Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fort Hauchuca Agave

Agave parryi var. hauchucensis

Agave parryi var. hauchucensis, commonly called Fort Hauchuca Agave, is native to Cochise County, in southeastern Arizona. It is a varietal of A. parryi, and has a shorter, wider leaf than the A. parryi, with pronounced leaf indentations. It's a great Agave for the low desert. It takes full sun, and is cold tolerant to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Once established it needs very little water. Although it freely offsets, it is a slow grower. My Fort Hauchuca Agave plants have been in the ground for three years, and are still quite small, with no offsets. The long, brown terminal spines are somewhat wavy on close examination. The marginal spines are also brown.

When this Agave gets older it will send up a 12 foot stalk in summertime. At the top of the stalk, lemon yellow flowers will emerge. The flowers are quite attractive and last for several weeks. Some sources claim the flowers smell like coconut. I can't verify that as I've never been that close to the flowers. This Agave, as with most other Agave species, is prone to attacks from the agave snout weevil. (This is the worm found in bottles of Mexican Mescal.)

I've always been fascinated with the reasons plants get their common names. Lucky for me, this Agave's common name comes with a history, which I've capsulized.

Cochise County is home to the Hauchuca Mountains, where this Agave is found in abundance at elevations of 5000 to 9000 feet. The name Hauchuca originated from the language of a local Native American tribe, and translates to "place of thunder." Locals refer to the Hauchuca Mountains as "Thunder Mountains." Fort Hauchuca is at the base of these mountains. Fort Hauchuca began as a camp established by the U.S. Army during the time of the Indian Wars in the 1870s. It was put in place to protect settlers and travelers from Indians. The reason for the Fort has changed over time, and currently it is a major military installation in Arizona.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Twofer Veggie

Brassica oleracea var. acephala

Ornamental kale is a twofer--a plant that provides two benefits in one. However, I use it only as cheap winter color for some of the large pots in my garden. Since it is also edible, many folks like to use it as garnish, or prepare it the same way as regular kale or cabbage.

Ornamental kale is available as an annual every fall in local nurseries, so I purchased enough to fill three pots. Many gardeners use it as a border plant, and in some of our large resorts, it is planted en masse in very large beds, and outlined with mums. Last year, I saw it used a lot in common areas of shopping centers. I imagine it is used everywhere in this same way.

The only problem I have with it is it grows very fast once planted and becomes leggy, losing its appeal as it ages. If it gets too warm, it loses some of the color, thus defeating the reason for planting it. If that happens this year, I guess I'll eat it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Gasteria bicolor ~ Lawyer's Tongue

Gasteria bicolor

A good succulent for the Phoenix area is Gasteria, especially G. bicolor, which has a high heat tolerance. However, it does prefer light shade in this region. I have several varieties of Gasteria, all acquired as giveaways at our local Cactus and Succulent Society meetings. Gasteria freely offsets, so club members always seem to have an abundance of pups to spare. The genus has never been one to capture my attention, but it's hard to turn down free stuff.

One thing I like about this Gasteria species is the feel of the leaves. They are tough and leather like. They feel like a stiff, new belt. As the plant gets older, the leaves can grow to eight inches long, and they have a tendency to snap if bumped. The plant can get a foot tall and wide. In summer, an Aloe-like (they are related to the Aloe genus) stalk grows from the center of the leaves, and little pink flowers shaped like stomachs appear on the branches. The name Gasteria comes from the Latin word for stomach.

This South African genus contains about 20 species. Several sources say that most Gasteria acquired in nurseries are hybrids, so true species identification is impossible. The G. bicolor is commonly known as Lawyer's Tongue. I'll leave it to you to figure out why.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Late Bloomer

Chamaelobivia x 'Fire Chief'

'Fire Chief' usually finishes its flowering by mid-September, but as with many of my plants, it broke its pattern this year and continued blooming off and on, producing this flower earlier this week. Another bud will open in a week or so.

