Saturday, July 31, 2010

Mother Nature's Artistry

This alien-looking landscape is actually a close-up of the bark of the Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata).  The entire trunk is naturally covered with these warty growths.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cheilocostus speciosus

Cheilocostus speciosus is a large, fast-growing ginger native to tropical Asia.  A few years ago the Costus genus was split into several genera, separating the African species from the Asian species, and this plant is now correctly known as Cheilocostus speciosus.  It is one of the spiral gingers and this species grows some of the best spirals in the group.
The plant can grow 8-10 foot tall and wide in a single season and flowers start forming on the tip of each cane by early summer.  Even after a hard freeze, new growth quickly comes into bloom.  As the canes reach their mature height, a reddish cluster of bracts forms on the tip.  Pink flower buds quickly develop and the bracts secrete a sugary substance that is well-liked by ants.
The buds open into a large, white, tissue-paper-like flower over 3 inches in diameter.  Flowers open singly or a few at a time through the summer.  The flower is the reason this is sometimes called the Crepe Ginger.
Even after the flowers have finished, the remaining red bracts provide long-lasting color into the fall. The cone-like bract formation can reach 8 inches in length.
The plant will grow in either sun or shade, but looks its best where it gets at least a little shade during the hottest part of the day.  This is supposed to be the most cold-hardy among the spiral gingers and is recommended for USDA Zones 7-12.
There are various select varieties in cultivation which vary in growing height or leaf variegation.  The rhizomes of Cheilocostus speciosus are not considered edible, but various cultures do attribute medicinal qualities to them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Costus lucanusianus

Costus lucanusianus is another of the spiral ginger group.  These plants have thin stems that grow nearly vertical with little spiraling of the leaves.  Their mature height is about 6-8 feet.  The bracts on the cone structure are open (not tightly compressed).  Flowers emerge one or two at a time from the bracts, and last only a day.  Unlike many other Costus, this species will produce two flowers per bract.  The individual flowers are one inch to 1 1/2 inches across and have a thin, tissue-like texture.
Costus lucanusianus is an African species and probably hardy only to USDA Zone 9B.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Costus barbatus

Costus barbatus has one of the showiest bract structures of the spiral gingers.  The spiral growth is not as obvious on these as on some of the other Costus species.
The bright red bracts appear on top of 6-8 foot tall canes and bright yellow tubular flowers emerge one at a time from between the bracts.  The flowers are edible.
Each individual flower lasts only a day but the red bracts provide a showy display all summer long.  The red inflorescence continues to grow through the summer and can often reach a length of eight inches or more.  It is sometimes known as the Red Tower Ginger.  The bracts have a thick, waxy texture and the blooming stems make excellent cut flowers.
Costus barbatus is listed as hardy to USDA Zone 9.  Unfortunately, this species will not bloom in a year following a freeze so the flower photos are from last year.  The blooms normally only appear on two-year-old canes, although I have had them send up a bloom direct from the ground.
The canes are striped with red horizontal lines at each joint near the ground,
and the underside of the leaves is covered with dense hairs, giving it a soft velvety texture.
You can't really see the fine hairs in this photo, but just imagine the softest thing you ever rubbed your fingers across!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Costus pictus

Costus pictus belongs to the group of plants known as spiral gingers.  So-named because of the way the leaves spiral around the stem as they grow.  This species only grows about three foot tall (in full sun) and the leaves are densely arranged on the stem, making the spiraling difficult to detect.  The leaves have a wavy edge.
When the stems reach their mature height, a green cone will form made of tightly compressed bracts.
The bright yellow flowers develop out of the bracts, one or two at a time.  Each flower lasts only a day, but a clump of stems will provide flowers every day, all summer long.  The flowers are tubular, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in length.
Costus pictus flowers are edible.  They have a pleasant flavor and are juicy and crunchy.  They make a great addition to fruit salads. The leaves are also edible and, in clinical studies, have been shown to reduce diabetes.
This species grows in full to dappled sunlight.  The height of the canes will be taller in less light (up to 6 feet).  The canes are red at the base where they emerge from the ground.
Even when frozen to the ground, they make quick growth and will be in bloom by early summer.  It is reportedly hardy to USDA Zone 8 or possibly less.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Costus scaber

Costus scaber is often sold under the name C. spicata, but that is a different plant that is not commonly cultivated here.  This is one of the "spiral gingers", so-named because of the way the leaves spiral around the stem of the plant as it grows.  The amount of spiral varies from stem to stem, in some cases being barely perceptible.
This species is also sometimes known as Indianhead ginger.
An orange "cone" structure forms when the stalks reach their maximum height of around 4 to 6 feet.  Orange, tubular flowers emerge one or two at a time from within the bracts of the cone, one flower per bract.  Each flower lasts one day.
Ants will sometimes be seen feeding on the sugary nectar that oozes from the bracts.  The orange cone will continue to elongate throughout the summer, eventually reaching 6-8 inches in length.
By late fall, the bracts start to separate and dry up.  At the same time, new little plantlets will start to grow on the stem of the plant, just below the flower structure.  As the spent stems decline, they'll fall to the ground where the small plants will take root and grow.
Costus scaber will bloom best in full to filtered sun.  The flowers have no fragrance, but are edible.  They have a pleasant flavor, a crunchy texture, and are juicy when you bite into them.  They're perfect for adding to fruit salads.
The rhizomes are thick with closely-spaced canes. They are not considered edible.
Costus scaber is normally evergreen, but even if frozen to the ground in winter, it will come back and be in bloom by early summer.  They can be grown in the ground in Zone 8 and higher.
The bract structure of this Costus also makes a long-lasting cut flower.
Buy Costus scaber!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vresia malzinei

