Flowery Friday.

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Yes, it’s not a plant most people are fond of here; there’s a very good reason quite a few species are on our province’s invasive plants list. But I have a fascination with thistles – there’s all that geometry and architecture about them, especially when they’re not in full flower – so when I found this specimen in an overgrown back alley a block from my home in early July of last year, I was keen to get some photos of it. This isn’t the ubiquitous Canada thistle (Circsium arvense) – rather, I think it is Carduus nutans, nodding thistle, sometimes called musk thistle.

Of course, while I was hunkered down on the ground with my camera, busily snapping away, a city bylaw officer drove into the alley to investigate.  What he thought of my antics, I’ll never know, as he (thankfully!) didn’t stop the car to talk to me…but I do know that less than a week later, that alley was sprayed very thoroughly with weed killer.

Flowery Friday.

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I’m doing a Flowery Friday Flashback to mid-June and a stormy day at Swan Lake, in northern Alberta.  Clover has one of those reputations: depending on who you ask, it’s either an abominable ghastly weed or a valuable pollinator plant/nitrogen fixer/Very Good Thing.

This is alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum), and it looks pretty spectacular dressed up with rain drops and just the right light.  I always mistakenly thought that alsike clover was a cross between red (T. pratense) and white clover (T. repens), but it’s not, in spite of the misleading name and the combination of red and white colour in the flowers.

Warm thoughts.

I headed out to Nose Hill and Whispering Woods shortly after sunrise this morning and spent a couple of sun-filled hours meandering on the trails…I am so thankful I had the forethought to put my ice cleats on my boots or I would have had to turn back right at the gate to the Hill.  Even with the extra grip, I was still skidding all over the place.  (Who needs to go out to the mountains for an ice walk experience when there are such excellent opportunities at home?).   😉

Yesterday was humid and cold and so the trees were all caked in frost, but as I walked I could feel the warm air currents slip down into the valleys, and the sunlight quickly burned off the ice.  The aspen were so strongly scented they made me think of spring thaw.   And that’s a very pleasant thought, indeed….

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Frost…no frost…. 

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Very green aspens in Whispering Woods

IMG_0789Thistles may be annoying, but boy, do they have winter interest! 

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Bugleweed. And “friends.”

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Some gardeners steer clear of plants like bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) – but in my case, ‘Black Scallop’ was the perfect choice for a large space that needed a pretty cover. And although it may appear that the bugleweed  is gunning for the lawn in this photo, rest assured it is actually the other way around and unfortunately presents clear photographic evidence of my faulty weeding practices.   Sigh…just keeping it real!   😉

What are your favourite ground cover plants?  Which are big no-no’s?  Are there any that you particularly favour for difficult spots (ie: under trees, in shady locations etc.)?

Interesting facts about dandelions.

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Dandelions, dandelions everywhere! The City has reduced its herbicide use over the past few years, which is a very good thing – dandelions are, after all, one of the best early pollinator plants around!

Just for fun, I dug up some Interesting Facts about Dandelions:

The name dandelion comes from the French “dent de lion” – lion’s tooth, which refers to the serrated leaves.

Another folk name for dandelion is “swine snort,” which makes me want to sneeze or giggle or both.

Taraxacum officinale is a perennial, but there are some dandelion species that are biennial.

If you mow dandelions, they’ll grow shorter stalks to spite you.

Dandelion pollen cannot cause allergies – the grains are far too large to be bothersome, but you can get contact dermatitis from the milky sap (latex) that the plant contains.

Dandelions open in the daytime and close at night.

Dandelion seed can travel up to 8 kilometres (5 miles).

Dandelion flower heads can be used to make dye in the yellow-green range.  The leaves will make a purple dye.

Dandelions will produce more seed than usual if their habitat is disturbed, giving them a competitive edge over other plants in the area.

Dandelions have a taproot which can extend up to a whopping 4.5 metres (15 feet) underground, although you’ll typically find them top out at 45 cm (18″), which is still pretty long.

The taproot of dandelions is very useful to reduce compaction in garden soil.

