Friday, April 30, 2010

Mother Nature's Artistry

This is a pineapple in flower.  The actual flowers are the spiky lavender parts, but the whole structure and the color combinations are stunning!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)

This fruit is native to China but has been cultivated in Japan for over 1000 years.  It is now cultivated around the world.  It is sometimes known as Japanese plum but it is not a plum!  The tree is fast growing to about 20-30 foot, has large, thick, evergreen leaves up to a foot long.  New growth has a fuzzy texture, as does the underside of the leaves, and the blooms.  Flowers appear in early winter and have a very pleasant spicy fragrance.

The yellow-pale orange fruit matures in 3 to 4 months in clusters on the ends of the branches.  A tree in full fruit is a very attractive sight.  The fruit is about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and contains one or two large brown seeds that separate easily from the edible portion.  The flesh is very juicy and has a flavor something like a slightly tart apple.
Loquats grow in USDA Zones 7 through 10 and are drought tolerant once established.  The foliage can withstand temperatures of 15° F for short periods of time. 
Young trees have a very open branching structure but will become more dense with time.  Most trees found in landscapes are seedlings but named varieties are available that have been selected for their improved fruit qualities.  The varieties vary by ripening time, skin color, fruit size, and sweetness or tartness.
Fruit can be eaten fresh, dried, or in jams, preserves, or pies!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora)

the flower was purple

the flower is lavender

the flower will be white

Now you know how this plant got its common name! Brunfelsia pauciflora grows 3 to 6 foot tall in USDA Zones 9-12. The flowers are about 2 inches across with a very spicy fragrance. Blooming is heaviest in early spring but sporadic flowers may appear throughout the year.  All three flower colors exist at the same time, covering the plant with blooms.  This native of Brazil prefers part shade to part sun. There are several named cultivars with slightly different growing habits.  Mine seems to be one of the more compact forms.  
Mine has been growing and blooming happily for nearly 20 years and stays about three foot tall. Central Florida freezes have caused no damage to this plant.
The flowers are spectacular and the fragrance carries throughout the landscape on light breezes.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Quesnelia quesneliana

Quesnelia quesneliana is a great landscaping bromeliad with a bright red flower in the spring.  The plants grow 2 to 3 foot tall with an equal spread. The long, strap-like leaves have finely serrated margins. 

In early spring the brilliant red flower spike emerges from the center of the plant and rises just above the foliage. The colored portion of the spike grows about 6" to 8" long and is showy even from a distance. The bloom period can last for a couple of months.  

When not in bloom, this species is nearly indistinguishable from Quesnelia arvensis.  The bloom of Q. quesneliana appears a few weeks later, is bright red instead of pinkish-red, and doesn't rise as high above the foliage.  Also, on Q. arvensis the bract structure flares out slightly at the top, giving it an almost feather duster appearance.  There are probably some clonal variations so any two plants of these species may show slightly different characteristics than described here.

Both of these Quesnelias are very drought tolerant and cold-hardy. Mine have survived extended periods in the upper 20° F. range with no damage.Both species will grow in mostly sun to light shade.

In less sun, the foliage will be very long and green.

In more sun, the foliage will be more compact and take on a slightly reddish tint.

Some of my plants have a marbled coloration in the bloom.  Clonal variation or environmental factor?  I'll have to watch these closely again next year.
Quesnelia quesneliana is a beautiful cold-tolerant bromeliad that could be used more in landscape plantings in sub-tropical climates, or in containers anywhere.

Buy this plant!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wildflower Meadow in the Yard

This is the time of year when part of my yard becomes a wildflower meadow.  I have several species that come up and bloom in early spring.

There is Spiderwort

and Lyre-leaf sage

and Toadflax

All of these are in the blue to purple color range and they all bloom at the same time so this part of my yard becomes a temporary sea of blue in the spring.

