Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mother Nature's Artistry

This month's photo is the inflorescence of a female Cycas revoluta (King Sago). The flowering structure you see here is about a foot in diameter. After pollination, the whole thing closes up into a ball, where the seeds develop over the summer. At the end of the year it opens back up to release the seeds. The female plants of this species only flower once every two years, and new leafy growth only emerges on the alternate years.

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

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ascocentrum curvifolium

Ascocentrum curvifolium is a very reliable, spring-blooming orchid. With virtually no care at all, this plant will reward you with blooms year after year. The bright orange flowers form large clusters near the ends of the stems. They will stay in good color for 2-3 weeks.
The leaves are about eight inches long, and curve downward. They are very stiff and inflexible, forming a sharp v-shape. In high light, the leaves are often marked with purplish-brown spots. If well-grown, the plant will send out many offshoots, eventually forming a large specimen.
This species needs good air movement around the roots, and can be grown mounted, in slat baskets, or hanging freely in the air. When the weather is warm, they enjoy hanging in a tree where they'll get good air circulation and natural rainfall.
Asctm. curvifolium is native to Thailand, and is often used in hybridizing with other orchids due to its compact size and colorful flowers.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Trachelospermum asiaticum

Trachelospermum asiaticum is a durable vine or ground-cover plant with fragrant white flowers in the spring. It grows in sun or shade, and is drought-tolerant once established.
It makes a nice evergreen ground-cover that can be mowed short a couple of times a year if it starts looking unkempt. The dense growth will prevent most weeds from sprouting, and provides excellent erosion control on slopes. This plant is also a good low-maintenance grass alternative for your lawn. The semi-woody stems can spread beyond the area where they're planted, so you may want to surround the planting bed with landscape edging to keep it in bounds.
Flowering will be best on stems that are allowed to vine up, or drape over some other object. The 2-inch long leaves are a dark glossy green, and have a leathery texture.
Trachelospermum asiaticum is not a true jasmine, but is sometimes called Yellow Star jasmine, or more commonly, Asiatic jasmine. It is native to Korea and Japan, and is recommended for USDA Zones 8-10.
There are some cultivars available with variegated or bronze foliage.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jasminum sambac

Jasminum sambac, otherwise known as Sambac jasmine or Arabian jasmine, is a highly fragrant shrub for subtropical gardens. The one-inch white flowers appear in small clusters on the ends of new growth, and their fragrance can be detected quite a distance away. Blooming occurs during the warm months, whenever the plant is actively growing.
This species grows as a shrub, but if planted near a support it will send out long shoots that climb straight up. There are no tendrils, and it doesn't twine around the support. Instead, it mostly leans, and eventually will send out rootlets along the stem to attach itself. The plant also spreads by root suckers, and if left to grow, will form a dense thicket. The shrub height will be around 4-6 feet. Leaves are rounded to oval, and bright green in color.
Jasminum sambac is native to southeast Asia. Several cultivars exist that vary in petal count and flower size. It is recommended for USDA Zones 9-11.
Flowering is best in sun or part shade. The flowers are used to make jasmine tea and perfume.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Jasminum nitidum

Jasminum nitidum is a fragrant shrub that can also be grown as a twining vine. When planted alone, the plant maintains a shrubby form, and wayward growths can be clipped off to keep it in shape. When planted near taller plants or some other type of support, the growth becomes more vine-like, twining around the support and climbing upward. The natural height in shrub form is about 3-4 feet, but as a vine can climb to 15 feet or more.
The white flowers are multi-petaled and fragrant. They appear in clusters on the ends of new growth any time the plant is actively growing. Individual flowers are two inches across. Leaves are dark green and glossy, making the plant attractive even when not in bloom. Flower buds are pinkish in color before opening.
Jasminum nitidum is synonymous with J. ilicifolium and J. magnificum. Some of the common names it is known by include Star jasmine, Shining jasmine, Pinwheel jasmine, Angel wing jasmine, and Windmill jasmine.
This species is recommended for USDA Zones 9-11. A hard freeze in the colder parts of this range may cause some stem die-back but the plant quickly recovers. It is native to the Admiralty Islands of Papua New Guinea.
Growth and flowering will be best in full sun to part shade. Gulf Fritillary and Swallowtail butterflies are attracted to the blooms.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Jatropha gossypifolia

Jatropha gossypifolia is a flowering plant grown more for the foliage than the flowers. The new growth is a deep purplish-red color. As the leaves mature, they turn green. The plant is always in a state of growth, so the colorful foliage is always present. The growth habit is upright to a height of 5-6 feet.
Flowers are smallish, and brick red, appearing in clusters on new growth. Leaves are 3-5 lobed. One of the most interesting features is that the leaf margins, veins, and petioles are covered with hairs topped by a sticky gland.

