Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Recent plant purchases

After going crazy with bamboo in 2009 and 2010, this year I’ve switched to smaller scale plants and have begun to collect cacti and other succulents. They’re much easier to manage and display than bamboos that quickly grow to 20 ft. or more.

The one downside about collecting small succulents is the fact that every nursery and garden center around here sells them. Talk about temptation! Usually they’re in a prominent place, and it’s all too easy to pick up one or two even if you swore you wouldn’t. And it’s easy to justify the purchase because they’re cheap and small.

The online gardening forums are full of stories of people who’ve gotten addicted to collecting succulents and now own 100, 200, 300 specimens or even more. While I’m still far from that point, I must curb myself otherwise I’ll join their ranks. Is there an A.A. for plant addicts?

Anyway, here are my most recent purchases.

Our local ACE store is to blame for the first set. They had a great sale on 3” succulents from Lone Pine Gardens last week and I couldn’t resist getting a few.

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Discocactus araneispinus, a small cactus from Southern Brazil with long, curly spines. Considered the easiest member of the Discocactus genus, it’s still not an easy cactus to grow. It wants to be kept at temperatures above 50°F and can rot easily if overwatered. Of course I didn’t know any of these things when I bought it, but I like a challenge, so we’ll see if I can keep it alive.
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Mammillaria huitzilopochtli. I admit, I bought it as much for its beautiful spines as for its name, Huitzilopochtli being the Aztec god of war who required human sacrifice. I wonder if this tiny ball of spines will want my blood?
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Parodia buiningii, a relatively uncommon cactus native to Southern Brazil and Uruguay. Beautiful yellow flowers similar to my Parodia magnifica that bloomed this summer. It tolerates light frost, which is good, but has a reputation for losing its roots in the winter, which increases the risk of rot when you begin to water it again in the spring after its winter rest. I guess the solution is to water very sparingly for a while to give it a chance to grow new roots. So much to learn!

The next three cacti came from Walmart. I only go there twice or three times a year, and their succulents are often overwatered and showing signs of rot. However, this time I found some nice specimens.

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Rebutia albipilosa. The label says its flowers are white, but the photos I find online
(here, for example) show orange flowers.
                                                                                                                                                   
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Left: Chamaelobivia ‘Rose Quartz,’ apparently a cross between an echinopsis and a lobivia and commonly called “peanut cactus.” This one is supposed to have pink flowers.
Right: Euphorbia mammillaria ‘Variegata.’ Its common name is “Indian corn cob.” In spite of its shape, this is not a cactus but a South African succulent which, like all euphorbias, secretes a caustic white sap when injured.

The third group of plants came from last Saturday’s plant sale at the UC Davis Arboretum. The Arboretum is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and this plant sale was the best stocked ever. All the plants I ended up buying actually came from the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, which is part of the College of Biological Sciences. This is the same place where the corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) bloomed this summer.

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Echinocactus texensis. Its common name couldn’t be more descriptive: horse crippler. This Texas native is hardy to zone 7 and can tolerate moist and humid conditions.
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Aloe KG-14. This is one of the famous aloes created by Kelly Griffin, arguably the biggest superstar in the world of aloe hybridization. Some of his hybrids are crosses of three, four or maybe even more aloe species across several generations.
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This plant drew a lot of attention at the plant sale—no surprise considering its unique watermelon-red leaf margin and its turquoise coloration.
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I’ve seen small 4-5” specimens selling for $15 online. Mine is 12” across, and it was less than that at the plant sale.

The last plant I got at the UC Davis Arboretum plant sale is quite a rarity. It’s a bottle tree called Dencrosicyos socotrana, only found on the island of Socotra off the coast of Yemen. It’s common name is “cucumber tree,” alluding to the fact that botanically it’s a member of the Cucurbitaceae (or cucumber) family. In its native habitat, this succulent can grow to 18 ft.

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My Dencrosicyos socotrana is 24” tall, and its caudex (swollen base) has a diameter of 3” at ground level.
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The leaves do look a lot like cucumber or zucchini leaves.
                                                                                                                                                   
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Close up of the branches and trunks.
Dendrosicyos socotrana in its native habitat on Socotra Island
Image source: http://yemen.way-nifty.com/blog/2010/12/index.html

UC Davis played a pioneering role in propagating this rare succulent, discovering ways to get the plant to bloom and produce seeds and then successfully germinating the seeds. Apparently, this had been hard to do before. Here’s some background info for those who are interested.

I find myself fascinated not only by this cucumber tree, but by “fat plants” in general, as the group of succulents that form swollen bases are called. As I learn more, I will write a separate post.

