Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Passionflower in bloom

After just a week in the greenhouse, I could already tell that the plants were happy.  Immediately my Aroids began to produce aerial roots where they hadn't before.  In fact, I have a variegated Monstera deliciosa that now has an aerial root about 5 feet long.  Pretty impressive for a plant that is only about 8 inches tall with 2 leaves!

Anyway, one of the best indicators of a plant's happiness is their bloomage.  Not that a non-blooming plant is unhappy, but it's a pretty sure bet that a blooming plant is happy.  In some rare cases, a very unhappy plant will produce blooms just before dying - a last ditch effort to spread seed and ensure its survival through its offspring.  But you can usually tell if your plant is blooming for this reason.

I don't have very many "blooming" plants.  Most of my plants do flower at some point in their life cycles, but their flowers are not particular showy, colorful or desirable to look at.  But those few that I have have been performing for me pretty well since being moved into the greenhouse.  The Datura (Angel Trumpet) has been producing yellow trumpet blooms constantly, followed by nice, full seed pods.  The lime tree put out a profusion of blooms once moved in and is now desperately trying to make fruit from those blooms, even though I can't seem to give it enough water.  Christie's Streptocarpus (False African Violet) has been covered in little blue-purple flowers since we got it several weeks ago.

And my favorite blooming plant in my collection has even been performing.  I have two Passiflora x alatocaerulea (a hybrid Passionflower) in my greenhouse that have been producing a couple of blooms each week.  We purchased both of these plants last summer, keeping one and giving the other as a gift to Christie's grandmother for mother's day.  Since they are not hardy plants in our climate, I offered to overwinter her plant in the greenhouse with my own.  I was able to keep it attached to her grandmother's trellis and temporarily hang the trellis in the greenhouse.  Assuming I can keep it from getting too tangled with my other plants and greenhouse itself, it should be easy to transport back to her house in the Spring.

Passiflora x alatocaerulea blooming in the greenhouse
With Christmas day just a couple of days behind us, I figured now is a good time to share about the symbolism and name for the Passionflower.  If you have seen a Passionflower bloom before, you were probably amazed at the complicated sets of elements that are present.  There is just so much going on with each bloom.  It's not a simple set of petals with a colored center, like members of the Asteraceae family.  The Passionflower has many different parts and the numbers of those parts are significant in the Christian culture.  In addition, the Spanish saw a resemblance in this flower and a Saint's halo, commonly depicted in Roman Catholic art.

Back to the numerology of the bloom.  The bloom consists of five petals and five sepals, which represents the ten apostles - leaving out Judas the betrayer and Peter the denier.  The filaments can represent the thorns in Jesus's crown.  Apparently there are 72 of them and that is how many thorns were in Jesus's crown, though I'm not sure where that knowledge came from...  There are many myths and elements to teh Catholic faith that are not shared by the Protestant Christian denominations, of which I am a member.  There are five stamens, which is the number of wounds that inflicted Jesus.  In fact, the plant is referred to as "Flower of the Five Wounds" by South American Catholics.

Additional symbolism can be found in the shape of the leaves of some species of Passiflora, such that they look like spears, which pierced Jesus's side.  And some dots underneath the leaves are to represent the 33 pieces of silver which were paid to Judas for the betrayal.

Passionflower blooms are only open for one day, the same time that Jesus suffered on the cross.  After their show the bloom closes rather than falling from the vine, like many other flowers do.  This closing symbolizes hidden wisdom and Jesus being placed into the tomb.

I hope that you had a wonderful Christmas and I wish the best in the New Year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Autumn Crocus

This year I discovered that there are some Crocus species which come up in the Autumn.  I ordered some of these, shortly after hearing about them, and got them in the ground immediately.

I don't spend nearly as much time looking at the garden in the Fall, when the leaves are covering the flowerbeds and it's dark by the time I get home from work, but I am happy to have these drops of color out in the garden at this time of the year for when I happen to look.

One of the first blooms of our fall Crocus, surrounded by Oxalis and Gaillardias.  I believe I took this picture in early to mid-November.
Other new bulbs include pink-centered Daffodils and a mixture of pink Tulips to complement our red and white front yard display.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Trip Report: Aroid enthusiasts meeting

I have been collecting Aroids for about a year now and just recently joined the International Aroid Society.  Upon joined the IAS, I promptly began forming a local chapter.  The MidAmerica chapter of the IAS had our first meeting on November 21 at the Myriad Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City.

Myriad Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City - photo courtesy Dr. Tom Croat

The first meeting was a small gathering, but still included two members from out of state.  Dr. Tom Croat of the Missouri Botanical Gardens attended.  He is one of the premier researchers in the family of Araceae (Aroids).  Steve Lucas is a collector and the creator of www.exoticrainforest.com, a wonderful enclosed "rainforest" in northwestern Arkansas.  Another member of the IAS, Russell Gaines, attended who is a resident of Oklahoma City.