This Harry Johnson cultivar is a hybrid cross of Echinopsis and Chamaecereus sylvestrii. The cactus stems are long, thin, and somewhat floppy, growing in many directions. I love the tissue-like, brilliant orange flowers that haven't lost their intensity over the long bloom season.

Cactus lovers owe a lot to Harry Johnson. He was a California cacti specialist who produced numerous Echinopsis hybrids in the 1930s and 1940s. He became famous for his gorgeous hybrids with spectacular flowers, many of which are still as popular today. Other hybridizers have developed striking Echinopsis hybrids, but Harry Johnson was the pioneer in this field.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Whale's Tongue Agave

Agave ovatifolia

Several years ago, I attended a fall garden festival and won this Agave ovatifolia in a raffle. It was in a 5-gallon container and fully rooted. It had obviously come from a nursery, rather than as an unrooted offset from some contributor's garden, so it was a nice prize for me. I was in a hurry to get it in the ground, so I put it in a spot that turned out not to be the best choice.

Over the past couple of summers, this Agave has suffered from sun burnt leaves. It is in an area where my yard slopes upward, so it receives the full brunt of a southern exposure. I've since learned that this species does better in filtered light. I've nursed it along by placing shade cloth over it in July and August, but the exposure is just too much for it, so I'm going to be moving it next week to an area more suited to its needs.

Unlike many Agaves, the A. ovatifolia does not produce offsets. It's just as well. This solitary succulent can get huge--up to five feet high and six feet wide if given supplemental water. I did not run an emitter to this Agave, as I wanted it to remain on the small side. I water it by hand monthly nine months a year, and every two weeks in summer, so it is growing slowly.

Friday, October 26, 2007

There's A Cactus In There

Mammillaria plumosa

When I first obtained this Mammillaria plumosa, (Feather Cactus) it had beautiful, fluffy white, feathery spines and had not yet tillered. (Tillered is another term for clumping or producing basal offsets.) It remained beautiful until I accidentally doused it during my watering routine. It then looked like it needed a good shampoo, but that was taboo.

It’s important not to get the spines wet when watering this species. Actually, the proper method is to place it in a dish of water, and let the soil absorb the water through the drain hole. Because it looked so ratty and had a spongy feel a few weeks later, I thought it had rotted, but I didn’t dump it right then. I just left it where I keep spare pots and stuff, figuring it would dry up and I would dispose of it later.

A few months later, I was looking for a pot in my stash. Much to my amazement, this supposedly rotting cactus had tillered and now had seven new heads. I hadn't watered it in months, it had gone through the heat of May, and actually thrived.

As this Mexico native continues to grow, it will produce more and more heads until it looks like a shallow bowl of cotton balls. Next month, I will give it one last drink until late March. During this winter rest, it may or may not produce inconspicuous white flowers. One never knows. It is not a reliable bloomer. Nevertheless, it’s certainly a survivor!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blowing In The Wind

Ulmus parvifolia

This time of year in other regions, the leaves of the trees are turning the reds and golds we all associate with the season and as the leaves start to fall, folks are out raking and trying to keep ahead of the mess. Since most of my trees are native trees that retain their leaves, I don’t have to get into the leaf raking business.

However, the two Chinese Elms (Ulmus parvifolia) in my front yard are semi-deciduous, and by January, many, if not all the leaves will have dropped. In late November, some leaves become a brown-red color before falling. Others remain green, and if the weather is mild, those leaves will remain.

Right now, the Chinese Elms have formed fruit, called samaras, that are flat, quarter-inch flakes with a seed in the center. I think the trees, with their still-green fruit, are at their most attractive. Soon, these little winged fruits will start drying. Once dry, they will be thin and papery, and easily dislodge and blow in the wind.

