Thursday, May 30, 2013

Smelly Plant of the Month: Lantana camara

For May, I chose a plant from my garden that's full of controversy, pluses and minuses, pros and cons. You might love it or hate it. It's Lantana!

Lantana camara MR May 2013

Sometimes known as "Stinkflower", this colorful member of the Verbena family came to the American Southeast from the tropics several centuries ago. So it was an invasive, but now it's considered "naturalized".  It's called "Stinkflower" because the leaves give off a pungent, herbaceous perfume that some people perceive as cat pee. To others, it smells sharply green with sweeter, floral undertones. Lantana is even used in perfumes occasionally, and I'd say the closest odor in the flower world to my nose would be marigold, also known as genda, or tagetes.
"Lantana Morning"  MR 2013
What I love about Lantana is the beautiful clusters of multicolored flowers. Lantana blooms all year in warm climates. It can grow on our difficult dunes, and is very pest-resistant. Though it can grow 6 feet high and 8 feet across, it tends to stay small and bushy in beachy environments. It can anchor the soil in places most plants cannot grow at all, and it looks lovely. It also attracts butterflies.

Lantana has a dark side, it's true. It's a seriously nasty invasive in Hawai'i, and several other places on the planet. The plant, particularly the berries, are quite toxic to pets and several species of wildlife. So Lantana might be a great choice for you, or a dreadful one, depending on where you live, and what your gardening needs are. Have you tried Lantana in your garden? If so, how did it work out?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: Are Tillandsias the Future?

I was very surprised to learn that the genus Tillandsia evolved in the Andean region at the beginning of the Tertiary Period (about 65million to 2ish million years ago). They are late-comers to Earth's plant party, and very highly evolved. They've mostly given up on roots (and therefore, dirt), and ditched stomata for trichomes. They can live in some of the most difficult environments on the planet, from the tropics to the high deserts, from sea-level to some of the highest mountains. But might they become an important part of the human world?
A Tangle of Tillandsia

Many human habitations suffer from bad air. Low oxygen, high smog. A real mess. Plants have been used for centuries to clean and oxygenate the air in houses, but there's always that  problem of...dirt, which most of us don't like to have in the house. I mean, it's messy! But Tillandsias gave up dirt a long time ago, which brings me to....
Tillies are tidy.

Symbiosis! Many species have evolved to live in mutual benefit with other species. Cows and rabbits have symbiotic bacterial colonies that break down tough cellulose in exchange for vitamins, sugars, and so on.

Got symbionts?
They can't live without the bacteria, the bacteria can't live without them. I see a potential for mutualism with Tillandsias in our future. Bring those Tillies to your home, get oxygen and clean air in exchange. And for the plants, they get a safe home and good care at a time when many of them are going extinct in the wild. Seems like a good deal in the making for plants and people....

The ever-adaptable Tillandsia usneoides, Spanish Moss!

Some clever folk in Asia are already using T. usneoides as living curtains in their apartments. I'm sure the inhabitants of crowded, smoggy cities would appreciate some living Tillie curtains. And why not suspended from the walls or ceiling? In a "Florida Room"  (a semi-outdoor, semi-indoor room that can get pretty wet, and drains easily), watering could be done with sprayers. I'm not sure how watering could be done for a Tillie ceiling in a traditional bedroom, but there are lots of clever designers and engineers out there who could devise some way of managing it.

Tillandsia intermedia, on a Tillie Tower.
Has anyone out there tried living with Tillies? How did it work out? The furthest I've gone is keeping about 5 dozen Tillies in the living room, suspended on wire CD racks, which I call the Tillie Towers. It's made the room much fresher and greener than before (and a little weirder, too). How might you incorporate Tillandsias into your home??

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Argy's Progress: No More Cryptkeeper!

My one and only Argyroderma (silver-skin) is regenerating slowly but surely. Last summer, it was my Cryptkeeper....