MidAmerica chapter group (Janice Lucas, Brad Lucas, Russell Gaines, guide Kenton Peters, Zach DuFran, Christie DuFran, Cheryl Ponder, Dr. Tom Croat, Ron Ponder, Steve Lucas) - photo courtesy Dr. Tom Croat, taken by innocent bystander.
The meeting consisted of a wonderful tour of the Myriad Garden's conservatory, which houses thousands of tropical and succulent plants.  The tour was supposed to last an hour but went much longer than that.  Kenton Peters was a very patient and enthusiastic guide, telling us about the many living treasures in the Myriad's collection and also asking some questions of the group members with expertise in Aroids.

Group surveying the wonderful Anthuriums.
After the tour was complete, we had a short sit down meeting where we exchanged some plants and cuttings that Steve and Dr. Croat had brought to the meeting.  Dr. Croat brought plants from the MOBOT which were collected in the rainforests of Central America.  Each plant is tagged with an accession number, which can be used to look up the collection notes on the Tropicos website.  The notes will include a description of the plant in the wild, a description of the terrain and vegetation where the plant was collected and the latitude and longitude coordinates so that you can look up the exact location on a map.

Discussion and plant trading after the tour.
Steve has a wonderful collection of beautiful tropical plants and brought cuttings of about 8 different plants.  Steve is currently working with Dr. Croat to write the scientific description of a plant which is thought to be a newly discovered species of Philodendron.  Steve bought the plant from a seller (Ecuagenera) at the 2009 IAS Show and Sale in Miami.

The meeting, while small, was a great success.  I think that all attendees really enjoyed the Myriad Gardens and had not even heard of it before.  Clearly, the Myriad Gardens is under-promoted.

Dr. Croat gave some of the plants to our tour guide, Kenton Peters, so that they could be added to the collection of the Myriad Gardens.  We're hoping that, as a group, we can help boost the collection of Aroids at the Myriad.  Already, there is a nice collection of Aroids, with some very nice specimens of large and beautiful Anthuriums (one pictured above).  However, some plants are mis-marked or not marked at all.  I plan to start volunteering at the Myriad Gardens next week.  Kenton says that I might be able to help him with the bonsai collection and will begin my work by helping to prune away or pick up the dead leaves.  This might sound like menial work, but I can't wait to spend a day in the gardens, working among the  plants.

More pictures from the trip are posted on the IAS website.  See them here.

The next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, April 24th at the Missouri Botanical Gardens (MOBOT) in St. Louis, Missouri.  Dr. Tom Croat will give a talk about his research and will also lead a tour of the research collection of Aroids housed at the MOBOT.  We're aiming to have a much larger gathering at this meeting.  All plant enthusiasts are encouraged to come and enjoy this time of discussion and discovery!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Unknown Aroid

I ran across a local-ish nursery called Taggert's in Hennessey, Oklahoma.  It's a bit of a drive from here, but I was passing by on a recent visit to Enid.  It is a wonderful nursery that specializes in succulents and cacti.  I found a lot of neat little odds and ends plants that I was not at all expecting in this small town nursery.  Beyond the succulents and cacti, there were some really nice, small tropical plants.

Streptocarpus saxorum or False African Violet
Christie found a flowering plant that she couldn't pass up.  And it adds some nice color to my otherwise green-only greenhouse.  It is a relative of the African violet (Saintpaulia sp.) often called a "False African Violet" (Streptocarpus saxorum).

Streptocarpus saxorum bloom
I found a small Aroid that was not tagged with any name.  After asking a worker, I realized I would have to find the id myself for this probable hybrid.  As best I can tell, it is likely to be in the Syngonium genus.

Unidentified Aroid, possibly from the Syngonium genus.
The leaves are velvety and very dark green with a prominent white center vein.

Any ideas on what it might be?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A crowded (green)house

The week before Thanksgiving I added about 15 new plants to my collection.  That's the mark of a good week, in my opinion!

The smallest of the plants I received - Vanilla planifolia, the vanilla orchid.
Alocasia brancifolia
It started off when I received a box of five very small starter plants I had purchased on eBay: Vanilla planifolia (Vanilla Orchid), Olea europaea (Olive Tree), Alocasia 'Aurora' (Pink Stem Elephant Ear), Alocasia brancifolia, and Alocasia 'Stingray.'  The Vanilla orchid is the actual plant from which the vanilla bean grows and vanilla extract is taken.  I don't expect to be harvesting from my plant, as I hear it is quite hard to even get them to bloom in cultivation.

Olea europea - common Olive Tree
The same is true for the olive tree I ordered.  I just love the look of the olive tree, though.  I am hoping to grow it to a nice specimen size that I can keep in a large pot.

Alocasia 'Stingray'
Amydrium zippelianum
Next, I received two plants from a friend who collects rare Aroids: Amydrium zippelianum and Philodendron tortum.  These are two really cool plants!  The tortum looks like a palm tree, but what would be a frond of many leaves on a palm tree is actually just one leaf on this Philodendron.  The leaves are just very deeply lobed.

