Saturday, June 30, 2012

Just a Few Updates for the Weekend....

The Mysterious Lithops Flower.  Rika's Lithops flower did something weird, but so did Dorothy's---looks kind of like a Fourth of July firecracker!

We've had blistering heat, cuz' we're stuck under a high pressure heat dome at the moment.
Still, it's meant the wild bunnies are in our yards munching grass every morning and we love to watch them.
Hope you're having a good weekend and keeping cool!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Frithia diva blooms!

OK, that's not the real name, it's a Frithia pulchra. But she's such a diva! She likes to have all conditions just so....Sometimes she gets pale and limp, then perks up and blooms right when I think she's a goner. She likes LOTS of morning sun, but not much afternoon sun or she limps out again. She prefers a nice glass of Viognier in the afternoon, to sip in the shade. (OK, I made that up, but it wouldn't surprise me....)

I read on Steve Hammer's website that Frithia really need an acidic environment with quartz in the mix. So she's got her quartz gravel in her soil now, and I'm adding vinegar to her water to make our very alkaline tap water (which I filter first) a pH of 6. That seems to be her perfect pH, at least for now...but maybe she would like me to move the house a little to the left??

Thursday, June 28, 2012

An Excellent Read: Mesembs of the World

"Mesembs of the World" was penned by a host of well-known authors- Smith, Chesselet, Jaarsveld, Hartmann, Hammer, van Wyk, Burgoyne, Klak, and Kurzwell. Each one has a great love and huge store of knowledge about our favorite plant family- the Mesembs! Published by Briza in South Africa in 1998 in English, this substantial book has over 400 illustrated pages of pretty much every mesemb known to people at this point.

The book is divvied up into types of mesembs, such as "weedy", "tongue-leaved", and so on. This can be either useful or frustrating, depending on whether you want to look up an identified plant (frustrating), or are trying to identify some cool plant you just found (useful)! But if you're trying to find info on Aloinopsis, for example, there's a handy index in the back.

Each plant is described thoroughly and succinctly with excellent instructions on how to grow it at home. Even recommended soil types are given. The photography of each plant in its native habitat is extremely helpful. Each genus has a map to show where it grows, and a complete list of species.

It took me a while to find a copy of this but I'm so glad I did, it's really a treasure trove of information, and it's just a lot of fun to read!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Prototype Cactus Pot in Red

Here's the prototype for some earthenware pots for cacti. The little Ferocactus latispinus seems to like it. Do you see what it's posing with?? The Devil's Backbone! So of course it's happy, isolated in its new pot from the Kalanchoe Fatale.

I'm not sure about the accents in blue, they are made with an opalescent glaze called Bluebell, but I'm not crazy about it. So the next batch of pots are either plain, or accented with a glaze called Aztec Turquoise, which is a matte green/blue and very subtle. The blue here just sort of pops too much. The aged look is done by rolling the red clay on a mat that's just had buff clay rolled on it. I don't know what I think of the "weathering effect", the next batch does not have it....

I'll blog on the next batch in a week or so and you all can give me your opinions.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Audrey's Odd Flower

Perhaps because we are solidly mired in Tropical Storm Debby, and there's been no sun for awhile, Audrey's flower sort of bloomed...oddly. But she's still cute, and I had to take a "glamour shot" (cuz' hey, there's not much to do on the weekend when you're sitting  in the middle of a tropical storm!)....
I guess that's called making the best of it! And some local rabbits came to visit us, taking shelter in backyard gardens from the high winds and rain along the river:
They found some nice mint, thyme, and basil in my garden, there's lots to share this time of year.
Hope the weather's treating you all well, and Debby exits sooner rather than later!

Sunday, June 24, 2012


This could never happen with a Lithops....

Seriously, though, poor Mr. Mason is in for a long recovery and my prayers are with him. Those saguaros can weigh a ton. They look great in photos, but they do have a tendency to topple.

And cacti can be dangerous. I still remember a very bad encounter with an Opuntia in Arizona when I was 7. Apparently the fruits need to be parboiled and cleaned of glochids before being eaten....

