Website Extra: Plants, nature, learning at Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Editors Note: The following are bonus photos from a story on Matthaei Botanical Gardens featured in the June issue of Michigan Gardener. To read the full story, pickup a copy of Michigan Gardener in stores now or read it in our digital edition.

A visit to Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor
will leave you inspired and enriched

All photos by Sandie Parrott

An 80-year-old agave bloomed in the summer of 2014 for the first, and last, time: agaves die after flowering. It grew to over 28 feet before sending out hundreds of flower buds. The plant will produce hundreds of seeds and enough genetically identical “pups” for other agave plants to begin growing.

An 80-year-old agave bloomed in the summer of 2014 for the first, and last, time: agaves die after flowering. It grew to over 28 feet before sending out hundreds of flower buds. The plant will produce hundreds of seeds and enough genetically identical “pups” for other agave plants to begin growing.

When the agave stalk reached the conservatory ceiling, workers removed a pane of roof glass to allow the flower stalk to continue growing.

When the agave stalk reached the conservatory ceiling, workers removed a pane of roof glass to allow the flower stalk to continue growing.

“Penjing is a more inclusive form of creating miniature landscapes developed in China. It can include rocks, water, representative landscapes or individual plants. Penjing compositions often include small figures—humans or animals—to give a sense of scale,” said Matthaei Director Bob Grese.

“Penjing is a more inclusive form of creating miniature landscapes developed in China. It can include rocks, water, representative landscapes or individual plants. Penjing compositions often include small figures—humans or animals—to give a sense of scale,” said Matthaei Director Bob Grese.

 

Preview: Gardening and life lessons

A Detroit horticulture program is making a difference in the lives of its students

The upcoming June issue of Michigan Gardener (in stores Tuesday, June 2) contains an article about Detroit Pubic Schools’ Drew Horticulture Program. The article is written by Michael Craig, a Detroit Public School special education teacher and horticulture program instructor at the Charles Drew Transition Center. Craig was recently honored with the Michigan Lottery/WXYZ’s “Excellence in Education” Award. Here is an excerpt from Craig’s article:

I am excited to relay to you the story of The Drew Horticulture Program featuring The Gardens at Drew, and in the process, include tips and techniques from our program that you can implement in your own gardens. I’ll also explain how we battled and defeated the dreaded blossom end rot on our precious tomatoes.

The Charles Drew Transition Center, a Detroit Public School, is a unique post-secondary vocational center for the moderate and severely cognitively impaired, visually impaired, hearing impaired, physically impaired, and students with autism. The Transition Center, which serves special education students ages 18-26, is a one-of-a kind educational facility where students have access to an age-appropriate learning environment. The staff develops programs teaching vocational work skills leading to the possibility of employment, providing functional independence and full inclusion into community life.

Read the rest of the story on June 2. Pickup a copy of in stores or read our digital edition.

Watch Michael Craig’s acceptance of his award along with a
surprise visit from Tom Izzo, head coach, Michigan State basketball team

Dangerous Plants: A Healthy Respect Will Keep You Healthy

If you crush the stems or foliage of Virginia creeper, do not allow the juices to get on your skin.

If you crush the stems or foliage of Virginia creeper, do not allow the juices to get on your skin.

My hobby-turned-profession has brought me up close and too personal with so many surprisingly dangerous plants that I’ve cultivated a downright awe of plant defenses. Each time I encounter another plant-based allergic reaction, skin irritation or chemical burn, my library and files swell with more books and articles. In pursuing one or another plant, I’ve come across cautions on so many other, common garden plants and said “Ah ha, so that’s what that other thing might have been!” so many times that I thought you would be interested in some of the discoveries too.

In listing these plants I do not intend to put an end to your enjoyment of any plant, but to point out where precautions might be in order. You’ll probably even find that to eliminate all potentially harmful plants from your garden or landscape would be very difficult, simply because so many plants have potential to cause harm. Better to learn safe ways to interact with plants—wear gloves, cover your arms and legs while pruning and gardening, wash well after being in the garden, and eat only known edible plants.

So knowledge is your best defense against plant defenses, and you should be prepared to learn more every time you add another plant to your garden or yard. Start by learning the several categories of dangerous plants: 1) those we shouldn’t allow to contact our bare skin, 2) those with pollen or other airborne elements that can cause distress if inhaled, and 3) plants we shouldn’t eat.

When you rub fennel (top), Queen Anne’s lace (above left), or rue (above right), on your skin, then stay out in the sun, a burn-like rash will appear. Growing any of these plants is good reason to cover your arms and legs when working in the garden.

When you rub fennel (top), Queen Anne’s lace (above left), or rue (above right), on your skin, then stay out in the sun, a burn-like rash will appear. Growing any of these plants is good reason to cover your arms and legs when working in the garden.

Plants we shouldn’t allow to contact our bare skin

Of these three groups, we are most likely to come across those that irritate or inflame the skin on contact. That’s because we often expose bare skin when we garden and it’s not necessary to be allergic to react to many of them. The trouble with these plants are chemicals in their saps, thorns or prickles, or needle-like crystals contained in the cells which can seep out when the plant is bruised or cut.

Plants with irritant sap. These should be handled carefully if they must be cut. Avoid getting sap from cut stems or bruised leaves of any of the following on your skin:

• Buttercup (plants in the genus Ranunculus)
• Clematis
• Daffodil (Narcissus species)
• Daphne (D. mezereum)
• Euphorbias, such as gopher or mole plant (E. lathyris) and myrtle euphorbia (E. myrsinites)
• Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

If you think you may have contacted the sap, flush affected skin with water and wash it with a mild soap. Hydrocortisone cream may help relieve the irritation if it develops. Seek medical attention if the reaction is severe.

Phototoxic plants. Some plants have sap or oil that is not in itself irritating, but once on the skin and exposed to any sunlight, it can cause a chemical burn. The burn can be severe enough to raise blisters on sensitive skin, such as on the face or on a young child. The worst reactions happen after gardening on hot, sunny days since heat tends to bring the most oil to leaf surfaces and sun is the trigger to burning on the skin. If you have noticed burn-like marks or felt a burning sensation after a day’s gardening, you may have come into contact with:

• Angelica
• Bishop’s weed (Ammi majus)
• Celery (Apium graveolens)
• Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
• Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
• Fig (Ficus species)
• Gas plant (Dictamnus albus)
• Hogweed (Heracleum species)
• Lime (Citrus species)
• Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
• Masterwort (Astrantia species)
• Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
• Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota)
• Rue (Ruta graveolens)

Keep your arms covered and face averted when you cut down that ravenna grass each spring, since the edges of the blades are sharp enough to inflict serious damage.

Keep your arms covered and face averted when you cut down that ravenna grass each spring, since the edges of the blades are sharp enough to inflict serious damage.

Prickly plants. We tend to be careful around plants with visible thorns such as roses, firethorn and barberry, but here are some with tiny but irritating bristles or sharply serrated leaf edges that may not alarm us until we handle them without gloves or brush against them:

• Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia species)
• Hops (Humulus lupus)
• Ravenna grass (Erianthus ravennae)
• Redtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea)
• Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

Other plants that cause contact dermatitis in some people may do so because of the bristly nature of their leaves (see list below).

Tiny spines, as from cactus, can be removed by applying and removing adhesive tape or spreading and allowing white glue to dry on the skin, then peeling it off.

Plants containing needle-like crystals. Intense, painful itching can come from bruising or cutting these plants, because their cells contain needle-sharp crystals:

• Elephant’s ear (Colocasia esculenta)
• Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia species)
• Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
• Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens)
• Virginia creeper and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus species)

Perhaps our best defense against dangerous plants such as poison ivy is to learn to identify them and steer clear of them!

Perhaps our best defense against dangerous plants such as poison ivy is to learn to identify them and steer clear of them!

