Two Stanford adventures

Last week, the California: The Art of Water exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center, a fascinating show in an assortment of media (painting, drawing, photography, maps, video), of a just-right size (enough stuff to be engaging, not so much it was overwhelming).

Yesterday, a visit to the Cactus Garden. The winter rains started a while back, turning the golden grasses of the dry season to bright new green and also sending cactuses into abandoned blooming. Some had already bloomed, some were in bloom right now, some were in bud, about to bloom.

California water. From the Stanford Museum site:

From July 13 to November 28, 2016, the Cantor Arts Center will present California: The Art of Water, a major new exhibition devoted to artistic portrayals of California’s most precious resource. Featuring more than 50 works made by eminent artists and photographers including Albert Bierstadt, David Hockney, William Keith, Richard Misrach and Carleton Watkins, California: The Art of Water explores objects made over the last two centuries that helped to shape ideas about water in California. It includes pictures of pristine waterways in the wilderness and depictions of the immense and growing system of waterworks that the state’s towns, cities and agriculture required — titanic dams and aqueducts that ran for hundreds of miles. The exhibition links visions of natural beauty and progress with depictions of places where patterns of water use created devastation.

Depictions of Owens Lake, now mostly dry, and the Salton Sea, now contracting, but also very saline and quite polluted. Photographs of the huge systems of pipelines and of canals. Paintings of the canals and roads in the Central Valley, treating them as forming abstract designs. And plenty of landscape painting, including many works depicting the water of Yosemite Valley.

Of course, there are several Bierstadts — really big, grand, and luminous. Two California Bierstadts:


Looking Down Yosemite Valley (1865)

(one of several Bierstadt did of this scene)


Sacramento River Valley (1872)

From Wikipedia:

Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902) was a German-born American painter best known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. To paint the scenes, Bierstadt joined several journeys of the Westward Expansion. Though not the first artist to record these sites, Bierstadt was the foremost painter of these scenes for the remainder of the 19th century.

Born in Germany, Bierstadt was brought to the United States at the age of one by his parents. He later returned to study painting for several years in Düsseldorf. He became part of the Hudson River School in New York, an informal group of like-minded painters who started painting along this scenic river. Their style was based on carefully detailed paintings with romantic, almost glowing lighting, sometimes called luminism. An important interpreter of the western landscape, Bierstadt, along with Thomas Moran, is also grouped with the Rocky Mountain School.

Two other 19th-century paintings from the show. A luminous William Marple (1827-1910), Mount Tamalpais from Napa Slough (1869):


And Thomas Hill (1829-1908), Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite Valley (1892):


Cactus in bloom. From Wikipedia:

The Arizona Cactus Garden, or, officially, Arizona Garden (30,000 square feet or 2,787 square meters), also known as the Cactus Garden, is a botanical garden specializing in cactus and succulents. It is located on the campus of Stanford University (within the Stanford University Arboretum, and near the Stanford Family Mausoleum and the Angel of Grief) …, and open to the public daily without charge.

The garden was first planted between 1880 and 1883 for Jane and Leland Stanford to a design by landscape architect Rudolph Ulrich. It was planned to be adjacent to their new residence, and part of the larger gardens for the Stanford estate. However, the home was never built. The garden was regularly maintained until the 1920s after which it fell into great disrepair.

Volunteer restoration work began in 1997 and is ongoing. Notwithstanding decades of neglect, some of the original plants remain. The garden now contains approximately 500 cacti and succulents in 58 beds

Quite a place. Annoyingly, there are no identifying markers, and though there are many websites devoted to the garden (with pictures), I haven’t found any that identify the plants in the photos.

First, a historical note: a 1912 postcard from the garden:


Lots and lots of cactuses and succulents in the picture, but the dominant plant is a prickly pear in bloom. (Prickly pear species have flowers in a number of colors; these are red.)

