The warmest year on record ends–will 2024 be hotter?

This year is almost certain to be the warmest on record for the earth as a whole, although there are still a few days in December that could slightly affect the final numbers. As we close out 2023 I want to spend a few minutes reviewing the weather and climate of the past year, both the average conditions and some of the extremes we saw. While this is skewed towards the United States, I did include some events happening in other parts of the world for our non-US readers. I will also take a peek at what is likely to happen in 2024.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Commons Wikimedia.

What were the average climate conditions in 2023?

Since the year is not quite over I can’t provide a final average for temperature or precipitation for the complete 365 days, but there are some websites that allow me to look at all but the last few days. The images below are from the High Plains Regional Climate Center for January 1 through December 27. They show the temperature departure from normal and the percent of normal precipitation for the continental United States. (You can see the global temperature statistics for January through November 2023 at the National Centers for Environmental Information.) In most parts of the U.S. the temperature was warmer than the 1991-2020 normal; the exception was the western mountains, where temperatures were colder than normal. Keep in mind that the normal period being used for comparison (1991-2020) was a period that was quite a bit warmer than the long-term temperature average in the United States, so this map underestimates how warm this year was compared to most of the 20th century.

Precipitation was more variable than temperature, as it usually is. The driest areas this year were in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico states, particularly Louisiana and Texas, and in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s not surprising that these were also areas with significant droughts, including a lot of the Corn Belt which also saw very dry conditions during the growing season. By comparison, California and New England experienced multiple storms bringing significant rain to those areas, including Tropical Storm Hilary (the first tropical storm to hit California in 84 years) in mid-August. In the Southeast, Hurricane Idalia did almost $5 billion in damage in late August from heavy wind and rain, half of that in Georgia alone. But that did not stop a flash drought from developing there in fall with the almost complete cessation of rainfall for up to 60 days.

What extremes did we see in 2023?

The averages show the overall conditions that occurred this year but don’t begin to capture the extremes in temperature and precipitation that occurred. In the United States alone there have been 25 billion-dollar weather disasters so far this year, including the tropical systems mentioned before along with numerous rounds of severe weather across the country and the devastating firestorm in Maui in August. In other parts of the world, many regions experienced their warmest September-November period since records began in 1880. Significant heat waves occurred in Texas and Mexico as well as Europe, Chile, and Canada, where widespread forest fires that flared up blanketed Canada and many parts of the eastern United States with poor air quality and low visibility in the summer.

Percentage of continental US covered by drought status, ranging from abnormally dry (D0) to exceptional drought (D4) from 2019 to 2023. Source: US National Drought Monitor.

Floods and droughts occurred around the world this year. The Mississippi River dropped to record-low water levels for the second year in a row due to the drought in the Midwest. On the other extreme, notable flood events occurred around the world, include floods in Ghana, the Horn of Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Chile. Storm Daniel brought unprecedented rain to Libya, breaking dams and causing tremendous damage in September. Nine separate atmospheric river events caused tremendous flooding in California early in the year, significantly reducing drought conditions there and contributing to the reduction in drought area in the United States in the first half of 2023.

While El Niño usually means that the Atlantic tropical season is quiet, this year was unusually active with 20 tropical storms and hurricanes. This is in spite of the presence of a jet stream aloft due to El Niño that usually keeps storms from developing. Most of those storms stayed out to sea, so impacts on the United States were limited (except for Idalia and Hilary out west). In other countries, Hurricane Otis hit western Mexico near Acapulco in October, bringing catastrophic damage to an area that almost never gets hits by tropical storms. Cyclone Lola devastated the northern part of Vanuatu in late October as well.

Monthly global temperature compared with the average for the 20th century. Source: New York Times (link below).

The global temperature will set a new record for warmth in 2023

The New York Times provided a sobering look at monthly temperatures for each month going back to 1850 (above). It shows that 2023 had several months that were the warmest on record for those months, due to the expansive area of warm ocean water associated with El Niño in the Eastern Pacific Ocean along with record-setting sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic that contributed to a very active tropical season in spite of being an El Niño year. The impacts of this warmth are being seen in dropping sea ice coverage, more and stronger heat waves, and increases in wildfires in forested areas. Some people argue that the warming trend appears to be accelerating in recent years, a concern that urges us to consider how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow down the increasing temperature trend.

