Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mother Nature's Artistry

Deep in the throat of a Cereus peruvianus flower

To see a complete plant profile for Cereus peruvianus click here.

Mother Nature's Artistry is always featured here on the last day of the month.  Check back again next month to see what Mother Nature has been up to!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Aechmea weilbachii forma viridisepala

The showy inflorescence of Aechmea weilbachii forma viridisepala combines green, orange, red and purple into a long-lasting display.  The flower spike appears in late fall and lasts for several months.

The spike tends to arch slightly and then curves upward.  Unlike many Aechmeas, the foliage on this one is soft and spineless, almost grass-like.  Individual leaves can be two feet long spreading out in all directions.  Plants usually grow about one and a half foot in height.
Aechmea weilbachii grows well in shade or filtered sun, and the leaves will be lighter green in higher light. The foliage makes it appear like a delicate tropical plant, but it will tolerate temperatures in the low 20°F range.
There are two other forms of this species that have a completely different appearance. See also: Aechmea weilbachii forma pendula

Buy Aechmea weilbachii plants!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Billbergia Hoelscheriana

Billbergia 'Hoelscheriana' is commonly sold in Florida as B. saundersii. In reality, it is a hybrid; B. nutans x saundersii. It can be distingued from the true saundersii by the blue tips on the sepals and the blue-marginated petals. This is a small, hardy bromeliad that is effectively used in mass plantings.  In late fall the plants all come into bloom at the same time, creating a spectacular display.  Like many Billbergias, the flowers don't last long, but in large clumps of this cultivar, there will often be a second flowering about a month later.
Individual plants only get about 8-12 inches tall, with an upright growth habit.  In shaded areas they will have green leaves with white spots.  In sunnier areas, the foliage will take on a pinkish or reddish hue.
This cultivar is reportedly hardy to at least 20°F.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Aechmea apocalyptica

Aechmea apocalyptica is a fall-blooming species with showy orange spikes and gray-lavender flowers.  Plants get about a foot and a half tall and two foot wide.  They do well in shade or filtered sun.  This species is reportedly hardy to at least 20°F.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Malvaviscus arboreus (Sleeping Hibiscus)

Malvaviscus arboreus var. mexicanus is a fall and winter-blooming relative of Hibiscus.  The bright red flowers are pendulous and last for several days.  The petals do not flare back like Hibiscus, but remain swirled around the pistil.  This gives the impression that the flowers never open, and hence the common name of Sleeping Hibiscus.  It is also sometimes known as Turk's Cap or Lipstick Hibiscus.  There is a pale pink color-form that is not as showy.
Malvaviscus arboreus is a large woody shrub growing to eight foot tall by six foot wide.  It is native to Mexico and is recommended for USDA Zones 9-12.  It flowers best in full sun, but will grow quite well in shady areas.  It is drought-tolerant once established.

There is a nectary at the base of the flower and you can taste the sweetness by plucking off the bloom and sucking on the end of it. The petals themselves are also edible, but lacking in flavor.
There are two distinct varieties and many online resources confuse the two.  Variety mexicanus is the one pictured and described here, and is the one most commonly grown in Florida.  Variety drummondii (most commonly grown in Texas) apparently has broader fuzzy leaves, more erect flowers, red fruits, enjoys moist, part-shade conditions, can become almost vine-like, blooms in summer, and is apparently more cold-hardy.  One online nursery is growing them as a perennial in Zone 6B!
It's strange that these two plants are classified as varieties and not separate species, given their completely different habitats and form.  If you're shopping for this plant, make sure you know which one you're getting!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hibiscus radiatus

The red-velvet flowers of Hibiscus radiatus make this species a must-have among the fall and winter blooming varieties of Hibiscus.  Like some other short-day bloomers in the genus, this one has long stems that arch over and grow horizontally as the season progresses.  Left on its own, this plant will form a wide mound of flowers four foot tall and eight foot or more wide.  It's not unattractive, but takes up a lot of space in the garden.
To keep the plant a more manageable size, clip the growing tips repeatedly throughout the summer.  This will force increased branching and a more bushy, compact habit.

