The Hot, the Loud, and the Proud! April

Last month I didn't have too much to offer in the way of garden color, but now things are really heating up!

I would have to say that my bottlebrushes embody total hotness!  My run of the mill lemon bottlebrushes did really well this winter, and not only did the plant out in the sun (pictured above) bloom, but so did my tree in the swampy and shady back corner of the yard!
I have another variety of bottlebrush with larger and stiffer leaves that got hit very hard by the cold for some reason, but its still going to bloom soon.  It has fuzzy, pink tinged new growth and its flowers are more mauve colored.  Does anyone know what the bottlebrush in the photo to the left is?

My firecracker plant is also very hot, and barely took a hit this winter!  I've seen many photos of this in the resorts of Bali, so I think I've found a good and dependable plant for my Balinese courtyard garden out front!  In the background are some weeping yaupon holly trees, which really work nicely with the weeping form of the firecracker shrub.

My Neoregelia "Red Band" specimens are definitely loud, especially now that the chartreuse banding has started to appear!

For some reason "proud" brings to mind big and bold leaves, taking center stage!  You can see that my Alocasia "California" has really taken off in the warmth of spring, and soon the whole island bed will be filled by its big and glossy leaves.  As soon as the rainy season starts, I'll find about 30 to 50 tree frogs taking shelter in the water filled leaf axils.

My other "proud" leaves belong to my ice cream banana. I really like the powdery pink leaf stalks and lime green leaves, but hopefully by next year I'll be gushing about the custard flavored ice blue bananas!

Visit Noel's A Plant Fanatic in Hawaii blog for other posts that are Hot, Loud and also Proud!

Unidentified Philodendron Selloum Hybrid

UPDATE!  This actually turned out to be a plain ol selloum, but with ruffled and lacy leaves.  It seems like there is a lot of variation with these!

I saw this oddity at a local target a couple of weeks ago, and have been thinking about it ever since.  It has wavy, slightly lobed leaves as opposed to the usual deeply lobed ones, is a slightly darker, bluer color, and has bright white margins.  Also, it's not as glossy as other selloums and if you look closely you can see each and every white vein.

After doing a bit of research it does bear a resemblance to philodendron 'evansii', a hybrid between p. bipinnatifidum and p. speciosum made in the 40's and used mostly in the 60's and 70's in South Floridian foundation plantings.  From what I've seen it has even bigger leaves that either of its parents, is pretty hard to find, and is cold tolerant to zone 9a.  I'm sure that some of you guys have seen it before so what do you think?  It may even be a new accidental hybrid or selection for all I know, but ideally it would just be an unusual form of good ol' cold tolerant philodendron bipinnatifidum.  I've placed it at the base of my evergreen yellow anise, which should provide some protection in winter just in case its not too cold tolerant.  I suppose Ill definitely have a better idea when it flowers, since the spathe of 'evansii' is bright salmon pink!  Here's a view of the whole plant.

Any help would be great!

A Gecko Obituary, Earth Stars Reborn

Gecko Obituary  I'm sorry to inform you that this gecko known as Lord Thaddeus Squishington, and "The Bugmeister" to his friends, is no longer with us.  Apparently he took a midnight stroll to grab a mosquito... and just picked that moment to up and die suspended on the wall by his velcro/suction cup feet.  Lord Squishington was deeply loved by his family and was known by friends to be a night owl, partying at all the hot spots at bright lights around town.  Female acquaintances were quick to point out that he was great at wiggling and shimmying on the dance floor, and his male acquaintances note that he was never one to drop his tail for nothing!  Authorities are ruling out foul play involving area treefrogs, and tell us that his passing was of natural causes.  Obit by Kermit Q. Tad, Arboreal Amphibian Times

I don't want to sound insensitive or gross, especially since I love lizards very much, but how cool is it that their feet cling that well?  Not to sound too crazy, but I've always wondered if their feet still cling after they pass away and today I've found my answer.  Oh well, at least they're invasive exotics around here anyway.

