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Archive for the ‘PLANTS’ Category

Specimens of the Tiliaceae Family. United States National Herbarium (US).

Specimens of the Tiliaceae Family. United States National Herbarium (US).

The United States National Herbarium was founded in 1848, and it now holds five million specimens, with a particular strength in type specimens. Housed in the botany collections of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History (NMNH), the herbarium’s collection is now part of a new crowdsourcing project that allows anyone with Internet access to view and transcribe data from specimens and contribute to the expansion of the herbarium’s collections database. It’s a terrific way to engage with plants as historical artifacts, design objects, and, of course, as botanical specimens, while essentially doing important work for the Smithsonian from the comfort of your own device.

After registration, which requires no special credentials or knowledge, you can begin transcribing the text from the labels into a web form. The data you enter, once approved, becomes part of the specimens’ record. Sylvia Orli, an information manager from the department of botany who helps facilitate the NMNH’s program, says the transcription project is part of a global effort to digitize natural history records. Within the NMNH, the department of botany is among the first to use the new crowdsourcing transcription tool, and several other units within the Smithsonian are participating as well.

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BY JAMES R. URBAN, FASLA

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From the January issue of LAM:

Most projects don’t have a soil scientist as a consultant, which leaves landscape architects to make important field decisions during construction. We need to specify soil moisture as part of the process of installing and compacting soils, and managing soil moisture is a critical part of plant establishment afterward. Working with wet soils can damage the performance of those soils, and allowing root balls to dry out can create tree stress problems that may affect tree growth far beyond the guarantee period.

Soil, grading, and planting specifications often require that soils not be delivered, worked, or graded when wet, muddy, or dry. Some specifications include references to soil moisture, using terms such as optimum soil moisture, field capacity, wilt point, or saturated. What do these terms mean? And how can landscape architects in the field, with no time to send samples to a lab, determine how moist the soil is?

Landscape architects need to understand soil moisture terms so they can make their specifications accurate and defensible.

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SOLD OUT

Courtesy Nelson Nursery

Courtesy Nelson Nursery

From the June 2013 issue of LAM:

By Anne Raver

After four long, slow years, the housing market is picking up, and landscape architects are beginning to get more calls about work. But after such a long slump, there’s a potentially big problem: Where are they going to find the high-quality plants they need?

The nursery industry has been battered. Nursery owners had ramped up production in an overheated economy. When the real estate bubble burst, they dumped trees and stopped putting more in the pipeline. Hundreds of nurseries went out of business.

“Overall planting, industry-wide, may have been down 50 percent or more,” says Nancy Buley, Honorary ASLA, the director of communications at J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co., in Boring, Oregon, one of the country’s largest wholesale growers of liners, or rooted trees. “Some of our customers didn’t line out any stock at all for two or three years.”

Now, growers say, it seems the recession is catching up to landscape architects all over again in a scarcity of plants, especially of two- to three-inch-caliper trees and some popular shrubs. And the nurseries that have survived are now raising their prices on precious items shipped hundreds of miles.

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A TRAIL OF STUMPS

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Photo by Jane Hutton

From the May 2013 issue of LAM:

By Jane Hutton

“This John Chipman bench was planted 500 years before Columbus sailed for America,” reads a Landscape Forms ad from a 1973 issue of this magazine. The familiar slatted bench is shown towering over a forest canopy. Its base is anchored to a colossal redwood stump. “When you have a site furnishing job to do, think about Chipman in 1,000-year-old redwood,” the ad says. “Even if your benches only have to last another 100 years.”

Old-growth redwoods yield beautiful, warm-toned lumber with a straight grain. The wood is low in resins and rich in polyphenols, which makes it both fire resistant and impenetrable to fungi and insects. Because of these desirable traits and the wood’s wide availability in the midcentury, modernist landscape architects in California used it extensively. Thomas Church even acted as a spokesman for the California Redwood Association in a 1956 ad, calling redwood one of his “most versatile materials.”

By the 1980s, landscape architects’ enthusiasm for old-growth redwood had waned. Harvest rates plummeted because of the near decimation of populations, and many of the remaining stands were incorporated into parks and preserves. As the use of old-growth redwood declined, other materials appeared on the market: second-growth redwood, chemically treated softwoods, and tropical hardwoods. When the redwood decking of Church’s Fay Garden in San Francisco was restored in 2006, it was replaced with a tropical hardwood called ipe (see “Degrees of Preservation,” LAM, January 2009).

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Deforestation in the state of Rondônia in western Brazil. Photo: NASA

Deforestation in the state of Rondônia in western Brazil. Photo: NASA

If you place plants above humans on the hierarchy of desirable beings (ha ha, try that topic at your next dinner party), or if you’re like the naturalist Sir David Attenborough, who recently called humans a “plague on Earth,” you’ll appreciate an essay by Michael Marder, a philosopher, on Al Jazeera’s web site that advocates for plant rights, not least as a possible brake on losses of biodiversity. Marder cites Hannah Arendt’s notion of “the right to have rights” along with scientists’ expanding knowledge of plant behavior and threads of thought from Hinduism and Jainism to build a case for the fundamental protections of plant life based on the “uniqueness of vegetal subjects.” It seems a conversation has already begun about plant rights, obliquely enough, in a 2008 report by the Swiss Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology called “The Dignity of Living Beings with Regard to Plants,” which Marder calls “an undeniable milestone.”

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Debris floats in New York’s East River. Brennan Cavanaugh/Flickr

FEMA isn’t the only federal agency helping places affected by Superstorm Sandy. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has provided $5.3 million in funds through its Emergency Watershed Protection program.

NRCS has distributed the money equally between its state offices in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia—each is getting $480,000. Local sponsors can apply for funding for projects to get rid of storm debris from waterways and to restore places that have been scoured or washed away by floods. Funds are available for both public and private property. NRCS will pay up to 75 percent of a project’s total cost, and the sponsor is responsible for the rest. Local offices may also use the money for purchasing floodplain easements.

If you are involved in restoration efforts, also be sure to check out NRCS’s online portal Atlantic Coastal Restoration. It has information on stabilizing sand dunes and revegetating shorelines and is linked into the USDA’s wonderful PLANTS Database.

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Robert Krulwich/NPR

If you read Constance Casey’s fascinating column on the predatory dodder plant in February, you may be interested in checking out dodder in action. Robert Krulwich, who writes the Krulwich Wonders blog for National Public Radio, writes about dodder and focuses on the same phenomenon Casey mentioned in her column—its ability to “sniff out” its prey, in this case, tomato plants. Krulwich illustrates his piece with fun sketches like the one at left, and he also includes a 30-second horror movie for tomato plants, where dodder creeps its way toward its unsuspecting victim before strangling the life out of it. Who says plants are boring?

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