Hibiscus radiatus is classified as a short-lived perennial for USDA Zones 10-11, but it is successfully grown as an annual elsewhere.  In late fall the palmate leaves will often turn a red-gold color, providing additional interest.
Small branches and the underside of the leaf petioles are covered with small prickles that reportedly make this plant deer-resistant.

This species is supposedly also known as Monarch Rosemallow or Ruby Hibiscus. The leaves are edible, and they have a pleasant lemony flavor, making them a nice addition to salads. Only use the flat part of the leaf though--the petiole has those annoying prickles!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hibiscus sabdariffa (Roselle)

Roselle, Sorrel, Jelly Okra, Florida Cranberry, whatever you call it, Hibiscus sabdariffa is another of the fall and winter blooming species of Hibiscus.  In addition to the attractive pale yellow flowers with maroon centers, this one produces an edible fruit.  Well, technically, it's an enlarged calyx, but it can be used like a fruit to make tea, cold drinks, wine, syrup, jams, relishes, added to salads, or simply eaten fresh.
The calyces turn bright red as they enlarge, growing to two inches in length and rivaling the blooms in their colorful display.  Any surplus of calyces can be frozen, sun-dried, or dehydrated for later use.  They have a tart flavor similar to Cranberry.  Young leaves may be eaten raw in salads or cooked as a green vegetable.
This species has a shrubby habit, growing 6-8 foot in height.
Hibiscus sabdariffa is a native of the region from India to Malaysia but is now grown in tropical regions world-wide.  It is recommended for USDA Zones 8-11 and is usually grown as an annual plant, going from seed to maturity in a single year.  In Zones 10 and 11 it can be grown as a short-lived perennial.  One subspecies of this plant is grown primarily for the commercial fiber obtained from the stems.
In traditional medicines, Roselle is used to treat high blood pressure and hangover.  It has also been found to have anti-bacterial properties.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hibiscus acetosella

Hibiscus acetosella is one of the fall and winter-blooming species of Hibiscus.  This one has dark, maroon-colored leaves to provide spring and summer interest as well.  In the fall, mauve-pink flowers appear.  Like most Hibiscus, each flower lasts only a day, but every day new blooms open.
The plant is fast-growing to 6-8 feet, and has a narrow, lanky growth habit.  If left unpruned, the tall plants usually start to bend over and grow horizontally by late fall and early winter.  To keep a more shrubby, erect habit it is necessary to prune the tip growth several times during the course of the summer.  This will force a more branching habit and sturdier main stem.
Natural unpruned form
Hibiscus acetosella is classified as a perennial shrub for USDA Zones 10-11.  Elsewhere, it can be grown as an annual plant, and they will reseed freely in the garden where the growing season continues into late fall.  Bloom continues through the winter until frost, or in tropical climates, until the day length increases and bud formation stops.
This species is native to Africa, and has many common names, including False Roselle, African Rosemallow, and Red-leaf Hibiscus.
The leaves are edible, with a slightly tart flavor, and can be added to salads or stir-fries for color.  Flowers can be made into a colorful tea, but have little flavor of their own and usually require the addition of  sweeteners and lemon or lime.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bloom Day - November 2010

This month the Bloom Day photos are in the order that I took them as I circled the garden.  To see what's blooming today in gardens everywhere, visit May Dreams Gardens.  Click on highlighted links below to see a complete profile and additional photos of that plant.

