Archives For Guest Blogger

Gerit Quealy is passionate about the Bard of Avon.

Her latest book, Botanical Shakespeare: An Illustrated Compendium of All the Flowers, Fruits, Herbs, Trees, Seeds, and Grasses Cited by the World’s Greatest Playwright (HarperCollins), is beautiful proof. She will talk Shakespeare at a lecture and book signing at 1 p.m. Sunday, October 15, at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Honeysuckle illustration by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins for Botanical Shakespeare: An Illustrated Compendium

Honeysuckle illustration by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins

The book’s splendid illustrations are by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins and its foreword is by Helen Mirren—yes, Dame Helen’s an avid gardener. But it is Quealy, the book’s writer and editor, who dug through historical manuscripts from the sixteenth century’s “Elizabethan horticultural boom” to unearth more than 170 plant references in Shakespeare’s poems and plays.

For instance, apples often play a role in the Bard’s works, for as Quealy writes: “Shakespeare finds the apple ripe for metaphor.” Consider the Apple-John variety in Henry IV: “I am withered like an old Apple-John,” says Falstaff.

The mix of history and mystery captivated Quealy, who as a child read every Nancy Drew book she could find. It took 20 years to research and compile the book. “Letters and manuscripts still have not been transcribed because not enough people know how to do it, and it’s costly and time-consuming,” she told us. “And I was like, wow, there’s this secret repository of stuff.”

With no historical photographs to work with, though, Quealy and artist Sumie “had a lot of talks about the color things were.”

Gourd illustration by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins for Botanical Shakespeare: An Illustrated Compendium

Gourd by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins

The book should charm gardeners who might prepare an autumn feast by emulating the Bard’s locavore and organic credentials. Quealy suggests featuring carrots, turnips, potatoes, leeks, apples, grapes, plums, pears, thyme, or marjoram. Shakespeare, as noted in Quealy’s book, can provide conversation starters for each of these ingredients.

Potatoes: “Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of Greensleeves…” (Falstaff in Merry Wives of Windsor)

Apples:  “I will make an end of my dinner. There’s Pippins and cheese to come.” (Sir Hugh Evans in Merry Wives of Windsor)

Grapes:  “The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes.” (Menenius in Coriolanus)

Leeks: “His eyes were green as leeks.” (Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Plums: “There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.” (Falstaff in Henry IV)

Quealy has been in love with the Bard since a traveling troupe performed Twelfth Night for her third-grade class. “I just think the story and the way the story unfolded, maybe the rhythm of the language, is something that I responded to,” she says.

Grapes illustration by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins for Botanical Shakespeare: An Illustrated Compendium

Grapes illustration by Sumié Hasegawa-Collins

Born in Virginia, raised in Florida, and now living in New York, Quealy has been an actor (theater, television), a journalist (newspapers, magazines), and an author. A television project is in the works (FLOTUS: Playing the Woman Card in the White House); as is a project on Shakespeare’s kitchen.

The Garden event will include a lutenist and a soprano, who will perform during the free October 15 program (preregistration required). Quealy hopes the event and the book will help people connect with Shakespeare. “Shakespeare is all around you.”


Guest blogger Judith Hevrdejs-King is a freelance writer.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Supreme Court has been asked to opine on many critical issues of its time. These cases have had profound impacts on our society and even the progression of democracy. But perhaps the most important Supreme Court case of all time—at least if you are a hard-core plant geek—was Nix v. Hedden, 1893, in which the Court ruled that the tomato is, for the purposes of taxation, a vegetable.

In the spring of 1886, the Nix family made their living importing tomatoes into New York City from the West Indies. Based on the Tariff Act of 1883, the New York Port tax collector assessed a duty on these imported tomatoes. The Tariff Act required a 10 percent duty on “vegetables in their natural state…” But, the Nix family contended, a tomato is a fruit, botanically speaking, and should not be taxed as a vegetable. The New York tax collector was unmoved by this argument and forced the family to pay the tax, though he did record that the tax was paid under protest.

