Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pensive Tuesday: Sandy's Victims

Today my thoughts and prayers are for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. May the dead rest in peace, the injured heal swiftly, the first responders stay safe, civil authorities act wisely, and those who lost their homes and possessions quickly recover.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Pulling Away...But....

Where's the SAND???
That's right, Hurricane Sandy has eaten our sandy beaches! This is low tide today, after 3 days of serious pounding by Sandy....

Florida has taken a hit, for sure; we had 58mph winds yesterday. But obviously, we're worried for the folks up north. We're more used to this sort of thing down here.

My mesembs are screaming for sunshine. All except one (two). The ever-cheerful and optimistic Babytoes (Fenestraria), both of them, decided to bloom! What positive attitude, I love these guys!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Coping with Sandy...I'll Be Back Soon!

We're coping with the outer bands of Hurricane Sandy, school is cancelled for Friday, I'll be back as soon as this has blown over! It's gotten too rough for surfing, unfortunately....

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pensive Tuesday: CAM Makes It Happen!

My topic of contemplation for this Tuesday is more scientific than philosophical. It amazes me that certain plants can thrive is such arid, hostile environments as the world's deserts and beachy dunes. How do they do it? How can they simultaneously deal with all that hot sunlight, and that lack of water?

It turns out there are 3 forms of photosynthesis, and the type called CAM is the answer I was seeking. CAM stands for Crassulacean Acid Metabolism, because it was first discovered in the family Crassula (one of the succulent collector's favorites) in the 1890s.

A Crassula

CAM can be used exclusively by a plant, or just when things get hot and dry. Most of the plants in this blog, mesembs, Tillandsias, cacti,  are CAM obligates- it's the only type of photosynthesis they have. What makes CAM so special?

Basically, CAM saves water. Most plants lose about 97% of their water each day to evapotranspiration. CAM allows plants to keep their stomata (pores) closed during the hot, dry day, and to open them at night when evaporation is at a minimum. CAM is a two-part process whereby the plant allows carbon dioxide in at night, fixes it into organic acids, stores those in vacuoles. During the day, it sends the malate to the chloroplasts, so the plant can photosynthesize with its stomata closed.  It requires a lot more solar energy, but a lot less water. These plants get lots of sun, but not much water, so it works.  CAM also allows a plant to essentially go dormant for longish periods during droughts, and then "wake up" when the rains or mists return. It's called a "CAM Idle", and many mesembs and cacti can do this. So can some Tillies. Ordinary plants just die during long droughts.

So that's how they do it. Remarkable!

CAM Expert Mammillaria nana duwei

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sometimes You Lose One....

My one and only L. francisci was always a little...different. It was elongated and fairly bloated when I bought it, from too much water during tropical storms while it lived outside at the nursery, I think. Then it settled down, and bloomed, but kind of strangely.

Then it took 3 months to set new leaves, and when it did, there was just one pair, not two. But it seemed to be moving along, albeit, in its own way-

It was having trouble absorbing the old leaves, and was moving along more slowly than the other Lithops that were in the same part of the growth cycle. It hadn't been watered in months, and had enough sun (but not too much heat!). Then yesterday, I saw that it had rotted. Completely. Into a mass of jello-y goo. Took less than 24 hours!  I checked the roots, they were fine. Something happened when the old leaves split, bacteria or fungi got in I suppose, and it simply wasn't shrinking its outer leaves the way the others were. Very sad! It was a lovely Lithops. But sometimes, we lose one....

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Silver Spider in a New Kind of Pot

You may remember my favorite Senecio, S. scaposus, from August. It's about doubled in size since then, so I repotted it in a much larger, heavier pot:

Senecio scaposus
 For these pots, I used my usual terracotta clay, made a 6" diameter pinch pot, stamped it, let it dry, then glazed it without firing to bisque first. Once the glaze was dry, I carved the pot, then fired it, so the glaze only shows in patches. This gives it a very weathered, ancient look, I think. The pastel tones also work very well with plants like the Silver Spider.  I'll definitely be making a few more of these, as the scaposus started growing again within a few days of landing in its new home. If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is. Have a wonderful, creative weekend! I'll be back next week with some info on CAM photosynthesis, what a nerd....

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Plea for Data: Doing It Right

I recently posted about wanting more data from nurseries on the plants I buy. And I found a wonderful Bromeliad nursery that's doing just that.  When I bought a few Tillandsias from a local garden center, I saw that they were individually tagged with the species name, and each came with a card of instructions. Wow!
Russell's Bromeliads in Central Florida, USA, is doing it right. Not only do I get the data, I get a lovely card on the science and care of Tillandsias, and, on the back, a list of things we botanical enthusiasts tend to get wrong with Tillies. It's a list of common mistakes, and it had wonderful info on how to care for these amazing and peculiar plants. So here's to Russell's! I'm a happier gardener as a result of their data-sharing, and so are my Tillies (which are getting awfully big, truth be told):

A table full of Tillies.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pensive Tuesday: What Goes Around, Comes Around

I attended the International Sea-bean Symposium this weekend in Central Florida. It was so crowded, I couldn't even find a seat at several lectures! For those who don't live near a beach, sea-beans are wanderers of the sea, a type of flotsam that can eventually grow on a far shore. In our area, they are mostly seed pods and plant bits from the Caribbean and South America, which come up to us via the Gulf Stream. It's a fun hobby to collect them, and a very popular hobby, too, it would seem.  In addition to talks on sea-beans, there were several lectures on flotsametrics, the science of where flotsam starts, and where it lands, and what that reveals about our changing seas and currents.

