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As we all know, good soils are the key to growing any type of plant well: annuals, perennials, turf, shrubs, and trees. The Chicago region’s soils are twofold, having positive and negative virtues. On a positive note, our soils tend to be rich in nutrients. But on a negative note, our soils are heavy and do not drain well.

The soils at the Chicago Botanic Garden are very typical urban soils, and we have the same challenges. Over the years we have tried many types of amendments to improve our soils and are about to embark on another trial…biochar.

Biochar has been used for thousands of years in the Amazon Basin of South America to greatly improve poor, unproductive soils for farming. The ancient Amazons used a simple “slash-and-char” process to create biochar. This process involved cutting and burning plant material in an incomplete “smolder” style, rather than complete burn. They worked the charred material back into the soil as a long-lasting amendment. These amended soils in the Amazon have become known as “black earth” or terra preta. Amended terra preta soils created long ago still cover 10 percent of the Amazon Basin. It is important to understand that “slash and char” is different than “slash and burn,” which has many negative environmental implications, like deforestation. “Slash and char” sequesters large amounts of carbon in a stable form, unlike “slash and burn,” which releases the carbon into the atmosphere.

PHOTO: Biochar

Biochar photo by K.salo.85 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In the past decade, the use of biochar has been investigated for modern agricultural use; more recently in arboriculture, as well as general use in ornamental landscape plantings. The Morton Arboretum and Bartlett Tree Experts have conducted several recent research trials on biochar with very positive findings. One study found the root mass of test seedlings (honeylocust) grown with biochar was significantly more compared to their control group. Another study showed improvement in plant disease resistance when biochar was used. 

So what exactly is modern-day biochar?

Biochar is similar to charcoal, except it is formulated specifically for soil enhancement. It is basically organic matter (primarily wood chips) heated in the absence of oxygen, a process called “pyrolysis.” The resulting char is carbon rich and has many long-lasting virtues. Think of it in the simplest of terms as a “sponge”: it has great capacity for holding and releasing nutrients and water.

What are the benefits? 

  • Helps hold soil moisture, and release it in drought
  • Increases soil microbial activity
  • Holds and releases soil nutrients
  • Reduces leaching of nutrients and fertilizer
  • Studies have shown increased plant growth and rooting
  • Studies have shown less plant disease when it is used. (It is thought that the increased microbial activity stimulates specific microorganisms that play a key role in eliciting plant “systemic-induced resistance,” or SIR.)
  • Benefits of one application are long lasting, and it does not take a lot
  • Biochar is made from recycled materials, such as pines killed by bark beetles or trees damaged by fire

This year the Garden has begun to use biochar in some of our more troublesome areas. We don’t look at it as a “silver bullet,” but as another tool to combat problems caused by poor soils. This new tool is being trialed and then possibly integrated into our arsenal for best practice soil management.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Interested in a healthier, happier life? Try connecting with the natural world. A new, technologically advanced body of research shows that spending time in nature can provide protection against cancer, high blood pressure, depression, stress, and more.

Take a walk in nature to improve your mood and your health.

Take a walk in nature to improve your mood and your health.

Earlier this year, a National Geographic article noted that advances in neuroscience and psychology have provided scientists with more tools to look at the way nature affects our brains and bodies. According to the article, “These measurements—of everything from stress hormones to heart rate to brain waves to protein markers—indicate that when we spend time in green space, ‘there is something profound going on,’” said University of Utah cognitive psychologist David Strayer.

University of Illinois environment and behavior researcher Ming Kuo found that nature has the ability to enhance the functioning of the body’s immune system. “Nature doesn’t just have one or two active ingredients,” she told the university’s College News. “It’s more like a multivitamin that provides us with all sorts of the nutrients we need. That’s how nature can protect us from all these different kinds of diseases—cardiovascular, respiratory, mental health, musculoskeletal, etc.—simultaneously.”

Improve learning with time spent in the natural world.

Improve learning with time spent in the natural world.

Other studies show that nature is essential to the well-being of children. Children learn and focus better, and are healthier and more relaxed in green spaces, researchers say. In its national guidelines on encouraging nature play, the National Wildlife Federation says, “Nature play is defined as a learning process, engaging children in working together to develop physical skills, to exercise their imaginations, to stimulate poetic expression, to begin to understand the workings of the world around them.”

Come experience the Chicago Botanic Garden’s new Nature Play Garden, where visitors of all ages and abilities can roll down hills, splash in water, hide in logs, and more.

The Nature Play Garden is part of the new Regenstein Learning Campus. Come to the free Opening Celebration on September 10 and 11.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Pokémon hunting in the Garden can be a great way to stop and take a closer look at some of the gardens while connecting with other visitors. Ordinarily, we love our visitors to enjoy our gardens with their senses, not their phones, but with the new Pokémon GO app, you can do both.

PHOTO: Screen shots of Pokémon GO game being played at the Garden.

