Monday, August 22, 2011
Plants have been source of fascination since the beginning of time. They have provided a plethora of benefits to mankind and use of them has evolved over hundreds of years. However as all gardeners know, there is a dark side to the plant kingdom and many common plants are extremely toxic causing complaints which range from indigestion, to hallucinogenic visions, and possibly even death. The science of using dangerous plants reached a zenith during Medieval times when dispatching an enemy was as simple as brewing a tea! Today, for the well being of children and pets, it is wise to know which common plants impose significant dangers.
Almost all flowering bulbs are toxic in some manner so do not ingest any of them. Many plants contain dangerous compounds which are removed by cooking. Our own Poke Weed, found in early spring, is toxic unless the leaves are prepared in a specific manner. The roots, leaves, and flowers of Taro, a wild Elephant Ear, are staple foods in some tropical countries, but they too must all be cooked before eating. Some plants have parts of them which are edible while other parts are toxic. The Rhubarb, used in flavorful jellies and pies, has poisonous leaves but the stalks are not.
The following plants are listed as fatal, making them of particular import. Bunny Rabbit flowers aside, the lovely Larkspur is so toxic that it was used during the Revolutionary War as a pesticide. Soldiers stuffed their boots with it to repel mites and ticks. Oddly, the green berries of the lovely and prolific Lantana are fatal in small doses as are those of the Wisteria, Jasmine and Mistletoe. All parts of the Azalea and Rhododendron plants are deadly as well. The popular house plant Dieffenbachia is called dumb cane for it’s affect on the mouth and throat if ingested. The instant swelling not only renders the individual dumb, but may cause air-blocking swelling.
Many toxic plants incur cult followings among ill informed youth and the exotic Moonflower is no exception. Called forth by the light of the Moon, the large trumpet shaped creamy white flowers are highly scented and bloom all night. Unfortunately the Moonflower produces seeds that possess hallucinogenic powers… the plant made national news last fall when high school students chewed seeds in class!
Salvia Divinorum contains a property which is a potent naturally occurring hallucinogen when smoked. The leaves were used in traditional spiritual practices by the Mazatec people of Mexico however due to it’s ‘popularity’ among non-native followers, it has been banned in twelve states including Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Delaware, North Dakota, Illinois, and Ohio as well as all of Australia.
There is a simple common sense rule to follow in dealing with the Plant Kingdom: Do not graze in the woods or garden chewing or smoking what abounds unless it is something that you know and recognize... and as Fall cleanup commences, monitor small children and pets.
Some Poisonous Plants Residing in My Garden~
Sunday, August 21, 2011
The Heat Dome
The phrase 'heat dome' is casually tossed about by meteorologists every day now; it has become part of our vocabulary and seems to be the word of the season. The dome is part of a summer weather pattern wherein a large high-pressure system... essentially a huge mound of stagnant hot air...arrives to park itself over at least one region of the country and the South Central region is the most popular for it. This hot air keeps out the rain and allows for a slow broil underneath it.
Until 2007, the last memorable heat dome was in the year 2001 in which we had day after day of searing temperatures over a 100 degrees. We were caught on the North Canadian Bridge in an accident that year so I will never forget it. Michael had stopped to take a dead cat off the road or we would have been the people hit by a diesel truck which had barreled down on a red Jeep, smashing it and forcing it to dangle precariously halfway over the guard rail. The truck had been reported five separate times for erratic driving for over two hundred miles before the accident, and yet continued racing towards destiny. The young couple in the Jeep were uninjured and managed to crawl out but the diesel had spilled everywhere. It took four hours for the cleanup and the bridge was loaded with cars... all heating up as the drivers of the 18 wheelers kept cool and the rest of us boiled. The temperatures was 105 that day but reached 140 on the bridge.
As we waited the boom of the adjacent gang bangers CD mirrored my heartbeat, a lady had a panic attack then one had a heart attack.. it was entirely too hot and we were trapped! After an hour and a half, I decided I had to get off the bridge... Michael could fend for himself. I got my umbrella out of the trunk and took off to walk the mile and a half off the damn bridge. At our road, I flagged down a pickup to drive me the two miles back home. I stripped in the yard and flew to the horse tank to immerse myself in the cool water. It took hours for me to finally cool down!
For the next three years whenever the temperatures got above 98.3 (body temp) I would get spacey and oddly, I didn't sweat anymore. I still don’t do over 105 degrees well. This year Oklahoma has had the dubious honor of mention on the National News as temperatures continue beating out Death Valley for the record.
As the hot conditions prevail, the National Weather Service has issued numerous heat advisories which are indicative of a ‘heat storm’ and should be taken as seriously as a tornado watch. I believe that anytime the outdoor conditions are above average human body temperature, extended exposure is extremely dangerous. If a person’s body temperature reaches over 106 degrees, they may become comatose so this kind of heat may cause higher than average fatalities, therefore basic safety rules must be followed.
Statistically in a normal year an average of 175 people will succumb to summer heat waves in the United States, but any given year can vary dramatically from the norm. For example, one of the worst periods on record was the disastrous heat wave of 1980 which claimed more than 1,200 lives. Equally devastating was the summer of 1995 during which more than 1,000 people died of heat-related causes.
