Saturday, June 28, 2014

Two Amazing Asian Plants for the Herbalist

During this spring's local Orchid Show, I didn't just buy an orchid. I bought two intriguing plants for herbologists/herbalists that are grown extensively in SE Asia. They are growing in pots on my sand dune right now. I'm not growing them outside of pots until I know how quickly they spread, as they are not native plants and I don't want them growing wild.

The first, Murdannia loriformis, is known as both Angel Grass and Beijing Grass. It is a prolific shade grower, and my small mother plant now has 5 daughter plants!
Murdannia loriformis, "Angel Grass", MR, 2014
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is interested in Murdannia.
In an NIH study, M. loriformis inhibited colon cancer. The leaves provide antioxidants and seem to modulate the immune system. In Asia, the leaves are used to counter the undesirable side effects of chemotherapy. In TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), chemotherapy is considered very hot and yang, while Murdannia is considered cold and yin, so it helps to balance the body during chemo.

As far as growing it, it is a grass and in filtered sun and plenty of water with rich soil, it grows very fast. You can break up the clumps and repot individually, or grow it like a spider plant- when stems with root nodes appear, place it in a new pot. You can cut the stem immediately, or keep it attached to the mother plant until it roots. The only pest I've noted on this grass is scale insect. But it seems very hardy to scale, so if you spot a few on the plant, it's not a tragedy.

The next plant is Gynura procumbens, aka Longevity Spinach or Cholesterol Spinach:
Gynura procumbens, MR 2014
It's grown extensively in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. This woody-stemmed, wide-leaved plant also prefers filtered sun and plenty of water. It is showing promise in lab research to be an anti-HSV (herpes simplex virus) agent, and is used in Asia to lower bad cholesterol levels in the blood and ease hypertension. In TCM, G. procumbens is also considered to have cool, yin energy. The leaves are eaten in salads or as a lettuce replacement in sandwiches. I haven't seen any pests annoy it, and it seems very happy in Zones 9-11.

Monday, June 23, 2014

More Bloomin' Cactus: Parodia Uebelmanniana

Here's a lovely cactus with origins in the uplands of Argentina. I don't see this one for sale often here, and I've grown this one outdoors for several years now. First, the buds....
And then, the bloom!
For me, growing Parodia indoors or outdoors has been a real dilemma. Indoors, their water intake is carefully controlled, so they stay nice and dry most of the time. But they really need outdoor sunshine. They never bloomed indoors. Outdoors, I worry that they are going to rot with the summer rains, but so far, it's a better environment for them. I made sure the soil in their patch was augmented with lots of perlite, so any monsoon-type rains would drain away from the roots quickly and  prevent rot. I don't fertlize them often at all, maybe just twice a year. So far, so good....

A Lovely Cactus Flower: Rebutia wessneriana (?)

Naturally, this little guy was simply labeled "Cactus" when I bought it last year at a nursery. Well, duh.

It's sometimes hard to tell one cactus from another, as many look similar to each other. Until they bloom, that is! Then it's time to pull out the cactus guide and do some educated guessing.

This is cactus-blooming month in my garden, and this amazing orange-red flower makes me think this little guy is a Rebutia wessneriana, also known as R. krainziana.  It's a small, clumping cactus from Bolivia. It can handle a little more frost, but can't stand super-hot, midday sun or prolonged intense heat. It's somewhat prone to rot and can't stand too much water or dampness. Each flower lasts for several days, and there are three to five buds per mature cactus. Adorable!

Monday, June 16, 2014

My Catasetum Returns, a Lithops Has Outgrown its Home, and the Last of the Sunflowers

Due to a family tragedy, I haven't blogged recently.

