Friday, August 31, 2012

Weekend Update: Lithops Seedlings and More

Not much going on this holiday weekend, some new pots, and continuing progress of the seedlings. So here's the news-- my rescued-from-someone's trash Sansevierias flowered, and they smell lovely. I can see why it's an occasional perfume note. Mostly green, a little spicy, with a hint of something like ylang ylang.

And here are the Lithops and "mixed cactus" seedlings, coming along nicely. Isaac didn't faze them a bit!

And here's a new tray I'm proud of, as the glaze is a very tricky one, "Ancient Jasper"- too heavy a coat, it turns into a mass of hardened bubbles. Too thin a coat, and it's just icky, sticky brown. Like Goldilocks, I finally found the way to make it just right. It's living up to its name now. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Beware the Tiger's Jaws!

Ah, Faucaria fiercest succulent! Here she is in her new Lithopot. Looking scary!

Faucaria felina subspecies tuberculosa- very bumpy!
Faucaria felina hail from the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. There's apparently been lots of shuffling and hmming and hawing lately about the actual number of Faucaria species. As of 1999, there were six. Most species became felinas. They are very popular and now there are so many hybrids wandering about, that in the end, most botanists just want to call the whole lot F. felina and be done with it.  I've been looking for a red-tinged one, but haven't found one yet. Still, in any form, the protuberances and white dots make for an incredibly striking plant. They grow in winter rains and are largely dormant in spring/summer. Mine have been growing very slowly this summer, and do get thirsty every couple of weeks, so water now and then during the dormant season seems okay for now. If they get too much water, they burst and scar, and the gardener (me in this case) would feel great guilt! But so far so good with twice-a-month sparse watering.

Pensive Tuesday got pre-empted by the Awful Isaac, which is now causing a fair bit of mayhem on the Gulf Coast. We got plenty of the northernmost bands, and that was enough! At one point, the rains were so fierce it was like being pelted with a fire hose, and water was driving into the living room from under sliding glass doors! But those bands pushed northeast and we're in the clear.

Got a few new pots back from the kiln. Some porcelain Petrapots, and a red earthenware dish, what on Earth do you call the dish that sits under the pot?? The underpot?? My brain is turning to sand today.... Well anyways, here they are....

These have been getting either a white or clear glaze, or celadon. I experimented with bright yellow on a cracked one but I'm too embarrassed to show it. Let's just say, it will be nice for an Easter present.

Here's the plate, Rojo Linda clay (Laguna) with Bluebell glaze (Amaco). I like this one!

I tried one of these with Aztec Turquoise glaze instead, but it looks like a plate from a Lovecraft story- Cthulhu Ware, anyone??  Might look good with an F. tigrina!

(I may post the "bloopers" photos on a day when I feel more confident and humorous. Actually, a bloopers post would be pretty funny....)

Update: The nursery called it an F. tigrina. Alert readers noted it looked more like an F. tuberculosa, and, after much research and a headache, I've decided it's an F. felina subspecies tuberculosa. Whew!!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Stormy, Stinky Monday

Here are the northernmost bands of Isaac coming in yesterday. Beautiful, though, aren't they?

Today we've got 100kph wind gusts and a whole lot of noisy rain! Nobody slept much last night, just too much howling from the winds. And we're only at the very edges of this thing. Isaac is a big boy!

So my somewhat perverse Senecio serpens decides to bloom in all this. It even leaned its flower stalk into the rainy window to get a better view yesterday.

I took a sniff of those cute little yellow/white, polka-dotted flowers, and what did I smell? Florals? Cookies? Sticky toffee cake? Noooooo. STINKY FEET. Like a teenage boy's gym locker! I kid you not. So I guess at least some Senecios use the same trick as Hoodias and Amorphophallus titanum (Corpse Flower), and stink it up to attract those fun little bugs that are Nature's Cleanup Crew and go for the dead stuff. Yuck. I hate Mondays....

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Los Tres Amigos: 3 Hairy Guys

Posing for you all today are my three hairy guys, Espostoa lanata on the left, Rebutia albipilosa in the front, and Cephalocereus senilis on the right, at the back. All are New World cacti, yet all sport very different hair stylings. That's creativity.

