In the neighborhood, with an O

I wander the streets of Palo Alto, on foot or in a car, with my helpers Kim and Juan, and they ask about the flowers that line the streets, especially, at eye level, showy shrubs and low-growing flowers. Many of them are entirely familiar, like roses and geraniums, but some are exotic, at least to Kim and Juan. Lots of the exotics are now in bloom, including two with names that begin with the letter O, two that are growing right out my back door: Nerium oleander, oleander; and Oenothera speciosa, Mexican primrose or pink evening primrose. (Spelling note: oleander begins with O, pronounced /o/; oenothera begins with OE, pronounced /i/.)

Other showy exotics of the season. Now in bloom along the streets: bottle-brush plant (a shrub), Callistemon, posted about here; acanthus, posted about here; red valerian, posted about here. And just coming into bloom: agapanthus, posted about here.

Oenothera. From Wikipedia:


Oenothera speciosa is a species of evening primrose [evening primroses aren’t primroses, but (slightly) resemble them] known by several common names, including pinkladies, pink evening primrose, showy evening primrose, Mexican primrose, and amapola.

It is a herbaceous perennial wildflower native to 28 of the lower 48 U.S. states … as well as Chihuahua and Coahuila in Mexico. It frequently escapes from gardens. The specific name, speciosa, means “showy”.

The plant’s wild habitat includes rocky prairies, open woodlands, slopes, roadsides, meadows and disturbed areas. While it makes an attractive garden plant, care should be taken with it as it can become invasive, spreading by runners and seeds. This drought-resistant plant prefers loose, fast-draining soil and full sun.

… It produces single, four-petaled, cup-shaped flowers on the upper leaf axils. These fragrant shell-pink flowers bloom throughout the summer into early autumn.

Out my back door, on Forest St., they flourish as a sidewalk plant. Otherwise they’re used to fill in the centers of traffic circles. Very striking.

(Earlier posting here on 4/21/13, with a section on Oenothera but concentrating on sundrops (a yellow species).)

The spelling-pronunciation thing. The etymology of the first element in Oenothera is uncertain, but it’s from Greek. From Wikipedia:

Œ (minuscule: œ) is a Latin alphabet grapheme, a ligature of o and e. In mediaeval and early modern Latin, it was used to represent the Greek diphthong οι and in a few non-Greek words, usages that continue in English and French.

… Modern American English spelling usually substitutes e, so diarrhœa has become diarrhea, although there are some exceptions, such as phoenix. In modern British English, the spellings generally keep the o but remove the ligature (e.g. diarrhoea).

… traditionally pronounced as “short E” [or] as “long E” [ /i/ vs. /ɛ/; both available for the initial vowel in economics]

In Oenothera, it represents an /i/.

Oleander. From Wikipedia:

Nerium oleander is a shrub or small tree in the dogbane family Apocynaceae, toxic in all its parts. It is the only species currently classified in the genus Nerium. It is most commonly known as nerium or oleander, from its superficial resemblance to the unrelated olive Olea.

Oleander grows to 2–6 m (6.6–19.7 ft) tall, with erect stems that splay outward as they mature; first-year stems have a glaucous bloom, while mature stems have a grayish bark. … The flowers grow in clusters at the end of each branch; they are white, pink to red, … with a deeply 5-lobed fringed corolla round the central corolla tube. They are often, but not always, sweet-scented.

Nerium oleander is planted in many subtropical and tropical areas of the world. On the East Coast of the US, it grows as far north as Virginia Beach, Virginia, while in California and Texas miles of oleander shrubs are planted on median strips.

Also used to make living fences and other dense barriers, while providing gorgeous flowers. One example each in pink, red, and white, though there are many shades within these ranges:




(A 9/7/16 posting has a small section on oleander.)

Parking lot plants. The parking lot of my Ramona St. townhouse has a row of fancy hybrid tea roses (both pretty and fragrant) by the mailbox, plus a number of seriously tough plants that mostly need cutting back rather than nurture: wisteria vines, one well-clipped oleander shrub, and a lot of dwarf Photinia shrubs.

My 3/14/15 posting “Two more mornings” has a section on photinias, but here’s more detail. From Wikipedia:

Photinia … is a genus of about 40–60 species of small trees and large shrubs, but the taxonomy has recently varied greatly…

They are a part of the rose family (Rosaceae)… The botanical genus name derives from the Greek word photeinos for ‘shiny’ [related to phōs light’, as in phosphorus, stem phōt-, as in photograph, photon, etc.; Photinus is the name of a genus of fireflies], and refers to the often glossy leaves. Most species are evergreen… The small apple-shaped fruit has a size of 4 to 12 mm and forms in large quantities. They ripen [to bright red] in the fall and often remain hanging on the bush until well into the winter. The fruits are used as food by birds, which excrete the seeds with their droppings and thereby distribute the plant.

The natural range of these species is restricted to warm temperate Asia, from the Himalaya east to Japan and south to India and Thailand. They have, however, been widely cultivated throughout the world as ornamentals for their white flowers and red fruits

… Photinias are very popular ornamental shrubs, grown for their fruit and foliage. Numerous hybrids and cultivars are available; several of the cultivars are selected for their strikingly bright red young leaves in spring and summer. The most widely planted [include] Photinia × fraseri (P. glabra × P. serratifolia), Red Tip Photinia [there are dwarf varieties, like the Ramona parking plants]

A Red Tip Photinia, full size, showing red-tipped leaves, white buds (where the Ramona plants are right now), and white flowers, but not the red berries:


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