Posted tagged ‘University of Washington’

THE BOTANY OF EXPIRE

June 15, 2011

The support structure for the gigantic flower of Amorphophallus titanum–an elegant example of plant architecture

Life goes to all lengths to get sex; after all, without sex, we have no birds, bees, or babies. But some sex is just plain weird, as in the case of the Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanum). Think about the root meaning of those Latin words for a moment, and you will understand why Sir David Attenborough came up with the less “dirty” name of Titan Arum to use in his BBS television series, The Secret Life of Plants, instead of the scientific name.

Corpse Flower is a gigantic botanical simulation of rotting meat, complete with a fetid odor and a deep burgundy color to help create the illusion. It even raises its own temperature to make the illusion of decomposing meat more real. And who is it trying to attract with all this grossness? Why, carrion beetles and flesh flies, of course, which are its pollinators! Everything it does, it does for sex–kind of like some politicians who make the news, but we won’t go there …

Impressive in size, the Corpse Flower blooms only occasionally through the years, and sports the color, temperature, and fetid smell of a large rotting animal

I went to the University of Washington botany greenhouses in Seattle, after seeing a story in the Seattle Times about how this plant was about to bloom. On that afternoon of June 9, I joined about 60 people in line to wait for our chance to file past the magnificent plant and experience its sensory pleasures. Alas, my sense of smell is not working well because of seasonal allergies, so I couldn’t smell a thing. It’s just as well, based on some of the descriptions of the gag-inducing stink, which is said to be so bad that it can make a person’s eyes water.

Anyway, the plant was gigantic and most impressive; those of us who stood in line were rewarded with the chance to climb a ladder and look down inside the flower. The cutest among us were also rewarded with having pictures taken by a media photographer (he didn’t bother with me).

Climbing a ladder to view the Corpse Flower’s interior

Corpse Flower lives naturally in the Sumatra rainforest, but it has relatives here in North America, including Calla Lily and Skunk Cabbage. The Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), which grows in swamps in places I’ve lived, including Michigan and New York, also has a meat color, strong odor, and the ability to generate heat–which helps it melt snow in early spring, AND to spread its wondrous odor better.

Now the flowering event is over, and it is time to patiently wait for that 100+ lb. root to decide that it’s time once again to surprise us with a magnificent bloom. It might happen in a couple of years, or perhaps in a human lifetime. Nobody knows, and that is part of the wonder of its nature.

University of Washington botany greenhouse, with the Corpse Flower visible inside

Virtually everyone took a picture of the gigantic flower

Wikipedia has a good article about the natural history of this amazing plant; go to: Corpse Flower.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

SEATTLE ARBORETUM: Wild Things

March 10, 2011

Male Gadwall in a small arboretum pond

I came to the Washington Park Arboretum to photograph colorful garden flowers; alas, spring seems to be a bit late this year, so I spent most of my early March afternoon photographing wild visitors to the park.

Today was a birdy day, with a knot of half-a-dozen Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, a Golden-Crowned Kinglet, a Brown Creeper, and lots of Black-Capped Chickadees.  Robins were doing unmentionable things deep in a flowering forsythia. A pair of Gadwalls fed on a tiny pond and didn’t seem to mind that strange photographer laying on the ground and pointing a lens at them.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, a tiny bird constantly in motion, pauses a split second for a portrait

Mosses were lush and feathery to the touch on this spring day. A few people were happily walking dogs, jogging, identifying birds, and taking pictures. As a counterpoint, in thick brush I happened upon a grief-stricken informal memorial to a child from an anguished parent. It reminded me of a passage from a Dave Mathews song:

Lying in the park on a beautiful day

Sunshine in the grass, and the children play

Sirens passing, fire engine red

Someone’s house is burning down on a day like this”

The good and bad, happy and sad, swirl around us in a cloud of molecules and electrical impulses every day as we go about our lives.

A parent’s sad memorial to a son. Among other touching words, the driftwood sticks are inscribed “In Memory: My son and best friend … You beat us there, but we’ll meet you there … We love you.”

Woman walking with her dog on a beautiful spring day

Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), a native shrub, lights up the March woods with its candle-like flowers

Extreme closeup of beautiful moss; I have never had training in moss identification, so I don’t have a clue as to the species

The graceful base of a huge old rhododendron

Water play, or so it looked to me

Female swimming among beautiful reflections

Adult female Gadwall with an orange bill. The female was more actively feeding than the male–within about four feet of me at times. She would sit in one place on the water, vigorously “paddling” downward with her legs, causing her to rock rapidly back and forth. Then she would “tip up” to feed, with tail stuck into the air. I believe her rapid leg motion helped to stir up matted aquatic plants so that she could more easily harvest them when she stuck her head underwater, but it is also possible that she was after aquatic insects. The male Gadwall kept a wary eye on me as I watched the female feeding.

