August 18, 2020 Houseplants and Air Quality, Benjamin Alvord, Olav Hauge, Ozaki’s Cherry Trees, the Camperdown Elm, World Daffodil Day, Dream Plants for the Natural Garden by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen, and the Cherokee Rose

Show Notes

Today we celebrate the Brigadier General, who described the Compass Plant.

We'll also learn about the Norwegian poet who gardened and tended 70 apple trees.

We remember the gift given to American by the Mayor of Tokyo.

We also honor an extraordinary tree that was discovered on the estate of the first Earl of Camperdown.  

We'll celebrate World Daffodil Day with a Daffodil Poem.

We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book called Dream Plants for the Natural Garden - it's a classic.

And then we'll wrap things up with the story of the Georgia State Flower.

But first, let's catch up on some Greetings from Gardeners around the world and today's curated news.



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Gardener Greetings

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Curated News

Do houseplants really improve air quality? | The Guardian | James Wong

Here's an excerpt:

"Five years ago I wrote a column in this very magazine about how houseplants can purify the air, based on research carried out by Nasa. Since then, there has been a slew of online articles, not to mention industry campaigns and even new gadgets, centred on this claim. The only problem with it is that more recent and better quality research has found this to be extremely unlikely...

However, other research shows that having plants indoors has a range of other benefits. They can boost productivity. They can improve mood. They can regulate humidity – all on top of looking beautiful. If you want fresh air, open a window. If you want to witness the joy of nature and feel a daily sense of wonder, get some houseplants."

Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek


Alright, that's it for today's gardening news.

Now, if you'd like to check out my curated news articles and blog posts 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

1813    Today is the birthday of Brigadier General, mathematician, and botanist Benjamin Alvord.

Born in Rutland Vermont, Benjamin was always drawn to nature. He graduated from West Point and even spent some time teaching there as a Math Professor.  Benjamin fought in the Seminole Wars, the Mexican–American War, and the Civil War.

When he wasn't serving in the military, Benjamin returned to his passions of scholarly activity. His obituary at Arlington says,

“General Alvord lived most of his life in the field, where he was separated from society and books, yet he became a learned scholar; skilled in dialectics, ready in conversation, and polished in his writing.  He had a special fondness for mathematics, botany, history, and biography.”

Benjamin published mathematical papers as well as literary articles for magazines like Harpers, and he even wrote a botanical paper on the Compass Plant Silphium laciniatum, which was featured in The American Naturalist.

In 1848, Benjamin described the Compass Plant this way:

“The Silphium laciniatum is a perennial plant of the order Compositae; the first year it bears only radical leaves, the second year and after, it is a flowering herb with four or five leaves on the stem; very rough bristly throughout; Flowers yellow. Found on rich prairies of the Mississippi valley from Minnesota to Texas… It was first seen by me in the autumn of 1839, on the rich prairies near Fort Wayne in the north-eastern portion of the Cherokee nation, near the Arkansas line.”

The leaves of the Compass Plant align north-south, which helps the plant minimize the effect of the midday sun. The north-south orientation guided settlers crossing the prairies who used the plant as a compass during their journey.

Compass Plant is edible. Livestock eats it. Native Americans used it to make tea, a dewormer for their horses, and as a teeth cleaner and breath sweetener. Although before you use the Compass Plant for your teeth or breath, take note of this passage from the Illinois author John Madison,

“Pioneers found that compass plant produced a pretty good brand of native chewing gum. It has an odd pine-resin taste that’s pleasant enough, but must be firmed up before its chewed. A couple summers ago I tried some of this sap while it was still liquid. It’s surely the stickiest stuff in all creation and I literally had to clean it from my teeth with lighter fluid.”

Now, Benjamin was very curious about the polarity of the Compass Plant. In fact, another common name for the plant is the Polar Plant. Benjamin initially theorized that the plant took up a lot of iron, thereby creating a magnet polarity in the leaves, but he later discounted that theory.

