Friday, April 10, 2015

Fire Lily

Clivia in bloom at Krohn Conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio
I have a Clivia blooming in my house, right now! Finally! I have had it for years and have been very disappointed that it has never flowered. I've heard everyone's tips and tricks for making them bloom, but it hasn't worked for me until this year. I was told that a cold, dry period would make it bloom, but I have a friend who has one in a sun room that is warm all the time and her plant blooms beautifully. Mine resides on the floor in my sun room which has an unheated brick floor. I didn't water it much this winter. Is this the reason it finally bloomed? I don't know. It's been in the same place for years but it finally decided this was the year. It was given to me by a customer at our nursery and I left it in the container it came in as I know they like to be root bound. It was staked and twist tied in a huge plastic pot. I really wanted to transplant it to a more attractive pot, but left it in the pot for the well being of the plant. Of course, I removed the twist ties and stakes, as it really didn't need it. I think they were trying to contain the size, but I just let it do its thing.
My Clivia on March 12th, 2015

My Clivia on March 20th, 2015

My Clivia on March 30th, 2015

Clivias are from warm, moist forests of South Africa. It has the common names of Fire and Natal Lily. The name fire lily is obvious, and the Natal lily is so called because it is from the Natal region in South Africa. The one you are most likely to find is Clivia miniata. Most have orange flowers, but yellow is also available. The yellow flowering varieties were very rare not so long ago, and very expensive. Now they are more available and definitely more affordable. They are in the Amaryllidaceae family, closely related to Amaryllis or Hippeastrum. The leaves look just like amaryllis leaves and they are both monocots. Monocots have foliage with parallel veins and include plants such as orchids, lilies, daffodils, iris, tulips, and cannas. Clivias are clump forming with dark leathery, long leaves and make  great houseplants, because they reside in the shade in their native habitat. To initiate flowering they must have bright light in our homes. They have very thick, fleshy roots and are best left undisturbed until they are almost breaking the pot. They hate to be re-potted and divided  and may not bloom the year after re-potting. Use a very well drained soil to replicate their native soil conditions. If the potting mix is kept too wet it will result in rot which will appear as pale green or bright orange cankers on the leaves. The Clivia would prefer to be on the dry side because of its fleshy roots. 
Clivia at Krohn Conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio
Where did the Clivia get its name. It was named by John Lindley of Kew in 1828 in honour of the Duchess of Northumberland, Charlotte Florentia Clive (1787-1866). She was born into a plant loving family and was one herself. The Clivia was first cultivated and brought into flower in Great Britian in her garden. The plant name should be pronounced with a long "í" (Clí-via) to commemorate her name. 
I'm still not sure exactly how I got my plant to bloom, but I'm not complaining, and hopefully it will bloom again next year.  

Close up of an individual flower

Yellow Clivia at Longwood Gardens, PA

This yellow Clivia is beautiful at Longwood Gardens. I had never seen one before. The yellow is gorgeous, but I prefer the orange. Then again, I wouldn't turn one down.

Variegated Clivia at Longwood Gardens, PA

Who wouldn't love the variegated foliage of this Clivia on the right. I wouldn't care if it never bloomed. While researching this plant, I found the site of the North American Clivia Society.There are some beautiful plants on their site. Check it out.

Clivia in bloom at Longwood Garden, PA

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Playing the Fiddle

Fiddle leaf fig with a Dracaena at Kingwood Center in Ohio
When I volunteer with the kids at Belle Isle in the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, I always point out that common names of plants are quite often given to the plants because of what they resemble. The leaves of the fiddle leaf fig look like fiddles or violins, thus the common name. It helps us remember the plants.
The fiddle leaf fig or Ficus lyrata is native to lowland tropical rainforests in west Africa. It is a banyan fig, meaning it often starts life as an epiphyte high in the crown of a tree, sends roots down to the ground, and can slowly strangle the tree it is growing on. As a stand-alone tree, it can reach up to 40' tall. 
In your home, the tree will probably max out at 6', but if you up-pot it and have the room, it could get bigger. When it is the size you want it to stay, instead of re-potting it, top dress it with fresh soil to replace depleted soil. It needs as much light as you can give it for it to be happy. A South or West facing window would be best, but place it wherever you have the most light.  Because it is from tropical rainforests, high humidity is it definitely a must. That can be hard to provide in our homes, especially in the winter with our furnaces running. If it is dry, the plant will react by losing leaves. The worst reaction to dry air, though, will be an infestation of spider mites. This will be evident to you as it was to me when I saw reddish spots on my leaves . The red spots are the areas where the spider mites pierce the leaves of the plant with their mouth parts. The caustic nature of the sap cause the reddish spots when it is exposed to the air. The sap from the tree can also cause stains and be an irritant to skin so be careful when handling this plant. The picture below shows spider mite damage on my plant....:(

Spider mite damage on my fiddle leaf fig

Low humidity may also be displayed as brown edges on the leaves. 
On the other hand, if the plant is kept too wet, soft leaves with brown patches may be displayed. The key is to have your plant growing in a rich, well drained soil. Keep it well watered, letting it dry down slightly between waterings, never letting it dry out completely. To keep the humidity up, place a pebble tray under your plant which is kept filled with water. The tray should be larger than the container you are growing your plant in so the humidity rises around the plant. Never let your plant sit in the water, though. Fertilize regularly during the growing season which is March-September here in Michigan. It is sensitive to high salt content, so flush your soil regularly, or use an organic fertilizer, such as fish emulsion.
Th fiddle leaf fig is a dramatic, large houseplant that can be the focal point of any room you place it in. I also have the mini version called 'Little Fiddle' if you don't have the room for a large plant but like the look of the plant. 

Ficus lyrata or fiddle leaf fig at the Veterans Memorial Library in Mt. Pleasant MI

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bees in My House

The first time I saw this adorable orchid was at a local orchid show. I was enamoured with it. The bumblebee orchid or Baptistonia echinata, really does look just like a little bunch of bees in flight.

My Baptistonia blooming 2011

Baptistonia at the orchid show

October, 2007

I went through all my pictures and found that I have pictures of this orchid back to 2007. I've had this for quite some time. The pictures of the plant in the small 2" pot is how I bought it and it bloomed every year for me. Then, I decided to mount it on cork. I think I did that about 2-3 years ago and this year is the first time it bloomed since then.

Baptistonia echinata or bee orchid bloom up close

This is a miniature species orchid from Brazil and was named after the Brazilian ethnologist Baptista Caetano d' Almeida Noqueira. It only grows about 6" tall with 1" wide leaves. I have mine hanging on the side of my cupboard in a west window. I water it once a week with my other mini orchids by soaking it in the sink.

My orchid in bud February 11, 2015

I was excited to see the buds emerging in late January, since it hadn't bloomed in a few years.

I have it hanging on a frame of chicken wire near the West window

It isn't completely open here

Completely open looking like bees flying

Most people don't even know these little orchids exist. I have quite a few because I don't have a lot more room for plants. These hang over the kitchen sink and get plenty of humidity and light. I wrote about my other mini orchids here. If you ever get to an orchid sale, check out these little beauties!