Island Mallow, you grow up so fast

Botany-geeking time! Over two years ago, I brought home a tiny young island mallow (Malva assurgentiflora), and planted it in a shady spot across from my desk window.

I had first learned about this species during an environmental horticulture class I took in college, and, several years later, I found one for sale (at the amazing plant nursery Annie’s Annuals). The species is endemic to California, originally growing only in the Channel Islands, and it is quite a lovely plant.

Here’s how it looked then:


Since then, it has grown slowly but heartily, surviving two winters and a pack of rowdy squirrels. It is now almost as tall as my shoulder. And today, I glanced out the window and thought I saw something pink near the top of the plant. I investigated, and indeed: my island mallow has opened its very first flower!


This is a small thing, but this is a thing that makes me very happy.

Plant of the Day: Sensitive Plant

Are you ready to read all about a brand-new Awesome Plant of Awesomeness? I hope so, because I feel like doing another round of Plant of the Day. And so it was.

At first glance, the Sensitive Plant seems nondescript, but it is actually a bit of a marvel of nature — and cute, to boot. When it feels menaced, whether by touch, heat, or shaking, its leaves fold inward and it droops surreptitiously downward. Observe:

Who: Sensitive Plant / Mimosa pudica
(Family: Pea Family / Fabaceae) Read More

Plant of the Day: Spectacle Pod

Hi, blog! I’ve neglected you, I know. I always have the most noble intentions of posting complex and beautiful things every week… but then I realize that I could spend that time luxuriously stretched out in the sun reading a book, or obsessively watching over-dramatic television shows on Netflix. ‘Tis life.

My usual blogging strategy is to pick a topic that delights and intrigues me, and which bores the pants off almost everyone else in the world, and by Jove, I intend to stick to that strategy. So, today, I’m going to tell you all about one of my (many) favorite plants. (If I get inspired, I may continue to monologue about other fascinating botanical specimens in future… or not.)

Spectacle Pod is pretty much the coolest type of mustard ever—and considering how generally awesome the Brassicaceae family is, that’s saying something (as I’m sure you’d agree). Here’s what it looks like:

Stan Shebs [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
“Don’t mind me, I’m just fabulous beyond all possible words.” (Image by Stan Shebs [GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons)
 Who: Spectacle Pod / Dithyrea californica
(Family: Mustard Family / Brassicaceae) Read More

Why Botanical Illustration Is Obscenely Cool

My mind is a miniature gallery of weirdly specific interests, and one of my biggest affections is for natural science illustration (particularly botanical). If I see a dingy framed print of a plant sketch, I will scurry to it immediately, and ooh and aah and whisper the genus-name to myself. Let me try to explain why this is.

One reason I’m interested in natural science illustration is because things like this exist in the world:

Hodgsonia heteroclita, which grows in India, China, and some other parts of Asia. (By Cathcart, John Fergusson (1802 – 1851) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Yes, that is the wild wobbly-petaled confetti flower. It seems fantastical, like something out of Dr. Seuss, but it’s real. Read More

The Flowers of Santa Barbara

Greetings, neglected three readers! It’s been a month since we last spoke; my busyness levels have ramped up from Pretty Busy to Quite Damn Busy. I’m working approximately 1.2 jobs now, which is a good thing but all-consuming.

Last week, I returned from two weeks in Santa Barbara, where I was attending the annual academic conference I help organize. I stayed in a room with a view of the Pacific Ocean, and spent my time scurrying around and trying to keep everything running smoothly. In addition, I held a human brain in my hands during a brain dissection, went on a wholly pleasant wine tasting tour by bus in the Santa Ynez Valley, and had my first surfing lesson (very fun).

On the Saturday after my conference ended, I realized I had packed my digital SLR camera but had completely failed to find the time to use it. So, in the grey, misty morning, I spent an hour walking around UC Santa Barbara’s Native Plant Habitats. I took far too many pictures of every single plant I encountered, as well as a few birds and oceans an’ things. It was an engrossing and peaceful way to end my trip.

To show you a selection of my photos (mostly from my last day in Santa Barbara), I have prepared a snazzy WordPress gallery. You can click on any old photo below (ideally the first one), and then use the arrow keys or mouse to progress through them all.


You can also see more Santa Barbara trip photos on my Flickr.