Because of location of the trees, the samaras end up in my courtyard on the rough cobblestone pavers. They pile up in all the cracks, and my fountain becomes a sea of samaras. The texture, size, and shape of the samaras make them difficult to sweep up. It seems like they cling tenaciously to any surface. I have to use a blower to get them out of the courtyard. I think raking leaves would be the easier job!

My Chinese Elms are young and currently only 15 feet high, but these trees can reach heights of 40 to 50 feet and have a spread of 40 feet. I can’t even imagine the mess! My courtyard will be knee deep in samaras. I really don’t think I need to worry about that. By the time the trees reach that size, I’ll be blowing in the wind myself.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jabily, AKA Elephant Tree

Operculicarya decaryi

An unusual plant with tuberous roots is Operculicarya decaryi, or Jabily. It is frequently used as a bonsai subject, but I didn’t purchase it for that purpose. I just liked the shape of plant and its tiny green leaves. The twisted, exposed roots were a bonus. As it matures, it won’t be as attractive as it is now.

This Madagascar plant is a bit rare, and expensive. You won’t find it in garden centers. In its native habitat or in mild climates, it can grow into a tree with a trunk three feet in diameter, and it can reach 30 feet high. In late winter, it will get tiny dark red flowers near the ends of the branches. Right now, it is fully leafed out with dark green leaves, but the leaves will turn a dark red-brown when cold weather arrives.

If there is any danger of frost, I will bring it in the house for the duration. It can be deciduous at temperatures in the high twenties. Although it is considered frost sensitive, collectors report that it can take some frost and not be damaged other than the loss of leaves, which will readily grow back as soon as the weather warms.

I will soon have to start pruning the stems back as the main stem is now over a foot long. If left alone, the stems will twist, gnarl, and stay quite thin. I should have cut the stems back months ago, but I’ve always had a problem pruning stuff.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mexican Pin Cushion

Mammillaria magnimamma 'macracantha'

Another popular Mammillaria species is the Mammillaria magnimamma. The stems of the M. magnimamma 'macracantha' will never get larger than about four inches in diameter, but as it ages, it will grow new stems from the base, and eventually form large clumps. Since this specimen will remain potted, it will not clump as readily.

Commonly known as the Mexican Pincushion, its native habitat is Mexico. The scientific name, Mammillaria, means nipple-like, and “magni” means increased size. The reason for its name is self-evident. The white cottony substance in the axils, called wool, is more prevalent in younger specimens. The wool is there for protection from sun and cold. In Phoenix, it needs to be in light shade. Unlike some Mammillaria species, it needs no special protection in winter.

I have several M. magnimamma 'macracantha' in my collection, but no M. magnimamma, which has longer spines and usually produces pink flowers. The 'macracantha' has yellowish flowers. I prefer the look of the spines on the 'macracantha' but I like the flowers of the M. magnimamma more. I understand that there is a wide variation of flower colors on this species, so maybe I'll be surprised when it produces its first flowers.

Monday, October 22, 2007

This Old Lady Needs More Hair

Mammillaria hahniana

My Old Lady Cactus (Mammillaria hahniana) specimen has shorter white "hair" than many that I've seen. Some older specimens have hair that is three inches long and sticking straight out like some wild thing. The fine hair is actually modified spines, which serve to protect the cactus surface from the harsh sun. The whiteness is to reflect the sun. Maybe my cactus has shorter hair because I keep it in a lightly shaded area in the summer. It may be a little too shady, so I'm going to acclimate it to more sun, and see what happens.

The M. hahniana, a Mexico native, is an endangered species there and can’t be moved. Commercial growers propagate it with seed, so there is no shortage in this country. It is one of the easiest species to grow; therefore, it's one of the most popular, especially with kids. It seems every garden center always has a few.

In the spring, small, purple-red flowers grow in a ring near the top of the cactus. The remnants of flowers from this past spring, and even earlier springs, are clearly visible on my specimen. Next spring, the ring will be higher up, as the flowers develop on new growth.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Zonal Geranium

Pelargonium hortorum 'Hot Coral'

At a local nursery this week, I found one of the prettiest colors I've seen in Zonal Geraniums (Pelargonium hortorum). Every fall, I fill my empty containers with Zonal Geraniums for fall/winter/spring color, so I bought several of them.

