Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Oklahoma Virtual Spring BioBlitz

At some point over the last year I signed up to receive emails from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.  Some of the emails deal with fishing and hunting records and I usually trash those without reading, but I really like the newsletters that tell about our native species of plants and animals.

False Indigo (Amorpha fruticosa)

In late March I got an email telling about the upcoming Virtual Spring BioBlitz, which I hadn't heard of before.  The (non-virtual) BioBlitz is an event that is held each October at a different state park in Oklahoma.  Nature enthusiasts show up and spend the designated period (1 or 2 days) wandering around the state park and recording as many species as they can identify.  It serves to map out the biodiversity of the area, track invasive species and see how native species are doing.  The Spring Virtual BioBlitz is a month-long survey of the entire state.  All observations are logged to, a database of naturalist records used by professionals and amateurs alike.

Oklahoma Beardtongue (Penstemon oklahomensis)

I took on the challenge and logged every wild species I could for the month of April.  It was a lot of fun.  I am already in the habit of doing this with bird species, so I got to extend this habit to some of my other interests: plants, insects, and fungi.

Corydalis aurea

Throughout the month there were several challenges and I met each goal: logging at least X observations in the first weekend, logging at least Y observations in a state park another weekend, logging at least Z observations in a county that hadn't yet received any records.


I ended up logging 375 observations during the month of April.  Of those observations, 223 unique species have been identified by the iNaturalist community.  (Some of my 375 were duplicates and others have not yet been identified to species level yet.)

Tenpetal Anemone (Anemone berlandieri)

I haven't spent a lot of time learning about native (or invasive) species that live in Oklahoma, so this was a good opportunity for me to learn from others.  I mostly posted my plants without identifications and allowed others to provide guidance.  I can't say that I can positively identify all of these plants again without studying my photos and the names some more, but I have a much better grasp of what wild plants are growing in my area.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sansevieria in bloom

Sansevieria are pretty common houseplants, office plants, or "mall plants" as I sometimes say.  As with many other plants that grow well in these conditions, there are a few species or varieties that have been propagated far and wide and are most commonly seen, while the genera themselves are much larger.

A few years ago I got a Sansevieria from my friend, Russ.  He had it labeled "Sansevieria sp. Chahinian 549" at the time.  It was the collection number of a botanist by the name of Juan Chahinian from his first trip to Kenya.  Russ obtained the plant from the Huntington Botanic Garden in California.  Russ believes this is actually Sansevieria parva.

Sansevieria parva
Sansevieria parva?
The plant has grown slowly but steadily (as Sansevieria do) for me in the intervening years.  And this year, for the first time, it has bloomed!  The flowers are strongly fragrant.  When I stepped into the greenhouse it was a very pleasant smell, but when I stuck my nose right up to the flowers it was a little too much for me.

Sansevieria parva
Sansevieria flowers

Friday, January 27, 2017

Trip Report: Gulele Botanic Garden in Ethiopia

Christie and I spent the month of July last year in Ethiopia, while we were finalizing the adoption of our son, Merek.

Yep, he's adorable!
A while back I heard about a botanic garden in Addis Ababa and I was excited about visiting during our time in Ethiopia.  There is very little information on the internet about this place and no one seems to know about it around town.  (There is a new website that has some good information here.)  At the time the best I could do was find a phone number and called and talked to someone, who seemed a little surprised that we wanted to come and visit.

We hired a taxi to drive us to the area near the garden and when we got close the driver started asking people along the street if they knew where we should go.  I brought the phone number with me and had the taxi driver call and talk to the people at the garden.  He brought me to an office building and Christie, Merek, and I went inside to meet some of the garden staff.

We visited for a short time in their office and then the Director of Education (I think his name was Solomon) got in a separate car and asked us to follow him to the garden in our taxi.  We drove up the mountain a little distance and pulled in the gate, where a staff of 5 or 6 people were tending to the garden.

