Friday, November 13, 2009

Oasis in the city...the National Arboretum

Recently needing a long walk to relax and unwind, and panicking that it's November ('cause the fall color will only be around a bit longer), I decided to go to the National Arboretum for the first time in a while, because I knew it would be peaceful as well as beautiful.

plants near entrance of National Arboretum Of course, I had to fortify myself a bit before my trek, so I got a candy bar, a sip of water, etc., soon after arriving there, and was gratified that there is some gesture of eco-responsiblity there, such as the two rainbarrels outside the shop.

However, my elation at that sight was short-lived, and my curiosity piqued, when soon after I spied the following display:

sign for Power Plants exhibitOh the folly! Because the arboretum is maintained by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, this exhibit showcases plants that are considered to have promise for use as biofuels, some to be turned into ethanol, and others into petroleum substitutes. Many of the plants are familiar, such as sunflower and soybean; however, I agree with George Monbiot that these can only be credible sources of fuel if recycled from chip fat (cooking grease).

Other plants might have good additional uses, but many are grown in other (esp. tropical) nations, although they seemed vigorous enough in Washington's mid-Atlantic clime:

castor plant leaf and signThe ugly, hairy, scary castor plant was seen entirely too often at various parts of the Arboretum (showed up in the herb garden, too). Ugh. Glad I'm not of the generation that was forced to drink castor oil as a child, as the plant is as unattractive as its oil is reputed to be nasty.

small poplar grove and sign

sugarcane plant and sign Didn't think sugarcane could even grow in a non-tropical climate. (And this past summer was relatively mild compared to most Washington summers, so I'm shocked that this sugarcane is thriving here in November.) But its use still should be confined to food, regardless of what Brazil is doing.

sorghum plant and sign Similar surprise with sorghum, a Southern sweetening staple of generations past. (Sorghum syrup, which can be found occasionally.) Again, this should remain a food, not be a fuel.

jatropha plant and sign The elusive jatropha, which was supposed to be salvation for farmers in India, and produces a high-quality oil that can be used as jet fuel, among other things. (Again, I'm very surprised to see it doing quite well in this non-tropical spot.) Let's hope its cultivation doesn't crowd out farmers trying to grow food, an unfortunate possibility, probability even.

Goodness, there were quite a few plants listed that the average person hasn't even heard of, such as...

cuphea plant sign Let's not forget the other unknowns: lesquerella, camelina, miscanthus. Time to find another hangout.

* * *

It's bonsai time!

entrance to bonsai collections
Because of renovation, not all of the plants are on public display. But a few of the beauties...

bonsai and silkscreen

holly bonsai

bonsai with crescent wall hanging

traditional bonsai * * *

One of my favorite parts of the arboretum is the herb garden, which is divided into various areas, such as Medicinal, Native American, Colonial, etc.

trellis near entrance to herb garden The view alone, just before entering the herb garden, says "ahhhhh."

One plant I was pleasantly surprised to see repeatedly here (at the entrance, again in the medicinal garden, culinary garden, etc.) is rosemary, which is growing higher than I had ever seen it...

rosemary bushes
Other of the many garden delights include Vietnamese coriander.

vietnamese coriander I rubbed the leaves, and they gave a strong cilantro-like fragrance. (Like the sign says, duh!)

creeping thyme

creeping thyme again Creeping thyme, another plant repeating itself. But I don't mind, in this case.

Last in the herb garden, but certainly not least, were the wide variety of chile peppers. A couple of the colorful denizens below...

jelly beans chile peppers

valentine chile peppersAnd these were only two of the many varieties of chile pepper there that are absolutely thriving. For some odd reason, before last year, I assumed that both sweet and hot peppers only grew during the hot months. Wrong. As you see, they grow during much of the fall, at long as they're in a decently sunny spot.

* * *

Of course, I couldn't leave before going to the magnificent Capitol columns. (Off in the distance a while earlier, a barbarian actually left his motorcycle on the side of the area, in the front of the columns. Yuck, in addition to the noise he and his friends kicked up for a short time. The nerve.)

Capitol columns and tree in distance

Capitol columns near hill in the distance

Capitol columns overlook

back view of the Capitol columnsIt's easy to forget you're tramping around almost 450 acres with all this beauty, that is, until later in the day, when your muscles send you a reminder.


Getting there by public transportation (to the R Street entrance) should be easier once all the blasted construction on Bladensburg Road and H Streets is finally done, when the light rail line is completed. This would also make it easier to do the proper thing after leaving the arboretum, that is, to go get a drink on H Street.

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