Friday, May 29, 2009

Book Review: The Orchid Thief

On vacation last week, I took a couple of books with me - both having plants as their main subject.  One book was a field guide to plants and trees in Hawaii.  It proved very handy in identifying much of the plant life along side the road - plants that aren't found growing in Oklahoma, outdoors or in greenhouses.

The other book is a non-fiction novel called The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean.  (I always want to put an "s" at the end of her last name.)  The story revolves around an Orchid fanatic in south Florida that has stolen some rare Orchids from a protected nature preserve with a plan to clone them and make lots of money.  The author does a wonderful job of pulling in the reader from the first couple of sentences.  I loved the descriptions of this character that I could vividly picture and felt like I knew.  I also loved the portrayal of south Florida, which is unlike any other area I have visited.

It was a really fun read for my trip to Hawaii, too.  Even though the scenery is very different from Florida, I was getting to enjoy orchids growing outdoors in natural settings while reading this book.

There are lots of deviations from the story (which I enjoyed).  Many of these deviations are historical accounts of the Seminole tribes that occupy Florida.  Did you know that they are the one native people who never signed a treaty with the US?  I didn't.

On the downside, by the time I was 3/4 of the way through the book I kind of started to realize that the book wasn't really going anywhere.  When you write fiction, you can do something about that.  When you're a reporter, relaying the true story of a crazy man obsessed with orchids, well...  you can't.

Anyway, I would thoroughly recommend this book to any plant lover who has at times felt "obsessed" with plants (I am one of them), and especially to those who have a great admiration for Orchids.  It is a fun read and easy to identify with the characters, if you happen to be one of these people.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Trip Report: Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, Hawaii

Last week my wife and I went on vacation to Hawaii.  I wrote two posts before leaving and scheduled them to update while we were gone, so you never even knew I was out.

On our vacation, we were on the "Big" Island (Hawaii Island) for one day, in order to enjoy the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Being the plant-obsessed person that I am, I did quite a bit of research before we left to find some plant landmarks to see along the way.  Hawaii is beautiful without having to stop by a botanical garden, but I wanted to make sure we visited a greenhouse or two while we there, as well as the natural roadside beauty I knew we would see.

Along the road from Hilo, Hawaii to the national park is a commercial orchid grower, Akatsuka Orchid Gardens.  I was really excited about stopping by this grower on our drive, because the website said that they have a showroom open during the day where you can view many of their orchids, and that they also allow you to wander around their greenhouses on a self-guided tour.  Frankly, I couldn't wait to do this!

And I was not disappointed.  Christie was pretty tired the morning that we flew into Hilo, so she leaned back the seat in the rental car and took a little nap while I wandered around snapping pictures of orchids for about 30 minutes or so.  Then she came in and walked around with me for another 30 minutes and helped me pick out the coolest and most affordable two plants to take home with me!

Zygonisia Cynosure 'Blue Birds' - one of the plants I brought home with me.
The color of this Zygo really caught Christie and me both.  We picked out a very healthy looking plant that had about 15 buds on it - none of them open.  By the time we got home (6 days later) there were 5 or 6 buds open.  It is a gorgeous orchid.  Like nearly all orchids in captivity, it is a hybrid.  This particular orchid is an intergeneric hybrid, which means it is a cross between two different genera - Zygopetalum and Aganisia.

Group of Masdevallias. I took home a Masdevallia velifera x. deformis, which is one of the plants in the left center, with clumps of smaller and darker leaves.
The other plant I purchased is hard to pick out in this image.  It is one of the smaller plants, with darker leaves in the left half of the image, but near the center.  The blooms are born on shorter stalks than most of the blooms in the image, but they look much the same.  It is an interspecific hybrid, which means that it was created by crossing two species within the same genus - Masdevallia velifera and Masdevallia deformis.

The rest of my pictures can be found in my album, available by clicking the image below. Enjoy!

Akatsuka Orchids

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Euphorbia - the gigantic genus!

The more I learn about plant taxonomy, the more I learn about plant taxonomy.  That may sound simple, but it's true.  Generally, my lessons in plant taxonomy consist of learning a new botanical name.  I'm slowly building this big dictionary of names that encompasses all of the plants on the planet!  The real learning comes in all of the connections that I see - sometimes with my eyes, other times with the names.

I have been fascinated to find plants whose botanical names indicate that they are related, either in the same Genus or by Family, when I cannot see any resemblances in the related plants.  Probably the most obvious example of this scenario is with the genus Euphorbia.

The genus Euphorbia contains more than 2000 unique species of plants, and probably well over 10,000 hybrids and cultivars.  Can you believe that!?!  I mean, as a little kid, that's probably the number you would guess for how many plants are in the world.  But no, that's just how many species of Euphorbias there are!