Earth Stars are Alive!  On a brighter note, I'll tell you the inspiring story of my little cryptanthus bromeliads that were recently found to have cheated death.  Also known as earth stars, they are terrestrial (grow in soil), thrive in humid terrariums and are known for being some of the more tender varieties of bromeliads.
In summer I bought a plant that had put out pups, and promptly potted up the pups before forgetting about them.  I know, I'm horrible, but the pot was really small and fell behind the shelf.  Anyways, I discovered them right before the first freeze when I was corralling all my plants to be brought indoors, and they looked pretty pale and had no roots.  I brought them in for the first couple of frosts, but then decided that they were dead anyways and gave up.  I threw them in the trash pail in almost total darkness through the cold winter. 
Last week I went to reuse some stuff from the trash pail and discovered that my baby earth stars had gotten some color back!  I started to pull them out and found that two of the three had put out some sufficient roots even though they had not been watered in at least three months, not to mention being put out in the cold all winter.  THEY'RE ALIVE! HAHAHAHAHA!  They're the ones to the right in the photo below.

The big one to the left is a brand new one that I got from Target, for a mere $2.50!  It has flower buds in the center, which will soon turn out to be insignificant, but the exciting part is that there are three pups starting to emerge already!  Free plants!  In the upper left is cherished piece of driftwood from my grandmother, with the native encyclia tampensis orchid thriving on it, along with the cold hardy vriesea corcovadensis. Some of the pseudobulbs on the orchid actually look like pearls right now, as the leaf tissue is stretched taut over the p-bulbs.  In the upper right hand corner is the "Easter cactus" that I started from single pad cuttings, growing out of nothing but orchid bark.  As you can see, the flowers will be open soon, probably on Mother's Day.

Cold Hardy Bromeliads: Billbergia

If you're looking for a tough bromeliad that can handle freezes, frost, and flood (yes flood), one of the cold tolerant billbergia hybrids may be just the ticket for a "not so tropical garden".  Billbergia pyramidalis, the most commonly grown billbergia in my area is so easy that its common name is "foolproof plant"!

There are so many hybrids that even the experts have a hard time telling them apart!  The one pictured below was found in an old abandoned lot in the sand and rescued before everything was demolished for a new house.  It has been left in a soggy flooded window box, subjected to lawnmowers, record cold, a totally epiphytic lifestyle and even the floods of the rainy season.  When I pruned off some vases that had already flowered, I simply threw them in the swamp last spring.  Just the other day I found a pretty healthy pup growing out of the muck from the old plant! 

This is one of the many hybrids that shows a lot of color and variation in bright sun.  Since the flowers are so short lived, I think the foliage is my favorite part.  These first two photos feature a clump growing on a sweet bay magnolia against the swamp behind the garden.

Below is the flowering procession of a similar hybrid that I found in an ancient clump of thousands in Middleburg.  The flowering takes only a couple of weeks, but I know I'll always have lots of pups in no time.  From what I can tell this one is "birdsong".  Any ideas?

Of course there are many other varieties to choose from such as this billbergia pyramidalis "striata", with variegated leaves and even more impressive flowers.  The species is actually a topic for debate, but its usually categorized as a pyramidalis. 

And here you can see the drastically different billbergia pyramidalis aka foolproof plant.  Now do you see why they couldn't possibly be the same species?

Of course the best known billbergia to temperate gardeners is billbergia nutans, also known as queen's tears or friendship plant.  It has dark green, glossy foliage that graceful and arching, often with a bit of waviness to it.  The coolest part (to me at least) is it's cold hardiness, reportedly hardy in zone 8a with temps in the low teens!  I would love to see these growing in a tree in temperate South Carolina.

You can see many of these at kanapaha botanical gardens in Gainesville (zone 8b) and at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

Of course not all billbergias are cold hardy, but then again most books will tell you that all of the aforementioned bromeliads aren't cold hardy either.    Your best bet is to experiment and if you find one that works for you, stick with it!  I'll include posts on other cold hardy bromeliads in the future.


This is a new category I'm adding, featuring posts that aim to be more or less informative.

5 Ways to Prevent Cold Damage NEW!

Germinating Heliconia Seeds NEW!

Cold Hardy Bromeliads: Billbergia

5 Reasons to Garden Tropical in a Colder Climate

5 Ways to Have a Tropical Garden Wherever You Live

Tropical Terrariums

How to Take Cuttings of Epiphytic Cacti

Rhipsalis Micrantha cuttings spread out to dry

Today I'm going to show you how to take cuttings of epiphytic cacti, specifically rhipsalis micrantha.  This lesson applies to Christmas cacti, dragonfruit, night blooming cacti, orchid cacti and any other epiphytic cacti that you have to work with.  This is seriously one of the easiest and most rewarding projects for a beginning gardener, since rainforest cacti can handle just about anything.  I've rooted many in regular potting soil, in orchid bark and have even left my christmas cactus under some pine needles all winter to find that they made it!  Epiphytic cacti are a diverse group, including epiphyllums (orchid cacti), christmas and easter cacti, rhipsalis, dragonfruit and many more drastically different plants.  As you can see in the photo below, even species in the same genus can bear little resemblance to one another!  I've included some other rhipsalis in my collection to give you an idea of the variety involved.

