Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mother Nature's Artistry

This month we have the trunk of an East Palatka Holly tree covered in many different types of lichens. The patterns continue all the way up the trunk and have been slowly evolving their designs over the years.
Mother Nature's Artistry is featured here on the last day of every month. Click here to view posts from recent months, and check back again next month to see what else Mother Nature has been up to!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Do you garden with gloves on?

For most of my life I never wore gloves when working with plants.  I grew up in a rural area where we grew most of our own food and where planting, hoeing, weeding, harvesting, preserving, and eating were all just part of the circle of life.  Having dirt on your hands was as natural as breathing.

Then, a few years ago I was gifted several pairs of gardening gloves.  So, I started to wear gloves when gardening.  No more dirt under the fingernails, weed-stained flesh, dry skin, or hands covered in tiny cuts.  My hands had never looked so clean!  It became habit to unthinkingly slip on a pair of gloves as I walked out the back door... until a few days ago.

I was dividing and planting up some seedlings into individual pots.  The gloves just seemed a little too cumbersome when handling the tiny stems and fine roots.  So I took the gloves off.  My potting job became instantly easier.  I could quickly separate the young plants.  I could feel the texture and moisture of the soil.  I was holding new life in my hands.  My connection with the earth was complete!

We definitely had it right, out on the farm.  From now on, I'll be making a conscious decision about when to wear gloves.  I like the feel of the soil, the texture of leaves, and the firmness of stems.  What about you?  Do you cover up when gardening?  ...or do you go bare?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Zingiber zerumbet (Shampoo Ginger)

Zingiber zerumbet is one of the deciduous gingers that multiplies rapidly and blooms reliably every year.  It is also known as Pinecone Ginger or Shampoo Ginger.  The "shampoo" is the copious amount of fluid produced by the plant inside the mature flower cones.  When squeezed out, the fluid can be used as a fragrant hair rinse or body wash.
The inflorescence emerges directly from the ground and rises about a foot above the soil.  Delicate yellow flowers open a few at a time from between the scales of the green cone as summer progresses.
By fall, the cones become a bright red and can be used as long-lasting cut flowers.
Zingiber zerumbet grows to about 5 foot in height and blooms best in full sun to part shade, but the plant will also grow quite well in full shade.  It is native to southeast Asia and is recommended for USDA Zones 8-11.  In colder climates you can easily grow this plant in containers or as a seasonal garden plant that is lifted in the fall and stored in a dormant state over the winter.
The root of this ginger is not considered edible, but the leaves can be used to flavor foods while cooking. In some traditional medicines the ground and strained rhizome was mixed with water and drunk to ease stomach ache.  A poultice of the ground rhizome was also used to treat sprains and bruises.

Chemical compounds extracted from the leaves and rhizomes have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties with potential for use in medicines. One such chemical, zerumbone, is being investigated as a treatment for various types of cancer.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ceiba speciosa (Floss Silk Tree)

Fall is prime time for Ceiba speciosa (formerly known as Chorisia speciosa), as it covers itself with thousands of pink blooms just as it starts to drop its palmate leaves for the winter. This is a fast-growing tree with a distinctive swollen trunk covered in sharp spines. The trunk remains green for many years and allows the tree to photosynthesize even when dormant.
The trunk is fascinating but the flowers are the reason to grow this tree.  Every fall you'll be rewarded with a stunning display when not many other trees are in bloom.  The pattern of color and spotting varies from tree to tree.

Individual flowers are 4-5 inches across and fallen blooms can be brought inside and floated in a bowl of water.
Ceiba speciosa is also known as Floss Silk Tree because in spring the seed pods open to release masses of fluffy, white silk that carries seeds on the wind.  The silk has been used commercially for stuffing in place of feathers.

It is native to South America and is recommended for USDA Zones 9-ll.  That means it is hardy to about 20°F.  Hummingbirds and Tiger Swallowtail butterflies are attracted to the flowers and will make several visits a day to the blooms.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Clerodendrum bungei

Clerodendrum bungei plants grow single-stalked, 3 to 5 feet in height.  Each stalk is topped by a showy cluster of pink flowers that also have a pleasant fragrance.  Cashmir Bouquet and Rose Glory Bower are among the common names for this plant.  Flowers appear non-stop, spring, summer, and fall.  Butterflies enjoy the steady supply of nectar, especially Swallowtails.
This plant is native to China and northern India, and is listed for USDA Zones 7-11.  They tend to drop their leaves, even in relatively mild winters, and will appear as bare sticks for a couple of months.
Clerodendrum bungei is one of the most invasive species of the genus but also has among the most beautiful blooms.  If you have to grow this plant, keep it in a pot with a saucer underneath to prevent the spread of roots, and also remove flower heads as soon as they fade to prevent seed dispersal.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Clerodendrum indicum

