Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bloomin' Kalanchoes: Panda vs. Devil!

Kalanchoe daigremontiana ("The Devil's Backbone", or "Mother of Millions") and Kalanchoe tomentosa ("The Panda Plant") are both Madagascar natives. One is a scary, often invasive plant that can clone itself endlessly until it takes over your garden, and from there, the world; the other is cute, fuzzy, and slow-growing. Considering they are cousins, it's amazing how different they are. Here is the Panda-
Kalanchoe tomentosa, the Panda Plant, MR
And here is the Mother of Millions:
Flowering stalks of Kalanchoe daigremontiana, MR 2014
Quite shocking, isn't it? K. daigremontiana does not bloom regularly, and some don't bloom at all. Mine love to bloom and are happy to do it whenever the mood strikes. This year, it's in winter. The blooms are odorless but very unique, if a little scary looking. But hey, it's a scary plant! Before putting some in your garden, know that you'll never get rid of it  (mine was planted by the former resident of my house, years ago), and it's entirely toxic to small children, pets, and most wildlife. Reptiles live very happily within it, however, as it offers them protection from predators. Scientists are working with the toxins to create cardiac and psychiatric medications, so it may prove useful to us down the line. Sure is a fascinating plant, but growing its sweeter cousin, the Panda, is a safer bet!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Adromischus cristatus: The Key Lime Pie Plant, Continued

Here's my Key Lime Pie Plant when it first came to my indoor garden:
A young Adromischus cristatus, photo MR
And here it is today. See if you can spot the difference....
Look at those spiky stems and all that orange stuff. I wanted to know more about the changes in my Key Lime Pie plant. So, as always, I researched.

The orange and white "hairs" are actually aerial roots. Not a heck of a lot is known about aerial roots, but they can serve several functions. Some absorb needed gases from the air, when the rest of the roots are underwater, or in waterlogged soil. Mangroves do this.
Adventitious roots on a mangrove, photo by MR.
But in the very dry Eastern Cape of South Africa, waterlogged soils are probably not even on the radar. So why all the roots? They are there to absorb water from the occasionally humid or foggy atmosphere. Roots above and below ground give greater opportunity to the plant to absorb precious water. And just looking at my plant, I can see that the tiny leaves on top of the long, rooted stems could conceivably become new plants if the stems broke off from the mother plant. Just sayin'! Neither Court nor Dortort mention that, but I'm thinking that could be useful for the plant. There's apparently a lot more room for research on the function of aerial roots. What do you think they are all about?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tillies of the Month: Baileyi vs. Pseudobaileyi

Alert gardeners have asked me what the difference is between Tillandsia baileyi and Tillandsia pseudobaileyi. Since I have both in my garden, I thought I would find out!
Bailey is on the left, pseudobaileyi is on the right. According to Paul Isley III, they are both named for a mysterious V. Bailey. I was asked if this could possibly be B. Bailey, as in Beetle Bailey, as their greens are strikingly similar, but I don't think so....

File:Recruta zero 03.png
Courtesy of Wikipedia
Anyway, T. bailey, the more slender figure on the left, grows in dry woods from Texas to Mexico at fairly low altitudes. It has neither stem nor bulb. But it can grow into a very impressive clump over the years. T. pseudobaileyi, on the right, comes from Mexico, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, and is a bulbous high-altitude Tillie. It prefers to grow sideways or upside-down. It actually looks a lot more like the much more common T. bulbosa, or perhaps T. butzii....
Tillandsia butzii

The confusion between the two species comes from the fact that the obviously bulbous T. pseudobaileyi was sold as true T. baileyi for many years. How they got so tangled up in each other is beyond me, but as you can see from the above picture, tangling is what Tillies do best. Or perhaps someone dropped a label and stuck it on the wrong plant. Who knows what was going on with those botanists, hoofing around in the wilderness back in 1900?? At any rate, it's very easy to tell the difference between the two, and they are both beautiful and worth growing.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Though you might not guess it, many of my readers are from Ukraine. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you, we have family and friends living near you. We are praying for peace and a swift end to the bloodshed.
Let peace and compassion for one's fellows prevail....God bless us all.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Lithops sure grow slow!" (But they do grow.)

