Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: More Reasons to Love Your Plants

Some very interesting science is out and about on the botanical front these days. I remember when Botany was the one thing we didn't study in school (except for chlorophyll and cell walls). You had to beg to stop studying humans and primates and write just one little paper on plants. One of my students brought this up yesterday, in fact. He's tired of studying mammals; what's up with plants for a change?

Fortunately, as the Gaia Hypothesis has gained steam, and global climate change is pretty much in everyone's face, people are taking more notice of our chlorophyllian friends. Hurray!

A Typical Florida Swampy Bit, MR, 2013
 Of course we all know that plants give us the oxygen we need to breathe. I was stunned to find out that in certain cities in Asia and the Americas, oxygen levels are frequently down below 10%. That's far less than we need to be healthy, and a very sad statistic indeed! Could an indoor curtain of Tillandsia usneoides provide an answer for these poor denizens of oxygen-starved cities??

Spanish Moss, keeping your world clean, cool, and fluffy!
 The journal nature: geoscience publishes a fair bit on paleobotany, and current research on plants/climate change as well. It's worth a read. The Daily Mail reported yesterday that a group of international scientists has found that plants emit some interesting molecules, like monoterpenes (which also smell good and have medicinal properties), and other chemicals that create a "sunshade" and offset global warming. The molecules spur cloud development, which can offset about 1% of warming, or about 30% in certain environments like the boreal forests. I'm not sure how much warming my Tillie collection is offsetting, and I'm not sure my Lithops are emitting any monoterpenes at all. I rather think they aren't. But it's still a good reason to love your plants and grow even more of them!

In more good news, Dr. Nick Lavidis, a scientist at the University of Queensland, has discovered that a combination of pine needle scent and cut grass regulates the amygdala and hippocampus of the brain; this relieves stress and calms us down in general. I've always insisted on mowing the lawn with a manual lawnmower. Now I know why.  It's calming my amygdala, which can get a little overworked with all the stress of human life on Earth these days. Dr. Lavidis worked with a pharmacologist to develop Serenascent so we don't have to get out there and mow to have a mental lift. I'm not sure where to buy it, but if I find some, I'll let you know. In the meantime, I'm mowing.

A French Blue Lithops razzes the universe. Again.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Another Bloomin' Weekend Update

Another spring weekend has sprung here on my sand dune, and there's lots of blooming going on!

Our wildflowers are in their full glory, as are the cacti....

This Parodia herteri (or uebelmanniana, it's been identified as both, help!) has enchanted everyone, after I've dragged them across the yard to see it.

Even my Crotons are blooming, and I've heard from several longtime gardeners, "Crotons never bloom...." I beg to differ!

And of course, Pleiospilos nelii is doing its best to bloom-

Native wildlife are everywhere, having fun in my yard and garden. These ibises, sacred birds of Ancient Egypt, came to visit this week and enjoy a nice brunch--

As did some Eastern Cottontails. I think they nibbled on my sunflower seedlings, but then, the sunflower patch had to be thinned out anyway....

To all my readers, have a beautiful and peaceful weekend!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Great Read: Doreen Court's "Succulent Flora of Southern Africa", (3rd Edition)

Doreen Court's latest edition of her weighty tome on the succulents of Southern Africa is quite amazing. Published in 2010, it's very up-to-date with the newest taxonomic changes and species listings for hundreds of succulents, including the entire bunch from Mesembryanthemaceae (say it 10 times fast).

Doreen Court sounds like an amazing person. She was born in the Little Karoo, and now lives in the Western Cape. A Fellow of the Linnean Society, Court's knowledge of these plants seems quite inexhaustable! And her enthusiasm for the subject seems quite unquenchable.

The photography is excellent; there are hundreds of dramatic closeups in full color. Most of the plants are shown in situ, which makes it particularly interesting for gardeners who usually see these plants only in collections (in my case, that means in small ceramic pots). It's available on Amazon now for around $30(US) in a beautiful hardcover edition. I've also seen a few copies on the 'bay and with online booksellers.

The only difficult aspect of the book is that the written entries on each plant are not next to the photographs. In other words, there's a large text section followed by pages of photographs, so you have to flip the pages back and forth as you read. Picture, text, picture, text. Once I got used to doing that, it was pretty easy to use. All in all, it's a very necessary, and enjoyable book for people who grow and collect succulents, and particularly, mesembs.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Regenerating With Lithops, and Searching for Dolphins

Here are more of my energetically regenerating Lithops:

What a glow!
A whole bowlful is re-leafing together:

Well, OK, there's a slacker on the right. But still, an impressive display.
On my morning run, I saw a small pod of dolphins. I frantically readied my camera, but in vain. The dolphins had submerged in order to spook a flock of ducks. They like to do that. So all I got was the ducks! I call this photo, "Invisible Dolphins"- sometimes, I'm just too slow....Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

We Are the Lithops Who Grow, Then Glow!