Mother of Millions: A Cautionary Tale

Here's a scary little story for the weekend. Once upon a time, when other people lived in our house, the family was gifted with a cute little Kalanchoe daigremontiana from Madagascar. It was known by the cuddly name "Mother of Millions", but also, the creepier "Devil's Backbone". At some point, someone threw it outside into the backyard instead of into the trash. This plant is one tough survivor, and here's why:
Every leaf is edged in tiny plantlets, ready to grow and prosper in Zones 9-11. I planted two in a pot to see how fast they grew, and within just a week, there were mini kalanchoes, all ready to invade new worlds!

This plant is listed as invasive in Texas and Florida in the US. And it's highly toxic, to boot. However, lizards and geckos seem to thrive in its poisonous depths, I suppose it protects them well from predators? How does this plant stay in check in Madagascar? Any invasive succulents in your part of the world?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Sweetest Little Arizona Cactus

This was an unnamed cactus when I bought it- but I believe it's a Mammillaria nana ssp. duwei. A lovely little fluffy globe about 3cm in diameter. Doesn't grow much, but always has a flower or two to show. So pretty!
The kids next door nicknamed this one "Babykins", which is a bit over the top, but understandable.

The genus Mammillaria has so many intriguing and just plain beautiful species, (about 250, I think); a cactus fanatic could just collect them and nothing else and be content. I particularly like the dwarf species such as this one. They hail from Mexico and the SW USA and are pretty easy to grow.

Friday, June 22, 2012

New Lithops Here, the Old Are Gone

The old L. karasmontana leaves are gone, and here are the new little guys, ready to take on the world, or, at least their Lithopot! And here are the old leaves, the new ones really take all they can from them, don't they?
I love frugality in a plant....

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dorothy Blooms!

It can be hard to explain to people who aren't into gardening how exciting a new bloom in the garden can be...and I'm really excited! This is the first Lithops bloom I've seen live and in person. Wow! What amazing little creatures. The bud was salmon pink, but the flower is yellow on the inside, so the petals are two-toned.
 The flower opens only in the evening. I thought it would open in strong sunshine, but I was wrong. I suppose the pollinators for L. dorotheae come out in the evening? The flower has no perfume that I can detect, but it could well have some odor not detectable by humans.
 PS: Audrey is still taking her time, she's a slow and cautious gal.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dorothy Today

Just had to share the photo....

This is SO Wrong....

These poor little guys are actually GLUED INTO THEIR POT. The pot is a very shallow dish filled with gravel which has been glued. There is no way to get these guys out without just smashing the whole thing on the cement they are sitting on, then trying to remove what's left of the plants to see if they will recover. Apparently this is the new way big box stores are selling cacti sets. They ship well, the plants survive a month or so, then the buyer or giftee just chucks the whole thing in the trash. Rinse and repeat.

I have seen this "disposable plant" mindset appearing with cacti, succulents, and orchids. It used to be done only with annuals, and perennials were given more respect. You can have a cute little plant on your desk or window, then chuck it when the hot new thing appears at the store. As Droopy says, "You know what?? That makes me mad...."

I'll probably rant more on this later, after I think through more of the philosophical/cultural ramifications. Yesterday I was just shocked and had to put this photo up ASAP. Have any of you seen these in your stores? What do you think?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lithops Razzes Universe

OK, my Lithops dorotheae, aka "Dorothy", is in a race with "Audrey", the francisci, to be the fairest of them all. And it does look like she's sticking out her tongue and giving us the razz....

Who will bloom first?? The bets are on, and all I can say is Dorothy's flower is definitely in the pink....

It seems to me that most Lithops do their growth and development at night. It also occurs to me that some of them might like to synchronize, even if they are not the same species, and don't belong to the same colony. In other words, does Audrey's bloom contain some sort of pheromone that's stimulating others to bloom at the same time? That would make sense, in terms of survival. Bloom time is the only time mesembs become really apparent to the crunch and munch crowd. No one likes to be totally vulnerable all by themselves. And more flowers would also make a patch of Lithops more attractive to pollinators. What do you all think?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Please Don't Call Me Lithops (Though I'm Awesome, Too)

I can't believe I found this mint-green cutie at a big-box store in the spring. They only had one, and it was labeled as a Lithops. It's an Argyroderma, or "silver skin" mesemb, and ain't it gorgeous?? Despite the cool and refreshing color, Argy seems to like a LOT of sun, so it's outside to catch the morning rays, then inside during the hot afternoons. Seems to want about as much water as cousin Lithops, in other words, not much. I'd love to find more of this genus someday. They hail from Namaqualand.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Grow, Seedlings, Grow!