It's been about a year and a half since I tried growing Lithops from seed. And some are still hanging in there!
They actually look like proper Lithops now, not the cute, tiny blobs that they were. They've gone through 2 leaf regeneration cycles, and I take care of them in the same manner as my grownup Lithops. Can you spot the L. aucampiae, at least I'm pretty sure that's what it is?
Here are some of the year-and-a-halflings next to some grownup Lithops:
By comparison, here is some basil, sown from seed a week and a half ago:
These seedlings are sprouting their first true leaves, and tower over the little Lithops. But still, there's something very satisfying, not to mention patience-promoting, about growing Lithops from seed, don't you think?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Weekend Walkabout: Opuntia, Dahlia, and Fish Crow

Our only native cactus, the Opuntia, or Prickly Pear, is in full bloom on the dune. What a weird bloom it is!
But don't go picking those alien flowers and fruit without thick gloves; the glochids will get you!
Though most of my friends and family are enduring Snowball Earth, this time of year in the subtropics is the best for hiking, and searching for the Elusive Skunk Ape! Here's a view of a local "pine island" I took:

"Pine Island", MR 2014
One of my spring gardening adventures this year is the Dinnerplate Dahlia. Technically, they are not supposed to grow on sand dunes (we had winds of 50mph, about 100kph two nights ago) but I grew Russian Mammoth Sunflowers last year, so what the hey! The bulbs are coming alive, after being about 2 weeks in the ground....
The local Fish Crows (Corvus ossifragus) are looking askance at my weird gardening attempts....
Fish Crows, not American Crows
How do you tell a Fish Crow from a regular American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)? Easy. Ask a Fish Crow anything at all. They will always respond with a loud "Nuh-Uh!" For example, I asked them just this morning, "Can I grow Dinnerplate Dahlias on this sand dune?" They both cocked their heads and said, "Nuh-Uh!!" But who takes the advice of a Fish Crow?? ;-) 
Happy weekend gardening!

Note: Fish Crows live throughout the US southeast. They are smaller than regular crows and have a very distinctive voice. They do not "caw", they "uh-uh". If you're not sure which crow you are talking with, ask it if it is a regular American Crow. If it says, "Nuh-uh", you know you've found a Fish Crow!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Titanopsis calcarea Meets Aloinopsis

I've been hoping to find a Titanopsis to keep my Aloinopsis company for over a year, and finally, I found one!
Titanopsis calcarea, MR 2014
Both Titanopsis and Aloinopsis form small rosettes with spoon-shaped, (spatulate), often tubercled leaves. I call the tubercles "knobbles".
Aloinopsis malherbei with "Bill"_MR_2012

Titanopsis grows further north in southern Africa, from Namibia to the Great Karoo. T. calcarea is the best known of the group and was allegedly discovered by a not-so-alert naturalist who was walking over "limestone" only to discover the stones were really plants. Poor Titanopsis!

Titanopsis is very cold-hardy, but hates being damp and cold. So this one is definitely not going outside.... They can grow well outside in Southern California, I'm told. They should be grown in very porous soil, with lots of light, like all mesembs, but they only need water every two weeks or so.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Lithops Don't Like Cold Rain! (Polar Vortex Update)

Just a quick update on those Lithops that were stuck outdoors during the Polar Vortex. Days of cold rain are not good for Lithops. The ones that I hastily repotted and brought indoors did all right. But the ones that stayed out, well, I lost a couple.

Lithops don't let you know when they are in trouble. You find out a week later when the top gets a little soft, and slightly pale. might wonder what went wrong and what you can do, but by the time those little changes are apparent, it's a Dead Lithops Sitting.  A few days later, this happens:
You can see how the roots atrophy to nothing, and the plant withers from the base upwards. I'm glad I was able to repot as many as I did. And of course, all the indoor Lithops are fine.

