Friday, January 30, 2015

Euphorbia neohumbertii

Euphorbia neohumbertii at Matthaei Botanical Garden in Ann Arbor, MI
Euphorbia neohumbertii at Garfield Park conservatory in Chicago
It is no secret that I love Euphorbias of all types. These pictures are of the Euphorbia neohumbertii, native to Madagascar. It grows leaves on the top of the stem and when they drop a very prominent scar is left on the stem. The stem is 4 sided. This Euphorbia loses the leaves in the winter and go into a type of dormancy.  In the spring, the stem is topped with scarlet flowers tipped in yellow. The pictures at Matthaei were taken in March. I wrote about a few other varieties of Euphorbia here.  
Once again, I'm going to point out that you never know what you'll find at your local conservatory. Visit one today, and let me know what amazing plant you find.

Euphorbia neohumbertii

Euphorbia neohumbertii

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Shell Ginger

Alpinia zerumbet in flower
I have been to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb conservatory on Belle Isle almost every week for the last month and just noticed this shell ginger or Alpinia zerumbet blooming this week. I must be blind! Granted, it is above my head and I'm helping with 4th grade students who I'm looking down at, but still, how could I miss these beautiful flowers?

Alpinia zerumbet flower buds do look like shells
Alpinia zerumbet flower close up

Shell ginger, also called shellflower, pink porcelain lily, shellplant, and pearl-of-the-orient is a beautiful bloomer. It is obvious why it is called ginger or porcelain flower. The flower buds are shiny white with pink tips, and definitely look like shells or porcelain. It needs rich, organic, well drained soil, but doesn't want to dry out. It is native to China and the southern Japanese islands. Shell ginger grows from rhizomes and can grow 7-10' tall. If you are lucky enough to live in USDA Zone 9-11, you can grow them outside and see them flower.  Here in the frozen north (Zone 6a for me), they can only be seen in conservatories.  Grown as container plants or in the ground, the rhizomes can be dug and stored for the winter. The problem with that is they bloom on second year growth and if the foliage is cut off, it won't  bloom. Now, if you were to overwinter it as a houseplant and put it back outside, it may bloom...... Even without the blooms, the variegated version is beautiful and in fact, we sell it at our garden center in the spring. They can take full sun but do better in light shade. It definitely brightens up a shady container. I've read that they have "round, ribbed, hairy, vermilion, 3/4"diameter seed capsules." I will definitely be looking for those and will post a picture when they appear.

Dendrobium hsinying cruenzuki
The shell ginger flower reminds me of this Dendrobium above. I wrote about that orchid here.
Alpinia zerumbet
Remember when you are visiting a conservatory, look everywhere; up, down, and side ways. You never know what you might miss. I am so glad I looked up!

I love the sun shining through this flower

Check out the philodendron stems in the left side of this picture

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Let The Sun Shine Through

As most people know, when they are taking pictures, the sun is a big factor. If its too bright, you won't see what you are taking pictures of. If it is too dark, that isn't great either. Well, I like when the sun is shining through the plants when I'm in a conservatory. The last time I was in the Garfield Park Conservatory a couple of years ago, the sun was amazing through the plants. I thought maybe you'd enjoy it, too.

Pandanus or screw pine

Banana flower

Brugmansia flower

Christmas cactus


The next time you are thinking the sun is too bright to take good pictures, think again. It can be a good picture day.

Tree Fern
Staghorn Fern


Staghorn fern

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Well, This is Embarrassing!

The state of this rhizamatous begonia is embarrassing! (This is what comes of having too many plants!) It has been residing in my bedroom for a  very long time. Today the bedroom received a  thorough cleaning, as a new bed was delivered. I put all my plants in the shower to clean and then I took a good look at this sorry looking plant. It used to be so full and gorgeous and has been slowly going down hill. It is above my view on a shelf, so I had not looked into the pot in quite a while. Yikes! 
Soooo, I brought it downstairs to not necessarily "up pot" it, but to just "re pot" it in the same container and add some much needed soil to the top. I wouldn't normally suggest that a plant be re-potted at this time of year, but it was necessary. March or April would be a better time here in the North.

