Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The importance of a name…

is not to be underestimated, particularly in the biological world. Linnaeus’ standardized naming system continues to this day and the rules governing naming and classifying plants are set out in a book called the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN). The Vienna Code version is the most current and can be viewed at the International Association for Plant Taxonomy website.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I may not be able to pronounce it…

but I sure can spell it and to my absolute delight, Latin really is a gardener’s best friend.

A singular plant may be known by a multitude of common names, some of which may be shared with dissimilar plants, but will only have one unique botanical name, rooted in Latin. Knowing the Latin name is not only useful when trying to identify that long sought after plant at the local nursery, it is also useful in identifying characteristics of the plant itself.

Let's take for example, the purple coneflower. You want to naturalize your garden and have decided to add the brilliant purple of this native species to that little corner by the back gate. Off you go to your local nursery and ask for a purple coneflower. Unbeknownst to you, you return home armed with two of the smooth purple coneflower plants, Echinacea laevigata (C.L. Boynt. & Beadle) S.F. Blake. When the flowers bloom you are disappointed at the lack of brilliance in the colour and you start to wonder if you need to add nutrients, if they're diseased, are you watering them enough. Fortunately the plants are fine, unfortunately, the common name, purple coneflower is used to refer to more than one species and you bought the wrong one. What you really wanted was the eastern purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench.

As you can see, both plants belong to the same genus, Echinacea. They are however, two distinct species, purpurea (meaning purple) and laevigata (meaning smooth).

For the history buff - Carl von Linne (1707-1778), a mid-18th century Swedish botanist and naturalist, developed a binomial system for classifying and naming plants in Philosophia botanica, Generaplantarum, and Species plantarum. His work inspired him to change his own name to Carolus Linnaeus so that he would fit into his own two-part naming system (binomial nomenclature). This system is still in use today. (The University of California Museum of Palentology has a brief but very interesting biography of Linnaeus on its website. Please click here to read more about the Father of Scientific Nomenclature.)

My Gardening Bookshelf:
The Firefly Dictionary of Plant Names: Common and Botanical
ISBN - 10:1552976025 or ISBN - 13:9781552976029

Gardener's Latin: A Lexicon
ISBN - 10:1565123840 or ISBN - 13:9781565123847

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why won't my Tricyrtis formosana...

bloom in June?

I quickly discovered discussion groups and thought hey, this is cool. Maybe someone else will ask all the questions burning inside me so I won't have to. Alas, it wasn't so. It seems I was on the tail end of knowledge in my little group. While everyone else was busy utilizing dichotomous keys to identify plants, I was still wondering what makes plants flower when they do. I was curious, why don't all perennials bloom at the same time. I posed this very question and the answer surprised me. I always assumed the mitigating factor was the amount of daylight, when in fact, the amount of darkness plays the larger role.

The techincal term - Photoperiodism

A photoperiod is the duration of light within a particular time span, usually a 24-hour period. For example, a 12-hour photoperiod consists of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness, whereas an 8-hour photoperiod consists of 8 hours of light and 16 hours of darkness.

Photoperiodism is the term for responses of plants to the relative length of the light and dark periods. These terms have been used for many years and imply that the light period is more critical than the day period, but research has shown that it is the dark (or night) period that is more important than the light (or day) period for controlling photoperiodic responses. (Source: Photoperiod Control Systems for Greenhouse Crops, University of Massachusetts Amherst, The College of Natural Sciences)

Long day plants such as carnations and bellflowers tend to flower in spring and summer while the days are growing longer. They require fewer hours of darkness.

Short day plants such as chrysanthemums and toad lilies generally flower in late summer or fall as the days are growing shorter. They require a longer period of darkness for flowering to begin.

Of course, as in all things, there are exceptions. Roses for example, are one of the day neutral plants. Day neutral plants flower regardless the length of darkness. They rely on other factors such as stage of development or temperature to initiate flowering.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ignorance is Bliss...

or so the saying goes and I suppose to some degree that is true in my approach to gardening. I'm simply a home gardener who takes great delight in "mucking about" in the garden. The sheer joy of watching my toil come to fruition in the form of a bloom is unparalleled. In fact, I’ve blissfully gardened in ignorance for going on thirty years.

Lately though, I seem to have grown inquisitive. I am no longer content to tend to my own little patch of nature without some understanding of the processes involved. So better late than never, I enrolled in horticultural courses last year and have since been bent on furthering my knowledge. This site is my chronicle of learning, my personal journey of discovery.

For further information on the horticulture courses in which I enrolled, click here to visit the Office of Open Learning, University of Guelph.