THE Archbishop John Ireland used to pray in my kitchen — or so the neighbors say. Long before it was my attic apartment, this space was reportedly his home chapel in St. Paul, Minn.
A giant of American Catholicism in the early 20th century, Archbishop Ireland gave the Twin Cities a pair of monumental churches, the Basilica of St. Mary and the Cathedral of Saint Paul. He left me something humbler: a third-floor walk-up with sloping bead board ceilings and dormer windows.
These cubbies, carved into the wainscoting, look as if they were meant to display something. But what? A domed canary cage? A bust of St. Polycarp, patron saint of earache sufferers?
The other day, I experienced something like an epiphany. What the kitchen needed was a hanging fern.
A few decades ago, the plant to buy would have been obvious: a Boston fern. Anyone would recognize Nephrolepis exaltata. It’s the ferny-looking fern — the one with the long, shaggy ruffles of greenery, cascading like a fondue fountain.
The Boston fern is not without its merits, noted Tom Stuart, proprietor of the Hardy Fern Library, an online taxonomical guide.
“There’s almost no way to kill a Boston fern,”
The last specimen of a rare Hawaiian orchid on Kauai will be joined next week by a half-dozen of its descendants in its home.
An Illinois botany professor who successfully reproduced the Platanthera holochila is expected to bring about 90 plants to Hawaii next week.
The orchid is extinct on Oahu and nonexistent on the Big Island, but Maui has about 20 plants living in the wild and about 20 live on Molokai. The only known specimen on Kauai lives in the Alakai Swamp within a fence that protects it from goats and pigs.
One of three orchid species endemic to Hawaii, the plant is the rarest of all three and appears somewhat unglamorous for an orchid, said Wendy Kishida, Kauai coordinator of the Plant Extinction Prevention Program.
It can grow to be several feet tall with hundreds of greenish-yellow flowers that bloom from spikes around the stem, according to some descriptions.
Chipper Wichman, director and chief executive officer of the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai, said botanists have seen the plant’s population decline over 20 years from about four plants to one. He said no one has been able to propagate the plant.
“This is really a success story,” he said. “This is a huge breakthrough for us.”
By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Quincy, Calif. —
“This is the easy part,” says Barry Rice, half-sliding, half-falling down a ravine through a latticework of dead branches.
Decades ago, lush stands of Darlingtonia californica — emerald plants coiled like fanged cobras ready to pounce — grew at this spot in the northern reaches of the Sierra Nevada.
Deep in the ravine, the air is hot and dead. Pieces of bark that have sloughed off trees make every step a danger — nature’s equivalent of a thousand forgotten skateboards cluttering a driveway. Slate tinkles underfoot, and the ground feels like stale angel-food cake: stiff yet porous.
Rice, a botanist at UC Davis, is not the first to hunt the cobra lily here in Butterfly Valley. In 1875, amateur botanist Rebecca Austin fed the plants raw mutton and carefully observed how they digested it.
Yet to this day, much of the plants’ biology and habitat remain unknown — which is why Rice is here, trying to find established populations.
Throughout his life, Charles Darwin surrounded himself with flowers. When he was 10, he wrote down each time a peony bloomed in his father’s garden. When he bought a house to raise his own family, he turned the grounds into a botanical field station where he experimented on flowers until his death. But despite his intimate familiarity with flowers, Darwin once wrote that their evolution was “an abominable mystery.”
Darwin could see for himself how successful flowering plants had become. They make up the majority of living plant species, and they dominate many of the world’s ecosystems, from rain forests to grasslands. They also dominate our farms. Out of flowers come most of the calories humans consume, in the form of foods like corn, rice and wheat. Flowers are also impressive in their sheer diversity of forms and colors, from lush, full-bodied roses to spiderlike orchids to calla lilies shaped like urns.
For centuries botanists were unable to reproduce and ship the plant, which is native to the Pacific Islands. But a team of researchers led by Diane Ragone of the Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai, Hawaii, has discovered how to propagate it en masse to ship to regions in Central America and Africa where it would grow best (and where hunger rates are highest). Now Ragone has 40 requests from governments, NGOs, nonprofits, and farmers across the globe to integrate the fruit.