Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mother Nature's Artistry

This is the inner networking of a papaya plant.  The trunk froze and the outer layer of the stem sloughed off, leaving behind this intricate pattern.  Many types of plants show a similar structure inside.  In nature, beauty is NOT only skin deep!
Mother Nature's Artistry is featured here on the last day of every month.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Nidularium leprosa

Nidularium leprosa is a beautiful bromeliad that is great for shady areas. 
The plant has dark green leaves and the new growth is marked with attractive purple spots.  It has a somewhat upright growth habit and will reach about 12-14" tall, but the leaves are long and the plant has a 30 inch spread. 
As bloom-time nears, the new growth turns lavender with purple spots.  Eventually red buds emerge from the center of the plant, which turn pink as they open. 

The lavender coloration on the bracts will darken slightly and remain vivid for about two months, and then start to fade.
Nidularium leprosa prefers full to dappled shade and they appear to be fairly cold hardy.  Mine in pots under the canopy of a large tree were not damaged by temps in the upper 20°F range, but if they were in an exposed area, I would expect frost damage on the leaves. 
I have not tried these in the ground yet, but they would seem to be an ideal candidate for shady, somewhat protected areas.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Do butterflies REALLY like that plant?

That is a question we should all be asking when planning our butterfly gardens.  Lately there is a trend among commercial plant growers to claim just about any flowering plant will attract butterflies. 
One Florida grower that sells to the big box retailers actually prints a big butterfly on the side of their pots and a whole ring of little butterflies all the way around!  It doesn't actually say this is a butterfly plant, but who could blame a novice gardener for being misled?
What does "Butterfly Plant" or "Attracts Butterflies" really mean anyway?  Those phrases give no indication of whether the plant provides nectar for adults or if it is a larval food plant.  Many an uninformed gardener has no doubt purchased a plant that "attracts butterflies" only to later find the plant consumed by voracious caterpillars!  That probably wasn't what they had in mind when they made their purchase.
Another question we should be asking is "WHAT butterflies does the plant attract?"  Many common garden plants are native to other parts of the world, and have been propagated and moved around by avid gardeners.  The butterflies that were attracted to the plant in their native habitat may not even exist in your garden.

Some butterflies prefer to feed on the nectar of specific plants.  They are even more specific about where they lay their eggs.  Some caterpillars are only able to feed on a single species of plant!
So, ask lots of questions before you make your purchase.  Unfortunately, the largest plant retailers rarely have knowledgeable people on their staff.
So what's a butterfly lover to do?  You could do some research online, but here again lots of misinformation is circulating, getting copied and pasted from one website to another.

The best solution is to zero in on your local community.  Visit a neighbor who has a butterfly garden.  Go to a local park or botanical garden and watch where the butterflies spend their time.  Make your observations at various times during the day; some flowers release their nectar at specific times.  Also be aware of which butterflies you already see in your yard.  Planting the right flowers could bring more of them.  Above all don't forget to include some larval food plants.  Your butterfly population can multiply exponentially if they can live out their entire life cycle without leaving your yard!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Quisqualis indica

Quisqualis indica is a very vigorous, fast-growing vine that blooms throughout the warm months of the year.  In my garden, that is May through October.  The flowers open white in the evening, are pink by the next afternoon, and red the following day.  The clusters of blooms usually open a few flowers at a time, so multiple colors are always visible on the plant.  The blooms have a delicious, fruity, ripe-melon scent that perfumes the air for a considerable distance from the plant.
There is a very interesting study on Quisqualis flower orientation and color change here.  Apparently the flowers open white at night to attract pollinating moths and turn red to attract daytime pollinators.  The angle of the flower also changes.
New growth will reach out, twine around, and climb up anything within reach.  I've had one as high as 50 feet up in the top of a Camphor tree.  Others have reported heights up to 70 feet. 
They bloom on new growth and can be maintained as a large shrub with vigilant pruning of the tendrils.  I've also seen them trellised and loaded with blooms.  The trunk of the plant becomes very woody with age.
Quisqualis indica is sometimes known as Rangoon Creeper.  It is native to Africa, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia.  It is hardy for USDA Zones 9-11.
Large plants of Quisqualis can spread by root suckers and the species is listed as invasive in some parts of Australia.  Flowers are reported as edible and contain strong antioxident properties.  I've sampled them and they really have no flavor.  They would probably be okay mixed into salads to add color.
One other interesting feature is that as the leaves age, the petioles thicken and curve downward.  After the leaf drops, a thorn-like spur remains. 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers: Plant Something!

