Thursday, July 22, 2010

Trip Report: The Carnivores of Volunteer Park

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the not-so-docile plants of the Volunteer Park Conservatory.  Many people are familiar with the Venus fly trap, but there are several other types of carnivorous plants - and the conservatory had several.  I know there were representatives from the popular Sarracenia, Dionaea (Venus fly trap), and Nepenthes genera, and some others that I didn't know.

Nepenthes sp. in hanging basket

These plants are commonly called Pitcher plants.  Apparently some people call them Monkey Cups, because monkeys have been observed drinking out of them.  But I've never heard anyone call them that before.  Maybe that is more common in the areas where they grow in the wild - and where there are actually monkeys in the wild to drink from them.  These plants grow natively in tropical Asia and Australia.

The Nepenthes genus consists of plants that produce wide and deep pitchers for collecting bugs that are lured into the slick trap.  The lures come in the form of smell, taste and/or color.  The lure attracts the bugs, but the slick inner walls of the pitchers don't allow the insects to escape.  Often the pitchers are filled with water and insects (or even small animals like rats and lizards) will drown in the pitcher.

Nepenthes climbing a totem
Though carnivorous, Nepenthes are not all about killing.  The large pitchers actually support some insects in the rainforests where they grow.  Flying insects like mosquitos will lay their eggs in the filled pitchers where they are safe until hatching and eventually flying away.

Other Nepenthes have developed special relationships with specific animals in the rainforest.  One particular Nepenthes has a symbiotic relationship with termites which like to eat the "hair" on the lip of the pitcher.  The colony doesn't mind too much when a couple of less careful termites fall into the pit.  And the pitcher plant definitely doesn't mind.

Nepenthes lowii has a very interesting relationship with tree shrews.  The pitcher serves as a stool where the shrews sit and sip the sugary exudate (think "nectar") that is excreted from the plant.  Meanwhile, the pitcher serves as a toilet for the shrew's excrement.  Apparently the excrement provides a large portion of the diet for this particular species of Nepenthes.

Nepenthes truncata
The Nepenthes truncata plant had HUGE pitchers.  I could have easily put my fist into one of them.  And these pitchers were somewhat attractive, with lips that looked like wood.  I assume this is an adaptation to attract some specific insect, though I don't know what.

You might assume that the pitchers themselves are the blooms of the plant.  Many other plants attract insects to their blooms for pollination.  However, Nepenthes produce blooms totally separate from their pitchers (as you can see below).  In fact, the carnivorous parts of all of these plants are independent of their blooms.  Strictly speaking, the carnivorous parts are actually just modified leaves.
Nepenthes truncate bloom stalk
Another popular genus of carnivorous plants is the Sarracenia.  The plants of this genus features a pitcher which grows upright from the base of the plant, unlike the hanging pitchers of Nepenthes.

As a side note, I watched a movie last week with a character who carried a "Saracen sword," which made me wonder if there was anything to this name.  I wondered if maybe the Sarracenia genus - or even the larger family Sarraceniaceae - was named after the sword, due to the similar shape of the prominent upright pitchers, which are wider at the lip than at the base.  The other possibility is that the geographic locations of the Saracen people coincides with the habitat of these plants.  But that doesn't work, because Romans coined the Saracen name in reference to the Muslims who lived near the Mediterranean and Arabia, while Sarracenia are from the New World (western hemisphere).  I haven't found any reference connecting the names of the plant and the sword, but that remains my theory.

[Update 2010-09-01:  A friend informed me that the Sarracenia genus is named after Dr. Michel Sarrazin, a 18th century physician and botanist in Quebec, Canada.]

The pitchers of Sarracenia suffrutic...
Sarracenia are called The North American Pitcher Plants, to distinguish themselves from the the Nepenthes genus.  They are found in wetlands throughout the eastern US and Canada.  The conservatory had several different Sarracenia on display.  The plant above was particularly attractive, with a blotchy white lip and lid of the pitcher.  Also, I was able to see this plant in bloom, which was just bizarre.  I hadn't ever seen a Sarracenia in bloom, and I was in for a treat.  I can only describe the bloom as looking like two flowers pressed together.  It's really weird in that your eye is drawn to the center of most blooms, but the center of this bloom is covered.  See what I mean below.

