January 28, 2020 Maria Sibylla Merian, January King, Peter Collinson, Nathaniel Wallich, Carl Adolph Agardh, Walter Bartlett, Robin Macy, Weird Plants by Chris Thorogood, Heart Fly-Thru Birdfeeder, and Mr Poinsettia, Paul Ecke, Sr.

Show Notes

Today we celebrate an eighteenth-century man who was a friend of many famous gardeners.

And, the Danish surgeon associated with many wonderful plants from the Himalayas.

We'll learn about the Swedish botanist who had a thing for algae and the man who started the only arboretum between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.

Today’s Unearthed Words feature poems and prose about winter's cold.

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a wonderful book about weird plants.

I'll talk about a beautiful item that would make the perfect Valentine's gift for a gardener or a special gift for a loved one,

And, then we’ll wrap things up with the story of the man who made the poinsettia a harbinger of Christmas.

But first, let's catch up on a few recent events.



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Curated Articles

Hidden women of history: Maria Sibylla Merian, 17th-century entomologist and scientific adventurer

Here's a great post about Maria Sibylla Merian. Click to read all about her.


Brassica Oleracea ‘January King’ From @GWmag

'January King' is a fantastic variety of savoy cabbage. Here's how to grow it.


Now, if you'd like to check out these curated articles for yourself, you're in luck, because I share all of it with the Listener Community in the Free Facebook Group - The Daily Gardener Community.

There’s no need to take notes or search for links - the next time you're on Facebook, search for Daily Gardener Community and request to join. I'd love to meet you in the group.


Important Events

1694 Today is the birthday of a Fellow of the Royal Society, an avid gardener, and a friend to many scientific leaders in the mid-18th century in the city of London, Peter Collinson.

Peter Collinson introduced nearly 200 species of plants to British horticulture - importing many from his friend John Bartram in America.

When the American gardener John Custis learned that Collinson was looking for the mountain cowslip (Primula auricula), he happily sent him a sample. Auricula means ear-shaped, and the mountain cowslip is Commonly known as a bear's ear from the shape of its leaves. The cowslip is a spring-flowering plant, and it is native to the mountainous areas of Europe.

Custis also sent Collinson a Virginia Bluebell Or Virginia cowslip ( Mertensia virginica). This plant is another Spring Beauty I can be found in Woodlands. The blue about Virginia Bluebell is so striking, and it's an old fashioned favorite for many gardeners. The Virginia Bluebell is also known as lungwort or oyster wort. The plant was believed to have medicinal properties for treating lung disorders, and the leaves taste like oysters. Virginia bluebells bloom alongside daffodils, so you end up with a beautiful yellow and blue combination together in the garden - something highly coveted and absolutely gorgeous. Collinson was not the only gardener in search of Virginia bluebells. Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello and loved them so much that they were often referred to as Jefferson's blue funnel flowers. Monticello ("MontiCHELLo”)

Collinson once wrote, "Forget not me & my garden." Given Peter’s influence on English gardens, he would be pleased to know that, after all these years, he has not been forgotten.

In 2010, the author Andrea Wulf popularized Collinson in the book The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentlemen Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession - one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors. 


1786 Today is the birthday of the Danish surgeon and botanist Nathaniel Wallich.

Nathaniel served as the Superintendent of East India Company's Botanical Garden in Calcutta, India. Wallich's early work involved writing a Flora of Asia. The palm Wallichia disticha (“wall-IK-ee-uh DIS-tik-uh”) was named in Wallich’s honor. The name of the species - disticha - comes from the Greek “distichos” (“dis” means two and “stichos” means line). Distichos refers to the leaves of this palm, which emerge in two rows on opposite sides of the stem.

The Wallinchia disticha is a very special palm, and it is native to the base of the Himalayas. The trunk is quite beautiful because it is covered in a trellis of fiber mat - simply gorgeous. This palm can grow to 30 feet tall, but it is a short-lived palm with a life span of just 15 years.

In 1824, Wallich was the first to describe the giant Himalayan Lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum) - the largest species of Lily. It is hardy in USDA Zones 7-9. The giant Himalayan Lily can grow up to 12 feet tall. Once it is finished blooming, the mother Lily bulb dies, but luckily, numerous offsets develop from the parent bulb. This dying off is common among plants that push a bloom many feet into the air. It takes enormous energy to create a towering and flowering stalk.

If you decide you’d like to grow giant Himalayan Lilies, (and who wouldn’t?) expect blooms anytime after year four.

Today, the Nathaniel Wallich Memorial Lecture takes place every year at the Indian Museum in Kolkata on Foundation Day. Wallich founded the museum in 1814.

Wallich is buried in Kensal Green cemetery in London alongside many prominent botanists - like James Edward Smith (a founder of the Linnean Society London), John Claudius Loudon (Scottish writer), Sir James McGrigor (Scottish botanist), Archibald Menzies (surgeon), Robert Brown (discoverer of Brownian motion), and David Don (the Linnaean Society Librarian and 1st Professor of Botany Kings College London).