Blindfolded Lady Justice weighs a tomatoPeople were just as reluctant to pay taxes in 1886 as they are today, and as any good botanist of the nineteenth or twenty-first centuries would tell you, the tomato is indeed a fruit. Its tissues derive from the reproductive organs of the plant (and contain seeds), making it a textbook fruit. It’s not even botanically confusing like the oddball strawberry, which is technically a swollen receptacle that holds fruits (the little black achenes on the strawberry’s surface). A tomato is about as clearly a fruit as there is, botanically speaking.

Yet, in common language, we tend to think of fruits as sweet and vegetables as savory. Or perhaps more basically, fruits are for dessert and vegetable go with the main course.

When the tax assessor for the New York Harbor used the common language meaning of tomato as the rationale to levy a tax, in opposition to the botanical definition used by the Nix family, I doubt he knew he was opening a legal can of worms that would end up in the Supreme Court.

The Nix family sued the tax collector. The case was heard by the Circuit Court of the Southern District of New York. The case primarily consisted of entering into testimony the dictionary definitions of fruit and vegetable. The court sided with the tax collector, and the Nixes appealed. Somewhat amazingly, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and registered judgement on May 10, 1893.

By this point, the case was not so much about whether or not a tomato is botanically a fruit. In fact, in his opinion, Justice Horace Gray of Massachusetts freely admitted that “botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of the vine…” But he made a distinction between the common language of the people and the botanical definition. Specifically, he noted that tomatoes are “usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principle part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.” He even cited from Supreme Court precedent. In 1889, Robertson v. Salomon, the Court held that, again for tax purposes, white beans (which definitely are seeds) should be taxed as vegetables, and not classified as seeds, which were exempted from taxation. Justice Joseph P. Bradley of New Jersey wrote of white beans, “We do not see why they should be classified as seeds, any more than walnuts should be so classified. Both are seeds, in the language of botany or natural history, but not in commerce nor in common parlance.”

Grape tomatoesRead more about cultivating tomatoes in our Tomato Talk series on Facebook (#CBGTomatoTalk) and at chicagobotanic.org

The Supreme Court unequivocally stated in Robertson v. Salomon and then reaffirmed in Nix v. Hedden that a technical definition should not necessarily stand in the way of an ordinary or common meaning. According to the high court, tomatoes and white beans are not fruit and seeds, respectively. They can, and should, be taxed as vegetables.

These cases are important to legal history in delineating the differences between technical and common usages of words under legal dispute. But what should a botanist learn from this legal tomato obscurity?

Principally, science and the law are quite different systems. You may conflate them at your own peril. Scientific logic is not always compatible or supported by legal doctrine. Under the law, up can be down, black can be white, and tomatoes aren’t fruits.

And above all, it’s very hard to avoid paying taxes.


Dr. Ari Novy

Dr. Ari Novy

Guest blogger Ari Novy, Ph.D., is chief scientist at the Leichtag Foundation in Encinitas, California, and a research collaborator at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. He’s interested in pretty much everything about plants, including obscure legal minutiae.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

What is it about dahlias?

Guest Blogger —  September 7, 2017 — 1 Comment

When it comes to showstoppers, Shakespeare may have elevated the rose to star status with his line, “Of all the flowers, methinks a rose is best.”

But what is it about dahlias that has attracted so many fans and admirers? In our effort to describe the joys of dahlia gardening, members of Central States Dahlia Society were recently asked why they are so enthusiastic about these dramatic floral divas, which will be on display September 9-10 at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Here’s what we found.

Dahlia 'Hollywood Spiderwoman'

Dahlia ‘Hollywood Spiderwoman’

Dahlia 'Hissy Fitz'

Dahlia ‘Hissy Fitz’

Dahlia 'Harvey Koop'

Dahlia ‘Harvey Koop’

Size does matter.  Of the 70,000 varieties developed, dahlia blooms range in size from the miniatures, just 12 inches tall with 2-inch blooms, to the huge “dinnerplates,” the dense, glossy-leaved plants that grow up to 6 feet tall and bloom with flowers 10 to 12 inches in diameter.  As one member said:  “I love giant flowers! The ‘dinnerplates’ are showstoppers!” Another praised the benefits of smaller varieties, which can be used in containers when space is limited. “Sometimes, you don’t realize they are all part of the same family,” she said.

