Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tillie of the Month: Tillandsia seleriana

Ah, the mysterious alien plant featured in the movie "Avatar", how I wanted to add thee to my collection! Normally, I don't go hankering after a particular species or cultivar, but after seeing Tillandsias featured in a major movie, I really wanted to find a T. seleriana. Finally, I found one at this spring's botany festival:
Tillie seleriana was named in 1903 after Alert Gardener Seler (no idea about the first name). It's a native of southern Mexico and likes to live at altitudes of about 200-2,000m. It's a 20cm silver Tillie with a massive bulb. You would think it is quite heavy but in fact it's as light as paper. Why?
The bulb chambers are hollow. It turns out that T. seleriana is a myrmecophyte. A whaaaa??? It's an Ant Plant!
Many Tillies are Ant Plants, including T. butzii, T. caput medusae, T. paucifolia, and T. bulbosa. I'll do a separate post on myrmecophytism once I figure out how to pronounce it.  Suffice to say that the plants like the ants because they help to keep them fed and watered, and in return, the Tillie gives the ants a way cool house. T. seleriana generally grows in oak forests or in dry, piney woods. Sometimes it needs a little help getting adequate water and minerals, and so the ants come to the rescue.

If you are growing a T. seleriana, give it some good light and a weekly soak. It doesn't really need mistings in between soaks, but a light mist is fine. The really important thing about T. seleriana, and all myrmecophytic Tillandsias, is that they drain upside down after a soak. Water cannot linger in those chambers or the plant will rot pronto. Some people like to grow them upside down in order to avoid this very problem, but you can simply drain the Tillie after watering by keeping it in an upside-down position for an hour or so. T. seleriana also needs good air circulation but does not demand high humidity. It is certainly an extravagantly weird Tillie!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Reiki Zinnias at Two Months

It's been two months since I first sowed the "Envy" Zinnias and began Round 2 of the Reiki Plant Experiment. Here is the final picture before they go out into the garden, and the final indoor stats:
Non-Reiki pot on L (white label), Reiki pot on R, MR, Sep2014
The Reiki pot is on the right, and non-Reiki pot on the left (with the white label). Here are the growth stats:
# of plants in pot:  Reiki 7, non-Reiki 4
Height in cm of tallest plant: Reiki 15cm, non-Reiki 13cm
Width of largest plant, leaf-tip to leaf-tip: Reiki 10cm, non-Reiki 10cm

So the Reiki pot did come out ahead in terms of numbers, health of plants, and height. The width of the plants remained the same. The Reiki pot certainly looks more robust, and that is encouraging. I'll be ready for Round 3 in October.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Leaf of Life

The Leaf of Life (Bryophyllum pinnatum, Crassulaceae) is native to Africa but is a popular medicinal plant in the Caribbean. I'm growing a bunch of them!
The tea made from the leaves is used for asthma and respiratory problems. Crushed leaves are bound to abscesses and swellings. What amazes me is how it propagates: from stem cuttings, no big deal, as above, but also, from leaves:
Toss a leaf to the ground, make sure it has a little sunshine and water, and plantlets grow from every notch in the leaf! In Hawai'i, this makes it an invasive species, but in other areas, it's a wonderful medicinal plant for your tropical garden.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Throw it in the dirt and watch it grow!

So what have I been throwing in the dirt outside lately? Well, first up is a Mallika mango---
Mallika mango in process, MR, Sep2014
I'd just enjoyed a delicious mango from a neighbor's garden. It's a fairly new variety here, a hybrid from  India. It was not at all fibrous and had lovely honey and melon flavors. Without thinking, I threw the pit in the trash. About an hour later, I had a thought, and pulled the now coffee-grounds covered pit out of the trash. Yuck. Washed it off. Threw it in some dirt, and 10 days later, I had my own baby mango. We are now officially tropical and Zone 10, but I'll grow it in a large container, in case of a tropical storm or sudden frost this winter. I'm kind of attached to the little guy at this point.

I also threw some extra red turmeric tubers (fresh, of course) into a pot. Fresh red turmeric is delicious, just raw and peeled. It's a powerful anti-inflammatory, too, so I eat some after strenuous workouts. A week later, I found these guys in the pot:
Red Turmeric, MR, Sep 2014
I also threw some extra purple potatoes in the ground outside and they are growing like crazy. What will I think to throw next? Don't throw it away, grow it! (I do have a gripe, though. Some large farms spray their potatoes with "No Sprout" (my name for it), which prevents you from growing some potatoes yourself. Hurrumph to them.)
What do you like to throw in the dirt??

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What's On My Desk?

Gotta love those big box nurseries. They like to keep us guessing about the mystery plants they sell. I found one this week with no label that looked so familiar, yet I couldn't quite identify it. Can you? It's sitting on my desk now.
The Oddly Compelling... Huernia
That "lifesaver" flower is pretty memorable. Alert Gardeners know this is a Huernia. No, not a Hernia Plant, a Huernia! A Huernia zebrina in fact. Huernia come from South Africa, Ethiopia, and the Republic of Zimbabwe. They are fairly forgiving plants that like life in many areas as long as they get bright indirect light, protection from the cold, and dryness between waterings. A well-draining cactus soil is perfect. Too much water or cold and it rots. Frost is deadly. It grows from seed or cuttings. I'll need to make a particularly spectacular pot for this one!
Miniature African Violets, feelin' pretty.
I admit to enjoying some flowers on my desk, and what says "Pretty!" more than miniature African violets? My favorite local nursery has had some in stock this summer--couldn't resist. They really make computer work more pleasant. I notice they don't last long at most nurseries because they are often watered to death, and allowed to sit in stagnant puddles until they collapse into mounds of smelly goo. They really don't need that much water! My minis are happy with a teaspoon of water a day, or tablespoon every other day, given from the bottom of the pot. They are in 50% humidity and doing fine without mistings. Easy peasy!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chef Riccardo's Taste of the Garden: Porcini Parsley Pasta

Autumn is coming and, in many parts of Europe, that means it's mushroom-gathering season. It's a great time to get a basket of porcini mushrooms, and pair them with parsley from your garden:
Boletus edulis, the Porcini Mushroom, courtesy of Wikimedia
Chef Riccardo makes this incredibly simple but tasty pasta to go with the wild mushrooms. You can use store-bought mushrooms, too....

Porcini mushrooms, sliced
A handful of cherry tomatoes

A handful of chopped parsley 
Ah, Italian Parsley!

Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Small garlic clove, smashed

Put all ingredients into the pan (except the parsley) with a some olive oil. Saute’ for about 20 minutes.  
Add the parsley. 

Choose your favorite pasta or make some yourself. 
Pasta Dough

Cook the pasta according to directions and serve the mushroom mixture on top. 
Thanks, Chef Riccardo!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Addendum: The Zinnia That Died

The Non-Reiki pot of zinnias had a fatality due to the red spider mites that have been gobbling up our greenery this summer. One plant became infested and died after just a couple of days. The other four plants in that pot are mite-free. In the Reiki pot, the smallest zinnia (#7) had a few mites and a slightly curled leaf, but is now mite-free. I am checking both pots daily for any other mites and will kill off any I find, but the trouble seems to have passed and the remaining plants in both pots seem quite robust.
This one died.