If you are a father, always be sure and make time to plant something with your children.  The younger they are when you start planting, the better!
One of the earliest specific memories I have of my father was when we planted sweet corn together one spring. As I recall, we were planting a little patch by hand at the edge of a large field. It was a sunny, dry spring day and as we planted I could hear the plaintive cry of a bird. When I asked my father what it was, he explained that it was a "rain crow" and that it was crying for rain. I later learned that the bird crying for rain was actually a Mourning Dove. You can hear the call of the rain crow on this page.

That day in the corn field may have been the seed that started my life-long passion for planting things and watching them grow.
I had to be four years old or less when we planted that corn, because we moved from the farm when I was five.  To this day, whenever I hear the call of the rain crow, I think of planting sweet corn with my dad all those years ago.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!  Thanks for the memories!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tipuana tipu

Aside from being fun to say, Tipuana tipu is a great shade tree for southern gardens (USDA Zones 9a to 11).  It is also known as Pride of Bolivia, Rosewood, or simply Tipu tree.
Tipuana tipu is native to central South America but has been carried by humans to sub-tropical regions around the world.  It is relatively fast-growing and becomes quite large over time.  Older specimens can eventually reach 50 feet tall with an equal spread. 
The leaves are pinnate and the tree canopy is open enough to let dappled sunlight through to the ground.  The tree is semi-deciduous and will let in more light in the winter time.  In some countries, the leaves provide forage for livestock.  I have seen squirrels sit in the tree and pull off one leaflet after another and eat them.
The yellow blooms appear in abundance in spring and continue sporadically throughout the warm months. The profuse flowering turns the ground yellow with fallen blossoms underneath the tree.
They have a very sweet fragrance if you stick your nose right into the blossom.  The blooms also provide food for bees.  Seeds are a winged pod facilitating wind dispersal. This is the only genus among the legumes to have winged seeds.
The wood makes a good timber and is used to make poles. The trunk often oozes red sap.
The trees have a rather gangly growth habit when young, so some pruning to shape may be required.  Tipuana tipu are drought-tolerant once established and the tree is able to fix atmospheric nitrogen, so little fertilization is required.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bloom Day - June

The weather has been near 100° for the past few days and no rain for the past week and a half but the summer flowers are still blooming.

Today we'll start off with some orchids.  To the left are Dendrobium parishii, Encyclia alata, and a Christeara.

Plumeria pink, white
Plumeria yellow, Jatropha
Periwinkle pink, white
Fortunella, Caesalpinia mexicana
Porterweed blue, coral
Rosa Don Juan, Knock-Out
Jaboticaba, Thevetia
Aloe zebrina, Jacobinia
Butia, Elderberry
Clerodendrum speciosissimum, C. bungei
Tipuana, Albizzia
Passiflora, Neomarica
Brugmansia, Tecoma
Ruellia pink, red
Shrimp plant red, yellow
Dietes white, yellow

Cestrum aurantiacum, C. diurnum
Shining jasmine, Sambac jasmine
Lantana, Dianthus
Quisqualis, Pentas
Jewel of Opar, Cereus
Turnera, Russelia
Bush Daisy, Duranta
Spiderwort, Plumbago

Neomea Popcorn, Aechmea fasciata
Ae. Burgundy, Neomea Strawberry
Portea petropolitana, Billbergia windii

Neoregelia carolinae, Neo. olens
Neo. rosea-striata, Neo. Sheba
Neo. spectabilis, Neo. Tangerine
Nidularium leprosa, Neo. Lila
Neo. olens x Oesser, Neo compacta x camorimiana
Neo Yellow Devil, Neo Fireball x chlorostichta
Aechmea lamarchei, Vresia malzinei
That's all for this month!  To visit other gardens for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, go to May Dreams Gardens and for the Tuesday Garden Party, go to An Oregon Cottage.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ananas 'Bracteatus'

This is a large-growing landscape bromeliad with a colorful "pineapple" bloom.
The red bract structure emerges in the spring and as it develops, the purple flowers start to open.
This is in the same genus as edible pineapples so as the weeks go by, the familiar pineapple shape develops. The flower/fruit structure will remain on the plant throughout the summer, gradually fading in color and eventually rotting away in late fall.
Ananas 'Bracteatus' grows to about 3 foot tall and 3-4 foot wide so give it plenty of space.  They will grow in any exposure from full sun to full shade.  Growth is faster and the leaves are more rigid in full sun.
They are fairly cold hardy and my plants in the ground survived many hours in the mid-upper 20°F range with very little damage.  Plants in containers however, suffered major leaf loss.
There is a solid green form, but the variegated one is much more popular due to its year-round foliage color.
Some claim that the fruit is edible, although it is fibrous and lacking in juice.  In this case, "edible" may only mean that it won't kill you. In my garden, the wild animals line up to get a bite of my regular pineapples but they won't touch this one!  That tells me all I need to know about its edible qualities!
Buy this plant!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Surinam Cherry (Eugenia uniflora)