Clerodendrum indicum is a tall-growing species that is attractive long after the flowers fade.  In the fall, long, tubular, white flowers appear in profusion at the top of a 6 foot stalk, looking something like a fireworks display or shooting stars. 
The flower head can add another two foot to the height of the plant, and sometimes the weight will cause the tall stems to arch slightly.  
After the flowers drop, a colorful calyx remains.
As winter approaches the calyx thickens, becomes leathery in texture, and reddish in color.  Any flowers that were pollinated develop into round, metallic-blue fruits.  I like this stage even better than the flowers.
Clerodendrum indicum is not a fast spreader but over a period of years can outgrow the original planting so it is listed as potentially invasive.  During cold winters, the plants will die to the ground but always return to flower by fall, and add some color to the garden into early winter.
Skyrocket, Tubeflower, Turk's Turban, and Bowing Lady are among the many common names for this plant.  In this case it seems best to just stick with the botanical name to avoid confusion.
Clerodendrum indicum is native to the Malay Archipelago and recommended for USDA Zones 8-11.  Best flowering will be in a full sun to part shade location.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Clerodendrum paniculatum (Pagoda Flower)

It is easy to see where Clerodendrum paniculatum gets the common name Pagoda Flower. The flower clusters form towering pyramids of blooms throughout the warm months of the year.  The coral-red flowers open from bottom to top over the course of the summer and fall.
Plants grow with one main stem rising straight up out of the ground to a height of 5-6 feet.  This species spreads vigorously and quickly forms thickets of vertical stems, each topped by a mass of flowers.

Swallowtail butterflies in particular, find this steady supply of blooms to be appealing.
Clerodendrum paniculatum is very drought-tolerant, once established.  Due to its spreading nature, this plant is best used in mixed borders, or as a backdrop for shorter plants.  A native of southeast Asia, it is recommended for USDA Zones 8-11.  In the warmer parts of its range, Pagoda Flower is evergreen.  In the colder regions it grows as a perennial, going completely dormant each winter and re-emerging in spring.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Clerodendrum speciosissimum (Glorybower)

Clerodendrum speciosissimum , or Glorybower as it is sometimes known, is probably my favorite out of the many species of Clerodendrum in cultivation. The flowers are a brilliant red and cover the plant for months at a time.

 Butterflies love this plant, and Swallowtails in particular can usually be seen hovering around the plant or feeding from the red flowers.  Hummingbirds also find the blooms attractive.  The leaves are large and heart-shaped, making for a nice tropical foliage effect.
Clerodendrum speciosissimum is native to Indonesia, but has become established in tropical regions around the world.  It generally grows to a height of 5-6 feet but can get much taller in ideal conditions.  The flower clusters form on the tip of each branch.

The plant grows in sun or light shade and is extremely drought-tolerant. It is recommended for USDA Zones 9b to ll.  In warm locations it will be evergreen.  In colder locations, the stems can die back to the ground during brief freezes, but quickly come back to bloom again. Although Clerodendrum speciosissimum will spread beyond where it was originally planted, it is not particularly invasive and can be controlled by pulling up stray stems.

In folk medicines, various plant parts are used to treat arthritis, eye problems, hemorrhoids, hernia, and insomnia.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bloom Day - October 2010

Here's what's blooming now in my garden:

Aechmea winkleri

Canistropsis billbergioides

Nidularium procerum x Aechmea fasciata

Cestrum aurantiacum, Lantana
Clerodendrum speciosissimum, C. paniculatum
Tibouchina grandifolia, Caesalpinia
Gold Shrimp, Duranta

Wedelia, Passiflora
Porterweed-Blue, Coral
Asclepias, Odontomena
Jacobinia, Pentas

Ruellia, Chorisia
Podranea, Bauhinia
Ruellia elegans, Tecoma
Jasminum illicifolium, Campsis

Periwinkle, Plumbago
Tibouchina granulosa, Jatropha
Thevetia, Tabernaemontana
Barleria, Turnera

