Botany word of the week.*

Marcescence

This is the retention of the dead and dry leaves (and sometimes other parts such as fruit or seed pods) on some deciduous trees through winter.  Persistence, or as I like to think of it: a relentless lingering, somewhat along the lines of my cat’s queries for elevenses, twelveses, oneses, twoses (you get the idea).  Some trees seem to exhibit marcesence as  a trait – oaks are apparently one of them, although our climate isn’t mild enough for most Quercus spp. so I can’t perform a decent study on multiple varieties.  I did take a wander past the row of bur oaks (Q. macrocarpa) that grow near the train station in my neighbourhood, and while there were a few single leaves straggling on the branches, the trees were pretty much completely bare.  But we have to count that as an insufficiently representative sample (which, incidentally, also seems to be my cat’s views on the amount of food I give her).

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There are several theories on what causes marcescence, and what purpose it serves.  I believe in the case of this elm tree (and others like it in our city), the early frosts and severe cold we received back in September led to a failure of the formation of the abscission zone.  (This is an area of separation created by the natural weakening of cell walls between the petiole and the leaf.  While deciduous trees abscise in autumn, conifers do it pretty much all the time.  Another big difference is that deciduous trees normally fling everything off and conifers are, well, waaaaaaay more reserved). The leaves in my photo basically died on the spot and the tree wasn’t quite ready for that to happen. The wind took most of them off but some are still hanging around, waiting for spring like the rest of us.

Some researchers speculate that marcescence is a defense mechanism for the tree, protecting it from the munching of herbivorous predators such as moose and deer (who are going to eat fresh, tender young branch tips over icky dry foliage every time.  You can’t blame them, really).  Another idea is that the dry leaves act like little windproof shawls for the leaf buds, protecting them from winter desiccation.  Perhaps.  Still another thought is that the trees are deliberately generating their own mulch, dropping it at just the right time – spring, not autumn – for maximum moisture retention and as a source of nutrients.  Far-fetched?  Maybe, maybe not.

So what happens in the spring, when the buds of the new leaves break?  The marcescent leaves may remain on the tree, still waiting for a really strong wind to snap them off, or they may be pushed off the tree by the new growth, in which case they are instantly sucked up into a magical vortex so that you never have to rake them up.  

Then again, there are never any guarantees when it comes to magic, so have that rake handy, just in case.

Sources:
Finley, Jim. “Winter Leaves that Hang On.” PennState College of Agricultural Sciences. 2012. https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research/centers/private-forests/news/2012/winter-leaves-that-hang-on.
Gast, Richard. “Marcescence: An Ecological Mystery.” Adirondack Almanack. November 19, 2017. https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2017/11/marcescence-ecological-mystery.html.

*To be completely truthful, I’m not sure which specific day of the week the Botany Word of the Week will be posted.  Or that it will actually be posted weekly.  It may kind of float around and periodically pop up and surprise you.  Hopefully that’s okay.  

End of the growing season….

Had a chuckle when I saw this rhubarb leaf while cleaning up my plot at the community garden…reminded me a bit of a certain Dali painting.

Perhaps I need some more sleep.  😉

Recipe: Cocoa-Chili Roasted Pumpkin/Winter Squash Seeds.

As I speak, there is a roasted butternut squash-parsnip-carrot-sweet potato soup going on in my house.  (My take on this recipe, in which the OP probably didn’t spatter hot soup all over the backsplash and the outside of the front door and the neighbour’s Hallowe’en decorations even though she was really, really careful and wore an apron and a welder’s helmet and everything).

The point of this? (Besides the fact that there is soup happening and it’s perfect for these chilly evenings when snow is threatening).  The squash seeds!  Don’t throw them away.  Grow them in your garden next year or roast them.  I did the latter, and decided I’d use a familiar flavour combination in a new-ish way:

Cocoa-Chili Roasted Pumpkin/Winter Squash Seeds

Do this first: preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius).

Then throw the raw seeds that you just scooped out of your squash (ew, that sounds a tad impolite – my apologies) into a small saucepan.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn the heat down and simmer for about 15 minutes. Drain the water from the seeds and pat the seeds dry with a paper towel.

Lay the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.  Now comes the tricky part – adjusting the measurements that I sort of winged in the first place.

