Holly bush in bloom

Last week took us by surprise.  We had been cruising along at Spring temperatures for a month or so, when a cold front moved through and dropped a bit of snow on us over the weekend.  We can have freezes up until mid-April in central Oklahoma, but the recent warm temperatures had tricked all sorts of plants into sprouting a little earlier than usual.  Saturday morning I took pictures of our tulips topped in snow.  That may happen elsewhere, but it hadn’t happened here to my recollection.

Sunday morning was back to usual, with the sun shining and an afternoon high temperature of 65F.  Walking out to the car I noticed a wonderful fragrance of something blooming.  I looked around, trying to figure out what it could be.  The tulips are without scent and nothing else is really blooming right now.  The saucer magnolia was too far from where I was when I smelled the scent.  I mentioned it to my wife and she said she could faintly smell it.

Our red berry holly bush (Ilex Cornuta) in the front flowerbed
Our red berry holly bush (Ilex cornuta) in the front flowerbed

I walked in and out of the house several more times before I pinpointed the location.  There were bees swarming around me as I walked down the sidewalk by the holly bush.  I must confess that I wasn’t a big fan of the holly bush in our front flower bed for quite a while.  I trimmed it up in to a nice shape a couple of years ago and now it is kind of nice, especially with its red berries that seem to be there year-round.  It is an evergreen-and-red bush.  The leaves on this bush are downright vicious, especially once they dry out and turn brown.  You want to wear thick gloves when picking those up.

Bee at work on the holly bush blooms
Bee at work on the holly bush blooms

I had never really paid much attention to the bush as it changes throughout the year.  I really had no idea that it blooms.  It’s amazing how many things I miss and how the bees take notice to these same things.

A couple more bees at work
A couple more bees at work

The blooms are not showy, nothing really to look at.  But, man, they really smell good!  I was surprised by this.  And the bush was just covered with bees.  I even saw a couple of flies on several of the clusters of blooms.

Fly at work on the holly blooms
Fly at work on the holly blooms

Later in the day, my wife and I noticed that you could smell the bush from our front porch, about 15 feet away.  I’m not surprised that I missed this blooming event in past years, but I can’t imagine how I missed the smell as I walked by.  This is definitely an event I will anticipate next year.


Plant Find: Ctenanthe from Australia!

Earlier this week, I wrote about a plant I was expecting in the mail from Australia.  Well, it arrived yesterday!  Here’s the story:

Back in December I bought a plant at TLC that appeared to be in the Marantaceae family, but I didn’t know the genus.  After doing some research online, I found a match.  My plant was a Ctenanthe lubbersiana (Ctenanthe ‘Brazilian Snow’).  I really like the Maranta family, as I have mentioned recently in a couple of posts, so I did some image searching for other Ctenanthes.  I came across a couple of Ctenanthes with very light white or gray tone leaves with the usual streakings of green and solid red underneath the leaves.  One particular image caught my attention on Flickr.

Ctenanthe in Australia - photo courtesy of Flickr user imbala
Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star' in Australia - photo courtesy of Flickr user imbala

Going out on a limb, I sent a message to the image owner on Flickr and asked if they owned the plant and were willing to make a plant trade.  It turns out the owner lives in Australia and she was willing to trade with me.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really have any plants that she was wanting, but I did have access to some plants that are a little harder to find in Australia, apparently.  I bought a package of 10 Caladium bulbs of varying colors and she dug up 5 of her Ctenanthe plants, trimmed away the leaves, wrapped the roots and stems in newspaper and boxed them up.  The trade was ready.

Package from Australia
Package from Australia

We both carefully packaged our goods and sent them in the mail.  The Australian package arrived at my house yesterday!

The Ctenanthe plants were sent as roots only with a leaf and a bloom included so that I could see the plant in person before mine grows.

Ctenanthe setosa Grey Star leaf
Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star' leaf. The top of the leaf looks almost grey in person.

I looked up the species name “setosa” in my Gardener’s Latin book and found that setosa means “bristly or hairy.”  I first thought this must be a poor name choice for this plant.  Either that or the word “setosa” must have another meaning.  It turns out the stems of this plant are much furrier than they look in the Flickr picture I had seen.

Ctenanthe setosa roots with furry stems
Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star' roots with furry stems

The form of the blooms looks similar to some bromeliad blooms I have seen.  I think other plants in the Marantaceae family have this type of bloom.

Ctenanthe setosa Grey Star dried blooms
Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star' dried blooms

I potted three of the five rooted stems in a (unintentionally heavy) hypertufa pot that I made this winter in a mixture of peat moss, rich potting soil and vermiculite.

Ctenanthe setosa Grey Star potted in a hypertufa planter I made this winter
Three stems of Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star' potted in a hypertufa planter I made this winter

I potted the other two stems in a large round planter that was the former home of my Coconut palm tree.  I used a slightly sandier soil mixture in this pot with more potting soil than peat moss.

Two stems of Ctenenthe setosa Grey Star potted separately
Two stems of Ctenenthe setosa 'Grey Star' potted separately

I can’t wait to see my stems sprout and produce leaves like the ones in the Flickr picture.

Thanks a bunch Flickr friend! 🙂


Staghorn bark basket

A couple of months ago I revealed my affinity for nice looking pieces of bark.  Recently I noticed that a piece of bark had fallen off of a stump in my backyard.  The stump was one of 8 sitting around our firepit.  During the winter of 2007 we had a really bad ice storm in central Oklahoma.  My wife and I went around town collecting nice stumps from our neighbor’s curbs after everyone had done their chainsaw work.