In the Phoenix area, Zonal Geraniums do especially well from October until May, and other than constant dead heading and regular watering, they are easy to grow. Although it's possible to grow them year-round here, they must have light shade in the summer, but even in shade, the leaves become yellow, and the flowers sparse, so I remove them from the containers by mid-May.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who appreciated ‘Hot Coral’, as I purchased the last few that were left. In the past, I always stuck with the red or pink shades, but when I saw this color, I just had to get it. Most folks would be surprised at how well Zonal Geraniums complement desert landscaping, and 'Hot Coral' will fit right in.

Although Zonal Geraniums are easily propagated with cuttings, the tag on my purchases stated, in bold capital letters, PATENTED VARIETY: PROPAGATION STRICTLY PROHIBITIED. I don’t intend to propagate these annuals, but it makes me wonder—how would anyone know?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Southwest Fall Color

Ferocactus wislizenii Flower and Fruit

The last flower on a potted Ferocactus wislizenii is coming to the end of its life cycle, having lasted weeks longer than earlier ones. Blooming late has some advantages, because the lower temperatures do not dry out the flowers as quickly. However, a flower this late is unusual. Normally, the flowers have gone to fruit by mid-September, but this year, many weird things happened in my garden. Getting late flowers is one of the better happenings, so no complaint here!

The yellowing fruit on the cactus will eventually dry to a scaley brown, and then crumble and blow away. Barrel cactus fruits are not edible as with some other cacti, not because they are poisonous, but because they are small and don’t have a lot of flesh. As they mature, they are somewhat juicy, but not enough to spend time harvesting.

In the past, Native Americans boiled and ate the flowers, or made a tea with them. Other than that, there wasn't much use for the flowers or fruit in their culture. Nowadays, some people like to dry the flowers when they are at their best, and use them in oils and soaps. They have no fragrance, so I guess it’s for looks. I think the flowers look better left on the cactus where they will eventually form fruit. By fall, the dried yellow and brown fruit is in keeping with the season.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Agave angustifolia 'Marginata'

Agave angustifolia 'Marginata'

In the past week, I’ve dug up, callused, and replanted seven pups from my three Agave angustifolia ‘Marginata’ plants. I think this species is the most prolific pup producer of them all. There are 12 more pups to remove, and if I can persuade a few people to take some, I’ll finish this job for the season.

The A. angustifolia, considered a mid-sized Agave, will get about three feet in diameter, but some will grow to six feet. I think they are one of the most attractive of the genus, with their leaves margined in white. The spines are white, and the terminal spines have red tips.

In this region the A. angustifolia, is known as Maguey Lechugilla. There are many cultivars of this species, with varying widths of the stripes on the leaves, as well as a reverse coloration where the inner portion is white and the outer, green. It is one most sun tolerant Agaves, with no sun damage, even with a full southern exposure. It performs equally well in an area with only morning sun.

I’ve seen this species used as a house and office plant in places with contemporary and modern furnishings. With the many very sharp terminal spines, it’s not something to use where there are kids or pets or clumsy adults!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gone To Seed

Hesperaloe parviflora Seed Pod

"There are times to cultivate and create, when you nurture your world and give birth to new ideas and ventures. There are times of flourishing and abundance, when life feels in full bloom, energized and expanding. And there are times of fruition, when things come to an end. They have reached their climax and must be harvested before they begin to fade. And finally of course, there are times that are cold, and cutting and empty, times when the spring of new beginnings seems like a distant dream. Those rhythms in life are natural events. They weave into one another as day follows night, bringing, not messages of hope and fear, but messages of how things are."
~ Chogyam Trunypa

Hesperaloe parviflora Seeds

For more information on Hesperaloe parviflora (Red Yucca) see a previous post.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Huernia primulina

Huernia primulina

I almost missed the first Huernia primulina flower of the season this week. It flowered a little early, and caught me off guard. The buds are small and blend in with the top dressing in the container, so they are hard to see. If it weren’t for the dark wine center, I would have passed it up while touring my garden today. There is another bud in the top left portion of this photo, and it should open within the week.