Philodendron tortum
On the Saturday preceding Thanksgiving was the first meeting of the MidAmerica chapter of the International Aroid Society, a group which I have been forming and coordinating.  I'll post more about that event in the next week.  Two members that came to that meeting brought cuttings and plants to share.  Steve Lucas brought me cuttings of Philodendron camposportoanum, Philodendron billietiae, Philodendron bipennifolium, Philodendron verrucosum, and an unknown Philodendron.

Philodendron camposportoanum
Philodendron bipennifolium
Philodendron verrucosum
Dr. Tom Croat brought small specimens from plants he collected in the wild in Central America: Anthurium holmnielsenii, Anthurium sparreorum and Anthurium verapazense.  These plants are very unique, because they have their assession numbers on the tag, which allows me to search the Tropicos database to see exactly where Dr. Croat collected these plants and what notes he took about the environment where he found them growing.

Philodendron NOID
Dr. Croat looked at the unidentified cutting above, trying to determine at least what genus the plant belonged to.  After tearing the leaf at one point, he noticed what appeared to be fibers at the edges of the tear.  He explained that in Monsteroid plants, there are silicate crystals inside the leaves.  This could mean the plant was from the Monsteroids.  However, after a couple of minutes, the fibers that looked like silicate crystals began to droop, indicating that they were not crystals, but actually just latex.  This indicates that the mystery plant is from the Philodendron genus.

It was a wonderful weekend that resulted in lots of potting!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Book Review: Wicked Plants

I mentioned several weeks back that I was waiting on a copy of Amy Stewart's newest book Wicked Plants to be available at my library.  I got my hands on it a couple of weeks ago and have been reading it off and on.  It is an easy book to read in pieces, as most plant descriptions are just a couple of pages in length.

In Wicked Plants, Amy Stewart writes about all sorts of mischievous plants.  Those that have acted as mere annoyances by getting stuck in your socks when out for a walk, or those that have killed hundreds of people throughout history.  The stories I enjoyed most were those that played a role in history.  For example, Abraham Lincoln lost his mother at a young age.  She was poisoned by drinking milk from a cow which had eaten a dangerous weed.  Actually, this is the subtitle of the book: Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities.

One of the more interesting accounts in the book is about a specific plant whose effects may have resulted in myths about vampires.  The plant is a common food plant, that when eaten as a staple food can result in dietary deficiencies and leads to the following ailments: dermatitis, dementia, diarrhea and (eventually) death.  These symptoms made the offenders appear pale and sensitive to sunlight.  When exposed to sunlight, they would develop ghastly sores.  Additionally, the symptom of foul-smelling mouth and bloody sores in the mouth might have led to the ideas that vampires have sulphuric-smelling breath and are drinkers of blood.   The dietary deficiency can lead to brain degeneration which can manifest itself through insomnia and aggression.  I'll leave the name of this food a mystery, as Amy Stewart would probably prefer you read her book. :)

My favorite story was probably that of a young teenager who wandered into a patch of Poison Sumac, which left him completely blinded for several weeks.  Even when his eyesight returned, it was never the same again.  During this period, he was not able to attend school and says that his seclusion nurtured his love of the outdoors.  This young man, named Frederick Law Olmstead, later went on to design New York City's Central Park - a tribute to the outdoors that he loved so much.

If you would enjoy reading about poisonous plants and even a couple of antidote anecdotes, I would suggest Amy Stewart's Wicked Plants as an entertaining read.

The next book review will likely be One River by Wade Davis.  Look for that one in about a month.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Passionflowers in the wild

My family heads down to Lake Texoma (on Oklahoma's southern border) on the weekends during the Summer, to ride around the lake on our boat and waterski.  There is a nearby area we like to call "Jurassic Park" because of its thick vegetation.  We drive in on a golf cart and forget that we are in the central United States.  You almost feel like you are in a South American jungle, unless you look closely at the type of plants growing.  Looking at the vegetation, I never saw anything spectacular (in the tropical sense).  That is, until recently.

The picture below is of a Passionflower bloom that I cut off of a plant growing wild in "Jurassic Park," about 100 yards from the waters of Lake Texoma.  It is unlikely that this plant was growing there natively, but it is also unlikely that it was planted.  My guess is that somewhere nearby this plant is in someone's garden and a bird ate from the fruit and deposited the seed in this location.

Passiflora incarnata bloom, cut from plants growing wild in southern Oklahoma
I have heard people talk about how hardy Passionflowers can be very invasive in our climate.  The first year the plant is beautiful and robust and the next year there are plants coming up everywhere.  But I hadn't seen this in person, so, like Thomas, I doubted.  Now I have seen some of this Passionflower growing wild in a very unexpected location.  This area was the last place I expected to see a beautiful flower that looks so tropical.  The plants were covering much of the undergrowth and were bearing fruits in many areas.  Once you saw one, you would see tens of them.  Your eyes just had to be attuned.

