- Author: Betsy Buxton
Do you like mysteries? You know, those who-done-it books and stories; or do you prefer those mysteries which start with clues where you guess an item or thing from what you're given? I like mysteries a lot and read them all the time – BUT, the mysteries I like the best are the ones that start out: “I have a plant and the leaves look kind of like this, I think, and it's growing in my yard. What is it?” My first thought is that I've never seen this person before nor have I been to their yard! So, what I call “the Question Game” begins . . . .
Ok, now, are the leaves green or variegated (usually green/white or green/yellow); are those leaves short and fat, palmate (shaped like your hand with your fingers spread out), are they long and strappy (long and thinnish); are they heart-shaped? Are those leaves opposite each other on the stem OR are alternating (one leaf on 1 side of the stem, next leaf on the other side of the stem; are they in a whorl (on all sides of the stem where they encircle the stem). With those answers, we then start on the leaves being deciduous (they fall off the plant in the fall) or are they evergreen (they're on the plant year-round); do those leaves stay green in the winter or do they change color – to what color; is this plant growing in the sun or shade; is it growing well?
Just by eliminating plants by the shape of the leaves, we have narrowed down sheer number of plants to consider. Then we can ask about flowers! Do this mystery plant have noticeable flowers; does it not flower at all; what color/colors are the flowers and do they have an odor or fragrance; are the flowers on the plant single or are they multi; do they face up to the sky or hang toward the ground; when does this
plant bloom: most of the year, spring, summer, fall, or winter (yes, some plants bloom in the winter!).
If nothing comes to mind, then a cell phone camera can be a “tie-breaker here”; pictures can say so much more than words, believe me! If no picture is available, the next best thing (actually better) is a piece of the plant with stem, leaves, AND flower attached. With that, you can usually pin that “critter” down AND give that person information for the best growth of said plant. If not, then you have a real mystery to solve –lucky you!
Here is my latest mystery story and then I'll tell you have long it took me to find the answer.
My mail lady asked me about a plant in an older woman's front yard along with her route. The older woman didn't know what it was either but she sure liked it! It was small scrubby “bushy thing” with bright green leaves and the most beautiful bright yellow flowers at the top. Okay, using the “key”, I asked about the leaves, size, and shape. They were kinda big and bright green. The flowers were the shape of trumpets and were good sized. Nothing was coming to mind so I asked where this woman lived; couldn't give me the exact address do to postal regulations but told me which court and how to get there so I could go on a “field trip”! Went over there and found the little bush; rang the doorbell so the owner wouldn't think I was “casing the joint” – no one home! Drat!! Removed a leaf off the plant, picked up a spent flower and took a picture, and left, BUT not before noticing the Hibiscus nearby! Hmm, same basic thin leaf with jagged edges and twigginess, but the wrong flower style and shape. While zipping back home, I realized I knew that leaf and stem color from someplace, but from
where and when? At home, went through the Sunset Book, but didn't find any clues, so I did what I often did which is to enter my immediate info in the computer and see what pops up! Entering “green bush with bright yellow trumpet-style flowers”, I found 4 pages which met my criteria and, low and behold, there was a picture of a scrubby bush with yellow flowers named ‘Yellow Bells', ‘Yellow Trumpet Flower', or ‘Yellow Elder' and known botanically as Tecoma strans (Stenolobium stans! It was an all-time record for me of 8 minutes. Looking the plant up in the Sunset, I found out why the leaves looked so familiar; I had removed a trumpet vine (Tecoma capensis or Cape Honeysuckle) at work in Benicia! That job took a week to dig out and remove the growth from a pergola!
PS: found one of these plants at the recent Master Gardener sale at the UCD sale and bought it! The older lady is right, it is a beautiful plant!