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.