The bloom of Sarracenia suffritic...
I really like the red edges of the bloom above, which belongs to the same plant as the picture above that.  I took a picture of the id tag on this plant, but the picture doesn't reveal the full name, and I couldn't find any similar names on the internet when searching for the full name.  Does anyone know what Sarracenia suffrutic... could refer to?  I think I'm just missing a couple of letters at the end of the species name.  However, most reliable sources I have found on the internet describe the Sarracenia genus as being fairly small, with just about 10 species, and none of the species have names like this one.  I'm thinking that it is probably a hybrid, but I still haven't been able to find a hybrid with a name like this.

Sarracenia oreophila
I did manage to get the name of the plant pictured above, which was also displaying a really nice bloom.  This one really looked like two blooms pushed into one another, hiding their centers.  Considering the flower is the reproductive organ of the plant, Sarracenias are one of the few modest plants out there in the world, covering up their parts like Adam and Eve.

There is one particularly bad Sarracenia (S. flava) which actually has a narcotic mixed in the nectar on the lip of its pitcher.  Insects that partake of the nectar find themselves passing out and falling into the pitcher.  Maybe it's ruthless, or maybe it's a more humane way of taking the insect's life.  If only we could know what the plant was thinking...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Trip Report: The Prayer Plants of Volunteer Park

When I say "Prayer Plants" I am referring to the Marantaceae family, which is one of my favorite families of plants.  Like, it's in my top 3 favorites.

I've written some posts about this family before, if you're interested in viewing those:

Actually, I have been meaning to write a much more thorough blog post about this plant family, using some pictures I took at three different botanic gardens: the Foster Botanic Gardens in Honolulu, Hawaii; The Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Missouri; and the Myriad Gardens in Oklahoma City.  But I haven't gotten around to that yet, so I guess I will just keep writing these short reports as I encounter new plants and see them in different phases of growth.

The Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle, Washington has a great collection of Marantaceaes in the center glasshouse.  One plant (Calathea warscewiczii) was in bloom and some others I had never seen before.  Here are the highlights:

Calathea orbiculata

Calathea orbiculata
Calathea lancifolia

I was already familiar with this plant, having admired it for a while, bought one myself, admired my own for several months, and then mourned its untimely passing.  Calatheas, like most other plants from this family, like moist soil and somewhat shady conditions.  I'm afraid low humidity has been the cause for almost all of my losses.

Calathea lancifolia
Calathea rufibarba 'Furry Feathers'

I have seen this plant online a good bit, but not from any easily accessible vendors.  One wholesale vendor had it for sale.  However, while it's a beautiful plant, I don't think I want 250 of them!  On second thought, I wouldn't at all mind 250 of them, but I couldn't afford that or have a place to put them all.

Calathea rufibarba 'Furry Feathers'
I don't know if the 'Furry Feathers' name is a true cultivar or not, but you can definitely see how the name was chosen when you look closely at the leaves.  Several other prayer plants have these furry leaves, including both of my Ctenanthes.

Calathea rufibarba 'Furry Feathers' - here you can see why it has the name it does
Calathea NOID

This Calathea didn't have any ID on it.  That's what NOID means.  I have seen some other Calatheas similar to this one and several have names like "Peacock," but I can't put a sure tag on this one.

Calathea NOID
Ctenanthe NOID

I think Ctenanthe is probably my favorite genus in the prayer plant family.  I have only seen 3 or 4 species, but every one of them has been very cool.  I mean, look at that awesome foliage!  This plant might be C. amabilis, which is pictured on Tropicos.

Ctenanthe NOID, likely C. amabilis
Calathea warscewiczii

Many of the plants weren't labeled, or at least not very clearly.  I had to dig around a bit before finding tags around many of them.  This particular plant had a tag, but I'm second guessing the identification.  I think the plant might actually be Calathea zebrina.  I have seen C. zebrina other places before and my pictures match that plant much better on Tropicos than C. warscewiczii.