The poet Longfellow referred to the Compass Plant in his 1947 poem "Evangeline" about a young woman who is lovesick over missing her boyfriend.  FYI Nepenthe is a drug of forgetfulness, and Asphodel is a grey and ghostly plant in the Underworld.

Patience! the priest would say;
have faith, and thy prayer will be answered;
Look at this delicate plant that lifts its head from the meadow;
See how its leaves are turned to the north,
as true as the magnet -
This is the compass-flower,
that the finger of God has planted
Here in the houseless wild,
to direct the traveler's journey
Over the sea-like, pathless,
limitless waste of the desert.
Such in the soul of man is faith.
The blossoms of passion,
Gay and luxuriant flowers,
are brighter and fuller of fragrance;
But they beguile us and lead us astray,
and their odor is deadly.
Only this humble plant can guide us here,
and hereafter Crown us with asphodel flowers,
that are wet with the dews of nepenthe.


1908    Today is the birthday of the Norwegian poet and gardener Olav Hauge.

Olav was a trained horticulturist and fruit grower. Olav earned a living as a professional gardener. When he wasn't writing poetry, he could be found working in his apple orchard - he had 70 apple trees.

Here's my translation of one of his more famous poems in his home country of Norway; it's about a garden cat.

The cat sits in the yard.
When you come,
Talk to the cat a little.
He is the one who is in charge of the garden.


And here's another famous poem for Olav fans:

Don't come to me with the entire truth.
Don't bring me the ocean if I feel thirsty,
nor heaven if I ask for light;
but bring a hint, some dew, a particle,
as birds carry only drops away from water,
and the wind a grain of salt.


1909   On this day, Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki pledged to give 2,000 Cherry trees to U.S. President William Howard Taft. Taft decided to plant them near the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., in West Potomac Park surrounding the Tidal Basin. The trees arrived in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 1910.


1918  On this day, a daughter of Redmond Washington, Nellie Perrigo, married Chase G. Morris, and her father, William Pulcifer Perrigo, gifted the couple a Camperdown Elm.

In fact, William gave each one of his five daughters a Camperdown Elm on their wedding day. He brought the unique trees with him from Scotland. Nellie and Charles posed for their wedding photo in front of her sister June's Camperdown Elm since they were married on her property. Then they planted their own Camperdown Elm in front of their little farmhouse in Carnation, Washington. Five generations of the Morris family lived and played under the family Camperdown Elm.

Camperdown Elms have a fascinating history that dates back to 1840. That year, on the estate of the First Earl of Camperdown, the estate forester and Landscaper named David Taylor noticed a contorted young elm tree growing parallel to the ground.

Now, what Taylor was looking at was essentially a weeping mutation of the Scotch Elm. Like other weepers, the tree lacked the gene for negative geotropism, so the tree couldn't distinguish which way was up. Taylor dug up the young elm and brought it to the gardens of Camperdown House.

And eventually, Taylor grafted cuttings of the weeping elm to Wych Elms, and the result was a tree that became known as a Camperdown Elm - a weeping cultivar of the Scotch Elm.

In 1872, the New York florist Adolphus Goby Burgess gifted a Camperdown Elm to the Brooklyn Parks Commission. After receiving the tree from Burgess, it was Frederick Law Olmsted, who decided on the location for it. Seeing that graft was relatively low on the rootstock, Olmsted wisely planted the tree on a small hill near the boathouse at Prospect Parkallowing plenty of room for the weeping branches.

By the time the Pulitzer-Winning Poet Marianne Moore fell in love with the Camperdown Elm at Prospect Park, it was in sad shape. Some of the limbs were hollow thanks to rats and carpenter ants. The weak areas of the tree made it vulnerable, and it began to succumb to a bacterial infection as well as general rot.