Dandelions are dynamic accumulators – that means they can draw nutrients such as nitrogen from the soil and concentrate them in their leaves and roots.

The parts of the dandelion apparently represent the celestial bodies: the yellow flower head is the sun, the white seed head is the moon, and the seeds are the stars as they spread all over the galaxy (read: your lawn).

What we think of as the petals of a dandelion flower are actually individual flowers themselves. They will produce fruit called achenes, followed by the tiny, barbed brown seed and it’s accompanying “parachute” (called a pappus) that helps it disperse in the wind.

Dandelion flowers do not need pollinators to form seed – they can pollinate themselves.

Dandelions likely originated in Eurasia 30 million years ago.

Dandelions are known as ruderals or pioneer plants, the first to colonize disturbed land (such as after a wildfire).

Dandelion blossoms have been historically used to treat warts, clear skin complexion, and heal blisters.

 I read that there is some sort of idea to use the latex in the future to make rubber tires for automobiles – we’ll see how that turns out.  UPDATE: There is an article about the concept here.

Dandelion roots can be used as a coffee substitute, much like chicory.

I had no idea, but dandelion roots can also be used to make beer – here is one recipe I found, which also uses burdock roots.

Dandelion leaves are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, and the minerals calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese.

Some children’s books (fiction and non-fiction) about dandelions include: Joseph P. Anthony’s The Dandelion Seed, L. Kite’s Dandelion Adventures, and two sets of  books with the same title, From Seed to Dandelion, by Jan Kottke and Ellen Weiss, and Dandelions, by Kathleen Kudlinski and Eve Bunting.  I reviewed Kevin Sheehan’s The Dandelion’s Tale a few years ago on my now-defunct blog The Door is Ajar – you can find my thoughts here.

Did you know there is a dandelion tree?  Well, not really…it’s another case of the utter inaccuracy of most common names. Despite this, Dendroseris pruinata is fascinating and rare, and you can take a look at some photos of it here.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s tallest dandelion was grown here in Canada (in Ontario), and was found in September of 2011.  It topped out at a whopping 177.8 cm (70 inches).  Apparently, there have been at least two (maybe three?) record-breaking dandelions grown since then, but there is some dispute over whether any of them – even the record-holder – are actually dandelions at all.  Read all about the controversy here!  (This one in Norfolk certainly seems a little suspicious…).

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I found this strange dandelion specimen this morning out on Nose Hill – it looks like it might be a type of fasciation.  The fifth flower head actually drove through the centre stem, which was massively enlarged and already sported four joined flower heads. 

Flowery Prose gets a makeover.

In part because our spectacular sunny reprieve from winter is coming to an end (up to 10 centimetres of snow is predicted for tomorrow, which reminds me that I needed to buy new winter boots a few days ago…sigh) AND because I’ve been pondering it for some time, I’m announcing some additions to Flowery Prose.

As many of you know, I’m what I term a “microgardener” – I live in a tiny one bedroom apartment (with no balcony or deck) and although I have soil to dig in – I look after the perennial gardens on the property where I live, and I rent a community garden plot every year – I have space limitations like you wouldn’t believe.  Plus, there’s the not-to-be-overlooked-even-if-we-wanted-to fact that it is winter here in Alberta about six or seven months out of the year (if we’re lucky).  In truth, it’s not always possible (or desirable) to post about my gardens’ goings-on, which is why you’ll see me touring other gardens or writing about the plants I see on my hikes or delving into some tidbit of plant lore I find while I’m doing research.

I’m still going to do all of that.  My blog is first and foremost about plants and gardening…I aim to keep the “flowery” in Flowery Prose.

But I’m going to add some topics to the mix.  As a freelance writer, I’ve covered everything from vinegar to minor hockey, and while things won’t be quite that eclectic around here, I’m eager to explore a bit more in the way of local history, nature, cooking and baking, and photography.  I’ve already done a bit of that here in the past…only now I won’t necessarily add a plant or gardening connection.

