Friday, April 29, 2011

Plant of the Week

Downy painted cup
Castilleja sessiliflora Pursh
other common names: yellow Indian paintbrush, dwarf Indian paintbrush
Castilleja: in honor of an early Spanish botanist, Domingo Castillejo
Sessiliflora: from Latin, meaning generally “flower without a stalk”
Snapdragon family: Scrophulariaceae

Photograph by Thomas Rosburg, Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, Second Edition

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Interview with George Olson Part 1

How long have you been illustrating prairie plants? What other subjects do you focus on?

I started using prairie plants as subjects in the early 1980s after about a decade of drawing houseplants, garden flowers, woodland wildflowers, and weeds. My interest in native grasses and prairie plants was greatly enhanced by a one-day tour conducted by a local naturalist in about 1982. At the same time, I was becoming more aware of other artists at home and abroad who were illustrating the native plants in their immediate area. Prairie plants have held my attention because I am always discovering new subjects as I travel around the Midwest, and each plant subject is a rich collection of folk tales, colorful common names, practical uses (including food and medicine), and literary associations. My nonprairie subjects have been limited to covers and illustrations for books and calendars. In 2004, I did a series of medieval plants for Paul Christianson’s The Riverside Gardens of Thomas More’s London.

PLATE 5. OHIO SPIDERWORT, Tradescantia ohiensis
Source of specimen: Roadbank near Hickory Barrens
Spiderwort, with its delicate blue or purple flowers and its long sickle-like leaves, has been a dependable and fascinating subject since my earliest attempts at rendering it in pencil. The name Tradescantia is especially meaningful to Pat and me because of our long association with the Museum of Garden History in London. The museum occupies a former Anglican church, complete with a church yard where both of the Tradescants, father and son, are buried. The church is located in Lambeth, which was also the site of the Tradescants’ garden and museum.

PLATE 7. COMPASS PLANT, Silphium laciniatum
Source of specimen: Munson Township Cemetery
One of the most eloquent statements of all time about the compass plant is the short passage entitled “Prairie Birthday” in Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. Leopold describes a single ancient specimen growing in the angle of a cemetery fence along a Wisconsin highway. Alas, on a fateful summer day the fence is removed, and the compass plant is cut down by a highway maintenance crew. Leopold compares this vandalism to burning a massive history book, although he doubts that the departed plant will be missed by the 100,000 people who hurry past the cemetery every summer.

George Olson, The Elemental Prairie: Sixty Tallgrass Plants

Monday, April 25, 2011

April Gardening Tip

Try growing your potatoes on top of the ground under a cover of straw a few feet deep. This way, you can rob the hill all summer long for new potatoes, and the plants keep growing.
--Gloria Baker, Blue Water Garden Club

Veronica Lorson Fowler with the Federated Garden Clubs of Iowa, Gardening in Iowa and Surrounding Areas