Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Weird Wednesday: The Evil Weevil

Pensive Tuesday got pre-empted by Weird Wednesday, which is possible if you believe, like Dr.  Who, that linear time is an illusion....

Anyway, while I was vacationing in South Florida, one of my favorite places on the planet, I visited the exquisite Morikami Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach. Here's the famous Red Bridge:
Morikami Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach, MR 2013
I've painted and photographed this bridge too many times to count...such a peaceful place! When someone mentions Amida Buddha's Western Paradise, I think of this garden.

And now the gardens have an extra delight. Tillies! They have added dozens of Tillandsias to the gardens, and it really enhances the experience. After all, these are New World plants that deserve to be showcased.

But in every story, there is a villain. And in South Florida, that villain is the Evil Weevil. You can read the details from  the University of Florida here:

Metamasius callizona  first showed up in South Florida in 1989, and hailed from Mexico. It loves to eat Tillies the way people love to eat Krispy Kremes. In fact, it attacks all sorts of bromeliads, and is now in the Everglades. Some Tillandsias are more resistant than others, but none seem to be completely immune. The weevil is spreading through Florida and is becoming a huge problem for Tillies and their gardeners.... Here's the distribution map from UF:

Distribution as of February 2009.

If you click on the UF link above, you can see what the critters look like, what their egg cases look like, and what they do to the poor Tillies. The photos are too gruesome for this blog.

So it's another case of be very careful what we bring into our gardens. Some species really need to stay home. Especially weevils. As of now, the Tillandsias of the Morikami, and my garden, are fine. But I'm certainly on the lookout for Evil Weevils.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Last month, I made a pledge to myself to spend more time with the photos I already have, and to stop piling on so many new ones. I've been doing...okay with that, I guess. I have been using my old manual Nikon (an ancient film camera), and it's been lots of fun. And I've started learning Corel PaintShop Pro, also fun. Just playing around with some of my favorite Lithops and Babytoes shots has been an interesting experience....
A Bold, Posterized Babytoes, MR 2013
And an even bolder Lithops in blue. I did say blue was going to be the in color for Lithops this year, didn't I? Hmmm....
OK, back to the photo lab before Monday intrudes!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mystery Mesemb and Some Sirenian Guests

It's been quite a weekend walkabout already. We live in the middle of a Manatee Zone (Trichechus manatus), but I have not seen any up close until recently, when a group from the Banana River decided to dock in the shallows near our house. These herbivorous mammals don't have a particular mating season, and were clearly happy to "Carpe Diem in July"...of course, they were probably just flirting. Can you spot them heading towards the shore?

Sirenian docking maneuvers complete....
See a cute little face and flipper?
These lovable sea mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, so everyone on shore kept their distance, didn't use any flash on their cameras, and stayed very quiet and peaceful. I am glad to say the manatees completely ignored us. It was an amazing moment for everyone.

And for some succulent amazement, my Mystery mesemb (which had radical surgery some time ago) has bloomed. The blossom is a very pale lavender, about 1cm across. It's hard to spot, but it's there, in the center. I still have absolutely no idea what this plant is, but am sticking to my story that it is a Gibbaeum.
Have a wonderful weekend walkabout in your neck of the woods!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: Diggin' In The Dirt, Again

For this Pensive Tuesday, I'm once again ruminating on the subject of dirt. Desert dirt, specifically. I've spent long stretches of time hiking through the desert on archaeological digs, and for other assorted reasons. The hard crust of desert soils has always intrigued me. What makes that crunchy crust? When that crust is disturbed, for instance, by vehicles, dust storms can erupt. And plants can no longer live there. So what is it about the crust in which so many Mesembs and cacti live?


Cyanobacteria (photo Wiki Commons)
They are so ancient, these little guys, that they have been around for practically all of Earth's history. They grow into vast collectives that stabilize soils, fix nitrogen, provide oxygen, and prevent erosion in arid and semi-arid environments. They make it possible for plants and animals to colonize harsh environments.  When they are destroyed, the soil is no longer hospitable to other plants and the animals that feed on the plants. Amazing!

