Friday, December 31, 2010

Mother Nature's Artistry

This month's art is the Turkey Tail fungus (Trametes versicolor).  This is one of the most common types of fungus found in temperate zones around the world, and primarily grows on dead hardwood trees.  In North America it is found on more than 70 genera of trees.
Trametes uses enzymes to break down the cell walls of dead wood, feeding on the lignin contained therein.  The contrasting color zones are typical of this species.
Mother Nature's Artistry is a monthly feature on this blog.  Check back again next month to see what Mother Nature has been up to!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Surprising survivors

I try to keep detailed records each year about what survives during cold snaps and at what temperature.  This helps tremendously in subsequent years by letting me know what to protect if the temperature is supposed to drop to 30°F, which is an entirely different event than if the forecast is for 26°F.  Even so, after record lows early in December this year, and two consecutive nights at 26°, I was surprised by a few plants that weren't damaged even though I did nothing to protect them.
Schefflera is a large-leafed tropical that is usually hard-hit by freezing conditions.  A few of the stalks have turned black but many are still looking great.

Jacaranda usually defoliates during freezing temps but for now the fern-like leaves are still soaking up the sun.
My Mango tree was a pleasant surprise.  Just a few leaves at the top show a little brown.  I didn't get any fruit this year because of the hard freezes in January 2010, and I know winter is just starting, but I'm hoping  that the rest of the winter won't get any colder than we've already had.
The most amazing survivors are these Papaya seedlings.  They're under the canopy of a shade tree but otherwise got no protection from the 26° nights.
My 12-year-old Papaya out in the open just had the upper leaves nipped by frost and is still loaded with fruit.

There are lots of factors other than the low temperature that determine how much damage a freeze will cause.  Whether frost settles on the leaves makes a huge difference.  Wind speed and duration of the freezing temperatures can also mean the difference between life and death for tropical plants.  Still, some plants have shown they'll survive temps far below what you might expect!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Neoregelia 'Orange Crush'

Neoregelia 'Orange Crush' is one of the types that develop good foliage color even when not in bloom.  The young offsets have green and white variegation but as soon as the leaves start to spread, they develop a red-orange blush on the leaves.  When ready to bloom, the center of the plant becomes solid red.  Coloration will be best in bright light, with protection from intense sun.  Mine get early morning sun, and then dappled shade from mid-day on.
Plants get about 12 inches across and eight inches tall.  Like many Neos, they will tolerate a light freeze but need to be protected from frost forming on the leaves.
Buy this plant!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Aechmea gamosepala

Aechmea gamosepala is a small-growing species, with individual plants usually staying less than one foot tall and wide.  Flowering of plants occurs simultaneously in late fall and may extend into early winter.

Plants multiply rapidly and quickly form large clumps when planted in the ground.

The inflorescence gradually turns dark pink and retains color for about two months. 

If kept in containers, they are quite comfortable in a five-inch pot.
Aechmea gamosepala grows in shade or filtered sun and is hardy to 20°F.
Buy Aechmea gamosepala offsets

Monday, December 6, 2010

Harvest Monday - December 2010

Most of the time I harvest fruit as I'm ready to eat it, so this month I'm showing the harvest as it looks while still in the garden.  To see what other gardeners are harvesting, see Daphne's Dandelions blog.
Dwf Cavendish Banana
 Arrowroot now dormant and ready to dig
Key Lime
Marsh Grapefruit
Minneola Tangelo
Navel Orange
Orlando Tangelo
Persian Lime
Ruby Red Grapefruit
Sweet Lemon

Friday, December 3, 2010

Creature Feature - the "good" snail

At some point or another, nearly every gardener has done battle with snails and slugs. What many don't know is that some snails are beneficial and actually eat the snails and slugs that do damage. In Florida, there are five species of predatory snails. The most common of these is the Rosy Predator Snail (Euglandina rosea). This is a fairly large snail, growing up to 2 ½ inches in length. It is easily identified by the glossy, elongated shell and the rosy or brownish-pink coloration.
Hot on the trail of the bad guy that ate that hole in the leaf!
The Rosy Predator Snail (also known as the Rosy Wolf Snail) is widespread in Florida, but is also found in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Southeastern Texas.

The snail lives for up to two years, and one study showed that a single individual can consume more than 350 damaging snails in its lifetime. The Rosy Predator follows the slime trails of its prey in order to find its next meal. Small snails are eaten whole and larger snails are eaten live, right in the shell. Here's an adult feeding on a bush snail.

When the predators reach sexual maturity they search out a mate. Snails are hermaphroditic so both partners of a successful mating will be pregnant.

Approximately thirty eggs are laid at a time in the soil and these hatch in about a month.

They immediately begin exploring their territory and looking for prey.

Here's a baby predator feeding on a bush snail.
Newborn rosy predators are usually pale, but the shells develop more coloration as the snail grows.
Young Rosy Predator
In 1955, Euglandina rosea was sent to Hawaii in an attempt to control the invasive Giant African Snail. The newest inhabitants reproduced quickly, and within three years 12,000 Rosy Predators were collected to send to other tropical regions, including New Guinea, Okinawa, and the Philippines. Like most attempts to introduce predatory species into a new environment, this one ended in disaster. The Rosy Predator preferred to feed on the colorful native Hawaiian tree snails, eventually eating several species to extinction.

