Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fall Foliage and Flowers

By Erika Zambello
It's that time of year again. There's a chill in the air, pumpkins on the porch, and costumed little kids parading around their living rooms in preparation for Halloween. Duke Gardens is also beginning to undergo the signature seasonal changes. 

Born and raised in Maine, I'm experiencing my first Southern fall. In the Northeast, when the trees begin to turn snowy is just around the corner, and the earth becomes brown and bare. North Carolina, however, is proving to be a different story altogether.

As in Maine, the leaves are turning gold, orange and red. Here at Duke Gardens, the color is just beginning to emerge, flanked by the remaining green leaves. Though the paths are clear, my favorite part of fall is straying to the trail borders and purposefully treading on leaves, hearing that oh-so-perfect crackle.

The major difference between Maine and North Carolina? While flowers in the north would be dead or in hibernation, Duke Gardens has thousands of blooms in every imaginable color. For the first time in my life, I can see the gold and red of the leaves above, coupled with the bright pastels of the flowers below. I'm just in awe of all the color.

Tea rose (Rosa x. odorata)
Though the butterflies and dragonflies may be few and far between, the birds and turtles still abound. Brown thrashers, gray catbirds, and northern cardinals still hop along the trails, and the canopy is alive with Carolina chickadees and song sparrows.

I'm especially in love with the wood ducks and Chinese mandarin duck. I came upon two of them resting beside each other, and couldn't help but think that they are the perfect metaphor for the changing seasons. The forest green and brown of the Wood Duck gives way to the bright orange and red hues of the Chinese mandarin duck as they stand together on the wooden poles in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum's pond.

If you haven't already, enjoy the beautiful weather and check out the beginning of fall foliage here at Duke Gardens. Leaf peeping and flower gazing--what could be better?

Ginger lily (Hedychium 'Moy Giant')

Blogger Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Plant spotlight: Blue Mistflower

By Erika Zambello

I was back on the trails with Beth Hall, Paul J. Kramer plant collections manager, when we spotted a patch of bright color amidst the brown and green background of the forest floor in the H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. The flowers were purple, I decided. No, blue. Shifting to a different angle, I shook my head. Definitely purple.

Hall moved aside some leaves to reveal the informational sign:  blue mistflower. Drat, so close. Either way, the flowers shone as patches of sunlight hit their petals from above.

"Conoclinium coelestinum, blue mistflower, is a beautiful native plant found blooming in the H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants from late summer through fall," Hall explained later in an email. "The button-like fluffy blue flowers attract butterflies and bees, and they're worth seeing in person since the depth of color is difficult to capture with a camera."

I have a special affinity for flowers that attract bees. The insect activity infuses the whole scene with motion and a sense of dynamism, and though I couldn't quite capture the brilliant color of the blue mistflower, at least I could show the insect-flower interaction. 

The blue mistflower is one species I would absolutely choose to plant in a woodland garden. "The herbaceous perennial grows in moist soils and naturalizes easily, and it is great for drifts of long-lasting fall color," Hall writes. Their color particularly stands out against the bright leaves that have begun to fall, creating a beautiful fall woodland palette.

Blogger Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Food Truck Rodeo at Duke Gardens

Thursdays are long days for me. I have four classes in a row, ending my marathon day at 6 p.m. Understandably, by evening my daily supply of snacks has been severely depleted, and my stomach rumbles as I finally leave the Levine Science Research Center for the day. Luckily for me, last Thursday Duke Gardens hosted their first Food Truck Rodeo, complete with four food trucks and the Duke Sabrosura dance troupe teaching visitors a little salsa dancing.

The four food trucks - Foster's on the Fly, Chirba Chirba Dumpling, Captain Poncho's, and Parlez-Vous Crepe - were set up outside the Doris Duke Center and catered to a steady line of student and visitor customers. Food trucks are taking the country and Durham by storm, as customers appreciate the direct access to chefs preparing their food. Without having to worry about expensive rents and restaurant overhead, food truck owners and chefs can focus on the food, leading to creative and delicious dishes.

Chirba Chirba Dumpling was serving delicious dumplings of all types in addition to fluffy buns and dim sum dishes, my friends brought back spicy burritos and enchiladas from Captain Poncho's, and I tried a delicious, flaky chicken biscuit from Foster's on the Fly, followed by a melt-in-your-mouth nutella crepe from Parlez-vous Crepe. I spent a semester abroad in France, and for the two seconds of my first bite I was instantly transported back to the streets of Grenoble where I had my very first nutella crepe.

Photo by Graham McHenry
The salsa music emanating from the lot below the Doris Duke Center brought me back to reality. Turning the corner, I watched the unbelievably good salsa dancers of Sabrosura. Alas, I have two left feet, but if I had had the courage the Sabrosura dancers would have been happy to help me learn some new moves. Munching on my crepe, I watched as students and visitors learned to salsa, including an adorable little girl who really took to the dancing.

