Monday, February 12, 2018

Trip Report: Desert Botanical Garden

I recently traveled to Phoenix for work and managed to get some free time for exploring the Desert Botanical Garden, which was conveniently close to my hotel and the airport. Before going to Phoenix I looked for some good birding hotspots and was really excited to see that one of the best places to go birding in Phoenix is a botanic garden. Two birds with one stone! (plants and birds)

Chihuly glass at entrance


While I'm at it - a bird in the hand is worth nothing compared to two birds in a bush! Who wants a bird in their hand? A bird in the bush is much easier to photograph, and you're photographing the bush at the same time! Plants and birds, that's what I'm talking about!


Phoenix is a beautiful city and I enjoyed it much more than I expected. I'm sure the 79 degree high temperature each day helped, almost 60 degrees warmer than back home.


The Desert Botanical Garden is a beautiful, well maintained garden with lots of interesting plants. The entry garden is awesome and wandering just a bit further in there is a cacophony of sound - Gila Woodpeckers, Verdins, and Costa's Hummingbirds constantly trilling, chirping, and whistling. I really liked the Desert Wildflower Loop, which was particularly buzzing with hummingbirds. The Sonoran Desert Nature Loop is in more open scenery with many Saguaro cacti in sight.


The Cacti and Succulent Galleries are made up of some large metal structures that provide shade and protection for some smaller and more tender plants, such as Lithops, Stapelia, Kalanchoe, and Aloe.


There were several Aloe in bloom while I was there. Their vibrant flowers contrasting with the wide solid green leaves are something to see.

Aloe striata - Coral Aloe

I am not a big collector of cacti and succulents, but seeing these plants growing in mass and in their natural habitat was really fun. There was plenty that caught my eye, from the purple-tinted Prickly Pears (Opuntia gosseliniana var. santa-rita), to the spiny mounds of Jumping Cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida), the cone-shaped Boojum Trees (Fouquieria columnaris), and the towering native Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea).

Opuntia aciculata - Chenille Prickly Pear

Fouquieria columnaris - Boojum Tree

Euphorbia antisyphilitica - Candelilla

I managed to add 13 new bird species to my life list, which is more than I expected.

You can see more of my photos from the Desert Botanical Garden here.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Encyclia spikes in January?

This is the time of year when I usually find several Phalaenopsis spiking or blooming in my greenhouse, but little else going on with my orchids. Most of my orchid collection is from the genus Encyclia and those plants typically bloom for me in the heat of the summer. Appallingly, I never have any of my favorite Encyclia in bloom during the annual local orchid show, so if I enter any plants they are just run of the mill Phalaenopsis. Something is different this year.

I don’t know why, but I have 3 Encyclia plants spiking right now, in addition to 2 Phalaenopsis and 1 Dendrobium. Two of the spiking Encyclia will be first earned blooms for me, so perhaps these species typically bloom earlier, but the other spiking Encyclia is one that bloomed last summer for me. It looks like I might actually have some Encyclia to enter in the orchid show this year!

Encyclia angustiloba
Encyclia hanburyi
Encyclia Faerie Glen (diota x mooreana)
Phalaenopsis NOID
Dtps. Jiaho's Pink Girl
Dendrobium anceps

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Mandarin seeds

We have been eating a lot of small citrus fruits this winter. Mostly we have been getting those small seedless mandarin clementines branded as Cuties or Halos. They are really sweet and delicious, although we’ve found the shelf life is limited to about a week. After that they start to dry out inside the fruit.

This week my wife wasn’t able to find any of those tiny clementines at the grocery store, so she bought some larger mandarins, which regrettably aren’t as sweet. The bonus? They have seeds. As I was eating the second fruit I started spitting out the seeds in my hand and was considering whether to try germinating them. My grandfather, a very good gardener, could grow citrus trees from seed and did so regularly. As I was considering this my daughter saw the seeds in my hand and got really excited and asked if we could plant them, and grow a orange tree and pick the oranges and eat them and never have to spend money on oranges again!?! Yes, these were her words. And you can guess that made up my mind.

Remembering what my granddad had told me, I nicked each seed with a knife (not sure how deep, so I could have screwed it up right off the bat). Then I soaked the seeds in water for 24 hours. My daughter, with the great memory, asked me at dinner if we get to plant them now. Yes, thanks for remembering when I forgot!

We planted the 4 seeds 1/2” deep, moistened the soil, and covered the pot in plastic wrap. Here goes nothin!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Pellionia in bloom

I have had two species of Pellionia in my collection for a long time, but don't remember seeing either of them bloom before.  The flowers are small and could be easily missed, so it's possible they had flown under my radar in the past.  Regardless, I was very happy to see these little flowers on my Pellionia pulchra plants recently.

Pellionia pulchra
Pellionia pulchra buds

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Plant Find: Bauhinia galpinii

From the moment I first saw one, I have loved Orchid Trees (Bauhinia).  Bauhinia is a genus of more than 500 species of tropical flowering plants, many of them trees, but some are more shrubs and some are even vines.  They are found throughout the world in tropical regions and I have seen them growing in the wild, as well as cultivated in yards in the southern US.  In Galveston, there are several Bauhinia variegata growing in front yards and flowering with their beautiful pink or white blooms.

