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Sharing the Titan Arum Love

Chicago Botanic Garden gives corpse flower to Garfield Park Conservatory

Karen Z. —  June 17, 2016 — Leave a comment

Spring is traditionally the season that gardener friends and neighbors share plants. So when we noticed in late May that one of the 13 corpse flowers in the production greenhouse at the Chicago Botanic Garden was showing signs of sending up an inflorescence, we knew it was time to share.

PHOTO: Loading up the titan arum bud in the truck.

We bid a fond farewell to titan arum no. 5 (now dubbed “Persephone”) on May 31, 2016. The titan traveled by truck to its new home at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Wanting to spread the titan bounty and to make this amazing plant accessible to Chicagoans from all parts of the city, the Garden turned to our friends at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Titan arums hail from the rainforests of Sumatra, and therefore need the high humidity and controlled warmth of a greenhouse. (Check: the Conservatory’s Jens Jensen-designed greenhouses include an Aroid House with lagoon.) The plants are notoriously slow to reach the flowering stage and unpredictable when they do—careful horticultural monitoring is a must. (Check: we heart horticulturists.) And the Conservatory is located mere steps from Garfield Park’s beautifully renovated Green Line “L” stop, the city’s most central and accessible train line (super check).

Traveling in the city? Take the Green Line directly to the restored Conservatory–Central Park Drive el station.

Traveling in the city? Take the Green Line directly to the restored Conservatory–Central Park Drive “L” station.

For the Garden’s horticulture team, it has been a labor of love to raise “titan no. 5” to this stage. Grown from seed sent in 2008 by the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, the plant had developed the largest known corm in the Garden’s collection. When it was repotted in December 2015, the corm weighed in at 48.2 pounds and measured 16 inches wide and 12 inches tall. Through careful propagation and much TLC, the horticulture staff had coaxed this corpse flower toward opening in just eight years—a fairly short time frame in the life cycle of a titan. 

Mary Eysenbach, director of conservatories at the Chicago Park District, and her team at the Conservatory were thrilled to accept the gift of a titan arum, especially one nearing its first bloom. Dubbed “Persephone,” the plant was installed in the Aroid House, where it has been happily growing…and growing…among the Chihuly glass sculptures, reaching 69 inches in height by Thursday, June 16.

All signs now point to the corpse flower opening soon: slowing growth, reddening of the spathe, drying of the bracts. (Read more about the life cycle of titan arums on our blog.)

A titan arum, or corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) in bloom.

A titan arum’s inflorescence opens for a short time—just a day or two—and emits a powerfully stinky smell for the first few hours, as the female flowers inside put out the call for pollinators.

If you saw Spike or Alice or Sprout  at the Chicago Botanic Garden—or heard about “that stinky flower” through the news or social media—you know what a rare, amazing, sensational phenomenon a corpse flower can be. Increasingly rare in the wild, a flowering titan is a sight to behold, and a wonderful way to learn more about the astounding lives of the world’s plants.

We’re proud to share a titan arum with the Garfield Park Conservatory, and encourage everyone to visit, watch, and smell as its inflorescence opens.

Want to see Persephone in person? Take the Green Line directly to Conservatory–Central Park Drive. Follow the titan’s progress @gpconservatory #‎GPCPersephone‬.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and

When a massive weeping willow tree fell in the woods near master crafter Mike Jarvi’s studio, he studied it for many weeks before making a first cut.

Then he got out the chain saw.

The tree had stood astride an intermittent stream for nearly 70 years before falling in a storm. As Jarvi hewed into an especially thick area of the trunk, its remarkable grain and age rings were revealed. The fast-growing willow had recorded both floods and ebbs of water in its rings—some remarkably wide, indicating flood years when the tree grew in great leaps, others quite slim, marking years of drought for the water-loving species.

Willow desk and chair by Mike Jarvi.

Willow desk and chair by Mike Jarvi.

The front view of this massive desk, created from a single willow trunk.

The front view of this massive desk, created from a single willow trunk.

Jarvi cut one massive section from the trunk, envisioning a desk, then cut into that piece for a matching chair that fits neatly into the desk “slot.” Both pieces were hoisted into his shop’s loft to dry…for four years. The chair slab weighed in at 230 pounds when it arrived; four years later, is was down to 130 pounds, having lost 100 pounds of moisture.

On view in The Hidden Art of Trees as desk and chair, the willow and its tree rings—and their recorded history—are visible now for all to see.

The Hidden Art of Trees is on view at the Regenstein Center through August 21, 2016. Admission is free; parking fees apply for nonmembers.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and

As proud gardeners, we are thrilled to announce the arrival of flower names as a fresh trend on the best baby name lists. 