I don't even know what kind this is, but its putting out a ton of flowerbuds!

Step 1.  Take the Cuttings
My hanging basket of rhipsalis micrantha was getting to be so overgrown that it was difficult to take it down for watering!  I used a clean pair of pruners to remove the old stems where its gotten congested, leaving the new growth to fill in.  To the left is a photo of all the cuttings I took!  After taking all of those cuttings my hanging basket still has a huge amount of growth, so I'll be taking cuttings throughout the year to keep it from getting too heavy.  Growing out of the centerpiece is an easter cactus that I rooted two years ago using only 3 inch long segments.  Now it has four bright red flower buds, growing in nothing but bark with occasional watering!

Step 2.  Leave Out to Dry
This is so that the clipped ends heal and scab over, which discourages pests and rot.

Step 3.  Dip in Rooting Hormone if Desired
Though not really necessary, this may give the cuttings a head start by promoting root growth at the cut ends.  I've found that most rooting takes place in between the segments anyways, especially when its warm and humid.  I used the rooting hormone in only one container, just to see if it makes any difference.  I'll be sure to include an update to this post when I get results!

Step 4.  Insert Cuttings Into Soil
Fill the pots almost to the top with potting soil.  Then poke the cuttings into the dirt, just deep enough to keep them from toppling over.  You can fill up the pot with as many as you want!  I use potting soil just to encourage rooting.  When you repot the cuttings you can use an epiphytic blend of your choice.  I like to use a blend of potting soil and orchid bark.

Step 5.  Cover Lightly With More Soil
This helps to stabilize the cuttings and gives the roots something to cling to.  Don't worry about the stems rotting too much, since we're not going to drown them in moisture anyways.

Step 6.  Water Deeply 
And then relax!  Roots should form in a couple of weeks, and you'll get new growth in a month or two.  Later on you may choose to repot in a well draining mix for epiphytes but its not necessary as long as you don't over-water them.  I personally water my epiphytic cacti about once a week.

Here is a photo of the hanging basket after the pruning, just to give you an idea of how prolific it is.
I placed the remainder of the cuttings at the base of my fiddle leaf fig tree, since they'll look gorgeous trailing over the edge of the pot.  

I know that many of you don't own epiphytic cacti, but the next time you get an Easter cactus as a present, hopefully this provides you with some inspiration.  Many of you guys down south can even grow these outdoors so in my mind there's no excuse not to give these lush beauties a shot!
Here's a link to my Rhipsalis Plant Profile from earlier this year.

Cactus Flowers, Treefrogs and a New Crinum

Cactus Blooms!
Not one but two flowers opened on my unidentified sea urchin like cactus today!  They started opening in the morning and by the time I left my mom's place in the afternoon they were fully open in unison.  Here's a photo!  I'm so happy that I happened to be around to see them bloom since I call my apartment home and only get to visit once or twice a week.

Amending the Soil for the First Time.   
I made my visit a productive one, and got to relocate my ice cream banana to a drier spot, apply a lot of manure, and apply fertilizer and micronutrients to the garden.  This is the first time I've ever really made an effort to amend and fertilize the soil, but I've had a good reason.

The biggest pollutant to the St. Johns River is excessive nutrient runoff from people's lawns and gardens, and since I am first and foremost a lover of Florida's nature I had some reservations about "improving the soil any.

I ended up changing my mind in this case though, since the runoff naturally and slowly filters through my garden before either reaching the aquifer or becomes connected to the swamp in the rainy season, forming a natural buffer.  Most of the pollution is from lawn fertilizer that takes a direct route to the river through the storm sewers. 

The other reason for adding organic matter is that my soil is very compact, sandy and clayey, which means that its constantly wet, full of nematodes and forces tender plants to keep their roots right at the surface where the cold can more easily kill them.  When I dug up my bananas that did not make it I noticed that all the roots were growing straight out across the soil, making the corm look much like an octopus.  The roots also had nodules in them showing the work of nematodes, which prefer constantly wet, sandy soil.  Adding organic matter makes the soil more breathable too, so then its supersaturated in summer the roots will get a little more oxygen.