1859 Today is the anniversary of the death of a Swedish botanist who specialized in algae - Carl Adolph Agardh (“AW-guard”).

In 1817, Carl published his masterpiece - a book on the algae of Scandinavia. Carl’s work studying algae was a major endeavor from the time he was a young man until his mid-fifties. At that time, he became the bishop of Karlstad. The position was all-consuming, and Carl put his botanical studies behind him.


1870 Today is the birthday of the physician, naturalist, and civic leader of the south-central Kansas town of Belle Plaine - Dr. Walter E. Bartlett. In 1910, Bartlett started the Bartlett Arboretum By purchasing 15 acres of land on the edge of a town called Belle Plaine - about 20 miles south of Wichita. The property had good soil, and it also had a little creek. One of Bartlett's initial moves was too dam up the creek and create a lake for waterfowl. In the flat expanse of Kansas, Bartlett was tree obsessed. He planted them everywhere - lining walkways, drives, and Riverbanks.

Bartlett was all so civic-minded, and he added a baseball diamond complete with a grandstand to the arboretum and a running track and a place for trap shooting as well.

After Walter died, the park was managed by his son Glenn who was a landscape architect. Glenn had studied the Gardens at Versailles - noting that they were transformed out of sand dunes and marshes. Back home, the Bartlett Arboretum had similar challenges.

Glenn married Margaret Myers, who was an artist, a magazine fashion designer, a floral designer, a Garden Club organizer, and an instructor. Combining their fantastic skillsets, Glenn and Margaret turned the Arboretum into something quite beautiful.

Together, they Incorporated tree specimens from all over the world. Using dredged dirt from the lake, they created Islands. At one point, the Bartlett Arboretum was the only Arboretum between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Known for its beautiful spring tradition called Tulip Time, the Arboretum featured a tulip bed with over 40,000 bulbs.

In 1997, the Arboretum was sold to Robin Macy. Macy was one of the founding members of the Dixie Chicks, and she is the current steward of the Bartlett Arboretum. Naturally, Robin incorporated music into the Arb.

The Facebook Group for the Arboretum recently shared a register page from April 7th, 1929, and across the top of the register, Bartlett had quoted Wordsworth, “He is the happiest who has the power to gather wisdom from a flower.” The folks who tend the flowers and trees at the Bartlett Arboretum make people happy all year long.


Unearthed Words

Here are some poems about the winter’s cold. (As I read this, it’s 2 degrees in lovely Maple Grove, Minnesota.)

The birds are gone, The ground is white,
The winds are wild, They chill and bite;
The ground is thick with slush and sleet,
And I barely feel my feet."

It's not the case, though some might wish it so
Who from a window watch the blizzard blow
White riot through their branches vague and stark,
That they keep snug beneath their pelted bark.

They take affliction in until it jells
To crystal ice between their frozen cells ...

— Richard Wilbur, American Poet, Orchard Trees - January

Snow and sleet, and sleet and snow.
Will the Winter never go?
What do beggar children do
With no fire to cuddle to,
Perhaps with nowhere warm to go?
Snow and sleet, and sleet and snow.

Hail and ice, and ice and hail,
Water frozen in the pail.
See the robins, brown and red,
They are waiting to be fed.
Poor dears, battling in the gale!
Hail and ice, and ice and hail.

— Katherine Mansfield, New Zealand Poet & Writer, Winter Song


Blow, blow, thou winter wind, thou art not so unkind as man's ingratitude.

— William Shakespeare, English Poet, Playwright, & Actor


The Winter’s cheek flushed as if he had drained
Spring, Summer, and Autumn at a draught...

— Edward Thomas, British Poet, Essayist & Novelist, "The Manor Farm"


Someone painted pictures on my
Windowpane last night --
Willow trees with trailing boughs
And flowers, frosty white,

And lovely crystal butterflies;
But when the morning sun
Touched them with its golden beams,
They vanished one by one.

— Helen Bayley Davis, Baltimore Poet, Maryland Federation of Women’s Clubs Poet Laureate, Jack Frost (Written in 1929 and sold to the Christian Science Monitor)


Grow That Garden Library

Weird Plants by Chris Thorogood

Chris is a botanist at Oxford Botanic Garden. The cover of Chris's book is captivating - it shows a very weird plant - it almost looks like a claw - and its grasp is the title of the book weird plants.

In this book published by Kew Gardens, Chris shares all of the weird and wacky plants that he's encountered during his travels. There are orchids that look like a female insect, and there are giant pitcher plants as well as other carnivorous plants that take down all kinds of prey. One thing's for certain, the weirdness factor of all of these plants has helped them survive for centuries.

Gardeners will get a kick out of the seven categories that Chris uses to organize these strange species: Vampires, Killers, Fraudsters, Jailers, Accomplices, Survivors, and Hitchhikers.

Chris's writing is complemented by his incredibly detailed oil paintings and his fascinating range of botanical expertise. As someone who works with student gardeners regularly, I appreciate botanists who are able to make plants interesting - taking topics and subjects that may otherwise prove boring and making them utterly captivating. Chris is that kind of garden communicator.

