Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tillandsia Galore

Sorry for the lack of updates. College and all of that nonsense. As an apology, however, why not have a Tillandsia post?

Tillandsia is a genus of epiphytic bromeliads. An epiphyte is a plant that grows upon another plant but isn't a parasite, it's just there for the killer view. They get water and nutrients not from the ground but from dust and weather. Little hairs on Tillandsia called trichomes help catch and keep the moisture and dust close to the surface of the leaves to allow for easy absorption. Tillandsia do have roots but they're only really used to further help them cling to the whatever surface they're on.

There are around 540 species of Tillandsia and many of them can be bought in nurseries or ordered online. The wonderful part about them is that you can toss them pretty much anywhere within reason since they don't require pots or containers. Most don't enjoy direct sunlight but a bright windowsill will do just fine. They also usually have a hardiness of about Zone 9 so don't let these guys get too cold!

Even though they collect enough nutrients and moisture in nature to survive, a domestic Tillandsia should probably be watered. It really, REALLY depends on where you live. I get away with dripping a few drops of water on my T. ionantha 'Druid' every weekend here in Oregon, but in the drier air of Colorado it was constantly drying out and getting brown tips even after being dunked in water for 2 minutes twice a week. If you're planning on growing some for yourself, monitor them closely for the first two weeks or so until you can get a good feel for the watering schedule.

Most sellers will tell you that Tillandsia is hard to kill and requires little to no attention. That's what they say about succulents too, but hopefully you all know better. They can dry out or rot if you play things wrong, but they're fairly forgiving. The thinner the leaves, the faster they dry out. 

Tillandsia ionantha 'Fuego'
  A clump of Tillandsia funckiana
Also, a fair warning, "Although not normally cultivated for their flowers, some Tillandsia will bloom on a regular basis. In addition, it is quite common for some species to take on a different leaf colour (usually changing from green to red) when about to flower. This is an indication that the plant is monocarpic (flowers once before dying) but offsets around the flowering plant will continue to thrive."Wikipedia 

I was pretty bummed when I first found out, but with any luck a Tillandsia will make plenty of pups to replace it.

Tillandsia bulbosa
Tillandsia xerographica

Monday, October 15, 2012

Other than Google

Although the internet is a wonderful way to find information... something inside of me doubts the validity of some of what I find. Sure, it's very easy to lie about anything on the internet, but I also feel like the whole picture is not always displayed. With enough research you can find the information you want but... it just doesn't feel as solid to me. If that makes sense.

So lately I've been trying other ways of learning about and looking at plants. One way in particular I have had much fun with lately.

A book I bought at my local library for 25 cents.
It's on sale on eBay for $75

Libraries sometimes hold sales in order to make room for new additions. Not every library does this and it was something I was fairly oblivious to before I moved to the west coast. Lots of the books for sale hail from anywhere between the 1930's to present day, offering a wide variety of topics and writing styles. At the two I have attended, I was immediately drawn to the gardening section. There were old botany text books that still included fungi and bacteria in the kingdom Plantae along side guides to Californian and Oregonian flora.

Two pages from  "A Golden Guide: Cacti" which can be read here

So far I've amounted 19 books on plants, all hard cover and rather thick, and every one cost 50 cents or a dollar! It's a bargain that is impossible to resist! But there's only one problem...

While older books specifically on gardening are still viable for useful information, the more informational/botanical books tend to be... very out of date. It's better to read them with caution as much of their information is probably incorrect. They're still very interesting though! For example, in The Book of Cacti and Other Succulents (1958) the author repeatedly comments on how certain genera have been renamed many times over the course of their history. It's sort of funny because some continue to change even today! (Tacitus bellus for example.)

A page from Claude Chidamian's "The Book of Cacti and Other Succulents"

All in all, older books are cheaper to buy, interesting to read, but less reliable than more expensive current books and even the internet to an extent. But still... you'd be surprised at how interesting of a read some of them can be.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pine Cones on Anything but Pine Trees

When I think of pine cones, I think of gymnosperms. The term means "naked seed", due to the lack of fruit produced by all gymnosperms. There are some angiosperms out there, though, which seem to resemble pine cones. Is it out of random happenstance or some parallel evolution? Probably both.

Leuzea conifera

This Leuzea conifera is in the daisy family, which makes a lot of sense since the flower somewhat resembles a thistle's. I first heard of this one while reading a post on my boss's blog. Sadly, I never did find one sitting out for sale, but I definitely would have bought one! I know it's hardy in Zone 5 and can take a good lot of drought and neglect. It also propagates fairly easily, always a plus. Look at this article if you wanna know just a tid bit more.