The H. primulina is one of 60 species of Huernia. The flowers are not as dramatic as others in the species since they are small, and sort of beige, except for the center. This species has a prominent ring shaped protrusion near the center called an annulus. It reminds me of a tiny tire tube. The star shaped flowers emit only a faint carrion smell, unlike some in the genus, which have such a strong smell that it is almost sickening. The reason the flowers have that nasty scent is to attract flies to pollinate the species.

This South African plant takes little care and I keep it in bright shade on my patio. It cannot take sun and will burn if in direct sunlight. It readily clumps, and forms new stems every growing season. I occasionally take a cutting from the mother plant and start some new plants, just by letting a portion of the cut stem touch the soil. It quickly roots, and I have a brand new plant.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Crested Cutie

Austrocylindropuntia subulata F. cristate

No one knows for sure why some cacti form this crested shape. As I mentioned in a previous post about another crested cactus I own, there are various theories, but it appears to be an accident of nature.

This Austrocylindropuntia subulata F. cristate is very fast growing. It started as a small single cactus in a four-inch pot just two years ago, has since grown to fill this eight-inch pot, and has produced several new crested pads. It keeps the little needle-like leaves year round.

It thrives on neglect. I don’t water it often, and have never fertilized it because fertilization will sometimes cause cristate cacti to split. When this specimen produced offshoots, they appeared to be a normally shaped A. subulata, but after a while, the crests began to appear.

I have a normal Austrocylindropuntia subulata that I wrote about recently, so check out the photo to see what that looks like. You would never guess they are of the same genus and species!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Orange Skimmer Dragonfly

After hundreds of tries, I've finally captured a photo of a dragonfly, and I didn't have a tripod! That may not seem like a big deal to some, but I've worked on this for months, and the photos were always blurry. This Orange Skimmer (Libellula saturata) must have been tired as it stayed on the tip of an Agave americana long enough for me to rush in and get my camera, aim, and shoot. When I tried to move around to get a shot of its eyes, it finally flew away.

I was surprised to see this dragonfly in my garden as they are usually found near ponds or streams. They are the most common dragonfly in Arizona, and they are also called Flame Skinners. The one pictured is a male. The females have less orange coloration and the wings are clearer in color.

While checking my accuracy on its identity, I learned a few things about dragonflies:

  • The front and back wings of a dragonfly move in opposite directions, giving them unparalleled maneuverability

  • They are one of the fastest flying insects

  • The reason they hang around water is that when the eggs hatch, the nymphs will eat plants and even fish and tadpoles

  • They have territories, and will fiercely defend them

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Flower of the South Wind

Zephyranthes candida

Every fall, the stands of white rain lily (Zephyranthes candida) in my garden suddenly flower, seemingly overnight. The other rain lilies haven’t done much, which is a shame because they are actually prettier. One stand is a beautiful apricot, and the other, a pale pink. Rain Lilies, also called Zephyr Flower and Fairy Lily, are frequently found in desert gardens, as they are drought tolerant, and can take full sun.

There is something fanciful about this flower. According to most sources, Zephyranthes means “flower of the south wind” and candida means white. However, the definition of zephyr means "mild wind" and zephuros in ancient Greek means “west wind.” It makes me wonder which way the wind was blowing when this flower acquired its name. In The Language of Flowers, Zephyranthes means, “fond caresses,” and another source states Zephyr Flower stands for “expectation.” Altogether, I find the names and meanings quite charming. Just like the flower.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Wildflower or Weed?

