Several months back we shared a video on our Facebook of the “Wood Wide Web”, an intricate underground hyphal network created by mycorrhizal fungi and used to share information between host plants. A network in which trees and other large rooted plants send and receive sugars and nutrients to aid survival. If a tree belonging to a certain network is malnourished, its peers send the necessary supplements to bring the tree back to health. It’s a fascinating exchange of information and it’s all happening right beneath our feet.
What’s even more impressive is the trees altruistic nature. If a tree is sick or on the verge of death, they will dump their resources through the fungi network and to other trees that would benefit from the nutrients; effectively giving their life for the greater good. Trees also know when others around them are shaded and not receiving adequate sunlight; in which the trees will combine resources to make up for the lack of light. It’s a remarkable and complex relationship between symbiotic fungi and a “family” of trees that are all looking out for each other. They can sense when other trees are in danger and send extra resources to combat the treat. A tree under attack will also send a signal through the network warning others to ready their defenses.
But not all trees are willing to play nice. Some trees, such as the black walnut in which the video mentions, behave in a very sinister way. They hijack resources intended for other trees; selfishly absorbing any and all nutrients they can. Another tactic these “bad” trees (as I will call them) deploy is to poison their peers by sending bad nutrients through the network. These trees work to destroy their so-called “rivals” using the very system that is intended to promote their survival.
After watching this video, I am not only fascinated but intrigued at what we don’t yet know. Why are some trees seemingly programmed to be “good” and others meant to sabotage the network? Did one bad black walnut tree ruin it for the rest of them? And what methods do the “good” trees use to get back at those “bad” trees sucking up all the network’s resources? Either way, nature never ceases to amaze me and there is so much we still don’t know about this complex “Wood Wide Web”. One thing is for certain, I will never look at a forest the same way again. A forest isn’t a bunch of different trees acting independently from one another, but rather one giant organism swapping information and resources in a bid to survive.
You can watch the “Wood Wide Web” BBC video we shared on Facebook by clicking the link here.
Morel mushrooms, or “woodfish” as I’ve always called them, are one of the most sought after fungi in the world. Unlike more common mushrooms, morels are not commercially grown and have to be harvested in the wild. You can find them in and around forested areas of the Northern Hemisphere, sprouting up in early spring as the ground starts warming to temperatures of around 50 degrees. Their earthy, meaty taste is a mainstay in expensive dishes around the world. Here are some tips for harvesting these delicious mushrooms.
Look for morels in fairly-open patches of forest and in areas that are disturbed or damaged. Some examples include ground that was previously flooded, wildfire sites and logging areas. Check southern-facing slopes (as the sun will warm those areas first) and the northern-facing slopes later in the season. Morels are prevalent around the bases of large or dying trees, especially Oak, Ash, Poplar and Elm. What’s the best advice when “hunting woodfish”? Be patient. Morel mushrooms blend in with the forest floor by design to avoid foragers and animals alike. If you’re having trouble finding them, don’t worry. Take a deep breath and look over the same area again; chances are they are hiding in plain sight. Still having trouble finding morels? Try foraging after a light spring rain. A 60-degree day after a morning shower is perfect for the mushrooms to grow. Oh, and if you see one there are bound to be more.
Why aren’t these mushrooms grown commercially? While there’s no shortage of demand, the production costs needed to replicate the perfect environment for morels is just too expensive. In the wild, morels are the result of a symbiotic relationship between fungus and the root systems of trees or other larger plants; the mushrooms provide minerals in exchange for nutrients. The mushrooms are bound to the life cycle of the host, sprouting when trees sap up in spring and also when the trees die. However, this relationship has to be just right for morels to grow. No one has figured out how to produce the mushrooms without the introduction of trees in a commercial environment (or enough of them to profit).
