Category Archives: general

The misunderstood Poinsettia

It’s been AGES since I last posted!  Sorry about that, loyal followers.   Life has been busy and I have added some new hobbies, which have diverted my attention and time away from the blog.  Now, let’s talk about poinsettias!

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I’m not entirely sure why I typed that title for the post.  Now that I have, I have a lot to discuss.  My inspiration for the post was when I visited the good old Myriad Botanic Gardens in Oklahoma City a couple of weeks ago.  To be honest, I have been a little disheartened with the direction of the gardens since the garden ownership changed a few years ago.  There is a lot more marketing (good) but a lot of it seems to have nothing to do with plants (sad).

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Anyway, that being said, when we were at the gardens a couple of weeks ago they had the whole placed decked out for the holidays and the conservatory was lit up with Christmas lights.  (All normal lighting was turned off, so you couldn’t really see the plants.)  In the lobby area they had tons of Poinsettias.  At first I walked by them, not realizing there was something special about this temporary splash of holiday color.  There were SIGNS by each of these plants.  (I can’t tell you how many times I have been in botanic gardens and seen a plant or tree that I didn’t know and I couldn’t find a label for it anywhere.)  The signs caught my attention and then I noticed these Poinsettias were not all the same.  And I don’t mean they were just different colors.  There were striking differences.

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I was really delighted to see that the Myriad had gone out of their way to track down some named varieties that were different from the norm. They were only lacking a bit more signage to call people’s attention to the understated exhibit. It could be pretty educational, describing what a cultivar is, how they are selected and bred, and how the horticulture industry works. It’s all in my head.

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Now back to my title, I think the Poinsettia is misunderstood. First, the Poinsettia is Euphorbia pulcherrima, belonging to the huge Eurphorbia genus, which mostly consists of succulent plants that the average person would call “cacti.” You wouldn’t know it with a quick look at the Poinsettia, but it’s true. Now maybe the Poinsettia is saying “Hey, that’s just my crazy family.  I’m nothing like those spiky beasts.”  But they are closely related. Second, those colorful “flowers” that everyone loves at Christmas time… well, they’re not really flowers. Those are colored leaves, called bracts. The flowers are the small yellow bits in the middle.  Third, they just don’t look like that in the wild.  The compact potted plants sold all over the place between Thanksgiving and Christmas have been grafted and bred for those traits.  The natural species is much more lanky and with less prominent colorful bracts.  Fourth, the rumors of their toxicity are hyperbolic.  Most people will have little to no reaction from the sap.  Others could have some skin irritation.  If you were to each a leaf,  you might puke.  You would have to eat a lot of Poinsettias to have anything close to a fatal dose.

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Finally, I will leave you with some photos of a favorite relative of mine.  It is the Jamaican Poinsettia Tree (Euphorbia punicea). There is a large specimen at the Myriad Botanic Gardens and I have also seen this tree growing outdoors at a botanic garden in Florida.

Euphorbia punicea (Jamaican Poinsettia tree)
Euphorbia punicea (Jamaican Poinsettia tree) at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, Miami, Florida.
Jamaican Poinsettia Tree
Jamaican Poinsettia Tree – macro view of flower. Myriad Botanic Gardens, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

 

The effects of herbicides

About a month ago I noticed something odd about our Redbud (Cercis) trees.  The newest leaves were opening up all shriveled, deformed and partially yellow.  I had not closely watched leaves unfurling in the past, but I was pretty sure they opened as little hearts folded in half and just grew larger with time.  They didn’t start out as these strange, malformed stingrays.

Deformed Redbud leaf
Series of deformed Redbud leaves emerging

I asked some of my expert plant friends about this, especially those that live near me and are familiar with Redbuds.  One of them said that it looked like damage from herbicides.  I was pretty sure it couldn’t be from herbicides since I don’t use them myself and because these trees are in my backyard, which is pretty well surrounded by bushes and trees.  Also, the nearest house to these trees has been vacant for 7 years now.  None of our immediate neighbors have the immaculate monoculture lawns of those who spray their lawns with weed killers and fertilizers.  I did notice that the tree in the front yard across the street from our house also had the same pattern with their newest leaves, although to a lesser extent.

Normal healthy Redbud leaves

More recently the trees have been putting out regular leaves again, leaving a very clear set of affected leaves along each branch.  I took more photos and sent these to my friends.  The same friend who had guessed herbicide damage found an excellent article on Redbuds that explains they are very sensitive to pre-emergent herbicides, the kind people spray on their lawns just before the grass comes out in the spring.  The photos were eerily familiar (see page 6).

Deformed leaves surrounded by regular growth
Deformed leaves surrounded by regular growth

It seems as though our trees are suffering from someone that sprayed their lawn down the street, most likely on a windy day.  It’s not surprising that a chemical whose purpose is to kill weeds would also negatively impact other plant life.  I like my yard to look nice – grass not too high and not too many weeds – but I have never given in and hired one of those companies to spray my lawn.  This is mostly because of the cost, but also because I don’t like chemicals being used when they aren’t necessary.  Now I have an additional reason to dislike these unnecessary chemicals.  The good news is that the damage is limited to some ugly leaves – at least as far as I can tell.  Hopefully there isn’t enough of this being used that it is getting into our water supply at high concentrations.  We stopped drink tap water a couple of years ago.