Bloom Day is held on the 15th of every month and hosted by May Dreams Gardens.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cassia alata (Candle Bush)

Cassia alata is a great old standby for late summer and fall blooms.  The plants grow quickly and can live for several years.  The yellow flower spikes that form on the tip of each branch are where the plant gets the name Candle Bush.  Flowers start opening at the bottom and work their way up.  The spike elongates as the bloom period progresses.  Flower spikes typically will be 6-12 inches in height.
They are both a nectar source and larval host plant for Sulphur butterflies.  Interestingly, caterpillars that feed on the leaves of the plant will be green, and those that feed on the flowers will be yellow.
This plant is recommended for USDA Zones 8-11.  In tropical climates, Cassia alata becomes tree-like, reaching heights of 12 foot or more.  In subtropical areas that experience occasional light freezes, the plant is more shrubby.  During years with hard freezes, the plant behaves more like a perennial, regenerating quickly from the roots and blooming by late summer.  In colder climates with a long-enough growing season, Cassia alata can even be grown as an annual for a fall bloom.  Flowers will start forming when the plant is about 4 foot tall so it will bloom well in containers.  Trimming branch tips back in the spring will cause further branching and more blooms.  The large, pinnate leaves are also an attractive feature.
Rather than Cassia, this plant is sometimes listed as Senna (a closely related genus).  Taxonomists have been lumping and splitting these two genera for generations so either name is acceptable.  There are many other common names such as Popcorn Senna, Christmas Candle, and Golden Candlesticks.
Full or half-day sun is required for best bloom.
In traditional medicines, the leaves or sap are used to treat fungal infections.  The boiled leaves are a remedy for high blood pressure in Africa, while in South America it is a remedy for snakebite and venereal disease.  Clearly this is a plant no one can do without!
Disclaimer:  No medical claims are being made here.  This is for informational purposes only.
Buy seeds of Cassia alata!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cereus peruvianus

Cereus peruvianus is a tall columnar cactus native to South America.  The species name, peruvianus indicates it is a native of Peru, but this was a horticultural error.  It is actually native to Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina.  Up until the 1920s, nearly every columnar cactus discovered was given the name Cereus.  Eventually they were split into several different genera but many still retain Cereus as part of their name, leading to much taxonomic confusion.
The columns often have a gray-green or bluish tint in full sun.  There seems to be some genetic variation in coloring, and color is more pronounced on new growth.
With age, they begin to branch and can form some spectacular specimens up to 20 feet tall.  They are very easy to grow and are now planted worldwide.
During the warm months of the year, large, 8-inch diameter, greenish-white flowers will open at night.  They have a delicate fragrance, and pollinated flowers will develop an edible fruit that turns pink or red when ripe.
Less common strains have yellow skin.  The ripe fruit ranges from the size of a large hen's egg to tennis ball size.  Inside, it has white flesh with black crunchy seeds.
The flesh has a granular texture that quickly turns mucilaginous when spooned or pressed.  The white flesh can be spooned out of the rind or the fruit can be sectioned and eaten in chunks.  Cereus peruvianus fruit has a delicate floral flavor very much reminiscent of the flower's fragrance.  The fruit of the Cereus and several other species of cactus is known as Pitaya.  It is being grown commercially in the deserts of Israel and is marketed as Koubo to distinguish it from other Pitayas.
Some Cereus are self-infertile, so if you're growing these for the fruit, try to obtain more than one genetic strain for cross-pollination.
This plant is sometimes also called Peruvian Apple or Night Blooming Cereus.  They grow well in containers and will flower and produce fruit if given adequate light.
Full sun is best for flower and fruit production, but the plants will grow quite well in shade or even as houseplants.  Cereus is recommended for USDA Zones 9-11.  This would make it hardy to about 20°F.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Happy 100th Birthday!

Today my grandmother is 100 years old!  In celebration, I'm listing some of the memories I have of her, me, and life on the farm in Iowa.

