Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hot Pink Bromeliad Flowers of Aechmea or Urn Plant

I'm late for my Friday Floral, so I'm making this weeks floral photo a doozy.  

This is an Aechmea, or Urn Plant or Pitcher Plant.  It is happily growing at my mother's house and she reports that these flowers have been blooming since the summer!  

These are native to Central and South America and are known to grow on trees.  They have a prehistoric look to me, this should be growing in Jurassic Park.

They are in the bromeliad family and like shade with no frost.  The Sunset Western Garden Book lists them for Zones 22 -24, or USDA Zone 10 or above.  

The flowers are about a foot long and about 6 inches across at the top.  The dark green leaves are about three feet long with a silver stripe.  

The flowers rise out of the urn or pitcher formed by the leaves.  These flowers are hot pink, but they also come in shades of purple or red with a hint of orange or blue.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Thanksgiving Song, a Gardener's Harvest Poem

Summer is gone,
Autumn is here; 
This is the harvest 
For all the year. 

Corn in the crib, 
Oats in the bin, 
Wheat is all threshed, 
Barley drawn in. 

Apples are barreled, 
Nuts laid to dry; 
Frost in the garden 
Winter is nigh. 

Father in heaven, 
Thank thee for all, 
Winter and springtime, 
Summer and fall. 

By Lydia Avery Coonley 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Floral: Hot Pink Silk Floss Trees Bring More Fall Color to LA

The silk floss trees are blooming in Los Angeles right now.  

I've seen them blooming along the 101 Freeway, in front of office buildings and this one, which is blooming in front of a DWP station with a drought tolerant theme.  

Chorisia speciosa trees are native to south America.  They grow up to 60 feet tall and are hardy to about 20 degrees.  

They are known for their hot pink flowers but there is a white flowering version too.  We even have a Los Angeles Beautiful version.

Silk Floss trees have bright green trunks usually covered with giant spines.  Since the purpose of my weekly floral photos is to calm everyone down after a long frazzling week, I'm skipping the thorns for you.

The glowing pink flowers have five petals, usually with a white center.  Trees lose their leaves after flowering in the late autumn.  

The name silk floss comes from the seed pods which have a cottony white floss inside.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wednesday Plant Profile: Bay Laurel Herb Of The Gods

Bay laurel, or laurus nobilis is a drought tolerant perennial tree native to the Mediterranean region. The fragrant, leathery leaves are dried for use as a cooking herb and in the pantry. Other names for this aromatic plant with deep green leaves are Sweet Bay, Grecian Laurel or Roman Laurel. Mature Grecian Laurel trees flower in clusters of white to yellow blooms which turn into small berries. Bay leaves are dark green and up to 4 inches long and 2 inches across.

Sweet bay can grow into a tree 40 feet tall. Bay can tolerate low water in the garden and poor soils. They like full sun to part shade although in hot areas they benefit from a bit of shade during the hottest part of the day. They are hardy to about 20 degrees, or USDA Zones 8 - 10. Perfect for low water landscapes, these are compact plants which grow slowly.

This is also the bay leaf used in the kitchen. Dried bay leaves are added to spaghetti and other sauces, soups and stews. They add extra flavor, but are not meant to be eaten with your dish. Bay leaves also have insecticidal properties. They are kept in kitchen cabinets to protect grains from moths and other pests. My mother always kept a bay leaf in the flour bin to keep flour beetles from hatching, now science has proven this belief to be true.

Bay Laurel is also known as a magical plant in mythology. It is associated with victory, strength and protection. A crown of bay is worn by Apollo the Greek god of the sun, and it is known as one of his emblems. When consulting the Oracle at Delphi the priestesses of Apollo held a bay leaf under their tongue to help induce their trances. It has been used to banish poltergeists, bad luck and to break evil spells. The sudden withering of a bay tree was said to be a bad omen for its' owner.

Bay Laurel is a classic container plant and is often depicted at the entrances to ancient temples. Grow one in a pot on your doorstep for a touch of elegance. Start with a container at least 12 inches across or larger, if there are no drainage holes you must let the soil dry out before watering again. Grecian bay can be clipped into topiaries or standards and it is always fine to pinch a few leaves for the pantry.

Shameless plug; I have created a page just for Bay Laurel on my main site here. Happy gardening!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Floral: Rosary Plant Flowers Open in So Cal

The flowers have finally opened on my Rosary Plant (crassula rupestris). Woo hooo!

I'm excited because not all of my plants bloom every year. This little guy is in a 3 inch pot and it is his second year.

I am completely enchanted by these cute little succulent plants. I've got them filling in pots here and there. They hang over the side but the tips want to point up. They seem to do best in shade to part shade for me, especially when it's over 100 degrees.

The base of the stems get woody and a little brittle. But they're pretty tough, when the dog knocks them off I just toss them back into a pot and they take root again.

I like the side view, it shows off the tiny flowers and leaves.
These five-petaled flowers are only about 1/8 of an inch wide.

Here's the whole plant.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday Plant Profile: Italian Cypress (Cupressus Sempervirens) For Tall Screens In Dry California Gardens

Italian cypress is a familiar staple in the city, the deep, bluish green trees growing along border lines as tall screens.  They grow up to 60 feet high on single trunks with a thin, round shape.  Plants are generally 1-2 feet wide but mature plants can be much wider.  All cypresses prefer full sun, but will tolerate part shade and can survive on little water once they are established in a year or two.  Italian cypress will survive winters where it freezes, but does best in warmer climates.