Except for gardening titles, my book reviews (or whatever you want to call what it is that I do over there) will still be found on my blog The Door is Ajar.  I will still put up new content on my “Alberta snapshots” blog There is a Light, but for any of you who are subscribers to both Flowery Prose and There is a Light, there may be occasional overlaps.  (Flowery Prose will always get the new posts before TIAL).

My Facebook feed for Flowery Prose will remain the same:  all plant stuff, all the time.  (I love to scoop up links from online sources and share them).  My Twitter feed contains links to gardening information, as well as notifications about my writing projects and blogs and anything else I find interesting.

I really, REALLY hope you will enjoy the slightly more diverse content I’m planning…I truly appreciate the fact that I have such wonderful readers.  I always love to hear from you!

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend!  I’m off to buy some boots….

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(Frontenac rose – Devonian Botanical Garden, Devon, AB – July 2013.  Oh, I miss summer already!)

Tansy in the Pass.

My hubby and I took a much-needed break last weekend and headed southwest, out to the mountains in the Crowsnest Pass.  It was a chilly weekend, grey and drizzly, with high winds that gusted over 100 km/h on Sunday.  Not really walking weather, but we went out anyway.  It’s been a long time since we’ve been there and there’s so much to see.

There weren’t too many wildflowers blooming in the Pass this late in the season – mostly oxeye daisy and a veritable carpet of common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare).  That gold colour really popped in the overcast weather!

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Tansy is considered a noxious weed in Alberta, and it obviously LOVES the mountain climate.  I know tansy was once a fixture of English gardens and it was brought over from Europe to North America for both its medicinal properties and ornamental value.   For such a “common” plant, tansy has an impressive history – the lore associated with it is fascinating!

Some Really Weird and Interesting (and Occasionally Contradictory) Tansy Tidbits:

  • Tansy was commonly used by ancient Greek herbalists.  In Greek mythology, the cup-bearer of the gods, Ganymede, was made immortal by ingesting tansy.
  • In the 8th century AD, European monks used tansy to treat ailments such as intestinal worms, rheumatism, fevers, and measles.
  • In the Middle Ages, tansy was taken to induce abortions…surprisingly, it was also used to prevent miscarriages and aid in conception.  Accidental overdosing and death of the female patients was common.  George R.R. Martin references tansy tea as a means to abort pregnancies in his fictional fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
  • In the 15th century, Christians began eating tansy with fish during Lent.  They thought that eating fish caused intestinal worms, which would be cured by the plant.
  • Tansy is often used as a companion plant, due to its ability to repel insects such as mosquitoes, ants, ticks, and Colorado potato beetle.
  • A wonderful golden-hued dye can be made from tansy flowers.
  • Tansy’s supposed worm-repellent properties caused it to be used in preparation of the dead for burial:  even up until the 19th century, it was placed in coffins or wrapped into funeral winding sheets to preserve the dead.   American colonists carried this idea a step further and used tansy leaves to repel flies and maggots and slow the spoilage of raw meat in storage.
  • Tansy will cause contact dermatitis in some people (I’m probably one of them, though I didn’t touch any of the plants we saw).
  • As you’ve probably guessed, tansy contains some serious toxins, including thujone (which can cause hallucinations, convulsions and even death).  That’s why no one really uses it in puddings, cheese, salads, or omelets anymore.   Today in the United States, you can consume tansy in alcoholic beverages, as long as the thujone is removed (how one goes about doing that, I do not know).  Apparently, Jack Daniel, the famous 19th century American whiskey tycoon, didn’t take his drink of choice straight up – he sipped it with a bit of sugar and tansy leaves.
  • A single tansy plant can produce up to 50,000 seeds.  Just in case that isn’t enough guarantee of survival, it also reproduces via creeping rootstocks.  No wonder it’s considered invasive.

Does tansy grow where you live?

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Tansy growing on the banks of the Crowsnest River.  Flooding occurred on the river in June of this year and new channels were carved out everywhere.  

(Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tansy and Alberta Wayside Wildflowers, by Linda Kershaw, 2003 Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton).