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The Link Between Plants and Animals

Hosted by: Jeremie Fant, Garden scientist and plant genetics guru

Erica Masini —  May 14, 2018 — Leave a comment

How do you bring an endangered plant species back from the brink of extinction? The answer might be found in zoo animals.

That’s the inspiration for Chicago Botanic Garden scientist Jeremie Fant’s latest research. Fant, a molecular ecologist and plant genetics guru, is working with other botanic gardens around the world to develop conservation and reintroduction plans modeled after the ones used by zoos to protect endangered animal species.

“When we conserve plant species, it’s possible to preserve hundreds of individuals, and the genetic information they contain, by banking their seed or using cuttings to propagate them,” said Fant. “But when this is not possible, these plant collections are maintained by continually crossing with other plants to produce new seed. This is akin to animals in zoo collections. Zoos have used genetic information to develop ‘studbooks’ to decide what crosses are compatible so they maintain genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding.”

Fant’s work is based on zoological cases including black-footed ferrets in the 1980s. Zoologists created a breeding program that ultimately reintroduced the threatened species back into the wild. The zoologists used genetic information taken from the remaining black-footed ferrets, and bred a strong, biodiverse population that could keep the animals healthy and, more importantly, increase numbers, which is the aim of all good conservation programs.

Fant’s work centers on one plant in particular: the Brighamia insignis, or “Cabbage on a stick,” or as we’ve fondly named it, “Cabby.” This is Cabby’s story:

Plant Science and Conservation

Plant Science and Conservation

Plant Science and Conservation

Plant Science and Conservation

Plant Science and Conservation

Plant Science and Conservation

To stay tuned on what Fant, and the rest of the Garden’s conservation scientists are doing, check out the latest news at chicagobotanic.org/research.


Illustrated by Maria Ciaccio
©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

It’s finally spring (and practically summer) weather these days at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and we’re bursting to get outside, and get growing.

In just a few weeks, we’ll have the perfect chance to do just that. At Get Growing Weekend on May 18 to 20, gardeners will gather for gardening demonstrations, a spring marketplace, and a one-of-a-kind plant sale to celebrate the much-anticipated arrival of spring.

Get Growing Weekend
Learn more about Get Growing Weekend

Part of the weekend’s festivities include a specialty plant sale hosted by The Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society. On Friday, members of the Garden will enjoy early access to the plant sale from noon to 4 p.m.; the plant sale will open to the public on Saturday and Sunday. A highlight of the sale is the “potted paradise” selection, which features composed planters grown on-site and designed by horticultural celebrities, as well as our own staff and Woman’s Board members.

We couldn’t wait to get a sneak peek, so we talked with celebrated designer Bunny Williams of Bunny Williams Interior Design about her potted paradise design.

Q: Describe your process for designing your container this year. What makes a good container?

A: One of the things I’m always thinking about when I’m doing a container is height. When you first plant a container, all of the plants are very small. But a month later when they’ve grown in, they’re at their full profusion. They look quite different. You have to think in advance about plants growing to varying heights. For instance, I always like to have something that hangs over the sides of the container, like the Silver Falls dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’) that I’ve included in my Potted Paradise container. And then something that stands tall, like the Mystic Spires Improved salvia (Salvia ‘Balsamispim’).

Q: What colors work well in a container?

A: I always like to use a simple color palette in containers. For this one, it’s all about shades of purple, black, and green. It makes for a more effective container than if you try to put too many colors in it. In your garden, you often mix containers together, so if you have containers with their own color schemes situated next to each other, you can have a more controlled color scheme overall.

Q: How do you use texture in your containers?

A: You don’t want every leaf to be exactly the same. In my Potted Paradise container, there are six plants, each with different leaf textures. I chose Mystic Spires Improved salvia (Salvia ‘Balsamispim’), Pinball™ globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa ‘Pinball Purple’), Primo™ Black Pearl coral bells (Heuchera ‘Black Pearl’), Solar Power™ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Black Improved’), Silver Falls dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’), and Kent Beauty oregano (Origanum rotundifolium ‘Kent Beauty’). The different textures set the plants off when you see the relationship between the different foliage. It makes the container more interesting if something is not in bloom.

Mystic Spires Blue Improved salvia

Salvia ‘Balsamispim’ Mystic Spires Blue™ Improved

Silver Falls dichondra

Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’

Container featuring Kent Beauty oregano

Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’; photo by Paul S. Drobot

Q: What’s the best thing about planting containers?

