Archive for February, 2009

Witch hazel

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

hammelis_x_intermedia2_sunburst_feb2009I love witch hazels. This very small tree or shrub boasts at least two native species, Hamamelis virginiana and H. vernalis. They typically have yellow to orange or red flowers in the early spring and winter. The flowers usually bloom before the leaves, so yellow branches stand out with their four-petaled flowers and red calyxes. Many varieties (often derived from the hybrid H. X intermedia) sport multi-colored or extra-long petaled flowers. There’s a beautiful example of H. X intermedia ‘Sunburst’ in the J.C. Raulston Arboretum. There’s a [full-res version] of a photo I took of the flowers that I’m using as a desktop background.

Michael Dirr (of the [Manual of Woody Landscape Plants]) recommends planting witch hazels together with early-flowering cherries (like the carmine-colored Prunus campanulata varieties) for a “splashy” winter display.

After leafing, witch hazels retain their red calyxes. The leaves are obovate, a little asymmetrical, and dark green with sinuous margins. The plants themselves tend to prefer a more moist environment and tolerate most light conditions. Fall leaf color is yellow.

hammelis_x_intermedia1_sunburst_feb2009Witch hazel probably received its name from a homophonic Middle English word for bendy or pliable and not from “witch” as we know it today. Witch hazel is not closely related to actual hazels, but they were both used as [dowsing] or water-finding rods (or divination rods, witching rods, or water-witching rods). Because hazel was a preferred dowsing rod in English, the American plant also became known as hazel. Dowsing is still practiced today but the preferred rods are reportedly made of brass.

Extracts and infusions of witch hazel bark, leaves, and stems have long been used for their high tannin content and astringent properties. I’m looking for more good documentation, but it was reportedly used by indigenous Americans as well as European colonists. There are numerous references on the internet to preparing your own extracts, tinctures, infusions, and distillations of H. virginiana, none of which I’ve personally tried or advocate. However, it’s one of the remaining herbal extracts that is approved as an over-the-counter drug (and not just an herbal supplement) by the [FDA] as a skin protectant and anorectal treatment.

whazelmedWhen I asked my mom about witch hazel, the first thing she said was, “Oh! I can smell it now.” She said her grandmother always had a bottle and they “put it on everything–witch hazel and calamine lotion.” This traditional remedy for cuts, scrapes, and insect bites is still sold in drug stores today. I’m on the younger end of my twenties so I think I may have missed witch hazel’s heyday. I went to the Rite Aid in Cameron Village to search out a bottle to apply to a mild burn on my hand. There was an 86% witch hazel extract in alcohol so I bought that. Witch hazel is also the active ingredient in Preparation H wipes but I didn’t require a hemorrhoid treatment (though it can be used to treat irritation from vaginosis as well).

whazelmed4Anyway, it seems to be soothing. There was an immediate cooling effect (probably from the evaporation of the alcohol) but the pain is noticeably duller. It may be psychosomatic but if the effect is the same it’s okay in my book. It’s also supposed to be good for perpetually oily skin (like mine) so I’ve applied some after washing my face. I’m worried about the alcohol over-drying my skin, but I used to love the now-discontinued Burt’s Bees Wild Lettuce Toner and that had similar proportions (what I bought is 86 per cent active, 14 per cent inert). At the very least it’ll temporarily minimize my pores.

I’ve also heard [rumors] of people using witch hazel Preparation H wipes on their faces to minimize the appearance of wrinkles and body builders using the wipes to temporarily tighten the appearance of their abs. Some women have also used wash clothes soaked in witch hazel to help minimize the appearance of varicose veins.

_____________________________________________________ ________________________

J.C. Raulston Arboretum: Early Spring

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

My cockatiel and I visited N.C. State’s J.C. Raulston Arboretum this Thursdy afternoon to see what’s going on. Besides being a public garden, the Arboretum is used to research, outreach, and plant trials (among other things). It’s free and open to the public and right behind the Waffle House on Hillsborough Street–and I can never say no to waffles and flowers.

Right now there are some showy winter plants and early spring bloomers adding color around the grounds–I took a ton of pictures! I also sought out some old favorites to track as they leaf out and set fruit. I spent I don’t know how many hours there as an undergrad. I’m planning to take pictures at fixed points around the Arboretum so I can see how it changes throughout the seasons.

