Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Anna Scripps Whitcomb- A Benevolent Woman

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory
I am volunteering at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory this winter and I love it! Belle Isle is a place I have visited a lot since moving to the metro Detroit area almost 30 years ago. It amazes me that people who have lived here all their lives have never been there. I love the aquarium, too, but as you know, plants are my passion. Soooo, I'm going to share some orchid photos today and tell you about the woman who gave them to the conservatory.

Anna Scripps Whitcomb (Photo Grosse Pointe Historical Society)

 Anna Virginia Scripps was born in 1866 to James and Harriet Scripps. Mr. Scripps was the founder of the Detroit News and was also involved in the founding of the Detroit Museum of Art, later to become the Detroit Institute of Art.  Anna Scripps married Edgar Bancroft Whitcomb in 1891 and had two children, Harriet and James. Mrs. Whitcomb had a large collection of orchids which upon her death in 1953 were bequeathed to the Belle Isle Conservatory. 
The Belle Isle Conservatory was opened August 18, 1904 and was designed by the famous architect Albert Kahn. The wooden structure was rebuilt from 1952-1954, replacing the wood with aluminum. In 1955, the conservatory was renamed the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory in honor of her donations. I have included a lot of pictures, so I hope you will not be bored. These pictures were not all taken this winter, but quite a few of them have been. Since the island is now run as a Michigan state park, some of these orchids may be in the city greenhouse, unable to be accessed for the the conservatory, but there are still many beautiful orchids.  Since they have been there since the early 1950s, many have lost their name tags. I like to know the names of plants, but in this case, it isn't possible. They are just gorgeous flowers. 
The fountain below was gifted to the conservatory by the Temperance League and many of the orchids are displayed around it. 

The fountain and pool around which many of the orchids are displayed

Oncidium orchid

Cymbidium orchid

Angraecum veitchii orchid (Photo by Jeremy Kemp)

A spray of orchids over the pool

Another view of the pool with orchids

For more pictures of the conservatory go to my Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory Pinterest board here.
Vanda orchid

A cart full of orchids and other plants
Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory palm house
If there are any of her descendants still in the Detroit area, I hope they still go there knowing their relative made the conservatory a much more colorful place. We appreciate it and enjoy the flowers immensely! Thank-you, Mrs. Whitcomb!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Birthmarks Aren't Just On Babies

You know the saying "You learn something new everyday"? I say it all the time and it's true! The other night at my African violet meeting, I learned something new. We discussed something called "birthmarking". I had never seen this phenomenon before. One if the members brought two plants with birthmarking so we could see it up close and personal. 
The first three pictures are of African violet 'Super Duper'. These leaves are usually a medium green. The light areas are the birthmarks. 
In researching this a little more on line, I read that it usually involves plants with red backed leaves. That is obviously not true because 'Super Duper' leaves are not red backed. You can see the areas that have changed have become lighter, not darker, as would happen if it were red backed. 
The plant below is 'Moon Child' and is red backed and so the birthmarking shows up as darker than the usual coloring of the plant.
I love how the leaf is split right down the middle with the coloring! So cool! 
So, how does this birthmarking occur? It seems it is a genetic defect. It was explained comparing this happening to  humans having heart disease in their family. And it doesn't always happen to all plants or humans in the family. My Mom and her brother had heart valve replacement but not either of their sisters. So it happens to 'Super Duper' but not all the time and not to all of the plants. But, it happens more often to this cultivar than to other African violet cultivars. Taking a birthmarked leaf and propagating it will make a birthmarked plant. Using a plain leaf from the same plant might result in a birthmarked plant and might not. Does any of this make sense? I hope so. I'm trying to explain it so it is easy to understand. 
I think these plants are amazing and more beautiful than the plain plants. But, as stated before, I love variegated plants. So, if you see a plant like this that isn't supposed to be variegated, don't throw it away thinking it is diseased. It is just different. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fish Tails and Flowers

Caryota mitis
Back to my New's Year Resolution (read about that here)......
This plant caught my eye at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory because of its flowers. I know palms flower, but I had never seen any like these. They are gorgeous. The fishtail palm or Caryota mitis is named for the shape of its leaves which really do look like a goldfish's tail fins. And the flowers are gold....interesting.

Caryota mitis flowers
Fishtail palms are from India, SE Asia, E. Indies, and the Philippines Islands. This species  grows in a cluster than can become over 15 feet around. The plant can grow 20-30 feet tall, but probably never in your home. These are the only palms with bipinnate foliage. It will need as much light as you can give it inside. In the United States it can live outside in Zones 10b-11 and should be grown in part shade to full sun. It needs to be kept moist whether inside or out. It loves humidity and it is especially important inside, as they are very susceptible to spider mites, which love dry air. Grow your palm on a pebble tray which will keep the humidity up.