A: What’s interesting and fun about containers is you have to know a little bit about what each plant is going to do. The salvia is tall, and so I know that will be the centerpiece of my container. When you go to the nursery, I enjoy making a grouping right there in the store. You can see the textures together, and choose what makes sense based on a few basic principles: leaf texture, differentiation, and colors of the same family.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Show of hands: Who’s ready for spring?

We are, too.

Thankfully, the bright, blooming containers in the Heritage Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden were planted this week, welcoming spring and warm fuzzies along with them. Just standing near these spring annuals makes us happy, and for horticulturist Tom Soulsby—who’s been planting these signature troughs for the past 15 years—it’s one of his favorite things to do each spring.

The bright, colorful troughs in the Heritage Garden welcome visitors every Spring.

The bright, colorful troughs in the Heritage Garden welcome visitors every spring.

“After a long, drawn-out winter, it’s nice to have something that cheers people up,” said Soulsby. “It cheers us up, too, to see visitors smiling.”

spring-container

Horticulturist Tom Soulsby uses small, visually interesting plants that would otherwise get lost in a mass planting in the Garden.

People look forward to these 41 containers each spring, which is something Soulsby keeps in mind when he’s planting them. By the time April rolls around, people are craving lush, overflowing color after months of dreary gray, so he “overplants” the troughs to make them look full from the get-go.

Poking through the red, orange, and yellow flowers this year is an unusual, edible treat: some Lactuca sativa ‘Australian Yellowleaf’ lettuce. “I’ve never used lettuce before in a container, but it’s a fun alternative for foliage accents, and can tolerate cooler weather,” said Soulsby.

lettuce-trough

Lactuca sativa ‘Australian Yellowleaf’ lettuce is a fun foliage accent for a container, and a tasty snack.

That’s another trick: all of the plants Soulsby picked for these troughs can handle cold and a light frost (but we’re hoping they won’t have to). Some—like the Narcissus ‘Fruit Cup’ daffodils and Tulipa praestans ‘Shogun’ tulips in this year’s troughs—will bloom later. It’s all about balance, Soulsby said—finding a mix of plants that will bloom at varying times.

spring-trough

We’re loving the bright, sunny color of Primula vulgaris ‘Kerbelnec’ Belarina® Nectarine in these troughs.

Here’s hoping Mother Nature takes a cue from these troughs.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

When Watering Your Succulents is Overkill

Plant Parenthood

Erica Masini —  March 27, 2018 — 5 Comments

When I was a kid, one of my chores was to water all of the houseplants. Each day, I filled up the plastic watering can and padded around the house, filling each pot until it was almost overflowing. I loved listening for the faint trickle of water as it soaked through the soil. I sensed the plants were thirsty, and I liked knowing I was giving them a much-needed drink.

Cut to my adult apartment, one week after I brought home my first plant family, and two of my babies look frazzled. When I first set them on the kitchen windowsill they were healthy and strong, but now they’re, well…you be the judge.

aloe-hybrid

Aloe hybrid (before)

aloe-hybrid

Aloe hybrid (after)

echeveria-setosa

Echeveria setosa (before)

echeveria-setosa

Echeveria setosa (after)

I think water is the culprit.

Aloes and succulents are deceivingly tricky houseplants to care for. The others in my home—the prayer plant, spider plant, zz plant, and flamingo flower—look fine, by the way. But these two prefer drier soil; daily watering would be their worst nightmare. I was a new plant-mom, though, and wanted to give them a nice warm welcome.

So when I first got home, I drenched them both with water.

Maybe not the best idea.

Within a week, the aloe’s beautiful coral flowers had shriveled up and fallen off. In a panic, I wrote to Chicago Botanic Garden horticulturist Wade Wheatley and asked if I’d overdone it with my watering. He suggested it may just be the end of the aloe’s bloom cycle (their flowers bloom from winter to spring), and that it is completely natural for the blooms to fall. Phew!

The succulent, on the other hand, doesn’t seem normal. The bottom half of the leaves have dropped (some even fell off with the slightest touch), and what’s left of the leaves seem to be wilting and smushy. I remembered Wheatley saying that if a succulent’s leaves are soggy, it could mean they’re overwatered.

For a thorough diagnosis, I turned to Kathie Hayden, manager of the Garden’s Plant Information Service, the help center for all things plant-related.

Hayden fields all kinds of questions from visitors about diagnosing and treating their plants. After looking at my plant photos, here’s what she said:

“The only thing that I notice about the aloe is that the flowering has finished and the stem has turned brown. You can safely prune back the stem.”