In early spring, Surinam Cherry opens its fragrant white flowers, and the fruits are ready to pick 3 to 4 weeks later. 
They can bloom several times per year, often corresponding to seasonal rains. 
In Florida, the main crop ripens over a three month period in the spring.  As the fruit matures, it undergoes a rapid color change from green to yellow to orange to bright red, and in some genetic strains, to black.  The fruits are about an inch in diameter and have prominent ribs running from top to bottom. 
When fully ripe, the fruit is very juicy.  A few people find the flavor of fresh-picked fruit to be disagreeable but the fruit can also be made into jams, jellies, pies, and ice cream.  Brazilians ferment the juice into vinegar or wine, and sometimes make a distilled liqueur.  Over the years I have made many delicious pints of Surinam Cherry jam!
Adequate water during the fruiting period will increase the size and sweetness of the fruit.  The flavor of picked fruit can supposedly be improved by removing the seed and refrigerating the pulp. In tropical climates the fruit is susceptible to damage by fruit flies.
Surinam Cherry is likely the most widely grown species among the 42 members of the Eugenia genus.  It has many common names including Brazilian Cherry and Pitanga.  It is native to a large part of South America from Suriname to southern Brazil.  It has been spread by humans to most tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world and will grow in USDA Zones 9-11. 
Eugenia uniflora will grow in almost any soil type and is very drought-tolerant once established.
The plant can be sheared into a tight hedge but fruit production is much better if left unpruned.  Full sun is the best exposure for fruit production, although plants grown as hedges will tolerate shady locations.
The leaves are a shiny green and new growth is bright red giving the plant additional ornamental value.  The natural growth habit is as a large shrub or small tree.  They grow with multiple trunks in a vase shape.  Left unpruned, they can reach a height of about 25 foot.

Dropped seed germinates readily and this plant is invasive in Hawaii and most of Florida.  Do not plant this Eugenia if you live in these areas.  In central Florida, I have removed several large specimens from my property and every year there are literally hundreds of seedlings coming up around the plants that remain.

In addition to its edible fruit, Eugenia uniflora has some other uses.  The leaves have been spread on floors in Brazil, where their resinous fragrance repels flies.  The bark contains 20-30% tannin and can be used to treat leather.  The flowers are a rich source of pollen for bees, and birds are attracted to the fruit

Monday, June 7, 2010

Harvest Monday

The weather is hot and the summer fruits are starting to mature.  I'm picking Chickasaw Plum,
 Jaboticaba, Surinam Cherries, and Cherry of the Rio Grande.
There are still a few winter citrus:  Red Grapefruit, Valencia Oranges, Limequats, Sweet Lemons, and Kumquats.
In the garden, I'm picking Turnip greens,
Okinawa spinach, Parsley, Basil, Dill weed, and Cherry tomatoes.
To see what other gardeners are harvesting today, visit Daphne's Dandelions for the Harvest Monday meme!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Creature Feature - Oak Timberworm

This weird looking bug was hanging out on a banana leaf.  Before you start thinking "That doesn't look like a worm", this is the adult stage.  In the larval stage it is a worm-like wood borer.
Thank you to RBell of The Lazy Shady Gardener for correctly identifying this weevil!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What's New

What's New is my monthly roundup of all the miscellaneous happenings taking place in my garden.
The rainy season has begun and the plants are rejoicing!
This month the peach harvest is just starting. 
I'm continuing to pick Jaboticaba, Chickasaw Plum, Surinam Cherry, and Cherry of the Rio Grande.
There are still a few citrus to be had:  Ruby Red Grapefruit, Valencia oranges, Sweet Lemon, and Kumquats.
The Macadamia nuts, white sapote, and the pomegranates are starting to swell on the trees.
The deciduous gingers are mostly all up and growing.  Amorphophallus has shot out of the ground in the past couple of weeks. 
In the garden I've pulled up the peas and stripped off any remaining pods to shell out and use in soup at a later date.  The lettuce is also done for the season but the turnip greens are still going strong.
Quite a few pineapples are blooming and starting to develop fruit.
Since the hard freeze we had in January, the bananas are putting out pups like crazy! 
The large stalks that didn't freeze back have leafed out and should be blooming within the next couple of months.
My Chestnut tree is blooming for the first time!  I think the cold winter we had must have been good for it.
The butterfly garden is coming into full bloom.  Gulf Fritillary butterflies are everywhere! 
But where are all the Zebra Longwings?  Usually my place is swarming with them.