In the meantime, I’ll make sure my small cucumber tree stays alive. I was advised that it has to be kept above 55°F (although other sources say it can take temperatures close to freezing), requires bright light 8-14 hours a day, and must not be overwatered—or underwatered. It sure sounds like this winter I’ll have a house guest living in my office!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Farfugium in the rain

As far as spectacular foliage goes, farfugiums are hard to beat. Most people have never heard of farfugiums before, but when they see one, they usually go “wow.”  Fellow bloggers Mark and Gaz at Alternative Eden recently featured an exhaustive survey of farfugiums in their collection, and I’ve blogged about our own farfugiums before (1 2).

In recent years farfugiums have become more available in local nurseries, and the UC Davis Arboretum has several in their downtown Arboretum Terrace. On Sunday morning we were showing out-of-town friends around and got caught in the first rain of the season. As brief as it was, the rain really brought out the textures of the giant farfugiums (Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’) at the Demonstration Garden, especially in contrast to the delicate venus hair fern (Adantium capillus-veneris) growing underneath them. I was very glad I had a camera along to capture this small vignette of plant magic.

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Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’  at UC Davis Arboretum Terrace Garden

In our hot-summer climate it’s almost impossible to grow tropical-looking plants with very large leaves, but Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’ does very well if protected from the afternoon sun.

At the other end of the temperature spectrum, Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’ is quite hardy. While its foliage dies back at about 20°F, its rootstock can survive temperatures as low as 0°F. That makes this Japanese woodland dweller a great choice for gardens in zone 7 and above.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bamboo bicycles at Davis Barber Shop

Davis has had a long association with bicycling. Rumor has it there are more bicycles per capita than anywhere else in the country. The fact that the terrain is as flat as can be makes bicycling a popular mode of transportation, especially on the campus of the University of California Davis where parking is hard to find (and expensive).

In 2005, Davis was the first city in the country to receive Platinum Level recognition from the League of American Bicyclists, and in 2010 Davis became home to the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame.

Walking around town today with friends from San Francisco, we came across two very funky looking bamboo bicycles. One even was a tandem! The owner of Davis Barber Shop, a well-known local institution, has quite a collection of these bikes and they can be seen in various places around town. What I didn’t know that they apparently are still in use (see the last photo).

I have no idea what species of bamboo they’re made from, but since the bamboo comes from Tahiti, it’s definitely one of the large tropical clumpers like Bambusa or Dendrocalamus.

Very quirky, and very cool, especially to a bamboo geek such as myself.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Running bamboos shooting for the 2nd time this year

Normally running bamboos—varieties with rhizomes that spread instead of forming a clump—produce new shoots in the spring as soon as the weather gets warm enough. In our area, this typically means March into early May. See these posts from earlier this year: 1 2 3.

Each new shoot quickly turns into a culm (technically not called a “cane” until it has been cut down) and forms new branches. The branches, in turn, grow the leaves that produce energy through photosynthesis.

As spring turns to summer, running bamboos focus their energy on rhizome development, storing energy for next year’s crop of culms.

That’s the normal development cycle of most running bamboos. However, four of our running bamboos—which had already gone through their regular shooting cycle in April—are now shooting again. I don’t know exactly why that is. Like all running bamboos in our garden, they are confined to containers. That, in itself, creates an artificial environment which affects plants in often unpredictable ways. In addition, September has turned out hotter than anticipated, with temperatures approaching and hitting the century mark this past week (it was 100°F yesterday and close to that today).

I’m very curious to see how these shoots will develop. It’s possible they’ll be weak and floppy, in which case I will remove them next year. But whatever the case may be, these four plants felt it necessary to produce additional shoots so I’ll let them do their thing for now.

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Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’
Recently transplanted from a pot to one of our stock tanks. Maybe this specimen is shooting because of all the extra room it now has available?
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Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’
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Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’
The green rectangles indicate the new shoots.
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Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon Inversa’
This shoot is emerging at an extreme angle and is thinner than the existing culms. Most likely, it’s what’s called a “whip shoot,” i.e. a rhizome that instead of continuing to grow underground, turns upward and becomes a culm. This situation is different from the other two bamboos (see below) because this shoot is emerging in the middle of the container, not along the edge.
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Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon Inversa’ (right),
Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’ (left)
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Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon’
These new culms are at the very edge of the pot so in all likelihood they are rhizomes forced upwards when hitting the container wall. This specimen will be moved to a larger pot just as soon as it cools down a little. I don’t like working in the heat!
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Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon’
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Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon’ (right),
Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Castillon Inversa’ (left)
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Phyllostachys viridis growing in a galvanized steel tub. As with the ‘Castillon,’ these new culms are at the edge of the tub. If the plant had been in the ground, they probably would have continued to travel underground as rhizomes. It’s still amazing to think that what you see here started out as a 15 inch length of rhizome (no culms at all) a fellow bamboo enthusiast mailed to me in April 2010.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Succulent bed highlights

I’ve been in a “stock taking” mood lately, looking at various parts of the garden to see how they’ve come along. Comparing the current state to, say, last year is useful in assessing what has done well and what hasn’t—and whether you’re happy with the way things have progressed.