Plants that cause allergic dermatitis. Some plants contain chemicals or have surface irritants which trigger allergic rashes in some, but not all people. Generally, reactions occur after the person becomes sensitized to the plant—it may take one or many contacts with a plant over many years to develop the sensitivity. The skin reacts most severely and most quickly where the most contact occurred, so that some parts of the body may “erupt” in a rash or blisters hours or days before another.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and its relatives cashew (Anacardium occidentale), smoke tree (Cotinus species), mango (Mangifera indica), and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) are the most famous of these because they produce the most severe reaction among the widest range of people, but many other cultivated plants have been reported by doctors as causing irritated or inflamed skin. These include:

It’s hard to believe that something so universally loved as a magnolia can also be a dangerous plant. Yet some people are allergic to it, and develop a rash on contact with it.

It’s hard to believe that something so universally loved as a magnolia can also be a dangerous plant. Yet some people are allergic to it, and develop a rash on contact with it.

• Artemisia (including the most notorious member of the genus, ragweed)
• Aster
• Balsam fir (Abies balsamea)
• Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
• Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia species)
• Blanket flower (Gaillardia species)
• Bleeding heart (Dicentra species)
• Castor bean (Ricinus communis)
• Daisy (Leucanthemum species)
• English ivy (Hedera helix)
• Feverfew (Matricaria species)
• Fleabane (Erigeron species)
• Garlic (Allium sativum)
• Gingko (Gingko biloba)
• Golden marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria)
• Helen’s flower (Helenium autumnale)
• Hyacinth (Hyacinthus species)
• Hydrangea
• Lady’s slipper (Cypripedium species)
• Magnolia
• Marigold (Tagetes species)
• Moses-in-a-boat (Rhoeo spathacea)
• Mullein (Verbascum species)
• Mum (Dendranthema/Chrysanthemum species)
• Oleander (Nerium oleander)
• Osage orange (Maclura pomifera)
• Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
• Potato
• Primrose (Primula species)
• Purple heart (Tradescantia pallida)
• Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
• Tomato
• Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans)
• Tulip (Tulipa species)

Plants we shouldn’t inhale. 

Plants with airborne pollen, such as ragweed, grasses and many conifers, can cause allergic respiratory distress. Those who suffer from pollen allergies should garden and landscape with plants visited by bees, moths, butterflies and hummingbirds, because such plants have heavy pollen which does not float but needs a lift to the next plant. Hosing down areas before working or playing outdoors can also be helpful, as wet pollen is less likely to waft into the air.

Plants we shouldn’t eat.

Although garden plants that, if eaten, can cause severe intestinal distress, nervous disorders and even death may get the most publicity of all dangerous plants, they are the most easy to live with—just don’t eat them! Never taste or eat any plant unless you are certain of its identity and safety.

Some plants are more dangerous than others, for various reasons. Tiny quantities of one species such as monkshood can cause great harm, while large quantities of another such as apple seeds or privet berries must be eaten to produce even mild side effects. In a few poisonous species such as anemone, calla, caladium, and Jack-in-the-pulpit, the symptoms are called “self-limiting,” meaning that it’s very tough to eat enough of the plant to cause life-threatening trouble since the plant is extremely distasteful or causes immediate burning and blistering on the tongue and lips.

The result of eating some toxic species may be gastrointestinal distress, which may be serious in young children and weakened adults, but may amount only to a tough lesson learned to other people. Some plant-produced toxins can cause circulatory or nervous system disorders as well and so are more serious. Some plants are toxic from top to roots, such as water hemlock. In others, poisons are concentrated enough to cause serious harm only in certain parts of the plant, even unlikely parts to eat, such as cherry and peach pits which contain cyanide.