What everyone wants to know about their "Old Men" or "Old Women" cacti is, how to make that hair grow long and lush? The key is a lot of morning sunshine. They are not crazy about strong afternoon sun or extreme heat, but several hours of morning sunshine, outside, suits them very well. If they can't be outside now and then, a sunny east-facing window does well, too.  I don't like growing these outside all the time, because their hair gets dirty and turns yellow-gray. Yuck.

The hair's function is to reflect sunlight and trap pests. It also helps retain water, so they can be a little more rot-prone than other cacti. Another reason to grow small ones like this indoors. Outdoors, some columnar hairy cacti can become quite huge! Not a good choice for the living room in that case....

Hairy cacti make a great mini-collection within a wider succulent collection- they are a lot of fun.

Now I have to get back to prepping for TS Isaac, soon to be Hurricane Isaac. Never dull around here in summer!
(Photo from OSHA, USA)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Aloinopsis schooneesii: My, What a Lovely Caudex!

I love Aloinopsis, and schooneesii is my favorite. This caudiciform makes for a wonderful mini-bonsai. They are from South Africa, and A. schooneesii's leaves look like little greenish granite pebbles growing out of a tawny trunk, which is really its tap root.

They need somewhat deeper pots owing to the tap root, and can be raised up gradually as they grow, so the lovely caudex can be shown off to friends and family. I water mine weekly in summer and give them full sun in an east-facing window with good air circulation, about 75F for temperature.

I am growing several, and this one has the most  unique, swirly caudex of the bunch. They can grow to about 7cm in diameter, and I've seen some truly amazing older specimens win bonsai awards in my area. Beautiful and unique!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pensive Tuesday: Being Ordinary

Today I just have a little poem by the wandering Zen guy Layman Pang. If you haven't read Pang, you should, his simple eloquence is like a glass of fresh water on a hot day!

When mind is original, the
world is original,
Neither form nor openness.
As for form- pay
no attention to it.
As for openness- 
don't hang on to it.
You're not a saint
or a sage.
Just an everyday person,
doing everyday things.

Today I'll be taking some time to walk along our river and look at the "ordinary" plants with an open, and probably happy, mind. Hope you have a wonderful Pensive Tuesday!

(Translation from Chinese: Franz Metcalf) 
(painting: Shell Abstract, MR August 2012, acrylics)

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Fluffpuff for Monday

On Monday mornings, I need something to lift my spirits, and today, I chose my Rebutia albipilosa, aka "Fluffpuff".  It's can still grow just a little bigger than this, then can grow offsets which can be cut and rooted. Has gorgeous, and quite large, flame-orange flowers. The rest of the time, it's just fluffy, which is okay with me. I water once a week with acidified water, and it's growing in cactus soil with a gravel top to prevent rot.

Rebutia albipilosa

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lithops Dorothy Has a Secret....

Can you see what it is??

Tiny new leaves! All right, Dorothy! Audrey, who bloomed at the same time, turns out to be a bit of a slacker, and shows no signs of new leaf growth whatsoever.

I was too excited taking pictures of Dorothy to notice the fierce storm taking shape to our west. In a few minutes time, we were all hunkered down in our storm shelter, aka, the Laundry Room, as tornados touched down about a kilometer from our house.  I didn't have enough time to bring in all my pots, which were happily drying in the sun. One didn't make it...

That's all that's left of it now, a smudge on the patio... I'll have to pay more attention to the radar next time.
But in the end, the sun came back, and a rainbow, too!
Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ants in the News!

Ants in my house drive me nuts, and we have a new invasive ant here in Florida, the Hairy Crazy Ant, that's driving everyone nuts! Fortunately, it doesn't like the beach, yet....

But I just read an article on the BBC that makes me feel a little better about those swarmy, pesky critters that make up 10% of the world's biomass:

It's a good read for everyone that loves the incredible plant diversity of South Africa, and wonders how it happened.

(creepy photo courtesy of Mississippi State Entomological Museum)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lovely Flowers for a More Cheerful Wednesday

After yesterday's very serious post on the awful state of Garbage on Planet Earth, I just wanted to show off some local flowers to cheer everyone up.

What a beauty. I can't believe they call this "Railroad Vine"- what a prosaic, dull name for such a beautiful plant. I would have named it something more romantic, like, "Juliet's Vine", because I can see Romeo climbing up this one. Oh well, no one asked me, and now it's got a boring name. The Latin is prettier-- Ipomoea pes-caprae, if you can actually pronounce it! It grows in wild profusion all over our beach, and blooms at dawn, spring through fall.