Last spring I bought a Catasetum tenebrosum at last year's Orchid Festival. It's a very unusual orchid and the orchid enthusiasts told me it was a bad idea as a "first orchid". But I loved the unusual, cassis-like perfume of the almost-black petaled flowers (that contained a hint of cat pee), so I sprung for one (they ain't cheap!). Here's a photo from 2013:
Catasetum tenebrosum blossoms, MR, 2013
Catasetums have large pseudobulbs and require strict growth and rest periods. Their blooms have a tendency to explode, showering local humans and animals with pollen. They are the phoenixes of the orchid world- they seem to die rather horribly after blooming, then, the next spring, they begin to come to life again. During its dormancy, I occasionally remembered to sprinkle mine with a few drops of water, and that was all I did. Then, starting in May, I saw a little bit of green growth at the base of a pseudobulb, and some new greenish root growth. I began to water it and fertilize it a couple times a week. It grew. I watered it everyday, fertilized it twice a week. It grew more! The leaves are growing lush, and an inflorescence has appeared. "Cat" is getting ready to bloom!
Catasetum tenebrosum revivifying (MR2014)
The orchid enthusiasts were pretty surprised this was happening; I was a bit of a newbie's sensation at the Orchid show this year. I'd like to state for the record, though, that in general, I 'm dreadful with orchids. But hey, I guess I'm learning. It can happen, right?

Now here's a Lithops that may need a new pot. What do you think??
They look so lovely and camouflaged in this pot, however, I'd like to keep them as is for awhile. Lithops in general do not take kindly to re-potting. They might not forgive me....
And here's my last sunflower of the season. It was a short season this year, as winter ended late, and spring ended early. And hey, I'm Zone 10 now, right? But every sunflower had a chance to bloom at least once before the killer heat and vicious mites bumped them off. This is a lovely saffron-colored decorator's variety. In general, the Russian Mammoths were hardier than the "boutique" varieties I tried this year, so I may go back to them next year. Not sure yet.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Welcome to the Tropics: Plumeria

To celebrate my arrival in the tropics (OK, I haven't moved, but to recap, my area has been re-zoned to 10, from Sub-tropical to Tropical), a friend of mine gave me a stick of Plumeria (Frangipani) to grow in my outdoor garden!

If you live in the tropics, it's ridiculously easy to start a new Plumeria bush or tree. You just stick a branch of it in the ground, give it some solid sunshine, water it regularly, and wait....
This is after waiting and watering for about a month and a half. Here's the full bloom....

Mine doesn't have much of a scent, unlike other plumeria that have an intense and unique perfume in order to attract moths as pollinators. So my guess is that this is a hybrid, grown for its beautiful color display.

Plumeria are New World tropical flowers that grow surprisingly well on our dunes.  Tough and gorgeous, they are also grown all over Asia. They are named after French botanist Charles Plumier. The fragrant blooms are frequently used in the iconic leis of the Pacific Island cultures.

Their leaves are sparse, their trunks and branches thick and dimpled. Their abundant, milky sap can be irritating to skin and eys- they are distant cousins to the highly poisonous Oleanders. The rule with Plumeria is to give them equal amounts of sun and water. If they are grown in full afternoon sun in the tropics, they need daily drenchings. If they are grown in partial shade or less tropical climes, give them less water. They like some, but not a lot, of basic fertilizer. Beautiful and odd, I'm glad they are growing well in my garden!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Let's All Breathe: The Oxygen Corner

I was shocked and saddened to learn that oxygen levels in some of our megacities have plummeted to around 12-15% (USA's OSHA says that oxygen levels below 19.5% are hazardous to our health). Clearly, we need more plants, particularly if we live in a megacity. As I've written before, I believe Tillandsias have a unique role in our future. We can keep so many of them indoors, and, without the fuss of dirt, they filter our air and give us oxygen! That's why some wise Chinese are using Spanish Moss as full window-screens in their apartments, and why I keep growing and talking about Tillandsias to anyone who can tolerate my monologues....

A small room in our house was lacking plant life, so I created an "Oxygen Corner":
Some great books (on gardening and botany of course), a row of lovely Lithops, and then Tillies and African Violets (because they are so pretty) make this corner fun. I made the ceramic tiles to hang the Tillies on, and I've also got an orchid on the right, because their flowers smell like coconut, which I love. I really don't know to what extent this little corner filters the room's air, or how much oxygen these little plants add, but it's a lovely corner to contemplate when reading, and I figure, every room can use an oxygen corner.