Sometimes known as Bellyache bush, Jatropha gossypifolia is native to Central and South America, and the Caribbean. It is a tropical plant recommended for USDA Zones 10-11, so it won't tolerate a lot of cold. In areas with brief freezes, the plant dies back to the ground and comes up again when the weather warms. They'll often reseed themselves too, so one way or another you'll probably get some to come back if you live in a subtropical climate. In northern Australia, this species has escaped cultivation and is classified as a noxious weed.
This species has a watery sap, but the sap is not a skin irritant like that of other Jatrophas. In fact, the sap has been used for generations in Nigeria as a haemostatic agent to stop bleeding. The fluid is applied directly to bleeding nose, gums, or skin. A study done at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospitals in Nigeria confirms its effectiveness and safety. The research findings were published in the Journal of Medicinal Plants in 2007.
The leaves are also applied to boils, carbuncles, eczema, and itches.
Disclaimer: Medical uses are listed for informational purposes only, and may not be appropriate for all people.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jatropha integerrima

Jatropha integerrima (jat-ROE-fuh  in-teh-GAIR-rih-muh) is a nearly ever-blooming shrub for tropical and subtropical landscapes. The bright red flowers appear in clusters on the ends of the branches anytime new growth is taking place. Individual flowers are about one inch across. Butterflies and hummingbirds find the blooms attractive.
The growth habit is strongly upright, and the tips of the stems may need to be cut back if you want to force side branches. In gardens that experience brief periods of freezing weather, the cold will do the pruning for you. Even if frozen to the ground, plants quickly recover and will be blooming again by late spring. They'll reach 4-5 feet by the end of the growing season.
In frost-free areas, the plant can reach heights of 10 feet or more. Container-grown plants can easily be trained as single-trunk standards.
The leaves can vary from elliptic to deeply lobed. Leaves and stems contain a milky sap that can irritate sensitive skin. All parts of the plant are considered poisonous if ingested, and that may be why it is reported to be deer-resistant.
Jatropha integerrima is native to the West Indies. It is recommended for USDA Zones 10-11, but is freqently seen in warmer parts of  Zone 9b.
This species is drought-tolerant, and does best in full sun to part shade locations. It is supposedly also known as Peregrina or Spicy Jatropha, but I've never heard anyone use those names.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Okinawa spinach (Gynura crepioides)

Okinawa spinach (Gynura crepioides) is a leafy vegetable that was relatively unknown in the U.S. until recent years. It has rapidly gained in popularity as more people grow it and become familiar with its uses.

In warm climates the plant is perennial, and will provide harvests for many years. The growth habit is upright to spreading, with the longest stems tending to flop over and trail on the ground.
Overall plant height is around 1-2 feet. The plant grows rapidly and can be kept in bounds by frequent harvest of the longest stems.
The colorful leaves are olive-green with a purplish-red underside and a pleasantly pungent flavor. The leaves and young stems can be eaten raw or cooked. This is an excellent salad green, or use the leaves on sandwiches in place of lettuce. Stems can be chopped in soups, stews, or vegetable medleys in the same way you would use celery. Leaves hold their color and texture well when cooked, making this a good choice for those who don't like the mucilaginous texture of many other cooked greens.
Okinawa spinach grows well in full sun or part shade. Growth stops in cold weather, and a hard freeze will kill top growth, but in spring the plant quickly regenerates from the root system. It is recommended for USDA Zones 9-11, but can be grown as an annual or in containers in colder locations.
In spring the plants go through a flowering cycle when little leafy growth occurs, but the plant is covered in orange blooms, attracting Monarch butterflies to the nectar. This plant is in the same genus as Longevity spinach (Gynura procumbens) and the houseplant known as Purple Passion (Gynura aurantiaca), and the flowers are clearly similar.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bloom Day - May 2011

Here's what's blooming in my garden today. Click on any of the links for the plant profile and more photos.

Jatropha integerrima, Shining Jasmine
Shrimp plant, Plumbago
Spiderwort, Bush Daisy
Bauhinia galpinii, Russelia

Cestrum aurantiacum, Justicia
Blue Porterwed, Coral Porterweed
Thevetia, Turnera
Pentas, Beautyberry

Four O'clock, Spathiphyllum
Gold Shrimp, Tecoma
Tipuana, Malvaviscus
Sambac Jasmine, Costus barbatus

Allamanda nerifolia, Brugmansia
Neoregelia, Ascocentrum curvifolium
Setcreasea, Bulbine
Kalanchoe, Cereus peruvianus

To see what is blooming in gardens around the world today, visit May Dreams Gardens, host of the Garden Blogger's Bloom Day.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Campsis radicans (Trumpet creeper)