Miniature dahlias sport 2-inch blooms

Miniature dahlias sport 2-inch blooms.

A "dinner plate" dahlia

A “dinnerplate” dahlia…

A "dinner plate" dahlia

…can measure up to a foot across!

They come in a range of colors. Color and beauty ranked high in members’ reviews. The wide range color range means dahlias will complement any gardening color scheme and co-star with both annuals and perennials in a garden. Recognized by one member as “The Las Vegas of flowers,” dahlias range from the darkest red or purple to many shades of pink, orange, yellow, and white. There are also blends, variegated, and bi-colored cultivars. The only color missing from this palette is blue. Many admired the range of color in the foliage as well. 

Informal dahlia arrangement

Informal dahlia arrangement

Informal dahlia arrangement

Informal dahlia arrangement

Informal dahlia arrangement

Informal dahlia arrangement

Formal dahlia arrangment

Formal dahlia arrangement

These prolific bloomers offer a lot of choices. Form and size are categorized by the American Dahlia Society (www.dahlia.org) into 21 classifications, and members are drawn to the diversity, describing the blooms as “gigantic,” “elegant,” and “perfection.” The plants provide continuous blooms from July to frost. As a cut flower, dahlias are superstars. The more you cut them, the more prolific they become.

Formal decorative form dahlia

Formal decorative form dahlia

Pompon form dahlias

Pompon form dahlias

Incurved cactus dahlia form

Incurved cactus dahlia form

Code Description
AN Anemone-flowered
BA Ball
Straight Cactus
CO Collarette
FD Formal Decorative
IC Incurved Cactus
ID Informal Decorative
LC Laciniated
MB Miniature Ball
MS Mignon Single
Novelty
NO Novelty Open
NX Novelty Fully Double
Orchid-flowering 
OT  Orchette 
Pompon
PE Peony-flowering
Single
SC Semi-Cactus
ST Stellar
WL Water Lily 

Copyright ©1995-present, American Dahlia Society, all rights reserved.

Other members cited the unique features of dahlias. There are 1,500-plus named varieties, with names like Prince Charming, Blondee, Cutie Patootie, and Diva. The availability of low-growing varieties makes them perfect for containers. While dahlias receive a standing ovation for their color and form, they have no scent, making them an ideal bloom for people with allergies.

Devoted followers highlighted ease of growing as an attribute. Tubers can be saved and propagated from year to year, making them very efficient.

Then there is the “wow” factor. Our members found a special place in their hearts for these plants, like old friends, that deliver on their promise. Whether it is the opportunity to share the beauty and harvest of the garden with family, neighbors and friends, the occasion to find personal happiness or endure sorrow, or the chance to compete with other gardeners for the perfect bloom, dahlias provide a formidable scene. Dahlias offer something for everyone. In the words of the Bard, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

P.S.  Will, what were you thinking? The rose has thorns! Pick dahlias!

Dahlia arrangement at the Central States Dahlia Society Show

Join us September 9-10, 2017, for the 51st Central States Dahlia Society Show.

ILLUSTRATION: dahlia artWe hope you will join us at the 51st National Dahlia Show hosted by the Central States Dahlia Society at the Chicago Botanic Garden on September 9-10, 2017. For additional information on the Central States Dahlia Society or the 2017 National Dahlia Show, visit centralstatesdahliasociety.com/2017-national-show.

 

By Andrea Basalay, with thanks to the CSDS members for sharing their thoughts and experiences.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A gall, tumor, or burl is an abnormal growth on the leaves, stems, roots, buds, twigs, or crown of a plant. In most cases, the gall is unsightly but not damaging. In small plants, the vascular flow of water and food can be restricted, causing poor growth and making the plant more susceptible to other stresses. A large tree can be weakened by an infection over many years. Nematodes, mites, and insects cause 95 percent of galls. Bacteria and fungi cause the remaining five percent. In most cases, the gall-making organism can be identified by observing the structure of the gall and the species of the host plant.

