Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pebbled tiger jaws (Faucaria tuberculosa)

One of the plants I brought home from the recent Succulent Gardens Extravaganza (see here and here) was this unusual South African succulent in a puny 2-inch container:

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Some of the plants I brought back from the Succulent Gardens Extravaganza

Its botanical name is Faucaria tuberculosa, but I find its common name much more interesting: pebbled tiger jaws. Taking a closer look at the plant, I can definitely see how the small white tubercles could remind someone of teeth.

Over time, Faucaria tuberculosa forms a small colony and will eventually look as beautiful as these specimens. This is a plant I want to enjoy up close so I’ll keep it potted, hoping that it will some day fill a small shallow bowl.

Planting it in the ground might not work too well here in Davis anyway since it doesn’t seem to be too hardy. In all likelihood, a light frost is all it can take (the literature is a bit vague on this subject). If I keep it in a pot, I can easily move it to the front porch together with the dozen of other frost-sensitive plants I have somehow managed to accumulate.

The reason why I’m writing about my tiger jaws today is that much to my surprise it has started to bloom! The flower is a bit squished, but it’s still a cheerful sight at a time of year when not much else is in flower.

Often it’s the small things (including small plants) that give you the biggest jolt of excitement!

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Faucaria tuberculosa flower. The dried black parts on the left are the remnants of old flowers.
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Faucaria tuberculosa
In this photo it’s easy to see the white tubercles that resemble teeth or spines.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wind!

Today has been a particularly windy day. I love watching the leaves chasing each other across the street but my eyes don’t appreciate all the grit suspended in the air—the bane of all contact-lens wearers.

I decided to take a video of the three clumping bamboos in front of our house: Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr,’ Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata,’ and Bambusa oldhamii. If you click through to YouTube, you can select a higher resolution.

Isn’t it beautiful how the culms move in the wind? The tallest culms haven’t even fully leafed out yet, otherwise they would sway even harder.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghost plant redux

Happy Halloween, everybody!

I was trying to think of a gardening- or plant-related topic that goes with Halloween. Then, as I stepped out the front door and saw the bowl of Graptopetalum paraguyense, I had it: ghost plant! That’s a pretty fitting plant to write about on Halloween.

I bought this particular specimen in late January, plopped it into a shallow bowl and set it by the front door where it gets bright light but very little direct sun. It has thrived in this sheltered location, and its leaves are light turquoise and pale purple hues (very hard to render accurately in digital images).

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While the bowl is to the side of the walkway, people—and especially our dog—sometime bump into the ghost plant. Its leaves fall off at the slightest touch, so this isn’t really the best spot for it. For months I’ve been thinking of moving it; however, since I do enjoy looking at it every time I come through the front door, it’s still in the same place.

Graptopetalum paraguyense is a prolific grower so any leaves that break off are soon replaced. Just take a look at the yellow areas in the next two photos. Miniature plants are forming right next to the break point.

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In addition, each leaf that breaks off has the potential to become a new plant. The two in the next photo had landed to the side of the pot and I didn’t notice them until this morning. Not only are there baby ghost plants forming, there are also adventitious roots ready to go to work.

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This morning I collected a handful of leaves showing signs of new growth as well as two larger pieces that had recently been knocked off by our dog.

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I filled small containers ranging from 2” to 3” inches in size with my succulent mix and simply placed the leaves on top. The broken off pieces I stuck vertically into the soil. With winter approaching, it will take a few months before significant new growth will occur but there should be some root growth even now.

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This is the second time I’m propagating Graptopetalum paraguyense this way. In this post from March I expressed uncertainty as to what would happen with the leaf cutting. Take a look at the next photo to see the result: a bunch of new ghost plants!

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As you can see, these offsets have a slight different color. They were kept in darker conditions than the specimen by the front door so the predominant hue is a very pal sea green. It’s actually quite attractive in its own right. This goes to show that some—actually quite a few—succulents do very well with much less light than many people think.

These plants were perfect until just a few days ago when some critter took small chunks out of some leaves. The taste must not have been that great, otherwise there would have been more damage.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blitz cleanup for Halloween

This summer, as if by magic, a lot of potted plants have accumulated on the flagstone walkway that goes from the driveway to the front door. I love the look of pots massed together, but with Halloween just a day away, I thought it prudent to do a quick cleanup in this area. While none of these plants would seriously injure any trick-or-treaters, I’m more concerned about the health and safety of the plants. You never know what kind of mischief human ghouls and goblins might be up to! The potted cacti a couple of photos down are especially tempting. Knocking them over would be sooooo easy!

This is what the bend of the walkway looked like this morning...

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…and now. Granted, I could have removed a few more pots, but this should be fine.

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Here are five potted cacti perched on top of the fence. Normally not a problem, but a little nudge is all it takes to knock them off their perch.

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So I put them away for the time being.


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Where did all the plants go, you might wonder?

They’re in the backyard in what will be new main potting area.

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I love these deep nursery trays. I got them used from Yucca Do Nursery in Texas. Unfortunately, they’re out of stock at the moment.

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After Halloween, I’ll have to get serious about building a rain shelter for my cacti. While the weather has been preternaturally beautiful, the winter rains will come sooner than we would like.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thinning out giant clumping timber bamboo

The giant clumping timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii) in front of the house has been going great guns this year. It’s hard to believe it hasn’t even been in the ground for two full years! Click here to read more about this particular specimen and to see photos of its progress.

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Bambusa oldhamii on 9/11/11

While the jungle look has its charms, I decided this morning to do some trimming to let some light and air into the center of the clump. My initial goal was to remove some lateral branches from the bottom to make the culms more visible. Somehow I ended up letting out my inner Edward Scissorhands and in addition to removing branches I also cut down the oldest—and thinnest—culms as well as a couple of thick but short culms (late shoots from last fall that didn’t mature before the winter and lost their tops to frost).

