Sunday, June 8, 2014

Baby Making Onion

This is the pregnant onion or Ornithogalum longibracteatum,  an unusual plant and a real conversation starter. First of all, its not an onion, it just resembles one. It is in the same family, Liliaceae, though. This houseplant should never be eaten, it is poisonous. It may actually cause a rash on your skin from handling it, but I haven't had that problem. Make sure your pet doesn't chew on it, either. 
 It is so amazing how the little bulblets form on the "Mom's" side. You can peel back the skin and reveal the green underneath and the babies growing. These eventually start growing themselves, sending up little green spikes. At this point it is easy to share them with your friends and family. It is an indestructible houseplant and easy to grow. They'll thank you. 
Definitely looks like the skin on an onion.

Baby bump.
This bulb originates in South Africa.  It does flower, but it really isn't anything to write home about. Then again, I appreciate any flowers my plants produce, no matter how insignificant. It sends up a long shoot and the little white flowers with a green stripe are borne on the end.

 The leaves can grow very long. Mine are about 3' long.They twist and twirl and undulate as they hang down from the plant. I have had to trim the ends because they turn brown. Don't ask me why. I don't know why. It may be the water with chlorine and fluoride or low humidity, I'm just not sure. Besides this small glitch, the plant is easy and certainly not your "run of the mill" houseplant. This is a great plant for the beginner and collector alike.

Babies in the making.
New foliage coming up from a bulblet

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Iron Cross Begonia

Leaves with the sun shining through

I love the iron cross begonia, or Begonia masoniana. I love it so much, I keep killing it and trying again! I swear I'm not going to fail this time. What keeps pulling me back in? Look at that foliage! Who needs flowers?! Iron cross is one of the beautiful foliage plants called Rex begonias, and is named after the German iron cross which it resembles.
Why do mine keep dying? Well, they probably didn't die. They went into a resting period and I thought I had killed them. Now I know that if they "die" in the late fall or early winter, they will probably come back in the Spring. Good to know. Or, I might have kept them too wet, or not humid enough..... All of these are possibilities. They need extra humidity, but also good air circulation, or they may get a bad case of powdery mildew, which can also kill the plant. Letting water set on the leaves can also cause powdery mildew.

The surface of the iron cross begonia leaf

Plant your begonias in a porous, slightly acidic potting mix that contains peat moss and leaf mold. African violet potting mix is good for begonias. Some sources say to fill the bottom of the pot with half-decayed leaves. Also, Rex begonias like a shallow pot, keeping their roots snug in the pot, never over potting them.

The leaves from underneath

Notice the hairs on the outer edge of this leaf

Hopefully you have had better luck with your iron cross than I have had in the past, but if not, try it again.

You can also see the hairs on all the bumps on the top of this leaf

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Thrips are Microscopic Insects but Big Problems

Thrip on a flower
I never knew thrips existed until I started growing African violets. I don't have a picture of them on violets, but most likely if you've ever bought an African violet at a grocery store or big box, you've seen the signs of them. Their larvae love to eat the pollen of the violets, and when they do it falls onto the petals, making it obvious. It is always noticed more on dark colored violets, as the yellow shows up best against the dark color. If you see pollen on the petals, do not buy the violet. You are bringing home trouble. When I come home from an African violet show, if I've purchased plants, the first thing I do is take all the flowers off the plant. This is not an easy thing to do. Heartbreaking, in fact. It is necessary, though to get rid of any pests, such as thrips that may be lurking in the flowers. I also quarantine my plants for a few weeks to make sure they don't have any other insects or diseases.
The pollen sacs are the yellow in the middle of the flower
 Thrips are very small insects, almost impossible to see with the naked eye. The most common on greenhouse plants are the Western Flower Thrip, Frankliniella occidentalis. These pictures are enlarged quite a bit. If you breathe on flowers that you suspect have thrips, you can see them run, if you have good eyesight. Thrips have piercing, sucking mouth parts. The biggest problem that thrips cause is damaged areas that disease can then enter. They are vectors for virus to enter the plant. You will notice the damage before you see the microscopic insect. On flowers the damage may appear as streaked or discolored areas, on leaves they will be dried out and have a silvery appearance. They attack plants inside and out, but we are going to deal with indoor plants, of course.
The best way to deal with thrips is to not allow them to enter your plant area. They are so small, they can fly through most window screens. They can also come in on cut flowers, either from the florist or from your own yard. I know people who would never open a window in their plant room.
If you have them, how do you remove them? Systemic insecticides may not work well, as the systemic does not easily pass into the flowers of the plant where the thrips are feeding. Also, thrips feed on cell content, not the xylem or phloem where the systemic is contained. The amount that does go into the flowers may not be enough to kill the thrips. Also, flowers do not last as long as leaves, so there is less time for the insecticide to accumulate. Spinosad and neem oil also work on thrips and are less toxic than other chemicals. Removing the flowers is a good way to rid yourselves of thrips, especially if growing African violets. Keep the flowers removed for quite some time. Using sticky traps to monitor thrips works, but use blue sticky traps instead of the usual yellow.

Thrip on a streptocarpus flower
If you want to rid yourselves of these pests with biological controls, there is more than one that will work. Predatory nematodes, Steinernema carpocapsae help control thrips, as well as Steinernema feltiae, Orius insidiosis, the pirate bug, and the thrip  predatory mite, Amblyseius cucumeris. These are all biological controls that could be used to eat the larvae and/or adults. Once again, I'm listing these biological controls, knowing that it may not be practical  for many people to use them. That being said, I wanted to list all the ways that one could control thrips. 
Once again, I can't stress enough, that a healthy plant is the best way to deter pests. Check your plants every time you water for pests and disease. Keep your plants well watered, fertilized and in the correct light to keep them healthy and happy.