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.