Cestrum aurantiacum, Coral Porterweed
Bougainvillea 'Afterglow", Caesalpinia mexicana
Ruellia, Crinum
Knock-Out Rose, Clerodendrum speciosissimum

Dendrobium, Pentas
Periwinkle, Malvaviscus
Tecomaria, Pomegranate

Gold Shrimp, Shining Jasmine
Jacobinia, Dendrobium
Oncidium, Plumbago
Ceiba, Jatropha

Thanks for stopping by!  Check in again next month for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, held on the 15th of every month.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brugmansia (Angel Trumpet)

Few garden plants have blooms to rival the foot-long trumpets of Brugmansia.  The huge, pendulous blooms are not only an eye-catcher, but they are also fragrant at night.  The plants grow quickly into a large shrub or small tree, up to 15 feet or more.  Flowers appear in masses every few weeks from spring through fall, between periods of rest.  There are countless hybrids and color variations, and flowers may be single, double, or triple-petaled.  Some cultivars have blooms up to 20 inches long.
Flowers of some varieties change color as the blooms mature, and there may also be some color shift from the heat of the summer to cooler fall days.
Brugmansias are native to Central and South America, and there are several closely related species that all share similar characteristics.  It is recommended for USDA Zones 9-12, surviving as a perennial in Zones 8B to 9B.  In the colder areas, Brugmansia will freeze to the ground during a hard winter, but growth returns so fast that in a few months you will be unable to tell there was any damage.  In cold climates, Brugmansia can be grown in containers.  Here are some flowering in 10 inch pots.
Brugmansias bloom best in full sun but the large leaves transpire moisture quickly, so plants in the warmer zones often benefit from some afternoon shade.
All parts of the plant are narcotic and poisonous.  The name Angel Trumpet refers to both the shape of the bloom and the hallucinogenic effects from ingesting the plant.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Canistropsis billbergioides

Canistropsis billbergioides is a relatively small-growing bromeliad with a long-lasting inflorescence.   Individual plants can easily be contained in a 5 or 6 inch pot.  This species is unusual in that it comes in several different color forms.  I have the pink, purple, and scarlet ones, but they also come in several other shades of yellow and orange.
At least nine different distinct color forms have been identified.
The colored bracts remain vivid for a period of three to four months.
They also seem to be fairly cold-hardy.  Mine have done well under a tree during freezes with temps in the mid to upper 20s F.  Canistropsis prefer a shady habitat so a location under the canopy of a tree will give them protection from both sun and frost.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tecomaria capensis (Cape Honeysuckle)

The bright, red-orange tubular flowers of Tecomaria capensis form in clusters on the tips of new growth during most of the year, with fewer blooms occurring during the hottest part of the summer.

The pinnately-compound leaves give the foliage a fern-like texture and the open flowers attract hummingbirds. Since it provides nectar during the winter months, hummingbirds may be encouraged to stay in your area year-round instead of migrating to Central America.
This is a very versatile plant that can be grown as a shrub, small tree, or scrambling vine, depending on how you care for it.  To grow as a shrub, periodically trim back long shoots to force branching.  As a small tree, keep excess shoots trimmed off as they emerge from the lower part of the plant.  If you prefer a vining habit, simply provide some sort of support and allow the long shoots to scramble up over it.  I have one that is about 25 feet tall, climbing up the trunk of an old papaya.  The two plants appear to have formed a symbiotic relationship, since I believe the thick growth of Tecomaria protected the papaya during the big freeze of January 2010.  The papaya still produces normal amounts of fruit within the protective foliage of the Tecomaria.
Established plants will send out horizontal runners from the base of the plant which will root and send up new plants from each node.  This is beneficial if you want a dense thicket or screening hedge, otherwise cut off the runners to keep the plant in bounds.

Tecomaria capensis is very drought-tolerant and is cold-hardy to the low 20°F range.  It is recommended for USDA Zones 9-11 and will reportedly survive Zone 8 as a perennial.  A full sun location is best for flowering, but it will also grow in light shade.  The plant tolerates salt-spray, and will grow in acid or alkaline soils.  It is also supposed to be deer-resistant.