Marianne used her fame and her wit to save the Camperdown Elm. She wrote a poem about the tree which was published in The New Yorker in September 1967. The public read her poem, and the Bartlett Tree Company saved the tree. It still stands today.

Now before I read the poem, I'll offer a few definitions.

  • Thanatopsis is the name of a poem written by William Cullen Bryant. It's also a Greek word that means meditation on or thinking about death. Byrant's poem is a consolation; eventually, we all will die.
  • Then, Thomas Cole and Asher Durand were both landscape painters.
  • One of Asher Durand's most famous paintings is called Kindred Spirits. The picture shows two men standing on a rock ledge and shaded by the branches of an enormous elm tree in the Catskill Mountains. The men depicted were the painter, Thomas Cole, and his dear friend, the poet William Cullen Bryant.
  • A curio is something novel, rare, or bizarre.


Here's The Camperdown Elm by Marianne Moore:

I think, in connection with this weeping elm,
of "Kindred Spirits" at the edge of a rock ledge
overlooking a stream:
Thanatopsis-invoking tree-loving Bryant
conversing with Thomas Cole
in Asher Durand's painting of them
under the filigree of an elm overhead.

No doubt they had seen other trees — lindens,
maples and sycamores, oaks and the Paris
street-tree, the horse-chestnut; but imagine
their rapture, had they come on the Camperdown Elm's
massiveness and "the intricate pattern of its branches,"
arching high, curving low, in its mist of fine twigs.
The Bartlett tree-cavity specialist saw it
and thrust his arm the whole length of the hollowness
of its torso, and there were six small cavities also.
Props are needed and tree-food. It is still leafing;
Still there. Mortal though. We must save it. It is
our crowning curio.


Unearthed Words

Today is World Daffodil Day, and there's really one poem that is regarded as the Mother of All Daffodil Poems, and it's this one.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
— William Wordsworth, English Romantic poet, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud


Grow That Garden Library

Dream Plants for the Natural Garden by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen

This book came out in 2013, and it's still one of the best books on modern garden design.

Join two of the world's most influential garden designers, Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen, as they describe their ideal perennials, bulbs, grasses, ferns and small shrubs for your natural garden. This comprehensive compendium classifies these 1200 plants according to their behavior, strengths, and uses.

With these plants and expert advice, you can create the garden of your dreams.

This book is 144 pages of natural garden goodness.

You can get a copy of Dream Plants for the Natural Garden by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen and support the show, using the Amazon Link in today's Show Notes for around $35


Today's Botanic Spark

1853   On this day, George Governor Gov. Nathaniel Harris approved the joint resolution to make the  Cherokee Rose (Rosa laevigata) Georgia's State Flower.

Here's an excerpt from The Atlanta Constitution in 1970 with a little story about the Cherokee Rose:

“Four years ago Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin decided that it was high time for a Cherokee rose to be on the grounds of the State Capitol. Secretary of State Ben Fortson, then in charge of the grounds, agreed.
Now, it isn't easy to find a Cherokee rose for sale, so a notice was put in The Market Bulletin, inviting someone to donate a Cherokee rose for the Capitol.

Within a few days, the commissioner's office was swamped with almost 250 rose bushes. The superabundance spoke well for the generosity of Georgians and their eagerness to cooperate but not so well for their knowledge of the state flower, for less than .1 percent was actually the Cherokee Rose.

The others were Macartneys, pasture and prairie roses, Silver Moons, Bengals, multifloras, and "grandma's favorite.

There were enough plants for public grounds all over the state, with one or two real Cherokees for the Capitol grounds. Since then several others have been added. There should be plenty of blooms this spring for everyone making the effort to see them.

Only a horticulturist can identify a Cherokee rose for sure, but Mrs. Wills once suggested a simple way for the average person to distinguish between the Cherokee and the Macartney which is often confused with it because the blossoms are similar.

"The Cherokee," she said, "has only three leaves on a leaf stem; the Macartney has five."

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