Tag Archives: philosophy

Winter weather and hardiness zones

We have received more than our normal share of winter precipitation this year.  I have spent my whole life in the same town, and I don’t really recall having more than 1 decent snow storm each winter.  This winter, we received a pretty good snowfall on Christmas Eve, measuring 8 inches in the middle of our front yard (away from any drifts).

Christmas Eve blizzard
Christmas Eve blizzard

Then we received an ice storm followed by 6 inches of snow last week.

Very thick icicle hanging from my greenhouse this week
Very thick icicle hanging from my greenhouse this week

In between those two snow storms our temperatures dipped down below 10 degrees Fahrenheit on three consecutive nights (6F, 6F, 8F).  We’re not really used to these temperatures, but I was thinking about our USDA hardiness zone.  I am located in zone 7a, which is rated for winter temperatures between 0 and 5 F.  This is one of those winters that makes our hardiness zone rating seem appropriate.  I would say that in the average winter, our minimum temperature is probably somewhere around 15 degrees F, but the USDA zones aren’t set up by average minimum temperatures.  You don’t want to plant a tree and expect it to survive in your zone only in the years that are above average.  You want it to survive 50 years or more.  So the USDA zones are set up by using long-term historical climatic minimum temperatures.

I discussed in a previous post how the hardiness zones only tell a small part of the story, but I would like to mention that again here.  The hardiness zones only tell you whether a plant can brave your winter minimum temperatures, not whether they will be happy with your amount of moisture or sunlight or long, hot summer days.  Some efforts have been made to construct other zone maps for variables like humidity and heat index.  Once these maps have been constructed and distributed to plant people, nurseries will need to start to label their plants, in order for them to be useful.  I know that there are a number of plants which can survive our winters, but would not like our heat waves when the temperatures can be above 100 degrees F for a week solid in the middle of the summer.

Hopefully these new maps will be circulated soon and start getting used.  It might seem like a lot of numbers to keep up with, but I can envision a 3 map system, where you just always remember you are a “7-5-8” or something like that.  If the order is kept the same (cold hardiness, heat index, humidity), it will make this new system user friendly and could help a lot of new gardeners.


 

Christmas Orchid

Aunts- and uncles-in law are not usually noted for their gift-giving abilities.  My in-laws drove from southern California to join my wife’s family here in Oklahoma for Christmas this year and brought with them a gem of a gift for me.
Dendrobium Christmas gift
Dendrobium Christmas gift

This Dendrobium orchid has a total of about 25 buds born on two stems – about 8 of those still closed.  The color of the petals is pale yellow and almost green.  There is a new book out from my favorite plant-book publisher, Timber Press, called Green Flowers.  In a way, green is the most boring color that a flower can be, since the majority of plant material is green.  It just blends into the background, part of the noise that nature can sometimes be.  We tend to gravitate towards the colorful spotlights of red, pink, purple and yellow, which readily stand out on all shades of green foliage.  And it’s not just us – insects are attracted to these colors.  What to us says “beauty” says “food” to many creatures.

Dendrobium blooms
Dendrobium blooms

But there is a simple beauty to the green flowers.  Maybe the texture and shapes are better observed when the color doesn’t trump the senses.  The pearly sheen that is unique to orchid flower petals stands out on this flower.  There is also a really subtle hint of red on the inner part of the flower, that I pretend is there just to reward those who take the time to look closely.

Dendrobium bloom detail
Dendrobium bloom detail

This particular orchid had a generic “Dendrobium” tag on the stem and a specific tag with hybrid identification in the pot.  Unfortunately, the tag was snapped in half and all I have is a couple of letters – not enough for me to have figured it out yet.  But I’ll keep trying, out of sheer curiosity.  I don’t really need to know anything more than the genus for this particular orchid, in order to take good care of it.


 

Report on 2009 resolutions

At the beginning of 2009 I made myself a list of resolutions for my plant hobby and specifically for my blog.  Some of these were pretty well upheld.  Others – not so well.  Here’s how I did:

  1. Post 2-3 times per week. This task went pretty well – most of the time.  But a couple of projects kept me very busy in my “free time” which reduced the number of posts.  The biggest project was the building of my greenhouse, which gave me plenty of fodder for posts, but not much time for writing them.  I also started several very big posts that just never got complete enough to post.  All in all, I posted 100 times during the 2009 year.  The first half of the year I posted 61 times (about 10 per month).  The second half of the year I only posted 39 times (6.5 per month).  I have made myself a “schedule” of upcoming posts and I hope to be more regular once again.
  2. Review 1 book per month. I reviewed 7 books this last year, so I probably should have set this goal to be semi-monthly.  My reading and writing are always fighting for my free time.  This last year, both of them were neglected in favor of projects and trips.  I foresee several books being covered over the next couple of months: Black Plants by Paul Bonine, The Amazing Aglaonema by Frank Brown, Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon, and One River by Wade Davis.
  3. Write a “trip report” once per month. I wrote 8 trip report posts this last year.  I probably could have written two more, but 12 would have been a stretch.  This category works well as once a month during the “growing” seasons, but I don’t travel much when the temperature is below 50F…  The only trip we have planned for this next year is to St. Louis.  But that trip will definitely have a good trip report, seeing as our 2nd IAS MidAmerica chapter meeting will be held at the Missouri Botanical Gardens!  I think we will be working in some other fun, nearby trips, as well.  And I never posted about our foliage drive in the Fall of last year.  I might just post that in the next month, so stay tuned!
  4. Write a “project” post once per month. I actually wrote 17 project posts this last year!  This was by far my most productive category.  That production is due mostly to my greenhouse building project.  One particular project I have been planning is my first oil painting.  I’ve not really ever painted before, but I have an idea for a painting that I really want to do this year.  I just bought my easel, paints and canvas and I’m looking forward to creating my first piece.  I’ll share that painting here, if it turns out halfway decent.
  5. Start my Asarum collection. This never got off the ground this year, but my birthday and Christmas added some green to my wallet, so I might just order some Asarums soon and start my little collection.
  6. Grow some of my own food. My first potato crop was a success, but also left some room for improvement.  I know what to do differently next year and hopefully have better size and quantity in my crop next Fall.  I’m also hoping to start a couple of hardy kiwi vines this coming Spring.
  7. Vigorously plant figure 8 bed. Due to our Spring vacation to Hawaii about the same time that we should have been planting and watering our sweet potato vine in the figure 8 bed, I don’t think “vigorous” is the apt description.  The good news is that my sweet potato plants produced large underground tubers, which I dug up and plan to plant this Spring.
  8. Fertilize. I think I have only fertilized my plants once, around the middle of the year.  So it is probably a good time to sprinkle some pellets over the soil again.  This is new to me, so it’s good I made this a resolution; at least now I have a reminder whenever I check to see how I’m doing with my resolutions.
  9. Recreate corner garden. Last Spring and Summer we added several perennial plants to the corner garden that are colorful and should work better in the full to part sun that is being received in that bed.  I also added some Fall-blooming bulbs which were nice to see blooming well into November.  This Spring will reveal the success our perennial additions.  I might also add a couple of Daylilies this Spring as they are the most likely to succeed.

All in all, I had moderate success with my resolutions in 2009.  I guess it is good to aim high and push myself.  This year, I will likely be aiming for the same goals, with the exceptions I noted above.  My top priority will be the first goal: post 2-3 times per week.  Wish me luck!


 

Is there really such a thing as a “new” plant?

Have you ever found yourself telling someone about a new plant that you saw recently?

There’s three kinds of “new” plants in my book:

  1. a hybrid plant which was cultivated by humans and is just introduced on the market,
  2. a naturally occurring species that has just been discovered in the wild,
  3. a plant that has been around for ages but has just come back into style.

I suppose there should be a fourth category – a new naturally occurring species or hybrid – but I won’t get into that.

We’re probably all familiar with plants in the first category.  Everyday there are new hybrids being produced.  In fact, there are millions of new hybrids being produced.  But only a small fraction of those experiments prove to be successful and make it to the market.  Most of the efforts are concentrated on already popular plants whose market could be widened if certain traits of the plants were improved.  The “improvements” can range from cold hardiness to heat tolerance, drought tolerance to flood tolerance, a number of different light preferences, a variety of variegations, and even the structure of the growth.  Some plants that come to mind would be the vast array of colors that are available in the popular flowering plants – roses, daylilies, tulips, Clematis, etc.  Other common hybrids are in grasses and trees – the foundations of most domestic landscapes.  A new hybrid that I had to buy this year is the Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost.’  It’s a beautiful plant for a mixed container, or all by itself.  And it is very heat tolerant.  I might have to try to keep some of mine alive indoors over the winter, since it is only hardy in the warmest USDA zones (10+).

Euphorbia Diamond Frost - a newish hybrid that is a very popular annual container plant
Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' - a newish hybrid that is a very popular annual container plant

The second category – newly discovered naturally occurring species – is an interesting category.  Today there is little area on the planet that hasn’t been precisely mapped and cataloged.  On the other hand, there are many remote locations which are just beginning to take note of their particular endemic species (plants that only grow in that one unique location).  New species are being discovered fairly often.  One day that discovery process will probably grind to a halt, but we’re not there yet!  I am on the International Aroid Society’s mailing list and it is very exciting to receive emails from some of the leading scientists in the world who are conducting research in the field and reporting back to the Aroid community about new species and whatnot.  (By the way, you don’t have to be a member of the IAS to be on the mailing list.)