Galls on a Flower

Galls on Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstsonne’

Fungal galls are spread by ascospores in wind and water and can be found on many common trees including oak, maple, and common privet. Black knot affects many species of the genus Prunus—particularly cherries and plums.

Crown gall is a common problem caused by bacteria. The disease is spread by infested soil, transplants, or contaminated tools. The bacteria enters the plant through wounds caused by cultivation, pruning, or insects. Easy prevention methods are to plant only healthy stock (no suspicious bumps), to clean pruners between use on each plant with alcohol or a 10 percent bleach/water solution, and to take care not to injure plant stems. The bacteria stays active in the soil even after removal of infected plants, so place new, healthy stock elsewhere. Remove and destroy all infected plants. Galls caused by bacterial and fungus are more prevalent during wet years.

A gall can form in response to toxins injected during insect feeding or egg laying, or around a feeding larva. The hackberry leaf gall is caused by psyllids, which are tiny winged insects. Galls formed by insects usually do not affect the overall health of the tree unless they experience early defoliation over the course of many years. Parasites are an important control of this pest. Many oak galls are caused by gall flies and generally are not detrimental. A severe twig infection can, however, cause severe injury and even death. Spruce galls are often caused by several species of an aphid-like insect. If only a few galls are present, they can be cut off and destroyed before the insects emerge in midsummer.

Galls on a Flower
Galls on a Flower

 

Leaf galls on maple trees form because of feeding mites. Eriophyid mites produce a gall that resembles a felt patch and may occur on the upper or lower side of the leaf. The overall health of the tree should not be seriously affected.

Nematode feeding activity can injure roots and allow gall-forming bacteria into the plant. Nematodes can also form galls on carrots, camellia, fig, gardenia, okra, potato, roses, sweet potato, and tomato. Plants can be stunted, yellow, and wilted due to restrictions on the uptake of water and nutrients. Individual nematodes are invisible to the naked eye, but egg masses can be seen as pearly objects.  Roots can appear scabby, pimpled, rough, and have knots. Two important prevention methods are to rotate with nematode-resistant crops and to maintain rich organic soil.

Please contact Plant Information Service at (847) 835-0972 or at plantinfo@chicagobotanic.org for additional information.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

How to Grow More Amazing Dahlias Than Your Neighbors

A Dahlia Primer: From Planting to Blooming

Guest Blogger —  August 4, 2017 — 1 Comment

Get ready for an explosive burst of color September 9-10 at the annual American Dahlia Society National Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden. More than 2,000 flowers in the dahlia family will be on display in a wide variety of colors, sizes, and forms. 

Dahlias are indigenous to Mexico, where they were grown by the Aztecs, who used the tubers as one of their staple foods. The plants were brought to Spain and eventually spread throughout Europe, as people appreciated the beauty of the flowers themselves. Through hybridization, there now are more than 70,000 varieties of dahlia, about 1,500 of which are popularly grown.

Here are some tips for growing these beautiful plants in the garden. 

Dahlia bouquet from the American Dahlia Society National Show

ILLUSTRATION: dahlia artOn September 9 and 10, the Central States Dahlia Society and the Chicago Botanic Garden present the 51st annual American Dahlia Society National Show. For detailed information on the show and the Central States Dahlia Society, please visit centralstatesdahliasociety.com


Selecting a site

Pick a sunny spot where, optimally, the plants will receive at least six hours of sunlight. Since dahlias do not like to get their “feet” wet, the area should not accumulate water and should drain well. If the soil is clay-like, it should be amended with leaf mulch, compost, or peat moss. Since dahlias should be planted about 18 inches apart, it is easy to determine the number of plants the area will accommodate.

Planting

You can plant your dahlias as soon as the danger of frost has past, and the soil temperature remains above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. In Chicago, this typically means about the middle of May. However, some growers wait until Memorial Day just to be sure. The delay does not seem to appreciably affect when the first blooms appear. You can start with either potted plants or tubers that have been over-wintered from last year’s crop.