Some sea-beans
I attended a lecture on what is happening to the flotsam from the horrific Japanese tsunami of March 11, 2011. A sentinel patch has come ashore on the West Coast of North America already, but the biggest part of the mess, about 2000 miles by 1000 miles in size, is about 500 miles offshore, and should be hitting us very soon. Most of it is styrofoam, yuck.  But there are also personal items, such as a basketball from a middle school that was destroyed. It came ashore in Washington State, and the girl who found it is going to Japan soon to return it to the school, which is being rebuilt. I was really touched by that. Fed Ex pilots are flying many personal possessions back to Japan to reunite the items with their owners. Sadly, many of the owners are dead or missing. But there have been some amazing successes. People can be wonderful.

The strangest part of the talk was the revelation that about 10% of the flotsam will be arriving on Atlantic shores. That's right, the Atlantic. Wrong ocean, right? But now that the Arctic has melted to such an extent, whatever floats from the Pacific Ocean into the Arctic Ocean eventually comes out the Atlantic Ocean. It travels, after a long while, via the Gulf Stream and is deposited on our beaches. Unbelievable. So Japanese tsunami flotsam should be arriving here about 2015 or thereabouts. Most of it will be styrofoam. But not all.

So my pensive thought from all this is that we really have just one big ocean, and just one long beach. What comes around goes around, and what goes around comes around.

This the left sole of a child's shoe, mineralized by its many years in the ocean. I found it about a month ago, along with about a dozen other shoes, all for the left foot. Go figure.... 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October Lithops Update

Autumn is definitely a Lithops' time to work, and work hard! Most of mine are either blooming, getting ready to bloom, or setting new leaves. Here are three of my hardest-working Lithops:

Here are some of my New Blues in their new terracotta pot; one is blooming, and one is budding. Beautiful!

Audrey, who had the strangest curly yellow flower, is growing a single pair at the moment. I don't know if that is typical for francisci. They sure are lovely, though, with a special green glow.

And it turns out that Dorothy (dorotheae) is growing two pairs, not one! The other was hiding and waiting for its parent leaf to shrink down a bit. That seems to be happening in earnest now. Neither Dorothy nor Audrey has had more than a drop of water a week for over a month now. And no mistings, either. Seems to be working....

Hope your Lithops are lively and thriving, too. It looks like they are, from what I've seen on the blogs!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Happy Weekend With Plants and Sea-Beans!

The weekend started beautifully with a spectacular dawn over the ocean. Time to be up and about, watering mesembs and Tillies!

And this is just the third batch.  Good grief.  I'm also potting up some of the new Lithops this weekend. They are all French blue and green. So I've got a few pots to match that came out of the kiln a couple weeks ago:

And this weekend is the International Sea-bean Symposium, so I'll be heading there to catch a few lectures on sea glass, flotsam, sea-beans and ocean currents, and of course, buying the exclusive T-shirt!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tillandsia of the Month: T. abdita

Tillandsia abdita, Mexican Form

My Tilly of the Month is always hard to choose, they're all so wonderful and unique! But for October, I chose the red-tipped T. abdita, because it looks kinda scary with all that Halloween red. Like long red fingernails! Well, okay, more beautiful than scary. But it's October. It can be scary for a month.

There are two forms of abdita, this one, from Mexico, and another, from Costa Rica. The Mexican form stays red for a full year after flowering, which is unusual for Tillies. Generally, the red and pink only last a month or so during and after flowering. This one has flowered, but has not offset a pup (ramet) yet. Abditas like water, and dry out a little more quickly than some others, so good soak twice a week, and daily mistings will be fine. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pensive Tuesday: Lithops Fashions

This Tuesday post really isn't so pensive, because it's about fashion! The new crop of Lithops is heading to the nurseries here in the USA, and I've spotted a trend.

French Green and French Blue.

French Green and Blue Lithops
These very peaceful, subdued, and quiet colors are the only ones I've seen on several dozen Lithops so far. Last year, every Lithops was blush pink and brick red. Now am I imagining it, or are there fashions for Lithops?? If so, I'm calling 2013 the Year of the French Lithops. They're so lovely, I've even started painting with these colors, just a few mini canvases so far. Grays are fun!

Have you noticed fashions for your favorite plants in your neighborhood? If so, what are you calling for 2013?