Campsis radicans is a woody vine that blooms throughout the warm months of the year. The large flowers are a showy addition to any landscape. Blooms appear in clusters on the tips of new growth. The individual orange-scarlet flowers are 2.5 inches to 3 inches long, and 1.5 inches wide. These blooms attract hummingbirds, and this plant is supposed to be one of the best to plant if you want hummingbirds in your garden.
Campsis radicans is native to the southeastern United States and grows well in USDA Zones 4-9. The foliage is deciduous, but the deeply furrowed bark provides some winter interest as well. It can grow 30 to 40 feet in height, but only if it has support. The vines will only grow as large as the structure they're attached to. I have some that bloom at a height of 3-4 feet if that is the height of their support. Horizontal vines growing across the ground will bloom also.
The vine attaches to supports by means of short aerial rootlets. They emerge all along the stem, making a firm grasp onto the supporting tree or structure. Leaves are pinnately compound, and the sap of the plant causes skin irritation in some sensitive people.
The plant spreads by root suckers, but these can be controlled by digging out or mowing off. It can be kept in containers, or planted in natural mixed buffer areas where its aggressive nature is less of a problem.
In the warmest parts of its range, Trumpet creeper starts blooming in mid spring and continues until fall. Full sun is required for best flowering.
There are cultivars with red, yellow, or purplish flowers, and also hybrid varieties.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Justicia carnea

Justicia carnea (juss-TISH-ee-uh KAR-nee-uh) is also widely known as Jacobinia, Flamingo Flower, and Brazilian Plume. This amazing plant will grow in sun or shade, and blooms every month of the year in the warmer parts of its range. The natural height is three to four feet, and pruning is not usually needed.
Buds form at the tip of new growth, and once the pink starts to show, it's only a few days until full bloom. Each flowering head lasts a week or so, and more continue to form whenever the plant is in active growth.
Justicia carnea is native to South America. It is recommended for USDA Zones 8 to 11. In Zone 8 they will freeze to the ground each winter, but come back in the spring. Most references indicate this plant prefers shade, but if adequately watered, the foliage gets firmer and more deeply veined in full sun.
White, red, orange, purple, and yellow color forms exist (mostly hybrids), but pink is the most common.
As an added bonus, hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Creature Feature - Lovebugs

In spring and fall, Lovebugs fill the air (and cover windshields) throughout the southeastern United States. They get their common name from the fact that you almost always see them joined together in an act of passion, even while flying!
Lovebugs (Plecia nearctica) are actually a type of fly with a red thorax. Males are 1/4 inch in length and females are 1/3 inch.
Sex seems to be more important to them than food, and you rarely see them feeding on anything. This year, however, I did discover that they are attracted to the flowers of parsley. Swarms of them have descended on my flowering parsley patch to partake of the nectar therein. This makes them much easier to photograph than trying to catch them in mid-flight. At night, they never leave the plant, choosing to sleep on the underside of the parsley umbels, still joined together.
Lovebugs are so numerous in this part of the country that one would think they are native here. However, according to the University of Florida, lovebugs were only seen in Southern Louisiana in the 1920s. They were not reported in Florida until they were spotted in the panhandle in 1947. By 1974 they had made their way another 500 miles to the southern end of the state, and as far north as South Carolina.
There are two major flights of lovebugs during the year, spring and fall. The flights extend over a period of 4 to 5 weeks, but individual females only live 2-3 days. During their brief life, females lay from 100 to 350 eggs in decaying vegetation. The larvae feed on this until they pupate, a stage which lasts 7 to 10 days. The adults then emerge to repeat the process all over again.
Driving during lovebug season can be hazardous. Their smeared bodies on the windshield will reduce visibility, and permanently damage the finish on painted areas of automobiles. Large swarms can clog radiators and cause engine overheating.

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 your readers will know where to find the creatures.
3. Add your link below and leave a comment.
Thanks for participating and please join in again next month!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dendrobium fimbriatum var. oculatum

Dendrobium fimbriatum is a very fragrant spring-blooming orchid. The scent can be detected several feet away from the plant. The growing canes of this epiphytic plant are somewhat pendulous and tend to arch out horizontally from the base. This growth habit lends itself well to hanging basket culture or mounting on vertical supports. The canes are 1 1/2 feet in length or more. This species grows best in bright light to filtered sun locations.
The leaves persist for about a year on the canes before dropping. Flowering occurs in the spring on the ends of bare canes. 
Each bloom spike will contain a cluster of bright golden-yellow flowers with a fringed lip and a dark maroon spot in the throat. Individual flowers are about two inches in diameter.

Older, lifeless-looking canes will sprout young plants (keikis) that can be removed once they have developed a root system of their own.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Harvest Monday - May 2011

The peak citrus season is coming to an end, but I still have a few varieties left, along with an assortment of other tropical fruits. Here's what I'm picking this week:

Chickasaw plum, Surinam Cherry
Starfruit, Honeybells
Sweet Lemon, Valencia oranges
Ruby Red grapefruit, Marsh White grapefruit

Picked this week, but devoured before the photo shoot, were Cherry of the Rio Grande, and Persian limes. All of the herbs and leafy vegetables are the same as last month.
Click on any of the links above to read more about that fruit. To see what other gardeners are harvesting today, visit Daphne's Dandelions, host of the Harvest Monday meme.