Since the weather has cooled, unexpected wildflowers from last year's fall sowing have started to emerge, and a couple of new varieties that have popped up that weren't in the spring beds. I have no idea what any of them are. They could be weeds for all I know.

Several tiny plants with orange flowers have already bloomed. The five-petaled flowers are only 1/4 inch in diameter, with a magenta center. The leaves are also quite small. This macro photo is deceptive as to the size of these flowers and leaves. I’ve looked through Kirti Mathura's book “The Arizona Low Desert Flower Garden,” and can't find anything that even remotely resembles this flowering plant.

I'll soon be clearing out this planting area in preparation for sowing new seeds, so whether wildflower or weed, these little cuties will have to go.

"What is a weed?

A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."

~ Emerson

NOTE: Identified by Sara at Farming Friends as Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis). It's definitely a weed, and poisonous, but it has been used as a folk remedy for various ailments.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Born Too Late

Lagenaria siceraria

On a nice October day a couple of years ago, I was cleaning out the seeds and debris from the inside of a bottle gourd shell (Lagenaria siceraria) as preparation for a gourd art project, when a gust of wind scattered the stuff across my garden.

I had been especially careful about keeping the seeds contained, as I did not want volunteer gourd vines growing all over the place. I spent a good deal of time picking up what seeds and debris I could find, but looking for gourd seeds on decomposed granite groundcover is more difficult than looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. As expected, I’ve ended up with a few volunteer plants over the past 24 months.

The problem is the volunteers never sprout at the right time. The vine in the photo is about five weeks old. I've decided to let it grow, just to see how long it will last. All the others that sprouted the past two years have died after a month or two, either from heat or cold. March is the ideal gourd planting time in my region. Not a single seed has started in March. The current gourd vine has been flowering for a week, but no gourds are forming. However, the vine looks pretty, so it's serving a good purpose.

Welburn Gourd Farm near Fallbrook, California grows very thick-shelled gourds for crafters. The scattered seeds came from a gourd I chose while at the farm attending the Annual International Gourd Art Festival, so when I look at my little volunteer vine it reminds me of the fun times I had at the Festival with my daughter and my sister.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Color Purple

Opuntia santa-rita

The cooler weather has triggered my Santa Rita Prickly Pear (Opuntia santa-rita) pads to change color from a blue-green to the purple you see in the photo. This change is caused by the chemical pigment, Betacyamin, found in plants within the Caryophyllales order, which contains a diverse group including carnations, cacti, and ice plants, to name a few. Other stresses, such as lack of water, will also cause the purple tinge.

Because of its beautiful coloring, Santa Rita Prickly Pear is a must for any desert garden. The purple pads look especially attractive when surrounded by yellow-orange California Poppies in the spring. It is slow growing except when young and it remains a manageable size, about 3' high by 6' wide. Most gardeners keep it pruned to a smaller width.

Its origin is Arizona, (found extensively in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson) Texas and Northern Mexico. Although it usually doesn’t have spines, it has an abundance of glochids, so handle it with care.

It is also one of the easiest prickly pears to propagate. Just snap off a pad, let it callus for a few days, and place half the pad in the ground. Unlike some other prickly pears, it will quickly root. It requires no water (except rainwater) after it’s established, and in the spring, it produces large, pale yellow flowers, followed by dark purple-red fruits.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mojave Prickly Pear

Opuntia phaeacantha

At a recent community yard sale, I picked up this Mojave Prickly Pear (Opuntia phaeacantha) for a bargain (at least compared to nursery prices). I saw several pots of it near his front door that looked very attractive, so I thought I needed yet another species of Opuntia in my garden.

The guy who sold it to me casually mentioned that it probably had not fully rooted as he had placed it in a container only a month ago. When I moved it to a decorative pot, it was obvious that he had just stuck it in the potting soil, probably a day before the sale! No matter—it will eventually root, with no harm done. Sometimes it takes up to six months before roots form on planted pads, and as long as the potting soil remains relatively dry, the pad will not rot.

