Text and photos (unless otherwise credited) by Lina Rodriguez.
Lina has been gardening and keeping houseplants for over ten years. She has worked with organizations promoting community gardens, taught small-space gardening, and on other food justice initiatives.
Phlodendron hederaceum (heartleaf philodendron), my favorite houseplant to recommend to beginners. Photo credit: Malley Atkinson
Back in April, I wrote an article about why succulents may not be the best houseplants for beginners. I wrote that “succulents are easy, low-maintenance houseplants if you have the perfect conditions for them. But a lot of people don’t.”
So what is the best houseplant for beginners? The answer to that question is obviously subjective. What works for one person may not work for someone else, because there are so many factors at play (light, temperature, humidity, your personal plant-care style, just to name a few). That said, in my 10 years of keeping houseplants, I’ve learned that there are certain traits that make particular plants a good choice for most people, regardless of your environment or habits.
Before we get into my plant-y ruminations, let’s just cut to the chase: the houseplant I always recommend to beginners is Philodendron hederaceum (heartleaf philodendron).
Although sporangia, in which spores are produced and stored, are often associated with fungi and seedless plants, such as bryophytes (e.g., mosses) and ferns, they occur in all plants sometime during their life cycles. Continue reading →
Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic
This lovely wildflower is native to woodlands and rocky slopes throughout much of the eastern half of North America. Its nodding, bell-like flowers on delicate foliage attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The Virginia Native Plant Society honored Wild Columbine as Wildflower of the Year in 1998. Learn more . . .
etaerio [ ee-tay-ree-oh ] noun: an aggregate fruit formed from multiple ovaries in a single flower
Unlike simple fruits, which develop from a single ovary in a flower, an etaeriodevelops from multiple ovaries (sometimes called fruitlets) in a single flower arranged over the surface of or within the flower’s receptacle. An etaerio is also called an aggregate fruit. Fruits like achenes, samaras, follicles, berries, and drupes can be simple or aggregated, depending on the plant species.
Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic
Earlier classified as Photinia melanocarpa, this attractive native is often found in bogs, swamps, and moist thickets. Although edible, the fruits’ acerbic taste often causes choking – hence the common name. However, its red coloring and healthy nutrients make it useful in food processing. Learn more . . .
Join Master Gardeners in the Arlington/Alexandria unit of Virginia Cooperative Extension in a series of monthly articles in 2021 as we explore the topic of climate change and practical actions individuals can take in their home landscapes in response.
By Elaine Mills, Extension Master Gardener
In preceding posts in this series, we have considered gardening approaches that can reduce homeowners’ carbon footprints and presented adaptive techniques to assist in dealing with the challenges posed by climate change. Another area of concern is making informed choices about the plants we choose for our gardens.
Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic
This showy native, whose genus name honors naturalist John Tradescant, grows in scattered pockets throughout the eastern half of the United States.* Its common name may derive from several characteristics: its crouching spider-like leaf arrangement, web-like flower filaments or web-like sap secretions from cut stems. The Virginia Native Plant Society honored Spiderwort as Wildflower of the Year in 2008.
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Although bananas are the most popular fresh fruit purchased by Americans, apples (fresh, frozen, canned, and juiced) rank number one overall as America’s top fruit choice according to the USDA Economic Research Service. Both bananas and apples are considered fleshy fruits, but bananas are berries and apples are pomes.
filament [ fil–uh-muhnt ] noun: the stalk that supports the pollen bearing anther in the male reproductive organ (stamen) of a flower; a long strand of similar cells joined end to end, as found, for example, in certain bacteria, algae, and fungi
For gardeners, the most common encounter with the word filamentis in naming the reproductive parts of flowers. The word comes from the Latin filum, meaning “thread,” and aptly describes the thin, usually springy stalks holding up the anthers.
Tradescantia virginiana (spiderwort) is a familiar three-petaled flower that blooms purple/lavender, pink, white, or blue in many of our gardens. Some say the common name comes from the viscous fluid secreted by the cut stems–as it dries, it hardens into silky threads like spider webs; or perhaps the delicate spiderweb-like filaments. The long hairs (beards) of the filaments may serve a reproductive function, for example attracting insects “either toward or away from the main source of pollen.” (Faden, 1992)
Though native to parts of the Mid-Atlantic Region,* sourwood is more common in the South, including Virginia’s southern half. In residential landscapes, this decorative tree offers year-round appeal: lily-of-the valley-like flowers, breathtakingly brilliant fall foliage, persistent fruit capsules and reddish color twigs.
*Though not native to DC or NoVA, it is indigenous to a few counties in MD and PA, besides the southern half of VA.
A female Aedes aegypti mosquito while she was in the process of acquiring a blood meal from her human host.
