Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Review: Wild Orchids Across North America

Ever since I found a Spiranthes growing in my front yard, I have been scouring all nearby landscapes with my eyes.  I wanted to know about other wild orchids in this part of the country, as well as in areas where I might be traveling around the US.  So I ordered a book on Amazon called Wild Orchids Across America: A Botanical Travelogue by Philip E. Keenan.  The book is published by Timber Press.  I am finding myself reading more and more books by this publisher.

This was a very enjoyable read, which tells about many (but not all) of the orchids which can be found in the Canada and the continental US (including Alaska, but not Florida).  It is primarily a description of the orchids themselves and their habitats, but there are some nice stories about the orchid hunting. It is called a "botanical travelogue" so the stories of the travel are part of the ride.  I'll be checking this book before I go on each vacation to see if I'll be in range of any blooming orchids that I can visit.

The accompanying photos for each species, taken by the author, are very nice and necessary for a book about orchids - in my opinion.

There is a considerable chunk of the book dedicated to northern climates (Alaska 28 pages, Canada 40 pages and New England 72 pages), which is not my area of interest.  There are some really cool orchids growing in these locations, but I don't see myself going to these places for orchid viewing any time soon.  The coverage of central United States orchids was very poor.  There were sections of the book that focused on "Midwestern states" (just Ohio) and "Western states" (California, Washington, Utah and Arizona), but nothing focusing on any area close to me.  Somehow the states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri are entirely skipped, although a couple of species are mentioned as originating in these locations.  It's too bad that Keenan didn't feel the need to explore these areas for his book.

All in all, I enjoyed reading the book.  I would say it is a "must read" for those who want to see orchids in the eastern United States, as those areas are very well covered in the book.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Trip Report and Plant Find: Orchids at Calvert's Plant Interiors

First I have to say that this post marks my 200th!  That's quite a few posts, I must say.  I started the blog back in July 2007.  I have posted regularly at times and then taken breaks of a month or two, but somehow I have managed to write 200 different posts without repeating a lot of information or plants.  Now, on to the orchids...

On Saturday, Christie and I went to the Baby's-R-Us store in Oklahoma City to do some pre-registry reconnaissance.  Across the street from the store was a nursery that I had never visited before, but had been recommended to me by a friend.  I wasn't expecting much out of the place based on the exterior.  But inside I found a really cool nursery, especially for it's small size.

There just aren't very many nurseries in Oklahoma that have tropical plants for sale.  I assumed this small place wouldn't have much to offer, but I was wrong.  Their whole inventory was tropical and they even had some unique Aroids - large, rosette Anthuriums, and smaller Anthuriums in bloom with several different spathe colors.

There was a Calathea for sale that I almost purchased, but it was trumped by the value orchids which I found a couple of minutes later.  It seems that Calvert's specializes in installing and maintaining plant displays for businesses.  From what I gathered, they buy a lot of tropical plants wholesale and then arrange them, set them up and maintain them for their clients.  Most of their orchids had tags from Kalapana Tropical Orchids in Hawaii.  Calvert's adds value to the orchids by making very creative displays and then replacing the orchids out when they are out of bloom.  The orchids that are "bloomed out" are called "homeless" and sold for $5 - regardless of size.  There were some small Phalaenopsis and Dendrobiums for $5 and there were large Cymbidium orchids which were bursting out of 1 gallon pots, also for $5.  How could I pass up this offer!?!

Cymbidium NOID
I ended up purchasing 3 orchids: a Cymbidium (pictured above), a Dendrobium and a Brassolaeliocattleya.  The Cymbidium had recently produced two tall bloom stalks, but they had both finished.  I kind of like the look of this orchid even when it's not blooming.  The long, straplike foliage resembles an Iris.  I found a couple of expired blooms that had fallen between leaves in the pot.  One gave a pretty good representation of the color and the other, larger bloom shows the shape better.

Spent blooms of my Cymbidium
Brassiolaeliocattleya is an intergeneric hybrid made from the naturally-occurring genera of Brassavola, Cattleya and Laelia.  It was the only orchid with a tag in the pot, and it reads "Blc. Golden Tang."   After finding some pictures online I see that this is a primarily yellow bloom, somewhat reminiscent of a Daffodil.  Some of the pictures are almost entirely yellow, while others have a greenish cast to the petals and a vibrant pink center.  Thankfully, this is not a really frilly flower like the flowers of one of its parent genera - Cattleya.  Those really just aren't my style.

Brassiolaeliocattleya 'Golden Tang'
The Dendrobium I purchased was just finishing it's bloom cycle, but it looks like I will still get to enjoy another week or two of the blooms before they are entirely gone.  Also, since this plant was still in bloom, I knew that I liked the color and shape of the blooms, which is a big bonus.  At $5, I was comfortable buying an orchid without knowing what the blooms would look like, but it was even better to buy one I knew that I liked.

Tall and skinny Dendrobium in bloom
I noticed something unusual with my white Dendrobium that bloomed recently, and it happened with this Dendrobium as well.  Regardless of the orientation of the blooming spike, the blooms almost always align themselves with gravity, so they are "right side up."  One of the blooms on my white Dendrobium was rotated 90 degrees, which was puzzling.  I wondered if maybe the plant had been tipped on its side when that bloom opened or something, but I know that it hadn't.

This Dendrobium has several blooms right next to each other on the spike that are oriented 90 degrees, 45 degrees of even 180 degrees different than the adjacent blooms.  Maybe this is common in Dendrobiums, but I found it to be a weird feature.