What do we know about 2024 so far?

The current El Niño is expected to continue through the next few months before it weakens and turns back to neutral conditions around the April-June period. A La Niña could occur later in 2024, which means that next year’s winter could be warm and dry in southern parts of the Northern Hemisphere and colder and wetter along the northern border of the US and up into Canada. Pending on how long the El Niño lasts, the warm ocean temperatures could contribute to another record-setting warm year in 2024 although it’s too early to be sure. It also depends on shorter-term weather events like more frequent occurrence of cold weather due to a shift in the weather pattern in January to more variable conditions later this winter, as many forecasting models think is likely. Meanwhile, neutral conditions or La Niña conditions later in the year could mean that Atlantic tropical activity increases to an even more active level than last year.

Witchhazel in winter, Si Griffiths, Commons Wikimedia.

Thank you, gardeners, for another great year!

Most of the United States as well as the rest of the world experienced a warmer climate again in 2023, so gardeners will continue to need to choose plants that are appropriate for their warming climate zones. Extreme conditions, including devastation by individual storms as well as natural climate variability, will continue to affect home gardens through water stress caused by drought and extreme heat as well as damage caused by floods, high winds, and freezing temperatures. Building a resilient garden that can withstand these extremes will allow your garden to thrive through whatever conditions the atmosphere throws at it.

I want to end this year by thanking you all again for your loyal readership and your thoughtful questions and comments on many topics. I encourage you to share your 2023 garden challenges (weather or otherwise) in the comments along with your plans for how you plan to address them in 2024 and beyond. I look forward to reading them! We will see you again in the New Year.

Some lists of top weather and climate events for 2023 (mostly videos):

Weather Nation: Looking Back at the Top 10 Weather Events of 2023

Pattrn: 2023: Year of Extremes

NBC News: The biggest climate stories of 2023

Climate.gov: Climate Highlights of 2023

Atmos Earth: Your 2023 Climate Wins, Wrapped

Edit this at Structured Data on Commons
Frost in tree shadows, Oswald Bertram , Commons Wikimedia

Plant Disease Primer Part 5: Malicious Misfits

Over the last several months, I’ve covered plant disease basics and discussed plant diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, and viruses. In this fifth and final installment, I’m going to talk about diseases caused by anything but those three different agents. There are a few diseases caused by pathogens that fall outside of those well-known classifications. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a good start to show you just what is out there. Where applicable, I’ll be discussing signs and symptoms of the disease, potential control or prevention efforts, and dive a little deeper into describing the actual causal agent. 

First and foremost, some of the diseases I’m sharing might have already been covered in one of my previous installments. The reason for this is that for simplicity’s sake we often lump diseases caused by these “different” pathogens in with a causal agent that they’re similar or related to or evolved from.  It makes describing these things simpler to the general public. But in this chapter, it is my hope to describe and explore just how these things are different as a lesson in how marvelous, interesting, and varied the world is around us.

Phantom Phytoplasmas

Phytoplasmas are single-celled organisms often lumped in with bacteria, seeing as they are actually descended from bacteria. However, phytoplasmas have lost the cell wall that gives bacteria their shape. Phytoplasmas can therefore change shape in response to their environment and to fit in their surroundings better than bacteria which retain shapes like spherical (cocci), rod (bacilli), and spiral (spirilla).

Since they don’t have the protection of a cell wall, phytoplasmas cannot live outside of a host organism and are considered obligate symbiotes. In the case of a plant parasite, it is either the phloem cells of a plant or the gut of an insect vector. Bacteria, on the other hand, are free-living and can exist in the environment and can move between hosts without the aid of a vector insect.

The best known phytoplasma plant diseases are the yellows, with Aster Yellows being the best known. Yellows diseases get their names because plants or plant parts often turn yellow. They become stunted and can develop mis-formed or misshapen parts. Witches brooming, where many twigs, branches, or flowers develop from one point (which can look like a broom) is common. In aster yellows, misshapen and discolored flowers are common. It affects over 300 species, but coneflower, asters, zinnia, and marigolds are common sufferers. In Ash Yellows, ash trees develop unusual leaf growths and witches’ brooms throughout the tree.