The bark on one of the logs just didn’t want to hang on.  This piece was much smaller than the subject of my previous post, though.  The piece measures about 12 inches long and about 6 inches across.  When I picked it up off the ground I thought it was kind of cool how it had held it’s shape, curved around the trunk of the tree.  Even though it had fallen away, it was still firm and didn’t feel like it was about to crumble.  So I figured I should save it for a project of some sorts.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across a broken plastic hanging pot with a metal hanger.  I pulled off the metal hanger, tossed the broken pot and went to look for my piece of bark.  About 5 minutes later I had punched three holes in the piece of bark and threaded the hanger through it.

Staghorn fern in plastic pot (boring) and bark with hanger threaded through punched holes
Staghorn fern in plastic pot (boring) and bark with hanger threaded through punched holes

I decided my Staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.) would be an excellent specimen for this hanging bark basket.  I plucked it out of its boring white plastic pot and stuck it in my new creation.  Then I added some good potting soil around the firm root ball and wrapped the top in Sphagnum moss.  I secured the plant and moss with string.  Maybe over time the Staghorn roots will cling to the bark and the string will be unnecessary.

Staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.) hanging in a bark basket I created
Staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.) hanging in a bark basket I created

What do you think of my creation?


Plants from afar

Someday I’ll have grandkids.  That’s quite a few years down the road, since I hear you have to have kids first.  Anyway, when I have grandkids I’ll be able to say crazy things like “I remember when there wasn’t an internet!”  And my grandkids won’t even believe me.  They’ll think I’m crazy.

The internet has changed so many things.  It has changed the way that most people (in affluent countries) live.  I can take pictures of my plants here in Oklahoma, upload the pictures on my computer, write some notes about them, and mere moments later someone on the other side of the world can read my notes, look at my pictures and comment back to me.

I was just discussing with my parents the other day about how you find deals on the internet on certain objects and pay less for them than you would in any store – even when you include shipping.  And because of the internet, you can read product reviews and feedback from others who have purchased similar items or worked with that seller before.  Certainly the internet falls short in several areas, but it has plenty of functionality that cannot be offered in other ways.

Whenever I have a question – about ANYTHING – I can go to the internet to find answers.  I understand that many times the “answers” are opinions, but it doesn’t take long to know the difference.

Where am I going with this post?

Well, because of the internet, there are tropical plants headed my way from all over the world.  And they weren’t very expensive.  One day I saw a picture of a cool plant on Flickr.  A couple months later and the Australian owner of the plant has put some offsets of it in the mail to me.  I should have them sometime next week.  In exchange, I mailed some bulbs to my new friend in Australia – and the shipping was less than $10!  There’s no way I could find that plant for under $10 here at home.

A fellow plant blogger bought a hard-to-find plant at a local nursery a couple hundred miles away and will be sending it to me for the cost of the plant plus the price of shipping, because he knew that I was trying to find this specific plant.

I have another friend in Massachusetts to whom I will be sending some Aglaonemas as soon as the weather is nicer up in the Northeast US.

And this weekend I bought a plant from someone in Saipan, Mariana Islands on ebay.  Can you believe the shipping is under $6!?!  It’s wonderful.  [The Northern Mariana Islands are located in the Western Pacific Ocean, north of Guam, south of Japan.  The Mariana Islands are a commonwealth of The United States.]

I won’t reveal what all of these greats plants are yet – You’ll just have to wait for pictures.  I should have several new plants in my possession over the next couple of weeks.  Stay tuned!


Little white firecracker: Bridalwreath Spiraea

I have sort of neglected The Variegated Thumb this week.  This doesn’t mean that I wasn’t constantly thinking about plants, though.  I was just really busy with work and other things.  But don’t fear!  I’m not running out of content; I have plenty more.  The world surrounding me is sprouting green and purple and white and pink and yellow.  Right now the Redbud trees are absolutely gorgeous, at their fullest and deepest purples and pinks.  I’m taking lots of pictures and will be sharing them next month.

Last week I saw a bush in a neighbor’s yard that I had never noticed before.  True to form, I started seeing them all over town.  After a little internet research and a tip from someone at the Name That Plant forum, the plant was identified as Spiraea prunifolia (Bridalwreath Spiraea).  In a way it looks a lot like the common flower arrangement supplement, Baby’s breath.  The white flowers are small and round, borne on long, dainty stems.

Spirea prunifolia in bloom
Spiraea prunifolia in bloom

I have planted a small Spiraea planted along my blooming bush fence line.  I am calling it the “little white firecracker.”  I like to use botanical names, but I also can’t help from giving a plant a good nickname.  [After all, my dogs, named Pee-Wee and Pippa, are usually called Pig and Squeaks!]

My small Spirea prunifolia along the blooming bush fence line
My small Spiraea prunifolia along the blooming bush fence line

Soon this fence line will be a long row of pink quince, pink almond and white Spiraea.  I might even add a yellow Forsythia to the mix.

Spirea is in the botanical family of Rosaceae, which also includes my flowering quince bush (Chaenomeles speciosa), flowering almond bush (Prunus glandulosa), and flowering peach tree (Prunus persica).  There are 100-160 genera in the Rosaceae family with as many as 4,000 total species.  Of course, the most famous genus from this family is Rosa – commonly called the Rose.

FYI: Spiraea is sometimes (mis)spelled Spirea, but those two spellings refer to the same plant.