If using potted plants that have already developed a root system, place the plants in the ground so that the top of the potting medium is level with the ground. Many growers will add a slow-release fertilizer (e.g., Osmocote) and/or composted manure to the bottom of the hole. Water the plants once they have been put in the ground, and water as needed to keep the soil moist (about one inch per week).

Planted dahlia tuber

Planted dahlia tuber

A new dahlia plant

A new dahlia plant

When starting with tubers, dig a shallow hole (about 6 inches deep), add material as described above, and place the tuber on its side. Loosely cover the tuber—but do not bury it—with soil. Once the tuber has sprouted and the sprout has reached the level of the soil, the hole should be back-filled. The tubers should not be watered until they have sent out a sprout that reaches above ground level. A word of caution: Tuber sprouts can be quite delicate. It is a good idea to use a short, temporary support until the plant becomes established. You can start with tubers planted directly in the soil or start the tubers indoors in pots to get an early start. If starting inside, the tender plants should be “hardened” off prior to planting in the garden.

Since dahlias will often grow to five feet or more in height, they need to be staked. The stake should be placed in the ground as soon as the plant, or tuber, is in place. Put the supporting stake within a couple of inches of the plant and avoid damaging the tuber. Plastic stakes tend to bend and break. Many growers use ¼- to ½-inch rebar that can be bought from big-box stores or building supply centers. Tomato cages also provide good support.

New dahlia plant staked, tied, and identified

New dahlia plant staked, tied, and identified

Depending on the height of the plant, you should loosely tie it to the supporting stake. The final step in the planting process is to write the name of the variety on a plastic tag. The tag should be stuck in the ground or attached to the support system.

Dahlia bed ready for the growing season

Dahlia bed ready for the growing season

The first several weeks

As the plant continues to grow, additional ties will have to be placed at about 12-inch intervals. After the plant produces three or four sets of leaves and is about 18 inches tall, the plant should be “topped.”  This means that the terminal bud, at the top of the main stem, must be removed. This will be done only once. This process forces that plant to develop lateral stems, which results in more flowers. 

A "topped" dahlia with terminal bud removed, and laterals forming

A “topped” dahlia with terminal bud removed, and laterals forming

Water as needed to keep the soil moist. During this early phase, many growers will use a nitrogen fertilizer to promote leaf growth and stimulate the plant’s development.

Once buds appear

Depending on the weather and maturity of the starting stock, after about six to eight weeks the first buds should appear. These will develop in groups of three. Two of these should be removed. This process, called “disbudding,” will result in larger blooms. The first blooms tend to be the largest ones that the plant will produce. Growers who plan to compete in shows will try to time these first blooms so they appear just before the show.

A dahlia plant ready for "disbudding"

A dahlia plant ready for “disbudding”

During this phase, water the plant as needed. Watering should be done at the base of the plant. Water on the leaves may cause disease, and water on the blooms may cause them to become top-heavy and droop, or even break. Fertilizing during this phase should consist of potassium and phosphorus to encourage root and bloom development. Do not “over-feed’ the dahlias. Fertilizing about every three to four weeks is the generally recommended practice.   

If the plant becomes too full, you should remove a lateral stem or two. This process, called “disbranching,” should be done as close to the main stem as is possible. All plant grooming should be done in the early morning.  Ideally, you should sterilize the cutting tool as you move between plants to avoid the possible transfer of any disease for one plant to the next.

During the growing season, be aware of the impact of pests and plant disease. Snails and slugs may attack the newly planted dahlias. Spider mites are the most common pest. If they attack, the leaves will shrivel and yellow spots will appear. Many growers will preventatively spray once the hot weather arrives to avoid these pests, as remediation is difficult.

A garden full of dahlias

The fruits of your labor

Cutting the blooms

It is best to cut the blooms in the morning using a sharp instrument to make a clean cut. The stem can then be slit along its length to increase water absorption. Freshly cut dahlias will last in the house for one week or longer. 

 

By George Koons, Central States Dahlia Society


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org