Friday, December 26, 2014

Aloe arborescens

Aloe arborescens
(When I posted this to the Planet Aloe page on Facebook, I was corrected by some members about the identification of this plant. I never would have questioned a botanical garden, but may have to do that in the future. So, I have changed the post to correct the mistake.)
I visited the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical gardens a couple of weeks ago. When I entered the desert room, I was immediately drawn to this flowering Aloe plant. Not only do I love succulents, but I really love orange flowers. This Aloe is from SE Africa. The name aloe is from the Greek alsos and refers to the bitter juice from the leaves of these plants. The  Latin word arborescens means tree-forming or tree-like, even though this plant certainly isn't tree like.  The common name krantz aloe refers to where it grows in its natural habitat, a krantz being a rocky ridge or cliff. The plants become large clumps in their natural habitat, and even in the conservatory it takes up a large area. The whole plant is impressive, but the flowers close-up are beautiful. 
Once again, I'm going to encourage you to visit your nearest conservatory. You never know what you will encounter. Hopefully,  gorgeous flowers such as these. Take the time to really "look" at the flowers up close and personal. 
Aloe arborescens-Close-up of the flower

Friday, December 19, 2014

Spin It Around

I have frantically been decorating for Christmas.  I decided to put my Thanksgiving cactus on the dining room table. This cactus above has been on my light stand in the basement since last Christmas.  It has been on the corner of the stand and I have never turned it. Consequently, as you can see, there are only blooms on one side of the plant.  Many people ask me why they only have blooms on one side of their plant. Well, the problem is, the plant has never been turned. I thought since my plant was under fluorescent lights it would be fine, but since it was on the corner of the stand, all parts of the plant were not under the lights equally.  All the sun or fluorescent light in my case, has only really hit the stem segments on one side of the plant. It is very important to turn your plant 1/4  every time you water, so all  parts of your plant gets sun equally. Even if you aren't concerned about flowering, the plant will lean if you don't turn it. See this blog post about lopsided plants. The lesson today is, "Do as I say, not as I do." 

Dining room table

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holidays Under Glass

Belle Isle Conservatory show room
I live near two beautiful conservatories and I make sure to visit during the Christmas season. They never fail to come through with amazing holiday plants and displays. 
The first pictures are from the Belle Isle Conservatory. This island is in the middle of the Detroit River and is undergoing a major renovation as it is now being run as a state park. 
The conservatory is also under new management and is looking better than ever. I love this pastel scene in the show house.

Poinsettias and cyclamen look beautiful together

The next conservatory is at the Matthaei Botanical Garden in Ann Arbor. I was there yesterday for the meeting of the Michigan Cactus and Succulent Society and had about 30 minutes to run through the conservatory.

They had two beautifully decorated Christmas trees.

The first thing I noticed (other than the Christmas tree) was the strong aroma of paper whites. It wasn't too overpowering, though, as the conservatory is big enough to handle it. In a small area, they can be a little overwhelming. If I have them in the house, I usually get asked nicely to move them out of the room.
An arrangement including paper whites, Caladiums, Euphorbia, and ivy.

Love this gorgeous white poinsettia tree.
I can't remember if this ivy wreath was there before, but it looks great dressed up for Christmas. Think about decorating your houseplants for the holidays. A bow or holiday pick is all you need to make your houseplant "merry"!

Of course, the holiday conservatory wouldn't be complete without a liberal amount of poinsettias added to the planting beds for some gorgeous color.

In the desert room, they had a beautiful succulent tree with a fairy and a blooming tillandsia to top it off.

The following pictures were taken through a kaleidoscope they have set up. It is a big bowl that they set the plants in and then a rounded piece of metal with two kaleidoscopes mounted on it are above the plants. The plants are changed out for the seasons and at this time it has poinsettias and an ornamental grass or sedge in it. I just put my camera right up to the eye piece and I love the pictures.

