San Diego (Six on Saturday #37, November 10, 2018)

Botanical1
The Botanical Building in Balboa Park

This week, I traveled to San Diego, California for a scientific conference.  It was my first trip to San Diego–my first trip to anywhere in California, actually–so it was exciting to see a new part of the country.  Even the flower beds around my hotel and the convention center were full of new and interesting things.

The meeting didn’t leave much time for sightseeing, but I managed to slip away one morning and take a bus up to Balboa Park, which houses the San Diego Zoo and a variety of gardens.  I considered just wandering around the free areas of the park but eventually decided that I couldn’t miss the world famous zoo.  That turned out to be the correct choice.  In addition to being an amazing collection of endangered species (the zoo is famous for its captive breeding successes), the grounds are also a very fine botanical garden.  The weather was cool, so the animals were active, and there were hardly any visitors.  I had a good long visit with the pandas (red and giant), koalas, Tasmanian devils, komodo dragon, giant tortoises, okapis, elephants, jaguars, and many other animals, but I took more pictures of the plants.

Today being Saturday, here are six things that caught my eye in San Diego–garden related, of course.

1.  Flowering trees.

November is clearly not the best time of year for blooming trees, but nevertheless, I saw some beautiful tropical and subtropical flowers.

Ceiba1
Ceiba speciosa (silk floss tree) in Balboa Park
Ceiba2
Ceiba speciosa flower
Spathodea
Spathodea campanulata (African tulip tree) in Balboa Park
Bauhinia
Bauhinia x blakeana (Hong Kong orchid tree) at the San Diego Zoo

2. Bird of Paradise flowers

Strelitzia1
Roadside Strelitzia reginae

Strelitzia reginae (bird of paradise) and Strelitzia nicolai (white bird of paradise) were growing (and blooming) all over town.  S. reginae is my wife’s favorite flower, so when we were first married I tried growing some from seed.  After fifteen years, I managed to get a only single flower from an enormous clump that took up a lot of real estate in the greenhouse, so I gave up.  Clearly, flowering is not a problem when they are grown outside in San Diego.

Strelitzia2
Strelitzia nicolae on the patio of the convention center

3.  The Botanical Building

Botanical2

The Botanical Building is a Balboa Park landmark that was originally built for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition.  Before seeing it, I had assumed it was some sort of greenhouse or conservatory, but there is no glass involved.  Instead, the Botanical Building is a giant lathe house, built of wooden strips that provide the perfect amount of shade and wind protection for palms, tree ferns, and other tropical/subtropical understory plants.

Botanical3
Inside the Botanical Building
Deppea_splendens
Deppea splendens flowering in the Botanical Building.  Oh, how I wish this species would survive a North Carolina summer
Ficus_sycomorus
An enormous Ficus sycomorus growing behind the Botanical House.  A photo can’t do justice to the scale of its massive buttress roots.  According to the Gospel of Luke, Zacchaeus the tax collector climbed one of these trees so that he could see Jesus.

4.  Australian plants

Callistemon ‘Woodlanders Hardy’ and one or two eucalyptus are the only Australian plants I know of that can be grown in North Carolina, and even those are marginal outside of the coastal plain.  The climate of southern California is more similar to parts of Australia, so I wasn’t surprised to see a wider variety of plants from Down Under.

Anigozanthos
Anigozanthos (Kangaroo paw) in a flower bed at the convention center.  I wonder if one of these could be grown in a pot in North Carolina, if protected from rain?
Brachychiton
A little grove of Brachychiton rupestris (Queensland bottle trees) at the zoo

Australian_plant
I assume this is Australian, because it was growing in the koala habitat at the zoo.  Australian readers, help me out. Is this some sort of Grevillea?  It was growing as a tall shrub, or small tree. [Update:  This appears to be Alloxylon flammeum.  Thanks to Jim Stephens for the suggested identification.]
5. African and Malagasy plants

The zoo has a really impressive collection of succulents from Madagascar and southern Africa.

Alluadia
Alluadia procera (Madagascar) outside the Elephant Care Center
Cyphostemma
Cyphostemma juttae (southern Africa)
Pachy_and_Moringa
Pachypodium lamerei and Moringa drouhardii (bottle tree, smooth trunk on left), both from Madagascar
Euphorbia spectabilis
Euphorbia spectabilis (Tanzania)
Uncarina
Uncarina sp. (Madagascar)

6. Hawaiian plants

I suppose the climate of Hawaii, particularly on the drier leeward side of the islands, must be not entirely unlike that of coastal San Diego County.

Brighamia
Brighamia insignis (Ōlulu, Cabbage-on-a-stick) growing among other Hawaiian plants at the zoo.  Despite the whimsical common name, this is a member of the Campanulaceae, not a cabbage relative.
Prichardia
Pritchardia hillebrandii (loulu lelo palm) in the Botanical Building

For more Six on Saturday, click over to The Propagator, where you will find his Six and links to other participants.

