Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mother Nature's Artistry

This is a new feature I'll try to do on the last day of every month.  I call it Mother Nature's Artistry and it will be a photo of something unique or impressive or fascinating about the natural plant world.  Here's the first one:
Enlarge the photo by clicking on it.  Take some time to ponder and then if you want to know more about the photo check out my comments below.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Livistona chinensis (Chinese Fan Palm)

Livistona chinensis is a beautiful palm native to southern Japan and Taiwan.  Hardy to USDA Zone 8.
They grow slowly to about 40' tall and have bright green leaves that grow 4-5' across with drooping tips.

This tree was planted as a 3 gallon pot 20 years ago.  The curve in the trunk is because an Oak tree fell on this palm during a hurricane in 2004.  I like the effect though!

They produce large clusters of seeds which turn a shade of blue when ripe. 

Mine is producing a bumper crop of seeds this year.  Here you can see how thickly they are falling on the driveway.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Join a local plant society!

In these days of instant online access to virtually anything we need to know within a few keystrokes, it's easy to believe there is no need for human contact with our fellow gardeners. Wrong! There are many nuances to growing plants that can only be learned from direct contact with those who've “ been there, done that”. For example, it's one thing to read the correct steps to graft your favorite plant, but that is a completely different experience than watching an old-time gardener do it in person and explain it in detail.

Virtually every community of any size has some sort of plant-minded gathering. Most cities have plant societies devoted to very specific plant groupings where people with similar obsessions can meet and share the joys and disappointments of their unique plant type.

Whether your obsession is cacti, orchids, bromeliads, palms, bulbs, oriental vegetables, fruit trees, container gardening, or anything else, chances are there is a plant society nearby that will welcome you with open arms.

Not only are plant societies the ideal place to learn and to make new gardening friends, they are also just about the only place you can go to get the rarest of plants that are not commercially grown. Anybody can go to the nearest big box store and buy a tissue-cultured, cookie cutter plant that looks like all the others on your block. But where can you go to get that rare thing that can only be propagated by seed and takes 20 years before it's old enough to flower? A plant society of course!

The plant fanatics in these clubs have the rarest, most beautiful, best-tasting, thorniest, ugliest, slowest-growing, most spectacular, and all-around most fascinating plants you can find. If a superlative can be attached to a plant, these people will have it or know where you can get it. And best of all, they are willing to SHARE! Go to any plant meeting place and you will see people exchanging cuttings, seeds, or divisions in the parking lot before the meeting even gets started. Inside, they'll be talking about their latest acquisition and getting growing tips from others. If you're into plants you'll fit right in. Join a plant society today!

OK, maybe there are a few of you who live in a very isolated area, or maybe the meetings are on a day you can't attend, or maybe one or two plant meetings a month just isn't enough for you. Maybe you already belong to several plant societies but you have an urgent question and don't know where to turn. Maybe you just like to garden vicariously by looking at photos of gardens. For all of you there is the giant online plant society, It's a collection of the best gardeners from all over the world who somehow find time to write about their gardens in between planting, pulling weeds, and picking the crops. Yes, gardeners are AMAZING people! Check it out and you'll see what I mean.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Zamia pumila (Coontie)

 Zamia pumila is a great evergreen plant native to Florida and the Bahamas.   It has a nice, soft, fern-like look, although the leaves are actually quite tough.  Zamias are members of the Cycad family which have been flourishing on earth since the time of the dinosaurs!

This species stays under 3 feet in height and makes a low mound a little wider than it is tall.
Zamias are drought-tolerant and will grow in sun or shade.  They are hardy to USDA Zone 8.  The leaves also serve as food for the larvae of the rare Atala butterfly.

Florida's original inhabitants (before the European invasion) used to process the thick trunks into an edible starch that they used like bread flour.
Flower cones appear in the fall, with male and female flowers appearing on separate plants. They are wind-pollinated. The female flowers are chunky and club-like:
The male flowers are slender:

It takes about a year for the seeds to mature inside the female cone. After that length of time, the cones split open during the winter months to reveal the spectacular bright orange seeds.

Here you can see a mature cone splitting open to reveal the seeds.  To the upper left of this photo is a brown immature cone ready to be fertilized by pollen floating on the breezes. Plants in close proximity are also pollinated by snout beetles.