This slow growing species is common throughout the Southwest. It forms clumps, sprawling up to 15 feet wide. It grows to about four feet high. In the wild, it hybridizes with other Opuntia species, so true identification is difficult. The one pictured displays all the characteristics of the O. phaeacantha so I don't believe this is a hybrid.

One of the reasons I wanted this species is for its long and profusely spined pads. In spring, it will have golden-yellow flowers, followed by fruit that eventually turns wine red. The fruits are very sweet and juicy, and often used to make candies and jellies.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Another Sans To See

Sansevieria suffruticosa v. longituba

Another Sansevieria species that I have is the S. suffruticosa v. longituba, which has an architecturally interesting growth habit. This semi-succulent can’t take sun or frost, so it stays potted so I can move it as necessary. Starting in November, I will not water this specimen until mid-February, as it is very rot-prone in winter.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this genus contains 60 species and an untold number of cultivars. I commented yesterday that Sansevieria was in the Agavaceae family. This is no longer the case. The genus, now classified in the Dracaenaceae family, originates from Arabia, Africa, and India. It’s difficult to keep up with the seemingly constant reclassification that goes on in the plant world.

Some folks specialize in collecting Sansevieria cultivars, and there is even a Society for them. I like them well enough, but unless I see another really different species, I think I’ll stick to the few I have.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Sansevieria trifasciata 'Moonshine'

Sansevieria trifasciata 'Moonshine'

Up until a few years ago, I had no idea there were cultivars of the old-fashioned parlor plant, Sansevieria trifasciata, or Mother-in-law’s Tongue. I kept one in the house for many years, then tired of it and moved it outside, where it finally succumbed to over watering. (Not by me--my spouse managed to kill it while I was on a trip).

I also had no idea that Sansevieria was in the Agavacaeae family, and that there are about 60 species in the genus. Since then, I’ve acquired several Sansevieria species, all potted and all different. The latest is the S. trifasciata ‘Moonshine’ shown in the photo.

This one came to me several months ago as an offset given away at our local Cactus and Succulent Society meeting. I liked the pale look of it, so I brought it home and potted it, and now it has grown a new offset of its own. When the leaves are young, they are a beautiful pale slivery green with a dark green margin. The leaf will eventually darken to an olive green with age, and will acquire some banding. Since it freely offsets, it there will always be some of the pale leaves showing.

This plant does best in light shade, and it is drought tolerant. One thing I’ve learned about S. trifasciata is that it can be propagated with leaf cuttings. I’ve never tried this technique, so I’m going to put it on my growing list of garden related things to do.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Orange Jubilee

Tecoma stans 'Orange Jubilee'

October in Arizona brings bright blue skies and more vivid colors to plants that just a couple of weeks ago were sun bleached and exhausted. As cooler temperatures arrived, Tecoma stans 'Orange Jubilee' began producing larger, more profuse flowers with a far more vibrant orange coloring than before.

This T. stans hybrid grows and flowers year-round as long as we don’t have freezing temperatures. When that happens, I just cut them back and they start growing again in spring. They can grow to nine feet high in one year, as this plant did after freezing to the ground this past winter.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Ruby Rainbow Hedgehog

Echinocereus rigidissimus var. rubispinus

Echinocereus rigidissimus
var. rubrispinus, known as Ruby Rainbow Hedgehog, is a beautiful cactus with red-pink, very dense spines arranged in such a way that they are harmless. Its magenta flowers are quite large and appear in late spring. As the blooms fall off, small whitish scars remain. This columnar cactus stays small, usually growing not more than nine inches tall.

This cactus, called a calcifuge because it does not like alkaline soil, originated in Arizona, New Mexico and Northern Mexico. I find the fact that this cactus is a calcifuge odd, as the soil in Arizona is quite alkaline. I don’t normally water this cactus as it only requires rainwater, but I do occasionally water it in the summer with water that has a tad of vinegar added to counter the alkaline soil. I do not water it at all in winter, as it is rot-prone. It seems to be growing just fine.