While my outdoor plants have been budding and blooming, my (mostly) indoor Lithops have been regenerating like crazy. Here are a few beauties:

Lithops Dorothy (L. dorothea) is doing well, and now that more light is coming in from the east side. She's getting chunkier, rather than more leggy.

Here are a few of the "French Blues" regenerating in their terracotta pots.

And a few more Lithops julii doing their Spring Fling.

And now a gratuitous Lantana photo:
Hope your week is going well, and your Lithops are glowing well!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Not Particularly Pensive Tuesday: Ready To Bloom!

After a scary-big storm with multiple tornados swept over my sand dune this weekend, I was too tired to be pensive. I needn't have worried about the outdoor garden, however. Springtime plants are full of enthusiasm for whatever weather comes their way. They didn't mind the 8 inches of rain; in fact, they're ready to bloom!

Lantana, aka "stinkflower", does very well on the beaches; its glowing flowers belie its tough resilience.

Parodia uebelmanniana has been quiet for months. Suddenly, it's tufty and full of spring spirit!

Tillandsia concolor is nearly there. Can't wait to see the flowers.

Here's a Haworthia and a Gymnocalycium enjoying some sun, and growing some fine buds.

This little Mammillaria was a rescue- had some rot. But it's doing fine outside, and has put forth its first flower. It's a beauty!

And lastly, a Senecio articulatus. Senecios in general do very well in this beachy, subtropical climate. They don't mind the salty, alkaline soil, and they can take the heat well. This one put out buds in less than 24 hours, amazing!

Here's hoping all my readers are feeling ready to bloom as well. For the Southern Group, it's time to start getting warm and cozy, as autumn approacheth. And that's a wonderful season, too.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Weekend Update: Tiny Alien Lands on Earth...

...and requests a Blooming Babytoes!

Alien Visitor Poses With His New Babytoes.
After receiving his very own Fenestraria, he left for his home planet. Enjoy your new life, Babytoes!

Might explain how Fenestraria got to Earth in the first place, or maybe my garden sculpting project is just getting out of hand (and off-world).

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Quick Note to a Fellow Gardener- The Lithops Forum

Today I received a lovely letter from Gardener Natasha. She had some concerns about her Lithops, and I felt the answer would make a good post:

Sometimes our Lithops, despite the best care and lots of love, get sick, get pests, or just turn mushy and die. I can't think of a single Lithops grower this hasn't happened to at least a few times.  But a lot of us are fairly isolated from other mesemb caretakers, and what do we do if we need help, and there's no one to ask?

I go to the Lithops Forum:


I'm registered there, but I pretty much lurk so far. (I promise that will change when I have a little more time at the end of the school year.)  But the Lithops forum is a real haven for Lithops growers from all over the world. It's amazing! You can register, start a thread on "What's going on with my Lithops?", post pics, and get some really great advice from a number of people who grow these little guys in all sorts of climates. And you'll get sympathy, too. I highly recommend a visit. There are some extremely knowledgeable people there who've been lounging with Lithops far longer than I have. I learn from them all the time.

Thanks for your question, Natasha! I hope the forum helps, and your question, and my answer, help others who need some Lithops advice. Let me know how it goes, and I'll see you at the Forum!

Organizing Tillandsias is Like Herding Cats....

Part of my Tilly collection, looking tidy. (MR2013)
Really? These guys look so organized, sitting politely on the floor, posing for a photograph. It's easy to tell your T. velutina from your T. harrisii, no problems here!

Full disclosure: this is what they usually look like---

A Tangle of Tillies
And it's not easy to tell a velutina from a harrisii when they're all tangled up on a table like that! Plants in regular pots are easy to label with a little white plastic stake. You can write all the info on the stake, stick the stake in the dirt, and bingo bango boom, you will always know which plant is which. You can move the pots around all you like, put then anywhere, and never be forced to wonder what the heck that voracious vine is that's taken over your bookcases.

But Tillies are different. They don't live in dirt, they can be moved around at will, and if they get watered all together in buckets, they get mixed up. I like to change the arrangements, too, from time to time, just because it's fun.  When I buy them, they have a label with a rubber band wrapped around the plant. That's useful for the short term, but rubber bands damage the leaves, and the labels aren't very decorative. So how can I keep track of what I have, and which plant is which?

The answer is in the first photo. I laid out about a dozen plants each time, with their labels, and photographed them. Now hopefully when my brain is muddled from lack of caffeine and I'm not sure which Tilly I'm looking at, (is this the bulbosa or the pseudobaileyi??) I can check the photo.  I hope this works!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: Expanding the Circle of Sentience

Wild lantana MR 2013

If you have access to this video, it's well worth watching for all plant lovers:


Professor J.C. Cahill of University of Alberta has been researching the behavior of plants in some very novel and fascinating ways. Gardeners have long suspected, or known of, the sentience of plants pretty much forever, but science has been way behind in understanding the unique consciousness of our green friends. There's some great photography in the show as well, and even if you can't see the video, it's fun to read the comments of fellow plant-lovers who've seen the show.