To protect yourself you should:
Stay indoors (preferably in air conditioned space) as much as possible.
Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
Drink plenty of water and natural juices.
Avoid alcohol and beverages with caffeine which could increase dehydration. Eat small, light meals.
Avoid strenuous activities or at least reschedule them for early morning or late evening hours.
To protect others you should:
Never leave children or pets in a closed vehicle where temperatures could soar to 190 degrees in less than 10 minutes.
Check on elderly neighbors.
Always protect small children from the sun.
Provide shade and cool water for pets.
*If one begins to feel faint or light-headed, immediately get into a cool place and possibly tepid water to quickly lower the body’s core temperature.
With the proper precautions we can beat this heat and look forward to Fall... and may my sweet Viburnum who died yesterday RIP.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
One year on a whim, we had a South American themed garden and filled the kidney shaped bed on the upper level solely with flowers that had a Mexican flair and would attract butterflies. It seems flowers originating in South America have the brightest and deepest colors, the easy habit of drought survival and they all seem to shout Fiesta!
We planted Mexican heather, orange and yellow Nastursums, deep purple Petunias, scarlet red Chile Pepper Scabiosa, electric blue Salvia, scarlet and deep yellow swirl Zinnias, and anything else we could find that seemed fun. Everything was planted too closely and all with contrasting colors adjacent to each other. The result was intermingling of colors spilling out and over the bed in a riot of color by mid summer.
Everyone who saw it had a giggle… it was so over the top. Since annuals are not true garden guests, merely tourists passing through who last but one season, there are few rules in planting them. Allow the imagination to run rampant!
Monday, August 8, 2011
Many of the flowers in the garden are seeding now so it is an ideal time to collect seeds for saving and sharing with other gardeners. The importance of collecting ands saving seeds must not be underestimated for many species of plants have been lost over time. Also the seeds of flowers that have acclimated in your garden this year will fare better next for they created a DNA memory of the conditions where they resided. For example the marigolds saved this year will double in size and require less watering than those fresh from a packet next summer. Collect seeds when the sun has dried all the morning dew, which is mid-morning of late, and store them in a zip lock bag. Remember to keep the seeds at a constant temperature above freezing for optimum results.
When the great pyramids were opened, archaeologists discovered caches of seeds among other artifacts. Upon planting some of these seeds, stored for thousands of years, germinated primarily because of the dry and warm temperature conditions within the pyramids where they were stored. There is also an amazing report of lupine (Lupinus articicus) seeds over 10,000 years old sprouting as well. Discovered in the Yukon of Alaska they were found deep within the burrows of ancient lemmings buried in permafrost silt dating to the Pleistocene epoch. The tenacity of Nature’s plan is always inspiring.
However many of our heirloom varieties of seeds have been lost over time, and sometimes purposefully. From ancient times through the Greco/Roman days there existed many plant species that effectively acted as natural birth control. Although always a subject of religious discussion, birth control had been left in the hands of women and their midwives until medieval times when authority over it was suddenly was transferred to the church and male doctors of the day. Within decades of the 1869 edict of Pope Pius IX outlawing birth control for Catholics, most of the species of these plants had become extinct. In effect, the seeds of plants had been replaced by the seeds of men.
Although it is terribly hot, collecting and storing seeds is a way to preserve this year’s garden... so that it may be carried forth to next year through its offspring.
Monday, August 1, 2011
This fall consider dividing overly zealous perennials. In particular, the lovely Amaryllis Belladonna need division occasionally. In making a new pathway it was necessary to move an established group and it was surprising to find their underground conditions were absolutely deplorable. The mass of bulbs had grown to the size of a large bushel basket, with both large and small bulbs growing sideways, downward and oftentimes strangled, covered by the roots and presence of other bulbs. Some were even growing into other each other! Overwhelmed with guilt I realized they had been left undisturbed over twenty years and the original six bulbs had morphed into literally hundreds that were choking each other! Poor bulbs! With little care they will bloom faithfully for over seventy years so they deserve decent lodgings.
To divide use a garden fork which will not cause as much damage the roots as a shovel and dig at the mound-edge in a large circular pattern. Begin to gently lift, easing the mass from the ground, attempting to get most of the roots which are attached. Rinse the mass of bulbs off with the hose and begin by carefully separating the entwined roots. Once they are divided, separate the smaller bulbs from the larger by placing them in two piles. Trim off any yellow or unhealthy foliage but leave healthy, green foliage attached. While the bulbs are out of their bed, take the opportunity to turn the soil and incorporate some compost, rotted manure or peat moss to enrich it even if you are planting them back from whence they came. Do the same if you are planning a new bed.
Replant the largest bulbs and remember not to plant too deeply or flowering will decrease. Bulbs are generally spaced about 8 inches apart and show best in the garden when planted in clumps of three or more. Pick a new spot in the garden to plant the smaller bulbs and do not expect them to flower the first year for it will take a bit of time for them to grow and become flowering adults.
When next summer comes, keep in mind they produce seed pods at the end of the stalks if the flowers were pollinated. Unless you are breeding Amaryllis or just want to try your hand at growing them from seed, promptly cut the stalks back after the flowers fade to preserve the energy of the bulb for future flowering. Wait for Fall and have fun digging!