French Blue Study, MR 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Radical Mesemb Surgery: The Results

The surgery on my Gibbaeum mysterioso was successful. I now have a happy, thriving little unidentified succulent:

Unidentified Gibbaeum

And to celebrate the happy outcome, Babytoes is blooming again! (Well, she can't exactly heft a "Congratulations" sign, can she? ;-)

Blooming Fenestraria

Hope your Monday is a peaceful one. See you for Pensive Tuesday!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Vetiver Harvest and a Slithery Visitor

I transplanted my vetiver (which started as 6 bundles, and had grown to 10, now 15!) to the harshest spot in my garden for the final phase of the Vetiver Dune Test. I was amazed how quickly it grew in our sandy, alkaline, salty soil. It's about 5 feet tall now, and flowering:

Vetiver Grass in Flower/Seed

It did marvelously well as a wind break for my other plants. Ginger loves vetiver as a neighbor! It was time to harvest one of the bundles of grass and see how the roots did (and how they smelled).

Vetiver Roots, washed
 This is just the smallest bundle of the 15 growing. The rest will remain in the ground to see how it does over longer time periods. These roots were about 8 inches long, so I'm pretty impressed. They really held the ground, too, and it took 3 intense washings to clean them!

The roots smell great, though not as strongly scented as the vetiver grown in a pot in richer, more acidic soil. This bundle is heading for a sachet. Overall, I'm very impressed with vetiver as a sturdy dune plant.  The grass itself is great for weaving/basketry.  They make mats of the grass in India, and I can attest to their strength and durability.  Vetiver is useful, strong, beautiful, and smelly. So I'm giving vetiver 5 stars as an all-around terrific plant.

While I was working, a curious little baby snake found a nice curling up spot on a cool ceramic dish. He was only about 5cm long. So cute!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Lithops: A Case of (Mild) Sunburn

My poor juliis. It's not my fault! OK, well, yes, it was. But live and learn....

I know that when any Lithops is left out in bright, hot light, such as we have in our Sub-tropical Paradise, it can melt down like an ice cream cone, eventually.  I've never done that with mine. But they do like bright light, so I occasionally set them out on the balcony in the morning for a few hours.  A few days ago, it was more than a few. I got a phone call and had to head to work in a hurry.

In the sun for a few extra hours, most Lithops do just fine. Most of mine did, though they grumped at me.

But some are not so tolerant of sunshine.

From Wikipedia, "Sunburn"
I didn't realize what  a minor case of sunburn looked like in a Lithops. Now I know. They get...pale, not pink.  I learned this from Steven Hammer's good book.

This poor little creature looks like a Halloween ghost of its former vibrant self.  Me, when I sunburn, I run around slathering aloe vera and screaming if anyone touches me. Lithops are more discreet.  These Lithops will live to grow another pair, but I'll be more careful next time. Different Lithops species really do have different light needs.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pensive Tuesday: A Plea for Data

Autumn has arrived on our dunes, and though it's still scorching hot, gardening season has begun! That means plants are once again appearing in the nurseries, including some lovely new Tillandsias and (drumroll) Lithops. A wonderful non-chain nursery, Rockledge Gardens, occasionally gets a shipment of Lithops, and I found four new ones this weekend.

That's the good news. Here's the bad:

Look at that label. Here's a closeup--

Gack. Now these Lithops were all in pretty good shape, in very suitable soil, and had been watered only sparingly. So the nursery where they grew up had obviously done good work. So why not add a real label?  It would not take much time or effort to put the genus and species on the sticky label. Now I'm stuck (again) trying to figure out which species I've got here. There are no live experts on the subject in my area, and pictures on the Web can be accurate, or misleading.  And let's face it, a lot of Lithops species look like...a lot of other Lithops species! I can't keep pestering my readers who are more expert by far than I am, hoping for an ID. So I make a plea to nurseries everywhere to give us the data!

But what is this little guy?? I'm thinking lesliei, but it could, just maybe, be an aucampiae. I'll figure it out eventually.

In this Age of Google, there's really a need for more data from the nurseries. Some do better than others in terms of giving us the goods on our purchases. But here's what I want:

1. Genus and species
2. Origin of the plant (ancestrally, and the individual, that's a big CITES deal for some of these)
3. Specific care instructions. (If instructions are included, they're usually something like, "Full sun and regular water." Your basic Lithops Death Sentence....)

Now of course, the nursery owner wouldn't have to put every little detail on the sticky label. There could just be a URL/QR code that would point nerds like me to a website with the relevant data. But genus and species are a must. And lots of people are curious, not just obsessive nerds like me. Every time I've bought a Lithops I've spent maybe 15 minutes answering other customers' questions about them. People get fascinated. At one local nursery, I've actually been nicknamed, "The Lithops Lady"!  So there's really a hunger for good info out there. People don't want to kill these little guys. And a label that says, "Living Stone" is not enough.

How do your nurseries do in terms of giving you the data?? What would your ideal be??