I think the fact that these aren’t commercially available only adds to the appeal and overall appreciation for morels. Hunting for “woodfish” has been a spring tradition for my household ever since I can remember. It’s a great way to experience the outdoors, be self-sufficient, and spend time together as family. It’s really a win-win for the younger ones as well, they get to be out in nature exercising and also participating in what feels like a scavenger or Easter-egg hunt. Once you spot one, it’s almost addicting trying to find more. There’s nothing better than a plate full of morels, flash-fried with a little flour. Take my advice this spring and try foraging for these delicious mushrooms, you won’t regret it!
A sunflower rather obviously gets its name because of its resemblance to the sun, but this isn’t the only reason. It also gets the name from its behavior as an adolescent. During early stages of growth the sunflower tracks the sun across the sky in a motion known as heliotropism. This subtle movement is the plant’s way of facilitating the maximum amount of growth in the shortest amount of time. Once a sunflower matures it will no longer exhibit movement and will remain facing in one direction; almost always east. Moreover, a field of sunflowers will all face the same direction (which, you guessed it, is most likely east).
Scholars have traced the sunflower’s origin back to North America, with the first domestication of the plant in modern-day Tennessee around 2300 B.C. The earliest discovered seeds were found in Mexico and date back to 2600 B.C. Indigenous people, such as the Aztecs and Incas, associated the flower with their solar deity and thus held the flower in extremely high regard. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the sunflower made it to Europe by way of Spanish explorers. From Europe, the sunflower was imported to Russia where it soared in popularity during the 18th century. Russia was one of the biggest cultivators of the sunflower particularly for its oil; as members of the Russian Orthodox Church were allowed to consume it during Lent.
Oil production didn’t slow down, in fact the demand was so high that machinery for crushing the seed into oil were commercialized and distributed to keep up with demand. Despite their best effort, the Russian’s found out that they alone could not keep up with the global demand. Not only was the sunflower being used for oil, fields were set aside for traditional standalone seed production, ornamentals, and for silage feed. To meet such an incredible demand, the commercial production ramped up in Europe an eventually made its way back to North America.
A sunflower’s seeds are arranged on the flower in an ingenious way; a way that yields the maximum amount of seeds possible. The flower head consists of five florets that grow in a spiral motion, oriented toward one another at the golden angle, or 137.5 degrees. Typically there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other, however bigger sunflowers have 89 and 144 respectively. This pattern, which is a natural representation of the Fibonacci sequence, produces the maximum amount of seeds per sunflower head.
Growing sunflowers is quick and easy, and they are a perfect flower to plant for new/young gardeners. Sunflowers are remarkably tough plants that tend to withstand drought and heat. They really only suffer when the soil becomes too waterlogged. To accommodate all that sun-chasing growth, make sure you dig your soil deep so the flowers have a couple feet to spread their roots underground. Be aware that sunflowers need ample space above ground as well, because the plants have the ability to grow quite tall. For example, the tallest sunflower ever recorded was a whopping 30 feet tall!
The rose was first grown and cultivated in China over 5,000 years ago, but it didn’t garner attention until much later. It was actually the ancient Greeks and Romans that popularized the thorny flower. They used it’s petals in perfumes, medicine and even shredded them for use in confetti. The rose is closely related to the goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and it’s a reoccurring symbol in many works of literature. In the Iliad, Aphrodite protects Hector with the “oil of the rose”. Furthermore, in the story of Adonis it’s said that the rose was stained red from Aphrodite’s blood. After the Christianization of the Roman Empire the rose became synonymous with the Virgin Mary. A “rosary” unsurprisingly gets its name from the rose. But the flower wasn’t exclusive to the Greeks and Romans.
Roses were also grown extensively in the Middle East region. The name “rose” is derived from the Latin “rosa”, but was first translated from a few extinct Iranian languages; most notably from the word “war” in the Parthian language. Ironically enough the rose went on to become a symbol of war in England during the fifteenth century. As factions fought against each other to control the throne, roses were used to show an individual’s allegiance; white roses were displayed for the York’s and red roses for the Lancaster’s. The conflict even went on to become known as the “War of the Roses” and eventually eliminated the male lines of both families.