I was really worried, I mean, Argy looked bad! But it was part of the normal lifecycle. A few months later, by late fall, Argy was looking plump again:

Something was brewing, clearly. Releafing started a couple of months later, and now, the regeneration is about 75% complete, and the outer leaves are shrinking, this time for good:

This plant is a slow and quiet creature, but the wait is worthwhile for patient gardeners.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thursday's Bits 'n Bobs

My Lithops seedlings are now yearlings, and it's been extraordinary to watch them grow up. From about 100 seeds I've got about a dozen strong Lithops, each about 1cm across. I don't know if 12% is a good rate or a rotten rate, but 12 new Lithops is about all I have space for anyway.... Here are three:

My giant Russian Sunflowers are doing well, despite storms, salty spray, and high winds. They are tough! Several are already showing a flower bud at the center:

And of course, what would spring be without Blooming Babytoes??

Things are humming along in the ceramics studio. Here's a little flower sprite, getting a second coat of glaze:

Hope things are humming along in your neck of the woods!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

This week is a wrap-up for the school year, with many final projects and final exams coming due, so I cannot write a complete and thoughtful post. I can, however, say that I've been doing more research into invasive plant species, and the crucial role that viruses, parasites, and bacteria can play in the evolution of plant species and changes in ecosystems. You know, just some light reading....

When it comes to invasives, I can't help but think of one of my favorite mammals, the cat:

Cat Mask, MR (papier mache')

Did you know that some folk are trying to ban kitties from New Zealand? Yes, I mean from the whole country. Cats are hunting and eating too many of the native species, even when their bellies are full of yummy kitty chow. It seems when it comes to the non-native species we humans introduce, the phrase that comes to mind many years down the line is, "It seemed like a good idea at the time...."

I still love cats, though.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Weekend Update: Catasetum and Others Bloom!

I'm very pleased to see my new Catasetum blooming. This is the plant I bought at the orchid show several weeks ago, and I was feeling great trepidation at the prospect of responsibility for a very unusual orchid. So far, so good....

Black and yellow flowers, with a perfume similar to cassis. It's posing outside next to my Russian sunflowers, though I keep it indoors when I'm not photographing the blooms. Here's a closeup:

And here's one of my outdoor Pleiospilos, another great bloom:

And here's a perky magenta flower from the robust Marlothistella:

To all my readers, happy blooming and have a great weekend!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Some Favorite Lithops and a Great Lithops Site

I don't know about you, but I get sooooo frustrated trying to figure out which species a particular Lithops belongs to. If the nursery or grower doesn't tell you, it gets very complicated, particularly since many Lithops of one species look like identical twins to Lithops of other species! I still have no idea if some of my "French Blues" are L. julii or L. salicola. So I just keep calling them "the French Blues". And don't get me started on Cole numbers....

But one site on the Internet has been very helpful:

Nick Rowlette has done a great job with basic instructions for Lithops-guardianship, and has put together a fantastic photo gallery of all sorts of species, their variations, you name it. It's a real gold mine for Lithops lovers who struggle to identify their "living stones".  Just click on the "Gallery" section. Way to go, Nick!

One of my favorite species is Lithops lesliei.  The intricate dots-and-lines patterning, and the gorgeous earthtones of this species never fail to charm and delight.  Here are a few of my "Leslies", in pot I made particularly to show off their patterning--

And here is one of my L. lesliei albinica, newly releaved:

I find this species to be very easy to grow, and very sturdy. Mine have appreciated a little more water than my other Lithops, and a little less light than some of the others. They get about 4 hours of full morning sun each day, and weekly waterings with water about 5.5pH, with a little cactus fertilizer now and then. I'm always happy to add more Leslies to my collection!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: How Are We Changing Lithops?

A couple days ago, I saw a post on "Blog of a plant-whisperer" about size change in Lithops that got me thinking about my post from almost a year ago, "How Are We Changing Them?"

My Lithops have had a nearly a year since then to grow and change, and I've made some observations that relate to that long-ago post.

