Early snow

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My Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) looks like a bird that has wrapped its wings around itself for warmth.

It is unusual for us to have heavy snow in December, but we have about eight inches on the ground today.  The setup was just perfect: cold air dropping down from the north and moisture streaming up from the Gulf of Mexico met right over central North Carolina.  As the afternoon goes on, the warmer air should take over, and we’ll have cold rain.  Right now, the tapping on the windows suggests that the snow has changed to sleet.

Incidentally, did you know that sleet means two different things in the UK and USA?  My mom, who grew up in England, calls a mix of rain and snow “sleet.”  Here in the U.S., the term refers to rain that freezes to form small ice pellets as it descends.

“Freezing rain,” the bane of our existence here in North Carolina, occurs when warm air rides over freezing temperatures at ground level.  If the layer of cold air isn’t deep enough to form sleet (US version), the rain freezes on contact with trees and power lines, coating and often pulling them down.  Hope we don’t have any of that today.

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Mushroom log garden (Six on Saturday #38, November 24, 2018)

After the remnants of Hurricane Michael knocked down a couple of our neighbors’ trees (see picture #6), they generously offered us some of the wood.  It’s not every day that I have access to such big, beautiful oak logs, so I decided to use them for something more fun than firewood.

1. The wood

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2. The mushrooms

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Wooden plugs colonized by lion’s mane or shiitake mycelium.  The ‘Wide Range” shiitake fruits at 55-75 F (13-24 C) , while “N.C. Wild” fruits at 85-105 F (30-41 C).  The combination should offer the possibility of mushrooms during much of spring, summer, and autumn.

3.  The guide book

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This book is focused mainly on indoor growing, but it has a useful section on log cultivation.

4. The location

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The kids don’t use their old sandbox any more.  It is well shaded, and I thought the walls and sandy bottom would help to create a sheltered, humid microclimate.  I covered the ground with corrugated cardboard, so that heavy rain wouldn’t kick up sand and make the mushrooms gritty.

5. The procedure

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Drill holes.
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Insert plugs and pound them in with a rubber mallet.
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Seal the holes with melted cheese wax.

6. The log garden

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The finished log garden under a good soaking rain.  Now I wait.

For more Six on Saturday, head on over to The Propagator.  After viewing his Six, check out the comments for links from other participants.

Sea myrtle

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Baccharis halimifolia in Durham County today.

Sea myrtle (Baccharis halimifolia) is one of the most striking native shrubs in the NC piedmont at this time of year.  Its fuzzy white seed heads are a common sight beside lakes, in unmown fields, and along roads, where its tolerance for salt is a definite advantage.  B. halimifolia is a member of the Asteraceae, the daisy family, although the family resemblance is difficult to see at first glance.  It’s a woody shrub, instead of a forb, and its inflorescences lack the colorful ray flowers that give the showier members of the family their horticultural value.  However, the white plumes attached to the seeds make the plant look as though it is covered with snow and more than make up for the lack of color.

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I’m surprised that sea myrtle isn’t used more often as a garden shrub for seasonal interest.   Though I have previously criticized the groundskeepers on the campus where I work, I have to admit they have done a good job incorporating some volunteer B. halimifolia into the landscape.  By removing the lower branches, they have exposed the twisted trunks and turned the plants into very interesting specimens.

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The only defects of B. halimifolia from a horticultural point of view seem to be its brittle wood and its production of huge quantities of airborne seeds.  Many horticulturally valuable shrubs are also brittle (e.g. my Hypericum frondosum, which snapped under snow this winter), so that doesn’t seem to be a fatal flaw.  More problematic is its tendency to become weedy.  It is apparently invasive in southern Europe and Australia.  Perhaps it would be best to grow it only in its native range.

Abomination

While visiting a local home improvement store today, I took a look at the garden section to see what grotesqueries the plant wholesalers have cooked up lately.  They did not disappoint.  I am, by now, inured to things like paper flowers glued to cacti or Phalaenopsis orchids with dyed blooms–If you desperately need a cheap grafted cactus, you can pick off the fake flowers, and when the garish dye fades, you’ll have a reasonably nice white-flowered Phal hybrid.

But today’s offerings…Shudder.

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How about a Hippeastrum bulb dipped in wax?  Judging by the label, the flower is a big red tetraploid, probably ‘Red Lion,’ and someone has obviously thought, “Hmm, that’s a very striking flower, how can we make it look worse?”  The answer was to dip the bulb in wax even more brightly colored than the flower, so that the inflorescence will emerge from something the right size and color to choke Snow White.  And speaking of snow, what goes better with a subtropical flower than a coating of fake snow?

According to the label, the wax means that you don’t have to water the bulb at all.  It also means that the bulb won’t be able to grow roots, and is doomed to the trash can as soon as the flowers fade.

What’s that you say?  “A waxed bulb the color of Rudolph’s nose is pretty bad, but this is the land of inflatable snowmen and nativity scenes with Santa Claus adoring the baby Jesus.  A certain lack of taste is expected during the holidays.  Don’t you have anything worse?”

I do:

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I actually picked up a couple of these to see if they were made of plastic.  Nope, they’re real.  Someone has dipped a variety of cacti and some Gasteraloe hybrids in paint.  You can choose fluorescent red, blue, or a particularly nasty shade of blue-green.  The painted leaf tips of the Gasteraloes are already shriveling, but the plants might eventually recover as new leaves emerge. The cacti are surely doomed.  They’ve been completely covered, and I’m reminded of that scene in Goldfinger where Bond’s latest amour dies after being coated with gold paint.

Why?  Why would anyone do this?  Who would buy it?

Pine barren gentian

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Gentiana autumnalis flowers have an interesting habit of closing up every evening and then reopening the next morning..  Foliage is thin and grassy.  The broad leaf visible at top left belongs to a weedy Viola.

Gentiana autumnalis, the pine barren gentian, is a lovely autumn to early winter flowering wildflower of the eastern coastal plain. It is native to moist, open pine woods from southern New Jersey to Georgia.  In North Carolina, I have seen it blooming in longleaf pine savannna in Croatan National Forest.  Like many of the plants in that ecosystem, it is dependent on fire.  When fire is suppressed, growth of woody shrubs and deciduous trees soon chokes out the gentians, along with the orchids and carnivorous plants that grow in the same habitat.

My plant was purchased from the North Carolina Botanical Garden seven or eight years ago.  I grow it in a mix of sand and peat in an 8″ (20 cm) diameter plastic pot sitting in a saucer of rain water. I give the plant very little fertilizer, and it blooms reliably in early November.

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