Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mother Nature's Artistry

Today's installment is a close-up of the center of a sunflower head before the flower buds open.
Mother Nature's Artistry is a monthly event on this blog, held on the last day of every month.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pineapple (Ananas comosus)

Mid- to late summer marks the peak of the pineapple season for most home-growers, although pineapples can fruit any month of the year in warm climates.

What many people don't realize is that there are many different varieties, each with their own unique characteristics. The fruit you buy in the grocery store is pretty much all some variation of the Smooth Cayenne variety.  The other varieties that are not so easily found have fruit with different textures, flavors, color, size, etc.

What many people also don't realize is how beautiful pineapple plants are as they prepare to flower.  Here is a sampling of a few different varieties:
Pineapples are very easy to grow in areas where winter temperatures don't drop below the mid 20s F.  In colder regions, many varieties can easily be grown in pots. 
The plants will grow in either sun or shade, but plants in sunny locations usually fruit sooner than shaded  plants. 

Most people start their first pineapple plant from the crown of a pineapple they bought at the store.  This is easy to do.  Simply twist off the top, let it dry for a couple of days, pull off any dried or small leaves at the base, and stick it in the dirt.  
Unfortunately, this is not the best way to start pineapples and first-time growers are usually disappointed with the long wait for fruit (possibly 3 years or more).
The best way to start a pineapple is from a sucker.  You'll have to know someone who is already growing pineapples to get these, so make some friends!  The suckers grow directly from the main stem of the mother plant and usually appear from the leaf axils after fruiting.  
Leave one large sucker growing from the lowest point on the mother plant to produce next year's fruit.  Remaining suckers can be removed and planted on their own.  

Allow suckers to grow a little larger than a typical pineapple crown before removing them. Here's a sucker that is ready to be removed.
Remove it by pulling outward and twisting to the side at the same time.  A nice big sucker will pop right off the mother plant.  These are ready to stick in the ground immediately, and often fruit within a year.

Another method of starting new plants is to take one of the slips that develop on the fruiting stem, or at the base of the developing fruit. These planting pieces usually won't mature as fast as a sucker, but they will fruit sooner than a crown. 

The slips attached to the fruiting stem will continue to grow as long as they are attached. Again, allow them to reach a good size before removing them. Here are some slips growing after the fruit has been harvested.

The slips attached to the base of the fruit will be removed when you harvest the fruit and cut it for eating. These will be smaller than the slips allowed to grow on the fruiting stem, but they will still develop into nice plants. Some pineapple varieties are more likely to do this than others.

As the pineapple fruit grows, it will have a dark purplish coloration in most varieties. 
As it nears maturity, it will turn green.  
At this stage you'll want to start watching it closely.  As soon as the base of the fruit turns yellow and develops the familiar pineapple fragrance, it's time to pick or time to protect it!  If you leave fragrant fruit ripening out in the open, some creature of the night will pick it for you and you'll only be left with scraps!
Once you get a few pineapples going, they will continue to multiply every year, and soon you'll have plenty of fruit to share with friends and neighbors!
And remember, nothing tastes better than a fruit you've grown yourself!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cestrum aurantiacum (Yellow Cestrum)

Cestrum aurantiacum is one of the hardiest species in the genus (USDA Zones 8-11).
The plant can be grown as a large shrub, or small multi-trunk tree up to 10 foot in height.
The tubular, yellow flowers only develop a very faint citrus scent after dark, so I don't classify this one as a fragrant plant.  This species also doesn't cycle in and out of flower like many other Cestrums.  Flowering is non-stop nearly all year long at the tips of the branches.
Cestrum aurantiacum blooms best in full sun to part shade.  The blooms attract butterflies, particularly Gulf Fritillaries and Giant Swallowtails.
It's odd that this plant is so hard to find in cultivation.  The fact that it is cold-hardy, attracts butterflies, and blooms all year would seem to make it a near-perfect plant!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cestrum diurnum (Day Jasmine)

Cestrum diurnum is the counterpoint to Cestrum nocturnum.  This one releases its fragrance during the day.  The leaves of the Day Jasmine are smaller, thicker, and darker green.  The growth habit is stiffer and more upright to a height of 6-8 foot.  This species is also more cold hardy; it is supposed to tolerate temperatures in the low 20's F.
The tubular flowers of C. diurnum are white, with the scent of honey.  Many references describe it as a chocolate fragrance.  Maybe they think chocolate sells better than honey?  At least one nursery sells this as 'White Chocolate Jasmine'.
Flowers appear year-round with each flush of new growth.
The plant is invasive in some tropical regions.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cestrum nocturnum (Night-blooming Jasmine)

