Friday, July 27, 2012

Trip Report: Vireya Rhododendrons in the Cloud Forest

Singapore's Gardens by the Bay has two large domes, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.  Both are amazing places.  The Cloud Forest dome has more of the types of plants I like to grow, including aroids, orchids and other tropical plants.

Gardens by the Bay cloud forest
Gardens by the Bay's Cloud Forest dome

One of the really cool types of plants growing in the Cloud Forest are the Vireya Rhododendrons.  These are a special section of Rhododendrons that grow in tropical locations, usually as epiphytes.  They have beautiful flowers of all sorts of different colors.  I contacted the guy who runs the Vireya website and he helped me identify the plants in this post.  He also told me that the plants in the Cloud Forest were all shipped to the gardens fairly recently and had to have all buds removed from the plants before shipping - for import reasons.  So I am really lucky to have been able to see any blooms.

Rhododendron archangel
Rhododendron 'Archangel'

Rhododendron inferno
Rhododendron 'Inferno'

I'll let the flowers speak for themselves.  Beautiful, right?

Rhododendron jimmy_sax
Rhododendron 'Jimmy Sax'

Rhododendron pretty_lady
Rhododendron 'Pretty Lady'

Rhododendron jasminiflorum
Rhododendron jasminiflorum

I need to try to grow one of these.  Right now all I can think about is how unhappy they would be in my greenhouse.  It has been about 100 degrees every day for the past couple of weeks and we haven't had any rain in over a month.  It's not exactly a cloud forest here in central Oklahoma.

Rhododendron Uluru
Rhododendron 'Uluru'

Vireya Rhododendron
Rhododendron 'Kisses'

I will be posting more photos from Gardens by the Bay soon.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trip Report: Ficus, Plumeria and Palms at Gardens by the Bay

For my one free day in Singapore, I set out to visit the recently-opened Gardens by the Bay, a garden that cost over 1 billion Singapore dollars to build.  I literally took 1,114 pictures during my 1 day in Singapore!  Needless to say, I won't be posting all of those pictures here.  I am trying to come up with a reasonable number of blog posts on a reasonable number of subjects and a small collection of photos.  First off are some trees from the outdoor gardens, specifically those of the Ficus, Plumeria and various Palm genera.

GBB has a great collection of trees, including several species of Ficus I had never seen before.  One of the first Ficus that I saw (and really admired) was Ficus deltoidea.  My friend, Shawn, that toured the gardens with me, said that Ficus deltoidea is quite common in Singapore and is even used as a hedge or ground cover.  Sure enough, later we saw it densely planted, as if intended to become a ground cover.

Ficus deltoidea

Ficus deltoidea gets its name from the appearance of the veins on the leaf, which look like a river delta.  There are a couple of other Ficus with triangular leaves.  The species Ficus natalensis ssp. leprieurii has very smooth, triangular green leaves and small brown figs.

Ficus natalensis ssp. leprieurii, Triangle Fig

The Rusty Fig has a very prominent trunk, even when the total tree height is not tall.  The bark is smooth and gray.  The tree gets its name from the color of the undersides of the leaves.  This particular tree had a ton of aerial roots handing down from the branches.  My guess is that the gardens staff is going to have their work cut out for them keeping this tree in check.  It could easily take over and become a behemoth.

Ficus rubiginosa, Rusty Fig

The most unusual Ficus award goes to the Philippine Fig, Ficus pseudopalma.  This tree was small, but really didn't look like a Ficus to me.  Like a palm, the leaves were all emerging from the crown of the tree, with the large black figs packed in at the base of the leaves.

Ficus pseudopalma, Philippine Fig

Most of the large trees were clearly identified with markers, but one Ficus that I really liked was missing a placard.  It had very small figs that were bluish in color.

Unknown Ficus

I am used to seeing Plumeria rubra trees in various flower colors in most tropical places.  The only other Plumeria species I have seen in Plumeria pudica, which has leaves of a distinctively different shape.  GBB had three other Plumeria (or at least what I thought were Plumeria) that I had not seen before.  One appeared to be the regular Plumeria rubra, but in miniature.  Another looked similar to Plumeria rubra, but had a purplish tint to the leaves.  The flowers were small and understated.  The fruit that formed after pollination was totally different from the fruit of Plumeria rubra; this one was fleshy, football shaped and dark purple.

Mystery tree with colorful leaves and small flowers

I have enlisted the help of my friends in tracking down the identity of this mystery tree.  They are thinking that it is not a Plumeria afterall.  One possible genus is Cerbera.  I am still looking for the correct ID.

Fruit or seed pod from the mystery tree.

The other interesting Plumeria was labeled as Plumeria obtusa 'Hanging Windmill.'  The flowers of this tree are spidery and white and the foliage is much darker than the typical Plumeria.

Plumeria obtusa 'Hanging Windmill'

Of course, there were lots of palm trees at GBB, but I am still only casually taking notice of palms when they strike me as very different from other palms I have seen.  One that fit this bill was Arenga pinnata, which had very dark fiber up the entire trunk.  This is known as the sugar palm, because the unopened inflorescence can be tapped to yield a sugar water.  This palm is important to the diet of the endangered Cloud Rat.  Yes, that is a real animal.

Arenga pinnata, Sugar Palm

Arenga pinnata trunk

The other palm that caught my notice was a bottle palm, Hyophorbe lagenicaulis.  There was a row of these along a median at one of the entrances to the park.  They just have a really neat shape to them, don't they?