The war lasted over thirty years and inadvertently made the rose one of the most sought after flowers on the planet. Roses were in such high demand that they were considered legal tender throughout the sixteenth century. Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, was so in love with the flower that she curated her own collection of the most exotic and sought after breeds. Even with interest sky-high, people were interested in growing the rose not gifting it. It wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the rose really became commonplace as a cut flower. They were bred to be disease-resistant and survive in extreme climates, making them the perfect flower for growers and buyers alike.
Those interested in growing roses should plant them in a sunny spot; roses love the sun, at least 6 hours of it per day. Adding banana peels to the soil supplies the flowers with a much-needed kick of phosphorus to help them grow. Alfalfa is also another nutrient-rich meal for roses, providing nitrogen, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and a fatty acid that specifically promotes healthy growth. Apply a 2-3 inch layer of coarse organic mulch to protect against foliage disease, as it greatly reduces the amount of splashing water onto the roses. And one last piece of advice; roses need to be carefully and regularly pruned.
The Weeping Willow originates in Asia and parts of northern China, however, a mistranslation of the bible has led to confusion surrounding its origin story. Psalm 137 states that “Hebrew slaves wept for Zion under willow trees”. Naturally, this must be where the name “weeping willow” comes from, right?
Wrong. As it turns out, Babylon Willow trees were actually a form of Poplar. So in actuality, the name “Weeping Willow” is nothing more than a derivative of the trees appearance; it appears to “weep” when it’s raining, with “tears” dripping from its drooped branches and leaves.
The willow tree is valued or its numerous implications in modern society. Historically, the weeping willow has been used medicinally to treat fever and aches. Its bark contains salicin, an anti-inflammatory agent and one of the main components of aspirin. Scholars have wrote of the willow providing headache and pain-relief since before 500 B.C.
As we look further back in history, the willow tree has been used to make baskets, fish nets and for basic crafts. Some of the oldest fishing nets discovered date back to 8300 B.C. The branches of the willow are still manufactured today for nets, baskets and numerous other products. The bark of a willow, when not used for its salicin, is crushed and formed into charcoal pencils.
There are many mystical and spiritual properties associated with the willow and the tree is often depicted offering wisdom or protection throughout ancient folklore. In China, for example, it’s still common practice to include willow branches outside of a home or bedroom to ward off evil spirits. In Japan the willow is thought to bring about ghosts wherever one is planted. Ukrainians hold the willow in such high regard that it is their national tree.
In true “live fast, die young” fashion, the willow tree is among the fastest growing plants on the planet; growing up to ten feet each year. However, the lifespan of a willow relative to other trees is fairly short. A willow tree will live thirty to fifty years before dying, but if they are lucky (or rather in an ideal situation) some have known to live upwards of seventy-five years.
If you wish to incorporate a willow tree into your own landscape, placement is key. The weeping willow needs an excessive amount of water to support its fast paced (fast growing) lifestyle, so often they are planted beside ponds or areas prone to flooding. Its roots are thick and they spread out under the ground searching for nutrients so avoid planting the willow tree near sidewalks or close to sewer pipes. But, don’t be too worried, the roots aren’t always destructive. Strategically planting willow trees can help stop erosion and is an adequate drainage solution for areas experiencing higher volumes of water.
The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) has been the subject of fascination for centuries, and for good reason. The carnivorous plant is indeed a trap; a scientific marvel in every right. An unsuspecting insect or spider perched on the flytrap’s bright pink leaves will rarely escape. The key to this intricate trap? Tiny hairs protruding from the leaves.
The hairs act as a trigger mechanism for those unfortunate enough to make contact. If potential prey touch a hair, a timer is set. The Venus flytrap gives the visitor twenty seconds to flee and live to see another day. However, if one of the hairs is touched a second time within the twenty seconds then the “jaws” of the trap spring closed, trapping prey inside.