Dendrobium blooms - notice the different orientation

Monday, February 21, 2011

Plant Find: A new Gesneriad

Gesneriad is the "common name" for the family Gesneriaceae, like "Aroid" to Araceae.  The Gesneriad family includes some common houseplants like African Violets (Saintpaulia genus), Lipstick Plants (Aeschynanthus genus), Goldfish Plant (Columnea genus) and others.  There are quite a few people that collect Gesneriads.  They are admired for their colorful flowers, as well as the foliage of some species.  Many of the Gesneriads have common names that include "violet" in them, like African Violet and Flame Violet.  One of my Gesneriads is the "False African Violet" (Streptocarpus saxorum).

When I was at Lowe's recently there were two Gesneriads in hanging baskets that I had not seen before and both were really neat plants.  One was Alsobia dianthiflora and the other was Codonanthe devosiana.

Codonanthe devosiana
I left the Alsobia behind, but purchased the Codonanthe.  This hanging basket is very full and has lots of buds (like the picture below).  With my greenhouse heating problems a couple of weeks ago, I kept this plant inside.  I hope that the lack of light for a couple of weeks didn't prohibit these buds from eventually opening.

Codonanthe bud

Codonanthe devosiana bloom
I hope to see a lot more of these little white blooms all over my plant in another week or so.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

True blooms of the Squirrel's Tail

The little purple buds encased in the white blooming bracts of my Justicia betonica have opened.

Squirrel's Tail (Justicia betonica) blooming bract with true blooms emerging near the base.  Other buds can be seen inside the bract.
Do you see the 3 lower petals and the throat?  They are actually pretty neat blooms, although they are small.

The single blooming stalk has gotten heavy and is laying on its side now.  I wonder what the chances are of the blooms pollinating...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Close calls with brutal weather

It has been untypically cold in Oklahoma over the last couple of weeks.  Oklahomans are used to some severe weather in all seasons - hot summers (sometimes humid, sometimes dry) with temperatures above 100 F, and cold winters with temperatures in the teens and snow and ice on the ground.  But it is pretty rare for us to get into the single digits or near zero.  I live in USDA hardiness zone 7a, which is a winter minimum temperature between 0 and 5 Fahrenheit.  However, it has been a good 6-8 years since we have dipped near 10F.  This year we have been hit pretty hard.

We have actually reached 0 F on two different nights over the last 2 weeks.  And we have gotten some real snow on the ground, in three different events!  Last week the all-time low temperature record for the state was broken when a temperature of -31 Fahrenheit was recorded in Nowata, Oklahoma.  At the same time, it was +16 Fahrenheit at the North Pole.  That's just hard for me to believe.  The previous low was -27, set in Watts, Oklahoma in 1930.

My electric space heaters have done remarkably well keeping the temperature in the 60s in the greenhouse.  But the electric load has been trying for a single circuit.  Last week I woke up and checked the greenhouse temperature from the warm confines inside the house to find that it had dropped to 38 overnight in my greenhouse!  Prior to this my greenhouse had only gotten into the low 50s on one or two occasions.  I ran out to the greenhouse to find that the heaters were not on and would not respond to me hitting the power buttons.  The fuse had finally given out and the heaters had been off all night long, letting the temperature plummet (actually, it was more of a gradual decline) to a temperature that I can only imagine my plants didn't like.

I found that having two space heaters plugged into the same outlet was not wise and since I didn't have them plugged into a modern surge protector, they were drawing a higher load than the wiring could really  provide.  Thankfully our old screw-in fuse when out.  I replaced the fuse and plugged my main heater into a modern surge protected power strip, which will flip off when a large load is being drawn.  For the following nights, I ran an extension cord from another outlet out to the greenhouse to supply power to my extra heater.

It looks like I might have come through this debacle with only minor damage to some of my plants.  I don't think I lost any plants outright, but some have lost leaves and will have to slowly recoup.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Squirrel Tail in bloom

I have been growing my "White Shrimp Plant" or "Squirrel's Tail" (Justicia betonica) for a year and a half now.  Since I got to see this plant growing in its natural habitat in Hawaii, I knew the conditions that it prefers, so I figured that it would bloom fairly regularly for me.

It has been growing steadily, but no blooms.  It's not the most attractive plant when it is not blooming, so I've been kind of annoyed with it.  It just gets these really long, lanky stems with few leaves on them, except for the tips.  I prop up the stems so that they don't break off under the weight or get broken off by me moving around in the greenhouse.  I have wondered whether I should cut the plant back to encourage new growth that might be more full and bushy, so that it at least doesn't look so silly, but I have decided to let it be.  It is potted with a couple of other Shrimp plants (Justicia), so I get those to bloom on occasion and get to enjoy them.

Every time my White Shrimp produces a new set of leaves, I think "This it is!  It's finally a bloom!"  They just start so small and look just like the beginning of the blooming bract.  After all, the white blooming bract is just a bunch of modified leaves.   But then a couple of days later the leaves get larger and stay green and I realize that it's not a bract, just another set of leaves.  Well, a couple of weeks ago I had my normal realization that this could be the first blooming bract when a new set of green "leaves" began to grow from the tip of one of the longest stems.  A couple of days later the two little leaves had turned white and the green veins were showing.  I could tell this was finally it!

Beginning of the bloom bract - Justicia betonica - Jan 16, 2011
The bract continues to grow longer with more pairs of white petals, making it look like a shrimp or a long squirrel's tail - although not the right color to look much like either.  Eventually, the actual flowers will stick out between the white petals that make up the bract.  The blooms are light purple or pink and look like most other flowers from the Acanthaceae family.

Justicia betonica - Jan 28, 2011
For now, it just continues to grow longer and a new bract is beginning to form next to the first.

Justicia betonica - Feb 8, 2011

Just to further show that the bract is a bunch of modified leaves, you can see that the set of leaves just below the bract is half colored the same as the bract itself.

Justicia betonica - Feb 8, 2011

I'll post a photo update when the actual blooms peak out of the bract.