Bauhinia variegata seedlings
Bauhinia variegata seedlings
A few years ago I collected some seeds from a tree in Galveston and was able to germinate those seeds. I tried planting a few of the young seedlings to the Galveston yard, but they didn't make it. I don't know if their sunlight was choked out by their more aggressive neighbors, or something else happened. I have a few saplings now that have gotten to a decent size and I plan to plant in the Galveston yard when they get even a little bit larger.

Bauhinia variegata (orchid tree)
Young Bauhinia variegata seedlings that I transplanted to Galveston garden.
As beautiful as the blooms are, the leaves are every bit as stunning.  They unfold like a set of hands asking for a piece of bread.  I read that Linnaeus named this genus after a set of twin botanists, which is fitting due to the symmetric, two lobed leaf.

Bauhinia variegata
Bauhinia variegata flowers on a tree in Galveston

I mentioned that there are some species of Bauhinia that are vining.  I saw one of these species at the Singapore Botanic Gardens a few years ago (photo below).  The stems are woody and there is a fuzzy brown sheath that covers the new leaves as they emerge.  The emergent leaves are sort of red and bronze, turning to a medium green with dark veins. 

Bauhinia semibifida
Bauhinia semibifida at Singapore Botanic Gardens
On my most recent trip to Galveston I visited a nursery and came across a beautiful miniature Bauhinia in a pot that I assume is meant to stay a miniature.  It is Bauhinia galpinii and it is so cute. 

Bauhinia galpinii
Bauhinia galpinii

There are actually two small trees in the pot and one of them has much smaller leaves than the other.  Since I have grown Bauhinia variegata from seed and know that the leaves are large from a young age, I do believe this is actually going to retain the small leaves.

Bauhinia galpinii
Tiny leaves of Bauhinia galpinii

My plant is not yet blooming, but I found photos of the flowers online.  They are salmon red and petite compared to B. variegata, but of the same shape.  I hope I can keep this plant happy in the greenhouse over the winter and then I have the perfect place for it next spring when it is warm enough to move my plants outdoors.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Plant Find: Turmeric

There was a (very) small mid-week farmer's market held at a neighborhood park in Galveston and I walked over to see if there was anything interesting.  One of the five vendors had a handful of plants for sale, one of which looked like a Canna or ginger to me.  I asked the owner what it was and he surprised me by saying it was Turmeric.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) plant
Sometime last year I was in a cooking phase and had a recipe I really wanted to cook that called for turmeric roots.  I have turmeric powder and knew that I could use that, but started researching the roots, which would surely be a more fresh and potentially have a richer flavor.  I found that I could buy turmeric roots on Amazon and they look a lot like ginger roots, except they are orange inside, much like a sweet potato.

Turmeric root, used for cooking
I talked to the guy at the farmer's market and asked him how he goes about harvesting and replanting.  He says that he grows the turmeric in a raised bed and will harvest about 90% of his clump of turmeric and leave 10% behind to grow the next batch.  He wasn't asking much for the small plant and I decided that even if I don't end up using the plant for cooking and just grow it as ornamental (like all my other plants) I would be happy to have a turmeric plant in my collection.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Plant Find: new Galveston garden additions

I split out my Galveston garden update into two posts since one was much more related to maintenance and the other is about two new plants I acquired and added to the garden.  Both of these plants have the silvery green foliage that I love so much.

My favorite little nursery in Galveston has a neat assortment of plants that are so unlike anything we have in central Oklahoma.  I really enjoy looking at the assortment of semi-tropical trees and shrubs that can be grown outdoors in Galveston.  On my most recent trip I came across a few plants that I have been coveting for years.

Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) planted in the Galveston yard

I have previously posted about a tree (sometimes a shrub) that Christie and I fell in love with while in south Florida, the Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus).  I actually tried propagating those trees from cuttings and had some initial success, but couldn't keep the cuttings alive long-term.  I found a nice size bush at the nursery for a reasonable price and had not previously seen one for sale at all, so of course I snatched it up.

Gauva fruits at Moody Gardens - aren't they cute?
I believe these are the same Pineapple Guava, but I'm not positive.

Another plant that I had been coveting is a small guava bush.  I had seen these growing at the Moody Gardens in Galveston and taken their photos in years past.  They have really funky little flowers, followed by cute little guava fruits that I find really interesting.  I like the little fruit with the four-point star that persists on the bottom.  Again, when I saw one of these at a reasonable price, I had to scoop it up.

Pineapple Guava
Pineapple Guava (Feijoa sellowiana) planted in front of the Galveston house

We had honestly run out of room for planting any new plants in Galveston, thanks to the monsters that took over the garden (post coming soon), but who needs a lawn anyway?  We just dug up grass and fit 'em in.  I envision some day a few years down the road needing to buy some paving stones so that you can walk through what used to be the yard, but is now a jungle of beautiful, lush tropical forest...