If poinsettias aren't your thing, there are always beautiful flowering plants to see, such as the ones below.
Cattleya orchid
Euphorbia milii or Crown of Thorns
Take time to visit a conservatory near you during the holidays. Most botanical gardens have very nice gift shops. I picked out a few Christmas gifts,  and the profits help support the garden.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

No Gravel Needed

I have a lot of gardening books. Many things in these books are still relevant to gardening today. (Overlook the part on using DDT in the house, on your houseplants.) Of course, if you are reading this, you have the internet. Unfortunately, many things on the internet and in books aren't true. One of the things that I know to not be true is the practice of adding pebbles to the bottom of a container for drainage. Usually, it is recommended to add pot shards (broken clay pots) or gravel to the bottom of a container before adding the soil.  So, if that is what has always been done, why, you ask, would I change what worked for grandma? 
Well, the reason is quite simple. As you may, or may not know, plants need oxygen in their soil to live. Air spaces are between the particles of soil. When you water your plant the water drains through the soil and out the hole in the bottom of the container. As the water drains through the soil it pulls air down through the soil with it. Every time you water your plant, you should water it until the water runs out the bottom of the pot. Empty any water left in the saucer after 30 minutes. A plant should never be left sitting in water. The soil becomes waterlogged and no air spaces are left in the soil, thus suffocating your plant. Okay, that being said, water does not drain easily from smaller pored material, such as soil,  into larger pored material, such as gravel and definitely pot shards. So, the soil will be waterlogged before the water ever drains into the gravel or pot shards. Therefore, the very thing we are trying to prevent by adding "drainage" material to our containers, is actually inhibiting drainage. 

I tried to draw a diagram to illustrate this concept. As you can see, (or not), the roots on the left without the gravel are filling the pot clear to the bottom. The roots on the right, are barely filling half of the pot. By adding gravel, the soil column is shortened. 
Also, notice I talked about the drainage hole. EVERY houseplant should be in a container with a drainage hole. Sometimes, gravel and pot shards are also used to keep the soil in the pot and keep it from coming out the bottom hole. I find that a piece of screen does that job very well. 

Potting ingredients
 Above are the things I gather when I'm repotting a houseplant. Notice there is no gravel or pot shards. Notice there is a piece of screen, though,  on the right hand side. That is the only thing I will be putting over the hole in the container. 

So, next time you are repotting a houseplant, refrain from reaching for the "drainage" material. You will be doing your plant a favor!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Antlers on My Walls

Staghorn fern with the spores visible
Every Thanksgiving, we make the trek up North to mid Michigan to Mom's house for the holiday. This is, of course, during hunting season. Why does that matter, you ask? Well, its not bad getting there, but quite often on the way home, it isn't as pleasant. I understand that deer need to be thinned out and for this to happen people shoot them. I don't want them to starve over the winter. What I hate is the need for the deer to be hauled home on top of vehicles for all the world to see. It is disgusting and sad. I think maybe they want to show off their trophies. And, the bigger the rack (or horns), the better.
At an antique store

My nephew's mule deer

Platycerium bifurcatum

My brothers and nephews hunt, but the only deer horns I want on my wall are of the staghorn type! Staghorn fern that is!

Platycerium bifurcatum or staghorn fern is one of my favorite plants. Platycerium means 'broad horn' in Latin. The 'antlers' stand up and cascade and can be very impressive. These plants can grow to enormous proportions. There are many different species of these ferns and I have seen quite a few of these at different botanical gardens I have visited.

The most common species you will likely encounter is the Platycerium bifurcatum pictured here on the left.