Unusual floral growth as a result of aster yellows Source: Douglas/Sarpy Extension – Nebraska

Phytoplasmas require an insect vector, and in the case of yellows, like Aster Yellows, the culprit is a tiny leaf hopper. For Ash Yellows, spittlebugs may also be carriers in addition to leaf hoppers. Since there isn’t a treatment, infection by yellows phytoplasmas can be permanently effective or fatal. The stunting and yellowing will eventually cause a decline in tree health. For herbaceous perennials suffering from Aster Yellows there is no way to revert back to normal blooms. The only way to reduce the likelihood of spread to other plants is removal of whole plants and it can often be too-little-too-late as leafhoppers spread quickly from plant to plant and infection in other plants often occurs prior to noticeable symptoms in nearby origin plants.

Ash tree exhibiting overall decline and witches brooming from Ash Yellows. Source: Missouri Botanical Garden

Vicious Viroids

In part 4 of this series, we discussed plant viruses and how devastating they are to plants. Viroids are also very destructive disease-causing agents and, like viruses, cannot be cured. Viroids are non-living agents, just like viruses, and are even simpler. Where viruses are genetic material (DNA or RNA) surrounded by a protein coat, viroids are just simple strands of pathogenic RNA without a coat. These circular, single-stranded RNA molecules do not encode any proteins and rely on the host cells for replication.

Viroid symptoms include stunting, misshapen growth, leaf abnormalities, and reduced yield. It is possible for some plants to be asymptomatic while being infected and providing a source of viroids to infect other nearby plants.

Viroids can spread to plants in similar ways to viruses, through transmission on dirty tools, propagation from infected plant materials, on seeds, through touch. There is some evidence that viroids can spread through insect vectors like aphids, which is not common for viral diseases. Prevention relies on good sanitation like cleaning tools, planting disease-free and certified cuttings and seeds, and quarantine of new plants that could be infected.

Common viroid diseases include:

Potato Spindle Tuber Disease (PSTVd)

Common Symptoms: stunted growth, deformed potato tubers, yield reduction

Deformed potato tubers with PSTVd. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Chrysanthemum Stunt Viroid (CSVd)

Common Symptoms: stunting, spotted leaves, poor rooting, flower color change, disruption of photoperiod response for flower initiation. It is one of the biggest threats to the chrysanthemum production industry.

Effects of CSVd on florist chrysanthemum. Source: invasive.org

Oafish Oomycetes

While many still lump oomycetes in with fungi, many scientists consider them to be a distinct group because they have a number of differences. One common name for this group is “water mold” because of their preference for wet environments and their mold-like appearance. While they do absorb nutrients and produce mycelia like fungi, there are differences in their composition, genetics, and reproduction. The biggest difference is the production of oospores, which are thick-walled reproductive spores that can rest, or hibernate, for extended periods of time in unfavorable conditions and “germinate” when conditions are favorable for the organism to grow and reproduce. Another difference is the composition of its cell walls. Fungi cell walls are composed of chitin, which is the same chemical that gives hardness to the exoskeleton of insects. Oomycete cell walls are composed of cellulose and beta glucans (polysaccharides that make soluble fibers).

While late blight of potatoes Phytophthora infestans is often called a fungus (and I discussed it in the fungus installment), it is technically an oomycete. The same with downy mildews of various species (Plasmopara) and blights caused by Pythium spp.. One of the more devastating oomycete diseases is Sudden Oak Death Phytophthora ramorum, which as it sounds, is responsible for the sudden death of plants. But many are now calling it Ramorum blight because it effects way more plants than just oak (Rhododendron, Viburnum, Camellia, Azalea, blueberries, Douglas fir, lilacs, and mountain laurel to name a few). Early symptoms of Sudden Oak Death include foliage dieback, leaf discoloration and water-soaked lesions, shoot and twig dieback. As the disease progresses, trees develop cankers that ooze or bleed dark colored sap and eventually decline and die. There is no treatment or cure for sudden oak death and prevention relies on good sanitation and abiding by quarantine regulations.