The difference from before is dramatic. You can now see the culms and the clump looks more balanced.

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Bambusa oldhamii on 10/29/11…
                                                                                                                              
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…after thinning

Here are two of those thick but congested culms. I’m keeping them for use as stakes.

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Two of the largest culms I cut down

Fortunately, the city of Davis has yard waste pickup, so all I had to do was form a neat pile by the curb.

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Yard waste pile
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Amazing how long some of the branches can get—each node has one main lateral branch and several other minor branches

Bambusa oldhamii is notorious as a late shooter. In fact, I discovered two new shoots this morning. They’re about 2 inches in diameter. I’m afraid they’re not going to fully extend before winter and will end up as thick, but congested, culms—just like the ones I removed this morning.

                                                                                                                                
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Two new shoots, about 2 inches in diameter at the bottom

Friday, October 28, 2011

My brain is fried

Do you sometimes find yourself absolutely brain dead at the end of a work day? While we all want to find intellectual fulfillment in our work, the reality is that some days are just stultifyingly boring. As the co-owner of a translation company, I deal with a lot of different materials on a daily basis. These are the subjects I worked on today: terms and conditions governing the use of photos for a mobile weather application; how to get a $50 Internet security software package for free; the new Yahoo! Autos web site; how to handle frozen neurohormone samples (centrifuge and aliquot them without 30 minutes of collection); reporting hepatic events in an experimental study of patients with acute heart failure (WTF are hepatic events anyway?); the latest trends in intelligent emergency response systems. Not to mention the fact that a client now needs translations into Icelandic!

All of that may sound interesting, and it is—in the abstract. But some days are just too much, and my poor head feels like it’s about to explode. At that point, I want nothing more than to escape into the garden and do some menial work: basic, repetitive, intuitive. Unfortunately, it gets dark earlier and earlier, so the opportunities to do yard work are restricted to the weekend. But at least I’m able to look out the window and enjoy the way the sun is backlighting the Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland’ that is flowering so beautifully.

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Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland’ and swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)

And in the evening I have a couple of bonsai books waiting for me. Not to mention the new episode of Modern Family that recorded last night.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum: bamboos and succulents

In my earlier posts about the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum I covered the South African Garden and the Australian Garden. After we left the Australian Garden, we found ourselves next to a series of greenhouses. They’re not open to the public, but I took a peek through a fence and saw a whole slew of succulents. I have no idea what kind of research they do there; maybe they just propagate more plants for their succulent garden (see below)?

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New and old world succulents
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Lots of echeverias on the tables, and columnar cacti on the ground

Since these greenhouses are off limits to the public, there was nothing we could do beyond taking a quick peek.

Right on the other side of the parking lot for the administrative offices and conference room, I spotted a couple of curiously shaped dome greenhouses and several stands of clumping bamboo. As bad as my eyesight might be getting in real life, my “bamboo eye” is as acute as ever!

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Clumping bamboo next to one of the domed greenhouses (this one contained cacti). Since this area isn’t technically part of the Arboretum, the bamboo wasn’t labeled, but it’s definitely a clumping mountain bamboo from the Himalayas.
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Fargesia or Borinda?
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Another large clump right next to the one shown in the two photos above.
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Anybody venture a guess what this is?

Across the way was another impressive stand of bamboos in front of the 2nd domed greenhouse. This one was much easier to identity; it’s a Chusquea from South America.

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Chusquea species, possibly Chusquea gigantea.
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Another view of the same Chusquea
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…and a couple of closeups…
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…of older culms
                                                                                                                             
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Older Chusquea culm (left) and new culm (right). The contrast in color is striking.

Near the stand of Chusquea was another large clumper, possibly Fargesia nitida, commonly called “blue fountain bamboo.” On closer inspection, it turned out that these are actually two plants.

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Fargesia nitida? (left) and Chusquea (right, behind tree)
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What looked like one large stand are actually two plants
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Fargesia nitida?

Up the hill behind the domed greenhouses and bamboos is the succulent garden. I didn’t expect much, considering that Santa Cruz is right on the ocean and has a lot of fog and very moderate summer temperatures.

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View of terraced succulent garden
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Clearly, the succulent garden is not irrigated in the summer…
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…as is evidenced by this aloe. Yes, it’s not an attractive specimen, but this is what they often look like in the wild after a long dry spell.
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This is Ferocactus peninsulae, a Mexican native. It’s barely alive and a far cry from the Ferocactus peninsulae I photographed at Succulent Gardens in Castroville just a few weeks earlier.
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On contrast, this unlabeled agave (possibly Agave montana) looks healthy
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Emerging flower spike on another agave

Adjacent to the succulent garden is a beautiful path through a jasmine arbor. While there weren’t many blossoms left, the air still carried the rich scent of jasmine. My favorite feature, however, was the potted Festival Grass™ (Cordyline x 'JURred' P.P. #14,224; a Monrovia introduction). The color was so intense, it looked almost fake. While cordylines grow well in the Sacramento area, our hot sun usually bleaches their color to much duller shades.

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Path with jasmine arbor…
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…and brilliantly colored Festival Grass™
(thank you, Mark and Gaz of Alternative Eden, for the ID)

Our last stop was at Norrie’s, the Arboretum gift shop. Their plant selection was impressive, especially the many South African and Australian shrubs (proteas, banksias, grevilleas, etc.). They also had some nicely locally made jewelry and crafts. If money were no object, I could go crazy in a place like that. But

prevailed, so my 10-year old daughter was the big spender, buying an eraser for 75 cents.

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