This species is sometimes known as Cape Honeysuckle and is native to South Africa.  There are less-common cultivars with yellow, red, or salmon-colored flowers.
Traditional medicines use the powdered bark of this plant to treat pain and sleeplessness.  Disclaimer:  No medicinal claims are being made.  This is for informational purposes only.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cassia bicapsularis

Cassia bicapsularis is another of the fall-blooming members of the Senna/Cassia group of plants. Taxonomists can't seem to agree on which species belong in which genus so you can call this either Senna or Cassia, although the general consensus currently seems to be Senna.
This one can be shrubby or grow into a small tree, depending on how you prune it.  The bright yellow flowers appear in clusters at the ends of the branches in mid-autumn and continue until frost.  In frost-free areas they may continue to bloom throughout the winter.
It is fast-growing to a height of 8 to 12 feet.  Growth tends to be long and unbranched, leading to breakage when the twigs bend over from the weight of the flowers.  Trim regularly during the summer to develop a strong branching structure before the fall bloom.
Sulphur butterflies utilize this plant both for nectar and as a larval food source.  In Florida this species is a caterpillar host for five of the nine native species of Sulphurs.  The caterpillars that feed on the leaves will be mostly green, but those that feed on the flower buds will be yellow.

Cassia bicapsularis is recommended for USDA Zones 9-11.  It can be evergreen or deciduous, depending on which end of its range you are located.  In Zone 8 it can be grown as a perennial, freezing to the ground in winter but returning each spring.  It is native to Central and South America, but can be found around the world in tropical areas.  Plant in full sun for best flowering.
It is also sometimes known as Christmas Cassia, Winter Cassia, and Golden Shower.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Creature Feature - Tree Cattle

Since Halloween has just passed, I thought it appropriate this month to feature a web-spinner that can cover trees with their webs.
No, not spiders... these insects are called Psocids (pronounced SO-sids), or Tree Cattle.  They are scavengers that feed on lichens, fungi, and other bits of organic matter.  Although their webbing can be extensive, they cause no harm to the tree.  The webbing is simply a protective cover for them to hide under.  They can form webs on any tree.  The above photo is on Ceiba.  The nymphs feed as a group and even when disturbed they will move together as a group.
It is this herd behavior that gives them the "Tree Cattle" moniker.  The adults are about 1/4 inch in length at full size.
The First Friday Creature Feature is hosted right here on the first Friday of every month.  You're invited to join in!  Here's how:
1. Write a post featuring some creature that lives in your garden.
2. Within your post, include a link to my Creature Feature post so people know where to find the creatures.
3. Add your link below and leave a comment.
Thanks for participating and feel free to join in again next month!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What's New - November 2010

This fall we've often had a few days of above normal temps followed by below normal. It has also been extremely dry and the drought index now stands where it normally is at the end of the dry season, rather than the beginning.
The Pyracantha has completed its transformation to fall colors.
The Chestnut tree has turned a shade of yellow and is already dropping many of its leaves. The native Sugarberry is shedding as well, and the Chickasaw Plum is nearly bare.  A few of the Pecan leaves have also loosened and started drifting down.
In the parts of the garden that never get any watering, the Shampoo Ginger is already going dormant, while those that get an occasional spritz with the hose are still lush and green.
Zingiber zerumbet taking a rest
The Ceiba tree is still blooming profusely, and flower buds are forming on the Loquat in preparation of next month's bloom.  There's always something to look forward to in the garden!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Harvest Monday - November 2010

For Harvest Monday this month, we're in a transition between warm-season crops and cool season.  We are also in the middle of a severe drought, so many of the winter tree crops may have drastically reduced yields.
Starfruit are ready by the bushel now.
I'm also picking Avocados every week, although it is a small crop this year.
I ate the last Persimmon off the tree this week and I picked the last of the Maypops. Many of these passionfruit vines are already dried up and dormant.
I'm still picking a few Persian Limes and Key Limes.  The Kumquats are ready to pick as well as some of their citrus relatives. Sweet Lemon, Minneola Tangelo, and Hamlin Oranges are all on the menu.
In the garden I'm picking green snap beans, yellow wax beans, Okinawa spinach, Cuban oregano, Italian parsley, and peppermint.
To see what gardeners everywhere are harvesting today, visit Daphne's Dandelions, host blog of the Harvest Monday meme.