Climate change is having an effect on these critters, but we don't know much about it yet. The main species that grows in hot deserts, Microceleus steenstrupii, should do fine for a time, but other species, equally important to the environment, might not. Hopefully, scientists are doing more research to find out what's going on in those crusts. And when you're walking over a soil crust, be sure to thank the tiny creatures that make it possible!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Do Crotons Bloom? Really??

Those of us who live on exposed, windy dunes and other harsh garden sites are always on the lookout for plants that are beautiful and stay healthy in our yards. I mean, let's face it, most dune plants are...scruffy...stunted...kinda grey and fuzzy. Some, like Russian Thistle (Salisola kali), are distinctly hazardous to your health, ouch!

This weekend, a good friend was whinging to me how he yearns for the lush, tropical colors of Miami, instead of the mousy green-greys of our subtropical dunes. He said, "How about some color?"  Lantana can supply that....

Lantana: All About Color!
And of course, you can be a crazy gardening nut and try to grow the bodaciously colorful sunflower. Hey, it can work!
Attempting to avoid the salt spray, blech!
But my favorite color-diva is the Croton (Codiaeum variegatum), a delightful Euphorbia that is actually tropical, and not supposed to grow in any zones except 10 and 11, but does very well here (Zone 9) if you can shelter it from high winds and prolonged frost, and keep it watered.

 Native to Indonesia and Malaysia (Dutch traders brought them to Europe in the 17th/18th centuries, as they found their colors enchanting) Crotons can grow up to 2m high. They were hugely popular in the Southern US in the Roaring 1920s, but then fell out of favor in the 1970s (too flamboyant for the era, I suppose). Now they're back in fashion. And, despite rumors to the contrary, they really do bloom!
A Bloomin' Croton!
I think the "no bloom" rumor started because these plants are so often grown indoors. They simply don't get enough light indoors to really thrive and bloom. Mine get hours of full, hot afternoon sunshine, they face west, and they just soak it up. The key is to make sure that they never dry out, and are sheltered from salt spray. They only need a couple of fertilizer applications each year, and don't like too much food. Alkaline soil has to be acidified slightly (to about 6pH). And that's really about it.

The entire plant is poisonous, but I've never seen any local wildlife try to eat it. I suppose the bright colors are a warning, as with poison frogs?? They stay where they are planted, and won't invade other parts of the garden. Propagation is mostly from cuttings, however most people just buy very small crotons from a nursery, as they grow very quickly, and are inexpensive. But I do think they need a more romantic, showy name than "Croton"....
Croton, Vinca, and Gold Dust Plants in my garden.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Helianthus annuus: Growing Sunflowers on a Sand Dune

I'm very happy and proud that my first group of Russian Mammoth Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) were able to complete their entire life cycle on my little patch of dune. Not easy, though! They need much richer soil than the alkaline, sandy stuff I have here. So I dug out a pretty deep area and mixed the soil with lots of organic matter along with rabbit droppings and soil from a local farm. Zone 9 is a little hot and dry for Helianthus. They need consistent drenchings of good water (no salt water, please!), and lots of fertilizer to grow. But that didn't stop me.

Here are the seedlings, just showing their first leaves in May of this year:

Note the bunny droppings, great fertilizer!
I had a dozen germinate successfully, about 90% of the total planted. The landscapers weed-whacked a few young ones before I built a fence to protect them (bad weed whackers!).

But would the sunflowers really grow 10feet (3m) tall, as they do in Eastern Europe? Nope. Life on a windy dune seems to signal to the plants that 3m is way too dangerous. They grew to about 5-6 feet (2m), and I had to stake them with some humongous stakes to keep them from toppling and breaking, as our "ocean breezes" get up to about 50-55mph (around 80kph) during the summer now and then. But the sunflower buds did arrive by June....
Numero Uno, Ready to Bloom
Every sort of insect and fungus tried to attack these sunflowers. But I didn't use any pesticides at all, as our dune is environmentally sensitive and we try not to use anything poisonous. Ladybugs are about it. And I was also curious to see if they could survive as is. They did! Here's the first full bloom, and I was delighted.