Hyophorbe lagenicaulis, Bottle Palm

Well, this is something like episode 1 of 10, chronicling my trip to Singapore's Gardens by the Bay.  So stay tuned for many more photos and posts soon!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Trip Report: Indonesian fruits

Here in Jakarta I have gotten to try lots of different foods.  Since I am restricting this blog to plant-related subjects only, I will share the more planty food I have eaten here on my trip.


The coolest fruit by far is Salak, which is the fruit of the Salacca zalacca palm. It is also called snake fruit because of the scaly skin. It is amazing how much the skin is like a snake skin!

Peeling the salak.  Here you can see the separated fruits inside.

The fruit inside is hard and divided into sections like garlic cloves. It is not juicy and contains a large hard seed, but the fruit is pretty good.

Salak with seed exposed

One fruit is particularly famous around southeast Asia for being loved by the locals and hated by western visitors. It is durian and it smells god awful. Truly. I actually haven't had a chance to taste a pure durian fruit (yet), but I did buy a durian pudding and eat a good 5 or 6 spoon fulls. I was actually surprised that it wasn't as bad as I expected. I wouldn't say I liked it, but I will say that the smell was worse than the taste.

durian pudding
Durian pudding

I am planning to try a durian and also a dragon fruit (hopefully) in Singapore, before I head home.  I also need to try one of these starfruits!

starfruit, Carambola
Carambola (or starfruit)

Fruit juices are very popular here, especially with lunch. I have now tried at least 6 different kinds, including strawberry, lychee, guava, the two pictured below (from fruits I had never heard of), and sirsak (two pictures down). The lychee fruit comes from the Litchi chinensis tree. I haven't actually seen any lychee fruits, but I looked up some information on them and they are very similar to longan (below).

Two fruit juices, popular to drink with meals

Sirsak juice is made from the "soursop" fruit of the Annona muricata. It is my favorite juice that I've had here. It was pretty thick and really tasted like a virgin pina colada. Does it get any better than that?

sirsak juice
Sirsak juice

Before you peel off the woody skin, the Longan fruit looks like a tiny potato. This fruit comes from the Dimocarpus longan tree.


Once the skin is peeled away you can see the milky translucent fruit, which is a lot like a grape with the skin peeled away. It is juicy and has a good taste, although I can't think of anything that it tastes like. There is a large seed inside. The name longan means "dragon's eye" in Chinese, due to the appearance of the fruit and seed inside. I liked this fruit pretty well.

The exposed inside of the Longan

The Markisa fruit is from one of the edible species of Passionflower, Passiflora edulis. It looks a lot like an orange on the outside, but it's a whole different ball game inside.

Markisa (passion fruit)

When you peel the skin away you find lots of seeds that are basically encased in a small amount of sticky fruit that is really not worth the trouble. It doesn't taste great and the fruit to seed ratio is about 1:1. That's a lot of spitting and very little to show for it. I read on wikipedia that the orange-skinned variety (like mine) is usually not eaten but the fruit juices are strained out and used for various recipes.

Inside of the Markisa (passion fruit)

Well, that's all for now. Off to taste some more fruits!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trip Report: Plants along the streets of Jakarta

Yesterday I went for a walk.  Along the way I took a lot of pictures of plants growing along the sidewalk.  Jakarta is not a particularly pretty place, but there are some neat tropical plants growing wherever they can take hold.  For purposes of this blog, I'll be showing you those pictures.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Polyathia longifolia in front of a nice house in Jakarta"]polyathia

One of the more common trees here in Jakarta is the Polyathia longifolia, which is usually growing tall and skinny like an Italian cypress tree. It has long shiny leaves with undulate margins (wavy edges).

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="Leaves of Polyathia longifolia"]polyathia_leaves

Some of my favorite plants (Aglaonema, Dieffenbachia, and Calathea) are growing everywhere here.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Calathea"]dark_calathea

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Calathea"]silver_calathea

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="A pot full of Dieffenbachia"]crowded_dieffenbachia

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="Really large Dieffenbachia"]giant_dieffenbachia

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Aglaonema, maybe"]aglaonema

There are also lots of colorful flowering plants around: Bougainvillea, Plumeria, Heliconia, Canna and things I have never seen before.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Some sort of Acanthaceae, possibly Crossandra"]acanthaceae

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Solandra"]solanum

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="Heliconia"]heliconia

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Do you know what this is? (Update: mr_subjunctive and peaches identified this as Clerodendron thomsoniae)"]neat_flowers

There were some other nice Aroids (besides the Dieffenbachia and Aglaonema) growing here and there...

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="An aroid climbing a tree. Perhaps Epipremnum or Rhaphidophora."]climbing_aroid

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Homalomena"]homalomena

There are Sansevieria growing everywhere. I noticed one in particular that was in bloom.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="Sansevieria in bloom"]sansevieria

When I finished my leisurely walk, I came back to the hotel, where is some more formal landscaping out front.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="Agave in front of the hotel"]hotel_cacti

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Adenium (foreground) and Cycad (back right) in garden at hotel entrance"]hotel_garden

My walk took me to a park about a mile away from the hotel.  I'll post pictures from there in a separate post.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Trip Report: Singaporean priorities

This week we will be hearing from Variegated Thumb's foreign correspondent: me.  I will be spending some time in Singapore and Jakarta and telling you about any interesting, planty moments of note.

After being in Singapore a short time I determined this is a place that has their priorities in order.  In America, we have pictures of old dead guys wearing wigs on our coins.  In Singapore - plants.

Singapore coins
Singapore coins

In America there are newspapers hanging on the walls above the urinals.  In Singapore - plants.

Singapore airport urinals
Who needs the sports section?

Stay tuned for more reports from afar.