By the time the last of the sage is done blooming, the first to bloom have already matured their seed.  This allows me to then mow the whole thing and there will still be seed scattered for future generations.
If you have an area in your yard for wildflowers, try creating a meadow.  You will enjoy it for years to come!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Venus' Looking Glass (Triodanis perfoliata)

Also known as Clasping Bellwort, this annual wildflower has a very unique appearance.  The leaves clasp directly around the stem with no petiole. 
The unbranched stem grows 1-2 foot tall and deep violet to purple flowers appear from each leaf axil on the upper half of the plant.  The flowers have five petals, are about 3/4 inch across, and appear in groups of 1-3 at each leaf axil, but only open one at a time.  The flowers open in the morning and last one day.  They are pollinated by small butterflies and bees. 
The flowers on the lower half of the stem never open but are self-pollinating.  The tiny seeds are wind-dispersed and the plant can become weedy or invasive in some locales.  The main bloom period is spring to early summer.  Venus' Looking Glass grows in full sun, and poor soil that is well-drained.  They do best in areas with sparse or low vegetation.  They are native to most of North America.
This is the first year I've seen them on my property but there must have been at least one plant last year because this year I've got about a dozen.  By next year I'll know if it's going to become weedy.  I'm guessing it won't because I haven't seen large patches of this anywhere around here.
If you're wondering how on earth it got a name like Venus' Looking Glass, it's because there is a related species that has larger seeds that are very shiny (like a looking glass).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bloom Day - 45 varieties!

Lots of beautiful blooms for the month of April!

First photo:
Cestrum aurantiacum, Lantana
Star jasmine, Bay laurel
Oxalis, Dianthus
Petunia, Pentas

Don Juan Rose, Walking Iris
Impatiens, Shrimp plant
Formosa azalea, Red Formosa
Camellia, Knock-Out Rose

Purple firespike, Mexican Caesalpinia
Bush daisy, Russelia
Kalanchoe, Brunfelsia
Spiderwort, Snow pea

Pomegranate, Cherry of the Rio Grande
Macadamia, Pyracantha
Jaboticaba, Cattley Guava
Glycosmis, Elderberry

 Salvia lyrata, Venus' Looking Glass
Toadflax, Aloe zebrina

 Aechmea lueddemanniana, Quesnelia liboniana
Aechmea Burgundy, Billgergia Foster's Striate
Aechmea distichantha, Billbergia Windii

Quesnelia arvensis, Quesnelia quesneliana
Quesnelia testudo, Quesnelia liboniana
(I know I have that last one in here twice but it's one of my favorites!)
Thanks for viewing my blooms!
Check out Bloom Day every month in gardens all over the world at May Dreams Gardens!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Eat this weed!

Commonly known as Rattlesnake weed or Florida Betony, or properly known as Stachys floridana.  This is one weed that has some benefits-- you can eat the roots!  It grows about a foot tall and has white to pink flowers with purple markings.  The stems are square, as is typical of members of the mint family.

It was thought to occur only in Florida until the 1950's and was then spread by humans through the movement of turf and ornamental plants.  Even a tiny piece of the white root can start an entire new plant.  This weed is now common throughout the Southeastern U.S. and parts of California.  It is capable of producing seed but virtually all reproduction is by the tubers and root sections.
The tubers are the desirable, edible part of the plant and somewhat resemble the tail of a rattlesnake.  They are firm and white and are normally 3-4 inches long.  The tubers can be eaten raw or cooked and require no peeling.  Simply wash them off.  Raw, they are crisp and crunchy, similar to a very mild radish.  Cooked, they add a peppery flavor to whatever they are combined with.  They are often added to soups and retain their crunchy texture even when cooked.
The leafy parts of the plant can be made into a tea or steamed for a nutritious green. The flavor of the cooked leaves is not that great so you'll probably want to mix it with other greens.

There is a closely related plant (S. affinis) known as Crosnes or Chinese artichokes.  Many botanists contend they are the same plant, but in organic and gourmet markets in New York, Crosnes sells for up to $5 per tuber-- the equivalent of $150 per pound!!  They are served in some of the finest restaurants and priced accordingly.