Tagging us on Facebook, Pokémon hunter Patricio28 shared these screen shots of the forest of PokéStops and Gyms at the Garden.

Essentially an app that lets you run around and catch Pokémon using GPS and the camera on your phone, Pokémon GO has taken over the imaginations of kids and adults alike since its recent release. The game is global—users can play anywhere in the world—and the Garden is one of the locations with many features for those using the game.

Nearly 50 PokéStops dot the Garden grounds, typically tied to sculptures and commemorative plaques embedded in walkways. In addition, six Gyms—virtual locations where players can train and battle their Pokémon—are currently found on-site.

But that’s not all that’s to be found: the gardens are a mass of blooms and butterflies, herons and hostas, and beautiful sunsets. The best of both worlds—real and virtual—is here.

The Circle Garden in summer

The Circle Garden in summer

Circle Garden Fountain Pokemon Screenshot

Two PokéStops can be found at the Circle Garden.

PHOTO: Birds on Eggs by Sylvia Shaw Judson is a Poké Stop at the Garden.

Hidden behind tall corn and sunflowers at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, Birds On Eggs by Sylvia Shaw Judson would ordinarily be missed in the height of summer, but as a PokéStop, visitors get to enjoy the sculpture and explore the path to the orchard behind it.

PHOTO: Olivier Sequin's  Caricia sculpture .

A Pokémon Gym location near Olivier Sequin’s Caricia sculpture takes visitors on a path less traveled behind the Farwell Landscape Garden.

As you discover the Garden and the Pokémon here, please keep these tips in mind:

Look up! Please always be aware of people around you, especially in the Visitor Center. This is a popular location to plant Lures, as people take a break and eat at the Garden View Café and on outdoor decks. When you find a Pokémon on a path or in a garden, please take a moment to look around you first—you want to frame your screen shot nicely, but you also don’t want to ruin the visitor experience for our other guests, who may not have any idea what you are doing with your phone. 

PHOTO: Goldeen Pokémon at the Visitor Center bridge.

Goldeen

PHOTO: Psyduck Pokémon at the Visitor Center bridge.

Psyduck

PHOTO: Kukuna Pokémon in the Heritage Garden.

Kakuna

PHOTO: Meowth Pokémon at the Visitor Center entryway.

Meowth

Walk away, and walk back. If the GPS signal stops or you can’t get to a particular PokéStop, just keep walking. There is probably another one close by that’ll spit out more PokéBalls, eggs, and potions.

The perimeter of the Garden is less crowded with Pokémon hunters, and it is a beautiful 2.3-mile walk. Hatch an egg or five while you take in the sights from afar. The Dixon Prairie is in full bloom, and the East Road offers a lovely vista of the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden. Visit the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center Green Roof Gardens (where a Pikachu was spotted earlier this week), and get back to the main gardens over the Trellis Bridge. 

The Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center Rooftop Garden

The Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center Rooftop, and its view of the Garden.

Summer Evenings at the Garden

Summer Evenings at the Garden

Find nighttime Pokémon as you picnic at our evening concerts. The Garden is open through 9 p.m. all summer, so stay late, and join us Monday through Thursday nights for open-air concerts at the Garden. Pack a picnic and some lawn chairs—and maybe an extra battery charger. Activate a lure in the app to attract Pokémon to one of the PokeStops nearby while you enjoy the music.

Get creative. The Garden is always a great place to take photos. Get creative by trying to screenshot your Pokémon frolicking on the grounds. Get a shot of Goldeen swimming in a fountain, position Pidgey on the branch of a Linden tree, or catch Charmander riding a train in the Model Railroad Garden. The photos are also a great way to remember what you saw in the Garden, since the app’s journal tells you when you caught certain Pokémon but not where. Use the photos as visual reminders of the places you enjoyed on your Pokémon hunt and as a way to mark what you’d want to experience further on a future visit, either on another virtual adventure or for an unplugged trek.

Tell us what you find. Grab a screen shot and tag us on social media with #CBGPokemonGO—we’d love to know what you find and share with our other visitors.

We have found that Meowth is almost always hanging around the entrance to the Garden, which is also a Gym location, as well as the path to the Visitor Center. Psyduck is usually on the southern end of the Garden, but a Golduck has been spotted by the Crescent Garden. There’s a lot of water here, so expect to catch Goldeen, Magicarp, Polliwag, Shellder, and Staryu. A garden is full of birds and bugs, and ours is no exception—Pidgey and Spearow abound; Weedle, Metapod, Caterpie, and Kakuna are out and about. Ratata can be found near buildings, of course, and Eevee can be found throughout the Garden. Dratini and Bellsprout were lurking here this morning. 

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

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 my.chicagobotanic.org

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

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)

Parthenocissus

Ivy: Fidelity, marriage

Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthemum)

Jasminum polyanthum

Jasmine: Amiability

Laurel (Laurus nobilis)

Laurus nobilis

Laurel: Glory

Lavender (Lavendula)

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 my.chicagobotanic.org