Calathea warscewiczii or C. zebrine?
The blooms help in the identification process, but I don't have a great baseline to compare this plant to the two species in question.  Does anyone know for sure what species this plant is?

Calathea warscewiczii or C. zebrina in bloom

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Trip Report: Volunteer Park Epiphyllums

Epiphyllum is the genus commonly called "Orchid Cactus."  That common name comes from the appearance of the plant when not blooming (cactus-like) and the beautiful flowers (not really orchid-like, but very pretty).  This genus of about 20 species is in the Cactaceae family, so it truly is a cactus.  It is found in Central America.

The plant itself has a growth habit similar to my Stapelia, with long, lanky stems - which I guess are technically the leaves of a cactus.  Epiphyllums also bloom from the end of long cascading stems.  However, the stems of the Stapelia have more bulk to them, whereas Epiphyllums are slender with a central vein that is a little thicker.  But this plant is not grown for its green stems.  It is grown for it's beautiful blooms.  Take a look!

Peach Epiphyllum bloom
Epiphyllum buds
One of the most widely recognized Epiphyllums has a pure white bloom and has some spidery petals.  It is called Queen of the Night and is supposed to bloom primarily during the dark house.  Epiphyllum blooms are very short-lived (just one day), so we were very lucky to see a couple dozen blooms of different colors at the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle.

Red Epiphyllum bloom
Like the Fuschias, many of the Epiphyllums on display were colorful hybrids, which are commonly kept as houseplants.  From what I've read, this genus is a pretty easy houseplant.  It has the inherent trait of other cacti, being drought hardy, while also growing well in part shade.

If I was naming this plant, I would call it Epiphyllum 'Sunburst'.
My beautiful wife, Christie, posing with a cascade of pink Epiphyllum blooms

Next time I have a chance to buy an affordable Epiphyllum, I'll be happy to take one home!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Plant Find: Lotus maculatus

While in Seattle last month, we visited a nice nursery.  It's always neat to see what plants are found in different regions of the country.  The coolest and most different plant that I saw (by far) was the Lotus Vine (Lotus maculatus).

This plant is also called Parrot's Beak as a common name, which seems very appropriate.  Another person described the blooms as looking like lobster claws.  I'm not sure where the species name maculatus comes from.  The Latin root word means spotted or speckled and I don't see any features of this plant that match that description.

Lotus maculatus at Seattle nursery
The foliage looks a lot like a ground cover that we had growing in our corner garden for a while.  The name escapes me.  It was a frosty looking perennial creeper that came back one or two years, but not this year.

Unfortunately, this plant is listed as hardy in only zone 9b and greater.  If I have a good opportunity to buy one of these plants, I'd be glad to grow it in my greenhouse.  It would look very cool in a full hanging basket, as it kind of droops.

While it requires zone 9 hardiness, it has the strange requirement of cooler temperatures in order to bloom.  I found comments online saying that temperatures as low as 40F were necessary.  Others said temperatures in the range of 55-60F would incite blooming.

It seems that the coastal northwest climate is a pretty good fit for this plant during the summer, as it likes partial sun and lots of water.  But Seattle is zone 8, so I imagine that it is grown as an annual.  In Oklahoma I have a feeling that it would be wilting constantly and my only chance at seeing a bloom would be if I could keep it alive until the Fall and keep the temperature moderately cool in my greenhouse.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Trip Report: Volunteer Park Fuchsias

As pretty much everyone knows, the Pacific Northwest gets lots of rain.  Something I learned from our trip is that Fuchsias must like a lot of rain, because they are all over the stinkin' place.  I mean, it's quite possible to see three large Fuchsia plants from one viewpoint - turn around and bump your head on a hanging pot of Fuchsia, while tripping over another!  That's how many Fuchsias there are in this part of the country.  I managed to make it home alive*, but not without some pictures!