I immediately wanted to bring some of this plant home with me.  First, I tried digging up some of the smaller plants and bringing them home with me, but it was very difficult to dig up the plants and bring the roots along.  The plants died within a matter of days.  To add injury to insult, I ended up covered in poison ivy that lasted for several weeks.  It was miserable.

A couple of weeks later, against the recommendations of all of my family members, I went back to take cuttings of these plants.  This time I was very wary of the poison ivy and stayed free of it.  The cuttings stayed green for a couple of weeks and I held out hope that they would produce roots, but none of them did and eventually the cuttings withered and died.

If you happen to have a tip for taking cuttings of Passionflowers, I would love to hear it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Accidental sweet potato crop

Well, I've learned that I am better at growing ornamental sweet potatoes by mistake than I am at growing regular potatoes intentionally.

A large sweet potato that formed underneath my ornamental sweet potato plants (Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie')
My regular potato crop this year netted me a small bowl full of potatoes. On the other hand, my ornamental Sweet Potato vines that fill the tulip bed after the tulips are out of season produced a large crop of some pretty big potatoes!

My crop of ornamental sweet potatoes
I have read that these potatoes are actually edible, though they're not very tasty. Rather than suffer through a bunch of bland potatoes, I plan to save these potatoes and plant them next Spring to fill the tulip bed once again. It will save us some money. In fact, the reason I found these large potatoes, is because I was digging up a couple of the sweet potato plants (Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie') to keep in the greenhouse over the winter and replant it next Spring.

I put a couple of plants in a hanging basket in the greenhouse and will try to keep them happy over the winter. But now I have a large group of backups that will probably produce even better for me next year.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Modifying the Tulip display

We have had a rather stunning Tulip display in the front yard for about 6 years now.  I started by planting red and white tulips staggered in concentric circles in the figure 8 garden.  Those individual bulbs have multiplied quite a bit over the years.

This Fall we decided to add to the display, without removing any of the current bulbs.  Red and yellow Tulips are easy to come by and are a common color scheme.  I was adamant that we didn't do something common.  We looked into different colors that we could add to our red and white to make a nice theme.  We decided to add a couple of pinks and purples to the mix.  It will be a sort of Valentine's mix of colors.

New tulip colors being added for next spring.
We are adding about 60 bulbs this year - 15 Apricot Impressions, 15 Purple Flag, 15 Pink Impressions and 12-15 Lilac bulbs that my in-laws bought in the Netherlands.

I'm excited to see how these bulbs complement our Spring display next year.  We were also careful to pick Tulip styles that match our existing contingent of Darwin hybrids.  The added bulbs didn't have to be Darwins, but we didn't want to add a bunch of different heights and frilly shapes to our existing display.

Bulbs laid out carefully between the circles of existing bulbs and ready to plant.
Future modifications will probably mean that we'll have to dig up bulbs and replace them with different colors.  The other option would be to have an "anything goes" bed of Tulips, but for now we're going for more of a planned look and I think it has been working really well.  We've even had a couple of neighbors ask if they could use our Tulip bed for photo shoots with their kids.  We were happy to oblige!  That's what it's all about - having others enjoy our Tulip bed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ying-Yang Beans

My sister works for a non-profit outreach program here in town.  On Friday we went to a fund-raising dinner and trivia tournament for her group and my sister's boss (Lynn), who also has a greenhouse, brought me a gift.

Ying Yang Beans from the Phaseolus vulgaris 'Calypso' plant
These are Ying-Yang beans (Phaseolus vulgaris 'Calypso').  Lynn was given some Ying-Yang beans when she got her greenhouse and she grew them into plants, which flowered and produced about 10 beans.  She is now passing three of them on to me for good luck.

They are really cool beans.  When she handed them to me I almost felt like I was being invited on a snipe hunt.  I thought, "Oh, this must be the mild hazing that all new greenhouse owners endure.  Surely these beans were painted by someone."  But they're not painted; they are authentically half white and black with little dots even.  And as far as I can tell, this is nothing like the fruitless snipe hunts.

These beans grow into small bushes that produce white flowers and eventually some little pods of similarly colored black and white beans that look like ying-yangs.  (see here) These beans have also been called "Anasazi beans" since they are believed to have been a crop of the Anasazi native Americans.  They can be cooked and eaten much like any other bean.  However, as far as I understand, the beans turn solid black when cooked.

I hope to be able to grow some beans of my own and maybe pass them onto to a fellow new greenhouse owner.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Harvesting Datura seed

My mom purchased two double-flowering Angel Trumpet plants this last Spring and gave the yellow one to me to raise, while she kept the purple.  Each of our plants has produced between 5 and 10 blooms this Summer and seed pods have followed.

