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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.

The Natives Aren’t Through With Us Yet.

The Redwood Trail Beckons

Wild ginger, Asarum caudatum
Wild ginger, Asarum caudatum

Bleeding heart, Dicentra formosa
Bleeding heart, Dicentra formosa

Redwood sorrel, Oxalis oregana
Redwood sorrel, Oxalis oregana

Western coltsfoot, Petasites palmatum
Western coltsfoot, Petasites palmatum

Last month the native wildflower meadow was its peak showing off with yards and yards of blooming irises, checkerbloom, poppies, wild lilacs and more. This month it's the majestic redwood forest, a veritable fairyland with ferns unfurling, flowers blooming and pathways covered in a thick, soft loam that's collected for more than a century.

The hush that predominates as you enter the forest is profound. Even the most rambunctious of toddlers seems to notice there's something special beneath the mighty boughs of nature's tallest trees.

There's a stillness that inspires belief in the magic of nature to soothe what ails us urban dwellers. And if the light's right and the kids are in a playful mood, maybe believe in magic itself – I don't know that I'd be surprised to encounter some kind of fairy, gnome, hobbit or sprite hanging out in this beautiful forest.

Now Showing

May is a wonderful time to wander through the redwoods at the Botanical Garden – there's lots on display. The gorgeous fern fiddle heads are uncoiling, the dainty little coral bells swing in the breeze and the lovely redwood sorrel is flowering against its dark green leaves. The Western coltsfoot with its showy starburst of flowers are appearing and the pretty bleeding hearts get into the act adding just the right festive touch.

Get your kids looking for the exquisite brown flowers of the wild ginger. (It’s not related to ginger, but can be used as its substitute in cooking.) The flowers, which look like a distant relative of some of the cloud forest orchids at the Conservatory of Flowers, lie close to the ground attracting ants and other crawlers to pollinate them. Give your kids the telltale clue that the flowers emit a bit of a malodorous scent, though nothing like the big stinker, the skunk cabbage.

What Stinks?

Tis the season for the skunk cabbage with its big, long beautiful leaves (the better to absorb sunlight on the shady forest floor) to produce its calla-like flowers with their distinctive fly-attracting scent. It's a very handsome plant with an effective defense; Rare is the critter who wants to eat something that smells like that.

The Star of the Show

Finally, the spectacular redwoods are looking great, as always. They’re sporting new growth in a beautiful springtime green color and are bearing their small cones, the female cones on the lower branches, male cones higher up.

Be sure to check out our website before visiting the Redwood Grove. There's lots of information to make your trip fun and informative. If this all strikes you as too much distracting information, ignore it and just wander into our redwood forest this month and enjoy the primeval, magical beauty.


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