* Actually, Fuchsias (like most other plants), are rather docile.  The imagery of Fuchsia plants silently attacking me was only for illustrating their widespread usage in this part of the country.  For some not-so-docile plants, stay tuned for my post on some carnivorous plants at the Volunteer Park Conservatory.

Single Fuchsia in bush form

Dark double Fuchsia
The Volunteer Park Conservatory (in Seattle, Washington) has lots of Fuchsias for your viewing pleasure.  They have Fuchsias pruned into bushes, trees and drooping hanging baskets.

Double purple and pink Fuchsia in tree form

Another double Fuchsia in tree form
They have single and double flowering varieties - and all sorts of color variations.  I would venture to guess that very few (if any) of these plants are naturally occurring species.  I imagine that nearly every one of these varieties was cultivated in a lab or cross bred from two very beautiful Fuchsias in their own right.

Hanging basket of a double pink Fuchsia
Double purple and magenta Fuchsia

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My new favorite Iris: the Fornight Lily

While on our recent vacation to the Pacific Northwest, we visited the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle, Washington. It was such a cool conservatory with so many interesting plants that it felt like I had been in charge of acquisitions! I plan to write 5+ posts on this little conservatory alone. You can look forward to posts talking about about the Marantaceae (Ctenanthe, Calathea, Maranta, Stromanthe), Carnivorous plants (Sarracenia and Nepenthes), Fuchsias, Bromeliads (including Tillandsias), Orchid Cacti (Epiphyllums), Euphorbias, and some oddballs (like Dischidia and Hydnophytum).

However, this post is about one single Iris plant - Dietes iridioides. This beautiful plant from the Iridaceae (Iris) family has very rigid leaves with the firmness of a Yucca. The plant stands tall at about 4 feet and forms a thick clump in any and all available space. It was apparent that the plant like its environment in the conservatory and since coming home I have learned that it is considered mildly invasive in the areas where it is hardy - zone 8a or greater.

Dietes iridioides bloom
I am tempted to talk my parents-in-law into buying some of these plants to use for landscaping their new property in Denton, TX, as I think it would be hardy there. Regardless, I've got to get some for myself and will keep it in a pot in my greenhouse. Seeds are very easy (and cheap) to come by on ebay, but I'm still not really confident in my seed-rearing abilities. Maybe this a plant worth the cheap experiment.

Dietes iridioides
The plant is called "Fortnight Lily," "African Iris," "Cape Iris" or simply "Wild Iris" as a common name. But I imagine there are probably a good 20-30 different Iris that go by that name. The genus Dietes is native to southern and eastern Africa (including Ethiopia!), and consists of four to six species - one of which occurs outside of Africa, on an island off the coast of Australia.  This particular plant (Dietes iridioides), was formerly placed in the genus Moraea, but was moved to Dietes because it is rhizomatous (it has a rhizome).  I had to get help from a staff worker at the conservatory to finally find a label on one of the plants and it read "Dietes vegeta - Fortnight Lily."  The wikipedia article on Dietes tells me that this plant is really Dietes iridioides and I confirmed that information with Tropicos.

There are so many different types (genera) of Iris.  For a long time the only type of Iris with which I was familiar was a bearded Iris - a very common flowerbed plant in this part of the country.  I've always thought they were very nice flowers.  But then I discovered Dutch Iris (Iris x hollandica), which my grandmother was growing.  With more slender leaves and flowers, and a deep royal blue bloom, this quickly became my favorite Iris.  Just a couple of years ago I discovered Apostle Plants, or Walking Iris (Neomarica gracilis).  And again my favorite Iris was trumped!

I find that every new Iris I discover quickly becomes a favorite plant of mine.  Plants that are in the Iris genus are more familiar, but the "fringe" genera within the Iridaceae family are so much more interesting and beautiful to me.  The Iridaceae family consists of more than 2000 unique species from 66 genera, including some not as obviously related to the common bearded Iris, like the Crocus genus.  Many of these plants grow in sub-Saharan Africa (south of the Sahara desert) and quite a few in the Americas.