After plants have been in the same container for years, they can need more soil, as the old soil breaks down. When you have a plant in a large container and don't want to re-pot it, something called topdressing can be implemented. That involves just adding some soil to the top of the plant, especially if the roots are showing, as in the picture above and below. This can also include smaller plants, as the one here.  You can see that the soil is down to my second knuckle. This is only a 4" pot.

The rhizomes in the middle of this plant are all dead so I removed them.

Roots showing as the soil is depleted

After removing them, I added soil to the bottom of the pot to raise the plant depth and just enough to the top to cover the exposed roots. It is okay to add soil to the top of your plant if it is depleted and the roots are showing, but never bury the plant too deep or it could result in root or stem rot and even the death of the plant.

The container was very dirty and I cleaned it before re-potting the begonia.

 I added fresh soil to the top of the plant.

I  probably should have cut off this flower bud, but I couldn't.
When a plant is struggling or newly re-potted, it would be best to take the flower buds off so all the energy of the plant is used to grow new foliage and roots. "Do as I say, not as I do," as the old saying goes.

This picture on the right is a close up of the tip of the rhizome and it also has a flower bud coming. It looks mushy, but that is just moisture, as I watered it after re-potting.
Make sure you inspect your plants often, and you won't end up with an embarrassing plant such as this one.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fairy Dusters

Calliandra emarginata

 Here is the second installment of my New Year's resolution, which I am keeping. It is the pink fairy duster (don't you just love that name?)- also called powder puff plant or Calliandra emarginata
I have seen this at many conservatories including Matthaei Botanical Garden and the one pictured here  from the Anna Scripps Whitcomb conservatory on Belle Isle. (Belle Isle was just recently made a Michigan state park, and the changes in the conservatory under the new management are remarkable!)
The sign in the conservatory states that it is a pink powder puff plant. I'm not seeing any pink, but I'm assuming it is correctly labeled. The first thing you notice are the poofy (obviously a word I've made up) flowers. But, on further study, I've found that these flowers are really a ball of stamens. Calliandra is Greek for 'beautiful stamens'. The true flowers are in a cluster in the middle and when in bud looks like a raspberry. The flower has no petals. Logee's catalog describes it as looking like "exploding fireworks".  This species is native to Mexico and Central America and is pollinated by hummingbirds. It grows into a  3-6' tall shrub, making it perfect for the greenhouse. It can be trimmed, as it blooms on new growth and it is almost always in bloom. It takes sun to part shade and is drought tolerant after becoming established. I saw this plant on a bonsai page and they make great bonsai. And, because it is drought tolerant, is a perfect plant for the bonsai beginner. It is a beautiful plant adding color and interest to the conservatory.
Calliandra emarginata
A flower that is almost done.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Scarab Fern

My one and only resolution this year (if you don't count the one I make every year to lose weight....) is to go through my many pictures and pick plants out from conservatories not neccesarily considered "houseplants" per say, and learn a little more about them. Of course, there aren't any real "house" plants by nature, but we've made them such. These plants are usually found in a number of conservatories, so why not find out more about these plants. I'm always up for learning more about houseplants. So, lets get started...
The first plant I chose is the blue fern or oil fern, Microsorum thailandicum (previously Microsorum steerii). It is also called blue strap, scarab and cobalt fern. These names all come from the unusual color of the fern. It has a blue iridescent color, thus the name oil fern. It reminds me of oil on water. Or a scarab beetle's shell. (Did you know that those nasty June bugs and Japanese beetles are types of scarab beetles? I was thinking more along the lines of those scarab beetles that are very colorful from the tropics.)

Microsorum thailandicum with Tillandsia usneoides at Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago
This fern is native to Thailand (thus the species name), Taiwan, Vietnam, and Southern China, as seen on the tag above. The plant grows a couple of different ways; as an epiphyte on another plant, or as a lythophyte (which in Greek, means 'lover of stone'), on limestone. It grows in the understory, so takes low light and to keep the intense blue color,  needs very high humidity. It is a slow growing fern with 10-18" fronds common in SE Asia.  In the past, it has been hard to find to purchase, but I found it for sale on a terrarium/vivarium site. I have not purchased one, but good to know if I ever decide to. It would be perfect for a terrarium.
So, here is the first installment in my New's Year resolution. Hopefully you will join me on this journey through some conservatories learning about some interesting, not-so-common plants.