And what would a flower post be without my very prolific Babytoes?? I just can't think of a more cheerful plant. She's very popular around here. The flower has a light honey scent. Just gorgeous.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pensive Tuesday: Taking Out the Trash

This is a tiny section of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Yuck. I've read that some company is trying to form an island out of part of it, since it's the size of several Texases, but I don't see anyone roasting s'mores on this mess anytime soon....

Sadly, I was a contributor to the Patch yesterday, or to some mess like it.  I was cleaning up the garage and without thinking (the big problem), I threw out several plastic plant pots that I no longer needed. I keep most of them, but these were cracked. So out they went.

Plant pots can be hard to recycle because they are made of plastics that are not so easy to melt down and reuse. Most are labeled PP, meaning they are polypropylene. One tough plastic, but it's slowly gaining acceptance at recycling plants. So I've started to put them in our recycling bin, hoping they'll know what to do with them at the plant.

I realized that I could easily gather up these pots and donate them to schools, nursing homes, and community gardens. Most last for years, and, though eventually they'll end up cracked and useless, they can be reused many times until that point.

Also, I've seen some of the larger nurseries, like Bonnie Plants, start using biodegradable, compostable plant pots. I've bought many herbs from Bonnie and the pots really work. I can simply replant the herb, pot and all, in the garden, or peel off the pot and throw that in the garden, or trash (plants with more tender roots can have trouble growing through the pot into the soil). So progress is definitely being made. After all, gardeners should be mindful of their trash, and I won't be throwing plastic pots away anytime soon....

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pleiospilos Plethora, Part Two

The usual Pleios I see for sale are, of course, Pleiospilos nelii, the regular green kind, or with a slight magenta flush. The first I ever bought was this species. It's growing a new set of leaves right now:

And here's the top view, so you can see the newly emerging leaves a little better.

And as I mentioned in Part One, everything gets the same nametag, "Pleiospilos nelii"- even when it is clearly NOT a nelii!

Check out the one on the left. If that's a nelii, I'm Dr. Who!
Even the pleio on the right looks a little suspicious to me, the leaves are angled and not entirely round....

So I re-read the section in Doreen Court's excellent tome, "Succulent Flora of Southern Africa", to try to figure it all out. The revised edition just came out, so it has all the new names and explains what has been moved to where. On pg. 47, for those who are following along in their books, many Pleios were sent to genus Tanquana in 1986, while 3 others were exiled to Titanopsis Land.  Pleiospilos now has 2 subgenera. The first, Pleiospilos, is unbranched or only slightly branched, and includes nelii, bolusii, and simulans.  The second is branched and is called Punctillaria. There is only one species, compactus, which has 5 subspecies.

At this point I admit to some confusion as to what I am actually growing....But hey, they are all cared for in the same way, and they all have those wonderful polka dots.

Now is that a "come hither" look or what??

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pleiospilos Plethora Part One

My Lithops aren't doing much of anything at this time of midsummer--they really are imitating rocks, so I thought I'd look in on the Pleiospilos gang, which are doing a whole lot of new leaf generation this time of year! Here's the pink beauty of the bunch, Pleiospilos nelii, variety "Royal Flush".

She's posing with the Bloomin' Babytoes, and an Aloinopsis schoonesii.  Pleios are from the Karoo, so hot and dry is the way they like it. Even when actively growing, like this one is, Pleios don't seem to like much water. They love a good misting in the morning, then a sparse watering every 10 days or so. They have soil similar to my Lithops- very well-draining, lots of pumice/perlite. Granite chips on top to prevent rot. Light colored Lithopot so they can be getting lots of sun outside without the roots overheating.

Now here's a mystery.  Our local nursery, the only one that sells Pleios, labels all of them, every single one, "Pleiospilos nelii"--even those that clearly belong to a different species. The question for me, since I'm not an expert, is WHICH species?

So what do you think this one is, simuluans, compactus, or another?? I am thinking simulans, but I'm really not certain. It has some of the lovely pink of the "Royal Flush", so it could be a hybrid, actually....

