Thursday, April 28, 2016

easter? cactus?

Easter Sunday this year fell on March 27, three days after Steve and I returned from our spring visit to Idaho. At that time our Easter Cactus was covered with buds, but they showed no sign of opening until Monday April 18, in time to develop full bloom by the first day of Passover on April 22. Hence the question mark after easter in the title of this post.

I must admit that I'm not especially fond of container gardening. I much prefer to grow plants in the ground, but two or three years ago we put up a broad shelf that's an obvious place to display potted plants along the front of the house. 

When we moved here in 1975, the space under what is now the potted-plant shelf was a sturdy brick planter with an old split-leaf philodendron entrenched in it. The split-leaf philodendron, in my not-so-humble opinion, is a cliché of the plant world. It was wildly popular as a gift plant during the 1950s, when this house was built. Its rather oxymoronic scientific name, Monstera deliciosa, refers to the fruit which, according to wikipedia, tastes like fruit salad. I never noticed any fruit on ours, and probably wouldn't have tasted it if I did.

It took me a long time to get rid of that monstrous old philodendron. Its thick, fleshy roots were trying to penetrate the foundation of the house and needed to be pried loose. I resolved not to plant anything in the old brick planter, and for several years tried using it for a bench. The problem there was that it was simply too uncomfortable for anything but emergency seating.

I've kept this particular Easter Cactus alive for several years. In some years it's squeezed out a few spring blossoms. What is different this year? Two years ago I replanted it in a glazed ceramic pot along with a scoop of balanced plant food, and set it in a place where it doesn't need to be moved. Upon reflection, I realize that must have been when I was populating the new shelf with (mostly) newly repotted plants. I've also been more consistent with watering. Reclaiming laundry water on a regular basis means USING the water on a regular basis, though sometimes I don't think about the potted plants until everything else has had its generous allotment,

It was because I thought I knew how to take care of cacti that I failed to give the Easter Cactus enough water. Rather than question my methods, however, I began to question whether it was really a cactus (hence the question mark after cactus in my title). A quick foray into wikipedia and some rare-plant nursery websites assured me that it is indeed a cactus, its spines having evolved into little hairy tufts appearing at regular intervals along the edges of its flat leaves. A native of the rainforests of southern Brazil, it belongs to the huge rhipsalideae tribe which also includes Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus (new to me), and the broader leaved epiphyllums which have been having a hard time under my care in recent years.

I foresee happier days ahead for my rhipsalideae.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

new kid on the block

This past Sunday I wrote about two new colors of sweet pea blooming among the volunteer plants growing in our parking strip. I thought I had covered the subject pretty well when I described a blossom that was bright pink streaked with white as well as one showing a very subtle shading of light pink and white. 

Preoccupied with other activities including a major offensive against weeds in our neglected back patio, I did not look at the parking strip for three or four days. Thus I was totally surprised yesterday afternoon to find that streaky purple and white blossoms had started to appear on two of the vines sprawling around there. I tried to take a picture then, but the sea breeze made focus too difficult. Here is this morning's effort, shown larger than life so that you can see the stripes quite clearly:

I tried a little research on sweet pea viruses before starting to write this morning's posting, but found nothing like this. Moreover, the fancy seeds being advertised as producing variegated blossoms do not show this kind of bold pattern. 

My first thought was to make this picture a post-script to the previous posting, but found it so striking that it deserves its own coverage.

What will the rest of this unusual spring bring to our increasingly wild parking strip? I'll try to watch more carefully so's not to miss anything.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

variegated volunteers

I haven't planted a sweet pea since 2011, and yet I've had some lovely specimens in the front garden and parking strip. You can see a history of my sweet-pea struggles (and triumphs!) in a post from 2013, where I focus on the genetics of pea blossoms and speculate about whether there will be changes (mutations?) in color among my volunteer sweet peas from year to year. I would especially like to see some all white blossoms;** these were fairly common when I planted from seed packets labeled as  'mixed' colors, but they have been totally absent from their naturalized progeny.

Due to stranger-than-usual weather in the fall-winter of 2015-16, volunteer sweet peas sprouted in early October but did not bloom until March. Steve and I returned from a spring visit to Idaho on March 24 to find that spring had actually come on schedule to our SoCal location. (It usually comes in October or November, when I delight in calling it 'Fring.') California poppies, freesias, hyacinths, azaleas, and nasturtiums were in vibrant bloom, and buds were fattening on the Texas sundrops. But the sweet peas were what caught my eye.

Examining the sweet peas closely, I observed two specimens that were like nothing I'd ever seen before among my volunteers:


The upper image shows STREAKING of bright pink on white (or vice versa), and the lower one shows the WHITEST petals I've seen on volunteer sweet peas. Plain bright pink blossoms have appeared every year, and there have been plenty of light pink with white, but none where the white part of the petal has predominated. If I were a more dedicated follower of Gregor Mendel, I would save seed from these two to see what they would do next year, but it's more fun to wait and be surprised.

To paraphrase the old saw about art: I don't know anything about plant genetics, but I know what I like!*
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* I do know enough about horticultural history to recall that streaking (most notably in tulips) can be the result of a virus. Going wild does have its risks.

** P.S. All-white blossoms have finally appeared on one of my volunteers. They're not in the parking strip, but in a bed devoted mostly to bulbs. This little vine is reaching out onto the sidewalk. Trying to get to the parking strip? When it dries out, I'll scatter its seed there. It could stay where it is, but I have ambitious plans to dig up and separate all my bulbs in August or September.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License