Friday, October 31, 2014

A Strange Mist Hath Appeared

You might think it was mist floating around my stone bench this Halloween.

But no, 
it's not mist.  
It's no decoration for Halloween.

Anyone want to hazard a guess?

I'll give you a clue - it's plant material of some sort.

My stone garden bench sits near my retention pond, in which there is a good sized clump of cattails growing.  The abundance of whiteness next to my bench is what is probably 
and millions
of cattail seeds.

They had some help getting there.

If you can imagine two little girls throwing cattail seeds up in the air, making it 'snow', sometimes to the tune of the movie Frozen's 'Let It Go', you will have a good picture of what went on here.

Next year we might have a larger clump of cattails.
Like a whole field of them.

My kids are going to have a ball.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


There are a couple different plants that bear the beautiful nickname Snow-on-the-Mountain.  One is the aggressive and often invasive Aegopodium podagraria.  (You might know it by less grand nicknames, such as Goutweed and Bishop's Weed.)  The other is the lovely native annual Euphorbia marginata.

Euphorbia marginata
This native Snow-on-the-Mountain is very deserving of such a name.  It has little white flowers that bloom in summer and into fall, but what attracts the most attention are its striking, white-as-snow edged leaves.

Snow-on-the-Mountain, is native to much of the continental U.S., and was one of the plants collected by Lewis and Clark on their expedition across North America.  (A specimen believed to be collected by William Clark in 1806 can be found in the Lewis & Clark Herbarium at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.)

This drought-tolerant annual can be grown in sun or partial shade, but it popped up this summer in a fairly shady part of my garden and is doing quite well.  It grows to a height of 2 or 3 feet and is not very picky about soil, as long as it is not too wet.  It has few problems with pests or disease.

I've read that Snow-on-the-Mountain will attract butterflies and smaller bees, but mine mainly seems to attract flies and wasps as its pollinators.  (Aren't I lucky?)

Euphorbia marginata is supposed to be long-lasting as a cut flower if its ends are seared - but it is a cut-at-your-own-risk type of plant.  Unfortunately the stems contain milky sap that can cause a skin reaction for some people (especially those allergic to Latex), so cut stems must be handled with gloves.  Some early cattlemen even used the sap to brand cattle in place of a hot iron. (Yikes!)

Some Native Americans used this plant medicinally.  The Lakotas made a tea out of it to stimulate milk production in new mothers and crushed its leaves to use as a liniment for swelling.  The Kiowa used it as chewing gum, since it forms a type of latex.  It is now considered mildly toxic when eaten, as it is rather purgative.  Deer and other animals generally tend to leave this plant alone.

There are several cultivars of Snow-on-the-Mountain available. It is best to sow the seeds directly where you want the plants or to plant deep plugs, as it doesn't like to be transplanted.  They will then self-seed for the next year.

seed pod forming on Snow-on-the-Mountain
I likely have a bird to thank for my new plant, as it must have popped up from an errant seed.  It grew in the back of my border, behind a tree.  I hope next year I will find a few new plants near the front of the border, where everyone can actually see it!

Happy Gardening!

Today is Wildflower Wednesday!  You can see native wildflowers blooming in other bloggers' gardens at the site Clay and Limestone.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Have You Ever Eaten a Ground Cherry?

For several weeks this summer, my 7-year-old would wake up early, put on her rain boots, go outside (still in her pajamas!), and go straight to the garden... to pick and eat Ground Cherries.

Ground Cherry
Even though the Ground Cherry is native to most of the Americas and was eaten by Native Americans and Pilgrims, most people have never heard of this little fruit.  Indeed, I had never had one until last year, but after tasting them I immediately wanted to start growing my own!

Physalis pruinosa, also synonymous with Physalis pubescens, has many nicknames, including Ground Cherry, Husk Cherry, and Husk Tomato.  The Ground Cherry is related to Tomatoes and Tomatillos, but the little fruits are more sweet and fruity tasting.  Even though they keep well for a long time, they have likely fallen out of favor now because they are so small and each one has a papery husk on it that you have to remove before eating.

A Ground Cherry is actually about the size of a small grape.
I often hear Ground Cherries described as tasting like a cross between a pineapple and a tomato.  The taste can be rather variable.  I've tasted two different kinds.  A nearby farm grows a variety that tastes rather like a pineapple, but with an earthy flavor, rather like ripe banana.  The ones I grew this year were brighter tasting, like a cross between a pineapple and a mango - absolutely delicious!  I think the variety I grew were much tastier, but they were smaller and seedier than the farm-grown ones.  

There are only a few known named cultivars of Ground Cherries - Aunt Molly's, Cossack Pineapple, and Goldie.  (The Ground Cherry seeds that I grew were not named.)  Physalis pruinosa does also have many edible relatives, such as the similar-looking Physalis peruvianaaka Cape Gooseberry.  

Even though you grow them the same way you grow Tomatoes, Ground Cherries are hardier and much easier to grow.  They are not as picky about soil, they don't have to be staked, they don't have as many problems with disease, and critters don't eat them, since most of the plant (including the husk surrounding the fruit) is toxic.  The plants are short and wide, resembling Tomatillo plants more than Tomato plants, and the plentiful fruit look a lot like little Tomatillos.  The papery husk on them turns yellow as it ripens, and when they are totally ripe, they will fall to the ground - thus the nickname Ground Cherries.  

plants loaded down with green Ground Cherries
Ground Cherries are very versatile - they can be eaten plain or cooked in savory or sweet dishes.  According to Edible Omaha, some Native Americans tribes used Ground Cherries to make a savory relish.  A recipe from the Zuni tribe combines them with onions, chili paste, and coriander.  On the other hand, early European settlers used them to make pie and jam.  I think Ground Cherries would taste great in a salad (with some goat cheese, perhaps?).  And we all knew it was just a matter of time before someone dipped them in chocolate...

Unfortunately (for me), I was not able to collect very many Ground Cherries this year for cooking - my kids ate them all before I got the chance!  I wanted to try a pie, but even then I had to supplement my scanty leftover amount of Ground Cherries with peaches.

Ground Cherry and Peach Pie... yum!
They are supposed to reseed easily, so hopefully there will be even more Ground Cherries next year - enough for the kids and for me!

So have you ever eaten a Ground Cherry?

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Curious Case of the Color Changing Chrysanthemums

Fact:  In September I bought some white mums for my whiskey barrel planters.  
I present this picture for evidence:

Exhibit A
Fact:  Two weeks later, the WHITE mums in my two planters had somehow turned into...

Exhibit B
PINK mums!

Closeup of Exhibit B
Fact: After several more days, the flowers turned an even darker pink.

Exhibit C
Is it some sort of crazy color-changing cultivar?

Or a condition of the cooling fall climate?

Closeup of Exhibit C
Any gumshoe gardeners out there that can crack this confounding case?

I'm almost sure this isn't the scheme of my shifty, scalawag squirrels...

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