Solomon was very happy to show me around the garden.  He told me about their vision for the place, which has been developing slowly over the last 5 years.  They envision this being a place where people come to go walking or jogging or just to enjoy nature.  (It was a good area for birding!  I recorded my 500th life bird while here: Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk)  They aim to collect plant species from throughout the country and grow them on site, as well as to sponsor conservation efforts throughout Ethiopia.  They have rows of plants arranged almost like crops and two nice greenhouses.  The greenhouses are sectioned into rooms coming off of a main corridor that runs down the middle.  We ventured inside and talked about the various plants they are growing.  Many of the plants are native to Ethiopia, but not all.  Solomon said it is challenging to meet the growing conditions of all of these plants from the many different climates across Ethiopia, so they are trying to simulate different climates in different rooms.

I told Solomon that I grow a lot of tropical plants, primarily Aroids and Orchids.  He wasn't very familiar with the Aroid (Araceae) family, so I tried to give him some examples.  Finally we came across one aroid in his greenhouses, which looked like a Sauromatum.  He showed me a group of native orchids, but they were not in bloom and I would have never guessed they were orchids.  Their leaves looked similar to the leaves of a day lily.  The orchid family is quite diverse and I remembered that my Field Guide to Ethiopian Orchids had a lot of genera that I was not familiar with before reading that book.

Boys swimming in an artificial pool formed around a natural waterfall flowing by the side of the path up the mountain.
After touring the greenhouses we went outside and found Christie, who had been walking around with Merek, taking pictures of birds for me.  We walked up the hill even farther and ventured to some other parts of the garden that I would not have guessed were the same property.  Along the way we passed several different habitats that the staff has been working to create, including a marshy area formed by damming up a natural creek that flows down the hillside.

Solomon pointing out the rough property line of the botanic garden
Near the top of the hill there was a flatter area and a path that led to a lookout tower.  We stood on top and took in the view of the countryside and city below us.  Merek slept in his carrier for a little bit, but when he woke up he was kind of ready to get out and do something else.

I regret that I didn't get a good picture of the garden as a whole, showing the rows of plants and such.  I was focused on individual birds and plants.  I did get a picture of Solomon in front of the greenhouses, though.

Gulele Botanic Garden
Click above to see the complete album.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Drunkard's Dream in bloom

Sometimes common names can be comical names.  (Sansevieria = Mother-in-law's Tongue?)  There is a little cactus whose stem segments look like tiny bottles connected end-to-end.  If you picture them as beer bottles then you can imagine where the name "Drunkard's Dream" came from.

Hatiora salicornioides
Hatiora salicornioides

I got my plant via a little stem cutting from a roadside rock store we stopped at somewhere in SW Missouri or NE Oklahoma several years ago.  I had seen pictures of the plant online but not seen one in person before.  When I saw it in the store I was exclaiming over it and the shop owner was kind enough to offer me a cutting.  It rooted easily and has grown slowly but steadily in the years since.

Hatiora salicornioides
Hatiora salicornioides

I noticed it blooming for the first time last year in the month of February, and it is doing the same again this year.  The blooms are small and bright yellow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The misunderstood Poinsettia

It's been AGES since I last posted!  Sorry about that, loyal followers.   Life has been busy and I have added some new hobbies, which have diverted my attention and time away from the blog.  Now, let's talk about poinsettias!


I'm not entirely sure why I typed that title for the post.  Now that I have, I have a lot to discuss.  My inspiration for the post was when I visited the good old Myriad Botanic Gardens in Oklahoma City a couple of weeks ago.  To be honest, I have been a little disheartened with the direction of the gardens since the garden ownership changed a few years ago.  There is a lot more marketing (good) but a lot of it seems to have nothing to do with plants (sad).