Oozing oak canker from Ramorum Blight/Sudden Oak Death. Source: Ohio State University Extension
Water soaked lesion on Rhododendron caused by Ramorum Blight. Source: UMD Extension

Wrapping it up

Just like diseases caused by the familiar fungi, bacteria, and viruses, these plant diseases can be devastating and difficult to prevent or manage. As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (which is really true when there isn’t a cure). The best way to deal with these diseases, as with any disease, it to practice integrated pest management with good sanitation, procuring plants from trusted sources, and being vigilant for signs of disease so that infected plants can be removed quickly to reduce the chance of spread.

Knowing some of the common diseases and their signs and symptoms is key in early detection and decision making. Hopefully, some of the info I’ve shared in this series can help you keep an eye out for diseases. As always, when in doubt contact your local extension office for help with diagnosis, verification, and to discuss possible treatment or prevention options.

Sources

Underrated Beneficial Arthropods Part 1: Pollinators

The world of beneficial arthropods (insects and their relatives) far exceeds some of the common critters that we often associate with this category. Many of them perform vital functions in our own yards, gardens, and ecosystems all over the world. A very small sliver of all arthropods are considered pests of any kind though there are certainly some pretty devastating pests in this category. Most of these other organisms are either providing benefits or maintaining important ecosystem functions. They are often overlooked, as some of the more charismatic ones (like butterflies, bees, mantids, and lady beetles) take most of the spotlight. These other not-so-glamorous beneficial arthropods are just as important as the more famous ones, and often perform many tasks that go unseen and underappreciated.

I wanted to talk about each group of common beneficial arthropods (Pollinators, Natural Enemies, and Nutrient Cyclers), but as I was writing, I admittedly got a bit carried away. So in order to prevent this blog post from being extremely long, I decided to split this into 2 (or maybe 3) parts. Stay tuned for the next installments in my spring GP blog post. In the meantime let’s dig into some under-appreciated pollinators.

Underrated Pollinators

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle ( Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) feeding on pollen. Photo: Abiya Saeed

Ah yes, pollinators! Many people consider this their favorite category of beneficials (because very few things are as striking or charismatic as a bee or butterfly sipping nectar from a flower). This is also one of the first groups that come to mind when people think about beneficials in general. The classic image of a monarch butterfly or a honey bee on a flower is often associated as the representative image of this group. That being said, honey bees are just one example of the over 20,000 bee species that are found worldwide. But this group far exceeds butterflies and bees- and some of the less charismatic critters often get an unfair reputation, or just a lack of awareness about what they do. For a variety of reasons, including their anatomy, efficiency, abundance, and direct economic impact, bees are considered the most important pollinators. But many other animals are also great pollinators, some of which are the sole pollinators of certain plant species. In fact most arthropods that visit flowers have the potential to move pollen around making them possible pollinators. But since I don’t have time to write a whole book’s worth of information into this blog post, I will focus on a few of the larger groups of these less famous pollinators. If you are interested in doing a deeper dive into the world of beneficial arthropods, I will include some resources at the end.

Flies

Flies (order: Diptera) are a huge group of insects, with over 110,000 described species in 150 different families. This group spans a wide variety of very well-known groups like house flies [Muscoidea] and mosquitoes [Culicidae], to not so well-known groups like stalk-eyed flies [Diopsidae] and long-legged flies [Dolichopodidae]. They encompass nearly all biomes and have a broad range of functional groups including predators, parasites, decomposers, and pollinators. In fact, some studies consider flies to be the second most important flower visitors after bees.

Green Bottle Fly (Lucilia sp.) on a Prickly Pear (Opuntia sp.) Photo: Abiya Saeed

According to a literature review by Cook et al. (2020): flies from 86 different families have been reported to visit over 1100 plant species. These flower-visiting fly species also include some that have important potential for crop pollination and have been recorded to visit many horticultural crops. This includes commonly known pollinating flies, e.g., bee flies [Bombyliidae], hoverflies [Syrphidae], and flower flies [Anthomyiidae]. But some flies we don’t usually associate with this role such as blow flies [Calliphoridae], flesh flies [Sarcophagidae], and horse flies [Tabanidae], and some that many may never have heard of such as nose flies [Rhiniidae] and march flies [Bibionidae], are included. Some species are even considered to have potential as managed pollinators, a role that we most commonly associate with honey bees and some other bee species.