Advertisements

All autumn in a fruit

Fuyu
Diospyros kaki ‘Fuyu’

Autumn in the mountains of North Carolina is all about apples, but here in the piedmont, autumn means persimmons.  I sometimes forage for the little native persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) that grow wild in the local woods, but collecting them requires perfect timing. Pick them too soon–before they are completely ripe and soft–and they are unbelievably astringent.  Wait just a little too long, and they all vanish.  Piles of scat filled with hard, flat seeds indicate where they all go.  Raccoons and opossums like persimmons just as much as I do.

Because they are harvested when mushy, American persimmons are better used for cooking than for eating out of hand.  We use them in soft persimmon cookies and rich persimmon pudding.  If I’m going to eat a fresh persimmon, I much prefer Diospyros kaki ‘Fuyu’, a non-astringent variety of the Asian persimmon.  The fruit of our little ‘Fuyu’ tree can be eaten when hard and crisp like an apple.  It can also be left to soften for cooking, although it never develops the complexity of flavor of the little wild persimmons.

D. kaki ‘Fuyu’ has been a carefree garden plant thus far.  No insect pests have bothered the leaves or fruit.  Squirrels,  raccoons, and opossums don’t seem to be attracted to the fruit, either, unlike our blackberries and figs, which often disappear a couple of days before I think they’re ready to harvest.  Fruit is produced without pollination, and although the non-pollinated persimmons have a tendency to abort, those that do ripen are generally seedless. Occasional seedy persimmons might indicate cross-pollination by a male D. virginiana tree growing at the edge of my garden.

Even in years when very few fruits make it to maturity, the tree ends the growing season with a spectacular show of flaming orange foliage.

Montrose Garden again (Six on Saturday #35, October 13, 2018)

Most of the pictures this week are really Six on (last) Saturday, because they were taken a week ago at the autumn open-house of Montrose, Nancy Goodwin’s garden in Hillsborough, North Carolina.  See here for my pictures from last autumn.

The final picture was taken yesterday, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Michael.

1. Costus species

Costus

Costus are related to ginger but have been separated out of the Zingiberaceae into their own family, Costaceae.  I made a beeline for this plant the past couple of times I visited Montrose, because I have never seen one growing in the NC piedmont before.  This time, Nancy let me in on the secret:  She digs it up every autumn and stores the rhizome in her house, so it isn’t as hardy as I hoped.  Still, our summers are clearly long enough and the soil warm enough for it to get established and flower.  Might be worth trying one of these days.

2.  Double-flowered Colchicum

Colchicum

This might be Colchicum ‘Waterlily’, but without a tag I can’t be sure.  Montrose is famous for its bulb plantings, and two of the three plants that I picked up at the sales table were also bulbs (in the broad sense):  a huge Hymenocallis that might be H. ‘Tropical Giant’ and a seedling Cyclamen mirabile.  The third plant I bought was Primula sieboldii.

3.  Abelmoschus species

Abelmoschus1

Abelmoschus2

A beautiful Hibiscus relative with fuzzy buds.  I wish the plants in Montrose Garden were labeled.  I suspect this is Abelmoschus manihot, but don’t quote me on that.

4. Brugmansia (angel’s trumpet)

Brugmansia

South American Brugmansia are surprisingly hardy in the piedmont.  My plant of Brugmansia ‘Betty Marshall’ has survived three or four years outdoors and is currently about seven feet tall.  This yellow flowered clone, perhaps ‘Charles Grimaldi’, has been growing below a couple of large eastern red cedars at Montrose for longer than that.

5.  Salvia oxyphora (fuzzy Bolivian sage)

Salvia Oxyphora

I hesitated to post this photo, because it is another bright pink/red flower that blows out the sensor of my iPhone camera and is almost always overexposed.  But S. oxyphora is so fantastic and furry that I couldn’t resist.  My sole attempt to grow this species failed, but perhaps I haven’t found the correct spot for a plant that must surely be right at the edge of its hardiness zone in the piedmont.

6.  Fallen oak (Quercus species).

oak_down

Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle like a bomb.  By the time it crossed our area, it was downgraded to a weak tropical storm, but it still did plenty of damage to trees sitting in soil saturated by the remnants of Hurricane Florence just a few weeks ago.  This beautiful oak on our neighbors’ property was uprooted and dropped across our lane, blocking access.  By the time I got home from work, the neighborhood chain saw gang was hard at work clearing the road.

For more Six on Saturday, head on over to the Propagator’s blog.  Take a look at his Six and then see the comments section for links to other blogs.

Houston: Mercer Botanical Gardens (Six on Saturday #32)

Mercer Botanical Gardens are located north of downtown Houston, very close to George Bush Intercontinental Airport.  I had visited the gardens once before, about seventeen years ago, but remembered very little, so during our recent trip to Houston, I took the opportunity to renew my acquaintance.

I had forgotten about Hurricane Harvey.  During the flooding last year, the gardens were submerged under eight feet of muddy, polluted water.  Clearly the floods did a lot of damage, and just as clearly the gardens employees and volunteers have been working very hard to repair the damage. This article from the Houston Chronicle describes the devastation, and a google image search will show you what the gardens once were.  These six pictures will give you a little taste of what the gardens are now, and a hint of what they will be again.