Most people are more familiar with the Arizona Rainbow Hedgehog (Echinocereus rigidissimus) which has bands of grey and red spines at irregular intervals. It is also attractive, and has the same gorgeous flowers. Usually the Arizona Rainbow's red color deepens in full sun, causing the alternating color variation to stand out even more.

Friday, October 5, 2007

No Rain

Those dark, rolling clouds sure looked promising, but nothing happened. Not a drop of rain fell. The bright blue sky peeking through fast moving clouds was truly a rare sight, so I had to snap this photo and post it rather than my usual plant photos and info. It lasted only a few seconds and then the clouds closed over that small piece of sky. It was a lucky break to have captured that moment of blue.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Old Man Andes

Oreocereus celsianus

Old Man Andes is the common name for the Oreocereus celsianus, as a nod to the long white hair found on the cactus. (It does look a bit like old man ear hair!) The hair is there to protect the skin from the sun, and it can get quite profuse. In other areas of the country, O. celsianus needs full sun. In Phoenix, it requires some protection from our intense radiation, so I’ve placed this cactus under the dappled shade of a Palo Verde tree, so its hair is less sparse than it would be had it been placed in full sun.

As the name implies, its origin is the Andes Mountains of South America. Of the 10 species of Oreocereus identified so far, all have the protective hair to varying degrees. Besides sun protection, the hair also provides protection from temperature fluctuations, but it needs supplemental protection at temperatures below 50º.

The O. celsianus is popular as a houseplant and will do well if it receives plenty of intense light on all its surfaces. As a windowsill plant, regular turning is necessary for proper growth. In the winter, it can easily rot from over watering, so it’s best to withhold water during those months than take a chance with rot. Going without water for a few months in winter will not hurt it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Credits: &

I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colors richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content.

~ Lin Yutang

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Pachypodium saundersii

This Pachypodium saundersii has a thorny trunk that is now 32 inches long, with only one small branch near the base. This is not what I wanted to see. In some specimens, the caudex can get to one foot in diameter and with the branching, look like a small tree. I was expecting that look. I have since learned that I can cut the trunk back about one foot to where it’s about ¾ inch in diameter. This will encourage branching.

This South African plant is in the Apocynaceae Family, along with Adenium and Plumeria. The five-lobed white flowers of the P. saundersii look very similar to others in the family, such as the Adenium, Plumeria, Natal Plum, Nerium Oleander, and Vinca. My specimen has not yet bloomed although it is old enough. I think all its energy went into growing that long, skinny trunk.

This plant normally becomes dormant in winter and loses its leaves, but since I bring this plant into the house when the temperatures go below 50 º, it has always kept its leaves. Perhaps that has contributed to its shape. When I have it outside, which is 10 months of the year, I keep it in full sun until June, then in very light shade until October.

It will only take one snip with the pruning shears to get this plant going in the right direction—which is outward. I should go make that snip instead of sitting here writing about it. See you tomorrow.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Pretty In Pink

Echinopsis x Los Angeles

This is the third round of flowers for this Echinopsis hybrid this year. Since I transferred this cactus from a pot into my garden this past spring, it has produced a small offshoot and three rounds of flowers. I featured this same cactus earlier this year during its second flowering, which produced twelve flowers, ten of which opened at the same time.

The flowers open in the evening hours, and depending on the weather, will last about 24 hours. If it's too hot, the quickly wilt and dry up as the sun comes up. The flowers have a slight fragrance, but you have to get up close to catch it. It's a subtle and somewhat powdery scent.

The common names for Echinopsis are Sea Urchin Cactus, Easter Lilly Cactus, and Farm Cactus. Experts recommend that Echinopsis be given regular fertilizer throughout the summer, but I've not bothered. Now, I'm wondering if I would have had even more flowers had I followed a regular feeding schedule.