Mosquitoes are a perennial summer pest, and the temptation to resort to commercial spraying to deal with this scourge can be strong. A key consideration to keep in mind is that all insecticides used to target adult mosquitoes are nonselective and will kill all insects that come in contact with the chemicals, including pollinators and other beneficial insects. Insects are essential to pollinating our crops, aiding in decomposition of dead plants and animals, returning nutrients to the soil, and keeping pest insects in check. Multiple studies, however, have documented a steep decline in insects over the last several decades, driven in part by widespread use of pesticides. Continue reading →
ethnobotany [eth-noh-bott-n-ee ] noun: the scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of different human societies concerning plants and their medical, religious, economic, and other use
Although the nectar bees collect from fruit trees, herbs, and clover create high quality honey, bees that feed solely on sourwood during its brief flowering period produce a rich, aromatic honey highly sought after by food connoisseurs world-wide. Photo courtesy USDA
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Some universities have departments of ethnobotany, where the uses of plants by various ethnic and indigenous cultures are studied, including how the wood of particular trees is used and whether a plant or a kind of wood or the oil derived from a plant, is regarded as sacred or as having healing properties. Both Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia have departments that study and document the traditional uses of the plants and fungi that grow in the Commonwealth, including their medicinal uses. Traditional crafts and trades also used plant parts, such as the Egyptians using papyrus to make paper and Native Americans using birch bark to make canoes. The practical uses of plant products often have economic value, such as the production of honey, maple syrup, edible mushrooms from fungi, and of course wood. Continue reading →
Any discussion about pollinators and pollination should include anthers, the pollen-producing portion of the stamen, a plant’s male reproductive organ. To understand how plants and pollinators have coevolved and what pollinators we can expect to see on a particular plant, it is helpful to understand the structure and function of anthers. Continue reading →
Pollinators provide an essential ecological service by moving pollen around so that plants can reproduce and incidentally provide seeds and fruit that feed people and many animals. Pollinators and insects in general are under threat due to industrial-scale agricultural practices, climate change, use of pesticides, and loss of habitat. While many causes are beyond our immediate control, we can move away from conventional landscape practices emphasizing extensive lawns with a few, mostly non-native foundation plants that contribute to a hostile environment for pollinators.
Homeowners have an opportunity to restore native habitat for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. If only half of the 40 million acres now devoted to lawn were converted into more natural landscaping, an area larger than the combined acreage of most major national parks could be transformed, creating what Doug Tallamy is calling Homegrown National Park. Adding even just a few flowering plants will make your yard more inviting to pollinators. Continue reading →
The wetland species of Southern Blue Flag and its close relative, Northern Blue Flag (Iris versicolor), grow in fresh to mildly brackish tidal marshes and wet meadows of the Mid-Atlantic, but the former is mostly found from Virginia southward to Florida. Both native irises, indigenous to some areas of NoVA, share similar growth habits and showy flowers that attract hummingbirds.
Conserving Bumble Bees is a very useful document, identifying nearly 50 North American bumble bee species that are an essential part of our pollinator communities because they visit a wide variety of blooming plants, have a long flight season, and fly in low light levels and in cool temperatures (their big, furry bodies can keep warm by generating heat, which is called thermoregulation and which is uncommon among bees).
The Xerces Society emphasizes that we can help bumble bees thrive by providing three key types of habitat: plants offering pollen and nectar on which to forage, nesting sites, and places to overwinter. Extension Master Gardeners encourage the public to create, protect, restore, and enhance high quality bumble bee habitat. By implementing these practices and creating corridors between habitat, we can help slow, stop, and reverse the recent decline of bumble bee populations.
Review by Susan Wilhelm, Extension Master Gardener
The Pollinator Victory Garden – Win the War on Pollinator Decline with Ecological Gardening by Kim Eierman is a terrific resource for anyone thinking about planting a pollinator garden, interested in learning more about best practices for supporting pollinators, or who simply wants a beautiful landscape that is ecologically sound.