Platycerium bifurcatum with spores on fertile fronds showing
These tropical plants are native to the Philippines, SE Asia, Indonesia, Australia, Madagascar, Africa, and America. They grow naturally as epiphytes on trees in the jungles. They are dimorphic meaning they sport two kinds of fronds. The first are the basal fronds and are often called 'sterile' fronds. They grasp onto the growing surface and usually are brown, starting their life as green, though. They become papery looking and feel that way as well. Their main function is to collect water, fallen leaves, and plant debris. The debris breaks down and releases nutrients to the fern. You can see them in the above picture (the brown part).
The other fronds are called foliar fronds and are the 'fertile' fronds. They can be erect or pendant and they produce the spores which are like seeds in that they are the way they reproduce. 
The silvery tint of the fronds is produced by numerous stellate (star shaped) trichomes [from Greek (tri khoma) meaning 'hair', fine outgrowths or appendages on plants] which are visible only under a microscope.
Platycerium wandae from New Guinea
Platycerium wandae at Longwood Gardens
Platycerium wandae or the Queen Elkhorn fern is the largest growing Platycerium and is from New Guinea. It can be 6-8 feet tall. 
Fronds hanging down on the Platycerium wandae
Platycerium superbum at Longwood Gardens

Platycerium superbum is also a very large fern and is from Australia.
Platycerium superbum

Platycerium superbum

Platycerium andinum or South American staghorn fern
Platycerium andinum refers to the Andes mountains in South America and there it lives in the dry forests of Peru and Bolivia. The biggest problem with this fern is overwatering. It does not like to be constantly wet. Crown of Angels is the common name.
Platycerium andinum with the spores on the fertile fronds showing

Notice the black sooty mold which grows on the honeydew

Staghorns rarely have problems, but occasionally, scale can be a pest on them. These pictures were taken at a botanical garden where it is especially hard to control insects, as it is a public place. The best thing to do is pick them off. Ferns are very sensitive to sprays, soaps, and oils. 

Platycerium bifurcatum with scale

Platycerium bifurcatum with scale

Notice the honeydew which is the excrement from the scale.


 So if you aren't so keen on having a dead animal with antlers on your wall, try one of these living works of art known as staghorn ferns.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Story Behind the Houseplant

I write articles for Michigan Gardener and Michigan Gardening magazines. Of course, my Mom is proud of me, and tells everyone she knows. (It's nice to have a cheering section.) Her friend Lorna reads my articles and asked my Mom if the next time I came up to visit, I would like to come see her Christmas cactus. I said, "Yes, please." Today my Mom and I went to visit her and I was blown away by the size of not only her Christmas cactus, but  also her Easter cactus and her two Hoyas. She told me she received a peice of the Christmas cactus from her mother-in-law in 1956 after her wedding. She said I was more than welcome to come see it in bloom next time I'm up north. I can't wait! 
The Easter cactus, Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, is also huge and old. I had my Grandmother's, which unfortunately died this year. 
Her Hoya carnosa compacta or Hindu rope plant is huge but hasn't flowered for her. I think it needs more light and she needs to move it to a brighter location for it to bloom. 
The other Hoya she has is, as far as I can tell, Hoya memoria, formerly Hoya gracilis. She also received this plant from her mother-in-law and estimates it is approximately 54 years old. It hangs in her kitchen nook area near a north window and about 8 feet from an east window. It blooms reliably for her. I was amazed it blooms with only that amount of light.
I saw one like this in a hobby shop in Tecumseh, Michigan and the owner gave me a cutting. I also had a customer bring in one of these to our nursery to have me repot it. It had been in the same pot since the early 1960's. I couldn't believe it! It was in a McCoy pot from that era, though, so it made sense. 
The pot had so much salt buildup from fertilizer, the first thing I did was clean the pot with vinegar to get the crud off.
The poor plant was very rootbound and soil was very scarce. The owner thought it needed a bigger pot, but as hoya like to be rootbound (they flower better that way) I decided to put it back in the same container with some fresh soil.

I love the speckled leaves of this Hoya! I have started new plants from cuttings the customer and the hobby shop owner gave me. I can't wait for mine to get big enough to flower.
I love it when I am privileged to help people with their houseplants, most especially when they trust me with plants that have been in their family for years. I have to admit, though, I do get nervous handling these special plants.  I have some sentimental plants, as well, that I would hate to lose. If you have a plant that has been in your family for years and is now your responsibility, please share it with me in the comments. I love the stories!