Italian cypress are perfect screen plants or tall hedges for problem areas.  They grow tall but they're thin, so you can tuck them into narrow spaces along the side of the house or in parking strips.  Their trunks will eventually reach about 12 inches around, so your narrow plant bed should at least be that wide.  Their growth habit is sleek and cylindrical, with most of their leaves pointing up.  Their dark green color makes them recede into the back of the landscape, so try them in the very back of your borders.  

They lose a small amount of needles during they year, but litter is not a big problem with these trees.  Italian cypress does not grow very fast the first year, but plants will make up for their lack of growth in the second year after their roots are established.  Continually trimming the tops will result in a slightly fatter shrub, but they are fairly care free, needing no trimming.

When you are planning on having your cypress survive on rainfall, it is best to encourage deep root development early on by soaking your plants every few days instead of sprinkling the topsoil every night.  Even established plants appreciate a deep soak during a heat wave, when the weather has been over 100 degrees, or when it has been especially dry and windy. 

I am developing a page of good Screen Plants for Sunny Southern California on my gardening homepage, drop by and say hello.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wednesday Plant Profile: Optuna Cactus and How to Eat Prickly Pears

It's almost time for prickly pears!  I grow a prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) in my back yard and it has great pears.  Opuntia cactus also have edible pads, the younger ones are more tender.  This cactus variety grows wild in the southwestern United States and Mexico.  Prickly pear cactus have deep green branching pads, grow up to 15 feet tall and as wide around in as little as 5 years.  The oval cactus pads can be up to three feet long and over a foot across.

In spring my opuntia ficus-indica gets stunning bright yellow to orange flowers measuring 3 to 5 inches across.  These turn into pinkish red, edible prickly pears.  Over time these cacti form brown, woody trunks.  My opuntia has been happy growing in my brick hard, heavy clay soil.  It is hardy to 30 degrees below zero.  Cattle are also known to have a taste for Opuntia cactus and in some parts of the world it is used as feed after the thorns are removed.

Outdoors, prickly pears make very effective security barriers.  They can take regular pruning to maintain shape.  Always cut at the joints, where the two pads meet.  Cuttings can easily be rooted by burying part of a pad in moist, well drained soil after the cut has healed over.  Opuntia species have also been known to take root where pads have fallen on the ground - which is exactly how I got mine started. My neighbor threw a cutting over the fence and I was afraid to touch it, so I just nudged it into a good spot!

Indoors, Opuntia  cactus can be grown in pots but they generally don't grow to more than a few feet tall.  They do best in full sunlight with very little water.  No cacti like to be over watered and they will rot if they remain in saturated soil.   My cactus lets me know when it needs water with thin pads and droopy tips.  One year we got over 20 inches of rain and the pads swelled up with so much moisture they broke off under their own weight.

The cactus pads do not have prominent thorns.  Instead, they have clumps of small, hair-like needles.  It is very easy to get the needles painfully lodged in your skin just by brushing against the pads.  Usually the only way to get them out is with tweezers and a magnifying glass.  It is recommend to use tongs, a large fork, or cardboard to handle any part of cactus.  You should also wear leather gloves or two layers of cotton gloves.  The gloves will need to be checked for thorns though, so you may want to avoid handling them using your bare hands.

Cactus pears have the texture of watermelon and a mild, sweet taste like pears or banana.  They are high in fiber too.  The seeds are black and about the size of a pea.  You can also eat the pads raw or cooked.  Young, bright green cactus pads are best for eating.  Thorns should be washed or scraped off before the cactus skin is peeled.

My neighbor used to eat cactus pears as a boy back in Israel and he taught me how to harvest them without getting pricked.  Take a bowl or bucket of water out to the cactus.  You should be able to knock the ripe pears off the plant into the water.  Use a spoon to roll the pear in the water and scrape the skin.  Try not to break the skin.  When you think they are clean, it's time to go rinse them again in the sink.  Keep rinsing them until the thorns are gone.  The needles are very tiny and hard to see so be very careful.  Handle them with gloves until you are positive they're clean.  Bon appetit! 

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rain, rain - yippeeeeeee!!! So Cal needs a few sprinkles

The other night, late at night, when I was reading a creepy book in bed I kept hearing this strange tapping noise.  What the heck?  It seemed to be coming from outside… all over outside.  It took me a while to realize it was rain.  Oh yeah, I remember that sound.  That's when we got the big sixteenth of an inch.  It was gone almost as fast as it hit the ground. 

Last night there was more of that tapping and I awoke to see actual moisture on the ground. 

See? The ground is smiling!

Actually that's one of those big cracks in the dirt you see in the desert.  They have an actual scientific name which escapes me in my delirium.  When it hasn't rained in ages the soil shrinks up into crackly bits and the crevices go down really deep.  I know, this crevice is in my back yard. 

But it looks a little happier after some rain.

I was so excited I dug up a hole in the bare patch to see how far the 'moisture level' went.  

You can't really tell in the photo so I upped the contrast and used arrows to show the actual dampness in the ground. 

I think I'm stretching it by using the term "moisture".  It's only damp for about 1/2 an inch.  Oh well, it's better than a kick in the shins, I guess.

We've had a little more rain tonight and I think we're closing in on 1/2 an inch of rain in so Cal so far.  Wooo Hooo!  

Hopefully it's just enough to stamp out any lingering brush fires and maybe get a little growth going in the burn areas.  But not enough rain to start mudslides in the hillsides.  Cross your fingers guys!


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