Anyway, that being said, when we were at the gardens a couple of weeks ago they had the whole placed decked out for the holidays and the conservatory was lit up with Christmas lights.  (All normal lighting was turned off, so you couldn't really see the plants.)  In the lobby area they had tons of Poinsettias.  At first I walked by them, not realizing there was something special about this temporary splash of holiday color.  There were SIGNS by each of these plants.  (I can't tell you how many times I have been in botanic gardens and seen a plant or tree that I didn't know and I couldn't find a label for it anywhere.)  The signs caught my attention and then I noticed these Poinsettias were not all the same.  And I don't mean they were just different colors.  There were striking differences.



I was really delighted to see that the Myriad had gone out of their way to track down some named varieties that were different from the norm. They were only lacking a bit more signage to call people's attention to the understated exhibit. It could be pretty educational, describing what a cultivar is, how they are selected and bred, and how the horticulture industry works. It's all in my head.


Now back to my title, I think the Poinsettia is misunderstood. First, the Poinsettia is Euphorbia pulcherrima, belonging to the huge Eurphorbia genus, which mostly consists of succulent plants that the average person would call "cacti." You wouldn't know it with a quick look at the Poinsettia, but it's true. Now maybe the Poinsettia is saying "Hey, that's just my crazy family.  I'm nothing like those spiky beasts."  But they are closely related. Second, those colorful "flowers" that everyone loves at Christmas time... well, they're not really flowers. Those are colored leaves, called bracts. The flowers are the small yellow bits in the middle.  Third, they just don't look like that in the wild.  The compact potted plants sold all over the place between Thanksgiving and Christmas have been grafted and bred for those traits.  The natural species is much more lanky and with less prominent colorful bracts.  Fourth, the rumors of their toxicity are hyperbolic.  Most people will have little to no reaction from the sap.  Others could have some skin irritation.  If you were to each a leaf,  you might puke.  You would have to eat a lot of Poinsettias to have anything close to a fatal dose.


Finally, I will leave you with some photos of a favorite relative of mine.  It is the Jamaican Poinsettia Tree (Euphorbia punicea). There is a large specimen at the Myriad Botanic Gardens and I have also seen this tree growing outdoors at a botanic garden in Florida.

Euphorbia punicea (Jamaican Poinsettia tree) Euphorbia punicea (Jamaican Poinsettia tree) at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, Miami, Florida.

Jamaican Poinsettia Tree Jamaican Poinsettia Tree - macro view of flower. Myriad Botanic Gardens, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Encyclia season

I really like Encyclias.  They have become my favorite orchid genus for a number of reasons.  They have interesting, colorful, but not overly showy flowers.  There is a wide variety of species and colors produced by these species.  They grow well in my climate and with my care.  They are decently attractive when not in bloom.
I have collected quite a few species and hybrids over the last few years, but I have only brought a small group into bloom.  I have had multiple flowerings of Enc plicata since I purchased it three years ago.  Otherwise, my plants have been growing, but not blooming.  This year has been an exception.

Encyclia 'Gay Rabbit'
These flowers look very different from the ones that were on the plant when I purchased it two years ago.  The pot is large, with many bulbs, so I am thinking that it is possible I have two separate plants and the one that bloomed this year is not Gay Rabbit.  Hopefully next year I will have multiple spikes and we can see if there are different plants in this pot.

Encyclia seidelii
Encyclia seidelii

Encyclia seidelii
Encyclia seidelii in macro

These were my first blooms from  Enc seidelii.  I wasn't expecting any since this is a small plant.  The flowers themselves are small very striking.  The pictures don't really do them justice.

Encyclia belizensis

Encyclia belizensis in macro
These are also my first flowers for Enc belizensis.  They are primarily a creamy yellow with a white lip and touches of pink here and there.  These are the largest flowers of the species I have currently in flower.

Since I had several species in bloom at the same time I decided to try my hand at hybridizing.  I did it a little haphazardly right before leaving town.  I just used my finger to remove pollinia from one species and move it to the next.  It looks like some of the crosses are taking and seed pods are forming.  If all goes well, I will send my pods off to an experienced hybridizer to germinate them and grow them out.

