Friday, February 22, 2013

Class Preview: Exploring Spring Flora

Hepatica Americana. Photo by Stefan Bloodworth
By Emma Loewe

When envisioning the floral transition into springtime, people usually imagine a sudden and dramatic bloom—an outburst of life that quickly drapes over the barren winter landscape. But botanist Ken Moore, former assistant director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, disagrees. He says the cyclical nature of plants makes the rise to spring a more gradual one.

Moore will discuss this early spring period in a field studies class presented by Duke Gardens at Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve on March 16. He shared some of his observations in a phone interview this month.

Certain spring wildflowers on the forest floor take advantage of the dwindling sunlight of late winter, Moore notes. Spring ephemerals are plants “adapted to come out as soon as the weather begins warming up while there is still sunlight coming through the deciduous tree canopy of the forest.”

This year, these signs of the coming spring are surfacing especially early. “Because of the weird weather we are having, things are blooming earlier than normal.” Plants like hepatica take advantage of milder weather, he says, and “if you have a warm spell in winter, a few of them will come out on certain sunny days.”

Crane flower orchids are another instance of wildflowers that flourish outside of the typical flowering season. The flower’s leaves “come out in the fall on the forest floor, grow through the winter and disappear in April, taking advantage of the winter sun.” The products of this early development can be seen in the summer when its stems come up covered in a cluster of tiny orchids.

Once spring hits and life is restored in natural habitats, the forest takes on a whole new dimension, he says. “The plants and animals are responding to the return of the warmer growing season, so you’ll have lots and lots of activity—from plants growing and flowering to insects buzzing around and pollinating to the birds going through their life cycle. You’re looking at everything.”

Nature’s seasonality limits every life span, Moore says. For this reason, observing something in blossom is a true gift. “Every time you see a native plant in bloom, it's really special. It's like a present—taking a walk in the woods means seeing what little presents nature has given you.”

Consider joining Moore to see what gifts nature has to offer next month. His “Early Spring Jewels: Field Studies” hike runs from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

TO REGISTER: please call 919-668-1707, email or go to to register or for more information. 

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. The Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.

Columnist Emma Loewe is an environmental policy major at Duke University and a work-study assistant at Duke Gardens. This column originally appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tango & Swing weekend: dances & workshops

Chris & Holly Owens

Duke Gardens' new Health & Wellness Series continues this weekend, Feb. 8 & 9, with a fun-packed schedule of dances and beginner workshops.

On Friday, Feb. 8, we'll host an Argentine tango milonga (dance) in the Doris Duke Center's Kirby Horton Hall (with a gorgeous hardwood floor that's perfect for dancing). Jason Laughlin and Cecilia Pagani, of Tangophilia, will teach a beginner lesson from 7-8 p.m., which is included in the price of admission. You need not show up with a partner. Everyone will rotate partners (except those who prefer not to), so you will get to know others at the event very quickly.

The dance will run from 8-11 p.m. This is Argentine tango, not the choreographed American tango you may have seen on "Dancing with the Stars." Argentine tango is a gorgeous dance to experience or even just to watch. Check out the video below to see the dance style you can expect at Friday's dance. Argentine tango can be danced in close embrace or open embrace. Beginners generally dance in open embrace.

On Saturday, Feb. 9, we'll start the day earlier with some dance workshops with Chris Owens & Holly Beeson Owens, of What a Shuffle and the Eastern Balboa Championships. We'll start with a beginner Balboa workshop from 2-3 p.m. Then Chris & Holly will build on that beginner class with a beginner 2 workshop from 3-4 p.m. From 6-7 p.m. they'll offer a beginner Charleston workshop.

Then you can stay for the evening swing dance, which runs from 8-11 p.m., after a 7-8 p.m. beginner East Coast Swing lesson with Chris & Holly that's included with the dance admission. DJs Chris Owens & Ray Crampton will spin tunes through the evening.

Please see our swing dance web page for more info about workshop fees, dance tickets and other details, including a discount on advance tickets for Duke staff & students and members of Duke Gardens, CDC & TSDS. More info on the tango milonga is here. We'd love for you spread the word about these events via our Facebook page, too.

Below are some videos to give you an sense of the dances and what to expect. The first is Chris & Holly previewing the Balboa workshops. The second is a demonstration of some Charleston moves. The third is Jason and Cecilia dancing tango. And the last one is an East Coast Swing demo.