Caryota mitis flowers close up
The flowers originate in the leaf axils, starting at the top of the stem and working their way down. When the last flower is done flowering in the lowest axil, that stem will die. The fruit start as purple/red and end up black. The seed is edible, but the soft part on the outside has a chemical in it that can cause skin irritation and is inedible.

Cayota mitis Ripe fruit

If I hadn't seen these flowers, I might never have noticed this plant. Once again, go to your local conservatory, or you might miss something amazing, such as these gorgeous flowers.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Watering Can Woes

 You wouldn't think something plants require to live could also kill them, and does a lot of the time. What am I talking about? Water. Let's talk about, in my estimation, the hardest part of keeping a houseplant happy and healthy. I've found that water is the number one killer of unsuspecting houseplants. It may be too much or too little that takes the life of the plant. 
Is there a wrong way to water? Yes, there is. I used to give my plants just a small amount of water, especially when watering cactus and succulents, thinking I was going to over water and kill them. I've since learned that a plant should always  be watered until the water runs from the hole in the bottom of the pot. This allows the soil to become moistened clear to the bottom and encourages the roots to reach deeper. When watering with small amounts of water, the roots stay near the top of the pot where the moisture is. Also, after watering, and the excess water has exited the drainage hole, do not leave the plant sitting in this water longer than 30 minutes. Whatever is left after the plant has used as much water as it needs, dump out. If the container is too heavy, use a turkey baster to suck the water out of the saucer. Watering thoroughly like this means you may not have to water again for a long time, depending on the plant type. You may have to water the next week. 
Well, what if my container doesn't have a hole? Then what do I do? I say get the masonry bit out and drill a hole. If that isn't possible, then leave your plant in its grow pot (the pot it came in from the nursery) and set it inside the pot with no hole. When you water it remove it from the cache-pot (French for 'hiding a pot'), and take it to the sink to water it. Well, you say, what if I put drainage material such as gravel in the bottom of the pot. That will help, right? NO! Never use gravel or any other kind of "drainage" material in the pot or over the drainage hole. I addressed that concept here. I use a piece of window screen over the hole of my pots which allows the water to leave but the soil to stay.

Window screen over the hole of the pot

 So this leads to how often should I water? And how do I know it is time to water? I don't believe in ever watering a plant on a schedule. It depends on the temperature, the time of year, if the sun has been shining, what kind of plant it is, and its particular needs as far as water is concerned. Is it a cactus or a plant that lives in moist soil? There are many ways of deciding whether to water your plant or not. One is the use of a water meter. This consists of a probe that is inserted into the soil and it then sends a reading of dry or wet to the meter. Another way is to lift your container after watering. It will be heavy, as it has just been watered. Lift it the next week and if it is still quite heavy, don't water. If it is light, water it. Pretty simple.  My preferred method, though is to stick my finger in the soil. If it is dry up to my second knuckle, I water it.
Another must in my opinion, is the use of lukewarm or room temperature water. I don't believe in using cold water and especially NOT ice! I know some people swear by it, but I don't recommend it. I always ask people at my presentations if they would like ice dumped on their toes. They almost always say no. I rest my case. 
The next consideration is the time of day chosen to water. I try to water in the morning, so that if any water gets on the leaves, it can dry before night time. I also think picking a sunny day is preferable, but here in Michigan, in the winter, that can be an impossible task. 

A fantastic way to water, and your plants will love it, is to put them in the shower. This gets rid of any dust that has collected on the plant and waters them at the same time.

Dandy Pot

The next few pictures show a type of watering practice called wick watering. The first picture is a Dandy Pot. The wick, which is some type of acrylic string, goes from the pot into a reservoir of water and the water travels up the wick into the soil and keeps the plant moist. Mostly this type of watering is used for African violets, but can be used for any plant. 

The next three pictures are also a type of wick watering. This is a homemade wick watering set up. These are deli containers with 2 holes drilled in them. One is for the wick to go into and the other is to make it easy to pour the water in.

The next two pictures are of the mat watering technique. The tray obviously needs to be hole free. The mat is an acrylic blanket cut to the size of the water holding receptacle. Set the plants on the mat and add water. The plants suck the water up from the acrylic blanket. I check mine weekly and add water.

This final type of wick watering is a self watering pot. It has an unglazed pot that the plant is planted in and it sits in a glazed pot that has water in it. The water seeps through the unglazed pot and keeps the plant moist.

The wick and mat watering techniques takes the mystery out of watering.  The main concern with this type of watering is the soil used. It has to be a very fast draining soil. If the soil used is too heavy, the plants will rot. I mix my own soil mixes, but that is a subject for another post.

I hope I've covered watering techniques in a way that is understandable and easy. People who think they don't have a green thumb only need to conquer their ineptitude when watering.  It really is the key to growing happy, healthy plants.