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Archive - August 2013

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Can't Wait for Fall—Veggies, Fruit and All

Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 03:53:41 PM

So I always plan to garden in the fall, but usually fail. “What? It’s April already? I thought it was still September,” I’ll often be heard to say. Not this fall though. I’ve started the garden already and there’s no turning back now—money has been spent!

I definitely want tomatoes, the old standard. But I want something really, really good. I don’t know exactly what that is, but I am pretty certain I can’t get it locally. I therefore ordered seeds online for Cherokee purple heirloom tomatoes. They look really big in the photos. Hope I get similar results.

I also was fortunate to receive some Seminole pumpkin seeds (Cucurbita moschata) from the Fairchild Farm. These are remarkable for being native to the southeast, reportedly still growing wild in the Everglades, and thriving in our brutally hot and wet summers. The vines are said to climb trees and when they fruit, the appearance is that of a pumpkin tree! The fruit looks like a cross between a small pumpkin and a gourd, with a beige skin like a gourd. I planted some seeds in small pots, and one week later the plants are already nearly three inches tall.

Along with the tomato seeds I also ordered Nicotiana rustica, wild tobacco. I don’t plan to smoke any, but it looks to be an attractive little plant, growing to about 15 inches tall. I like its connection to Native Americans, as it was (according to the seller) used as a ceremonial tobacco by Delaware Lenape people. I’ve sown a portion of those seeds (they are tiny, like dark grains of sand) only in one small pot so far. No growth yet; it’s only been three days.

I plan on starting the tomatoes very soon, with hopes of having something in four to six weeks substantial enough to transplant into large pots and the ground. That would make the date early or mid October. Hopefully I’ll be able to “harden” the plants to full sun by then. My concern is the sun will still be too strong for tomatoes at that time of year, but as I am taking a “Vegetable Gardening” class at Fairchild tonight, I’ll find out from the experts and report back.

I built an eight-foot-wide by two-and-a-half-foot-deep raised bed out of wood for the tomatoes. I hope to include arugula and basil to fill in the lower areas once the tomatoes are established. I’ll report back with photos and growth updates here. We’ll see!


Crab for Lunch

Tue, Aug 20, 2013 at 09:51:49 AM

I had quite the little adventure one day last week during a midmorning break. I’ve become fascinated with the many land crabs (Cardisoma guanhumi) living here at the Garden. It makes sense they’re here. They like low-lying areas near the coast, and usually aren’t found more than five miles from the coast, having to return to the ocean to disburse their eggs. (Note: I once saw one in my backyard in Country Walk, a good eight miles or so from the nearest salt water as the crow flies. It scurried into its burrow behind a banana plant, never to be seen again in my decade living there).

I’ve walked around the Garden’s lakes trying to sneak up on crabs, but instead there is a nice little view of our Sunken Garden from a break in the palms, aroids, ferns and rock wall cordoning it. From above, one can sometimes watch the land crabs outside their burrows. They don’t seem to do much, but then again, here I am crouched over a bunch of buttons moving my eyes, fingers and not much else. I even brought a nice telephoto lens to get some shots from on high, but every time I have the camera, no crabs. If I leave the camera home, there’s a great chance I’ll see the crabs. The one I am really interested in is a particularly large crab who lives right at the edge of the pond in the Sunken Garden. Prime crustacean real estate! I don’t know why I find them companionable; they scurry into their holes at the first sign of movement, and are pretty common here in the south. Maybe it’s the one large claw (asymmetry is unusual). They are purple-ish/red when young, ageing to blue, gray, sometimes white. Females are often lighter in color. Maybe the duality of their lives appeals to this Gemini: semi-terrestrial during most of life, having been born in the sea, and needing to return there to reproduce, amphibian like.

I’ll get a good photo of them. In the meantime I satisfied my curiosity by sticking my iphone into their burrows to pay them an unexpected visit.

Land crab guarding its burrow
Land crab guarding its burrow


Inside land crab home
Why, you could knock before coming in you know.


Risen from the Dead: Cayman Sage

Fri, Aug 02, 2013 at 12:31:33 PM

ants inside cayman sage
Ants battle inside a Cayman sage flower.

Whether caused by human beings, or stemming from a more “natural” cause, there is little sadder than the extinction of an entire species. From my standpoint, it is the loss of ability to simply know the world that particular species experienced—or just the inability to view a beautiful plant or animal in its natural surroundings. That’s perhaps selfish, but I think also a normal initial reaction. The greater loss is immeasurable.

Sometimes, however, scientists—and often just regular curious citizens—find a plant or animal believed to be extinct, but happily living out its life. Apparently nobody remembered to tell these organisms that they went extinct. Living things once believed extinct but rediscovered alive are often referred to as a “Lazarus taxon,” (as in Lazarus, rising from the dead; taxon, a biological classification of organisms, e.g. a phylum, order, genus, species) but that more correctly refers to a taxon that disappeared from the fossil record, and subsequently reappeared in it. By that definition, the Lazarus taxon is within the realm of paleontology. I’m more interested in living things thought extinct and rediscovered not in the fossil record, but current and alive today, a “Lazarus species.”

I wondered if Fairchild housed any such species, and we do! Senior Horticulturalist Mary Collins pointed me in the direction of Cayman Sage (Salvia caymanensis). This perennial grows to about 2–3 feet tall, and produces very small periwinkle/sky blue flowers about 3/8ths of an inch long. Endemic to Grand Cayman, it had been last described in 1967 and soon after believed extinct. After Hurricane Ivan in 2004, conservationists in the Cayman Islands realized seeds of the Cayman sage, possibly dormant in the soil, could possibly have the chance to grow in the disturbed areas created by the hurricane, a kind of area the plant prefers. “Wanted” posters were distributed in 2007 offering a reward to anyone finding live sage plants, and soon after a woman correctly spotted the plant growing in a roadside area.

Salvia at Fairchild
Salvia caymanensis at Fairchild

Endemic to Grand Cayman, Salvia caymanensis is still considered critically threatened by the IUCN. To view this beguiling little plant, you simply need to travel to Grand Cayman, or walk through Fairchild’s Visitor Center into the garden where Cayman sage thrives along a border in Plot 17.

Note: To read about the poster creature for a Lazarus species, you can’t go wrong with the Coelacanth, a fascinating fish that went from fossil to fisherman’s catch. The title I'm familiar with is "A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth," by Samantha Weinberg.

cayman sage blooming
Blooming Cayman sage


Found at Fairchild Blog
Found at Fairchild Blog
Explore the Garden with Fairchild blogger Ken Setzer. More