Fun fact: only female mosquitoes need a blood meal in order to reproduce, whereas male mosquitoes feed on nectar, making mosquitoes pollinators! In fact, mosquitoes have been studied as pollinators of orchids, like the Blunt-leaf Orchid, Platanthera obtusata, among other plants.

Moths

We all know butterflies and moths (order: Lepidoptera) are well-documented flower visitors and important pollinators. Despite this, butterflies often get most of the limelight and attention from the general public while many moths often end up being overlooked. Even though moths make up nearly 90% of the over 160,000 described Lepidoptera species, there is a disproportionate amount of research that has historically been conducted on them when compared with butterflies. It has also been demonstrated that moths are the most important nocturnal pollinators, which is fairly intuitive when you think about their nocturnal foraging biology. A study conducted in Sussex by Anderson et al. (2023) demonstrated that moths had higher pollen deposition rates on bramble species indicating that they are more efficient pollinators of brambles than their diurnal counterparts. This has implications for the importance of moths in other plant groups as well, as new research continues to be conducted.

Clearwing Moth (Hemaris sp.) Photo: Steven Katovich, Bugwood.org

Fun fact: My favorite story to tell about plant-pollinator interactions is of the Darwin’s Star Orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale). Charles Darwin was sent a sample of this striking orchid from Madagascar in 1862. Upon examination he found that the nectar tubes were 30 cm (~12 inches) deep! Based on this, Darwin hypothesized that it would take something that has a really long tongue to be able to access that nectar but nobody believed there could be such an insect and he was ridiculed by other scientists. In 1867 Alfred Russel Wallace examined the orchid and predicted there must be a moth in Madagascar that can reach this nectar in order to pollinate the plant. But no moth had ever been discovered which had a proboscis (a coiled and elongated mouthpart of butterflies and moths that is used to suck up nectar) that long. It wasn’t until decades later in 1903 a moth meeting these specifications was discovered. Aptly named in honor of the scientist who predicted its existence, Wallace’s sphinx moth (Xanthopan praedicta) also known as the ‘predicted moth’ has the longest proboscis (sometimes referred to as a tongue, though it is not quite a tongue) of any insect. This just demonstrates just how amazing plant and insect interactions and coevolutionary relationships truly are!

The Star Orchid alongside the ‘Predicted Moth’! Photographed by Robert Clark for Evolution

Wasps

Wasps are in the order Hymenoptera, shared with bees and ants. They often have a bad reputation due to a few particularly aggressive social wasp species that most of us have likely had an unfortunate interaction with. That being said, the wasp group is extremely large, diverse, and species-rich. With over 103,000 described species in the category (and scientist estimates stating that the actual number could be in the millions), wasps span a lot of crucial categories of beneficials including parasitoids, predators, and pollinators.

Many wasp species resemble bees and it can be easy to confuse them for each other when they are visiting flowers. The major differences between the two are the thread-like waist that wasps have, and their less-hairy sometimes shiny, overall appearance. In addition most wasp species are primarily carnivorous, feeding on insects and other sources of meat for their protein needs, making them a great resource for deterring common garden pests (stay tuned for more on that in the next part of the Underrated Beneficials series). Even though most of these wasps are carnivorous, they supplement their diet with sugars which they often get from nectar or honeydew produced by sap-sucking insects, e.g., aphids, and occasionally fruit.

White-Striped Black Mason Wasps ( Pseudodynerus quadisectus ) mating on a Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) Photo: Abiya Saeed

There are also some species of vegetarian wasps. A common example of these are the 300 species of pollen wasps (Masarinae) which, like bees, are nectar and pollen feeders (and many of which are important pollinators of certain plant species, such as the Water Leaf, Hydrophyllaceae).  Due to the fact that they have fewer hairs wasps aren’t as efficient at pollination as bees however, they can still be very important pollinators. Like bees some wasps are generalist pollinators, visiting a wide-array of flowering plants, while others are specialists where a group of wasps relies on a group of flowering plants and vice versa. In these cases the pollination of plants are reliant on these wasps.