Then came more!
In all, 9 of the 12 bloomed magnificently. The seed heads have now almost completely ripened and dried. So now I've got lovely black seeds to plant next year. My dream of growing my favorite flower in my own garden came true. And until next year, I've got plenty of photos to enjoy and work with in my studio.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Lithops: Sometimes They Get Stuck

Gardener Rika of Lithops Stories had an interesting post this week about Lithops that get...stuck.  They start to regenerate, then just sit there, sometimes for months, while their brothers and sisters are already fully releafed and living energetic, purposeful lives. Frustrating!
Collectively, the commenters on Rika's blog came up with three options for helping a comatose Lithops:
1. Leave it alone. It's just doin' what it's doin' and it's none of your business.
2. Water it. This can jolt it awake, so it gets moving with regeneration. It's the Cold Shower Treatment!
3. Surgery. Cut away the old leaves so the young ones can grow, and the Lithops won't be "stacked". Or alternately, cut the old leaves open to release the new leaves.

I've tried all three methods. The safest is to simply leave it alone. Eventually, they usually wake up and get moving. That happened with this Lithops:
It sat like this forever (OK, months), and long past when the other Lithops had finished releafing, it suddenly woke from its torpor and POP! big new leaves, and the old ones were absorbed in less than a week. For a Lithops, that is seriously fast and furious.

Option 2 has worked for me...sometimes. But one set of stuck Lithops just turned to goo when I watered it. If I use this option again, I'll give the Lithops only a few drops of water from a pipette, not a full watering.

Option 3 has worked well, with one caveat. Leaves that are cut to be more fully open, as with the Lithops below, will certainly survive, but the new leaves seem to grow very slowly.
I cut the old leaves along the sides to separate them and let the new leaves come through, as it was stacked and stuck. You can see the scars from the cuts where the old leaves divide. They healed quickly and the new leaves are doing fine. They are just slow-growing, and haven't fully absorbed the old leaves. I speculate that the new leaves can't drain the old leaves as efficiently if the old leaves are cut. But the plant survives, so surgery can be worth a try.

I would add another option if you live where Lithops can live outdoors. A couple of very stuck Lithops were replanted outside. Sure enough, the extra light (but not extra heat) gave them a boost, and they regenerated quickly. On the other hand, re-planting or re-potting a stuck Lithops might kill it; I may have just been lucky.

Hopefully other Lithops bloggers can post on this topic, too, as it seems to be very common, and very perplexing!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Growing Lithops: Indoors or Out??

I grow about five dozen Lithops both indoors and outside:
Lithops: An Indoor Herd
My outdoor succulent garden is only about 2 square meters, but has about 3 dozen specimens, including Lithops:

Lithops Living La Vida Loca, Outside
I enjoy both gardens. Indoors, Lithops can be highly decorative, in special pots, perched in strategic locations. My friends and family enjoy them. And I have somewhat more control over their environment.  Outdoors, the survival strategy of the Lithops becomes plain. They really blend in! When I'm standing up, I can barely see some of them. Makes it easy to understand how they have survived herbivorous creatures out in the African desert. And each species has evolved to camouflage itself among a different sort of rocky surface. Amazing!

Some species, like L. julii, and some of my karasmontanas, seem to do better outside. Other, more fragile species like being indoors better (L. dorotheae comes to mind). Since everyone's garden is different, experimentation, trial and error are necessary to figure out who should go where.

We get torrential downpours that can last for days here in the summertime, so I supplemented our sandy soil with lots of perlite and pumice. So far, no outdoor Lithops have burst or rotted from too much water. I also chose a location where they are shaded from the hottest afternoon sun. They seem to prefer morning sunlight.
Hurricane Sandy Brought a Lot of Rain!

The main limiting factors for indoor/outdoor cultivation are, of course, water (not too much), temperature (no freeze, please), and light (most places indoors are too dark).  Inside, many factors can be compensated for with artificial lights, special soil, and total control of watering. But it's really fun to see Lithops growing free and in the wild, at least as close as I can make it, this far from Africa.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: Going Slow in a Fast Digital World

My camera is still kaput, and I know which one I'm buying to replace it (thanks, Consumer Reports!), but I haven't bought it yet. Why? I find I'm enjoying going slow for awhile. When my camera was working, my inner complaint was, "I've got a whole album of photos to load onto the computer, then back up, and I still haven't gone through the last 3 sets I shot!" Obviously, the universe listened and broke my camera....