I'll have more Pleios to show later. For now, try saying "Pleiospilos Plethora" ten times fast! ;-)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Smelly Plant of the Month: Helichrysum angustifolium

Also known as Everlasting or Immortelle. Aka "Scaredy-Cat Plant" and "Curry Plant". It does not scare cats away, and rabbits love the smell. It would taste awful in a curry, though it's not poisonous. It IS used in perfumery, and it does smell heavenly. Like celestial maple syrup.
It can be grown in Zones 8b to 11, and it's from the Mediterranean. It's a bushy, tough perennial, and very nearly succulent. On warm days, the perfume from the leaves, and particularly the yellow, fluffyball flowers is very strong and some say, can make you sleepy! You can dry the flowers, or distill them.

I was delighted to find one at our local nursery, I've never seen them sold before. Now I'm huffing its beautiful scent constantly. A famous perfume that features immortelle is Sables by Annick Goutal. It pairs well with spices like cinnamon and mace, and woods such as sandalwood. What a find for a smelly garden!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pensive Tuesday: School Gardens

It's my 50th post today, hurray! I want to thank all of my readers and commenters around the world (from over 30 countries) for making this such a wonderful experience! It's really been a treat. Thank you!!!

Now on to Pensive Tuesday.  The school year is starting up for the Northern Group, and of course, that made me more pensive than usual....

Yes, those kids are upside down, because I often felt upside down at school. I often felt confined, bored, and thoroughly institutionalized. I wanted to be outside, in nature, as much as possible!

But we do have so much to learn, and classrooms are sometimes necessary, I will agree to this. And thank goodness for wonderful teachers who inspire, I remember quite a few from my own school days.

How can mesembs enrich the classroom? That seems like a no-brainer. They are small, do not require watering on the weekends, can grow in artificial or natural light, and they are beautifully weird. I find kids are really fascinated by them.

I think so many classrooms (especially the bunker-like ones without windows) could be so enriched by small gardens, tended by the kids. They'd add oxygen and beauty. Kids would learn about caring for growing things.  Much better than keeping a poor little rodent or lagomorph hostage in a noisy corner, don't you think?

Would a classroom garden work in your area? Have you seen it done? Have you tried it? Would the kids you know like one in their classroom?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Bits and Bobs of Summer

Fresh herbs from the garden- this year has been a good one for herbs, and I've plenty for the neighbors, too.

Here's some orange mint, lemon verbena, rosemary, and lemon thyme (buried down at the bottom somewhere). Our salads and stews have been much improved, ditto the sauteed veg!

Also working on the red earthenware Lithopots- they are coming along. For the glaze, I switched to a mellower, more matte Aztec Turquoise from Amaco.

And also, some that are unglazed....

What projects are you working on currently? (Summer, or winter projects for the Southern Group.) Cannot believe school starts up again next week, but I'll be back for Pensive Tuesday, see you then!

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Silver Spider- Senecio scaposus

There are a whole lot of Senecios out there (around 1,500), and most of them aren't even succulents! But this one, known here as "The Silver Spider" (or "Silver Coral", which is less dramatic) is my favorite.

Senecio scaposus originated in (I'll give you 2 guesses but you'll only need one!) South Africa and lives in some of the driest spots down there. It's become very popular here because it can handle our hot, beachy climate without too many problems.

The Silver Spider handles the strong sun by growing a papery covering over its young leaves. As the leaves age, the covering starts to peel, revealing some green and allowing more photosynthesis to occur. The silver "paper" reflects the sunlight so the plant neither burns nor gets too hot, kind of like how many desert dwellers wear white, thin cotton or linen clothing. Here's a closeup so it's easier to see the "paper":

 They seem to like about as much water as cacti, a good drenching once a week, and sandy cactus soil and cactus fertilizer is fine. This one is stemless, and there are several other varieties of scaposus, one without paper but with lovely lime green freckles, and one that appears more stemmy. This one is S. scaposus scaposus, and I like it very much.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Babytoes 2 and Baby Lithops, the Oddball

My second Fenestraria, not wanting to be outdone, has also bloomed magnificently! Unfortunately, they weren't quite synchronized, so I don't think the chances of seed formation are high.  Fenestraria flowers are so large compared to the plants themselves, they always get ooos and aaaahs from anyone who sees them. No scent, though, too bad.
And here is a group of the Lithops seedlings for the beginning of August, a couple of months old now. Can you see the copper-colored oddball in the center? I am quite interested in how that one will look when grown, it's beautiful already! In accord with what I've read on the Internet, I'm giving them less water now. And stronger light. Always stressful, growing the first batch, I suppose!