For too long, humans have defined such things as intelligence, feelings, consciousness, and sentience in purely human, or at least simian, terms. I think we're finally learning that this approach is inadequate and denies us appreciation and knowledge of the lives of other species, particularly those that are structured in a radically different way from our own. It's nice to know that we're getting the idea that you don't have to have opposable thumbs to join the Sentience Club!

'Sentience" MR 2013

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Weekend Projects: Garden Sculptures, Tilly Pots, and a Monster!

Anyone who reads this blog knows I am seriously into making anything and everything for my garden out of clay. I used to make things out of our local creek clay when I was a kid, and I still think messing around with mud is a lot of fun. I've made dozens of pots for Tillandsias, cacti, and mesembs, but I've been enjoying some sculpting, too. I'm no Rodin, and I wouldn't even make the cut as a house-mouse in Rodin's workshop. But I am very enthusiastic.  Here are two Tilly pots from the first batch of sculpture-pots:

"Abuela"- Tillandsia Sculpture 2013 MR
I made this one for a particularly delicate Tillandsia argentea fineleaf. It gets crumpled by any neighbors, and to look good, needs to be displayed on its own.

"Il Vecchio"- Tillandsia Sculpture 2013 MR
Here, a Tillandsia filifolia makes a funky hat for an old dude!

Then there are some sculptures to just put near the plants. They look like they could be plant spirits, or garden sprites, so they fit in.
"Plant Sprites" - MR 2012 and 2013

This one looks a little like a bird:

Finally, you don't need clay and a kiln to make garden sculptures. Papier mache' works very well, particularly if you coat it with waterproof acrylic glaze, or some such thing. Most hardware stores and artists' supplies will have a number of waterproof clear coats to choose from.  This sculpture is Pudge. I wish I had given him a bowl to hold a Tilly, but that will have to wait for Pudge II. Pudge I has no arms...maybe he will grow them.
"Pudge" by MR 2012, papier mache'

Have a fun and creative weekend, and enjoy your gardens!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tillandsia Care Part One- No Dirt, Please!

I had a lot of fun this weekend at our local nursery. The garden staff really know their stuff, and take good care of a huge array of tropical, subtropical, and desert plants. They have a large section devoted to Tillandsias, and customers are starting to cotton to them. But most of us have no idea what to do with an air plant. I didn't either until a couple of years ago.

What do most people do with air plants (Tillandsias) when they get them home? Stick 'em in a pot of dirt.

Years ago, I brought a nice Tilly home, stuck it in a pot of dirt, watered it every day (because it was from the tropics) and watched it rot. Never again! This weekend I was speaking with a small group about Tillandsia care, and thought it was a good time to do a series on the basics. We all want our Tillies to grow and thrive, and it's not always obvious what to do to make that happen. There's not a lot on the Web, either.

Tillies Not In Dirt
These Tillandsias are in homemade pots, but there's no dirt involved, and I don't water them in the pots. They get watered in a bucket, then drained, then stuck back in the pots. The pots can have some orchid mix, or some rocks, in the bottom, and there should be air around the base of the plant so they don't rot. That's all you need. Here's a closeup of a Tillandsia caput medusae in its dish:

T. caput medusae
Plenty of air circulation keeps the base of the plant healthy. They have little roots, but those are only for gripping tree trunks, telephone wires, and small children (OK, not the latter). And some have no roots at all, like this T. argentea fineleaf:

T. argentea fineleaf

All water and nutrition is absorbed through the trichomes on the leaves, but more about that later. For right now, Tillandsias belong in a dish, or a glass globe, or hanging off of something. It's fun to figure out what to do with each one.

The next Tillie post will be about light, then there will be one on water and nutrition. Enjoy your Tillies!

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fools' Day Limerick For Lithops Lovers

Lithops Love

There was a Lithops of the Karoo,
Who discovered his love was not true.
Shocked when he discovered
Her with her suave lover,
He left her and fled the Karoo.

A Lithops raised in Nantucket
Was carelessly thrown in a bucket.
Escape seemed quite hopeless,
But rather than mope, this
Bold Lithops just drilled through the bucket.

Now both Lithops were greatly enraged,
One cuckolded, one harshly caged.
Seething with disdain,
They met on a train,
And a devious scheme they both staged.

The first Lithops flew to Nantucket,
And found the blockhead with the bucket.
The Lithops said, “Mac,
You’re a talentless hack!
We Lithops can't live in a bucket!”

The man thought he was going insane,
And proceeded to hop on a plane.
He committed himself,
And the plants on his shelf
Never dealt with his bucket again.

The other one went to Karoo,
And tracked down the first’s love untrue.
He tore her house down,
And said with a frown,
“Now both of you are in a stew!”

After two sorrys and a goodbye,
Each Lithops did heave a long sigh.
Their grievances settled,
Each had proven their mettle,
But their glorious poet had died!

R.I.P. Lithops Limericist,
His last poem presented for your reading pleasure.