I started sketching and painting more, and even did some cartooning:

I made birthday cards out of some of my photos that had been languishing for months:
Birthdays and Babytoes seem like an obvious pair! And I took out some photos and started painting them. I call these my "altergraphs":
Lantana altergraph, MR 2013
Finally, and maybe most importantly, I started organizing my photos in earnest, and made sure the newest ones were backed up on CD and on the cloud I subscribe to. I had several emails from concerned gardeners who recommended several sites. There are some very good ones out there now, some free, some for a surprisingly low cost. Storing one's work on a cloud is a fairly new way of preserving digital data. I like to have a CD/DVD backup in hand, but knowing everything is stored at a distance (ie: far away from hurricanes) is a real comfort.

What do all of you do with your photo files? Are they super-organized, or languishing in digital piles in a far corner of your computer? ;-) I'm generally somewhere in between, and I'm having fun taking a little time with them this summer.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Tillie of the Month: Tillandsia intermedia

My upside-down month calls for an upside-down Tillie! Well, true, a lot of the wackiness was in June, but it's continued in July.  Many Tillies like to live at weird angles, but only a few actually live upside down. Tillandsia intermedia is one of them:

Tillandsia intermedia, enjoying life upside-down.
Isn't she a beaut?? Reminds me of a curly-tentacled squid, but in a good way.

Giant squid from Melbourne- photo Wikimedia

T. intermedia has the same sort of leaves and general structure as Tillandsia caput medusae (below).  Pale green, highly silvered, flexible leaves, a tightly wrapped core, and prone to basal rot.

Of course, there will be no rot if you grow it upside down. If you don't, just remember to drain the leaves at the base after a soaking. This Tillie grows about 20cm, 30cm including its inflorescence.  T. intermedia is unusual in another way--the pups appear both at the base, and from the inflorescence. That means that over time, a huge, gangly, bodacious clump will grow from one plant, all of it upside-down. (Rainforest Flora, one of the oldest Tillandsia nurseries in the world, has a good gallery of T. intermedia photos that show these bizarre clumps. If I ever get to California, I'm going to visit them and observe these strange creatures in person!)

Care of the Squid Tillie is the same as for others; a good soaking once or twice a week (twice a week if grown indoors), bright filtered light, and special Tillandsia fertilizer once a month or so. I have never seen one of these for sale at a local nursery, but online nurseries sell them.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

To My American Readers: Happy 4th of July!

Have a wonderful and tasty holiday! Just remember to water your plants. ;-) I got mine done early this morning, before the kitchen craziness began....

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: Life Seen Through a Broken Lens

This is the second broken camera I've become rather enchanted with. The first was an ancient film camera (old when I bought it in a second hand store in Europe), a Nikon FM.  It had been toted all over the planet in some rather deplorable conditions, and I'm embarrassed to have done what I did to that poor gadget. Eventually, the film stopped spooling properly, sprockets would show up on the negatives, the light bled in weird ways. But I kept using it because I never knew what it would do next. I'm still working with some of the negatives, they are ghostly and strange. Here's a fairly normal looking shot from Italy:

Now my first digital camera has gone the way of all gadgets, another victim of entropy. I haven't decided which model will be my new camera, and I really wanted to photograph my Russian sunflowers. They don't last long, and they are extraordinary. So out came the broken camera with the screwed up lens:

And you know, I really like this shot. This one, too:

I'm keeping the kaput camera, and will probably use it now and then, even after I've got the new one. Who knows what will turn up?

The lens is a mess, but then, if my own lenses were perfect, and I saw life clearly, with perfect equilibrium and peace, I probably wouldn't still be here. Ditto for everyone else. We've all got lens issues, don't we? But sometimes, that's a good thing, and we see things a little differently now and then.

Monday, July 1, 2013

This Is Just Wrong

OK, my computer crashed and I got a new motherboard. All better, right? Wrong!

My digital camera is now caput, a "stuck lens", which I've fixed several times before, but now, all my ministrations are for naught and my camera is truly dead. I'll probably get a new one this week, I've been researching and I've narrowed it down. A super-zoom model seems like a good idea to me. With a good lens.

But until then, I'm one downed blogger. The universe is telling me to chill. I mean, what's a post without pictures? I've been doing a lot of sketching, though! Sometimes, the old ways are still good.