These are a few of the seedlings from a bag of "mixed cacti" seeds I planted on May 3. It was a home science project, I guess you could say. The seeds were soooo tiny, but those of you who do this sort of thing regularly know all about that! And you're probably a lot better at sowing them than I obviously was....But hey, they're growing, and have the cutest baby spines. I've never seen cacti seedlings before, so this is a lot of fun for me. So far, only one tiny spot of mold off in a corner, easy to remove, no other problems. I'm starting to give them more light and air, and I spray them twice a day with a water mister. No idea what genus/species I've got here yet, hope there are some of my favorites, the Lovely Mammillaria!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lithops Old and New

This little guy was found in a corner of the only nursery nearby that sells lithops. It had gotten knocked away from the others, and so was not getting overwatered. In fact, it had shriveled up and gone dormant. I wanted to see if completely wrinkled, dehydrated lithops could revive (that's me, ever curious!)--I brought it home and broke the rule of, "Don't water while the new leaves are emerging." That's an important rule and I've only broken it this once, in the interest of science, of course.

Sure enough, the lithops "reactivated" and began to use the old leaves to feed and water the new set. The new leaves are much more plump now, and the old leaves are quite shriveled, as you can see. I think the new leaves are going to be fine.  I've seen pictures of lithops during the dry periods in S. Africa, and they are even more wrinkled than this. What a tough plant! Once these old leaves are thoroughly dessicated, I believe I can start giving the new leaves more regular waterings. If I'm wrong about that, let me know, I'm still learning the Mysterious Lithops Watering Cycle.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mammillaria Mesmeria - Look Into My Spines!

Okay, I know that's not it's real name. This is my favorite Mammillaria, and it's M. microhelia. Very cool name for an amazing cactus with its own, built-in optical illusion. The areoles and spines are arranged and colored in such a way that if you look at them, they appear to be moving. Dr. Mesmer would have liked this cactus!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sea Turtle Day!

Today I'm going to be giving a talk at my local library about sea turtle conservation. Mostly some fun facts about our local turtles, who are nesting now, and advice on how to stop tourists from messing with the nests. Also a plea to pick up plastic trash, which our loggerheads eat and choke on, or starve to death from, having tummies full of trash instead of good food. Bringing a bunch of books, bumper stickers, and my own signature loggerhead painting, hope it goes well!

Can't think of a connection between loggerheads and lithops, except the letter "l", and the fact that they're both amazing species that need good caretaking in our fast-changing world.... What are some of your favorite amazing creatures, apart from Lithops??

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fascinating Video on Vetiver

I have a number of vetivers in my collection, and I grow it, so I was pleased to see Aura Cacia (they sell essential oils and blends) has a mini-documentary on the growing and harvesting of vetiver on the island of Madagascar. Madagascar vetiver has a soft and warm, nutty profile, with some lovely dark chocolate undertones and a whiff of smoke. Really nice. Here's the link to the short video:
Disclosure:  I don't work for Aura Cacia and I received nothing from them for mentioning the video, too bad for me!

Mammillaria Crashes Panda Party!

I have one dish for leaf/offset propagation, and right now, there are panda kalanchoe leaves, and Mammillaria gracilis (Thimble cactus) offsets rooting there. They've all put out roots, and they seem to be having fun. Someone at the nursery knocked a large thimble cactus onto the ground, dislodging lots of offsets, and I asked if I could take some home to see if they grew. I dipped the ends in rooting hormone, let them dry a few days, planted them up in a mix of cactus soil, sand, and perlite, and so far, so good. Hope I have enough friends in the neighborhood to find homes for all these new plants in a few months!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