Night-blooming Jasmine, properly known as Cestrum nocturnum, is a highly fragrant shrub for sun or part shade.  The small greenish-white, tubular flowers appear on new growth, opening only at night to release their perfume.  During the day, they close back up again.
The fragrance can be quite intense and carries throughout an entire neighborhood.  Some references claim this is the world's strongest smelling plant!  All of the plants bloom repeatedly throughout the summer and all bloom at the same time.  Each flowering cycle lasts about a week.
Cestrum nocturnum is fast-growing, and can quickly reach 12-15 foot in height if not trimmed back regularly.  In this photo, the roof line is at 10 feet, giving you an idea of the ultimate size of the plant and the quantity of flowers they can produce.
The vine growing on the Cestrum is Chayote!
The Night-blooming Jasmine is fairly tender and will freeze back during a hard freeze, but rebounds rapidly in the spring, ready for another season of intoxicating fragrance!
It is native to tropical America, and is recommended for USDA Zones 8-11.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Maypop (Passiflora incarnata)

Passiflora incarnata, or Maypop as it is commonly known, is a deciduous species of Passionflower native to the southeastern U.S. (USDA Zones 6-9).  They will flourish in full sun to light shade.
The plants emerge in early spring and quickly start spreading over the surface of the ground.  If the vines find something to climb on, up they go to a height of nearly 12 feet.
The vines are host to the larvae of Gulf Fritillary and Zebra Longwing butterflies, as well as the Banded Hairstreak, and Julia.  The adult butterflies also visit the open flowers for nectar.
The blooms are similar to many species of Passiflora, and this is also one of the fruiting types.  The flowers have an intoxicating fragrance.  As soon as the blossoms fade, the young fruits start to develop.
The remnants of the flower remain even as the fruit approaches mature size.
The fruits will grow larger than a hen's egg to near tennis ball size, and when they are ripe, they turn a dull yellow-green color.  When mature, the passionfruit will develop the characteristic fragrance, and the skin may become puckered or puffy.
At this stage, the passionfruit is ready to eat!  Simply cut in half and spoon out the contents.
The edible fruit of Passiflora incarnata is not as slimy as some other species of passionfruit.  In this species, the juice is firmly contained within the numerous juice sacs inside the fruit.  They can be spooned out and eaten without breaking and spilling their contents.  The fruit can also be pressed or processed for juice, and used to flavor ice creams and other delicious treats!
A tea made from the dried leaves is supposed to soothe nerves and cure insomnia.
Maypops spread by seed and root suckers, so once you have them established in your garden, you will always have a plentiful supply of butterflies and fruit!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Billbergia pyramidalis

Probably the most widely-planted bromeliad in Florida is Billbergia pyramidalis.  It has been passed from one person to another for generations and multiplies rapidly in the landscape.
The flowers on an individual plant last less than a month, but nearly all the plants will come into bloom at the same time, creating a stunning display during the long hot days of late summer.  This Billbergia is equally happy as a terrestrial or epiphyte.  When planted in the ground, they quickly create large clumps, and when planted at the base of a tree, will slowly climb the trunk.  Here is a group planted on a stump in full sun.
Billbergia pyramidalis is virtually indestructible and requires no care whatsoever as a landscape plant.  In heavy shade, the foliage will be a rich, dark green, while in sun the leaves are a bright yellow-green.  They are very cold-tolerant and are usually only damaged if a heavy frost settles on the leaves.  Even then, they quickly recover and bloom reliably each summer.  There will sometimes be a stray plant or two that blooms out of season, but the overwhelming majority of plants coordinate their blooms for a spectacular show!
Buy this plant!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Aechmea miniata

Aechmea miniata is a bromeliad with long-lasting color that can bloom at nearly any time of the year.  Small blue flowers emerge from a bright orange, branching flower stalk.  After the bloom is finished, the orange "berries" remain for a couple more months, slowly darkening in color.
Aechmea miniata grows about 18" tall and wide.  It prefers early morning or late afternoon sun, with shade during the hottest part of the day.  Mine that grow under the protective canopy of a tree, suffered little damage during the last hard freeze.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bloom Day - August

This month for Bloom Day, we'll start off looking at some gingers and jasmines!
You may click on the highlighted links to see a profile for that plant.