While Lily, Rose, and Daisy have been perennial list favorites, Violet has just cracked the top five on Nameberry.

What’s behind the trend? Celebrities, for starters. When Gwyneth named baby Apple a dozen years ago, some scratched their heads. Fast forward to 2012, and Blue Ivy Carter (Beyoncé’s first) sounded just right.


Petunia sp.

Media has played a role, too. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling surely knew her flowers: Harry’s mother was named Lily and his aunt, Petunia—and support characters that pop up are named Pansy, Lavender, and Poppy. And then there was Downton Abbey, with its worldwide audience that sighed with happiness when Lady Edith named the baby Marigold.

Speaking of England, behind today’s trend is an even earlier, Victorian-era trend rooted in the language of flowers. This is a topic near and dear to the Garden’s heart, as an amazing gift of 400 books related to the Language of Flowers was donated to the Lenhardt Library in 2015. 

The new exhibition at the Lenhardt Library, Language of Flowers: Floral Art and Poetry, is a great opportunity to examine some of the rarest of those volumes—we’re especially enamored of the 1852 Lexicon of Ladies’ Names, with their Floral Emblems. Modern books are out on one of the library tables for you to browse, too—and that’s where you’ll find these beautiful names for girls (and boys) and their language of flowers meanings.

See Language of Flowers: Floral Art and Poetry at the Lenhardt Library through August 7, 2016.

Angelica (Angelica gigas)

Angelica gigas

Angelica: Inspiration

Apple (Malus 'Adams')

Malus ‘Adams’

Apple: Temptation

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Mertensia virginica

Bluebell: Constancy

Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum ('Darling Daisy')

Leucanthemum × superbum (‘Darling Daisy’)

Daisy: Innocence

China rose (Hibiscus 'Mrs. Jimmy Spangler')

Hibiscus ‘Mrs. Jimmy Spangler’

Hibiscus: Beauty always new

Holly (Ilex aquifolium 'Monvila') GOLD COAST™

Ilex aquifolium ‘Monvila’ Gold Coast™

Holly: Foresight

Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis)

Hyacinthus orientalis

Hyacinth: Sport, game, play

Iris (Iris 'Superstition')

Iris ‘Superstition’

Iris: Message

Ivy (Parthenocissius)


Ivy: Fidelity, marriage

Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthemum)

Jasminum polyanthum

Jasmine: Amiability

Laurel (Laurus nobilis)

Laurus nobilis

Laurel: Glory

Lavender (Lavendula)


Lavender: Distrust

Lily (Lilium 'Acapulco')

Lilium ‘Acapulco’

Lily: Majesty

Marigold (Tagetes patula 'Janie Deep Orange')

Tagetes patula ‘Janie Deep Orange’

Marigold: Grief

Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana 'Matrix')

Viola × wittrockiana ‘Matrix’

Pansy: Thoughts

Pinks (Dianthus hybrida 'Valda Louise')

Dianthus hybrida ‘Valda Louise’

Pinks: Boldness

Poppy (Papaver sp.)

Papaver sp.

Poppy: Consolation

Rose (Rosa 'Medallion')

Rosa ‘Medallion’

Rose: Love

African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha)

Saintpaulia ionantha

Violet: Faithfulness


Don’t like the idea of an associated flower meaning? You can always choose Flora, Fleur, or Blossom. Or just stick with Sweet Pea as a nickname, because, girl or boy, what baby isn’t a “delicate pleasure”?

Rocket (Eruca sativa)

Rocket (Eruca sativa) by Alvesgaspar [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

What About the Boys?

Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) meant “gallantry” and Rocket (Eruca sativa) connoted “rivalry” in the language of flowers, but names for boys are few in the world of blooms. Expand into the wider world of plants and a few more names emerge: Sage, Forest, Ash, Bay, Glen.

What other nature-related names for boys can you think of?

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Budding and flowering trees and shrubs—redbud, plum, spirea, almond—are among the great joys of spring. Under the calm and creative eye of Field & Florist’s Heidi Joynt, we learned to turn those branches into lovely, living wreaths in a perfectly timed class at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Heidi Joynt demonstrated how to layer in curly willow cuttings and delicate flowering branches like bridal veil and bridal wreath spirea.

Spring blooming wreaths included “delicate” branches like those shown here.

A finished wreath incorporates many of the more delicate flowering shrubs with a central focal point of redbud and plum branches.

The finished wreath is an exuberant combination of the more delicate flowering shrubs with a dramatic central focal point of redbud and plum branches.