Jagged “teeth” line the edge of the leaves, snapping shut like a bear trap and offering little chance of escape. The teeth don’t completely close, however, allowing smaller prey a second lease on life. It’s a calculated move by the Venus flytrap; anything small enough to pass through its teeth wouldn’t be worth digesting. If this is the case, the trap will open up again within twelve hours, its sweet nectar ready for the next unfortunate guest.
The Venus flytrap has mastered the art of conserving energy, it’s even smart enough to distinguish between a potential meal and non-beneficial stimuli such as raindrops. It can also gauge the size of its prey by using its tiny hairs. Once the trap is closed these sensitive hairs feel for any movement or signs of a struggle. If the hairs are touched five times in quick succession, the flytrap’s grip tightens and the digestion process begins.
It’s an ingenious trap, and one of nature’s most interesting creations. Most think of the Venus flytrap as this exotic plant, exclusive to rainforests and foreign lands, but the flytrap is actually native to our region. The plant was first discovered and documented by North Carolina’s governor in the late 18th century; a plant he named the flytrap. Growing a Venus flytrap has its challenges, but nonetheless it can be achieved. If you want to grow some flytraps of your own try reading this guide here.
The tulip was synonymous with wealth and power among Sultans and became interwoven in middle-eastern folklore. According to legend, there once was a prince who rode his horse off a cliff after learning his lover had died. He, of course, died as well and it’s said that a scarlet tulip grew from each drop of blood (I imagine there were lots of tulips). This is why, historically, the tulip has been depicted as a symbol of true and perfect love. Scholars speculate that the name “tulip” is derived from the Persian word for “turban”, which the flower broadly resembles.
The tulip is the national flower of Turkey, the country from which the flower is said to originate, however its true origin is much harder to pinpoint. Records suggest botanists from the Ottoman Empire were the first to grow tulips and their influence was much greater than modern-day Turkey. The Ottomans occupied stretches along the Black Sea, Russia and even Asia; where the flower was cultivated before even the tenth century. The tulip would remain exclusive to this far-reaching empire for centuries, until western diplomats observed their beauty in the 1500’s. After successful trading, the flower was introduced to Europe where it was met with frenzied acclaim.
Europeans were dazzled by the tulip’s beauty, but none more enthralled than those from the Netherlands. Carolus Clusius, the recently appointed head botanist of Western Europe’s first botanical garden, was determined to get his tenure off to a good start. After seeing beautiful drawings of the exotic flower, Clusius became obsessed with bringing the tulip to his fellow Dutchmen. Through a connection in Asia he was able to obtain some bulbs and began testing the flower for any medicinal properties. However, when the flower produced little to no hope in the medical field, he decided that it would be best used as an ornamental. Little did Clusius know, others had also seen the drawings and the tulip was about to soar in popularity.
Carolus Clusius was the only person in the country who had access to the flower and only sold them away to the highest of bidders; mainly royalty and those well connected. It wasn’t long before bulbs were stolen from the botanist’s home and the rest is, well, history. Bulbs from the newly imported flower made their way around the country with demand sky-high and a price-point to match. It was “Tulip Mania”; a term still used today to describe an economic bubble. The Netherlands love affair with the tulip never ended, however, and they are now the largest producers of commercially grown tulips in the world; cultivating nearly 10 billion flowers each year.
The petals of a tulip most commonly form in shades of red, pink, yellow or white. The bottom of the petals will usually have some variation in color on the interior side. The bulbs should be planted 4-8 inches below the ground and 4-6 inches apart. The tulip is a perennial so plant it in late summer or fall and expect to see blooms in the spring. Join in on the mania and plant some tulips today!
First appearing in India and East-Asia, the Lotus flower has been intertwined with eastern culture and religion for thousands of years. It’s a sacred symbol of purity and rebirth in Buddhism and Hinduism. The aquatic perennial, not to be mistaken for a waterlily, is also the national flower of both India and Vietnam.
