Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tower of jewels: new beginnings

In May, our tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii) finally started to bloom. I had been waiting for this since I planted it in the fall of 2009. Tower of jewels is a drought-tolerant biennial from the Canary Islands; in year 1 it produces a rosette of soft gray-green leaves, and in year 2 the rosette elongates into a cone up to 8 ft. tall (ours was only about 5 ft.) eventually covered with small flowers. Check out my original post; it has lots of photos of the flowers.

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May 18, just past its peak

Like all biennials, tower of jewels dies after setting seeds. And it is a seed-making machine! I have no idea how many there were, but probably thousands. Check out this post from June about the seed production stage.

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June 11, done blooming
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June 16, seeds

By mid-July, the flower cone had dried up completely, and I’m sure quite a few seeds fell off into the surrounding planting bed. No seedlings yet as far as I can tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some pop up later in the year.

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July 24, completely dried up

Initially, the flowers were as soft as the leaves on the rosette had been—they had the same tactile quality as lamb’s ears. However, as they began to dry up, what was left became hard and prickly, unpleasantly so. In fact, after touching the plant, tiny barbs remain in your skin—much like what happens when you touch one of those soft-looking Bunny Ears prickly pears (Opuntia microdasys 'Albata').

At the end of July, I cut down the top ⅔ of the tower (wearing thick gloves!) and stripped off the seed heads onto a tarp spread out on the lawn. My mother, who was visiting at the time, separated the seeds from the chaff and we ended up with a nice little pile.

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July 24, Christmas tree-like skeleton remaining after we had harvested the seeds
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Then something curious happened. This is what the remaining ⅓ of the tower looked like after I had cut off the top:

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July 24, topped tower

By early August, new leaves had begun to grow from the stalk!

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August 3, new leaves?

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Actually, I had hoped that this would happen. I’d read a post on Dave’s Garden by a gardener in Southern California who reported a second bloom after cutting off the top of the tower. I have no idea if my tower will bloom again or whether it will simply expend its remaining energy on a few leaves, but time will tell.

In the meantime, I placed some seeds in a pot filled with well-draining soil, and after three weeks six seedlings have come up. I will coddle them along until they’re big enough to go into their own pots and eventually in the ground. I’m not sure I have room for six towers of jewels, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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August 10, seedlings

2 comments:

  1. You're going to have loads of them now sprouting randomly in the next few years. But it won't be a nuisance, easy enough to weed and pull out. Well done on getting it to flower in your yard, something we have yet to achieve here. And it looks like you'll have a multi branched specimen too :)

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  2. Mark and Gaz, our climate seems to be similar enough to the Canary Islands (albeit it hotter) that Echium wildpretii blooms fairly reliably.

    Interestingly, other echiums (like Pride of Madeira) prefer the cooler coastal climate. You see them everywhere in San Francisco and points north, but not so much inland.

    I'd love to visit the Canary Islands to see the remarkably plant life (and of course the beaches). Have you been? You're so much closer than we are.

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