Most Chicago-area yards have a flowering shrub or tree, much admired when it bursts into bloom in spring. While some intrepid gardeners know to cut early branches to force bloom indoors, Joynt takes the idea in a different direction—in a circle, with living branches forming a perfect-for-the-front-door wreath.

Imagine walking out into your yard, pruning a cluster of branch tips—plus a large branch or two—then starting to fill in an 8- to 12-inch grapevine or curly willow wreath (purchased or handmade). That’s how surprisingly simple the process is.

As everyone clipped and pondered and designed, Joynt offered helpful wreath-making and wreath-tending tips:

  • Larger branches of redbud, crabapple, forsythia, double almond, or plum can be strategically wired onto the wreath to create a focal point. 
  • Add delicate curly willow or birch catkins at the center and the outer edges of your wreath. Bouncing and waving in the breeze, they add movement and interest to your design.
  • Hung on your front door, the living wreath can be spritzed with water once or twice a day to keep flowers fresh. 
  • As flowers drop off or brown, pull the branches out of your wreath and replace them with the next blooming items in your yard. Fresh flowers like tulips and roses can also be inserted by placing them in flower tubes (available at florists and craft shops) and tucking them into the wreath. 
  • Yes, silk flowers are an option. Joynt recommends for extremely realistic flowering branches. 

Field & Florist’s Spring Arrangements from Rabbit Hole Magazine on Vimeo.

Classmates begin framing their wreaths with pussy willow tips.

Joynt’s next class, Spring Centerpiece Workshop, is just before Mother’s Day, on Thursday, May 5—create the perfect gift for mom. Can’t make it? Try Floral Techniques on June 21.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Do-It-Yourself Seed Balls

Karen Z. —  April 10, 2016 — 2 Comments

Spring is seed season—and a good time to think about gifting seeds to gardeners, friends, and green-thumbed moms (think Mother’s Day, May 8).

Musing about how to share some of the seeds that she gathered at February’s Seed Swap, horticulturist Nancy Clifton got interested in the guerrilla gardening-inspired idea of “seed balls” (or seed bombs, as they’re sometimes called). While the guerrilla gardening movement leans toward stealth seeding, Nancy thinks seed balls make an ideal gift item—they’re easy to make, easy to “plant,” and an easy way to teach kids about germination.

PHOTO: Seed balls made with different recipes.

Clay powder gives seed balls a reddish color and even texture; using clay chips makes a slightly chunkier, greenish seed ball. Both work equally well.

Here’s the easy seed ball recipe:

  • 1 cup powdered clay or potter’s clay (can be purchased online)
  • ½ cup dried compost (the finer, the better—Nancy used a pre-bagged compost mix)
  • 2 tablespoons desired seeds (see seed choice section below)
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper (to deter critters from eating the sprouts)
  • Water

Mix the dry ingredients; then add ½ cup water. Stir, then begin to judge the consistency. Wearing gardening or plastic gloves, roll a teaspoon-sized ball in your hands (size can vary). Think “mud pie”—the ball should hold together when you squeeze it, without crumbling or dripping water.

Roll all of the mixture into balls; then let the balls dry on newspaper or waxed paper for two or three days. Don’t worry about smoothness—rustic-looking seed balls are as interesting as marble-smooth. The color will change to dark red/terra cotta as the balls dry. This recipe yields about 24 seed balls.

About Your Seed Choice

  • Less is more. You only want a few seeds to sprout from each seed ball. Too many seeds mean too many sprouts, resulting in too much competition for nutrients and water.
  • All sun. All shade. All herbs. All spring. Choose seeds with similar needs to maximize success in their container or garden spot. Nancy’s variations:
    • All summer annuals
    • All lettuces
    • All cool-season herbs
  • Use organic, non-treated seeds from your own garden or from trusted sources.
  • Choose native species for flowers and perennials that will grow successfully in our USDA Zone 5 region. Be responsible: do not use seeds from invasive species.

PHOTO: Nancy handles finished seed balls using plastic gloves.

Wear plastic or latex gloves when making seed balls. The mixture tends to be very sticky, and clay can dry out your hands very easily.

Seed balls can be set into a container of potting soil (sink it down just a bit into the soil), or placed, randomly or intentionally, on bare soil in the garden. A rainy day is the perfect day to “plant” seed balls—rain helps to break down the clay and compost, giving seeds a good dose of food and water to get started growing.

Throw one in your garden. Fill an empty space. Gift a brown- or green-thumbed friend. And happy spring, everyone!

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and