Like most plants, the Lotus flower was originally grown as a source of food and also used medicinally. The Indians would make tea from the leaves and pedals, and Asians would eat the seeds and rhizomes. The Lotus was cultivated from special water gardens and provided beauty and a meal to those farming the crop. It also provided them with something else; mystery. The farmers were mystified by the Lotus’s nightly routine. Every night the flower would submerge underneath the murky waters and breach the surface with the next day’s rising sun. The Lotus would emerge just as beautiful as the day before, its petals clean and unfazed by a night in muddy water. It was this daily “rebirth” that made the flower so sacred throughout eastern culture and religion.
A beautiful flower born and reborn from the mud each day, it’s not hard to see why the Lotus was associated with purity, divinity and the Gods. In Buddhism it’s said that the Buddha himself (Siddhartha Gautama) first appeared on a floating Lotus and that the flower grew wherever he stepped. Hindus associate the divine flower with many of their Gods, such as Vishnu and Lakshmi, and the Lotus is frequently depicted alongside them in paintings and statues.
It’s not just the Lotus’s daily “rebirth” that associates the flower with divinity. The Lotus can actually live for over a thousand years; an unnatural longevity that draws parallels with the immortality of a God. The seeds are even still viable after a thousand years, which was proven in the 90’s when a Lotus bloomed from a 1300 year old seed. As if living for a millennium wasn’t cool enough, researchers from Australia’s University of Adelaide discovered something else remarkable. They found that the Lotus has the ability to regulate its temperature within a very narrow range, much like humans or other warm-blooded animals. They suspect that the flower maintains a warmer temperature to attract cold-blooded pollinators.
Planting the Lotus flower is quite easy if you already have a water source, and if not you can create your own water garden. The water should be at least one foot deep and no more than 8 feet. If you plant them in too shallow of water they won’t be able to perform their nightly “rebirth” ritual. Plant them deeper than 8 feet and they aren’t able to reach the surface. Lotus love the mud so make sure your soil is nutrient-rich and made up of sand, silt and clay. Three months after planting you will have beautiful flowers ready to be harvested. After 4-8 months you can eat the seeds, just make sure they have turned black. After 6-9 months the rhizomes will be mature enough to consume. However, if you are like me, I won’t be harvesting the Lotus at all, I’ll be admiring its beauty.
The summer months seem to produce the most beautiful flowers, however, there are plenty of late bloomers just as eye-catching; namely the Dahlia. Typically planted in August, the Dahlia offers gorgeous blooms that stay full until first frost. The flower has long been a favorite among gardeners for its seemingly endless varieties and for how quickly it grows.
Native to Mexico, the Dahlia was originally used as a food crop; its roots harvested and consumed by indigenous people of the region. Aztecs used the flower’s hollow stem as water pipes and makeshift vials for medicine. The Dahlia would remain exclusive to Mexico for hundreds of years before being introduced to Europe in the late eighteenth century. Vicente Cervantes, the Botanical Gardens Director of Mexico City, wanted to play his part in the global effort to name and catalog our planets plants. It was common practice to send plants between countries, not only for research but to preserve the different species, so Cervantes sent Dahlia specimens to the Royal Gardens Director of Madrid, Antonio Jose Cavanilles. Antonio was able to successfully grow the flower in Spanish soil, naming it “Dahlia” after Ander Dahl, a Swedish botanist who studied under the “father of modern taxonomy” Carolus Linnaeus.
From Spain, the flower traveled all over Europe; seeds were sent to Italy, France, the Netherlands, England, Germany, Switzerland, etc. The Dahlia went on to become one of the most cultivated flowers of all time, spreading its roots all over Europe and eventually to gardens around the world. To date, there are over 40 different species of the Dahlia and over 50,000 registered varieties in a plethora of shapes and colors. Oddly enough, you won’t ever find a blue Dahlia. Breeders have tried to produce the blue hue for centuries, only achieving variations of purple, mauve and lilac. To this day, a blue Dahlia has never been created.