Euphorbias range from very severe cactus-looking plants to more soft and fuzzy herbaceous-looking plants.  Some are insular, which means they are endemic to an island.  Here's an idea of the contrast of the Euphorbia genus:

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) - photo courtesy Flickr user Carlin

Euphorbia virosa at the OKC Myriad Gardens
What!?!  Those two plants are in the same genus?  You might as well tell me that this dainty little plant (below) is also a Euphorbia!

Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' planted at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens.
This is a new hybrid plant that was introduced in 2007.
Oh, it is!

I don't really know what the qualifications are for putting plants in the same genus.  The plants are supposed to follow the same family rules as those we use for our own families - they are supposed to claim the same ancestors.  [I'm related to my sister and my 1st cousin because of common ancestors - parents and grandparents, respectively.]  So, the two plants pictured above are supposed to have descended from the same plant at some point.  It would be interesting to study what environmental conditions led to such different species attributes.  I'm sure someone has studied that.  Euphorbia is a pretty well-known, popular genus.

Currently DNA studies are still pretty costly (time and money) and I don't know how much work has been done on the genus Euphorbia.  Another criterion for putting plants into genera is to create reasonable compactness.  The word "reasonable" is an ambiguous measure, but I would say that the Euphorbia genus is overly-large in comparison with 95% of other plant genera.

I wouldn't be surprised if a couple years down the road I hear that the Euphorbia genus is going to be ripped into two, three or even 15 pieces.  I'm sure all the little children of the world will be in shock, kind of like when Czechoslovakia became two countries or when Pluto was informed that it was no longer a planet.

The one attribute of which I am aware that all Euphorbias have is the milky sap inside the plants.  I don't suggest snapping any of your Euphorbias apart to see, but most people have seen the white sap when a Poinsettia leaf breaks off the plant.  This sap is supposedly present in all Euphorbias.

Many Euphorbias have very similar inflorescences.  They are little bell shapes borne on tall stems, with leaves right up to the blooms.  You'll see the similarities in the pictures below.

The Perennial Shrubs

I'm just becoming familiar with the group of Euphorbias that are grown outdoors in the mid-latitudes gardens.  They are commonly called Spurges, but usually called by one of their cultivar names, such as 'Chameleon,' 'Tiny Tim,' or 'Blackbird.'  I have one of these plants ('Excalibur') planted in my corner garden and pictured lower in this post.

Euphorbia dulcis Chameleon - photo courtesty Flickr user Sigrid Frensen
Euphorbia (dulcis or purpureum) 'Chameleon' - photo courtesty Flickr user Sigrid Frensen

Euphorbia x martinii Rudolph - photo courtesy Flickr user The County Clerk.  I assume the red centers have something to do with the name of this cultivar.
Euphorbia x martinii 'Rudolph' - photo courtesy Wayside Gardens.
This cultivar is threatening to replace the Poinsettia as the official plant of Christmas.

Euphorbia mellifera (Honey Spurge) - photo courtesy Flickr user pomphorhynchus
Euphorbia mellifera (Honey Spurge) - photo courtesy Flickr user pomphorhynchus

Euphorbia characias Glacier Blue - photo courtesy Flickr user Liashi
Euphorbia characias 'Glacier Blue' (Mediterranean Spurge) - photo courtesy Flickr user Liashi

Euphorbia characias wulfenii - photo courtesy Flickr user jim-sf
Euphorbia characias wulfenii - photo courtesy Flickr user J.G. in S.F.
These are really neat shrubs because of the color contrast in their foliage.  And even though these plants grow in similar conditions in the garden as Azaleas and other tough shrubs, they still have a succulent aspect to them.  I don't generally picture succulents stuck in between Irises and Barberry bushes.

Euphorbia Blackbird - photo courtesy of Flickr user peganum
Euphorbia 'Blackbird' - photo courtesy of Flickr user peganum

Euphorbia (Yellow cushion Spurge) - photo courtesy Flickr user njchow82
Euphorbia epithymoides (Yellow cushion Spurge) - photo courtesy Flickr user njchow82

Euphorbia continifolia (Copper plant) - photo courtesy Flickr user Sh@ist@
Euphorbia continifolia 'Atropurpurea' (Caribbean Copper plant) - photo courtesy Flickr user Sh@ist@

Euphorbia Helenas Blush - photo courtesy Flickr user mediagrrl
Euphorbia 'Helena's Blush' - photo courtesy Flickr user mediagrrl

Euphorbia 'Tiny Tim' - photo courtesy Blue Stone Perennials

The Succulents

I don't know for sure, but I would guess that the majority of Euphorbias are considered succulents.  Many of these have the characteristic spikiness that we generally call a "cactus" and have only small leaves that quickly fall away.  The stems themselves do the photosynthesis, in these cases.

Euphorbia aeruginosa - photo courtesy Flickr user dadoobe
Euphorbia aeruginosa - photo courtesy Flickr user dadoobe

Euphorbia columnaris - photo courtesy Flickr user asac_cactus
Euphorbia columnaris - photo courtesy Flickr user asac_cactus

Euphorbia abdelkuri - photo courtesy Flickr user sftrajan
Euphorbia abdelkuri - photo courtesy Flickr user sftrajan

Euphorbia greenwayi - photo courtesy Flickr user poppy2323
Euphorbia greenwayi - photo courtesy Flickr user poppy2323

There is an interesting distinction between Euphorbias and Cacti, though.  Cacti are from the Western Hemisphere and Euphorbias are from the Eastern Hemisphere.  I haven't determined whether the names are applied due to their location of origin, or if they are actually different, as well as being from different sources.

Euphorbia obsesa - photo courtesy Flickr user sqecial
Euphorbia obsesa - photo courtesy Flickr user sqecial

Euphorbia Sticks on Fire - photo from Flickr user markbtall
Euphorbia 'Sticks on Fire' - photo from Flickr user markbtall

Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii) in bloom at the OKC Myriad Gardens.
This is one of the few Euphorbia succulents which keeps it's leaves for extended periods of time.
Euphorbia lactea at the OKC Myriad Gardens
I have to admit that I am not a big fan of cacti-looking plants, but some of these would be hard to pass by if I saw one for sale.  I am a big fan of E. greenwayi and E. aeruginosa.  It looks like I'll need to invest in a really good pair of gloves before I get either of those, though.

My own collection

I'm not sure that "collection" is the best word to use when describing my Euphorbia plants, seeing that I don't have very many.  I think the word "collection" could be applied to my dream set of Euphorbias, though.  The more plants I see from this genus, the more I want to try growing.

Euphorbia lactea in my "cactus garden"
Euphorbia longifolia 'Excalibur' planted in my corner garden.
This is what it looked like before Pippa decided to step on it.
I bought a Caribbean Copper plant (Euphorbia cotinifolia pictured earlier in the "Perennial Shrubs" section of this post) at the Bustani Plant Farm earlier this summer.  I had planned to put this plant in a pot with my Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' for contrasting foliage size and color, but the plant I bought is a little more leggy than I had expected.  For now I have the plant growing solo in a pot.  Maybe with a little pruning I can encourage a more dense growth habit.

I have a couple of 'Diamond Frost' Euphorbias (pictured at the top of this post) planted in pots around our house.  They are one of the coolest container plants I have seen!

On Monday I posted about some new plants I received recently, including a variegated Pedilanthus tithymaloides, which is in the same family as the Euphorbia genus (Euphorbiaceae) and has the synonym of Euphorbia tithymaloides.

Of course, I also have a couple of Poinsettias, such as the white one pictured at the top of this post.


There are tons of different Euphorbias, including some that grow into trees.  I have seen the Jamaican Poinsettia Tree in bloom at the OKC Myriad Gardens and it was pretty spectacular.

My wife, Christie, in front of the Jamaican Poinsettia Tree (Euphorbia punicea) at the OKC Myriad Gardens
Jamaican Poinsettia Tree bloom (Euphorbia punicea) at the OKC Myriad Gardens
What Euphorbias have you grown?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Recent Aroid Acquisitions

I have had three recent acquisitions of new plants from generous friends.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my trip to see Steve Lucas's tropical atrium.  I mentioned that Steve was kind enough to take cuttings of several of his plants and shared them with me.  I have also received some plants (most of them Aroids) through the mail recently from some of my plant friends.  Plant friends are great!  I thought I would bundle all my new plants into one post.  Most of them are Aroids, but there are a couple of plants from outside the Aroid family.  Here's all of them:

Philodendron mayoi from Steve Lucas
Steve has A LOT of Aroids, many of them Philodendrons.  This particular Philodendron (P. mayoi) was named after a noted botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London - Dr. Simon Mayo.

Philodendron erubescens from Steve Lucas
Philodendron erubescens has really neat cataphylls that roll up into tight coils.  Many cataphylls are herbaceous, eventually turning papery and falling away.  These cataphylls are more persistent though.  The inflorescence of this Philodendron is a really beautiful red.  There are pictures on Steve's website, if you're interested.

Philodendron 69686 from Steve Lucas
This is likely a naturally-occurring hybrid from Brazil, commonly mislabelled as Philodendron Joepii (named after Joep Moonen).  There has been much confusion regarding this plant and it has yet to be given a name.  It retains the number until a registered cultivar name is assigned.

Philodendron mexicanum from Steve Lucas
This is beautiful Philodendron with a wonderful leaf shape and a nice red mottling on the undersides of the leaves.  By the way, Steve told me that noted Aroid collected Roberto Burle-Marx only collected plants for their interesting leaf shapes and didn't care what their names were.  I found that very interesting.  There are a number of plants named after him.

Philodendron biliettiae from Steve Lucas
This Philodendron has a bright orange stem and very distinctive, long leaves.

Philodendron atabopoense from Steve Lucas
This Philodendron has a really cool coloration.  The undersides of the leaves (not shown in the picture) are red.

Alocasia gageana from Steve Lucas
Steve has so many of these Alocasias spreading in his atrium every year that he has to rip them out and throw them away by the end of the summer season!  Can you believe that?  I helped him by removing one plant this Spring. :)

Rhaphidophora tetrasperma cuttings from Beth
I have enjoyed pictures of this Aroid for quite a while.  I went in search of a plant and found a friend, as well! :)  A fellow plant enthusiast (Beth in Mississippi) agreed to send me a cutting.  Actually she sent three and included some more surprises in the box, as well!

large variegated Monstera deliciosa cutting from Beth
Monsteras are wonderful Aroids, best known for their leaf fenestrations.  Beth sent me this large cutting of Philodendron 'Pink Princess' (below), which is a gorgeous hybrid.  Apparently she has several pots of this plant that each have 5 stems this size!

large Philodendron 'Pink Princess' cutting from Beth
She also threw in two really cool non-Aroid plants - Synadenium grantii 'rubra' and a variegated Pedilanthus tithymaloides.

Two stems of Synadenium grantii 'rubra' from Beth - rooting in Vermiculite
Beth told me that Synadenium roots very easily and quickly.  I have planted my two stems in moist Vermiculite, which has been the best rooting substance I have used in the past.  Beth also warned me to be careful with the sap of this plant, which will burn the skin worse than anything else she has ever encountered.  Vegetable oil can be used to remove the sap.

Pedilanthus tithymaloides from Beth
After a little research I found that Pedilanthus is a synonym for Euphorbia.  [I have a gigantic Euphorbia post prepared for Wednesday.  Stay tuned!]  This plants is sometimes called "Devil's Backbone" or more favorably "Japanese Poinsettia."  If I'm lucky, it will eventually produce small red or pink flowers at the top of the stems.

Philodendron hastatum from mr_subjunctive
A fellow blogger noticed that I had a plant on my wish list that he had seen locally.  He bought the plant, sent it to me and I reimbursed him for his troubles.  This Philodendron has a different name everywhere you see it.  It is commonly called Philodendron glaucophyllum (or glaucaphyllum), though I am told the true species name is hastatum.  Some common names used are "Silver Metal Philodendron" or "Blue Philodendron."  Regardless, it is a very cool plant, and this one is in great condition.

Aglaonema 'Gold Dust' division from mr_subjunctive
Mr. Subjunctive had a large Aglaonema that he didn't mind sharing.  He split off a large division and sent it to me.  He also included another cool, little foliage plant in my box - Pellionia pulchra.  He didn't provide it's name right away, to allow me to track it down.  I think I had seen pictures of this plant, but it took me some time before I got to the source.  Along the way I thought it might be in the Cissus genus or possibly even a Begonia.  My wife noted that the leaves are asymmetrical, which is true of all Begonia leaves.  Eventually I found the identity in one of my plant books - Ortho's Complete Guide to Houseplants.  It's a Pellionia pulchra, which is in the same family (Urticaceae) as another genus of common foliage houseplants - Pilea.  Pileas are the plants commonly called "Aluminum," "Watermelon" and "Friendship" plants.

Pellionia pulchra from mr_subjunctive
That's a lot of new additions!  Thanks, Steve, mr_subjunctive and Beth, for the wonderful plants. :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ctenanthes showing off

I have two different species of Ctenanthes in my collection - both of which are showing off right now.  One of them (C. lubbersiana) is blooming and the other (C. setosa) just produced it's first leaf.

I hope you're not too excited about seeing a lavish bloom, because Ctenanthes don't do that kind of thing.  Nevertheless, I am really happy to see my C. lubbersiana plant blooming.  It has been sitting in less than ideal conditions for the past couple months and still put out new growth and a flowering bract before being taken outside into the warm sunshine.

Ctenanthe lubbersiana with tall (blooming) stem.  The brown thing that looks like a stick is just that.  I stuck it down in the pot to hold up the top-heavy branch.
When I bought this plant in the Fall, it was root bound in the small pot in which it was planted and had pretty much pushed all of the soil out of the top of the pot.  When I finally removed the plant from the pot it was almost entirely roots.  I used a pair of scissors and cut the plant in two and put each half in a pot larger than the original pot that was containing the whole plant.  I also split off a single stem and roots and potted it up for my mom.  Both of the divisions that I kept continued to grow well throughout the Winter.  The one in the larger of the two pots is sending up more new stems and has the one really long stem (pictured above), which produced the inflorescence (pictured below).

Ctenanthe lubbersiana inflorescence
This plant is a vigorous grower in the couple of months that I have had it and I will enjoy continuing to divide it.  It's always nice to have a plant that you can share freely, without worrying that you will lose your original plant.

You might remember me receiving a very special package from Australia just over a month ago.  That package contained 5 rooted stems of Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star,' which had been cut off just above ground level.  I planted the stems immediately and the first stem appeared last week, producing a leaf just a couple of days later. The stem below the leaf is only about 3 inches tall.  In the same pot, there are two other stems just breaking through the soil surface.

First leaf on the first stem of Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star'
In my introductory post for this plant, I discussed the species name "setosa," which means "bristly or hairy."  Look at the picture below to see that name in action!

Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star' pubescence (fur) along the stem.
The "fur" feature is called pubescence on a plant.  The pubescence on my Ctenanthe almost looks prickly, like a cactus, but it is actually soft to the touch.

Besides having some really cool foliage, Ctenanthes are a good fit for me - enjoying the increased humidity that my house seems to have over the winter and they do fairly well in low light conditions.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Plant Find: Four new Orchids

I have had some success with Orchids in the past, but I have not kept any Orchids lately.  That was until I went to the Orchid Show and Sale at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens last weekend!

The Orchid Show was nice, but the real excitement came in the sale room, which was packed with orchids of various sizes, colors and price ranges.  My wife agreed with me that the sale room was much more fun, just knowing that you could take any of them home with you, assuming you had the money.

Phalaenopsis bastianii - birthday gift for my green-thumbed granddad who has recently started growing orchids.
But you didn't have to be a millionaire to walk away with a nice plant.  There were quite a few plants available in the $10-15 price range and very few plants more than $25.  We did see that a couple of the largest and rarest specimens had price tags around $75.

There were orchid seedlings for only $4 each!  Assuming you can keep the orchid alive for a year or two, this is a great deal.  I bought myself a miniature orchid that was in bloom, as well as 3 seedlings.

Tolumnia 'Genting Volcano'
Tolumnia 'Genting Volcano' pot with quarter for size comparison
The miniature orchid appealed to me on several different levels.  It is cool just because it is "full-grown" and still so small, housed in a 1" diameter pot.  I didn't even realize they made pots that small!  It also has a great inflorescence.  This particular plant is Tolumnia 'Genting Volcano.'  The Tolumnia genus is a section of what was once considered the Oncidium genus.  Oncidium was a very large genus and some plants were removed in 1986 and placed in the new genus Tolumnia.  Oncidium is one of the most recognizable genera of the Orchid family, containing the plants which are commonly called "Dancing Ladies" and "Sherry Baby," which is known for its fragrance of vanilla chocolate.  I had heard about this smell before, but not witnessed it until the sale.  It is amazing how much it smells like chocolate.

Three orchid seedlings: Vandopsis parishii v. Mariottiana, Phalaenopsis stuartiana, Dendrobium alexanderae
When I realized you could buy seedlings for $4, I started reading all of the tags, which were labeled with the genus and species, as well as the color of blooms.  I picked out one seedling from the common genus Phaelenopsis which had variegated foliage.  I also chose a Dendrobium and a Vandopsis.

My simple 8 gallon Orchidarium, including a variegated Maranta in the lower left.
I have set up an "Orchidarium" in a 10 gallon aquarium that I had on hand.  By putting these plants inside the aquarium, there is an increased local humidity that suits these plants well.  A small amount of water is kept in the bottom of the aquarium, at or below the gravel level.  A lid is not necessary and would inhibit air circulation, which can instigate problems with pests and fungi.

Eventually I will add some things to the orchidarium to make it look more natural and hide the pots - some driftwood, pieces of bark and sphagnum moss, probably.

Right now I have a couple of Marantas living in there with the orchids, which help to hide the pots.  They also enjoy the elevated humidity.  I pulled the red-veined Maranta out for the picture so that you could see the setup a little better.

What do you think of my new orchids?