Some Lithops, most certainly from ancestors that were "domesticated" at least 10 generations ago, seem to need less light and more water than their wild cousins. It makes sense, because in order to survive nursery life, particularly big-box nursery life, they are going to get a lot more water than they require in the wild. And they're usually grown under covers of some sort, so they don't always get full sun. Those Lithops that can't cope with the excess water and diminished light are going to rot. Those than can handle it, for unknown genetic reasons, will be propagated and continue to be sold throughout the world.

L. dorotheae, May 2013

Some of my Lithops that didn't seem to be thriving completely with the very minimal watering I give them went outdoors. I guess you could say they volunteered to pioneer in the outdoor garden, in the interests of science! They are exposed to drenching rains about once every 5-7 days now, and powerfully hot sun. I made sure they are planted in very porous soil that drains rapidly. So far, they are doing exceptionally well out there. And they are getting about 10 times the water they'd get in their native home of Southern Africa. That supports my theory that "domesticated" Lithops can handle, and may even need, more water than their wild relatives. 

Another set of Lithops in my collection don't seem to want strong sunlight in great quantity. They like filtered bright light. Interestingly, this is the same sort of light they had at the nursery in Central Florida where they were raised, and where their entire line was grown over many years. Rather than grow leggy in filtered light, the new leaves are actually quite squat. They're saying "That's enough sun for me, thanks!"

So what do you think? Are we "domesticating" our Lithops to accept more water and less full sun?? And if so, do you think that's a good thing, or a bad thing?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Quick and Chaotic Weekend Update

It's been a great Mothers' Day Weekend here, with lots of funny family stuff going on. So just a quick, chaotic weekend update for the Lithops and other Odd Plants:

The Lithops Releaf-a-rama is over 90% complete now, and it's been amazing to witness the regeneration of these normally quiet, inobtrusive plants.  I'll have a separate post on the effect of light in the regeneration of different species; I was surprised there was so much variation. Some new Lithops are leggy, some are squat, all with the same amount of light. That's the sound bite.

The Catasetum I bought at the orchid show is still alive. That's good! I'm following the instructions given to the letter. I hope it lives long and prospers....

And what's better than one blooming Babytoes? Two blooming Babytoes! You just gotta love these guys.
Now I have to rest after the Big Brunch with the Big Bunch. Hope you had a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thursday's Bud and Bloom Update

Spring is still in full swing, and it seems like there's nothing but budding and blooming going on, both indoors and out. Here are a few of the succulent buds and blooms happening outside:

This Gymnocalycium baldianum grew several buds. There are three of them; one's off in the upper right corner. I haven't seen a bud so far off to the side before, very creative!  Two days later, here's the first bloom, I love the color:

Gymnocalycium baldianum in bloom, MR, 5-13
Not wanting to be outdone, my Parodia went a little wild....

On the subtle side of the garden, my Haworthia and Senecio articulatus were showing their quiet, yet still pretty, blooms and buds....

Senecio articulatus buds, MR 5-13
Hope everything's growing well in your gardens!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: Keeping Our Knowledge

An ironic title for a post on a blog during the Era of the Internet, a time of "knowledge explosion", a time when we can't keep up with our knowledge, when we don't even know what we know, because there's just too much information out there!

"Optuntia"- MR 2012

I'm actually going to discuss person-to-person knowledge transfer, or how we learn things the old fashioned way. We used to learn something particularly well because a real-life person, often a family member, librarian, or teacher, taught us that something. When I was a child, the mighty Google hadn't been born yet. If I wanted to find something out, I had to ask someone, or go to my local library. I enjoy the convenience and abundance of online data, and would have a hard time going back to the old days. But I worry that in the crush of online data, we've lost knowledge that used to be gleaned the old way.  Learning how to take care of plants is something that is best done by person-to-person knowledge transfer, and I had an example of this truth this weekend at our local orchid show.