Studies have shown that some generalist wasp species are better than some generalist bees at pollinating specific flowers. A 2018 study by Thomson examining the pollinators of the California Bee Plant (Scrophularia californica) showed that the western yellowjacket (Vespula pensylvanica) was a more effective pollinator in terms of pollen deposition when compared with honey bees and bumble bees. Some species of African pineapple lilies (Eucomis autumnalis and Eucomis comosa) and African milkweed (Pachycarpus grandifloras) are primarily pollinated by spider-hunting wasps (Pompilidae) in the genus Hemipepsis. Additionally over 100 species of orchids are reliant on wasps for pollination some of which use sexual mimicry to attract male wasps to flowers! And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention fig wasps (family: Agaonidae), who have been coevolving with their host plant for tens of millions of years. The fig (Ficus sp.) ‘fruit’ is actually an inflorescence (an enlarged stem with lots of little flowers inside). In order to pollinate those flowers the female fig wasp squeezes into a small opening and moves around, laying her eggs in the ovaries of these flowers thereby spreading pollen from the fig that she was born in. The male offspring will remain in the fig while the new batch of females will emerg, and look for a new fig in which to lay their eggs (see resources for more on this fascinating mutualism).

For more information on wasps as pollinators, check out the awesome article by Hooks and Espíndola, linked in the resources!

Fun fact: Sexual mimicry is used by some flowers to attract their pollinators. In these situations, the flowers use a combination of visual and chemical cues including mimicking the scent of specific female wasps and bees to attract males. An example of this can be seen in the wasp family Thynnidae, where male winged-wasps are searching for wingless females to mate with. When they stumble across the warty hammer orchid (Drakaea livida) they confuse it with a female thynnid wasp, because of the similar shape and scent, and try to mate with it. This process results in the pollen being deposited on the abdomen of the male wasp. As he goes to the next orchid in order to mate the pollen is deposited on the new flower, resulting in pollination.

Beetles

Beetles (order: Coleoptera) are considered to be the largest insect order with over 350,000 described species, which makes up 25% of all known animal species on Earth! Like some of the previously mentioned orders, they include a large diversity of functional groups, including pollinators. Due to the incredible size of this order, they are considered to be the largest and most diverse group of pollinators with an estimated 77,000 flower-visiting species. In fact, based on pollen-covered specimens preserved in amber from 100 million years ago which is 30 million years earlier than the first records of bee pollinators, beetles are considered to be the first recorded insect pollinators! Even now they are considered to be vital pollinators of some of the most primitive flowering plant groups that still exist today such as Magnolias.

Flower Longhorn Beetle (Analeptura lineola) on a Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora). Photo: Ansel Oommen, Bugwood.org

Although some beetles are specialists of certain plant groups ,especially those that are descendants of some of the earliest flowering plant groups including water lilies and magnolias, most are generalist pollinators and will visit a wide array of flowering plants. Some scientists even estimate that flower-visiting beetle species will visit 90% of all 350,000 flowering plant species. Beetle pollination is also essential for certain agricultural crops including Paw Paw (Asimina sp.) and the Atemoya (Annona x Atemoya).

For more information on the fascinating world of beetle pollination, check out the awesome article by Hooks and Espíndola, linked in the resources!

Fun fact: The process of cross-pollination that depends on beetles is referred to as ‘cantharophily’.

Resources

Cook et al. (2020). The Role of Flies as Pollinators of Horticultural Crops: An Australian Case Study with Worldwide Relevance. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7349676/

Anderson et al. (2023). Marvellous moths! Pollen deposition rate of bramble (Rubus futicosus L. agg.) is greater at night than day. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0281810

Hooks and Espíndola. (2017). Wasps, surprisingly cool pollinators. https://blog.umd.edu/agronomynews/2020/08/31/wasps-surprisingly-cool-pollinators/

The story of the fig and its wasp. https://www.esa.org/esablog/2011/05/20/the-story-of-the-fig-and-its-wasp/

Hooks and Espíndola. (2017). Beetles and Pollination.
https://blog.umd.edu/agronomynews/2020/06/29/beetles-and-pollination/

People and Plants

In this late fall edition of People and Plants we’ll take a look at an early American female botanist, Martha Daniell Logan.