Regular readers of this blog are familiar with the statistics concerning declining pollinator populations and the critical link between pollinating insects and the food we eat. (Also see Pollinators Under Threat posted 6/22/21). Eierman’s solution: targeting the same enthusiasm that underpinned the Victory Garden movement of World Wars I and II to creating Pollinator Victory Gardens. She explains that by planting just a little bit differently, homeowners can significantly increase the amount of pollinator habitat, and then tells readers exactly how to do so. Continue reading →
Pollinators provide an essential ecological service by moving pollen around so that plants can reproduce and incidentally provide seeds and fruit that feed people and many other animals. They pollinate 75 percent of human food crops, which constitute about a third of the plants we consume and most of the fruits and vegetables we need for a nutritious diet. Our native wildflowers depend on their services to propagate. Pollinators and other insects are also a crucial component in the food web with many birds, reptiles, fish, and mammals relying directly or indirectly on insects for food. Without pollinators and other insects, life as we know it would cease to exist. Continue reading →
signal [ sig-nl ] noun: an area of contrasting color, usually yellow, on the fall of an iris in the place of a beard
A word to begin the celebration of Pollinator Week
Diagram by Mary Free
Some flowers have specialized names for their flower parts. For irises, the petals are called standards and the sepals falls, which can be remembered with the following mnemonic: “standards stand up and falls fall down.” In the center of their falls, some irises, like cultivars of Iris germanica (German iris), have a hairy tuft called a beard. Others, like bulbous perennial Iris reticulata (dwarf iris) andrhizomatousIris ensata (Japanese iris), Iris sibirica (Siberian iris), and natives Iris versicolor and Iris virginica (northern and southern blue flags), have a signal, which is a patch of contrasting color–usually yellow or white. The signal patch of some irises, like native Iris cristata (dwarf crested iris), has ridges or cockscombs called a crest. Continue reading →
This lovely wildflower is native to rich forests and fields in portions of the Mid-Atlantic Region including NoVA (except Prince William County). As the species name divaricata suggests, this shade-loving phlox has a spreading habit, making it a good woodland ground cover.
An old sage speaks to me saying,
“Live in your hands.” The words “Lovely image” come to mind.
I feel my brow crinkle as thought interrupts my ability
to just be with that first image and see what it opens in me.
Thought says, “Live in your heart.”
I am interrupted now with two images: hands and heart.
Confusing, perhaps conflicting …
How often I am interrupted by thought … taking me from present moment.
I take a deep breath and slow my self down.
Now I can picture …
my hands touching the papery petals of Oriental Poppy,
the waxy yellow flowers of Buttercup,
my eyes caressing the voluptuous shape of Iris,
fingers touching its soft beard.
Breathing in brings me its slight scent.
As I slow down to touch, see, smell
I feel the flower energies enter and touch me,
Opening my heart.
The May 2nd reading from my daily meditation book (The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo) led me into this musing.
Creating this piece allowed me to notice and play with my responses to images and words that arose, creating a deep gratitude for language that invites a kind of silent presence and reverence.
Generally, the hairy surface (indumentum) of a stem, leaf, calyx, or corolla is described as pubescent. The individual hair (trichome) is an outgrowth of the epidermis. There are a number of different terms to describe hairiness, and these depend on the type (simple or glandular), shape (straight, sickle-shaped, hooked), length (minute, short, long), density (scarce, moderate, dense, heavy), and growing direction (relative to the surface they grow on) of individual hairs. Pubescent type may be used as a diagnostic tool in species identification, but can differ during the various stages of development from seedling to senile as well as among the seasonal forms of a particular species. Continue reading →
This lovely and adaptable native wildflower grows in deciduous woods and dappled meadows throughout the eastern half of North America. Its alternative common name, Cranesbill, refers to its distinctive seed capsule, which resembles the bill of a crane.
At the end of a long winter indoors, houseplants often become spindly and tired-looking. You can renew your plants by moving them outdoors for the summer. Finding the right spot for their “summer vacation” is key.
Moving houseplants outdoors requires the plants to acclimate to their new environment. Be patient, as initially upon moving, houseplants may become droopy and experience minor defoliation. This should subside within ten to twelve days as plants adjust to their new location. Keep in mind that each time you move plants they will experience an acclimatization period. Properly acclimating plants to a new environment is important for health and growth.
Temperature, light, and wind are major factors in how houseplants adjust to the outdoors. Continue reading →
The four most recents Public Education class recordings are now available in the Public EducationVirtual Classroom. Each class has an individual page with a captioned and edited video as well as additional resources. Chapter breaks are also provided so you can focus in on the part of the video you are most interested in viewing.
palmate [ pal-meyt, -mit, pahl-, paa-mayt ]adjective: of a leaf, lobed, veined, or divided from a common point with the veins forming a branching pattern that radiates from the place where the petiole joins the leaf blade, like fingers from a hand
Two common forms of venation that are the starting point for many plant identification systems are palmate and pinnate. A third venation pattern is fan-shaped, as in gingko trees (though in some identification systems Gingko biloba is treated as a variation of two-lobed venation, as the Latin name hints). A fourth form, arcuate, has a strong midrib, but also curved secondary veins in a more heart-shaped arrangement. The parallel venation of a fifth form appears in most monocot plants. (Refer to this Broadleaf Forms and Arrangements chart for illustrations of phyllotaxy, types, shapes, margins, and venation.)
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Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.