As the sun began to set on the Food Truck Rodeo, the flowers in the front garden were illuminated by the evening light, my friends and I were relaxing after class and enjoying delicious food, and many others were learning something new with Sabrosura. An amazing evening in Duke Gardens, and one I hope I can repeat in the future!

Blogger Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment

Monday, October 7, 2013

Students Map Gardens Trails Using GPS

By Erika Zambello

If you've been in Duke Gardens recently, you might have noticed a group of students marching purposefully through the trails, a bright yellow apparatus clutched tightly in their hands. No, they are not looking for signs of extraterrestrial life. They are, however, using the Gardens in a unique way: creating a map as part of a GPS and Geographic Information System (GIS) assignment.

Audrey Archer, a first year Nicholas School of the Environment graduate student, and her assignment partner Emma Vaughan, a second year Nicholas School graduate student, arrived early one Thursday morning to finish mapping for their Forest Measurements course.

"The goal is to produce a map of the Blomquist trails and 30 'point' features throughout the Gardens," Archer explained in an email, point features being,"fountains, visitor center, benches, the dawn redwood trees, Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, lakes, etc."

Mapping is no easy feat. "This is a very time-intensive process," Archer wrote in an email. It took about four hours in the Gardens. "When mapping the trails, you have to collect data for multiple points along the trail to account for the curvature."

Photo by Audrey Archer
Their work extends far beyond Duke Gardens. "Back in the computer lab, we uploaded the data onto ArcPad (GIS software)," Archer wrote. "We were given aerial footage of the Gardens and input our data on top of the image. ... GPS units are not perfect, especially in places where the satellite signal can't reach our unit, which happens a lot in the Gardens because of tree canopy cover. So, you can see from our map that there is some error in our data."

The project was an integral part of the students' efforts to master GIS software, a critical skill much in demand in the environment and conservation fields when they graduate. Using Duke Gardens as their practice site gave the students an opportunity to both thoroughly explore Duke Gardens and use them as an educational resource.

"This was an awesome opportunity to explore the Gardens," Archer says. "There aren't too many classes that you can take a walk in the Gardens while simultaneously working on an assignment. An added bonus: a large portion of this class is learning how to ID trees. As you know, a lot of vegetation is labeled in the gardens, so our data collection proved to also be a great study opportunity! Talk about multi-tasking!"

Photo by Emma Vaughan
Duke Gardens staff are in the midst of their own mapping projects. In fact, staff provided the Forest Measurements students the aerial photograph they used to check their work.

"We got a base map in place using an aerial photograph," says Beth Hall, Paul J. Kramer plant collections manager. "We went through and basically drew on where paths were in the aerial photograph, and then our summer interns went through and added all the benches." Additionally, each bench on the map has a corresponding photograph for easy identification. 

Duke Gardens has mapped the paths, benches, and irrigation heads throughout the Gardens, and it has begun the long process of mapping all the plants.

"The aerial photograph is so accurate that we'll be using it to map individual trees and shrubs," Hall adds, "You can see perennials on the ground."

As these mapping projects continue, Duke Gardens will be host to a wealth of information that can be used for classes, visitors, and efforts to refine and improve management plans. Though I do not yet know how to use GIS or other mapping software, I am incredibly excited because these projects really offer more ways to get to know our Gardens.

Blogger Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Spotlight: Weeping Rostrinucula

By Erika Zambello

I have never seen a plant quite like the weeping rostrinucula (Rostrinucula dependens). Beth Hall, the Paul J. Kramer plant collections manager here at Duke Gardens, was giving me an afternoon tour of the October blossoms throughout the Gardens when I saw it for the first time. She had pointed out orange-flowered tea olives, Jerusalem artichokes, chrysanthemums, American beautyberries and so many more, but it was the weeping rostrinucula that immediately caught my eye for one simple reason. Their flowers look like fingers.

According to Hall, I'm not alone in my fascination. "One of the plants that catches attention in the Gardens this time of year is Rostrinucula dependens," Halls tells me, as it is "an unusual shrub with lavender-pink flowers that hang pendulously below the leaves."

I know when I describe the flowers as "fingers," a beautiful image does not come to mind. Yet, the weeping rostrinucula is beautiful. Its bright purple color in combination with the flowers' unique shape sets the blossoms apart from others in the Gardens. As I watched, a dozen bees buzzed happily around the plant, climbing up and down the flowers as they gathered nectar and pollen. A pretty brilliant arrangement, if you ask me.

"The flowers open down the flower spike over the course of two months, providing a long-lasting display well into October," Hall says. "A native of southeastern China, this is a rare find and well worth seeing when it's in bloom."

I'll second that. Luckily for us visitors, the weeping rostrinucula is easy to see. It is blooming both along the Walker Dillard Kirby Perennial Allée and in the Doris Duke Center Gardens. Come check it out!

Blogger Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment