Garden stories can arise from a single plant or a profusion of them, from a spectacular bird or glorious butterfly that visits a worthy bloom, or a new discovery made in the field that expands our understanding of the Earth. Any and all of these realms are for sharing and discussing on this blog, which we invite you to join.
Text and photos by Georgia Tasker
|Native Tetrazygia bicolor.|
Enjoying the heat of summer is Tetrazygia bicolor or West Indian lilac. Its white flowers with bold yellow stamens appear crisp and undeterred by the wilting heat. This native shrub loves our limestone soils and yet it appreciates some organic content. The shrub is in the Melastomaceae, a wide-ranging tropical family, and it has characteristic melastome leaves with distinctive veins. In southern Florida, it grows on the edges of hammocks to garner sun and produce flowers. It is on the state’s threatened list, but grows in the West Indies as well as South Florida. Not a fast-growing plant, Tetrazygia bicolor may be hampered if planted too deep. About as wide as it is tall, which may be up to 20 feet, the shrub may be made more compact by pinching new growth to encourage fullness. Berries produced in the fall are purple and are eaten by cardinals, blue jays and mocking birds.
|A happy bee on white milkweed vine, Sarcostemma clausum|
Pollinator Week begins June 17. As we witness the significant decline in honeybees, bumble bees, wild bees, butterflies and birds, let’s take this week to plant wildflowers to help out the pollinators remaining. On Saturday, Steve Woodmansee is having a native plant sale at Silent Native Nursery, 16265 SW 210 Terrace, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Go to PlantRealFlorida.org and find specific plants and what nurseries carry them. Look for yellow top, golden rod, native wild petunia, salvia, Indian blanket, asters, Lantana involucrata, Bahama manjack, Cordia globosa, pineland or smooth strongbark, Mexican alvaradora, Passiflora pallens, Passiflora suberosa, coontie…the list is long and the time is right.
And be sure to go to the Pollinator Partnership website (http://pollinator.org/beestory.htm) and watch Isabella Rosselini’s three short films about honeybees, which may be the most charming shorts you’ll ever see.
Blooming beautifully in the Conservatory is Warszewiczia coccinea, a small tree in the coffee family with fire engine red sepals that offset small yellow flowers. The name, a tongue twister, remembers Josef Warszewicz, a 19th Century botanist who found an enormous number of orchids and sent them to England to be described. Warszewicz was of Polish descent, born in 1812, but as a young man had to leave his homeland because of a revolution. He worked at the Botanical Garden at Berlin for four years, and then in 1845 answered an advertisement to hunt for plants in Guatemala. Yellow fever sent him back to Europe in 1850, but after a few years, he was restless to hunt again for plants and headed to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. He discovered Cattleya dowiana, Cattleya warscewiczii, Cynoches warscewiczii, Sobralia warscewiczii and many other orchids bearing his name. Another bout of yellow fever in 1853 sent him back to Europe, where he became supervisor of the Cracow Botanic Garden. He died in 1866.
The first time I saw Warszewiczia coccinea was in Costa Rica at La Selva Biological Station run by the Organization for Tropical Studies. The late ornithologist Alexander Skutch, who wrote more than 40 books and was a world expert on Central American birds, described the Warszewiczia in his book A Naturalist in Costa Rica. “The glowing color is provided by a single lobe on each calyx, which becomes two or three inches long.” He initially suspected the flowers would attract hummingbirds and honeycreepers, “but I watched for hours without seeing a single feathered visitor. Butterflies of many colors, along with smaller insects, seemed to be the chief pollinators.”
Sometimes called a wild poinsettia, the Warszewiczia grows in seasonally wet/dry forests throughout Central America to Peru and Bolivia as well as the West Indies. It likes well-drained soil.
Podocarpus National Park, covering 1,400 square kilometers or more than 900 square miles, in southern Ecuador, has spectacular plant and animal diversity -- more than 600 species of birds and 4,000 species of plants, 40 percent of which are endemic. So biologically rich, the park is called “the botanical garden of the Americas.” Hiking here is one of life's great pleasures if you are nature nut like me.
|Butterfly on Miconia leaf.|
Philodendrons, ferns, bromeliads, orchids, flowering shrubs slather the understory, twine and crawl up trees and delight you if you can even name the genus, much less the species.
Heliconia orthotricha burnishes its vermillion bracts edged in green against ferns of a thousand patterns. Philodendron sodori, silver-white patches marking its rippled, heart-shaped leaves, grows in profusion, often tickled at its feet by the green and white species Caladium bicolor. Peperomias, begonias, selaginella and moss of every description fill in the blanks. Oil
|Hot lips, Psychotria
palms emerge from the canopy as giant fountains of fronds.
A cascada thunders so mightily that it can be heard half a kilometer away.
|A cool cascade.|
On a different scale, a carnivorous Utricularia holds out flowers as beautiful as orchids, but each only about a quarter inch in length.
We had great fun posing with flowers of Psychotria poeppigiana held between our teeth, its two curled bracts serving as phony red lips; chasing butterflies to photograph, and finding make-believe vistas so we could catch our breath. Learning to identify orchids and aroids here is learning in one of the planet's best classrooms.
|Swallowtail puddling to sip
An astonishing number of flowers sparkle from the sides of a dirt road here is southern Ecuador. Bromeliads, gesneriads, palms and heliconias along with birds and butterflies.
A huge orange flower of a liana called Guarnia dangled from its stem. Inside hairy orange bracts are tubular yellow corollas, making the whole cluster stand out among the foliage. Called a jungle cucumber, the flowers are pollinated by heliconias butterflies.
|Fuchsia and butterfly|
Charming yellow-green bell-shaped flowers of an Iochroma shyly nod toward earth. Tubular flowers on Cavendeshia are red -- signaling to hummingbirds as does a red Kohleria, with kissing anthers characteristic of gesneriads. A butterfly with orange bars that matches a bold fuchsia favored us with a visit.
Long, tear-drop-shaped woven nests of the yellow and black oropendulas are engineered to hang below tree canopies, allowing bird-safe ingress and egress.
Mauritius flexulosa, the achu palm, has enormous clusters of edible seeds beneath its palmate fronds, and is one of the most useful palms in the country.
Crossing the Andes, we find Puya clava-herculis in bloom at the highest elevations, their aquamarine flowers the same color as those of the jade vine. Now the hunt to find and photograph orchids becomes the obsession of the day -- but Marie and Steve Nock, who are our travel companions, are searching for aroids as well.
Sobralia rosea lifts large lavender and rose flowers everywhere we look. A terrestrial Habenaria species shows off little white flowers surrounding an upright stalk, growing from the roadside. Rodriguezia chisei is so perfectly placed in a small tree that it could have come straight from an orchid show.
Mossy wet habitat of Phragmipedium besseae
Marie and Steve are not disappointed, either. A thunderous waterfall has Anthurium effusilobium waggling in the mist to one side while Philodendron acutifolia sways among grassy bamboos.
But the pot of gold at the end of our orchid rainbow is Phragmipedium besseae, discovered in Peru by Sarasota's Libby Besse and so named in her honor. It is velvety orange with yellow surrounding it small pointed pouch. The discovery enthralled the orchid world and revived great interest in slipper orchids.
Ivan spots a glint of orange some 20 feet up a slippery hillside. Getting to a place to more clearly see and photograph it means grasping slender trees and bamboos, finding footing in tree roots slick with wet moss and inevitably doing a little hands-and-knees crawl. She grows at an elevation of 3,000 feet on the sides of rocks that are constantly wet and sprayed by slender waterfalls. One group of four together is the photo prize of the expedition.
A little farther on, we find Phragmipedium besseae growing among Phragmipedium reticulatum, a larger and very beautiful slipper that is green and yellow. Ivan believes that the two will naturally hybridized one day.
Descending even more we visit a village of Shaur people, whose ancestors once believed shrunken heads could help women successfully through labor. An Italian missionary, Father Andreetta, came from Italy and established a free school for them and began to study and collect orchids. Ivan and his brother Pepe learned to cultivate orchids from him when they lived nearby.
Fog followed us from the coastal city of Guayaquil to some 8,000 or 9,000 feet into the Andes. On a tour to see orchids and aroids in their natural habitats in Ecuador, we could make out enormous anthuriums in the mist, a few bright orange Erythrina flowers, along with bright yellow epidendrums, but not much else. In Cajas National Park, however, the clouds were below us and the paramo stretched across the mountains as a lovely deep green skin.
Just as we approached this ecosystem, we drove through stands of red-barked Polylepsis trees that grow higher than any others. Layers of thin red, orange and black bark, not unlike melaleuca bark but thinner, covered the small trees with their compound thick leaves. Bunch grasses and waterfalls, deep valleys with rushing streams were glorious, even without the sun.
Going higher, we found a family of llamas munching on anything green. The patriarch was a huge, dark brown guy with a black face. His females and juveniles were wonderful mixes of brown, white and gray.
Then to the top, more than 12,000 feet. Clumps of cushion plants and tiny windflowers. Among the most enchanting were orange and yellow Gentianella hirculus which resemble hot air balloons only half an inch tall. It was a subtle and engaging landscape that made us stoop to see the details.
Encinitas, CA. -- The feather duster palm, Rhopalostylis sapida, has the southernmost range of any
|New Zealand native.|
palm, meandering to the South Island of New Zealand. It's swollen and distinctive crown shaft bulges beneath upright stiff fronds. It is a prize here at the San Diego Botanic Garden.
On 37 beautifully kept acres, the garden is in full bloom this spring. Coral trees and a daisy tree, kangaroo paws and Matilija poppies, bottlebrush trees and California poppies blend their brilliant colors with palms, cycads, succulents and bamboo. For a visiting Floridian, it is a new world of shapes and shades, of desert and original maritime chaparral, as well as succulents, iris and roses arranged in tapestries of great charm.
|Puya alpestris, Chilean bromeliad.|
Some plants that caught my eye: a delicate, elegant pine-leaf bottlebrush, Callistemon pinifolius, from New South Wales; jewel-toned flowers of a Chilean bromeliad, Puya alpestris, that shine in teal and turquoise while flashing orange stamens; yellow bearded iris against blue-gray agaves and yellow roses; vegetable gardens planted in surprising containers (sugar cane sprouting from a giant sugar bowl and all the ingredients for salsa growing in an oversized salsa bowl), and hummingbirds aplenty.
Topographically the garden rises and falls over a hilly landscape. Great emphasis is placed on capturing the imagination of children with a tree house, an alphabet garden, interactive play areas where dinosaur eggs can be found and seeds planted. Succulents are displayed with great imagination, and pair well with cycads and roses.
|Succulents create the dress
and hat of this lady.
Donated to San Diego County by Ruth Larabee in 1957, the garden’s original name was Quail Botanical Gardens. Gil Voss, beginning in 1974, renovated the garden. Voss started the herbarium, plant records and mapped the garden. He co-founded the American Bamboo Society before retiring from the botanic garden in 1989.
The SDBG has an annual chocolate festival, gala, endangered species celebration, bromeliad show, and a lady bug day. An emphasis throughout the plantings is water conservation. There also is a demonstration of landscaping for fire prevention.
|Flowers of the bromeliad Alcantarea imperialis finally opening.|
|Codiaeum variegatum 'Polychrome'.|
Croton lovers gathered at Flamingo Gardens in Davie on Sunday, where executive director Stan Wood led them through the croton collection and then gave them a peek at a collection around his home in the back of the property. The Croton Society disbanded two years ago, but from time to time, loyalists will suggest touring a garden that features their favorite shrub.
Jeff Searle, of Searle Brothers Nursery in Southwest Ranches, not only loves palms but he’s also a croton fancier and a great auctioneer. Almost everyone who came to the croton tour -- and they came from St. Petersburg, Ft. Myers, Palm Beach County as well as the Florida Keys in addition to the Broward and Miami-Dade – brought crotons to sell. The same crowd bought all of the crotons auctioned. Highest price for the day was $127. Milky Way,
|Orange and red predominate here.|
brought in $93. Some plants were give-aways at $1, $3 or $5, but most were bid up to $35 and $45. Oldies but goodies included William Craig, with predominantly orange coloration; Dr. Frank Brown; Prince of Orange, with orange and red markings over green and a red central vein; Irene Kingsley; General Marshall, Her Highness and William Craig.
Orange is a color that appears in many new crotons (Codiaeum variegatum), but the delicate pinks, such as that found in Madam Butterfly and Helen Edge, are just as lovely. Searle declared that among the auction plants, a strap-leaf called Veitchii is one of the fastest growing and Claudia Lorraine is great for keeping its color in the shade.
In the Garden’s collection, croton scale is quite visibly affecting the plants. The scale is betrayed by
sooty mold, a mold that grows on the excrement of the insects. In addition to crotons, the scale, which arrived in the Keys in 2008, feeds on more than 50 plants: avocado, carambola, mango, fire bush, paradise tree, wild lime, Bahama coffee, Jamaica caper and many other trees and shrubs. (Prompting one croton lover to wonder why the name picks on crotons only.)
Stan Wood uses oil sprays to fight the scale. Also enlisted in the battle is the mealybug destroyer, a ladybug. The larvae look like giant white mealybugs with lots of legs; the adults are black ladybeetles with rust colored head shields. Mealybug destroyer can be ordered online. Its voracious appetite occurs in the larval and adult form. A predatory wasp also kills the scale. Horticultural oils, which must be applied three times, one week apart, also work.
What to avoid: neonictinoids, a class of systemic chemicals that readily kills bees. The chemical imidacloprid is one of these. On Monday, the European Commission imposed a temporary and partial ban on neonictinoids, saying this class of chemicals posed “an acute risk to honeybees.” The New York Times reported earlier this month that a coalition of beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups has sued the EPA for conditionally approving some of them.
From the Natural Resources Defence Council is this about pyrethroids:
Pyrethroids are toxic to humans and dogs, and they can be particularly lethal to cats, bees, and fish and other water-dwelling creatures. In humans, the chemicals can harm the nervous system, and high amounts can cause headache, difficulty breathing, nausea, and vomiting. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that one member of the pyrethroid class, permethrin, is "likely to be carcinogenic to humans."
The chemicals kill insects by blocking the transmission of messages in the nervous system. The human nervous system is less susceptible to these chemicals both because of our larger size and because humans and many other mammals have detox mechanisms to help rid the body of these chemicals. However, recent studies indicate that prenatal and infant exposure may lead to cognitive and developmental problems later on. Although dogs are able to detoxify these chemicals, cats are more susceptible and can suffer tremors, twitching, convulsions, and death if owners misuse pyrethroid-containing products.