I also picked up some "Really Great Stuff" from Whole Foods that contains a lot of vitamins, minerals and trace elements that some of my plants desperately need.  For example, my gardenia is finally going to flower but its always had anemic looking yellow leaves that will benefit from the iron.  I ended up using it everywhere, but the radicalis palms are really going to benefit from the iron and the bananas need the magnesium.

Every time I garden I just can't leave those treefrogs alone!  They're just so sweet that I can't take my eyes off them, and the little dudes are easy to find since they tend to pick the same spots for their homes.  I would name them but when the rainy season hits I'll have hundreds of them to keep track of so whats the point?  I do notice that the squirrel treefrogs like to stick in pairs, and I'll even project human qualities on them by imagining the couples as soulmates in their homes together.

See, they're two peas in a pod!  Or at least two frogs in an uncurling ti plant leaf, but that's less allegorical.  I would imagine that the close quarters would get to be stifling at times, but I know that Jim here will always come back to Pam by the end of the day.

Queen Emma Crinum (Finally!)
I've always admired these for their foliage and flowers, but they always seemed to be pretty expensive.  That is, until I found a huge one in a little pot for ten bucks!  It even has a little pup at the base, so it must be mature enough to flower by now. 

I just love the subtle coloration, like a gradient of bronze, green and lavender. 

Monstera Deliciosa Has Returned!
To those of you further south this might not seem like a big deal, but for me this is huge.  Swiss Cheese plant is the most tropical plant in my garden and has now survived two record breaking cold winters, possibly the coldest temps it will experience in years.  I'm sure that others have overwintered it outdoors in this area before, but I've been hard pressed to find much about it online, in books or by word of mouth.
My ti plants are also returning, including my "black magic" specimen that I thought may have been toast.  Yup, today was a good and productive day.

Things That Made Me Smile Today

Today was a drizzly day, but unfortunately not rainy enough to give the garden a sufficient soaking.  However, everything's still springing back to life, and the mass of ferns in the swamp behind the garden is no exception.  Every year I go and yank out the switchgrass to keep it from invading upon this bed of ferns, so every year it seems to get fuller to the point of stealing the show from the rest of the garden. 

In other news today, my "crosby's prolific" aloe is blooming with its scapes of sherbert orange, and beneath it blooms my weird little sea urchin-is cactus... well I guess the flower buds haven't opened just yet but they're so big and lavender that i might as well be blooming.

Heres another photo of my new dyckia "red planet" just because I love it so.  I actually saw the similar dyckia "cherry coke" for sale today at the ridiculous price of $89.99, and the specimens were only a bit bigger than this one, which by the way was $5.  Go me!

I thought it was kind of interesting that my aechmea cylindrata that bloomed in January is actually still showing a lot of color all the way in April! 

Since my supposedly cold hardy musa "rajapuri" bit the dust this winter I replaced it with an ice cream banana, which I would have preferred to begin with!  Its cool enough that the leaves have a powdery glaucous coating underneath, but they're also reportedly hardy to Atlanta with mulching and the blue fruit supposedly tastes like custard or ice cream!  I didn't want that rajapuri anyways.

I also found a great deal on a native yellow anise bush, which is perfect for my swampy backyard.  Eventually the evergreen (root beer scented) leaves will form a protective canopy over all of the gingers, which by the way,  happen to be returning in full force!

I'm super happy that everything's springing back to life- my heliconias, gingers, alocasias, passionflowers, thunbergia, gloriosa lily, hibiscus, and even the white bird of paradise's!  The plumeria that rotted at the base seems to have some life left in it too, so I'm crossing my fingers.  Some bonus's today:  The weeping yaupon holly has blooms all along the branches and the firecracker shrub (russellia) is putting out new blooms as if it were already summer!  When life gets busy and stressful, its always reassuring to know that my plants will keep plugging along no matter what... unless of course they die first.

Traveling the Ft. Lauderdale Area

We just recently got back from yet another trip to South Florida, and have once again proven just how much can be explored in a day or two.  It baffles me that any Floridian would pay good money to take a trip out of state or even the country when there's so much to see and do just hours away!  My fiance and I have always taken every opportunity to travel Florida's scenic beauty, be it through hiking, camping or simply getting lost through many wrong turns, and we've gotten pretty familiar with a good chunk of peninsular Florida in the last several years. 

