are so closely related that they are believed to derive from a common floral ancestry from times when these continents were conjoined—or at least connected. The twinning of Abies and Picea at subalpine latitudes across the northern hemisphere suggests their origins may be traced to a common ancestor that once grew in the highlands of Laurasia. Myriad other comparable twinnings between continents argues for the uniform genetic origins of much of the highest latitude north temperate flora (termed Holarctic by botanists and zoologists alike), their distribution often characterized as circumboreal.
Gardening is all about syncopation. Although you should not be a slave to a watering schedule, it’s helpful to think about what you should do and when to do it. Unlike your garden outdoors, the pattern isn’t always obvious, even though seasonal cues indirectly drive your indoor gardening schedule. Here are some brief ideas for care points to address at the right moment, starting with autumn, when houseplant season begins.
Yarrow, monarda, and serviceberries. Three Midwest plants that many don’t realize are edible. All images by Lisa M. Rose
Learn to identify, harvest, and prepare these common plants with the help of Midwest Foraging author Lisa M. Rose.
So many of us are seeking a connection to the land and to each other. Foraging, local foods, and community gardening connect us in a deeper way to the world around us. That need for escape into the wild is very real: we desire space and clarity. I believe this is one reason foraging is gaining in popularity. We are also making the connection between healthy soil, healthy foods, and healthy people. The food on our plate has—or should have—roots in the earth.
As a forager, I have learned to sense and anticipate the subtle changes in the seasons, almost like a sixth sense. On sunny February days that are cold but bright, I can actually hear the sap in the maple trees begin to run. April rainstorms and warmer weather means it’s time to go mushroom hunting. On muggy days in June with frequent pop-up thundershowers, I always check on the roses and elderflowers—one round of summer thunderstorms could decimate the delicate blooms that I so love to dry for tea. And nuts falling in the green gulch next to my kitchen window? I try to harvest those walnuts before the squirrels do. I feel empowered with this ability to “read” the wild world around me. I will always have the ability to find food and these skills connect me to the natural world in a deep way.
2015 is the International Year of Soils, the purpose of which is to raise awareness of the importance of soils. In this spirit, several of our authors share what they find most impressive about soils and why that matters.
Between 1963 and 1967, volcanic activity formed a new land mass south of Iceland. Because of the creation of soil, it is now home to many kinds of flora and fauna. (Top image: NOAA, Bottom image: Michael F. Schönitzer)
In the beginning, when volcanic action or movements of the Earth’s crust expose a new land surface, there is only bare rock. Between 1963 and 1967 a series of volcanic eruptions on the seabed 32 kilometres south of Iceland thrust a new island above the surface. Icelanders called it Surtsey and today it is a World Heritage Site where biologists monitor the arrival and establishment of living organisms. Its 141 hectares currently support 60 species of vascular plants, 75 species of bryophytes, 71 of lichens, and 24 of fungi, as well as 335 species of invertebrates, and 89 species of birds have visited it. No people live there, so it is a kind of living laboratory where scientists can observe the natural compilation of a habitable environment, based on the production of soil.
Therapeutic gardens designed with the four principles in mind offer a wide range of therapeutic value for users.
“Gardens can and do restore our state of health,” write Therapeutic Gardens authors Daniel Winterbottom and Amy Wagenfeld. A close look at one school for children with special needs shows us how.
Therapeutic garden design principles
Sense of control (actual and perceived). The garden allows individuals to make choices. It provides a temporary escape, a sensation of “being away,” an opportunity for the user to gain control of his or her emotions and refocus attention.
Sense of belonging and connection. The garden has familiarity and fosters a sense of attachment and place. It has a variety of enclosed and public spaces for private and open exchanges.
Movement and exercise. The garden supports low-impact activities, including walking, wheeled mobility, gardening, play, formal exercise, and physical rehabilitation. These activities build strength, reduce stress, and elevate mood.
Sensory nourishment. The garden offers heightened interactions with nature through the senses. Natural distractions improve emotional states, diminish troublesome thoughts, and foster positive physiological outcomes.
Aphids attacking your roses? Why not let the plant call in reinforcements before getting out the pesticides? Image: Lincoln Peh
Plants are full of surprises. How Plants Work author Linda Chalker-Scott shares a few of her favorites.
1) SENDING OUT AN SOS
Like clockwork, the first buds on the rose bushes in our sunny front yard emerge in April, followed by an army of aphids that covers the buds entirely. If I happen to see this, I’ll set my hand sprinkler on stun and blast them away, but sometimes I’ll forget. When that happens, do my rosebuds get sucked away into lifeless husks? No. In fact, they don’t show much damage at all. Eventually our local lacewings and ladybugs stop by for a little green snack.
How do these beneficial predators know where the aphids are? Many plants, ornamentals and vegetables alike, send out very specific gaseous signals when they’re under attack. Over time, certain species of predatory and parasitoid insects have learned that these airborne alarms mean lunch. These signals are only emitted during the day, when natural enemies are active. When the herbivorous pests are gone (having either escaped or been eaten), the compounds are no longer produced. To make this phenomenon even more fascinating, plants downwind of the victim may also pick up on the signal and start building chemical defenses against future attack by the herbivore.
When we gardeners indiscriminately spray pesticides for the slightest pest problem, we not only kill the pest, but also the beneficial organisms that could take care of our problem for us at no charge.