1.  Dead palm tree

dead_palm

Some of the garden grounds were still closed off, and in the open areas damaged plants were still visible.  After the flooding, last winter included an unusually prolonged cold spell in the Houston area, which probably did not help the tender palms.  Virtually all of those that were still alive had damaged fronds, but that damage is temporary.  I’m not sure if this palm tree was left in the ground because the staff had been overwhelmed, or if they were waiting to see if it might resprout.

2.  Zephyranthes (rain lilies)

zephyranthes1

Many of the plants that seemed to be in the best conditions were tropical bulbs and rhizomes, particularly those that tolerate wet soil (crinum, gingers, etc).  Presumably, these plants resisted being washed away by the flood, and any top damage was easily replaced.  I saw an enormous clump of Hymenocallis caribaea, unfortunately not blooming, that was in prime condition, but the best flowers were on these unlabeled Zephyranthes.  They were blooming all by themselves in a rock garden area that appeared to have been recently renovated but not yet replanted.

3-5. Tropical shrubs and trees

Erythrina_crista-galli
Erythrina crista-galli, one of the parents of Erythrina x. bidwillii

Although many of the beds are thus far, still fairly barren, splashes of color from vigrous perennials and fast growing tropical trees and shrubs hint at how spectacular the gardens will be again in a few years.

Lagerstroemia_speciosa
Huge, hot-pink flowers of Lagerstroemia speciosa
Stachytarpheta
Stachytarpheta mutabilis (coral porterweed)

6.  Anolis sagrei (brown anole)

Anolis_sagrei

The gardens were swarming with little brown anoles.  A. sagrei is native to Cuba and the Bahamas, and it is an invasive species in the southeastern U.S.  where it often replaces the native Anolis carolinensis (green anole).  My parents’ garden south of Houston still has green anoles, but I didn’t see a single native lizard at Mercer.

So, that’s Six on Saturday and a very brief look at Mercer as it is now.  For more Six on Saturday, head over to the blog of The Propagator, who started this weekly exercise and collects links from other participants.

Six on Saturday #31, June 16, 2018

This week has been a mixed bag in the garden–some things were good, some not so good.  Let’s start with the not-so-good.

1. Fallen sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum)

fallen_sourwood

A storm on Tuesday brought down a fairly large sourwood tree.  It skimmed a bluebird feeder but landed across our row of thornless blackberries.  The blackberries were supported by two strands of wire strung between to 4×4″ posts.  The wire held.  One of the posts snapped.  This afternoon, I’ll haul out the chain saw and cut up the trunk for firewood, but it’s going to be a pain in the neck digging out the snapped post to replace it.

Update:  the tree fell, because the center of its trunk was rotten and inhabited by an enormous nest of enormous carpenter ants who were not thrilled to have a chainsaw bisecting their home.  Run away!  Run Away!

2.  Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) on pink banana (Musa velutina)

Japanese_beetles

The Japanese beetles have started their annual rampage through the soft-leaved plants in the garden.  Spraying with insecticides is contraindicated when the beetles are eating flowers that attract other insects or are on plants that we want to eat, so we wander around the garden knocking them off into a bucket of soapy water.  I’m not sure if it does much to control their population, but it satisfies the need for revenge.

3.  Tigridia pavonia

Tigridia_pavonia-red

Finally, I have a Tigridia pavonia that blooms red.  Tigridia corms are readily available in the spring, but only in packs of mixed colors.  For the last couple of years, my plants have all bloomed in shades of yellow, but this year, I got a batch that contained at least one red-flowering plant.  I had expected to treat Tigridias as annuals, but it turns out that they are fully hardy in my garden, despite cold, wet winter and heavy clay soil.

4. Fasciated Lilium formosanum

Lilium_formosanum-crest

Fasciation, or cresting, is a rare developmental abnormality resulting from overgrowth of meristem tissue.  In this Lilium formosanum, the normally cylindrical stem has turned into a flattened plate with many more (though smaller) leaves than usual.

Lilium_formosanum-crest2

Most sources say that fasciation in lilies is usually a one-time event, with the bulb producing normal growth the next year.  This bulb was also fasciated last year, although the effect was less extreme.  It will be interesting to see if this is a permanent, stable condition.

Also, note the stems of the ubiquitous, weedy creeping cucumber (Melothria pendula).

5. Lilium ‘African Queen’

Lilium_African-Queen1

First bloom for a bulb that I planted last autumn.  Flowers are nice, but the stem is floppy.  Hopefully the plant is still getting established and will improve in future years.

6.  African baobab (Adansonia digitata) seedlings

Baobab_seedlings

I ran across some baobab seeds that I had forgotten about on a high shelf for the past fifteen years.  I guess they’re still viable.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with tropical trees that have the potential to grow to the diameter of a small house and live for thousands of years, but the internet suggests they are reasonable candidates for tropical bonsai.

That’s all for this Saturday.  For more Six on Saturday contributions from garden bloggers around the world, head on over to the Propagator.