I am no longer a nimble youth, but I was the youngest one at the show!  Most of the people who were visiting, or displaying their orchids, were in their 70s and up. There were no kids. The only exceptions were the families from Taiwan and the Philippines who were there to sell their orchids. They were mostly extended families, with children in tow who were learning the family business. I bought a beautiful Catasetum from a Taiwanese gardener. She said she'd learned all about orchids starting at age 5 from her grandfather, and her parents. Orhid-growing was her family's business for many generations. She's now teaching her own children how to tend orchids.

I went online when I got home (of course I did!), and found out my country's orchid society has shrunk from 33,000 members 10 years ago to about 11,000 today. They lost their home and gardens in Delray Beach, Florida, because there weren't enough members to keep it going.

Frankly, I'm worried. If we're not passing our knowledge of horticulture on to our kids, and other young people, how will that knowledge be kept? I don't like the idea that the only place out there to learn gardening is a highly vulnerable virtual world, the Internet. Especially in this time of rapid climate change, when many native habitats (and their inhabitants) are disappearing, it's even more important that we learn to cultivate all sorts of plants in our own gardens. Then we can personally pass that knowledge on to others.

I'm going to make an effort to get out with my Tillandsias and Mesembs more often to speak to groups of kids and young people. What do you all think?? Am I just being old-fashioned?? Or are you pensive, too?

"Ulm Cathedral"- MR

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Weekend Walkabout (With Bunny Love)

The jet stream's been messing with our weather again, throwing out some amazingly weird loops and creating some very peculiar storms across the country. Fortunately, we got rain, not snow. Our own storm system from the Gulf of Mexico tried so hard to go tropical cyclone on us, and it almost made it. It was banding and spinning before it spun out.  Here's a lovely cumulonimbus that formed off the beach as the system spun out to sea:

All the rain really brought out the wildflowers, birds, and the wild bunnies. We have two species here, the Florida Marsh Rabbit (smaller, with a chubby body, short legs, small ears, and reddish fur), and the Eastern Cottontail (larger and leggier, brown agouti fur, white tail).  Here's the Marsh Rabbit:

And here's the Eastern Cottontail, also enjoying the flowers:

I'll be back with plenty of Lithops and Tillie news soon, as soon as I can stop photographing bunnies, that is!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Tilly of the Month: Tillandsia xerographica

The King of Tillies! Woohaha! I have been looking for a good specimen of this species for more than a year, and I finally found one this week at our locally owned nursery, and at a good price, too.

Tillandsia xerographica, with inflorescence.
 Tillandsia xerographica is a showy beast, true. The name means "dry writing"--how on earth do they come up with these names? I can only imagine the poor, thirst-mad botanist who discovered this was not in his right mind when he named it. Or he had abominably curlicued handwriting and saw a resemblance.

Among gardeners, it's known as the "King of Tillandsias", and this seems appropriate. They grow slowly, but majestically, to about a third to a half-meter in diameter, and occasionally, up to a meter. The inflorescence, as you can see, is quite remarkable. Tilly xerographica is native to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The leaves are silvery-white with pinkish highlights. And of course, the leaves are delightfully curly!

One reason it's hard to find good specimens in nurseries is that T. xerographica needs some special watering. In nature, they are often found at a diagonal. In nurseries, they are upright. Why is this a problem? Because if water stays trapped at the top of the plant (meristem) and does not drain out, the plant drowns and rots rather quickly. So if you are a proud owner of a T. xerographica, all you need to do is tip the plant upside down to drain the water after you soak it.  A once-a-week soak of about 15 minutes to an hour, and occasional mistings, should do fine. The water should be about 5.5-6pH, and have some bromeliad fertilizer in it about twice a month during the growing season, at about half strength.

T. xerographica needs a fair bit of light, also. These tillies grow on only the highest branches in their native environment. It should be near a sunny window, but not in direct sunlight.  It blooms once, then pups, like all Tillandsias. But the inflorescence and flowers can last for months!

Speaking of showy inflorescence, my T. concolor, now an outdoor Tilly, is looking pretty bloomy.

I can't wait to see the flowers on this one!