Zingiber zerumbet

Zingiber spectabile

Zingiber is a really weird sounding genus isn't it. Really exotic and unique. Looking at the examples above, their flowers seem out of this world. What could they be? Ginger. Neither of these gingers produces the rhizome that you buy in the store, but they're related and are also culinary to an extent. They do love warm temperatures though so if you're looking to grow a Zingiber outside, having a zone rating of at least 8 is helpful, although most of them like zone 11 more.

Guzmania conifera

A bromeliad from Peru and Ecuador, Guzmania conifera seems to make for a really decent houseplant. It enjoys (bright) indirect light and humidity. I could see myself growing it here in Oregon...  except for the fact that it's a bit expensive!

Boschniakia hookeri

B.hookeri is in the broomrape family and as such, it's a parasite. It feeds off of the nutrients in the roots of the Salal bush using haustoria which penetrate and grow into the roots but not into the root cells themselves.  Pale colored flowers grow from in between each overlapping bract. I've always thought parasitic plants were super cool. Indian Paintbrush and Indian Pipe are two of my favorite. Sure, they look awesome, but the challenge of growing them also offers its own allurement.

Encephalocarpus strobiliformis

E. strobiliformis is supposed to be hardy up to Zone 9a and enjoy full sun to part shade. It also has a few synonyms, indicating that it's one of those plants that always has the same species name but an ever-changing genus. Does it belong to PelecyphoraAriocarpus? Or just Encephalocarpus? The world may never know. The only thing that remains clear is that... it looks like a pine cone.

Annona squamosa

Ginger isn't the only edible plant on this list. Annona squamosa or the Sugar Apple is a small tree/bush forms these weird fruits in the same way a raspberry does. I've never tasted them or seen them, so one would be better off to consult a certain internet encyclopedia that describes it. The Sugar Apple is only hardy in Zones 10 and 11, which always bums me out. The coolest things always seem to like zones I don't care to live in!

Euphorbia bupleurifolia

Anyone who owns a Euphorbia bupleurifolia should count themselves lucky. Sure, it may not be completely ridiculously rare in cultivation, but it is threatened in its natural habitat. It's always a shame to find out that some of the coolest and oddest looking plants are endangered because people couldn't wait to propagate them and just plucked them from the wild. Here's a link to someone who owns one.

I think I'll start trying to keep these posts short 'n' sweet. Typing up a longer one always drains the enthusiasm I felt while finding all the images! Live and learn.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Something to Catch the Eye

The sun really is pretty amazing. Yeah, it gives almost everything on the earth the heat and light they need to live, but it does other more subtle things too. Ever enjoy the sun beams coming through your windows in the morning, lighting up all the dust in the air? Or perhaps the way sunlight hits snow once the clouds from the storm have gone. It really does sparkle every single color, I feel bad for people who have never seen it!

There are, of course, plants that use the sun to make themselves sparkle too!

Echeveria 'Glitter'

Mesembryanthemum crystallinum

Monilaria obconica

Drosera capensis

Drosanthemum hispidum

Aptenia cordifolia

I could do a little blip about each of these. But I think I'll pass this time.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hug Me?

Lately I've been looking at cacti wondering about how easy/difficult they might be to grow. I've been buying seed trays and hunting down easy succulents to get my little hobby going, but there just wasn't enough danger. Where is the thrill in handling Echeveria paragynese or growing Kalanchoe "Mother of Thousands"? Sure, they're a bit prolific, but there's no excitement or thrill. And then I thought, well, why not cacti?

Rebutia seems so be a good genus for fast growing cacti. They're all pretty small, stay in a cute, globular form, and lots of them clump! Even better, they're known for producing plenty of seed.

Rebutia narvaecensis

Rebutia narvaecensis is one of my favorites that I've seen, mainly because I love light pink cactus flowers. I'm not very girly usually, but this color really gets me sometimes. Anyway though! DG puts it at Zones 9b - 11, full sun to light shade, and CAUTION... it might be kind of pointy. Almost reminds me of the warning label on watermelon I saw recently: "Caution, may contain the occasional seed." 

