29 June 2015

Trunk of the Month: June 2015: Acer griseum


Acer griseum is also known as the paperbark maple. This is because the bark on this beautifully ornamental tree peels away in decorative curly flakes; in a similar way to the birches.

Sadly, this tree is on the IUCN Red List with a status of endangered. While the paperbark maple is found naturally over a wide area of central China, the population is small and fragmented. It is aid to be difficult to propagate whether by vegetative methods, such as cuttings, or by seed.

Unsurprisingly, this tree has the RHS Award for Garden merit and its green leaves turn red and orange in the autumn. Growing to around 12 metres high and 8 metres in spread over 50 years, a large garden would be required to get the best of out of the tree, but if I could meet the criteria, I'd definitely grow it.

The only problem with this trunk is that nothing of note seems to be growing on it or using it as a habitat. But, that being said, you can't have everything. The beauty of the trunk alone makes this my trunk of the month.

Resources
Kew. (n.d). Acer griseum (paperbark maple). Available: http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/acer-griseum-paperbark-maple. Last accessed 28/06/2015.

01 June 2015

My Garden Nemesis: Horsetail (Equisetum)

The horsetail family is often called a 'living fossil', this is because Equisetum is the only genus left of Equisetaceae, some members of which were trees growing 30 meters in height.

I think my nemesis is Equisetum arvense, the field horsetail. In some ways I'm lucky because the fertile heads that release the spores are only present in the Spring, whereas other species have fertile heads year-round.

While the plant is botanically interesting because of the silica that it deposits in its stems and leaves, especially rough horsetail (E. hyemale), which used to be used for scouring pans. Also because it can be apparently boiled in water to make a mildew fungicide for plants such as roses, and not forgetting the fact that it can be taken apart and put back together like lego (hence another name 'Lego plant'), but it is a gigantic pain in my garden and most of my energy each year is wasted keeping it under control.

This is only the beginning :(

Last year I read an article that described horsetail spores as being able to move around. So, in a bid to get to know my enemy a bit better, I decided to take a fertile head into the house and check the spores under the microscope.


I was surprised by just how green the spores are, but not how horribly numerous. Their tiny size of 50 ┬Ám hides the fact that once these things germinate they develop deep and creeping roots that are incredibly difficult to control. Even deep cultivation is likely to break the plant up into small pieces that are able to regenerate. We go for the option of pulling as much as we can reach as frequently as we have the energy in the hope of reducing the stored energy of the plant over time. It's a long term approach and as the whole street is 'infested' with horsetail it's likely to be a never ending task!

However, back to the spores!

The spores, along with being green, has 4 elaters, which are basically appendages that allow the spore to move. This movement is random and seem to be driven by cycles in humidity. During my observations, I noticed that there would be a mass movement for the first minute or so after release from the sporangium, release from which seems to be one of the three reasons for movement given by Marmottant et al. The other two being to reorient and to refold and ensures an annoyingly efficient dispersal. If you'd like to read more about horsetail spore movements, I recommend you read The walk and jump of Equisetum spores by Marmottant et al, which is available in full here.

You will also be able to find better videos of horsetail movement online, but here is the footage I captured with my microscope:


I am always open to new ideas about managing the 'horsetail situation' as long as it doesn't mean poisoning my garden or concreting it over! Please let me know what works for you in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

References
Mabey, Richard. Flora Britannica. 1st edition. London: Chatto & Windus / Sinclair Stevenson, 1996.
Marmottant, P., Ponomarenko, A., & Bienaime, D. (2013). The walk and jump of Equisetum spores Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280 (1770), 20131465-20131465 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1465

25 May 2015

Book Review: Home Herbal by Maureen Little

This book on using herbs for health, beauty, and domestic products, is a little treasure. Maureen writes in a way that makes every product and every herb inviting and accessible. Each page leaves you feeling an urgent desire to create a herb garden or to add ever more species of herbs to your current garden.

Chapter 1 deals with growing, harvesting, preserving and storing herbs. Sometimes in a question format, and other times as straightforward instructions on how to perform the desired task and get desired results.

Chapter 2 looks at different planting schemes for specific uses, for instance there's a planting plan for first-aid and another for cosmetics, etc.

Chapter 3 provides a C to T of body parts or ailments and the relevant recipes. Often there are two or three different recipes that you can try for problems such as bites and stings, hangovers, or toothache!

Chapters 4 and 5 look at using herbs for cosmetics and in the home, respectively.

Beyond this there is an excellent gazetteer of the herbs mentioned in the book. For me, this was the best bit of an excellent book. As well as a section on the vitals for the plant (height and spread, plant pat used, uses, etc), Maureen gives an interesting history of the plant and a description of what the plant looks like.

There are also appendices and a glossary at the end of the book.

So while this book, at 205 pages in small format, is brief and concise; it's filled with relevant information and facts in an enjoyably readable style. It's definitely worth a read as I can see it being a book readers will dip into each time they have need.