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Notes from a Plant Nut

Lisa Van CleefLisa Van Cleef's life mission is to spark a passion for plants in people. Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, Lisa sows the seeds that inspire curiosity and a love for the plant world. A long-time SFBG Nursery volunteer, she wrote the Green Gardener column for the SFGate, has worked with the Conservatory of Flowers and The Nature Conservancy. Today, she supports the Society's marketing efforts.

Defy the Rains and Explore our South African Garden

Red-hot poker (Kniphofia 'Winter Cheer')
Red-hot poker (Kniphofia 'Winter Cheer')

Fan aloe  (Aloe plicatilis)
Fan aloe (Aloe plicatilis)

Silver tree (Leucadendron argentum)
Silver tree (Leucadendron argenteum)

King protea  (Protea cynaroides)
King protea (Protea cynaroides)

A rainy day is one of the best times to explore the Botanical Garden. If you've got kids, this can be the kind of adventure that creates lifelong memories. They love romping around in a storm and defying the common expectation of hunkering down indoors when the weather gets wild. Bundle up in your warmest rain gear, bring your umbrellas and get ready to see nature at its finest.

This time of year our South African plants are staggeringly beautiful. The exotic-looking protea are blooming, the silver trees are exceptionally stunning against our early spring skies, the calla lilies, aloes, heathers and red-hot pokers (Kniphofia) are exploding.

Exploring with Kids

This is a great garden to explore with kids. There are a huge variety of leaf shapes, colors and textures to discover. And the diversity of flower shapes and sizes are straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Many of these plants come from the Cape region of South Africa, which shares our Mediterranean climate. Having to survive the long summer droughts, these plants can attribute their good looks and fascinating forms to survival mechanisms for months without water. These are things kids can easily notice and understand.

By the way, yesterday was Dr Seuss' birthday! What better way to celebrate than exploring these unusual plants with your kids, looking for the most Seuss-like plants.

Hairs and Other Survival Mechanisms

The leaves of the silver tree are covered in silver silken hairs that reflect sunlight from the leaves preventing the loss of valuable moisture. Let your kids know that hairy leaves play a big role in the plant worldóhairs repel insects from eating leaves, hairs can capture rain, hairs on some leaves are perfectly lined up to shade the stomata opening minimizing water loss on sunny days. (Stomata is a little hole that water is released from as part of the photosynthesis process).

The aloes are succulents with plump leaves and stems that store water like a camel's hump. Inside the leaves are not unlike the moist flesh of a melon.

The heathers have tiny needle-shaped leaves, another adaptation for holding in wateróless surface area to dehydrate.

Sheer Beauty

For those of you who want to take advantage of your rainy day outing solo, the foliage and flowers of this garden are simply beautiful. The protea, which in most of North America can only grow in greenhouses, are wildly unusual flowers with a wide range of shape and some extraordinary colors.

Get out and see the South African collection now. It looks great and if you're lucky to see it on a rainy day, it's something you and the kids can brag about for years to come – venturing out into the rain when lesser souls cowered indoors missing nature's big show.


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