Seed pod and blooms on my yellow Datura.  Notice how spikey it is.
Originally I was thinking that these Angel Trumpet plants were from the Brugmansia genus, but after looking into how the seeds should be germinated, I realized that our seed pods match the genus Datura.  As far as I can tell, Brugmansias have long seed pods that look like green beans.  Surprisingly the seed pods from my mom's purple plant and my yellow plant have very different textures, but neither are bean-like pods.  Mine are spikey little balls that look like the "gumballs" produced by Sweet Gum trees.  My mom's pods are smooth and polished-looking.

Seed pod and bloom on my mom's purple Datura.  Notice how smooth this pod is.
After the seeds inside are ready, the pod breaks open and the seeds fall out.  I'm going to try to germinate some of these.  Wish me luck!

My yellow seed pod opening.  I had a lot of trouble getting this picture, since it was dark out in my greenhouse when I got home from work yesterday.  I really don't like the time change.
For now, I have just been scattering these seeds on the surface of the soil in the same pot.  With the next pod I'm going to be a little more intentional in matching the germination requirements of these seeds.

I imagine most people are thinking "Yeah, yeah - nice seed pods...  Show me the Blooms!"  Okay, here you go.

The stunning yellow Datura
Both of these pictures are from mid to late Summer.  Since then the flowering has trailed off.

The equally stunning purple Datura.
My yellow blooming plant is currently on a top shelf in my greenhouse.  I noticed last night that there were more buds forming on my plant, so I guess even though it lost some leaves over the last couple of weeks, it won't be going dormant after all.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Greenhouse update - Phase 6: Move-in Day

I actually moved the plants into the greenhouse nearly a week ago, but I am just now getting to posting pictures of the interior with the plants moved in.

I bought three wonderful shelving units from Aldi (discount grocery store) for a sale price that is less than half their normal going price.  They come with 5 shelves each and I only need 3-4 shelves for each unit, since I have to allow room for the height of the plants.  That left me with extra shelves, which I used to combine two units out of three kits!  My remaining kit is on the opposite wall.

Two units of kitchen shelves, combined to make 3.

I configured the heights of the shelves to allow for special plants that have trellises attached or are taller and need more head room.

Looking left once you enter the door.
Then I spent a good deal of time on Friday and Saturday of last week, moving all my plants from the garage or inside the house into their new home in the greenhouse.

Looking ahead and to the left once you enter the door.

I still have quite a bit of rearranging to do and have not made the best use of my space.  There are still some shelves that are empty, while there are a couple of plants sitting on the floor.

Looking ahead and to the right once you enter the door.
I'm sure I will be moving plants around quite a bit until I feel that everything is settled in place.

Looking to the right once you enter the door.
I also plan to hang a metal rod (which I have on hand) under the house eave, which will allow me to hang some hanging baskets in my greenhouse.  I might also put some hooks on some of the rafters, to allow me to hang more plants over time.  But we'll just see what types of plants I end up acquiring in the future!

View of the exterior of the greenhouse this morning.
See other phases of the project here:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Greenhouse update - First heater night

We are certainly feeling Fall here in Oklahoma.  A couple of cool fronts have swept through over the last week, moving the overnight lows into the 40s.

After getting the greenhouse roof in place and the door hung, I moved all of my plants into the greenhouse on Saturday and they spent their first night in their new home Saturday night, with an overnight low of 40 F.  My greenhouse stayed just below 60, with the heater kicking on and off during the night.  The next day I adjusted the thermostat to keep the greenhouse a little warmer, and the following night the temperature dropped to just about 53 and the heater kept the greenhouse between 61 and 62 all night.  Over the last two nights the heater has not had to come on and the greenhouse has stayed about 3 or 4 degrees warmer than the overnight low.

Temperature over the last 72 hours in my greenhouse
The plot above shows a sawtooth pattern when the heater is kicking on and off.  You can see the night when my heater came on 12 different times over a 9 hour period.  The following two nights the temperature gradually decreased, but never low enough to trigger the heater.

I should mention that I am still not finished with the greenhouse.  The soffits are still open, so I have simply stuffed a couple towels in the gaping holes to keep air from leaking out of the eaves for the time being.  I should get the soffits attached later this week.

Also, I just finished the trim around the door and put weather stripping in place on Monday, which probably helped the greenhouse stay warmer over the last two nights.

I still haven't had a big test with a freeze outside, but I feel pretty confident now that with the soffits in place, my heater will keep the interior right around 60 degrees, which will make my plants very happy.

Stay tuned for pictures of my finishing touches and the plants in place!

See other phases of the project here:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Greenhouse update - Phase 5: Polycarbonate

The greenhouse is coming along.  Unfortunately the cold weather came before I finished, so Christie and I spent about an hour last Friday night, hauling all of my plants into the garage.

The final component (besides the details) to the greenhouse construction is the fastening of the walls and roof.  The material I have chosen to use is triple-wall polycarbonate panels.  These panels come in 6' by 24' sheets.  Yes, you read that right: twenty-four feet long.  The double-wall polycarbonate comes in much more manageable sizes because it is more commonly used.  The triple-wall is generally delivered in big trucks to the site of the greenhouse and assembled by a crew.  It's not commonly used for hobby greenhouses the size of mine.  When we picked up the panels at the greenhouse supply store in Oklahoma City, we had to take a circular saw with us and cut the polycarbonate on site so that it would fit in our trailer.

Then I made the mistake of unloading the polycarbonate in the backyard and letting it sit in the rain for a week.  The rain doesn't hurt the polycarbonate, but I had not capped off the ends and prepared them for hanging, so the walls filled with water.  The water is not easy to remove, let me add.

We had to use a combination of hair dryer, leaf blower, heater and dehumidifier to remove the moisture in the walls.

Open end of polycarbonate panel, taped with clear breathable medical tape to allow water to run out the bottom end.
Next we had to do the normal preparation for hanging the panels.  Before a panel is hung, you must first cap off the top of the panel with aluminum tape and then a u-shaped bracket of polycarbonate.  The bottom of the panel is capped off with porous tape (to allow condensation draining) and then another u-shaped bracket.

First panel being installed.  The film with labels was removed after the panel was attached.
Seam of two panels meeting at a stud. You can barely notice.
After a couple of hours of work on both Saturday and Sunday, we had hung all of the walls and only had the roof left.  By that time we were pretty proficient in terms of taping and capping the panels.  The only difficulty with the roof was being able to reach over to screw the panels into the rafters.

Multiple panels fitting together over the door. You can see the aluminum tape used to cap the top sides of the panels.
View of greenhouse with all polycarbonate panels installed.  You can't really see the greenhouse roof from this angle, but trust me - it looks just like the walls.
View inside of the greenhouse through the doorway.

There is still plenty of work to do in order for my greenhouse to be plant ready: caulking, finish the door installation, attach the soffits (which are currently open), stain any remaining unfinished wood.

In my next greenhouse update, I'll take you inside to see the shelves that I have purchased!

See other phases of the project here:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: Flower Confidential

Have you ever wondered how far the flowers at your local florist shop traveled to reach your vase?  Have you ever wondered what their life is like or who brought them to flower?

There's a new book available by Amy Stewart called Wicked Plants, which doesn't tell you any of that.  Wicked Plants has been getting lots of publicity in the plant world lately, so I put my name on the hold list at the library.  While I was waiting on that book to become available, I looked into other books by Stewart, including Flower Confidential, which tells the story of the international flower producing market.  That book does answer all your questions about the cut flower industry.

Flower Confidential is an entertaining read, written in the same format as Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire.  The sections of the book are divided into Breeding, Selling and Growing.  Each chapter uses separate flowers from different parts of the world as illustrative examples of the flower industry.  Gerbera daisies, Roses, Tulips and Lilies are all used to tell about different facets of this unique industry.

I have to admit, the book had more information on the cut flower industry than I cared to know.  But it was the subject of the book, so I can't fault Amy Stewart for that.  The parts I most enjoyed were sections describing the different growers with whom she visited and what their growing methods and interests were.

Some things I learned

The entire book was filled with information that I had never heard before, but a couple of little things struck me as particularly interesting.

When flower breeders began to try to force plants to bloom out of season, it was loosely determined that photoperiod determined when many different plants bloom.  Photoperiod is number of daylight hours available each day.  Most people would be content to know that this is important in determining when flowers would bloom.  Growers could either force plants to flower or hold them back by manipulating the hours of light available to their plants.  The manipulation could be done by using artificial lighting during dark hours and shades during the light hours, to make sure the desired photoperiod was met.  However, there were some horticulturalists that were a little more curious than the average grower who wondered, Is it really the number of daylight hours, or is it the number of dark hours? You might say that it doesn't really matter, since the two are related.  However, the scientists were able to set up a completely controlled growing environment, in which they created different day lengths.  For example, in a covered building, they were able to simulated 26 or 30 hour days and varied the number of hours in which the plants received light.  They determined that the number of dark hours was the actual trigger that initiated the blooming process.  In other words, regardless of the time from one sunrise to the next sunrise, a plant requires a specific number of dark hours to initiate the blooming process.  If the length of the entire day varies, but the number of dark hours stays constant, the plant would still be triggered to bloom.  Cool, huh?

On a completely different note, I learned about a unique type of flower auction that is held in the Netherlands.  I didn't know that flower auctions were even held in the Netherlands, but I was more surprised to hear about the format of these auctions.  A large round scale is available for each cut flower that is being put on auction.  Picture a produce scale from the grocery store, except that the value is displayed with a little digital light around the rim of the circle.  And the value is the cost per stem of a particular cut flower.  The top of the "clock" represents $1.00 and the bottom represents 50 cents.  For a value greater than $1, a different colored light is used to represent dollars, much like an hour hand on a clock.