Martha Logan’s signature. Courtesy of The South Carolina Historical Society.


She was born in 1704 in St. Thomas Parish, South Carolina, the second child of Robert Daniell and his second wife Martha Wainwright. After her father died in 1718 she inherited his land along the Wando River. In 1719, Martha married George Logan, Jr. and they lived on the Wando River, ten miles from Charleston, where both the Daniell and the Logan families owned extensive property.  Over the next sixteen years, she gave birth to eight children, six surviving to adulthood.  In 1750 the family moved to a plantation near Charleston. Needing to enhance the family income she advertised her services as a teacher but her attention gradually shifted to horticulture. She began her botanical career collecting in the woods near her home.

The title page of the 1757 South Carolina Almanack which contained Martha Logan’s “Gardener’s Kalendar.” Image courtesy of the South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, S.C.

Martha soon gained the reputation of a skilled gardener and maintained a well-known garden “on the Green, near Trott’s Point in Charles Town.” Gardening became her focus and occupation and she embarked on a career as a “purveyor of botanical goods,” selling seeds and plants from her home. 
In addition to native plants, she dealt in imported specimens. Gardening, especially landscaping with rare plants, had become a favored pastime among wealthy locals and Martha was quick to capitalize on this. An advertisement published in the Gazette on November 12, 1753, announced the availability of “a parcel of very good seeds, flower roots, and fruit stones of several kinds” that were “just imported from London.”

Page of the 1757 South Carolina Almanack print of Martha Logan’s “Gardener’s Kalendar.” Image courtesy of the South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, S.C.

She exchanged seeds, roots, and plants, like gardeners do, with other botanical enthusiasts including the naturalist John Bartram. His visit in 1760 initiated a three year correspondence and trade of specimens. They swapped lists of available plants and used silk bags to send seeds to each other. They also exchanged lists of plants that each desired from the other’s geographical area. Logan enthusiastically sent Bartram plants from Carolina which “may be New to you” and “be an adision [addition] to yr Collection.” In return, she asked him to send bulbs and double-flowering plants that her London contacts had failed to procure or took too long to send. She shipped and received tubs of cuttings and roots on ships traveling between Charleston and Philadelphia, where Bartram lived. Bartram praised her in a letter to a London friend and wrote, “Mrs. Logan’s garden is her delight and she has a fine one.”

Page of the 1757 South Carolina Almanack print of Martha Logan’s “Gardener’s Kalendar.. Image courtesy of the South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, S.C.

With the popularity of urban gardening on the rise Martha realized that many people needed help and guidance with their horticultural endeavors. In 1752 her first advice column titled “Gardners Kalander [sic], done by a Lady of this Province, and esteemed a very good one.” appeared in the South Carolina Almanack. Her first publication was so successful she continued to publish her calendar, updating and enlarging it each year.

Page of the 1757 South Carolina Almanack print of Martha Logan’s “Gardener’s Kalendar.” Image courtesy of the South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, S.C.

Martha continued her business, what we nowadays would call a garden center, for the rest of her life. She even wrote a treatise on gardening at the age of seventy. In 1809 the early Charleston historian David Ramsay described her as “a great florist, and uncommonly fond of a garden,” and claimed she “reduced the knowledge she had acquired by long experience, and observation, to a regular system which . . . to this day regulates the practice of gardens in and around Charleston.”

Page of the 1757 South Carolina Almanack print of Martha Logan’s “Gardener’s Kalendar.” Image courtesy of the South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, S.C.

Martha died in Charleston on June 28, 1779, and was buried in St. Philip’s Churchyard. She is considered one of the founding gardeners of South Carolina.


Read back through the pages of her 1757 Gardener’s Kalendar shared above. In your opinion, how much of it is still applicable? One bit of her advice that is always appreciated: “What was neglected last month may be successfully done in this.”