So many things looked beautiful. Many of the hollies are in full berry and some of the trees (like [this flame willow]) have incredibly striking bark to show off. There are a bunch of pictures up in [this Flickr photoset] but here are some highlights:

<i>Prunus</i> 'First Lady'

Prunus 'First Lady' (flowering cherry)

<i>Pieris japonica</i>

Pieris japonica (Japanese andromeda)

<i>Ilex cornuta</i> 'D'Or'

Ilex cornuta 'D'Or' (yellow berry Chinese holly)

In the Winter Garden

In the Winter Garden

Xeriscape garden

Xeriscape garden

<i>Iris reticulata</i> 'Spring Time'

Iris reticulata 'Spring Time'

<i>Edgeworthia chrysantha</i> 'Winter Gold'

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Winter Gold' (golden paperbush)

<i>Daphne odora</i>

Daphne odora (winter daphne)

<i>Poncirus trifoliata</i> 'Flying Dragon'

Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon' (hardy contorted orange)


April is going to be a fabulous month. I’m really excited for the annual trial beds to get into full swing–daisies, grasses, ornamental veggies… It’s a great place in Raleigh to get some new ideas.

February Flora Watch

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

This is an aside, but I noticed a few of my favorite early spring bloomers are coming into flower over the last couple days.

This is a yellow crocus blooming in front of my boyfriend’s house. I planted a set of these in fall 2007 and adore them. Even when the brief flowers wither, the slender leaves persist like a delicate grass.Crocus species are in the iris family are not true bulbs–they overwinter as a specialized stem called a [corm]. The stigma (female reproductive structure) of Crocus sativus is dried to become the coveted spice saffron.

Carolina yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is a climbing vine that is also the state flower of South Carolina. Its yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers are fragrant and abundant, contrasting with the slightly glossy, dark green leaves. Once you know what it is, you’ll see it everywhere (and I hope you will). This clump was planted near the corner of North and Glenwood Streets in downtown Raleigh. There’s also a really stunning planting of jessamine on the arbor in front of Withers Hall on the N.C. State campus.

The flowering cherries/almonds/apricots (Prunus species) are coming out! Most of the flowering apricots (Prunus mume) just finished their flowering cycle so I hope to have some pictures of their fruit set later in the season. Either way, I saw some beautiful cherry trees (either Prunus campanulata ‘Okame’ or Prunus ‘First Lady’) when I was in Cameron Village Tuesday. The pears, peaches, and crabapples should start showing signs of flower soon as well. I can’t wait for the kwanzan cherry (Prunus serrulata) my boyfriend and I planted together to come into its own in a few months.


Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

The common garden hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis and cultivars) is just starting to come up here in the Triangle, so be on the look out for blooming in the next few weeks. It’s also a highly perfumed flower so planting it near your doors, windows, and walkways can have huge impact for the nose as well as a splash of color for the eyes.

In flower, the plant itself is around eight to ten inches tall with the inflorescence rising above the glossy, green leaves. The spread of each individual plant is about five inches, making them ideal for clumping. The most common flower color is a medium bluish purple, but it comes in a range of pinks, whites, yellows, and even some burgundy cultivars.

hyacinthus_orientalis_white_festival_march2009“Hyacinth” corresponds to the name of a Spartan youth and hero whose name anglicizes to Hyacinthus. The version retold in Ovid’s [Metamorphoses] boils down to Hyacinthus a horrible discus accident with his lover Apollo. Apollo threw the discus and Hyacinthus, hoping to impress his deity bro, tried to go catch it. It went terribly awry and struck him in the head, killing him. Apollo, in his grief, created a flower from Hyacinthus’ spilled blood. I prefer the more salacious story from [Encyclopedia Mythica]: Apollo and Zephyr, god of the west wind, were rivals for Hyacinthus’ affections. When Hyacinthus chose Apollo, it was Zephyr that blew the errant discus into Hyacinthus’ head in vengeance.

A good time to plant most spring flowering bulbs like hyacinth and daffodils in the warm Southeastern climate is November. Hyacinth bulbs are widely available from bulb distributors, garden centers, and the usual large chains. The leaves should not be cut back after the plant flowers so that the bulb can gather and store energy to bloom the next season. If the leftover leaves don’t fit in with your landscape, try planting them interspersed with summer blooming flowers like day lilies.

If you’d like blooming hyacinth indoors in pots or to use as cut flowers they can be easily forced indoors. Plant your bulbs in pots and then store them in the refrigerator for about three months. Don’t forget to water them during this period! After that, the bulbs can be moved to a sunny window to warm up and bloom.