Thursday, July 31, 2014

Darling, daring Dragonflies

This is indeed the year of the dragonfly! They seem to be everywhere and at all hours of the day. Twenty years ago they appeared in great numbers in late afternoon, gracefully hovering in a suspended dance above the meadow. This year they appear in mass by mid-morning and in a stunning array of brilliant colors. Dragonflies are located worldwide and have more than 5,000 described species, 450 of which reside in North America, with Texas alone home to 225 species. Considerably downsized now, a fossilized dragonfly from 250 million years ago had a wingspan of 28 inches.

Dragonfly adults are lovely and graceful, with a sweet head that turns to look at you quizzically with magical eyes. Often brightly colored they have two pair of long, slender, transparent, and highly veined wings. The wings do not fold but are held permanently outstretched even when at rest. Adult dragonflies are usually found near water with a territory which may range several miles. Many males are intensely protective, defending their domain from other males, which may explain sudden aeronautical chases exhibiting extraordinary maneuverability.

A truly beneficial insect from infancy to maturity, dragonflies eat mosquitoes. The immature dragonfly is called a nymphs (or naiads). Nymphs are entirely aquatic and are found on submerged vegetation and the bottom of ponds and marshes where they capture and eat mosquito larvae. The adults seen above the meadows are capturing adult mosquitoes while in flight.

As with all interesting insects, there are many folk tales surrounding the dragonfly. Perhaps due to their unusual and multifaceted eyes, in Norway and Sweden they were said to be sinister works of the Devil. Conversely the Pueblo tribes have endowed them with significant importance. They are said to represent swiftness and activity and to the Navajo pure water. Dragonflies are a common motif in Zuni pottery, Hopi rock art and they appear on many Pueblo necklaces. In Japan they are a symbol of late summer and early autumn and also represent courage, strength, and happiness. They often appear in art, literature, and on Japanese pottery.

Regardless of their artistic and intrinsic importance the fact they will purge the garden of mosquitoes, which seem to be in large abundance this year, makes them an extremely welcome visitor anytime.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Rose of Sharon and the Korean Connection

Summer is always hot and one of the most lovely trees begins flowering as the temperature climbs. The Rose of Sharon, of the Hibiscus family, is a deciduous shrub or tree who adores the heat while tolerating dry spells very well. It may be left as a shrub or pruned to grow as a single-trunk tree of mid height. Of course it has an intricate historical and political history.

Rose of Sharon, a native of Asia, is the national flower of South Korea… its Korean name, ‘mugunghwa‘, means ‘eternal’. The ancient Silla Kingdom that ruled Korea between 75 BCE and 935 AD adopted it as its symbol as did the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled the country between 1392 and 1910. The ancient Chinese referred to Korea as the “the land of gentlemen where mugunghwa blooms” in reference to the flower. It is of such import that it is and it is often portrayed in paintings, on wall murals, and in Korean architectural features.

Prior to liberation from Japanese rule in 1945, Nam Gung-eok, a Korean gentleman and scholar, sent tens of thousands of the small trees from his home to public places throughout the country so they might be planted in ‘hills of Roses of Sharon’. He hoped for them to symbolize Korean optimism and hope, while making the statement the people refused to be subjugated. Naturally he was arrested and sent to prison in what would later be called the "the mugunghwa incident". Following liberation from Japan, the Korean government adopted the hibiscus as their national flower.

Light or little pruning will allow the Rose of Sharon to stay a bushy shrub, blooming profusely with small flowers. To create a single trunk, it must be pruned in late Winter and the result is fewer, yet larger flowers. Varieties have flowers ranging from white to pinks and lavenders… and each will sport the deep crimson of the petal center.

Red hibiscus is often cited as a medicinal curative to lower blood pressure and cool the body while the flower is used as a seasoning and the tuber eaten as a vegetable. It is joyful in full sun and will do well in average soils. Blooming from now until late Fall, their profuse flowers make this shrub a most attractive addition to the garden.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Drought Tolerant

Drought Tolerant Plants
July and August begin our season of sizzle as the garden dries rapidly with the overhead heat. One must prepare for these inevitable conditions by including an array of sun-loving, drought tolerant perennials… and few plants withstand dry conditions as well as the Sedum genus. With over 300 species available, there is one for every garden setting.
Native to regions in the northern hemisphere Sedums are among the most hardy and durable plants, and will endure where all other plants may perish. They are also called Stonecrop for their habit of living almost anywhere including mounds of stone, piles of gravel, even growing well while tucked into chinks in a rock wall. Their plump fleshy leaves are their secret to survival, storing water for the plant to use during extremely dry spells.

Sedum is not susceptible to pests who are repelled by their stout leaves, however butterflies and bees are abundant about the blooms. Easy to propagate, simply break a leaf or stem from the Mother plant, shove it into a hole the size of an index finger, tamp the soil, lightly water, and a new plant will emerge. ‘Autumn Joy’ (pictured) is among the most popular, blooming profusely from the hottest days of Summer until the first freeze.

Another interesting addition to the drought garden is Sempervivum Tectorum, commonly known as Hen and Chicks, which were first recorded by the Greek botanist Theophraste, during the 4th century BC. Grown under identical conditions as the Sedums, this fascinating little plant is a mat-forming succulent that produces clusters of rosettes. The parent rosettes are the ‘hens’ and the smaller rosettes that spring from them are the ‘chicks‘. Children find the habit of producing ‘chicks’ extremely interesting, making it a wonderful lure to the garden.

Both Sempervivum and Sedum are considered ‘Old World Treasures’ and are associated with mythology. The Romans called them ‘Beard of Jupiter’ and planted them on roofs to guard against lightning… Sempervivum tectorum is taken from the Latin ‘tectum‘ which means ‘roof’. This myth spread throughout Europe to Ireland and in Scandinavian countries both plants were called Thor’s Helper’ where they were believed to drive off demons and guard homes if planted on roofs. According to folk wisdom, one may hang sedum on a wall in midsummer and it may foretell the outcome of affairs of the heart. Both are reputed to have the medicinal benefit of an energy boost however today they are best used as ornamentals. As the heat continues to escalate, these plants are indeed garden treasures!