Just think... those weeds in the back yard could be your next gourmet meal!  Don't plant them on purpose though--they are invasive.  Even if you harvest them regularly you won't get rid of them.  The thin roots break off easily and any piece remaining in the soil will grow a new plant.  I've been eating these for years and the number of them growing in my yard has not diminished in the least!

If you have this weed, try eating it.  You might like it!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Quesnelia arvensis

This is another nice spring-blooming bromeliad that is great for landscaping.  The plants grow 2 to 3 foot tall with an equal spread.  The long, strap-like leaves have finely serrated margins.
In early spring the pinkish-red flower spike emerges from the center of the plant and rises up above the foliage.  The colored portion of the spike grows about 6 to 8" long and is showy even from a distance.  The bloom period of a landscape grouping can last for a couple of months, as individual plants don't always bloom at exactly the same time.

The actual flowers are tiny and blue, and emerge from within the red bracts.  They seem to barely open.
The plants are very drought tolerant and cold-hardy.  Mine have survived extended periods in the upper 20° F. range with no damage.

Top view of the flower spike

Plants will grow in mostly sun to light shade.

 Quesnelia arvensis grouping in the landscape.
This is a great plant that could be used more in landscape plantings where it is hardy.
Buy this plant!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis)

Toadflax is another spring-blooming wildflower.  It has lavender-blue flowers on top of wispy stalks up to two foot tall, with a few erect string-like leaves. Blooms appear from April to September. They prefer to grow in dry sandy soils in a sunny location. Toadflax is native to most of the Eastern U.S. and California (USDA Zones 4-10).

When grown in masses, the blooming plants create a field of lavender-blue flowers. They are pollinated by bumblebees and may be visited by butterflies for nectar. It is also a larval food plant for the Buckeye butterfly.  When not in bloom, they are nearly inconspicuous.
They are typically annual or biennial plants and reseed readily along roadsides or in disturbed soils where they have little competition.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What's New

Lots of things are happening at a rapid pace in the garden now that spring is officially here.  Most of it doesn't warrant a post all by itself but it's still interesting just the same.

Figs are breaking dormancy and tiny little figs are already starting to form.

Persimmons are sending out new growth and flower buds at the same time.

The deciduous gingers are awakening as the soil warms up.

Even the bananas that froze all the way to the ground are experiencing a rebirth.

Many varieties of citrus are coming into bloom and filling the air with their sweet fragrance.

Tabebuias and azaleas are in full bloom with their vibrant colors.

Even the goldfish have emerged from hibernation and are busy breeding among the roots of floating aquatic plants.
Everyone knows it's spring!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Salvia lyrata (Lyre leaf sage)

Salvia lyrata is a native wildflower with light blue to violet flowers.  Blooms appear on 1 to 1.5 foot tall flower spikes in early spring.  The tubular flowers provide food for hummingbirds and many species of butterflies.  This salvia will grow in full sun to medium shade.  It thrives throughout the eastern U.S. in zones 6-9.
On the close-up photo you can see the angular stems that are typical of most species in the Lamiaceae family.  Individual flowers are about an inch long.

The plant is compatible with most perennial lawn grasses and is sometimes used in roadside wildflower plantings.  When naturalized in grasses, the foliage lays flat against the ground and the plant is somewhat inconspicuous except when in flower.  The deeply lobed foliage usually has dark purple markings and when planted alone in beds it forms a low-growing evergreen groundcover.  Seed heads turn brown and drop fresh seed about a month after flowering.

Flat rosette typical of plants in grassed areas. 

 To the right:  Clumping growth habit when grown in beds.

A few of the leaf variations found on my property ranging from nearly solid purple and deeply lobed, to mostly green and fewer lobes.

The young leaves have a minty flavor and can be used raw in salads, or cooked.  The entire plant can be harvested and dried (when in bloom) and brewed into a tea.