Blog in dormancy

You may have noticed my blog has not been updated in several months.  Life has been busy with a number of changes.  I still have plenty to write, but haven’t had much time to do so lately.  The biggest change in my life is that in February I finally became a father, after more than 3 years in the process.  Now I have a little plant-enthusiast-in-training.

Me and my little girl

I hope to resume posting somewhat regularly soon.  Stay tuned!

A Peachy future?

Two years ago, to the day, I posted about my peach tree which had gone from being a “flowering peach tree” to something more.  It had begun to produce fruits, albeit very small ones.  I was interested to see whether it was an issue of maturity for the tree or if my tree would never produce edible fruits.

The tree was a gift in 2007, when I was offered my first real job.  At that time it stood about waist high and was covered in little puffs of pink and magenta.  At that point, it was cute.  Today it stands tall and proud, with enough breadth and density to provide shade for our cars in the driveway.

This year I feel like I am closer to having an answer about the likelihood of there being edible fruit in my future.  They aren’t there yet, but they are getting larger with a lot more fruit around the seed.

Let’s take a look back over the years…

Spring 2008
Spring 2008
Spring 2009
Spring 2009
Spring 2010
Spring 2010
Spring 2010
Spring 2010
Late Summer 2010
Late Summer 2010

Skip ahead two years and see the difference:

Summer 2012
Summer 2012
Summer 2012
Summer 2012

Some of the fruits are getting close to eating size, but none have actually ripened yet.  Everyday there are about 15 fruits on the ground, that I have to pick up and throw away so we don’t run over them on the driveway.  I’ve been taking loads of peaches to the curb on yard waste day.  Some of these peaches and their ground pits will make it back to our garden next year when we go to get a load from the city compost facility.

Summer 2012
Summer 2012

If this year is any indication, I think we’ll be up to our ears in peaches next year.  We better start looking up recipes!  Mark your calendars: Next September there will be a peach party at my house.

Terete orchids

The term terete means “cylindrical or slightly tapering, and without substantial furrows or ridges.”  This term is sometimes incorporated in the Latin names of plants, such as Luisa teretifolia, which you could translate to mean “the Luisa with cylindrical foliage.”  There, you just learned Latin!  Wasn’t that easy?

There are a number of orchids with terete leaves and I have obtained some recently.  Sometimes these orchids are referred to as succulent because of their appearance.  These  plants are well adapted to dry seasons and can store energy in their swollen, cylindrical leaves during dry periods, just like many cacti and succulents do.  But note: just because an orchid (or any other plant) has terete leaves does not mean that it is succulent or that it grows in a location with a dry season.

Dockrillia striolata mounted on rock
Dockrillia striolata mounted on rock

Dockrillia is a genus that was once considered part of the gigantic Dendrobium genus.  These plants are home to Australia and Papua New Guinea and are distinguished from other Dendrobiums since they lack pseudobulbs, which are usually very prominent as “canes” with other Dendrobiums.  I just got a little plant (pictured above) of Dockrillia striolata (synonymous with Dendrobium striolatum).  The fleshy little needles of this orchid will turn red when exposed to a lot of light.  You can see that a couple of the leaves on mine are more purple/red in color.  You can see a photo of the blooms here.

Dockrillia wassellii
Dockrillia wassellii

I also recently got a large mounted Dockrillia wassellii (above).  These two species are the most common of the Dockrillia genus in the US.  There are MANY cultivars and other species available in Australia, but it is not easy to import these to the US.  My wassellii plant is considerably larger than I expected it to be.  I started to joke with Christie about how unreasonably large the box was when I received it for such a small plant inside.  Then I opened it to see that the box size was quite appropriate.  This plant is listed as being “nearly terete” since the leaves are actually have furrows running the length.

Dendrobium lichenastrum var. prenticei
Dendrobium lichenastrum var. prenticei

My main reason for expecting a smaller plant was because I was expecting something more along the lines of the Dendrobium lichenastrum v. prenticei that I had purchased just a couple weeks earlier (pictured above).  That plant is tiny.  I talked about that plant in my mounted orchids post in December.  I’m not sure why this plant has not been transferred to the Dockrillia genus.  It appears to be a good candidate and is even from Australia.

Brassavola nodosa
Brassavola nodosa

Another plant I included in my mounted orchids post in December is terete-leaved, Brassavola nodosa (pictured above).

Bepi. 'Femme Fatale'
Bepi. 'Femme Fatale'

I have had this intergeneric hybrid orchid, Brassoepidendrum Femme Fatale ‘BJ’ for about eight months now.  It has stiff, terete leaves and the most awesome speckled blooms.  Mine hasn’t bloomed yet, but I’m anxiously awaiting that day.

Leptotes bicolor
Leptotes bicolor

My final recent purchase of a terete-leaved orchid is Leptotes bicolor.  I’ll finish my post with a couple of bloom pictures.  Recently, my friend Leslie attended the big orchid show at the Missouri Botanical Gardens and took some photos of a mature, blooming Leptotes for me.  It is a beautiful plant in bloom.

Leptotes bicolor in bloom at the Missouri Botanical Garden
Leptotes bicolor in bloom at the Missouri Botanical Garden
Leptotes bicolor at the Missouri Botanical Garden
Leptotes bicolor at the Missouri Botanical Garden