Today we celebrate the French botanist who created the modern strawberry.
We'll also learn about the sweet little orchid known as the moccasin flower.
We hear words that offer perspective on our loss of wildlife and habitat.
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about one of the world’s best botanical illustrators - and here’s a hint: she was a dear friend of Alice Lounsberry.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of the new rare-plant house at the Fairchild Tropical Garden rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.
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February 18, 1827
Today is the anniversary of the death of the French botanist, gardener, and professor at Versailles, Antoine Nicolas Duchesne (“do-Shane”).
A specialist in strawberries and gourds, Antoine was a student of Bernard de Jussieu at the Royal Garden in Paris. A plant pioneer, Antoine, recognized that mutation was a natural occurrence and that plants could be altered through mutation at any time.
As a young botanist, Antoine began experimenting with strawberries. Ever since the 1300s, wild strawberries had been incorporated into gardens. But on July 6, 1764, Antoine created the modern strawberry - the strawberry we know today.
Strawberries are members of the rose family, and they are unique in that their seeds are on the outside of the fruit.
Just how many seeds are on a single strawberry? The average strawberry has around 200 seeds.
To get your strawberry plant to produce more fruit, plant in full sun, in well-drained soil, and trim the runners.
February 18, 1902
Today the Showy Lady’s-Slipper became the State Flower of Minnesota.
The Lady Slipper orchid was discovered in 1789 by William Aiton. The Lady Slipper’s common name is inspired by the unusual form of the third petal, and it’s what makes the bloom look like a little shoe.
During his lifetime, Darwin repeatedly tried to propagate the Lady’s-Slipper Orchid. He never succeeded. The Lady Slipper’s growing conditions are quite particular - which is why they are almost impossible to keep in a traditional garden. It’s also illegal to pick, uproot or unearth the flowers - which was a problem in the 1800s when people collected them almost to extinction. Since 1925, the Lady’s-Slipper has been protected by Minnesota state law.
In the wild, Lady’s-Slippers grow in swamps, bogs, and damp woods. They take forever to grow, and they can grow for almost a decade before producing their first flower, which can last for two months in cooler weather. As long-lived plants, Lady’s-Slippers can grow as old as 100 years and grow up to 4 feet tall.
To Native Americans, the Lady’s-Slipper was known as the moccasin flower. An old Ojibwe legend told of a plague that had occurred during a harsh winter. Many people died - including the tribal healer. Desperate for help, a young girl was sent to find medicine. But, the snow was deep, and in her haste, she lost her boots and left a trail of bloody footprints in the snow. The legend was that her footprints were marked with the beautiful moccasin flower every spring.
One summer, when Henry David Thoreau came upon a red variety of Lady’s-Slipper in the woods, he wrote about it, saying:
“Everywhere now in dry pitch pine woods stand the red lady’s slipper over the red pine leaves on the forest floor rejoicing in June. Behold their rich striped red, their drooping sack.”
I remembered reading that during the great flight year of 1926-27, over 2,300 snowy owls were shot and kept his trophies in the United States alone. One of the greatest difficulties for modern conservationists, I think, is to rightly conceive how much we have lost. We trudge so far today to see so little that the result is often a strangely pathetic elation.
— Robert Finch, Nature writer, Common Ground, Snowy
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 1989, and it’s part of the Australian book series that featured its most outstanding artists.
My copy arrived last week, and it features incredible full-page color plates of Australian native flowers, birds, and insects.
Born in Melbourne, Ellis married Frederic Rowan in 1873. Ellis discovered painting after her botanist husband, Frederick, encouraged her to develop talent, and it was a passion that she pursued until her death.
Ellis’s life was full of adventure. She traveled and painted abroad. Three of her paintings were presented to Queen Victoria. My favorite stories about Ellis concern her wonderful friendship with the botanist and writer Alice Lounsberry, and they created three beautiful books about the flowers of North America.
During the First World War, Ellis was living in New Guinea. At one point, she painted 45 of the 62 known species of birds of paradise.
As a woman living during the mid-1800s, Ellis followed the dress code of her era. Wherever she went, whether on an expedition or at home, Ellis was always impeccably dressed. Ellis’s daily attire included heavy ankle-length dresses, high collars with full sleeves, crinolines, corsets, whalebone stays, and a hat.
Just before Ellis died, the federal parliament in Australia debated whether to buy 1,000 of Ellis' paintings. The Australian artist and novelist Norman Lindsay called Ellis' work vulgar - believing wildflowers were unworthy subjects for art. But ultimately, Ellis' paintings were purchased for $5,000, and they are now a treasured part of Australia's National Library.
This book is 52 pages of the beautiful work of Ellis Rowan.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
February 18, 1996
On this day, The Miami Herald shared a story about rebuilding the rare plant house at the Fairchild Botanical Garden.
“The born-again rare-plant house at the Fairchild Tropical Garden called Windows on the Tropics has a new roof and new walls - and a whole collection of staghorn ferns mounted like prize stag heads overlooking the inner courtyard.
The new $1 million conservatory at the Fairchild Tropical Garden that is being built on the footprint of the hurricane-demolished rare plant house is nearing its opening day.
It will be the last piece of the Hurricane Andrew puzzle to be put back into place in the garden. More than 2,000 plants will be on display in the conservatory showing about 1,000 species grouped in themes or windows onto the natural tropical world.
One window into plant and animal interactions will feature everything from ant plants to carnivorous plants.
Recently a buttonwood tree was bolted to a wall for the display beneath which visitors will walk and come eyeball-to-eyeball with insect-dissolving pitcher plants.
The window featuring epiphytic or air plants will open into the old orchid display room [which] will include orchids, bromeliads, and climbing philodendrons.
The new conservatory path will lead through the most modern of greenhouse spaces [and will] house Economic plants — those used by man — [like] coffee, pepper, vanilla, and other tropical food and medicine plants.
Three new waterfalls are being built in the lower level of the conservatory where ferns, tree ferns, and palms will reside ...and here, the conservatory becomes a sensual experience.
The building is the largest aluminum structure in Florida [that also meets] the 120-mile-an-hour wind code.
Soaring 12 feet taller than the old Rare Plant House, the plastic roof has clerestory windows that open for ventilation and come with built-in storm shutters.
And, plants no longer will be subjected to chemicals in city water but to rainwater collected in two cisterns that will hold 45,000 gallons.
The conservatory will be opened on March 23rd (1996)… Instead of having a guest speaker, the garden is letting Windows on the Tropics do all the talking, says Barbara Schuler, director of development.
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