Here are some of the most dangerous poisonous plants you may be growing, or which may be growing wild in your area, and the toxic parts:

• Adonis (Adonis species) – all parts
• Baneberry/Doll’s eyes (Actaea species) – berries and roots
• Buttercup (Ranunculus species) – sap
• Castor bean (Ricinus communis) – seeds
• Chinese lantern (Physalis species) – unripe fruits
• Daphne (Daphne mezereum) – all parts
• Datura, Jimsonweed, Angel’s trumpet, Devils’ trumpet (Datura and Brugmansia species) – all parts
• Fall crocus (Colchicum species) – all parts
• Flower tobacco (Nicotiana species) – all parts
• Foxglove (Digitalis species) – all parts
• Golden chain tree (Laburnum species) – all parts, toxins concentrated in seeds
• Hydrangea – flower buds
• Japanese andromeda (Pieris species) – leaves and nectar
• Lenten rose, Christmas rose (Helleborus species) – all parts
• Leucothoe – leaves and nectar
• Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) – all parts, including water in the vase in which the flowers are held
• Monkshood (Aconitum species) – all parts
• Mountain laurel (Kalmia species) – leaves and nectar
• Oleander (Nerium oleander) – all parts, including water in the vase in which the flowers are held
• Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) – leaves and roots
• Rhododendron and azalea (Rhododendron species) – leaves and nectar
• Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum species) – all parts
• Water hemlock (Cicuta species) – all parts
• Yew (Taxus species) – all parts except red portion of fruit

Janet Macunovich is a professional gardener and author of the books “Designing Your Gardens and Landscape” and “Caring for Perennials.” Read more from Janet on her website www.gardenatoz.com.

Perennial Partners: Peony and Siberian Iris

Peony ‘Sarah Berhhardt’ and Siberian Iris ‘Caesar’s Brother’

Peony ‘Sarah Berhhardt’ and Siberian Iris ‘Caesar’s Brother’

by George Papadelis

Peony and Siberian Iris are two outstanding perennial partners that complement each other beautifully in both flower and form.  In early May, both plants develop fresh foliage that looks just as handsome in the coldest days of fall. Peonies produce roundish bushes of sturdy, bold, olive-green foliage while Siberian iris yield long, slender, vertical blades of a more bluish green.  This contrast of textures creates a pleasant effect that is too often overlooked when combining plants.  Most gardeners consider flower color, flowering period, and height during the planning stages, but texture is too seldom a concern.

By late May, peonies and Siberian iris have reached their full height of 2 to 3-1/2 feet and both are beginning to bloom. Try the pink peony blossoms of ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ with the violet-blue blooms of Iris siberica ‘Caesar’s Brother.’  For an even showier effect, underplant with the non-flowering lamb’s ears (Stachys ‘Silver Carpet’) or any other silver or white plant. This gorgeous display should last 2 to 3 weeks depending on when the rain disintegrates the peony blossoms.  The use of peony rings or stakes will prolong their effectiveness.  By late June, the flowers have ceased on both the peony and Siberian iris, leaving behind handsome foliage.

Both peonies and Siberian iris are readily available and offer many varieties from which to choose.  They are also long-lived, easy to grow, will tolerate almost any soil, and prefer a full to part sun location.  So, for a showy spring display of color and a season-long contrast of foliage,  try this combination and reap the rewards for years to come.

George Papadelis is the owner of Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy, Shelby Township and Pontiac, MI.

40 percent of U.S. bees perished since April 2014—second highest die-off ever

Bee deaths since April 2014, are the second highest ever.

Bee deaths since April 2014, are the second highest ever. (Flickr / rickpilot_2000)

The number of bee colonies that died in the year since April 2014 reached levels only ever seen once before, reported the Bee Informed Partnership.

Of the total number of colonies managed over the past 12 months, U.S. beekeepers said 42.1 percent were lost. It was the second-highest annual loss recorded.

Annual beehive losses varied across the nation, with the highest in Oklahoma at 63.4 percent and the lowest in Hawaii, with 14 percent.

During this past winter season, the Bee Informed Partnership gathered data from 6,128 beekeepers in the United States who managed 398,247 colonies as of October 2014. That represents about 14.5 percent of the estimated 2.74 million managed honey bee colonies in the country.

Winter die-offs were reported to be 18.7 percent, which is quite a bit lower than the nine-year average total loss of 28.7 percent, the partnership noted. But bees don’t just die in the winter; they perish in the summer too.

Read the rest of the story…

Read the study at Bee Informed…