Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Incredible Exploding Thistle

On a recent sunny afternoon, I noticed a mass of white gossamer fluff on the giant bull thistle that stands seven feet tall in one of the garden paths. It had not been there that morning. The mass consisted of spidery whorls of white threads, each carrying a tiny oval seed at the bottom. Some of the whorls -- "light as thistledown" because thistledown is exactly what they were -- were already lofting away on the breeze.

Uh oh.


I pulled out a handful of fluff, marveling at how neatly and densely the seeds were packed in -- dozens wedged into one small round seed pod about an inch across. No wonder the thing burst open.

In botanical circles there is a technical term for exploding plant parts: dehiscence.

I couldn't let this particular bull thistle go on exploding. There were enough seeds in one little pod and enough pods on a seven foot plant to eventually turn the whole yard into a thick thorny forest.

Already, the floating seeds were finding resting spots in quiet corners of the yard, ready to set up shop and bring forth new generations of towering bull thistles.

Before going after the plant with pruning shears and thick gloves, I took some final photos of the magnificent purple blossoms, full blown and feathery, or wilting, fading, and folding into themselves. Thistle blossoms are sought out avidly by bees and butterflies, and thistle honey, of course, is much prized. That's one reason I let the plant live out most of its span of time.

On YouTube I found an amazing video of a swallowtail butterfly feeding greedily from a thistle blossom for a full two minutes, in a scene I have never witnessed directly but fondly hope has occurred in our backyard and will occur again.

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's a Ronde de Nice!!!

Mystery solved. The unknown "round kind" zucchini from Green String Farm is a Ronde de Nice -- a coveted French heirloom from the southern Provencal region facing the Mediterranean and abutting Italy. It is so delicate, so easily bruised it doesn't show up in markets very often.

Despite the exotic heritage, the fancy name pretty much amounts to saying "round thingy from Nice." Welcome to our garden little round thing! May you be as happy here as on the Cote d'Azur.

The first zucchini harvest this year consisted of a couple of  "long kind" Emperor's Jade beauties on June 25. It took a few days more for the Ronde de Nice to size up to what my uneducated eye considered harvestable size. At any rate, with all the data in hand, the records for the zucchini chronicles can now be brought up to date:

Seedlings planted:

2009 May 10 (Green Racer)
2010 Not sure, but later than May 10 (Green Bush)
2011 May 8 (Cocozelle, Zephyr)
2012 May 12 (Ronde de Nice, Emperor's Jade)

First blossom:

2009 June 8

2010 June 13
2011 June 12
2012 June 19 (Ronde de Nice); June 20 (Emperor's Jade)

First harvest:

2009 June 14
2010 June 21
2011 June 25
2012 June 25 (Emperor's Jade), a few days later, about June 29 (Ronde de Nice)

We had plenty of zucchini on hand for a driveway picnic on the Fourth of July. The grilled veggies were definitely a big hit, as was the rest of the menu: corn with basil butter grilled in the husk, tofu dogs, deviled eggs, and a red white and blue fruit salad of raspberries, blueberries, and yoghurt. The zucchini and basil were the only items from the garden, but nobody was complaining.

 And there was still plenty of zucchini left for the first batch of summertime green soup on July 9.