Tiny Treasures

In the plant world they’re often called the minor bulbs because they’re easily overshadowed by the bold trumpets of hybridized daffodils and the plump bowls of tulip flowers. But in early spring, when these diminutive dots of color appear on a gray, late winter day, they’re a very welcome sight indeed.

The most common of these tiny bloomers are white snowdrops and gold and purple crocuses. Here are several other smaller bulbs to look for at this time of year. Most can be found tucked around campus. In the home garden these minor bulbs create early color, then, when the blooms fade, their dying foliage is easily hidden by emerging perennials.

Crocus tommasinianus: There’s nothing quite like a lawn brimming with a sea of these thin, lavender blooms on a sunny day in February. If the weather turns chilly or cloudy, they close up tight. Affectionately nicknamed Tommies, this very early crocus naturalizes freely and is a tough survivor, resisting most animal and insect pests. By the time you bring out the lawn mower for the first cut, they’ve all disappeared.

Scilla siberica, Siberian squill: Every spring the phone in the office rings with the question, ‘What are those blue flowers growing at the corner of College Avenue and Haverford Road?’ It’s Siberian squill, a wonderful intensely blue-flowered bulb that seeds freely and tolerates considerable shade. The spreading patch on the corner of campus always commands attention from drivers.

Chionodoxa forbesii by the Bookstore steps

Chionodoxa forbesii by the Bookstore steps

Chionodoxa forbesii, Glory-of-the-Snow: The upturned blue flowers with white centers and yellow anthers make this spring bulb easy to identify. It readily self-sows in full sun or deciduous shade. You can find it in bloom at the Bookstore steps entrance to the Whitehead Campus Center.

Puschkinia scilloides, Striped squill: This lesser-known bulb packs a dense cluster of up to 20 pale blue flowers toward the tip of its stalk. It should be planted more often.

Tulipa tarda and Tulipa turkestancia: These diminutive tulips show off with open, star-shaped flowers. Afterwards, their thin, bright green leaves easily die back, unlike the fat leaves of their larger tulip cousins that seem to yellow and hang on forever in the garden.

Muscari armeniacum and Muscari botryoides, Grape-hyacinth: Both plants have stacks of tiny blue or deep purple flowers. The difference between the species is when the foliage appears. The leaves of M. armenicaum emerge in the fall and hang on through late spring, so it can look messy in the garden. The leaves on M. botyoides wait until spring to grow.

Ornithogalum umbellatum, Star-of-Bethlehem: The star-shaped white flowers, often striped with green, give this perky and tough little plant its name. But beware; once planted, it will seed in everywhere and be near-impossible to control or remove.

Studying with a Sequoia

Haverford’s students can now enjoy a touch of the Arboretum’s beauty inside as well as outside, thanks to an installation in two rooms of the just renovated Sharpless Hall. When a giant sequoia tree, Sequoiadendron giganteum, went into decline and had to be cut down in 2015, some wood was salvaged, milled and made into three study tables and two counters.

Two tables in the seminar room.

Two tables in the seminar room.

With the opening this January of the totally gutted and renovated science building, they found a home in a fourth floor seminar room and second floor study area.

One of two counter tops in the seminar room.

One of two counter tops in the seminar room.

The tables, weighing 300 pounds each and twice that with the metal leg frames, are approximately 10 feet long and composed of three planks for a width of 5 feet. The 2 ½-inch edges follow the natural line of the tree with the bark removed. A power outlet in the center of each table allows for laptop plug-ins.

Table edges were kept natural.

Table edges were kept natural.

The sequoia was part of the original Pinetum planting in 1929 on the western edge of campus. A tree native to the West Coast where it is a giant of the forest and lives for hundreds of years, the sequoia never thrives in our eastern climate, soils and humidity. Haverford’s tree lived for well over 80 years, but gradually declined and had to be cut down. Happily, students will be able to appreciate its beauty for many years to come in the form of these tables.
– Martha Van Artsdalen, plant curator

A Tropical Twist

tropical-mantel-resized

Founders Great Hall is a beautiful space, a room that has hosted many Haverford traditions. Thanks to the decorating efforts of the Arboretum horticulturists, each December it becomes a stunning backdrop for the annual student concert and then the faculty and staff holiday party.

Carol Wagner says the decorating is almost done!

Carol Wagner says the decorating is almost done!

The weather was bitter cold with the hint of oncoming snow last Friday, but inside the Great Hall Carol Wagner, Mike Startup and Charlie Jenkins were putting the final touches on the tree before the party began. This year’s theme was tropical, and decorations included brightly painted floral material, all gathered from campus.

tropical-window-resized
~ Martha Van Artsdalen, plant curator

Death of a Champion

Nature goes in cycles: spring to winter, chrysalis to butterfly, acorn to oak tree. We’re now seeing the end of a cycle of growth for our State Champion red oak tree, Quercus rubra. We don’t know how long this giant has stood, but it was already a bristle of huge branches when Stokes Hall was built in 1963.

The red oak at the start of Stokes Hall construction in 1963

The red oak at the start of Stokes Hall construction in 1963

This red oak was crowned a state champion, the largest known measured tree of its species, back in 2007 when it stood at 100 feet high and nearly 25 feet in circumference. It spread its leaves across 306 feet.
But now, old age and decay have caught up with it.

The State Champion red oak on a summer's day

The State Champion red oak on a summer’s day

We’ve measured the interior structure at the base with a Resistograph—basically a long needle—drilled into the wood to measure the density. The readout showed a huge cavity at the base, with only 4 to 5 inches of solid outer wood in spots. The central trunk cavity rose some 84 feet.

Arboretum Director Bill Astifan by the rotted oak

Arboretum Director Bill Astifan by the rotted oak

The decision was made; we had to remove this potentially hazardous monarch. The John B. Ward Tree contractors spent several days on the task. Some of the top branches removed by crane were good-size trees in themselves. Wood will be saved from several of the outer trunks to be milled and eventually recycled into furniture for the campus.
~ Martha Van Artsdalen, plant curator

The Color Continues

Look past the oranges, golds and reds of tree leaves and you’ll find other intense spots of color on campus this fall. Perennials show off in their own way—the royal purples of oak leaf hydrangea, the golden spikes of threadleaf bluestar, the lavender flowers of asters.

Encore azalea 'Autumn Princess'

Encore azalea ‘Autumn Princess’

A recent newcomer to the world of gardening are Encore azaleas, so-called because they’re repeat bloomers that flower from spring through fall. Several young cultivars are planted out on campus, including this ‘Autumn Princess’ on the west side of the fieldhouse.

Dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides

Dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides

And even some conifers get into the act. The dawn redwood, a native of China, loses all its needles each fall. But first, the thin needles turn golden brown and shimmer in the late afternoon sun on a November day.
~ Martha Van Artsdalen, plant curator