Even though many people refer to them as bulbs, the Dahlia’s roots are actually potato-like tubers. These thick tubers sponge up nutrients, prompting the Dahlia’s hollow stems to sprout directly from the root. When planting Dahlias be sure to dig your holes deep and work in a nice mix of fertilizer and compost. They don’t need much time to grow, but they do need space so be aware of which variety you’re planting and space accordingly. Most Dahlias have to be staked and tied off as they grow, otherwise the weight of the quick growing flowers will be too much for the hollow stems to bear. Enjoy your beautiful Dahlias until the first frost when the flower dies out; leaving behind its nutrient packed tubers to be collected and planted the following year. Cut the stems a few inches above the tuber, wash the dirt off, and let them dry out in the sun. Note: Be sure to label your tubers if you have multiple varieties. After your tubers are dry put them in a paper bag (not plastic) with peat moss or sawdust and store them in a cool spot.
The Dahlia offers an abundance of different shapes, colors, and sizes to choose from; ranging from a few inches tall to the “Dinnerplate” variety which produces a flower that’s 10-12 inches in diameter. It’s a no-brainer this versatile flower has been celebrated all around the world, leading to many Dahlia shows and organizations. The American Dahlia Society has been working to provide information and promote interest in the Dahlia for over a hundred years. They are made up of over 70 local societies across the United States and Canada, each having their own shows and events. The ADS also holds a national Dahlia show each year, where gardeners can showcase their best flowers. If you also share a passion for the amazing Dahlia, or want to attend a local show, click the link here.
Technological advances and autonomous machines have paved the way for a society of infinite possibilities. Medical breakthroughs are now normal, driver-less vehicles are on the rise, and we’re edging closer to a manned mission to Mars. In many ways we have blurred the lines between science fiction and reality. Technology makes our lives easier and some of our favorite tech happens to revolve around everyone’s least favorite thing; household chores. Not only do we have machines that wash our clothes and clean our dishes, we now have robots that vacuum our house. I don’t know if that’s a “work smarter not harder” innovation or just the product of laziness, but either way I can’t complain. As time goes on household automation will only increase, and now even yard work is being automated. Yes, mowing your lawn is a thing of the past thanks to the Automower by Husqvarna.
It operates much like a Roomba (robotic vacuum); continuously cutting your grass and returning to a charging base whenever its batteries are low. Husqvarna boasts that the autonomous mower silently navigates around your yard, cutting your grass evenly and to whatever length that you prefer. Thanks to its quiet operation, the Automower is able to mow your grass throughout the night without waking the neighbors. It’s weatherproof, as is the charging station, and works to cut your grass rain or shine.
How does it work? The Automower navigates your yard with the help of boundary wires installed along the outside of your property. Any trees or mulch beds also get wired off in order to create a defined perimeter. Once the mower gets near the buried wires it turns around and heads in another direction, mowing your lawn in a variety of patterns. Simply turn the device on, select your preferred settings and let it go to work; “set it and forget it” says Husqvarna. An app lets you choose which days it operates or you can set it to work around clock.
However, just like most autonomous machines, there are some drawbacks. The main drawback is the cost. Not only are the machines expensive, but boundary wire installation is also expensive. Another expense you’ll notice is a steep electric bill; I imagine operating the self-charging Automower 24/7 won’t come cheap. Also, your yard work isn’t entirely eliminated; the grass around boundary wires, especially those set around flowerbeds and trees, will still need to be trimmed with a weed-eater.
The Automower, with its futuristic design, is an undoubtedly cool concept. I have to admit that never having to mow your lawn is appealing, but the technology is still very new and thus the costs remain high. I wouldn’t recommend the Automower just yet, but there is another solution if you never want to mow again. You guessed it, give Roanoke Landscapes a call at 540-772-0079! We will make sure your property is always looking picture-perfect.
To learn more on the Husqvarna Automower visit their website here.