Friday, February 24, 2012

Plant Graffiti

Z and M may be in love, but did they have to deface a plant to let everyone know? I don't think so, but maybe I'm not romantic enough. Or maybe I like plants too much. Or maybe I really believe that plants feel pain, as in The Secret Life of Plants. Whatever it is, I don't appreciate this art form practiced on plants.
This cactus, in the desert house in the Belle Isle Conservatory  in  Detroit, is I think, an Opuntia ficus-indica. Who was the first person to decide that they should carve their names on this cactus? How did they know that it would heal over and callous this way? Were they afraid of being caught? Did they care if they were? This is a public garden and I wonder how the thousands of people who see this each year, feel about this. Do they think it is romantic, cute, or do they think it horrible? How much more can this plant take, before it decides it has been cut too much?
When did the practice of carving names in plants begin? Who found out that using a knife on beech tree bark  would be there forever?
I just found out about the autograph plant, very popular in Florida. The Clusia rosea  has thick, leathery leaves that people scratch their names on. Guests at people's homes are encouraged to do this and have their pictures taken next to it. This can also be used as a houseplant, here in the Northern climes, but I can tell you, people wouldn't be scratching their names on it, in my home.
I have to admit, though, that I have seen this done to pumpkins and think it is quite ingenious. So, does that make me a hypocrite? I guess it does. If something is going to be thrown on the compost heap in November, I guess I feel, no harm done. But, on the other hand, beech trees and this poor Opuntia, live for a very long time, defaced and scarred for all to see.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Orchid Excitement

I'm so excited! My orchid is re-blooming! This is a Beallara Marfitch 'Howard's Dream'. I have a wonderful friend who buys beautiful orchids, and when they are done blooming, she is nice enough to pass them on to me. And somehow, I got this one to bloom again.
I wanted to find out some information about this orchid, and so I did some research. 'Howard's Dream' is an intergeneric hybrid using Miltonia spectabilis, Brassia verrucosoa, Chochlioda noezliana, Odontoglossum crispum Odm. Percatorel and Odm. harryanum. Do I really understand any of that? No, I don't. I'm glad somebody does, though, because they have hybridized a  beautiful plant. Because of its parentage, it is adaptable to a wide range of temperatures, it is easy to grow, and can flower twice a year. I hope it flowers again this year, but I'm quite happy if it doesn't. It is a purple, speckled, beautiful orchid, and I'm satisfied, especially if it blooms again next year. 
It likes low to medium light, but I have it on a West window sill. I've read that strong light will cause the leaves to turn a slight purple. I must be mistaken about the strength of my light, or my windows are really dirty, because mine is in what I think of as strong light, and there is, as you can see, no purple tinge.  Cooler night temperatures seem to make flower spikes appear. I do keep the night temperatures around 60 degrees, so this is probably why, without much help from me, this orchid is flowering.
All this information is helpful, but not all of it seems to coincide with what I've done. This goes to show that everyone has different experiences with the same plant. I guess this orchid likes how its been living, and it's flowers are proof. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

February Cactus

Opuntia microdasys

Opuntia whole plant
What epitomizes February, but the heart shape? And, as a plant nerd, what could be better than a heart-shaped plant? As I strolled through the Matthei Botanical Garden desert house, I came upon this wonderful heart shaped cactus. I immediately took a ton of pictures. How amazing is this plant with three hearts stacked on top of each other? It looks like someone glued them together. It's hard to believe it could grow this way, but here it is. And what is it? An opuntia, or prickly pear cactus. The common name comes from the fact that usually the fruit it produces, is edible. I've never eaten one, nor do I plan to. That doesn't mean it's not edible or good, just that I'm not adventurous when it comes to trying new things. All opuntias have clusters of small, fine, fuzzy looking spines called glochids. This comes from the Latin word glochidium, which means a "barbed hair of a plant".  Always use gloves when re-potting your opuntia. The glochids easily dislodge from the plant and lodge in the skin. The spines are hard to remove because they are barbed, and from personal experience, I can tell you that they are painful. I learned this the hard way from my hardy opuntia outside (Zone 5). Actually, a guest at my daughter's graduation party touched my opuntia and was crying quite uncontrollably. (Obviously, this was a small child.)  I was sure it wasn't from the cactus, it looks so soft and harmless, so of course, I touched it as well. One magnifying glass, tweezers, and many tears later, the spines were out. Ouch! Boy, did I feel bad.  I am very careful not to get anywhere near these plants when working in the garden. This would be a plant not to let the weeds grow through, because that's where the weeds would stay, as far as I'm concerned.
Anyway, the one pictured is not hardy here in Michigan, but is good for a very sunny windowsill. It is the Opuntia microdasys, probably the contorta form. Some common names include bunny ears and polka dot cactus. It is native to Arizona and Texas, but opuntias naturally occur from Canada to Southern Argentina.
Opuntia side view

As I've said before, remember to visit your local conservatory. You never know what you will find!