Rebutia heliosa 'Sunrise'

This Rebutia means business. Looks like it would be fantastic for people who want a prolific cactus. I can only imagine what separating the pups would be like though... Same stats as Rebutia narvaecensis which is part of what makes this genus an awesome (and frequently sold) houseplant. It can take light shade and be okay! Of course, not all Rebutia sp. are the same since the genus is a mish-mash of other, obsolete genera which you can learn more about here. 

Cylindropuntia bigelovii or the Teddy Bear Cholla

There comes a point where plants can become a bit infamous for how well they spread, and the Teddy Bear Cholla is definitely one of them. If an animal or person happens to brush up against this Cholla, even just barely, a segment will break off and stick to them. Even just stepping on the ground beside one will cause them to drop down from above. What's the worst part? The spines are barbed, making your best option to clip of the spines and use pliers to pull them out later. As a result, Teddy Bear Cholla spread into forests pretty easily. They can be anywhere from 1'-5' tall and sometimes desert rodents will grab bits of the plant and put it outside of their dens to protect them. DG puts this cactus at Zones 8b - 11 which makes sense, as it lives in California, Arizona, Nevada, and a bit of Mexico. 

I've always joked about throwing cactus bits at people who I don't like. I take it back... here are some videos that describe Teddy Bear better than I can possibly hope to.

And with these, I'm stopping here. I would post more but... I think I've lost my appetite for cacti for today. Ouch!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Few Sedums and a Stonecrop

I have never really been a huge cactus fan. I grew up in southern Colorado where Opuntia were more common than trees. There they would be under all that deep white snow, just waiting for you to step or fall on them... or perhaps they would punish you for wearing flip flops?

They certainly did not foster in me a love of succulents. No, I only began to like them my first summer working at Perennial Favorites. I was asked to head over to the xeric section and pick out some super cool succulent sedums for my bosses to take to a farmer's market. I had never seen plants that looked so outlandish in my life... they looked like they had come straight from Mars! Now that I've had a few years to see even more outlandish plants, sedums seem so run-of-the-mill now.

But really, who cares how common they are! They're so cool!

Sedum globosum or Old Man's Bones

All the pictures of S. globosum seem to show them as primarily green... but what we sold was really quite red. A hardy sedum that easily withstands the 5a winters, Old Man's Bones is a must have. It doesn't grow as quickly as other sedums and it's not "full" enough to be a good ground cover (in my opinion). Mine have withstood scarce watering, blistering hot sun, hail, and even deer. Any bits that break off quickly root and it will gradually spread every year.

("Sedum") Hylotelephium 'Purple Emperor'

'Purple Emperor' was my absolute favorite plant to water. As the water would land on the leaves, it would act differently than it would on any other surface. It would stick together in these beautiful round droplets, almost like clear marbles only a bit flatter. When kept in the greenhouse the foliage would be green but once it was put outside into the sun, it would very quickly turn a nice dark purple. It grew about a foot tall, Zones 4a - 10b (DG), and was pretty resistant to drought. I bought some and planted it up in a hypertufa planter. The main plant died down in the winter and I was afraid I had lost it... but then as the snow melted, lo and behold, 4 little shoots were at the base! They looked almost like bamboo shoots. They readily returned the following spring, until hail pummeled it beyond recognition... stupid hail. (It may also have been Hylotelephium 'Xenox', tags and catalog conflicted)

Sedum pachyclados

S. pachyclados doesn't really look sedum-ish to me. It was still super cool though... my bosses only ever had it on sale once out of the three summers I worked for them since it was so slow growing for them. It looked absolutely fantastic in the hypertufa planter they had it displayed in. Definitely a lesson learned there... if a plant is on display, try to keep it in stock! People asked for it all the time. Zones 4a - 9b (DG), it it a pretty hardy succulent. My bosses would always bring it in every winter anyway, but I'm sure it would have done fine left outside. The garden center just down the road has some of these... I may have to buy some!

Sedum hybridum

Haha... S. hybridum... I have some growing in a tiny little pot on my window sill right now. We had just gotten finished dividing these when my boss Diana decided to pot me up a few plants. Very tiny, very cute, immediately got buds and bloomed cheerily. I later had to get replacements due to a severe mealy bug infestation on them, but otherwise, they were pretty neat. Zones 3a - 9b (DG) and quick to grow and spread, it's a very lively sedum indeed. The only thing is is that it loves sun and I, being the weirdo that I am, decided to keep it inside under a grow light. The leaves which are usually long and thin stayed on the plant but all new leaves were shorter,  rounder, and smaller... This plant really looks very different depending on the amount of light it gets and it helped me grasp the whole concept of sunlight-on-plants-is-different-than-fluorescent a little better.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Leaves are cool too!