But the clock itself is not what is so unique about this auction, in my mind.  These auctions are held in Aalsmeer in the second largest (by floorspace) building in the world!  But even that is not the unique factor I found so fascinating.  The unique factor here is that the flower auctions are descending-bid auctions.  That is, the auction starts off with a value that is much more than anyone would pay for the item, rather than much less.  Then, the "clock" device begins to tick downwards.  Everyone interested in the available flowers is anxiously watching the dial to see the light approach the value they are willing to bid.  But unlike other auctions, the first bid that is placed is the winner.  So you can decide ahead of time that you will buy this bundle of flowers if the price falls to $1.43 per stem.  You sit there watching and it gets down to $1.47, $1.46, $1.45 and DING!  Your price was too low.  Someone just snatched them up at $1.45!  Next time you might get a little more anxious as the price nears the value you had planned to bid.  This time you end up bidding on the flowers at $1.46 - just to be safe.

Amy Stewart pointed out that, while this form of auction seems very backwards to most people at first hearing, it is actually a lot like how most people make their normal purchasing decisions.  You see an item at the store that you are interested in buying, but you shop around until you find the price low enough that you are willing to purchase it.  Or you wait until later in the season, hoping the store will discount the price.  Either way, whether shopping around or waiting for a mark down, you run the risk of the items all being sold before a lower price is offered.  This is just how the descending-bid auction works.

So it doesn't have much to do with plants, but I found it very interesting.  I hope you did, too.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Plant Find: Alocasia lauterbachiana

My wife and I took a short road trip on Sunday to visit a nearby church where one of my good friends is now the associate pastor.  On our way back home, we happened to pass one of my favorite local plant stores, TLC.  (No, really, I didn't realize we were going to be driving right past it.)

Anyway, as you can guess, we stopped in to see what they had.  I kept mental notes of plants that were on my "want to buy" list and then, after seeing the whole store, decided to purchase one of them.  The plant I chose is an Alocasia which I had never seen before and was right up my alley.

Alocasia lauterbachiana
Alocasias are one of the genera that are commonly called as "elephant ears."  Well, some of them are.  I would be surprised if anyone called this particular plant an elephant ear!  Other genera that use the "elephant ear" common name are Colocasia and Xanthosoma - and maybe a couple of others.  Colocasia and Alocasia are often hard to tell apart, but I have recently heard some good ways to tell them apart.  Alocasias almost always have stems that attach to the edge of the leaves, while Colocasia stems usually attach in the middle of the leaf.  This leaf attachment is known as peltate.

close up of Alocasia lauterbachiana leaves
Alocasia lauterbachiana has beautiful leaves that are dark green on top and purple underneath.  The leaves are quite long, slender and lance-shaped, pointing upwards and they are marginally-attached.  That is, the stem that holds the leaf attaches at the edge of the leaf.

While this is the more common way for Alocasia leaves to be attached, some Alocasias have peltate leaves like most of the Colocasias do.  Some notable peltate Alocasias are A. cuprea, A. clypeolata and A. rugosa.  I'm planning on posting soon on the anatomy of plants from the Aroid (Araceae) family.  There is quite a bit of vocabulary that is unique to this family.  My post would include vocabulary referring to leaf structure, parts of leaf, as well as the unique "blooms" of the Aroid family.

I have read that this plant is sort of sensitive and does not like to be repotted or moved around much.  I will be moving it into my greenhouse next week, assuming all goes well, and it should be content in its stable growing environment.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Is there really such a thing as a "new" plant?

Have you ever found yourself telling someone about a new plant that you saw recently?
There's three kinds of "new" plants in my book:

  1. a hybrid plant which was cultivated by humans and is just introduced on the market,

  2. a naturally occurring species that has just been discovered in the wild,

  3. a plant that has been around for ages but has just come back into style.

I suppose there should be a fourth category - a new naturally occurring species or hybrid - but I won't get into that.

We're probably all familiar with plants in the first category.  Everyday there are new hybrids being produced.  In fact, there are millions of new hybrids being produced.  But only a small fraction of those experiments prove to be successful and make it to the market.  Most of the efforts are concentrated on already popular plants whose market could be widened if certain traits of the plants were improved.  The "improvements" can range from cold hardiness to heat tolerance, drought tolerance to flood tolerance, a number of different light preferences, a variety of variegations, and even the structure of the growth.  Some plants that come to mind would be the vast array of colors that are available in the popular flowering plants - roses, daylilies, tulips, Clematis, etc.  Other common hybrids are in grasses and trees - the foundations of most domestic landscapes.  A new hybrid that I had to buy this year is the Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost.'  It's a beautiful plant for a mixed container, or all by itself.  And it is very heat tolerant.  I might have to try to keep some of mine alive indoors over the winter, since it is only hardy in the warmest USDA zones (10+).

Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' - a newish hybrid that is a very popular annual container plant
The second category - newly discovered naturally occurring species - is an interesting category.  Today there is little area on the planet that hasn't been precisely mapped and cataloged.  On the other hand, there are many remote locations which are just beginning to take note of their particular endemic species (plants that only grow in that one unique location).  New species are being discovered fairly often.  One day that discovery process will probably grind to a halt, but we're not there yet!  I am on the International Aroid Society's mailing list and it is very exciting to receive emails from some of the leading scientists in the world who are conducting research in the field and reporting back to the Aroid community about new species and whatnot.  (By the way, you don't have to be a member of the IAS to be on the mailing list.)