Strolling Las Olas
In the off season you can get some great deals on hotels like the one we got at the beach in Ft. Lauderdale.  I generally prefer waking on a more natural beach, like one in a state park, but I did find a couple sea beans and even got to explain what they were to some visitors from out of state!  We also had the chance to walk down Las Olas Blvd. to check out the shops and pretty gardens on the way.  The garden below artfully combines oyster plant, duranta, purple crinum and some huge alcantarea imperialis bromeliads.  I am a strong advocate of using chartreuse and dark burgundy and purple, so this was a nice demonstration. 


Too Many Palms
Oh, and if Antigonum Cajan is reading this, I will say that coastal South Florida is absolutely inundated with a tacky mass of palm trees to please the snowbirds and I usually do get pretty tired of royal palms when I'm visiting.  I wish people would use some moderation and use them in a more naturalistic style, jutting out of other south florida natives like stoppers and wild coffee.  If anyone wants to see royal palm trees the way they were meant to be seen, visit the Fakahatchee Strand near Naples and you'll be blown away.

Sandoway House Nature Center
This converted historic home/museum was a bit of a disappointment, if only because we had to pay a stiff entrance fee of $4 a person and had to listen to a 30 minute long snoozefest of a speech by a grumpy old lady before getting to look around for ourselves.  I mean no disrespect to the more experienced readers out there with regards with the "old" comment, but this know it all liked to argue with everything you said and also happened to "forget" to give us our change.  So there.  Oh yeah, there was also a big grumpy parrot that wanted to eat my face off.
On the plus side, there was a huge shell collection, a butterfly garden, terrariums, and a big pool with native reef fish like nurse sharks and an adorable and huge pufferfish that liked to follow us around, breaching out of the water in hopes of obtaining food.  Here's a crappy shot of a monarch caterpillar chowing down on an asclepias.

Deerfield Beach Arboretum
My last post featured some photos of this hidden gem, and I can't recommend it enough to anyone in the area.  Its a free city park, containing tennis and basketball courts, an exercise trail and a playground all within the setting of a botanical garden complete with an impressive collection of fruit trees, flowering trees, perennials, vines, palms and natives.  We visited on the first day when it was rainy and got to hunger down in this great pagoda.

I think that rainy days make for the best photos personally, but more flowers were open on the second day when it was nice and sunny.  Here's a nice chalice vine, smelling strongly of lotion, I think.

Chalice vine

A Baobab trunk

Coccoloba Rugosa, a huge leaved seagrape relative with red flowers.

Slender lady palm, flowering and fruiting.  I'll have to get one of these!

Another shot of my favorite tree from this trip, the shaving brush tree.  I did some reading on it and apparently pseudobombax ellipticum is a great xeriscaping tree too!  According to my old book, "Flowering Trees for Central and South Florida", its flowers open at night with an explosive sound when the petals curl open!  This is definitely one to try in a container if I can find one.

Daggerwing Nature Center
I was a bit surprised by this city run nature center in Boca Raton, but what else should I expect from the city that brought us Gumbo Limbo Nature Center?  There was a great butterfly garden in front of the facility, and beyond that was a boardwalk through a young swamp with crystal clear waters.  There were even morning glories, cocoplum and seagrapes growing right out of the swamp, perhaps owing to the extra oxygen afforded by the clear and swiftly moving water.  

A jatropha blooming in front of the nature center

A view from halfway up the observation tower

Tropical World Nursery
Our last stop was this amazing nursery I found online, located in Boynton Beach.  Not only was there a huge collection of tropicals, there were even mini nurseries like a Native plant nursery that had some of the rarest natives in Florida.  I regret not buying that simpson's stopper after all, but I suppose I couldn't pass up the two bromeliads that I ended up with.  The first one is a rare dyckia called "red planet" that I can't find much info on, which has an even stronger color than the "cherry coke" variety.  They were on sale for $5 each since the ferocious leaves were nibbled on by rabbits (brave, brave, rabbits), but I think the one I chose still looked pretty good.  Here's a shot of this cold hardy, nibbled upon, showstopper.

The best deal was on an aechmea that appears to be in the ortgiesea alliance like gamosepala and apocolyptica, but the nurseryman wasn't sure of what kind it was.  It was a huge clump growing in a little container so I got it for a really great price.

This was a super-long post, but hopefully you stuck with me this far.  Thanks for reading!