On the other hand, you can have a plant that looks like it's completely and utterly dead, yet it's feeling groovy. My Catasetum tenebrosum is now dormant. But as hinky as it looks now, it will rise like a phoenix in a few months, ready to bloom again!
And the seedling trays are doing beautifully, lots of herbs sprouting.
And the Reiki experiment has begun, but that's for a later post. Have a reasonably happy Monday!

Friday, February 7, 2014

New Things For Spring

It's not quite spring here yet, but it will be soon, as spring starts early in the subtropics. So I am traying something new. No, that's not a typo....
I'm really trying a tray!  This is a garden-starter. It comes with compressed, dehydrated sterile soil in little nylon pouches. I add clean water to the pouches, open the tops, add my seeds of choice, pop the top on the tray, put it in a spot with medium heat and medium light, and wait. So this will be my herb garden of smelly plants, particularly peppermint, dill, and lime basil.  We'll see how it works.

I've got my usual stem cutting from my humongous scented geranium going:
They take about 2 weeks to grow strong roots. Then they can be planted outdoors in the garden, or in a pot.
And the Tillies are pupping like mad. Here's an adorable baby T. magnusiana (the fluffball Tillie):
I like T. magnusiana as single specimens, so when this pup has doubled its size, I'll separate it from the mother plant. The more magnusianas, the merrier, right? What's springing up in your neck of the woods? I think with the strange weather, more gardeners will be starting their plants indoors this year.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

It's the Year of the Horse!

In Chinese astrology, the Year of the Horse can be very unpredictable and action-oriented. The motto of the Horse is, "I act!" It can be a tricky year, full of ups and downs. But I noticed a few months ago I was becoming interested in depicting horses, and by very cool coincidence, Chef Riccardo sent me some wonderful photos he took in Italy of...horses!
Photo by Riccardo Senettin, 2013
Photo by Riccardo Senettin, 2013
The spacious, almost surreal quality of the photos got me painting (no surprises there). So far, I'm enjoying the results, though neither painting is finished yet. My acrylics generally take several months, as I paint in very thin layers, about 20-30 per painting, and collage various bits in as I go.
"Cavalli 1: In Process", MR, 2014
This one's about halfway done, with the basic areas blocked in.

And here's a peek at a corner of my studio, with the second horse painting, "Cavalli 2", on the easel. I'll post photos when they are finished. Anyone else inspired by horses this year? Anyone dreading or excited by the wild ride that is the Year of the Horse?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Chef Riccardo's Taste of the Garden: Vegetable Strudel

Chef Riccardo's back with a fragrant and tasty veggie strudel for the end of winter. Vegetable strudel is surprisingly easy to make and is a great dish to take to a party or potluck. Here's how:

1 eggplant  (about 380 gm), peeled and cubed
1 medium carrot, grated
1 zucchini (about 150 gm), chopped coarsely
Sweet red peppers (about 200 gm), chopped
1 small onion, chopped  
½ c chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained thoroughly
10 white mushrooms, sliced
a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes
1 slice fresh ginger
1 box of frozen puff pastry (in a rectangular sheet, not cups), or filo/phyllo dough, thawed.

Saute’ the onion and ginger in the olive oil in a large shallow pan for a few minutes.  Add the vegetables and saute’ for 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remove the ginger slice, then transfer the vegetables to a plate and let them cool.

Line a baking pan with baking parchment, or grease well, and place the pastry rectangle on it. Add the filling to the center section and roll up into a cylinder. Make about 5 cuts in the top so steam can escape, and seal the ends of the cylinder.

Bake the strudel at 200 degrees C, or 400F for 30-35 minutes or until the strudel is well browned. Remove from oven, let cool, cut into slices and serve warm or cold.

Note: Fresh seasonal veggies can be substituted for any of the above veggies, in equal quantity.
½ c. cubes of soft cheese like Monterey Jack can be added to the filling when you roll up the strudel.

Happy Cooking!
Chef Riccardo