Friday, February 17, 2023

Conophytum Webinar


I'm going to be doing an online talk about Conophytum this Saturday, February 18, at 1:00 PM EST. This will be hosted by the Cactus and Succulent Society of America and is free; register at the CSSA website. A recording will be available on the CSSA Facebook page for a limited time, the week following the live talk. The presentation will be "Conophytums of Distinction" and will be a general introduction to these charming little succulents, with a focus on special varieties, cultivars and hybrids in cultivation. 

On Sunday I'm going to be doing another Zoom talk, on "Cape Geophytes," about South African bulbs, tubers and corms, for the Cascade Cactus and Succulent Society in Seattle. I'm not sure if there will be a way for non-members of the Cascade cactus club to view this one.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Superb Owl Sunday

Barred Owl (Strix varia) in Mansfield, Ct,  December 2019.

You can tell that this owl photo is from a couple of winters back, because it was actually snowing then. The winter of 2022-23 has been practically snow-free so far, with January temperatures running about 10 degrees (F) above normal, and only two severe but short-lived cold snaps, one last weekend and one around Christmas. 

Maple sap collection, Feb 11, 2023

I wasn't certain how to handle maple sugaring in a winter like this, and held off on tapping any trees until after the cold outbreak last week. The sap has been flowing like gangbusters the past few days, with my one tap yielding about two gallons per day. I probably could have gotten started in January; I hear that some local sugar shacks started their operations weeks ago. The weather looks good for sugaring in the immediate future, with freezes most nights and some more unseasonably warm days, but I'd also expect the season to end early if this pattern continues. 


Just in time for Darwin Day, researchers in the Yuan Lab here at UConn have published a prestigious cover article in the journal Science.  The work deals with the mechanisms of speciation within the genus Mimulus (Monkeyflowers), where a novel gene that produces small, regulatory RNA molecules, is involved in the evolution of changes in flower color and pollination syndrome. There is a less-technical article on the research in UConn Today. The Science editors apparently didn't think that the Yuan lab's photos of Mimulus flowers were quite of the quality that they wanted, so they had a professional photographer poking around the greenhouses last month to get some additional illustrations, which is how I first learned about the new publication.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Halloween Corpse Flower

 Just in time for Halloween, a Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanum) bloomed last night in the greenhouse at Eastern Connecticut State University. The teaching/research greenhouses there are not usually open to the public, but Prof. Bryan Connolly was kind enough to allow people in to see it on a Sunday evening. 

Here at UConn Storrs, we have a few A. titanum plants that are getting to be fairly large, but are still immature. It may be a couple of years before we get flowers.


There was a short article about the ECSU Corpse Flower in the Hartford Courant.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Pine Tree Down!

Knock, knock.

It's been terribly windy in eastern Connecticut for the past few days, apparently because of a powerful offshore storm. The worst of the wind was Sunday (May 8 2022), when a good sized Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) was blown over in the woods next to my house, falling uncomfortably close to structures, with the tree's top coming right down a stair case and grazing my side door. There wasn't any significant damage, fortunately, though my old pallet-wood compost bin is no longer with us. I wasn't around at the time, but my sweetie says the noise was terrifying and that it briefly looked and sounded like a tornado was going by outside. Strangely, the sky was clear and the sun was out for the whole event. The local weather station recorded 30 mph gusts that day, but this must have been stronger. I'm not even sure what this sort of weather would be called... is a blue-sky microburst a thing?

The compost bin has received a major new contribution.

 The tree was actually half of a pine with a forked trunk, which was clearly a weak point. The downed portion has a diameter of about 12 inches. The tree was about 50 years old. It's actually easy to get a more or less exact age for a youngish pine tree like this, without taking a core or cutting a clean section of the base to count rings. A pine branch that is actively growing produces exactly one whorl of new branches at its tip each year. So, you can pick a healthy branch and start counting whorls from the tip back to the trunk, then count whorls of branches down the trunk as far as you can go, and you have the age in years. In older pines the lower, overtopped branches eventually die, fall off, heal over and disappear, but this takes quite a while to happen. For this tree I couldn't find any sign of branch whorls only for the 2-3 feet at the very base, which I would guesstimate took the then-young pine seedling about 5 years to achieve back in the 1970s. (The scars from branch whorls that I can see low on the trunk are far apart, indicating that the tree was growing quickly and the environment must have been much more open and sunny.)

Two years worth of growth from one of the upper branches of the pine. The tip and whorl of branches at the lower part of the photo is from 2021, and the stem and branches above are from 2020.

 I'm not sure if the remaining half of the pine will survive; possibly not after losing so much of itself and with a big open wound in its trunk. It would probably be a good idea to take the rest of it down, especially if it seems to be in decline this summer.

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Cactus Show Returns

Euphorbias at the judged show, CCSS 2022.

The Connecticut Cactus & Succulent Society's annual show and sale was held this weekend, for the first time in three years. It was great to see everyone in person again! This was the first convention-type large public event that I've participated in for a while. People generally seemed to be acting responsibly and respectfully, and the two-day show proceeded without any notable hiccups.

Rick Logee's Rare Plants in the vendor area.

 The 2022 show was a bit scaled back in most respects, with a rough estimate of visitor numbers being about half of the attendance achieved at shows in the mid-2010s. There weren't as many entries in the judged show, either, and some of the usual volunteers running the show were mostly or entirely absent for various reasons (this last deficit was partially offset by some newer CCSS members stepping up to help). I for one was OK with the 2022 show being a lower-key affair than some of the more hectic pre-pandemic shows; it was a good way to ease back into the show routine.

 The former cactus show regular whose absence was most missed this year was John Spain, a founding member of the CCSS who passed away at age 100 this winter. John was a pioneer in growing winter-hardy cacti and succulents in cold, humid climates. There was a tribute to John set up in one corner of the show, with photos, newspaper articles and awards from his decades in the cactus club.

Guilio Sista came out of retirement as auctioneer for one of the plant auctions.