I remember:
Her enormous flower garden... especially the big calla lilies that had to be dug each fall and stored for the winter.  There was a big lattice archway leading to the entrance of the garden.
Gathering fresh eggs from the hen house.  The eggs were always so warm as I removed them from under the hens.
Butchering chickens.  I can still recall the smell of scalded feathers.
Eating her noodles made from scratch.  They have a completely different taste and texture than store-bought.
Skippy, the dog.
Listening to the "Farm Report" every day on the radio at noon (a listing of current market prices for corn, hogs, cattle, etc.)
Playing in the corn crib.  We kids would climb to the highest point on the pile of corn and slide down over the ears of corn to the bottom.
Feeding corn to the hogs and watching them go wild when I tossed a few ears into their pen.
Eating big plates of chicken and pot pies.  Delicious!
The big, lacy fern displayed on a tall wooden fern stand in the dining room.  It had been passed from her grandmother to her mother, to her, and then to my mother, and now I have a piece of it.  Once it got to Florida, it escaped from the pot and is now spreading unchecked under a couple of citrus trees.
The dry cistern where potatoes were stored for the winter.
The old two-story farm house and the various outbuildings where the machinery was stored.
Swimming in the creek on hot summer days.
Riding in a horse-drawn sleigh through the empty fields of snow at Christmas, with the whole family singing carols.  In later years, the horses and sleigh were replaced by tractor and wagon.
Sitting over the hot-air register in the floor of the kitchen, trying to thaw out after riding in the sleigh!

These are just a few of my recollections from the old days.
Happy 100th Birthday, Momo!  Thanks for all the fond memories!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Barleria cristata (Philippine Violet)

Barleria cristata is a carefree shrub that blooms in both spring and fall.  The 1.5-inch diameter, purple flowers nearly cover the plant when in full bloom.  Plants grow 4-6 foot tall and wide.  Tall stems tend to arch over, so keep them pruned shorter if you want a more compact look.

There is also a white flowered variety, and I used to have a pink one too, but it died out one winter.
Flowering will be best in full sun, but I have some in a considerable amount of shade that still produce some flowers.  The white-flowered variety especially, really stands out in the shade.
There is a variegated-leaf form that has spectacular foliage but few blooms.  This one is also good to brighten shady spots.
Barleria easily spreads by seed so it is preferred for mixed borders or as a hedgerow, where stray seedlings won't be a nuisance.
Barleria cristata, also known as Philippine Violet, is a native of India and southeast Asia, and is recommended for USDA Zones 9-11.  There may be some dieback on exposed plants during severe winters, but mine fared well at 26°F last winter.  Even in colder locations, the plant could be grown as a fall-flowering perennial.
An extract of Barleria leaves has been used in traditional medicines for the treatment of anemia, toothache, and inflammation.  Scientific studies have confirmed that it has strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What's New - October 2010

What's New is my monthly update on all the garden happenings that have slipped through the cracks.  It is also part of the Tuesday Garden Party hosted by An Oregon Cottage.
Cooler weather has finally arrived and this is the first week with daytime highs less than 90°F and nights less than 70°F.  It feels great!  The Night-Blooming Jasmine also happens to be in full bloom right now, and with the windows open it's like sleeping in a flower garden!
The shorter days and cooler nights have signaled to the goldfish that winter is on the way and they have developed huge appetites prior to the dormant season.  Whenever I pass by the fish pond, their gaping mouths appear to say "Feed me!  Feed me!".
Short days have also triggered formation of buds and a few blooms on the fall and winter blooming species of Hibiscus.  I have four species that will all be bursting into bloom in the next month.
The growing season is nearly over but I'm still finding plants just starting growth after last winter's freeze.  Last week the first leaf appeared on my Zamioculcas.
Just yesterday I found the first sprout on a Zamia maritima, ten months after the freeze!

The creatures that dig in the night have been having a field day (or night) with my garden.  They always root through the mulch and loose dirt looking for something to eat, but now they've suddenly gotten interested in my potted plants.  I go out in the mornings and there will be several overturned pots with plants scattered, roots exposed, and soil everywhere.  One would think that they would consume everything edible as they dump the pots but apparently not.  After scooping up the dirt and repositioning the plants, I often go out the next morning to find the exact same pots overturned again!
A likely suspect

Monday, October 4, 2010

Harvest Monday - October

Today's harvest holds lots of deliciousness!  In the photo above, clockwise from upper left, we have Pineapple, Persimmon, Key Lime, Persian Lime, Avocado, and Passionfruit.
Big harvests are coming in for Starfruit,
and Pecans.
The squirrels have already been "testing" some of the pecans to see if they're ready.
Also on the menu this week:  Jaboticaba, Glycosmis, and Limequat.
Click on any of the highlighted fruits for a complete profile.  It's all good!

Harvest Monday is the first Monday of every month on this blog.  To see what's ready in gardens everywhere, go to Daphne's Dandelions, host blog of the Harvest Monday meme.