I love interesting foliage. Leaves are there all the time, not temporary at all like flowers are. I can enjoy them any time of the year. The fact that my plants never re-flower might be part of that but... anyway, have some cool foliage!

Banksia grandis

It seems like all the cool trees come from Australia. Banksia grandis gets from 16' to 32' in height and Annie's Annual's puts this at Zones 9 - 11. The foliage is pretty darn neat, just a bunch of triangles hanging from branches, giving it a saw-toothed sort of look. And what are those pinecone things on it? The lighter ones are bundles of flowers which reach 12" in length. The darker toned ones with those odd "duckbills" on them are the seedpods and the duck bills are where the seeds pop out. The seed pods are pretty woody and are sometimes sculpted into vases or other nifty things (as seen above).

Araucaria bidwillii

This tree is also from Australia. I suppose it's a confier but its pines are very different from any run-of-the-mill pine tree! Wikipedia says it can grow anywhere from 98' to 147' which is pretty impressive. Its pine cones are just huge enough to match it! Dave's Garden puts A. bidwillii at Zones 8b - 11, making it only just slightly more accessible for growers around the world. Because of its immense height, I don't know anyone who would grow it indoors without some major pruning.... 
Araucaria araucana

A member of the same genus as our previous conifier, Araucaria araucana is next. Most commonly known as a the monkey puzzle or monkey tail tree, it grows in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil naturally and can reach heights of about 130' tall with a 7' trunk diameter. It's Zones are listed on DG as 7b - 10b and Wikipedia seems to praise it for its hardiness in comparison to the rest of the genus. Interestingly enough, its seeds are a food crop in Chile and have the potential to be a major one in other areas. Mature trees can produce several thousand nuts in a year but it takes 30-40 years for trees to mature... I think it would be worth planting a small orchard for definitely. Maybe the nuts could be the next acai berry or goji berry, haha. If you do want nuts though, it would be best to get more than one tree seeing as A. araucana is usually dioecious. I know I will definitely plant a couple... as long as their branches don't try to land on me. I swear, those leaves look like shuriken!

Pseudopanax ferox

This handsome fellow is native to New Zealand and DG puts it in Zones 8b - 10a. As a juvenile the tree will look much like the bottom most picture. Leaves up to about 15" line most of the tree and are wonderfully toothy and dark in color. The tree takes about 10 to 15 years to mature and once it does the leaves become shorter, wider, and more green in color. So, while some plants take years to be cool, this one is coolest at a young age and gradually becomes less extreme as it ages. Don't get me wrong, the mature trees look great, just not as neat.

Selenicereus anthonyanus

Oh look, something that's not a tree! A cactus from southern Mexico, S. anthonyanus is an epiphyte. Seems to do pretty well in hanging baskets, blooms are night, and is easy to propagate and grow in general. DG puts it at Zones 10a - 11, so definitely something to keep inside! It's common names are Ric Rac (Orchid) Cactus and Fishbone Cactus. Flowers range in colors but most seem to be like the one pictured or yellow. Requires moist soil high in organic matter but I'm sure drainage is still important. Full sun or part shade should be fine. (I really really want this one! So cool!)

Christia obcordata

Commonly called Butterfly Leaf or Swallow Tail, DG puts it at Zone 11 only. Reviews on DG seem to indicate that it's a bit finicky and hard to grow but it sounds like as long as you keep it pretty wet and feed it regularly it'll be fine. An interesting tender perennial that looks like it'd be cute in a pot, I'd definitely grab it if I saw it, if only to give it a go.

Dyckia fosteriana in bloom
Dyckia beateae

Dyckia discoides

Dyckia... no matter what the species, these  Brazilian/South American bromeliads come in all kinds of interesting shapes, colors, and sizes. Their leaves are thick and spiny, the plant clumps, it's supposedly the hardiest kind of bromeliad (prefering 40-90F and easily withstanding lower temps), it's primitive, and finding any for sale is lucky. I've yet to see any personally, but oh my god, I think I'm in love. New species are still being found... I wish I was a part of that! But no, I haven't even started college for botany yet. Oh well, hopefully there will still be plants out there for me to discover! Great sources to learn more about Dyckia include: the Dyckia Brazil blog and this Bromeliad Society/Houston page

There are so many more plants I can think of that have interesting foliage but...this post is long enough haha.