“Echeveria plants (a large genus of succulents) appreciate average warmth from spring to autumn but cooler temperatures in winter. Try to place the plant in a cooler location for the winter, if possible. Echeveria require regular watering from spring to fall so you should water when the soil begins to dry out. You don’t want to use the same amount of water in the winter. Watering the plant every one to two months should suffice. If you’ve been watering more frequently, this may be the reason for fewer leaves that are lighter in color. Let the soil dry out a little and hopefully the plant will begin to develop new growth. A south-facing window is good location to keep the plant, but you may want to provide some shade during the summer months. There is no need for additional humidity. It will also benefit from a little fresh air in the summer.”

The verdict? The succulent is probably overwatered. I’ll prune back my aloe, leave the succulent alone for a month, and move it to a shadier window.  

Remember, there are no hard and fast watering rules. But with a few simple guidelines, you can keep your plants alive and healthy. To sort out the facts, contact Plant Information Service at (847) 835-0972 or plantinfo@chicagobotanic.org.

Watering Lessons 101

  • Not all plants are created equal. Some houseplants need constant moisture, and some survive on drought. Research the specific care instructions for your plant and give it the amount and frequency of water it needs.
  • Make sure your container has drainage holes. If it doesn’t, moisture can get trapped in the soil and prevent oxygen from reaching the roots, leading to root rot.
  • Soak the entire root ball. When watering, make sure you do so until it leaks out of the drainage holes. This ensures the entire root system has been watered. (Note: “Usually, plants that are root-bound have problems because water rolls off and down the sides of the pot and doesn’t penetrate the root ball. If roots have dried up, you are probably looking at dead roots,” said Hayden.)

©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Meditative, artful, and transporting. In a way, the experience of seeing Asia in Bloom: The Orchid Show is much like ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging. On display now through March 25, this new feature of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Orchid Show invites you to pause and reflect on this historic art form.

ikebana

Ikebana is the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging.

The practice of ikebana (ee-kay-bah-nah), also called kado (or, the “way of flowers”), dates back approximately 600 years. Originally, men and women arranged flowers as Buddhist offerings for altars at temples. Since then, ikebana has established itself as an art form beyond religious ritual, and is often seen displayed in people’s homes. 

Though it is now a secular practice, ikebana carries deep philosophical meaning. When arranging flowers in the ikebana style, the arranger is invited to remain silent. The silence creates a meditative space for the artist to connect with and appreciate nature more closely. For ikebana floral designer and Garden volunteer Shelley Galloway, the connection between nature and person is key.

Orchid ikebana display

Ikebana with Phalaenopsis orchids and ferns

“Love of nature, the desire to convey the inner essence of the plant material, and the ability to give a personal interpretation reflecting the artist’s own view of the world are all important components of ikebana,” said Galloway.

Although ikebana designs can be created with all kinds of flowers, the designs on display at this year’s Orchid Show feature the main event: orchids. 

“Unusual orchid varieties were most attractive to my eye for use in the ikebana arrangements,” said Galloway. “The Garden provided us with some very tiny colorful orchid plants whose arching stem structure gave me the shape I wanted to echo.”

The art of ikebana is more than simply putting pretty flowers in a vase. Ikebana is known for its distinct asymmetrical style and the use of empty space. Attention to harmony and balance is key, as in many other traditional Japanese art forms. Ikebana is also customarily taught by a teacher, who instructs you how to insert flowers into a base or container.

ikebana-orchid-show

Harmony and asymmetry are hallmarks of the ikebana style.

At the Orchid Show, artists from three schools, or styles, of ikebana created the compositions on display. The arrangements reflect balance and the beauty of nature, as interpreted by the schools of Ikenobo, Ohara, and Sogetsu.

  • Ikenobo —The oldest school of ikebana, Ikenobo is based in Kyoto, Japan. It features classic and contemporary styles, and observes the belief that flowers reflect the passing of time.
  • Ohara —The Ohara school of ikebana focuses on the natural world. It emphasizes seasonal changes, and invites its students to observe nature and the growth processes of plant materials.
  • Sogetsu —The Sogetsu school considers ikebana a practice accessible to people of all cultures—not only Japanese. It aims to spread appreciation of the art form all over the world.

The Chicago Botanic Garden celebrates this timeless art form at three ikebana shows annually. The first show is happening now at the Orchid Show, through March 25. The Ikebana International Exhibition will be held June 23 to 24, 2018. The Ikenobo Ikebana Chicago Chapter Show will be held August 25 to 26, 2018. The Sogetsu School of Illinois Ikebana Sogetsu Exhibition will be held September 8 to 9, 2018.

Orchid Show entry display

See Asia in Bloom: The Orchid Show daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; join us for our final Orchids After Hours on March 15 and 22, from 4 to 8 p.m.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org