In their natural setting, seeds take up to two years to germinate. To speed up the process, you can scrape off the fleshy orange coating, soak the seeds for a day in water, then sow 1/2 inch deep in well-draining soil in full sun. Keep the soil moist with daily watering and you should see new seedlings in as little as 3-4 weeks!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Neoregelia 'Sheba'

Neoregelia 'Sheba' is a very sturdy little bromeliad that's great for landscaping. Plants grow about a foot tall and up to 18 inches wide. I have them lining a curved garden path where they get mostly shade and no irrigation. There are always a few in bloom, and even when they're not, the green and white leaves add a nice splash of color.
When grown with some direct sun, 'Sheba' changes its colors completely. Here's what they look like with some mid-day summer sun:

And here's what they look like with full sun nearly all day:
This is an excellent example of why it's nearly impossible to correctly identify hybrid Neoregelias that have lost their tags; growing conditions can completely change the look of a plant.

Neoregelia 'Sheba' will take temps in the mid 20's F with no problem whatsoever, as long as frost doesn't settle on the leaves. The canopy of a leafy tree is all the protection they need.
Buy this plant!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Glycosmis, a little-grown citrus relative

Also known as Gin-berry and Orangeberry, Glycosmis pentaphylla produces small, sweet, translucent, pink fruits.  Native to tropical Asia and Australia, they will grow in the same conditions as citrus. Fruits that are not completely ripe have a faint juniper or gin-like aftertaste, hence the common name.

Individual fruits are about the size of a pea.  You would need several plants to get enough fruit to do anything with, but they are a delicious snack right off the tree when wandering through the garden!

The leaves are about 6 inches in length, but may be single or with up to five leaflets. This one branch shows leaves that are simple, and with 2, 3, and 4 leaflets.
The white flowers are tiny, and barely open at the tip. They appear in clusters at the ends of the branches.

Flowering and fruiting occurs throughout most of the year, and plants normally show all stages of fruit development at the same time.

Gin-berry grows only about 10-12 feet tall, and the trunks never get more than about 1½ inches in diameter. Here's a row of plants that are about 20 years old:

Glycosmis pentaphylla is hardy to at least the mid-20°F range.  Mine have taken several hours at 26°F with no damage at all.

Click here to buy Glycosmis seeds

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Orange juice for health

Orange juice is one of the healthiest things you can drink.  Especially if you use raw (unprocessed) juice.  One cup of raw juice provides more than double the RDA of Vitamin C and is also a good source of Vitamin A, thiamin, folate, and potassium. Processed juice, while still healthy, loses a considerable amount of Vitamin C and many of the amino acids found in raw juice.  Raw juice also has slight anti-inflammatory properties while processed juice is mildly inflammatory.  This is an important consideration if you suffer from allergies or joint pain.

I like to blend different varieties of citrus together when I'm juicing.  Yesterday I made a gallon of juice with Navels, some fruit from unnamed orange seedlings, and Ruby Red grapefruit.  It is a dark, rich color with a delightfully tangy flavor.  Next time the blend will be something different depending on which varieties I'm harvesting that day.  Don't be afraid to experiment with your own combinations!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Spring is here!

Spring is finally here... the peaches are starting to bloom!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I spotted this hawk sitting on the barn roof.  I think he's watching for slow-moving prey that has been stunned by the recent cold weather!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Surinam Cherry (Eugenia uniflora)

The Surinam Cherries are just starting to bloom.  A few clusters are open now with thousands more ready to pop open in a few days.  Later this spring the trees will be loaded with red fruit and they make a delicious jam!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Honeybees on White Sapote (Casimiroa edulis)

I walked under the White Sapote tree and the whole tree was buzzing!  I looked up and it was covered with honeybees gathering nectar and pollen from the millions of small flowers.  The tree is in full bloom now and the first fruits will be ripe around May.  Some years there will be a light harvest throughout the summer.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Portea kermesina

Portea kermesina is another of the winter-blooming bromeliads.  The flower spikes emerge in early winter, and will keep good color for about 3 months.
The plants are fairly large, growing about 30 inches wide and almost as tall.  Although the plant is somewhat cold-hardy, the foliage can be damaged by frost.  Planting under a tree canopy or other protected area is advisable.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Aechmea distichantha blooming

Aechmea distichantha is starting to bloom.  I have a bunch of these that will be flowering in the next few weeks and the color will last for 5-6 months.  They are drought-tolerant and cold-hardy.
To see a complete profile of this plant click here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Currently harvesting:

This week I'm picking starfruit, papaya, kumquats, Dwf. Brazilian bananas, pineapple, Minneola tangelos, sweet lemons, mandarins, grapefruit, and oranges.