Saturday, April 30, 2011

Yet another plant trade

Only a week after my last plant trade, another goodie box arrived yesterday. It was just a small box, 8½" x 5½" x 1½", but it was crammed with a bunch of plants. After I tore open one side, I got a first glimpse of what was inside. The spotted leaf shown in the photo below was a tantalizing teaser!

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First peek of what’s in the box

Trying to be as careful as I could because the plants were packed tightly, I extracted the contents from the box. After I laid everything out, I couldn't believe that all these plants had come from that small box.

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Contents of box

The variety really is astounding: We have an angel wing begonia, two bamboo seedlings, three Epiphyllum and two Hylocereus cuttings, three sempervivums, and a ghost pepper seedling!

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Angel wing begonia potted up

I’ve wanted a spotted angel wing begonia for a long time, and I’m glad I now have one. Here is an in-depth description of this hybrid that was created back in the mid-1920s. There are many different cultivars, but this spotted one is my favorite. It is a truly tropical plant, not taking any frost, so it’ll live inside in the winter. (I guess I’m turning into a houseplant guy by default.) I plan on leaving it outside in a bright and warm location away from the hot afternoon sun.

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Three kinds of succulents:
Epiphyllum, Sempervivum, and Hylocereus (dragon fruit)

On to the succulents that were in the box: In addition to three small sempervivum offsets (or hens-and-chicks, as they are often called), I also received cuttings from two fruit-bearing cacti: Epiphyllum and Hylocereus.

Epiphyllum flower
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Epiphyllum is a genus of cacti from Central America that grow epiphytically, i.e. attached to other plants (typically trees) instead of in the ground. Commonly known as orchid cacti, they are popular as houseplants because of their large and fragrant flowers that bloom for a single night only. They produce small, edible fruit similar to the dragon fruit from the closely related genus Hylocereus.

Hylocereus is a genus of vine-like epiphytic cacti native to the Americas but cultivated in many Asian countries for their fruit. With its distinctive look, both outside and inside, and its sweet and refreshing taste, dragon fruit (or pitaya) is a standout. Fortunately, it’s becoming more available here on the West Coast. Check out this Wikipedia article for photos and more information about this intriguing plant.

Dragon fruit (pitaya)
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I really don’t hold out hope for my own crop of dragon fruit since I’m not sure that we have the necessary pollinators (bats and moths) in our yard, but I will enjoy the fragrant flowers. Both Epiphyllum and Hylocereus are tropical plants and will need to overwinter inside in our zone.

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Ghost pepper or bhut jolokia (Capsicum chinense x frutescens)

The next plant is not an ornamental but a vegetable. It’s a ghost pepper, also known as Naga Jolokia or Bhut Jolokia. The 2007 Guinness Book of World Records listed this Indian hybrid as the “world’s hottest chili pepper,” more than 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce—which to many people is already spicier than they care for. Since then, two other peppers have been rated hotter, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that this is a puppy with a big bite. (Here’s a detailed listing of where various types of peppers fall on the Scoville scale.)

The real question is: What am I going to do with the peppers? The honest answer is: I don’t know yet. But it’s kind of cool growing such a racy plant.

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Fargesia nitida (left) and Phyllostachys kwangsiensis (right)

The final two plants in this box were bamboo seedlings my trading partner had started himself: a clumping (Fargesia nitida) and a running bamboo (Phyllostachys kwangsiensis). Both species are very cold hardy (below 0°F) and both flowered in the last few years, which is why seeds had become available.

Bamboos flower very sporadically; depending on the species, many decades can go by between flowering. The mechanism is poorly understood; Wikipedia lists a few intriguing hypotheses. In many species, mass flowering leads to the death of the plant, while other species recover. I wrote last fall about a few bamboos in my collection that were (and still are) flowering.

Since seeds are so rarely available, bamboos are typically propagated by division (i.e. a piece is removed from the mother plant) or in a laboratory via tissue culture. This results in plants that are genetically identical to their “parent.” Therefore, if the parent starts to flower, its children will flower, too. Plants grown from seeds, on the other hand, represent a new generation whose internal flowering clock has been reset so it will not flower for many years to come.

Beautiful specimen of Fargesia nitida 'Nymphenburg' (commonly known as “fountain bamboo”) at the entrance to Bamboo Sourcery in Sebastopol, CA

Fargesia nitida is a very popular clumping bamboo that has shown outstanding cold hardiness. According to several sources, it has been grown with success in Tromsø, Norway, north of the Arctic Circle. Fargesia nitida started to flower all over the world beginning in the late 1990s (the first time since the 1880s), leading to the demise of untold plants. Fortunately, copious amounts of viable seed was produced and a new generation of seedlings has been established, which in all likelihood won’t flower until well into the next century.

Phyllostachys kwangsiensis is a running bamboo that was only recently introduced into the U.S.  Dubbed “Moso of the north” for its resemblance to Phyllostachys edulis (the famed Moso bamboo of China, seen for instance in the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and its size potential, it promptly began to flower—much to the chagrin of the few collectors that had managed to get a hold of a specimen. My trading partner was able to get seeds and successfully germinated them. My seedling is still small and it’ll be a few years before it needs to be put in the ground. When the time comes it will join the growing bamboo collection at my in-laws’ property in the mountains of Northern California.


While I admit that having a gardening blog makes it easier to find people to trade with, I bet it won’t take you long to find like-minded gardeners in your area who have something you don’t have yet. I encourage you to share plants and spread your knowledge, thus contributing to the spirit of openness and generosity so prevalent in the gardening community.

Related posts:

  • A few updates (10/23/11)
    See how the angel wing begonia has grown

4 comments:

  1. Looks like they make it through with almost no damage at all, but now we both have more trading material down the road.

    I've loaded up my garden beds pretty good by now so I'll have to open up more before I trade again for more goodies.

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  2. Pitahaya are delicious fruit and gorgeous to look at. I photographed and ate them when we were in Mérida for one month. I couldn't believe a fruit could be so beautiful. But I never saw them growing.

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  3. In Davis, do you have to grow Fargesia in mostly shade? I would have thought the hot summers would be tough on Fargesia.

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  4. Linda, you're lucky living in Mérida. From all I've heard, it's a beautiful place.

    David, yes, all our fargesias (and borindas) are in 80-90% shade. Fargesia robusta might get a little more sun than the others, but it's supposed to handle it better.

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