Encyclia ramoense 'Dr Pepper'
Encyclia ramoense 'Dr Pepper'

Encyclia ramoense 'Dr Pepper'
Encyclia ramoense 'Dr Pepper' in macro
This is a really neat flower, due to the unique shape and colors, as well as the fragrance.  I am told the regular species, Enc ramoense, has blooms that smell like Dr. Pepper.  This particular cultivar was labeled 'Dr Pepper' so I guess it has a marked fragrance like that favorite beverage of mine.  Anyway, we discovered something interesting about this plant.  I couldn't smell any fragrance from the flowers in my greenhouse.  I brought the plant out to the picnic table on our back deck and smelled it a little later and - voila! It smelled like Dr. Pepper!  I took the plant inside for Christie to smell: nothing.  I took it back outside with her and the scent returned!  It seems to be triggered by sunlight.  I don't know if this is a known phenomenon or not, but it sort of makes sense that plants could regulate a chemical reaction by sunlight.

Encyclia Grand Bahama (tampensis x plicata)

My other Encyclia in bloom right now is a primary hybrid between Enc tampensis and Enc plicata.  It has dainty blooms that are lightly fragrant with a chocolate smell.

Encyclia Grand Bahama (tampensis x plicata) in macro
Last, but not least, I want to show off some beautiful leaves.  Encyclia guatemalensis hasn't flowered for me yet, but these leaves are just amazing.

Encyclia guatemalensis
I imagine the colors would vary based on light conditions.  I hope my leaves stay this color and I get some blooms next year.

As usual, my Enc plicata is now producing a bloom spike, so I should have flowers in August and September.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The effects of herbicides

About a month ago I noticed something odd about our Redbud (Cercis) trees.  The newest leaves were opening up all shriveled, deformed and partially yellow.  I had not closely watched leaves unfurling in the past, but I was pretty sure they opened as little hearts folded in half and just grew larger with time.  They didn't start out as these strange, malformed stingrays.

deformed Redbud leaves
Deformed Redbud leaf
deformed Redbud leaves
Deformed leaves
I asked some of my expert plant friends about this, especially those that live near me and are familiar with Redbuds.  One of them said that it looked like damage from herbicides.  I was pretty sure it couldn't be from herbicides since I don't use them myself and because these trees are in my backyard, which is pretty well surrounded by bushes and trees.  Also, the nearest house to these trees has been vacant for 7 years now.  None of our immediate neighbors have the immaculate monoculture lawns of those who spray their lawns with weed killers and fertilizers.  I did notice that the tree in the front yard across the street from our house also had the same pattern with their newest leaves, although to a lesser extent.

healthy Redbud leaves
Regular, healthy leaves
More recently the trees have been putting out regular leaves again, leaving a very clear set of affected leaves along each branch.  I took more photos and sent these to my friends.  The same friend who had guessed herbicide damage found an excellent article on Redbuds that explains they are very sensitive to pre-emergent herbicides, the kind people spray on their lawns just before the grass comes out in the spring.  The photos were eerily similar (see page 6).

deformed Redbud leaves
Deformed leaves surrounded by healthy growth
It seems as though our trees are suffering from someone that sprayed their lawn down the street, most likely on a windy day.  It's not surprising that a chemical whose purpose is to kill weeds would also negatively impact other plant life.  I like my yard to look nice - grass not too high and not too many weeds - but I have never given in and hired one of those companies to spray my lawn.  This is mostly because of the cost, but also because I don't like chemicals being used when they aren't necessary.  Now I have an additional reason to dislike these unnecessary chemicals.  The good news is that the damage is limited to some ugly leaves - at least as far as I can tell.  Hopefully there isn't enough of this being used that it is getting into our water supply at high concentrations.  We stopped drink tap water a couple of years ago.