Ironically, after having written most of this post, but before publishing to my blog, I ran across a news story about research in the eastern Himalayas which has uncovered 353 new species of plant and animal life.  The news story was focused on the animals, but I found that 242 of the 353 new species were plants (including Orchids, Poppies, Palm trees, Bamboos, Ferns, Clematis and Impatiens).  If you want to read more, here’s the news story and here’s the actual report.

A newly-discovered orchid species - Liparis dongchenii
A newly-discovered orchid species - Liparis dongchenii

I happened upon another plant recently that caught my eye.  The plant was being sold as a ground cover at Lowe’s, but I would have happily bought it as a tropical house plant.  The plant had very slender, dark green leaves along long, trailing stems that creep along the ground.  The midvein of each leaf was vibrant white or silver and  with some subtle silver veins reaching out to the tips.  The plant was labeled Euonymous ‘Wolong Ghost.’  I immediately thought of the Wolong Nature Preserve in China.  This is the area that was hit harshly by the earthquakes last year and is one of the few places where the Giant Pandas are still roaming in the wild.  After doing a little research online, I found out that this plant was named as such because it was collected in the Wolong Nature Preserve and brought back to the US for propagation!  I also read in the one review on Dave’s Garden that this plant makes a lousy ground cover because of its growth rate.  That was fine by me, since I wanted to keep it in a pot.  It’s beauty probably wouldn’t be appreciated as a ground cover anyway.  I bought 2 of the little plants the next day and put them in a pot, which now sits on my desk at work (and receives lots of compliments).

Euonymous fortunei Wolong Ghost
Euonymous fortunei 'Wolong Ghost' - selected by growers at Hersonswood

The third category is a very interesting one.  I think about it from time to time.  It recently came to mind when I was reading Ken Druse’s Planthropology.  It may be hard to admit, but mankind’s fondness for different plants is just as susceptible to fads and trends as clothes are.  Bell bottoms were reinvented and re-marketed recently with the boot bottom jeans; simple tulips are coming back into favor after decades of more frilly, elaborate roses.  It’s all part of the human factor.

We don’t find favor in plants solely because they are useful to us or because one plant serves a better purpose than another.  While there is no objective measure of beauty that I know of, we wouldn’t even use it if we found one.  Some plants are grown solely because of their hideousness (which you could also argue is in the eye of the beholder – or wincer).

And the definition of beauty is always changing.  At one time, heavier people were considered more beautiful because it meant that they were wealthy and did little work themselves.  There are plants coming in to fashion today that have been neglected for years or some that have never been considered beautiful in a landscape setting before.  One example would be the use of native grasses and weedy-looking wildflowers.  While people have probably enjoyed the beauty of these plants in nature before, they were reluctant to dig them up and replant them in an organized flowerbed until recently.

One interesting fad is that plants are beginning to be appreciated for their hardiness and native attributes.  As our culture is increasingly more aware of conserving energy and water, gardeners are acknowledging that plants which grow well naturally in their area are probably the best ones to plant in their garden.  They will be better attuned to the local annual rainfall and light amounts and require less water from a hose.

Horticulturalists have been capitalizing on the trend of cold hardy and drought tolerant plants by making new hybrids with more vibrant colors than the naturally occurring species.  (Here is an article, if you’re interested.)  But those plants really belong in my first category, not this one.

Vibrant new coneflower hybrid - Echinacea Twilight.  Picture courtesy of Itsaul Plants (www.itsaulplants.com)
Vibrant new coneflower hybrid - Echinacea 'Twilight'. This plant retains the drought tolerance and profuse blooming of the naturally-occurring species. Picture courtesy of Itsaul Plants (www.itsaulplants.com)

You could even say that some garden trends follow the economy well.  I haven’t done a study myself, but I would bet that the ratio of perennials to annuals purchased each year would correlate pretty well with the overall health of the national economy.  When you have less money to spend, you’re unlikely to spend it on plants that will only be around for a season.

Gardening itself is really an art form.  And just like other forms of art, there are always new styles being invented and old styles being rediscovered and appreciated.


 

InTREEguing

I know, I know.  My blog post is misspelled.  I started to name this post “Intriguing Trees.”  Then I decided I could make it all one word – just for fun.  [Don’t try this at a spelling bee.  Spelling Bee judges aren’t known for their sense of humor.]