I had always thought of male Gadwalls as rather plain ducks–especially in comparison to Wood Ducks–but the barred feathers have an understated elegance of design up close

The shape of a Gadwall’s head is interesting, with the fat cheeks and narrow head

In case you hadn’t guessed, I love photographing ducks from a low angle, though it gets increasingly difficult to haul myself up from the cramped position when I’m finished

Beautiful and subtle colors and patterns adorn the male in breeding plumage

Cone and needles of a Weeping White Pine (Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’)

A male Ruby-Crowned Kinglet showing a bit of its scarlet crest, which is often hidden

Turkey Tail Fungus (Trametes versicolor) growing on a fallen log

Patch of moss growing on the bark of a fallen log

I have posted several previous blogs about the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle.  Go to:

Azaleas in SeattlePretty in Pink, Spring in Seattle, and Monet in Seattle’s Arboretum.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com. I also have some inexpensive, smaller pieces for sale at an Etsy Website.

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.


AZALEAS IN SEATTLE: The Grand Finale of Spring

May 12, 2010

Azaleas in bloom in the Washington Park Arboretum

Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum began its transition to spring way back in January. It has been a long and lovely seasonal journey, but like any great fireworks show, there is a Grand Finale that provides an amazing end to the season, and that time is now. The azaleas along Azalea Way were absolutely stunning when I visited on May 6, with intense colors sprayed together in ways not otherwise found in nature.

The oak trees were also leafing out, with the Golden Oak, a garden variety of the English Oak, an unexpected highlight. When the oaks are entirely leafed out, I consider it the end of spring. So the end is near.

View to Azalea Way from the Golden Oak

Finally, the wisteria were in bloom around the Graham Visitors Center. With their vivid color and intense scents, they are always a fine show. But what caught my eye on this visit was how the shadows played on the rafters of the pergola–looking almost like ancient calligraphy.

Wisteria shadows speak an ancient language

Azaleas are a type of rhododendron

An impressionistic view of the azalea garden

Girly colors look wonderful in the garden

Wisteria blooming on the pergola

Walkway next to the Graham Visitors Center

Vivid color combinations, even in a single blossom

Bright colors of almost any shade

Azalea buds starting to open

Dogwood flowering against an achingly blue sky

Golden Oak, Quercus robur ‘Concordia,’ a variety of English Oak

Up close and personal

Oak leaves in a growth spurt

Emphatically defining the word ‘vivid’

A sophisticated shade of orange

Courtyard adjacent to the Graham Visitors Center

A garden is a great excuse to toss together a panoply of color

Painting with petals

For more information about Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum, go to: http://depts.washington.edu/wpa/index.htm. For my two previous 2010 posts about the arboretum, go to SEATTLE’S ARBORETUM: Pretty in Pink and Spring in Seattle.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website



SEATTLE’S ARBORETUM: Pretty in Pink

March 16, 2010

Magnolia ‘Caerhays Belle’

Spring continues in the Puget Sound region, with wave after wave of blooming flowers coloring the warming days.  Lately, the wind-pollinated tree flowers of alder are spreading their evil fairy dust over the region, causing congestion in me and many others.  At night, the Pacific Treefrogs tweet from the wetlands across our lake, sending brief messages of love using the broadband of damp air.  Indian Plum and the gorgeous Red-flowering Current are the natives now blooming on our property.  The first pair of Wood Ducks in love showed up for their rite of spring today, and in a couple of months we should see their babies jumping from a nest box along the lake.

Home is where my heart is, but Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum is where most of the flowers are, so I journeyed there on a recent warm spring day.  I’ll let the pictures speak for the plants, but I should say that this was the day of the magnolias for me, with magnolia buds and blossoms and fallen petals creating a beautiful backdrop of pink so achingly lovely that it almost made me question my masculinity.  But not quite.

Fallen Camellia Petals

A rustic staircase ascends a ferny hill

Fallen Pink Magnolia blossoms, Magnolia mollicomata X M. Campbellii

Magnolia ‘Caerhays Belle’

Magnolia ‘Caerhays Belle’

Fallen petal of Pink Magnolia (Magnolia mollicomata X M. Campbellii)

Magnolia Flower Bud (variety unknown)

Lookout Gazebo at the Washington Park Arboretum

Looking out of the Lookout Gazebo

Bark of Paperbark Cherry, Prunus serrula

Emerging fern fiddleheads

Burls on an ancient tree

Redwood Sorrel, Oxalis oregana

Opening leaf buds of Tibetan Peony, Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii

And now for a special surprise:  an orange traffic cone reflected in wet pavement within the Washington Park Arboretum

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’

Magnolia ‘Raspberry Ice’ flower bud

Fern Fiddlehead

Indian Plum, Oemieria cerasiformis, a native shrub of the Pacific Coast

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick with Royal Star Magnolia

Skeletal remains of a leaf of Pink Magnolia (Magnolia mollicomata X M. Campbellii)

Lenten Rose, Helleborus x hybridus

Cherry blossoms and buds

Graceful shapes in the bark of Snow Gum, Eucalyptus pauciflora, an Australian native

Camellia (Camellia sp.) blooming

For more information about Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum, go to: http://depts.washington.edu/wpa/index.htm I also have an earlier story about the Arboretum at https://leerentz.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/spring-in-seattle/

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website