One Tough Ginger

Variegated shell ginger, aka Alpinia zerumbet, was the only ginger on sale at our local, privately owned (not big box) nursery. It is not Culinarily Acceptable, it’s a decorative ginger, but I wanted a ginger in my garden, so I bought it. About 12 months ago. It was bigger then.
In my neck of the woods, if you can’t stand 100kph winds and salty, corrosive sea spray on a weekly basis, you’re toast. Plants that survive here are tough customers.
Poor ginger. We had 2 tropical storms hit last summer, and it barely survived. I put up this little plastic headstone after Halloween as an ironic commentary on gardening on windswept sand dunes…and ginger grew! Turns out the headstone acts as a windbreak and now ginger looks like any other native plant- windswept, brown around the edges, close to the ground, and TOUGH as nails! I think it will survive this year’s storm season. GIP (Grow In Peace), Gingy!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

It's a Bloomin' Lithops!

This is the largest lithops in my collection, and it's only been here for a month. I think it may be a Lithops marmorata (Edit:  Nope, it's an L. gracilidelineata!), but I'm not sure. Any opinions out there?? I have several books that include Lithops, but how experts sort them into species is quite a mystery to me- a julii can look just like a hallii, and so on! Something one needs to learn over time, or on expedition in the Great Karoo, I suppose.

It's a lovely light green, more of an Audrey Hepburn mint green than what shows in the photo.  At first it looked like it was sticking its tongue out and saying "Neener neener!", but I'm quite sure it's getting ready to bloom. Sadly, we've had no sun at all for several days, I hope the weather improves, as I think the flowers need some rays to really blossom well.

I'll call this one "Audrey" because of her lovely color, not because of the Menken musical, ha ha!

Friday, June 8, 2012

First Homemade Vetiver Sachet

Last night I got around to sewing the tiny sachet (about 4x5cm) for the "first vetiver harvest". Here's the bag. I used some tie-dye cloth a friend sent me, and a bead charm made by another friend in the UK. Because what are friends for, right? Now the question is where to put it, in a chest, or on display?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

New Day, New Clay

I bought some Laguna Rojo Linda today- an earthenware with less shrinkage and more plasticity than some others. I thought I'd try a few red Lithopots, instead of my usual sandy stoneware. Here they are, drying into greenware (posing off the drying rack for the camera). If anyone's given this clay a try, let me know what you think of it. I'll show them again when they're fired and glazed.

Lithops Rescue Squad!

Too much water!
Lithops take a lot of abuse in big box garden centers. Most don't carry them, but some do, and it seems the employees always want to water the poor little creatures like crazy. Lithops don't like much water, and when I mention that to the garden shop employees, some insist that "Lithops must be fat!" --They can't stand to see them get wrinkled, which is natural in dormancy. So lots of rotted lithops, burst lithops, and just plain sad and desperate lithops. I rescued this little guy for a couple dollars from a big box store last week. His outer leaves were rotten. Shook him out of his soggy soil, (roots seemed OK), replanted him in a Lithopot with well-draining soil. We'll see if he survives....

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Vetiver Harvest

First (very small) Vetiver Harvest!

My little 8" bundle of vetiver plants from Alberto at Agriflora Tropicals is now about 4 feet tall and 6 months old! The poor plants were becoming quite rootbound, so I felt it was time to divvy then up, put some in the garden to grow freely, and the others in a bigger pot with fresh soil. I didn't want to kill any part of the plant in order to harvest the fragrant roots, and the roots are too young yet, anyway. Or so I thought.

But there were so many roots at the bottom of the pot that I had to trim them off while repotting, so I rinsed them and dried them. Young though they are, they smell fabulous! Real vetiver, hard to beat that in the summer heat. I'll be making a sachet out of these....

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

OK, to prove this blog is correctly titled, here are some of my lithops in my handmade Lithopots! As you can see, they are in various stages of the very mysterious Lithops Growth Cycle. Well, I'm learning, and it's fun.
Hey, it's a start, and I've actually begun to use my first digital camera. I'm still deeply attached to my Nikon FM10, and I'll keep using it, too, but I've gotta face the fact that digital camera plus blog is much more convenient, and easier for macro photography, too. So things should be up and running in a few days!