This post is one of those eclectic collections of plant profiles (like My “onion” plants post).  It is a list of trees which I find intriguing, for one reason or another, and a short description of the trees.  Only a couple of these trees have I ever grown before.  And there are only a couple more that I would ever try to grow.  The others won’t grow in my region and are not suited to growing in a pot indoors.  I narrowed down the list to my top 6, listed here in no particular order:

Sassafras – I visited the OU (University of Oklahoma) Greenhouses a couple of years ago.  The caretaker, Cal Lemke, showed me a sassafras tree and had me sniff a leaf, not telling me what it was.  The smell was unmistakable.  Though, I admit, at the time I couldn’t name what the smell was.  But I knew the smell, nonetheless.  When he said the tree was a Sassafras, I thought “Of course, that smells just like Root Beer!”  The leaves of the Sassafras tree are uniquely tri-lobed.  The tree has small yellow flowers, but is otherwise an ordinary-looking tree.  I just think this tree is really neat because of the smell that is so evidently root beer-ish.  I think I will try to grow this tree at some point.  To top it all off, this tree can be grown in my zone and has wonderful fall foliage color.

Sassafras tree leaves - courtesy flickr member Muffet
Sassafras tree leaves - courtesy flickr member Muffet

Cacao tree – Let’s face it: Chocolate is one of the greatest discoveries of mankind.  I can’t imagine having a Cacao tree of my own and processing the beans to make my own chocolate.  I imagine it would be quite a task, but the rewards…?  Well worth it!  I might have to try growing a small specimen tree in a greenhouse.  I’m not sure that I would be able to do all of the processing required to make chocolate from the beans, but I could sure try.

Cacao tree at the Foster Botanical Garden
Cacao tree at the Foster Botanical Garden - Honolulu, Hawaii

Cork – How many trees do you know of that are harvested for their bark – and then they continue to grow and produce more to harvest?  Just one that I know.

Cork tree - from http://www.marylandcork.com
Cork tree - from http://www.marylandcork.com

Rainbow Bark Eucalyptus – If you haven’t seen one of these in person, you almost have to assume they aren’t real.  I mean, really – rainbow stripes on a tree trunk!?!  Come on – that’s ridiculous!

Rainbow bark Eucalyptus trees in Maui
Rainbow bark Eucalyptus trees in Maui, Hawaii

Coconut Palm – This is one of the trees I have tried to grow – “tried” being the most important word.  Twice, in fact.  I’ve mentioned those failures before on this blog.  The Coconut Palm simply requires more light than I can offer on a year-long basis.  The light requirements are easy to meet in the summer, but the winter is another story.  This tree makes the list (regardless of my difficulty growing it) because of it’s initial growth habit.  The tree literally sprouts from a full-sized coconut.  It is a really cool looking oddity of a tree at about 4-6 feet tall and a definite conversation piece – though I wouldn’t suggest sitting it on your coffee table.

Coconut palm tree sprouting from the coconut - courtesy flickr member Bemep
Coconut palm tree sprouting from the coconut - courtesy flickr member Bemep

Ginkgo tree – I have wanted to grow this tree ever since I saw once in its solid yellow Fall coloring at a local nursery.  I should have just bought it that day.  I guess I didn’t because it was about 15 feet tall and I was driving a small car and it was priced more than I could afford.  I also didn’t have an adequate space for it.  The tree is gorgeous in the Fall and the leaves have a very unique shape, unlike any other tree that I know.

Ginkgo trees are thought to be one of the oldest tree species still growing.  The species is thought to have existed at least 270 million years, back to the Jurassic period.

Ginkgo biloba leaves in Fall color - courtesy of Flickr user Rozanne
Ginkgo biloba leaves in Fall color - courtesy Flickr member Rozanne

Other trees receiving votes:
As with the AP Sports voting, I have accumulated a list of other trees that, while not making the list of top six, got some votes.  It’s an “honorable mention” sort of award:

  • Rubber plant (mine is really more of a plant than a tree).
  • Olive tree (though one of my favorites, this tree is too widely known and grown to make the list).
  • Baobab tree (probably on anyone else’s crazy-cool tree list, but I don’t have any desire to grow this one).  There is a really funny segment on the BBC Planet Earth DVDs of the filming of the Baobab trees.
  • Banyan trees (Some of my absolute favorite photographs are pictures of the tree roots entangled within and growing over the ruins of Angkor Wat.  There are several famous Banyan Tree groves across the globe, including several I saw recently in Hawaii.  The largest one I have seen takes up a whole city block in Lahaina on the island Maui, Hawaii.).

What would you put on your list of “intriguing trees?”