Coincidentally, after having written most of this post, but before publishing to my blog, I ran across a news story about research in the eastern Himalayas which has uncovered 353 new species of plant and animal life.  The news story was focused on the animals, but I found that 242 of the 353 new species were plants (including Orchids, Poppies, Palm trees, Bamboos, Ferns, Clematis and Impatiens).  If you want to read more, here's the news story and here's the actual report.

I happened upon another plant recently that caught my eye.  The plant was being sold as a ground cover at Lowe's, but I would have happily bought it as a tropical house plant.  The plant had very slender, dark green leaves along long, trailing stems that creep along the ground.  The midvein of each leaf was vibrant white or silver and  with some subtle silver veins reaching out to the tips.  The plant was labeled Euonymous 'Wolong Ghost.'  I immediately thought of the Wolong Nature Preserve in China.  This is the area that was hit harshly by the earthquakes last year and is one of the few places where the Giant Pandas are still roaming in the wild.  After doing a little research online, I found out that this plant was named as such because it was collected in the Wolong Nature Preserve and brought back to the US for propagation!  I also read in the one review on Dave's Garden that this plant makes a lousy ground cover because of its growth rate.  That was fine by me, since I wanted to keep it in a pot.  It's beauty probably wouldn't be appreciated as a ground cover anyway.  I bought 2 of the little plants the next day and put them in a pot, which now sits on my desk at work (and receives lots of compliments).

Euonymous fortunei Wolong Ghost
Euonymous fortunei 'Wolong Ghost' selected by growers at Hersonswood - image courtesy Oregon State University

The third category is a very interesting one.  I think about it from time to time.  It recently came to mind when I was reading Ken Druse's Planthropology.  It may be hard to admit, but mankind's fondness for different plants is just as susceptible to fads and trends as clothes are.  Bell bottoms were reinvented and re-marketed recently with the boot bottom jeans; simple tulips are coming back into favor after decades of more frilly, elaborate roses.  It's all part of the human factor.

We don't find favor in plants solely because they are useful to us or because one plant serves a better purpose than another.  While there is no objective measure of beauty that I know of, we wouldn't even use it if we found one.  Some plants are grown solely because of their hideousness (which you could also argue is in the eye of the beholder - or wincer).

And the definition of beauty is always changing.  At one time, heavier people were considered more beautiful because it meant that they were wealthy and did little work themselves.  There are plants coming in to fashion today that have been neglected for years or some that have never been considered beautiful in a landscape setting before.  One example would be the use of native grasses and weedy-looking wildflowers.  While people have probably enjoyed the beauty of these plants in nature before, they were reluctant to dig them up and replant them in an organized flowerbed until recently.

One interesting fad is that plants are beginning to be appreciated for their hardiness and native attributes.  As our culture is increasingly more aware of conserving energy and water, gardeners are acknowledging that plants which grow well naturally in their area are probably the best ones to plant in their garden.  They will be better attuned to the local annual rainfall and light amounts and require less water from a hose.

Horticulturalists have been capitalizing on the trend of cold hardy and drought tolerant plants by making new hybrids with more vibrant colors than the naturally occurring species.  (Here is an article, if you're interested.)  But those plants really belong in my first category, not this one.

You could even say that some garden trends follow the economy closely.  I haven't done a study myself, but I would bet that the ratio of perennials to annuals purchased each year would correlate pretty well with the overall health of the national economy.  When you have less money to spend, you're unlikely to spend it on plants that will only be around for a season.

Gardening itself is really an art form.  And just like other forms of art, there are always new styles being invented and old styles being rediscovered and appreciated.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Greenhouse update - Phase 4: Framing

After a couple of weeks of inactivity, we began framing on Sunday.  In fact, we did more than begin!  My father-in-law has framing experience from building several houses, 1 wedding chapel and a number of other projects.  He has been a huge help.  In fact, he's pretty much been doing the framing while I hand him the tools. :)  But I'm learning.

Bolting down the first wall
Even with several snags along the way, all of the walls were erected in a mere 5 hours.  That included a couple of breaks to go and get supplies and to partake of refreshments and dinner.

End rafters added and long wall studs being placed.
The end rafters were also mounted.  At the end of the day, I couldn't help but bring out one of my new shelving units and sit a couple of plants on it in the greenhouse.  I just wanted to get a feel for how much space the shelves would take up in the greenhouse.  It's very exciting.

End of the first day, with all walls framed. Notice my nice shelf with a couple of future residents checking out their new home.
I'm sure that the finishing touches will take a while, but I am very encouraged to see how quickly it has gone up so far.  Soon we will be placing the door and adding the polycarbonate.  Stay tuned!

See other phases of the project here: