Thursday, June 25, 2009

Starting pineapple plants

As a junior in high school I had the privilege of going on a mission trip/choir tour to Costa Rica with my church.  We stayed at a Methodist mission camp there, which was surrounded by pineapple farms.  I had never seen a pineapple grow before, and not even thought about how they might grow.  If you had asked me, I probably would have guessed that they grew on a tree similar to a coconut.  But I would have been wrong.

Pineapples are actually the fruit of a bromeliad (Ananas bracteatus).  You know, bromeliads are those short, spiky plants that tree frogs like to sit in.  Most of them have beautiful blooms of bright red, pink, purple, orange or yellow.

Common Bromeliad plant - photo courtesy flickr member Jofel Tobias
Common Bromeliad plant - photo courtesy flickr member Jofel Tobias
I remember going to the Myriad Gardens in Oklahoma City on a school field trip when I was younger and we were told about the rain forest and about how many bromeliads grow up in the trees (epiphytes) and the center of the plant holds water, where the tree frogs would lay their eggs.  Now that I am a plant and aquarium fanatic I know that bromeliads are the staple plant for terrariums/paludariums/vivariums for people who keep tree frogs.

Bromeliads (in general) are fairly easy to care for.  They prefer humid environments and like to stay wet in the middle but don't require a lot of light.  You can just check on them every once in a while and pour some water into their center if they have become dry.

Want a free bromeliad?  Well, it's not entirely free...  If you ever buy a pineapple at the store, save the crown.  You might notice that the crown itself looks a lot like a bromeliad.  It is!

I'm not sure how you normally pick out your pineapples at the store, but if you plan to start a plant from one, you will want to get one with a nice looking top.  (The leaves at the top of the pineapple are the only ones you will see for several months.)

Starting a pineapple bromeliad

The first step is to remove the crown from the pineapple - like so.

Step 1: Lop off top of pineapple, leaving a little bit of fruit attached
Next, cut away ALL of the fruit, even with the bottom of the leaves.  True, you could just do this in one cut, but I usually don't prepare the pineapple top when I cut the pineapple for eating.  I usually leave some fruit attached to the top for several hours - maybe even a day or two - moving to step 2.  It is important to remove all of the fruit.  The fruit can cause the rest of the pineapple top to rot, if left attached.

Step 2: Carefully remove all fruit from pineapple top, cutting just below the lowest leaves.
Next, peel away several layers of the bottom leaves, exposing the stem.  I would suggest at least 4 layers of leaves all the way around.  You really can't pull away too many leaves.  Now you will notice some little root starts.  If your pineapple sat for very long before you prepared it, these roots might be as much as a 1/2 - 3/4 of an inch long.  Otherwise, they are probably just little nubs.

Step 3: Peel away several layers of leaves, leaving a bit of stem exposed from the sides and some root nubs showing at the bottom.  In this case, the root starts are very small.
Place the crown in a plastic cup or glass.  The remaining leaves should hold the pineapple crown in place.  Fill the cup with water until the exposed stem is in the water, but the leaves are more or less above the water level.  The crown should not be placed in full sun while it is rooting.  I actually stuck mine on top of the refrigerator, which is pretty dark except when the kitchen light is on.  Light is not really necessary at this stage.

About once a week I would replace the water, as it will get stinky if you don't.  When you're changing the water, check to see if any of the lower leaves are starting to turn brown and rot.  If so, just peel them away.  This will help prevent the rest of the plant from rotting.  Within a couple of weeks you should see real roots growing to several inches in length.

Roots beginning to form from pineapple base
In some cases, the pineapple might be reluctant to put out many roots while in water.  If yours has been in water for over a month and you have little to no root growth, you might want to go ahead and plant the pineapple head.  However, if roots have not formed and the head has turned mushy, you need to just throw that one away and try again with a new pineapple.

Many bromeliads are planted in peat moss only.  I potted my pineapple plant in a rich potting soil with some vermiculite added in.  I water it about as frequently as my other tropicals and it been happy for about three years, growing long leaves out of the top.

Established pineapple plant with significant new growth
I think it is pretty rare to have a potted pineapple plant produce fruit in temperate climates, but it doesn't keep me from growing one.  Who knows, maybe one day it will surprise me!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New flowers in bloom

I wanted to give an update on some of my new garden plants that are now in bloom.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Moreno'
I raved about some Rudbeckias several months ago, then I decided to order some.  I am very pleased to report that they have grown very quickly and are now covered in blooms.

Prairie Gaillardia (Gaillardia aestivalis v. flavovirens)
A little later in the Spring, I planted some Gaillardias in the same corner garden.  The first of those are now blooming.

Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobate)
Along the back fence I have a Spanish Flag growing on a trellis and it is topped with about 10 bloom spikes.

Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobate)
It's so nice to see my monetary and time investments paying off in this way.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Trip Report: Halifax Public Gardens

I was able to attend a meteorology conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia during the first week of June.  I had never been to Nova Scotia before and I needed to stay in the city for the week, but I was still able to get in a little sight-seeing.  Along with some historical sights, I visited the Public Gardens, which is a Victorian Garden originally established in 1867.

The gardens are well maintained and well used by locals.  I was surprised by the number of plants and trees in bloom while I was there.  As you can see in the map above, there is a large pond (including ducks) and a couple of smaller water features.  There is also a nice bandstand, which is a common music venue during the Summer.

Maple tree (Acer sp.) in the Halifax Public Gardens
Apparently the gardens were badly damaged in September 2003 by Hurricane Juan.  Many large trees were destroyed.  When I was there, the signs had all been covered over with new growth.

Rhododendron in the Halifax Public Gardens
Some of my favorite plants were the orange Maple trees (pictured above), the rhododendrons (above) and the tulip beds (below).  I also saw a planting of neat Euphorbias, which might have been 'Tiny Tim.'

Wandering Tulip bed at the Halifax Public Gardens

See my photo album by clicking the image below.

Halifax Garden

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I know, I know.  My blog post is misspelled.  I started to name this post "Intriguing Trees."  Then I decided I could make it all one word - just for fun.  [Don't try this at a spelling bee.  Spelling Bee judges aren't known for their sense of humor.]

This post is one of those eclectic collections of plant profiles (like My "onion" plants post).  It is a list of trees which I find intriguing, for one reason or another, and a short description of the trees.  Only a couple of these trees have I ever grown before.  And there are only a couple more that I would ever try to grow.  The others won't grow in my region and are not suited to growing in a pot indoors.  I narrowed down the list to my top 6, listed here in no particular order:

Sassafras - I visited the OU (University of Oklahoma) Greenhouses a couple of years ago.  The caretaker, Cal Lemke, showed me a sassafras tree and had me sniff a leaf, not telling me what it was.  The smell was unmistakable.  Though, I admit, at the time I couldn't name what the smell was.  But I knew the smell, nonetheless.  When he said the tree was a Sassafras, I thought "Of course, that smells just like Root Beer!"  The leaves of the Sassafras tree are uniquely tri-lobed.  The tree has small yellow flowers, but is otherwise an ordinary-looking tree.  I just think this tree is really neat because of the smell that is so evidently root beer-ish.  I think I will try to grow this tree at some point.  To top it all off, this tree can be grown in my zone and has wonderful fall foliage color.

Sassafras tree leaves - courtesy flickr member Muffet
Sassafras tree leaves - courtesy flickr member Muffet
Cacao tree - Let's face it: Chocolate is one of the greatest discoveries of mankind.  I can't imagine having a Cacao tree of my own and processing the beans to make my own chocolate.  I imagine it would be quite a task, but the rewards...?  Well worth it!  I might have to try growing a small specimen tree in a greenhouse.  I'm not sure that I would be able to do all of the processing required to make chocolate from the beans, but I could sure try.

Cacao tree at the Foster Botanical Garden - Honolulu, Hawaii
Cork - How many trees do you know of that are harvested for their bark - and then they continue to grow and produce more to harvest?  Just one that I know.

Cork tree - from
Cork tree - from

Rainbow Bark Eucalyptus - If you haven't seen one of these in person, you almost have to assume they aren't real.  I mean, really - rainbow stripes on a tree trunk!?!  Come on - that's ridiculous!

Rainbow bark Eucalyptus trees in Maui, Hawaii
Coconut Palm - This is one of the trees I have tried to grow - "tried" being the most important word.  Twice, in fact.  I've mentioned those failures before on this blog.  The Coconut Palm simply requires more light than I can offer on a year-long basis.  The light requirements are easy to meet in the summer, but the winter is another story.  This tree makes the list (regardless of my difficulty growing it) because of it's initial growth habit.  The tree literally sprouts from a full-sized coconut.  It is a really cool looking oddity of a tree at about 4-6 feet tall and a definite conversation piece - though I wouldn't suggest sitting it on your coffee table.

Coconut palm tree sprouting from the coconut - courtesy flickr member Bemep
Coconut palm tree sprouting from the coconut - courtesy flickr member Bemep
Ginkgo tree - I have wanted to grow this tree ever since I saw once in its solid yellow Fall coloring at a local nursery.  I should have just bought it that day.  I guess I didn't because it was about 15 feet tall and I was driving a small car and it was priced more than I could afford.  I also didn't have an adequate space for it.  The tree is gorgeous in the Fall and the leaves have a very unique shape, unlike any other tree that I know.

Ginkgo trees are thought to be one of the oldest tree species still growing.  The species is thought to have existed at least 270 million years, back to the Jurassic period.

Ginkgo biloba leaves in Fall color - courtesy of Flickr user Rozanne
Ginkgo biloba leaves in Fall color - courtesy Flickr member Rozanne

Other trees receiving votes:As with the AP Sports voting, I have accumulated a list of other trees that, while not making the list of top six, got some votes.  It's an "honorable mention" sort of award:
  • Rubber plant (mine is really more of a plant than a tree).

  • Olive tree (though one of my favorites, this tree is too widely known and grown to make the list).

  • Baobab tree (probably on anyone else's crazy-cool tree list, but I don't have any desire to grow this one).  There is a really funny segment on the BBC Planet Earth DVDs of the filming of the Baobab trees.

  • Banyan trees (Some of my absolute favorite photographs are pictures of the tree roots entangled within and growing over the ruins of Angkor Wat.  There are several famous Banyan Tree groves across the globe, including several I saw recently in Hawaii.  The largest one I have seen takes up a whole city block in Lahaina on the island Maui, Hawaii.).

What would you put on your list of "intriguing trees?"

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Trip Report: Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu, Hawaii

While on vacation in Hawaii this May, my wife and I visited the Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu.  In Oklahoma, a tropical botanical garden would necessarily reside in an enclosed structure.  Not so in Hawaii.  The only enclosed structure on the grounds of the Foster garden is to keep a group of hybrid orchids in a pristine environment, where they will not spread into the wild or cross with naturally occurring species.

The Foster Botanical Garden has a long history, dating back to 1853.  [You can read about the history here.]  The garden includes areas dedicated to orchids, hybrid orchids, Cycads, palms, bromeliads, Aroids, gingers, and Heliconias.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to see the Hybrid Orchid greenhouse because I took too long in other parts of the garden and the garden closed before I got there.

I would like to just give a run down of the specific sections of the garden and then point you to my photo album, which I'm sure you will enjoy! :)

Exceptional Trees

The Foster Botanical Garden has a wonderful collection of 24 "Exceptional Trees."  Exceptional Trees are those that have been designated as trees which are to be protected and cannot be cut down.  According to the legend, one of these trees is the offspring of the tree under which Buddha sat when he gained his knowledge.  You can see pictures of many of the very large trees in my photo album.  A couple of the exceptional trees are palms, of which the Foster BG has more than 100 different species.


There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of palm trees in this relatively small botanical garden.  Not being a connoisseur of palm trees, many of them look the same to me.  However, there were about 10 different species that really stuck out, including the Double Coconut Palm and the Grugru Palm.  The palm trees ranged in size from about 8 feet tall to well over 80 feet tall.  Their trunks varied from smooth to covered in spines (the Grugru palm).

Christie standing in front of a huge palm tree with spreading fronds.

On first glance, many cycads look like members of the palm family.  But they are a very different family of plants, and can grown into the subtropical and temperate zones, including Oklahoma.  These plants are displayed in the "Prehistoric Glen" of the Foster Botanical Garden.  Cycads are among the oldest trees in the world.  The individual trees themselves are not the oldest plants, but the species have been found in the fossil records dating back to the age of the dinosaurs!

Heliconias, Gingers and Marantas

The botanical order Zingiberales contains the families Heliconiaceae, Zingiberaceae and Marantaceae - which were all featured in the center terraces of the Foster BG.  Of course, I am a huge fan of plants from the Marantaceae family.  I was surprised to find many plants from this family were labeled with incomplete signs, such as "Calathea plant, Calathea sp."  It was as if they had tried to determine the species and had been unable.  I have had this problem quite often with this family of plants.  It is surprising to me that for such a beautiful group of plants, the names are not more widely known.

Calathea picturata inflorescence
There was a beautiful flowering specimen of Calathea picturata and many flowering Heliconias.  Unfortunately, many of the Gingers were not in bloom while I was there.  I did see them blooming in other parts of Hawaii though - and I brought back 5 different varieties to grow at home.


There is a great collection of orchids, mounted on stumps and tree trunks and planted in the ground.  One of them is appropriately named "The Giant Orchid" (Grammatophyllum speciosum).  It has long, wandering stems that arch towards the ground and was probably a good 8-10 feet in diameter!

Giant orchid (Grammatophyllum speciosum)
It's simply amazing to see these plants growing outdoors.  I would never think of putting one of mine outdoors.

Odds and Ends

There are certainly some oddball plants at the Foster BG.  One of these was the Cannonball Tree (Couroupita guianensis), which has tendrils growing down it's trunk that are covered in blooms that look like orchids.  Later, very large nuts form on these tendrils that look like a large, round coconut (or a cannonball).  As they mature, they begin falling from the tree.  Weighing somewhere around 20 pounds, these large nuts can be dangerous to someone not paying attention!

Warning sign under the Cannonball Tree (Couroupita guianensis).
Another odd specimen at the garden was the Buddha's hand citrus tree (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylus).  I had seen pictures of these truly odd fruits before, but not seen one in person until I was here.

Fruit of the Buddha's-hand Citron (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylus)
To see all of my pictures from the garden (289 of them) click on the image below. Enjoy!

Foster Botanic Gardens

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Botanical pronunciations

I'm one of those people that tries to use the botanical names of plants.  I also know many of the common names for my plants, but many of my plants are not widely grown and therefore have not been given common names.  Anyway, I'm not writing this post to debate the merits of either common or botanical naming systems.  I'm simply going to talk about pronouncing the botanical names.  Pronouncing common names is almost always easy, since they are just a collection of English words with which most people are already familiar.

However, many botanical names you have seen but never heard.  And since they are usually Latin-based, it is often hard to know how to pronounce them.  I have been embarrassed on a couple of occasions when I pronounced something very different from someone at the greenhouse (also at the aquarium store).  In one case, I was new to the aquarium hobby and had just been reading about a bunch of different fish I might want to put in my first aquarium.  My wife and I had been referring to the ever-so-common algae-eating fish Plecostomus as "ple-coh-STOH-moos."  The correct pronunciation is actually "pleh-CAH-steh-muss," which flows off the tongue so much more easily.

After some of my embarrassing pronunciation encounters, I got to thinking that I wasn't necessarily wrong.  The worker might have been sitting at home thinking how embarrassed they were that a customer had pronounced the name correctly and they had always pronounced it differently.  This definitely wasn't the case for Plecostomus, but it might be in some other situations.  If we don't use the names in converstation with others, how are we ever to know the correct way of saying the names?  Don't you worry - I did some research and found some good sources for correct pronunciations of botanical names.

Many online dictionaries have a little sound graphic next to the word you just looked up that will actually have a 2 or 3 second sound bite of someone saying the word.  And nearly all of the dictionaries will have the written pronunciation.  The drawback to using online dictionaries is that many botanical names are not listed in these dictionaries.

One place that you can almost always find your plant listed is on Dave's Garden.  Dave's Garden includes a written pronunciation of all genera and most species names.

Here are some specific names that I found on Dave's Garden:

  • Heuchera (HEW-ker-uh) - genus of the popular shade plants "Coral Bells"

  • Clematis (KLEM-uh-tis or kli-MAT-is) - genus of very popular flowering, climbing perennial vines hear it

  • Liriope (luh-RYE-uh-pee) - genus of common ground covers, sometimes called "Lily Turf" or "Monkey Grass" hear it

  • Rudbeckia (rud-BEK-ee-a) - genus which contains "Black-Eyed Susans" and other perennial wildflowers hear it

  • Gaillardia (gay-LAR-dee-uh) - genus of common wildflowers sometimes referred to as "Indian Blanket"

  • Echinacea (ek-in-AY-shee-a) - genus which contains the common coneflowers hear it

  • Ipomoea (ip-oh-MEE-a) - genus which contains both the popular "Morning Glories" and ornamental "Sweet Potato Vines," as well as some other plants I enjoy growing "Cypress Vine" and "Spanish Flag"

  • Chlorophytum (kloh-roh-FY-tum) - genus which contains "Spider Plants," "Airplant Plants"

  • Justicia (jus-TEE-see-ah) - genus which includes the "Shrimp Plants"

  • Chamaedorea (ky-mee-DOR-ee-uh) - genus of palms, some of which are kept as houseplants - including the "Neanthe Bella Palm" and "Parlor Palm"

  • Phalaenopsis (fay-lay-NOP-sis) - genus that contains the most commonly seen orchids, referred to as "Moth Orchids" hear it

  • Ctenanthe (TEE-nan-thee) - a rare genus and favorite of mine from the prayer plant family

  • Calathea (ka-LAY-thee-uh) - a common genus from the prayer plant family

  • Stromanthe (stroh-MAN-thee) - a rare genus from the prayer plant family

  • Araceae (a-RAY-see-ee) - the family commonly referred to as "Aroids"

  • Rhaphidophora (ra-fid-OH-for-a) - a genus in the Aroid family

One quick observation: I'm noticing that the "ch" combination is almost always pronounced as a "k" in plant genera.  There are exceptions to every rule, but the "k" sounds seems to be the standard.  It's easy for me to use the "k" sound for names like Chlorophytum, but I want to use the "ch" sound for names like Heuchera.

I've had to make the most adjustments for Ctenanthe (I was trying to incorporate the leading "C" into the name) and Liriope (which I was pronouncing "leer-EE-ope").  I like the true pronunciation of Liriope much better than what I was saying.

The pronunciation with the most controversy that I encountered is Rudbeckia.  There were two sound bites for this name.  One sounds like "red-BEK-ee-a" and the other sounds like "RUDE-bek-ee-a."  I was really surprised by the "red" beginning to the one sound bite.  Additionally, I ran across a sign at a local nursery that said this name is easy to remember by memorizing the phrase "Susan has a black eye because rude Becky hit her."  (The "Black-Eyed Susan" species is R. hirta.)  The Dave's Garden pronunciation is a little different from all of these other options.  Good luck with that one!

Are there any plant names you've always wondered how to say?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Mid year report on resolutions

On the last day of 2008, I posted nine planty resolutions for 2009.  I thought I'd let you know how I'm doing.

  1. Post at the rate of 2-3 times per week. This has gone very well.  Since January 1, 2009 I have posted 54 times.  That is an average of 2.5 posts per week.  Pretty good, huh?  I managed to post at least twice each week, as I had planned.  February was the most active month, with 13 posts.  I never really ran out of material for posting, but I did have some trouble having time to write on occasion.  While on vacation to Hawaii last week, I used the post scheduler to update my blog with 2 pre-written posts.

  2. Review about 1 plant book per month. I have done pretty well with this task.  In March, I sort of cheated by only posting a quoted passage and couple of sentences about a plant book.

  3. Write a "trip report" about once per month. This is probably my favorite category of post to write.  Whenever I visit someplace that has plants, there is usually so much to write about that I have to contain myself.  This has been a very exciting category for 2009.  Although I didn't post a trip report during the month of March, I posted twice during each of the last two months. Here's the list:

  4. With my recent trip to Hawaii, I have a couple more trip posts planned for the next month.  I also have another couple post-inspiring trips for this summer and fall.  Stay tuned for more Trip Reports from The Variegated Thumb!
  5. Write a "project" post once per month. I should have said "about" for this goal.  Regardless, I almost met my goal for this category but fell short in the last month.  I did post three different times in this category during April, though.  I had a post planned for May on starting pineapple bromeliads from a grocery store pineapple.  But my newest pineapple has not yet sprouted roots in time to get the pictures for publishing the post.  Stay tuned for that post in June!

  6. Start a collection of Asarums. I had hoped to find some Asarum splendens plants at our local Atwoods store, but they did not have these plants this year as they have the last two years.  Alas, my Asarum collection must wait until the late Summer or early Fall when I place an order from Asiatica Nursery.  My plan is to order 5 or 6 species/varieties.  I saved this project for Fall because these plants will do well in my house over winter and that allows me to use my plant allowance elsewhere this summer.

  7. Grow some of my own food. I am in the growing process right now.  So far nothing looks like food, but the plants seem to be healthy, so hopefully I will have some produce in a month or two.  This year we planted potatoes (new for us), yellow straightneck squash (new to us), zucchini squash (new to us), tomatoes (old hat) and broccoli (new to us).  Actually we planted broccoli last year but it was eaten by caterpillars in a matter of days.  This time around it has lasted at least a month.  And our tomato planting is different this year, as we're using a "Topsy-Turvy" to grow them.  The device was a gift from my granddad and is actually very handy, as it can be hung on our front porch in the full sun.  Our planting location last year was probably shadier than the tomato plants would prefer.

  8. Vigorously plant front "figure 8" bed. For now, I have to say that I have failed miserably to accomplish this task.  The goal was to plant a lot of ornamental sweet potato vine in the figure 8 tulip bed in our front yard as soon as the tulips had quit blooming.  The hope was that the sweet potato vine would be in the ground when we get all of our mild weather and gallons and gallons of spring rains.  Then it would spread nicely and have filled out the bed by the time the tulip stems turned brown and are removed.  I have now removed the tulip stems and still not planted the sweet potato vine.  I have to admit that if we hadn't gone on vacation last week, this task might be complete.  Alas, Hawaii was calling out to us!

  9. Fertilize. I have had a bag of fertilizer sitting in my garage for more than a year.  It was just a matter of using it.  This Spring, as I brought all of my tender tropical plants outdoors, I added some slow-release fertilizer to the soil and watered it in.  It will be a while before I can tell if (and to what extent) the fertilizer has helped.  I did not fertilize any of our food plants, but I have fertilized nearly everything else that I am growing.  It was very quick and easy to lightly shake some of this fertilizer on the soil surface of each of my plants.

  10. Recreate the corner garden. This task has gone swimmingly!  I have posted a couple of times about new plants we have added to our corner garden, as well as several plans for future enhancements.  The corner garden is the foundation for making our backyard a comfortable paradise where we can relax at home.  Our fencing project has also helped to create a more inviting feel to our backyard.

Did you make any resolutions this year concerning your plants?  How have you kept up with them?