In addition to Weird Plants, Chris is the author of Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of the Western Mediterranean and co-author of Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of the Algarve; both are published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

You can get a used copy of Weird Plants by Chris Thorogood and support the show, using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for under $9.


Great Gifts for Gardeners

Good Directions 0113VB Heart Fly-Thru Bird Feeder Birdfeeder, Copper Finish $68.64

The Heart Fly-Thru™ Bird Feeder by Good Directions combines simplicity with elegance. Designed to show birds you love to feed them from the bottom of your heart! The heart fly-thru bird feeder by Good Directions invites birds in for a snack, & helps birders' Favorite activity last All day long! Featuring a charming heart shape & a LONG-LASTING Copper Finish, This bird feeder is the perfect addition to any garden setting. The feeder is easy to hang, Easy to love, & because it's also see-through, it's easy-to-know-when-to-fill! Measuring 15"H x 13"W x 3" D, it's sized to hold a generous 4-1/2 lb. Of seed!

A beautiful piece for Valentine’s day or for a special birthday. If you know someone who loves to watch the birds from their house or deck, this will make a nice addition to any bird feeder or birdhouse collection. This gift will always remind them how much they are loved; thus, the heart design.

  • Unique fly-thru design with durable, long-lasting copper finish
  • Charming heart shape with Plexiglass panels for added strength and durability
  • Generous 4-1/2 pound seed capacity
  • Drainage holes help keep seed dry
  • Measures 15"H x 13”w x 3” D
  • Easy to hang and easy-to-know-when-to fill


Today’s Botanic Spark

1895 Today is the birthday of the nurseryman known as “Mr. Poinsettia,” Paul Ecke ("Eck-EE"), Sr. He was born in Magdeburg, Germany.

Paul and his family immigrated to the United States in 1906.

When Paul took over his father's nursery business located on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood in the early 1920s, the poinsettia(Euphorbia pulcherrima) was a fragile outdoor wild plant. Paul fell in love with the Poinsettia and immediately felt that the plant was a perfect fit for the holiday season because the bloom time occurred naturally during that time.

By 1924, Paul was forced out of Hollywood by the movie business, and he brought his family and the nursery to San Diego County. He and his wife Magdalena had four children, and they purchased 40 acres of land in Encinitas("en-sin-EE-tis"). It was here that Paul would turn his passion for Poinsettias into a powerhouse - at one point, his nursery controlled 90% of the Poinsettia market in the United States.

At first, Paul raised poinsettias in the fields on the ranch. Each spring, the plants were harvested and then loaded on two railroad cars and sent to Greenhouse Growers all along the east coast.

When Paul wasn't growing poinsettias, he was talking poinsettias. He started calling it "The Christmas Flower"; Paul was endlessly marketing poinsettias and praising their attributes as a harbinger of Christmas

Initially, Paul worked to decrease the growing time of the Poinsettia. By getting the time to bloom down from 18 months to 8 months, Paul made it possible for the Poinsettia to be grown indoors. After figuring out how to propagate the plant through cuttings indoors, Paul was soon able to ship poinsettias around the world by plane.

Paul’s son, Paul Jr., took over the business in the 1960s. He cleverly sent poinsettias to TV shows. When the holiday programs aired, there were the poinsettias - in their glory - decorating the sets and stages of all the major programs.

When Paul Junior learned that women's magazines did their photoshoots for the holidays over the summer, he began growing a poinsettia crop that piqued in July. Magazines like Women's Day and Sunset were thrilled to feature the poinsettia in their Christmas magazines alongside Christmas trees and mistletoe. This venture was regarded as the Ecke family's biggest marketing success and made the Poinsettia synonymous with Christmas.

And gardeners will be fascinated to learn that the Ecke family was able to distinguish themselves as a superior grower of poinsettias by using a secret technique to keep their plants compact and hardy. Their solution was simple. They grafted two varieties of Poinsettias together, causing every seedling to branch and become bushy. Competitor Poinsettias were leggy and prone to falling open. Not so, with the Ecke Poinsettia.

By the 1990s, the Ecke growing secret was out of the bag, and competitors began grafting poinsettias together in order to compete.

Today the Ecke family does not grow any poinsettias on their farm in San Diego County.

Finally, one of Paul's Poinsettia pet peeves is the commonly-held belief that Poinsettias are poisonous. Sometimes that fear would prevent a pet owner or a young mother from buying the plant. Paul Ecke recognized the threat posed by this false belief. He fought to reveal the truth one interview at a time. It turns out that a 50-pound child would have to eat roughly 500 poinsettia leaves before they would even begin to have a stomach ache. Furthermore, the plant is not dangerous to pets. To prove this point, Paul would regularly eat Poinsettia leaves on camera during interviews over the holiday season.

When the Ecke nursery was sold in 2012, it still controlled over half the poinsettia market worldwide. During the holiday season, roughly seventy-five million poinsettia plants are sold - most to women over the age of 40.

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