In areas where the Rosy Predator snail is native, it is a very beneficial creature to have living in your landscape. Gardeners can often find empty shells of the destructive Bush Snail where the Rosy Predator has been feeding.
Gone but not forgotten!
Be on the lookout for this “good snail” and make it welcome in your garden!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What's New - December 2010

This is my monthly report of all the small things taking place in the garden.  Click on the links to see a complete plant profile.  The citrus trees have all developed good color and the limbs are hanging heavy with fruit.
Minneola Tangelo
I have a stalk of Dwf. Cavendish bananas starting to ripen, and one late Pomegranate fruit that is starting to show color.  The Jaboticaba trees have been blooming and should be ready to pick by Christmas.  White Sapote is just starting to bloom and should continue throughout the winter.  Loquats are filling the air with the spicy fragrance of their flowers.
Sugarberry trees are nearly bare already and the Pecan is just starting to turn a little yellow.  The Ceiba trees have lost most of their leaves and the last of the flowers are blooming high up in the top of the tree.
Short-day flowering plants like Camellias and Kalanchoe are full of buds and should be blooming by the end of the month.  The Marble Poinsettia bracts are also starting to show some color and will become more beautiful with each passing day.
That's all for today!  Check back again next month to see What's New in my garden!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mother Nature's Artistry

Deep in the throat of a Cereus peruvianus flower

To see a complete plant profile for Cereus peruvianus click here.

Mother Nature's Artistry is always featured here on the last day of the month.  Check back again next month to see what Mother Nature has been up to!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Aechmea weilbachii forma viridisepala

The showy inflorescence of Aechmea weilbachii forma viridisepala combines green, orange, red and purple into a long-lasting display.  The flower spike appears in late fall and lasts for several months.

The spike tends to arch slightly and then curves upward.  Unlike many Aechmeas, the foliage on this one is soft and spineless, almost grass-like.  Individual leaves can be two feet long spreading out in all directions.  Plants usually grow about one and a half foot in height.
Aechmea weilbachii grows well in shade or filtered sun, and the leaves will be lighter green in higher light. The foliage makes it appear like a delicate tropical plant, but it will tolerate temperatures in the low 20°F range.
There are two other forms of this species that have a completely different appearance. See also: Aechmea weilbachii forma pendula

Buy Aechmea weilbachii plants!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Billbergia Hoelscheriana

Billbergia 'Hoelscheriana' is commonly sold in Florida as B. saundersii. In reality, it is a hybrid; B. nutans x saundersii. It can be distingued from the true saundersii by the blue tips on the sepals and the blue-marginated petals. This is a small, hardy bromeliad that is effectively used in mass plantings.  In late fall the plants all come into bloom at the same time, creating a spectacular display.  Like many Billbergias, the flowers don't last long, but in large clumps of this cultivar, there will often be a second flowering about a month later.
Individual plants only get about 8-12 inches tall, with an upright growth habit.  In shaded areas they will have green leaves with white spots.  In sunnier areas, the foliage will take on a pinkish or reddish hue.
This cultivar is reportedly hardy to at least 20°F.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Aechmea apocalyptica

Aechmea apocalyptica is a fall-blooming species with showy orange spikes and gray-lavender flowers.  Plants get about a foot and a half tall and two foot wide.  They do well in shade or filtered sun.  This species is reportedly hardy to at least 20°F.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Malvaviscus arboreus (Sleeping Hibiscus)

Malvaviscus arboreus var. mexicanus is a fall and winter-blooming relative of Hibiscus.  The bright red flowers are pendulous and last for several days.  The petals do not flare back like Hibiscus, but remain swirled around the pistil.  This gives the impression that the flowers never open, and hence the common name of Sleeping Hibiscus.  It is also sometimes known as Turk's Cap or Lipstick Hibiscus.  There is a pale pink color-form that is not as showy.
Malvaviscus arboreus is a large woody shrub growing to eight foot tall by six foot wide.  It is native to Mexico and is recommended for USDA Zones 9-12.  It flowers best in full sun, but will grow quite well in shady areas.  It is drought-tolerant once established.

There is a nectary at the base of the flower and you can taste the sweetness by plucking off the bloom and sucking on the end of it. The petals themselves are also edible, but lacking in flavor.
There are two distinct varieties and many online resources confuse the two.  Variety mexicanus is the one pictured and described here, and is the one most commonly grown in Florida.  Variety drummondii (most commonly grown in Texas) apparently has broader fuzzy leaves, more erect flowers, red fruits, enjoys moist, part-shade conditions, can become almost vine-like, blooms in summer, and is apparently more cold-hardy.  One online nursery is growing them as a perennial in Zone 6B!
It's strange that these two plants are classified as varieties and not separate species, given their completely different habitats and form.  If you're shopping for this plant, make sure you know which one you're getting!