Vresia malzinei is another bromeliad with long-lasting summer color.
The foliage itself is dark green with a purplish underside.  The plant grows about a foot tall and two foot wide.
In early summer, a brilliant red and green spike emerges and grows unbranched to a height of nearly three feet.
White flowers open a few at a time from between the bracts, starting at the bottom and working their way to the top.  The spike keeps good color for about two months and then slowly fades.
Vresia malzinei prefers a shady location with only dappled sunlight.  Mine has survived temperatures in the upper twenties under the canopy of a large tree with very little damage.  The tree canopy kept frost off the foliage.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

White Sapote (Casimiroa edulis)

White Sapote (Casimiroa edulis) is in the same family as Citrus (Rutaceae), and will grow wherever Citrus can be grown.  The fruit is between the size of a large hen's egg and a tennis ball, depending on the variety and growing conditions.
When ripe, the green skin of Casimiroa edulis turns a slight yellowish tint.  Inside the paper-thin skin, is a delicious, soft, sweet, white flesh with a custard texture.  The fruit usually contains one or two large seeds and a few flat undeveloped seed remnants.  Because of the thin skin and the softness of the ripe fruit, it is best to pick fruits from the tree as they mature.  Fully ripe fruits will detach from the tree and when they hit the ground they turn to mush.
I usually cut the ripe fruit in half, spoon out the contents, and eat it fresh.  When they ripen faster than I can eat them, I make a Frozen White Sapote Pie.  I make a graham cracker crust, fill it with soft-ripe fruit, and stick it in the freezer.  Nothing could be easier, and it's a great treat on a hot summer day!
There are several named cultivars of White Sapote.  Flowering and ripening time varies with variety and climate.  Mine always starts to bloom in early winter and continues throughout the spring.  I get ripe fruits starting in May and sometimes continuing through the whole summer and into September.  The flowers are small and inconspicuous, but provide excellent forage for bees.
Casimiroa edulis is native to central Mexico.  They grow 30 to 40 feet tall and make a dense shade.  The tree has a habit of molting a few times per year and most of the palmate leaves will drop suddenly leaving the tree nearly bare of foliage.  That is normal for this tree.  New growth is a coppery-red color.
White Sapote has a distinctive, warty bark that is usually host to algae and lichens, giving it a mottled appearance.

As a member of the Rutaceae family, Casimiroa edulis is also a larval host plant for Swallowtail butterflies.
Various chemical compounds have been extracted from the fruit and seed and show potential uses in drugs for sleep aids, cardio-vascular regulation, anti-convulsives, and sexual enhancement.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bloom Day - July

The summer heat is here and blooms are bustin' out all over!
Today we'll start by looking at some bromeliads:

Neomea Popcorn, Aechmea fasciata
Aechmea Burgundy, Neomea Strawberry
Portea petropolitana, Aechmea miniata

Neoregelia carolinae, Neo olens
Neo farinosa roseastriata, Neo Sheba
Neo spectabilis, Neo Tangerine

Nidularium leprosa, Neo Lila
Neo olens Vulcan x Oeser, Neo compacta x camorimiana

Neo Yellow Devil, Neo Fireball x chlorostichta
Neo Angel Face, Vresia malzinei

Cestrum aurantiacum, C. diurnum
C. nocturnum, Jasminum sambac
J. illicifolium, Lantana
Quisqualis, Pentas

Brugmansia, Tecoma
Ruellia pink, purple
Ruellia red, Bauhinia
Red shrimp, Gold Shrimp

Jewel of Opar, Cereus
Turnera, Russelia
Bush daisy, Duranta
Spiderwort, Plumbago

Passiflora, Clerodendrum paniculatum
C. speciosissimum, C. bungei
Tipuana, Albizzia
Tabernaemontana double, Tab. single

Porterweed blue & coral
Rosa Don Juan & Knock-Out
Jaboticaba, Thevetia
Aloe zebrina, Jacobinia

Plumeria pink, white,
yellow, Jatropha
Periwinkle pink & white
Caesalpinia pulcherrima, C. mexicana

Lots of gingers are starting to bloom but didn't make it into the collages this month.  Come back next month for those!
To see what's blooming in gardens around the world, visit May Dreams Gardens for Garden Blogger's Bloom Day on the 15th of every month.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Caesalpinia mexicana

Caesalpinia mexicana is a beautiful evergreen, everblooming tree for sub-tropical gardens. The yellow flowers appear in masses to virtually cover the tree in early spring and then continue to appear on new growth throughout the rest of the year. The flowers have a very sweet fragrance if you stick your nose right into the blossom.
When flowers are pollinated, a small pod will form. On hot summer days, the mature pods split open with a loud snap, ejecting the seeds.
The leaves are bipinnately compound and 6-8 inches in length, giving the foliage a soft appearance.
The branches often grow in an attractive twisted manner.
Caesalpinia mexicana is cold-hardy to the mid-teens and very drought-tolerant. It is native to Mexico and will grow to about 25 foot tall.  It can also be kept trimmed into a large shrub form, if desired.
Hummingbirds are supposed to be attracted to the flowers.