For 1/2 cup seeds, add:

1 teaspoon butter or ghee or coconut oil, melted

1//8 to 1/4 teaspoon baking cocoa powder

1/8 teaspoon chili powder

1/8 teaspoon salt*

Stir everything together on the baking sheet and pop in the preheated oven.  Roast for 10 minutes then take the pan out and stir the seeds.  Place them back into the oven for another 10 minutes, then remove.  Cool completely and then dig in.  You may need to make a few batches of these until you get the heat that you want (or just add more spice during or at the end of roasting). I’m a wimp, so this is sufficient on the pepper scale for me.  I think more than one person might consider that the addition of a bit of ground cayenne might kick things up nicely as well….

If you don’t like chocolate (difficult to believe but I’m told it’s true for some folks), I have a lime and chili roasted pumpkin/winter squash seed recipe that you may enjoy – check it out here.

*There are metric conversion tables available here. 

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Enjoy!

Alberta snapshot: Banded Peak trail.

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If you’ve been following Flowery Prose for a while, you’ll know that aside from a couple of cases – absurdly weird filter here; and cropping here (because, trust me, you don’t want to get close to this sort of wildlife) – I don’t edit my photos.  They are all straight out of the camera (excepting the resizing, of course).  But I decided to take this one to the point of ridiculously soft…like an oversized fuzzy fleece blanket to snuggle under and sleep away this Autumn-That-Thinks-It’s-Winter. Conveniently, the Comfort Filter™ hides the fact that there was already a lingering skiff of snow on the ground as we wandered this beautiful trail outside of Bragg Creek, Alberta.

Recipe: Lime and chili roasted pumpkin seeds.

I posted this recipe way back in 2012, but I recently made it again and updated the photography on the original entry (which also explains how to properly save pumpkin seeds, if you’re interested).  This is a really easy recipe, and it has just the right amount of spiciness (you can omit the cayenne pepper if you prefer a bit milder flavour).

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Lime and Chili Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Seeds from one pumpkin

3 tbsp freshly-squeezed lime juice

1 tbsp olive oil

1/4 tsp salt (if you have coarse salt, use that)

1/2 tsp chili powder

pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius).  Combine all ingredients except seeds in a small bowl.  Carefully wash pumpkin seeds in cool water, removing all of the extra bits of pulp.  Dry the seeds thoroughly between several layers of paper towel and transfer to the bowl with the lime and chili.  Combine thoroughly and spread seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast seeds in preheated oven for 10 minutes, then remove pan and stir the seeds, spreading them out once again in a single layer. Place in oven for another 10 minutes, then remove and allow to cool.  Enjoy!

What is your favourite recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds?

Garden journals.

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Although I’m still waiting on a super late bulb order that I hope makes it to me before the ground is so frozen I can no longer dig, I’ve pretty much packed in the gardens for the year. (The snow has certainly helped to expedite my work). Before things get too busy and I forget, I made a bunch of notes in my garden journal – a list of things I want to accomplish next year, plants I want to either avoid or repeat, doodles of potential layouts for my raised veggie bed, etc..  Prior to this year, I had a gorgeous 10-year bound paper garden journal that my parents had given to me, but I stretched it out beyond ten years and it is so crammed with notes and lists of plants that I no longer have any room to write more.  For 2016, I’ve been using a Word document and writing dates, tasks, and notes – but it’s not as refined as I would like (or as lovely as that paper journal).  One tweak I will make right away is to keep a separate list of the plants I added this year – just so they don’t get lost in the notes when I want to quickly refer to the cultivar name that I’m struggling to recall.  I am waffling on the creation of a map, however – I used to make little crude, not-to-scale-but-sufficient-for-my-purposes diagrams of my flowerbeds but I haven’t done so over the past couple of years. Recently, I have performed quite a few changes to the beds (and intend to make more), so a map might be useful.

How about you?  Do you keep a garden journal, and if so, what format do you prefer?  What types of information do you keep track of? Do you include diagrams and maps of your gardens?  Do you save plant labels, seed packages, and other information about the plants you grow?  Have you ever moved onto a property where the previous homeowners kindly left you with a record of the plants in the garden?

Alberta snapshot: Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

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The leaves are turning so quickly this year!  (And falling, too). I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise…we had summer-hot weather in April and May, and the whole growing season felt completely accelerated.

Hope you have some time to get outside and enjoy someplace beautiful this weekend!