Costus pictus, C. speciosus
Costus scaber, Curcuma alismatifolia

Jasminum sambac
Cestrum nocturnum
Jasminum illicifolium

Crape Myrtle, Bauhinia
Tibouchina, Tabernaemontana
Periwinkle white, & pink
Clerodendrum speciosissimum, C. paniculatum

Spiderwort, Jacobinia
Crepe Jasmine, Pentas
Jatropha, Porterweed
Gold shrimp, Aloe

Cereus, Turnera
Hibiscus, Setcreasea
Ruellia purple, & red

Passiflora, Plumbago
Four O'Clock, Sabal palm
Brunfelsia, Pomegranate
Tecoma, Ruellia pink

Neoregelia Sheba, N. carolinae
N. Lila, N. Angel Face
Aechmea fasciata, Billbergia pyramidalis

To see what's blooming in gardens everywhere today, visit May Dreams Gardens for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cattley Guava (Psidium cattleianum)

Cattley Guava (Psidium cattleianum) is a very reliable summer fruit for subtropical areas.  It is native to Brazil and will thrive wherever citrus is grown.
There are two main types.  The red-fruited variety is known as the Strawberry Guava, and the yellow-fruited one is known as the Lemon Guava (var. lucidum).  Sometimes the yellow variety is listed as a separate species (Psidium littorale).
The red fruits have a stronger flavor and are slightly smaller in size than the yellow fruits.  The interior flesh of the fruit is white or cream-colored in both varieties.  Both types lack the muskiness of the tropical Guava.  The red-fruited type is considered to be the more cold-hardy of the two.  Both are more cold-hardy than the Tropical Guava.
This year, because of the severe drought, the fruits are much smaller than normal, and not as juicy.
Cattley Guava grows as a large shrub or small tree, usually reaching 12-15 foot in height.  They can be kept pruned to a much smaller size, if desired, and will even fruit well in containers.
In late winter to early spring, highly fragrant white flowers appear on the new growth.  The fragrance carries on light breezes, and will perfume your entire garden.
Psidium cattleianum fruits ripen in mid-summer.    They can be eaten fresh, used to flavor drinks and ice cream, or made into jams and jellies.  Like the Tropical Guava, the flower calyx persists on the ripe fruit, and there are many small hard seeds inside that can be easily swallowed.  Cattley Guavas are susceptible to the same fruit flies as the Tropical Guava and can be controlled by bagging the clusters of fruit.
The leaves are an attractive, dark, glossy green.  They are often used as an ornamental hedge and will still produce fruit.  Older trees have a smooth, flaking bark.  Mature trees will tolerate temperatures in the low to mid twenties F.
Because of the large amounts of fruit and seed produced, Cattley Guavas are considered invasive in some tropical areas.
On my little plot of land in Central Florida, I've never found any volunteer seedlings in over 20 years of cultivation.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Guava (Psidium guajava)

The tropical guava (Psidium guajava) is a fast-growing fruit tree believed to have originated in Central America, but is now grown in tropical regions world-wide.
They can reach heights of 20-25 feet but can be maintained at around ten feet.  Guavas even fruit well in containers.  They are evergreen or deciduous, depending on the severity of the winter.  During hard freezes, there may be some die-back of the upper branches, but new growth will quickly replace the limbs lost.
Fragrant and showy flowers appear in early spring.
As the fruit develops, the flower calyx remains at the end of the fruit.  The guava fruit ripens in mid to late summer and the fruit itself is highly aromatic.
In Florida and other warm regions, the fruit is attacked by the Caribbean and Mediterranean  fruit fly.  This is a huge problem for commercial production but for home-growers the fruit can be bagged to protect it.
I 've experimented with different materials and I'm currently using little bags I made from a product called floating row cover. It allows light, water and air to reach the developing fruit, while keeping out insects. I've also used plastic sandwich baggies, but if they are exposed to direct sun the fruit will burn on that side, causing a large brown sunscald on the skin.

For plastic baggies, I slip the baggie over the green fruit, and lightly secure with a twist-tie.  When the fruit ripens, it loosens from the stem and drops into the baggie.  The weight pulls the baggie off the stem and it drops to the ground.  During guava season I simply go out each day and pick up the fallen fruits, free of fruit fly damage. The fabric bags don't slip from the stem as easily so I usually have to manually remove them when the fruit is ripe.
Mature fruits are oblong and 2 to 4 inches in length.  The flesh inside may be white, red, pink, or yellowish, depending on cultivar.  They can be eaten fresh or cooked.  Guava paste and jelly is also popular.  There are many small, hard seeds in each fruit that can be easily swallowed (or strained out when making jam or jelly).
There are various medicinal uses for the roots, bark, leaves, and immature fruits.
Young stems are four-sided, while older trunks and branches have an attractive smooth bark that flakes off in patches.