I’ve already made some changes recently to one small part of the succulent bed next to our front door, replacing crassulas and echeverias with colony-forming cacti that should tolerate the daytime heat and the searing summer sun a little better.

Now I’m looking at other areas of the succulent bed to see where tweaking might be necessary.

This post describes the origins of this succulent bed. The larger plants have now been in place for 2½ years. Succulents don’t grow as explosively as bamboos do, for example, so progress has been more measured. However, you can see progress even compared to last year. Just take a look at the first two photos.

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Succulent bed in July 2010
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Succulent bed in August 2011
The biggest difference is the size of the variegated agave (Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’) and the coral aloe (Aloe striata) in the center of the photo.
                                                                                                                                
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This variegated yucca (Yucca recurvifolia ‘Margaritaville’) was planted last fall. It replaced a plain green Yucca filamentosa (see photo from July 2010) which, much to my surprise, failed to thrive and began to look ratty. ‘Margaritaville’ has been a big success, and one of my favorites in this bed.
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This stunning agave (Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’) has thrived over the last 2½ years and now has close to a dozen “pups” (or babies).
The bluish-green succulent on the right is called Senecio vitalis. It was planted in February 2011 and has almost doubled in size.
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Closeup of Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’. Its leaves were marred by hail in May; you can still see the pock marks in the bottom leaves. However, it’s amazing how many new leaves the plant has produced since then.
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Some of the pups surrounding the mother plant. I definitely have enough to trade now.
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While the larger architectural plants form the backbone of this succulent bed, I added quite a few smaller succulents for variety. On the right is a Pachysedum (a cross between a Pachyphytum and a Sedum) and on the left an Aloe aristata.
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Another Aloe aristata. It’s gone dormant for the summer, forming a tight ball with the outer leaves turning brown. Once cooler and wetter weather returns, the rosette will open up and resume its growth. Not the prettiest plant in the summer, but worth keeping for the winter and spring.
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Echeveria ‘Perle von Nürnberg.’ One of my favorite echeverias for its intense purple color. Echeverias, I’ve learned, do not like our hot summers. They do survive but definitely suffer. This is one protected from the hot afternoon sun, and it will look perkier come fall.
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These two have proven to be real troopers:
Left: Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’
Right: Aloe striata
                                                                                                                                
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Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ also suffered hail damage in May, but has had a tremendous growth spurt so the marred leaves are not that visible anymore. It always amazes me how fast some agaves grow when given regular water during summer. This particular agave is not particularly cold-hardy and needs to be covered when temperatures drop below 28°F.
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Agave schidigera var. filifera. One of my favorites, but others find it a bit too intimidating. This specimen has a lot of threads, nicely complimenting the white marking in the leaves.
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The leaf shape of the Yucca gloriosa (in the background, left) is mirrored by the ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) in the foreground (right). Ponytail palm is not a palm at all, but a very slow-growing and eventually tree-sized succulent from eastern Mexico. There is a lot of conflicting information as to their cold hardiness, but ours has been in the ground since the beginning and hasn’t sustained any frost damage.
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Our Beaucarnea recurvata is actually a little family of three plants—I assume three seedlings sprouting in close vicinity. The caudex (the modified round stem that stores water) looks quite impressive even in an immature plant.
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The hanging leaves from the Beaucarnea recurvata provide effective sun protection for smaller succulents that don’t want to bask in the hot late-afternoon sun. This Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoriae-reginae) is loving its spot. A mature specimen is easily one of the most stunning of all succulents.
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Much smaller and striped horizontally instead of vertically, this zebra plant (Haworthia attenuata) loves a spot in dappled shade. Not considered very cold hardy, ours has shrugged off dips down to 26°F. The overhanging leaves from the ponytail palm definitely give added protection.
                                                                                                                                               
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Agave ‘Blue Glow’ on the left is particularly stunning when backlit by the evening sun (not easy to reproduce in our garden since our specimen is in the shade when the sun is low).
On the right is one of the weirder succulents in common cultivation, a flapjack plant (Kalanchoe luciae). In the summer it looks more green, but colder temperatures bring out the blues and reds. This one turned to mush in the winter of 2009 but has come back since then. Definitely not cold-hardy.