Earlier on this group, on 9/13/14 in “Linguistic diversity among the nopalries”, Opuntia pictures in #1 and #2. More information from Wikipedia:

Opuntia is a genus in the cactus family, Cactaceae.

The most common culinary species is the Indian fig opuntia (O. ficus-indica). Most culinary uses of the term “prickly pear” refer to this species. Prickly pears are also known as tuna ([the] fruit), sabra, nopal (paddle, plural nopales) from the Nahuatl word nōpalli for the pads, or nostle, from the Nahuatl word nōchtli for the fruit; or paddle cactus.

The genus is named for the Ancient Greek city of Opus, where, according to Theophrastus, an edible plant grew which could be propagated by rooting its leaves.

… Jams and jellies are produced from the fruit, which resemble strawberries and figs in color and flavor. Mexicans have used Opuntia for thousands of years to make an alcoholic drink called colonche.

… Mexican and other southwestern residents eat the young cactus pads (nopales, plural, nopal, singular), usually picked before the spines harden. They are sliced into strips, skinned or unskinned, and fried with eggs and jalapeños, served as a breakfast treat. They have a texture and flavor like string beans.

They can be boiled, used raw blended with fruit juice, cooked on a frying pan, and often used as a side dish to go with chicken or added to tacos along with chopped onion and cilantro.

The spines are evil.

Two shots from the Stanford garden in recent years:



Cactus gardens tend to be groves of rampant phallicity, but some of the plants are startlingly phallic. A case in point are some of the agaves (several of which I’ve posted briefly on here). Here we get things like this agave bud (in a scene from a garden in Baja California):


Agave shoots are fabulously phallic, right up to the tip, or dickhead. If you think that looks like an asparagus run amok, you’re exactly right. An account cobbled together from pieces of several Wikipedia entries:

Agaves are not cacti, but succulents (in the Asparagaceae, or asparagus family, and fairly closely related to the Yucca genus) with a large rosette of thick, fleshy leaves (in most species ending in a sharp terminal spine), native to the hot and arid regions of Mexico and the southwestern United States. Each rosette grows slowly over years to flower only once. During flowering, a tall (often 15-40 ft. tall) stem or “mast” (quiote in Mexico) grows from the center of the leaf rosette and bears a large number of short, tubular flowers. After development of fruit, the original plant dies, but suckers are frequently produced from the base of the stem, which become new plants.

We saw a number of these at Stanford. One, about 10 ft. tall, was close to blooming; its tip was dramatically penis-like, an asparagus spear for giants. Next to it was an now-dead plant about 20 ft. tall, with its dry brown flower stems and flowers spread like death sculpture in the sky. (Those stems are, as you might have guessed, seriously woody.)

7 Responses to “Two Stanford adventures”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Tangential linguistic note/query: You write of the winter rains sending cactuses into abandoned blooming. I would find blooming with abandon unremarkable, but I can’t recall ever having seen abandoned used in this way. But maybe I’ve just loved a sheltered life.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      abandoned ‘unrestrained, uninhibited’ — i.e., ‘with abandon’. But if you’re unaccustomed to the usage, maybe you can appreciate my use as a little linguistic flight of fancy.

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    On a lighter note: The photo and remarks on the very phallic agave remind me of a Charles Addams cartoon that appeared in The New Yorker many decades ago: A couple looking out in the gray dawn on their suburban front yard, where enormous (say, more than human-height) asparagus spears have apparently emerged overnight; he says, “I’ll call the botanical society, you go in and start making hollandaise.”

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Not in the New Yorker; I’ve just been through the complete cartoons, page by page. A Google search on “asparagus cartoon” didn’t find it, either. Much as I’d like to post this cartoon, I give up on the search.

      • Robert Coren Says:

        Well, that’s what my memory says, and I can’t think where else I would have seen it. But we all know how reliable memory is.

  3. Randy McDonald Says:

    Lovely photos, and nice subjects.

  4. [BLOG] Some Thursday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky reports on gardens and nature art from […]

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