Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"Smarty plants" - plant intelligence

Thought plants were dumb? Maybe we just don't know how to communicate with them. Here's a Wired online magazine article about plant intelligence.

Japanese maple, 'Beni kawa' in fall colors

Since we haven't had a killing frost yet the trees have been very slow to turn. Only a few of the sassafras, sumacs and street maples are slowly changing color.

For some reason this 'Beni kawa' (Beni=red, kawa=skin/covering/bark) Japanese maple started to turn very early in mid October. I bought the tree as a foot tall, one year old graft, two years ago and it has grown to be about 4 feet tall now.

I love the delicately colored pinkish yellow leaves contrasted by the bright red trunk and branches. A very lovely tree and it formed a wonderful shape with almost no pruning. I would highly recommend this small tree to anyone interested in planting a Japanese maple. I believe I bought it for $15 plus shipping by mailorder.

In the background to the left in the first photo you can see a Red dissectum Japanese maple and directly back of the 'Beni kawa', a 'Seiryu', green dissectum Japanese maple, both don't seem anywhere close to changing colors.

Here's another view of the tree. I have to remember to pick up those cedar shakes I drove into the ground to make a border to contain the pebbles. I thought cedar was rot resistant but not so, they deteriorated in a year or two.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Update on order from Shooting Star Nursery

I placed my order with Shooting Star Nursery online and received the plants within a week. They called to tell me that the Cypripedium orchids I ordered wouldn't be ready until next spring but they could send me the rest of my order or opt to have everything sent in the spring. Well being an instant gratification sort, I opted to have the partial order sent.

Last Friday the UPS man left a bright red Budweiser box which turned out to be my order from Shooting Star. So that's one way they cut down on the cost of shipping and they have a recycling ethic which already sets them apart from other mail order nurseries in my book.

I opened the box and everything was wrapped extremely well with recycled shredded paper filling the voids, brown butcher paper wrapping the plants and pots and enclosing more shredded paper around each plant.

The plants were fairly small but the pots were large. Much bigger and taller than I had expected from the usual ones you get through mailorder.

The gangly Euonymous americanus came in the largest pot which was about 6x6" and about 8" deep.

The other plants a Penstemon hirsutus, Penstemon smallii and a Meadow Beauty (Handsome Harry)
Rhexia virginica were in 4x4" 6" deep pots.

Though the plants were small I believe the large pots allowed good root growth so I'm very optimistic that the plants will do well.

I always wanted to obtain a Meadow Beauty ever since I saw a picture of one in a wildflower book. I wondered if it needed full sun or part shade so I did some online research and found that it normally grew in a boggy but sunny environment. Both of my large botanical tomes had nothing on Rhexia which was amazing to me. I wonder why the omission? I will have to find a wet spot in the yard with acid yet sandy soil in full sun. It won't be easy to meet all those conditions. Hopefully the plant won't be so intolerant of less than ideal conditions. Here's a great link to see photos of the Meadow Beauty.

Friday, October 26, 2007

New Orchids

We couldn't help but buy these orchids, they were too nice to pass up. We normally haunt the past bloom plant shelves for orchids because they're so expensive but these were unusual so we decided to pay full price for them.

This is a Zygopetalum orchid. Specifically Zygoneria 'Adelaide Meadows' an Austrailian hydrid. From the website: "Some twenty species (of Zygopetalum orchids) from Central and South America were largely ignored during the last 100 years because the flowers looked too similar, but now hybridists have been able to obtain the sought after diversity."

"For many years zygopetalum had a chocolate coloured flower, but by incorporating the allied genera neogardineria with zygopetalum, a green flower has been produced. This variety is known as zygonaria, which is a more compact plant with much better colour combinations including lots of spots, splashes and stripes, and many blooms that have a much sweeter perfume. Zygoneria ‘Adelaide Meadows’ is a good example of this."

I don't detect a perfume on the plant we bought.

Apparently there are many different kinds of 'Adelaide Meadows'. Ours was un-named so I don't know what it is.

This is a Beallara (Cambria) 'Eurostar' orchid. The Beallara orchid, has many parents including Odontoglossum, Oncidium, Miltonia and Brassia, so you can see the characteristics of the parents in the flowers. Apparently this is an easy to grow hybrid and tolerates normal home temperatures.

I re-potted the orchids in the morning drizzle. We thought they just came with a top dressing of sphagnum moss but the orchids were actually planted in sphagnum which is not a good planting medium because it retains too much moisture causing the roots to rot. The Beallara turned out to be two plants so I put a plant in separate pots and now we have three orchids instead of two.


We bought several portable indoor greenhouses to keep the humidity high in the winter. The forced air heating is otherwise just too drying for orchids. They usually have them at Lowes but I’ve only seen the greenhouses sold in Spring. Maybe they can special order it for you if you want one. This is what it looks like.

Portable greenhouse

I think it cost less than $50. We place a large shallow pan filled with water on the bottom rung with a small cheap fan circulating the air so mold and mildew doesn’t become a problem. We run the fan only during daylight hours when the indirect light of the sun heats up the inside and creates condensation on the plastic.

We bought a blooming Dendrobium several years ago and although it grew well indoors in our portable greenhouse, it refused to bloom. Last year the nursery woman told us that she put her orchid outdoors all summer under shade when the temperatures didn’t fall below 50f. So we put the Dendrobiums outside and Oncidiums too which also didn’t bloom and voila, they both sent out sprays of flowers. The Dendrobiums can actually take quite a bit of light though I wouldn’t put it in direct overhead sunlight but we placed the orchid where it got some morning light and dappled light through most of the day.

The other thing we learned about orchid culture is don’t overwater! I just read an article that said more orchids are killed by being waterlogged than any other cause. Here's a good general orchid growing site if you are interested in trying to grow some in the future. Just be aware that orchid culture can become addicting.

The end. Whew! Seeing small things part 5.

The tiny flowers of the Nandina domestica, commonly called heavenly bamboo.

A few remaining flowers on the crape myrtle Lagerstroemia indica, 'Red Rocket'.

Immature fruit of the Nandina domestica


The back of a Hydrangea paniculata, 'Quick Fire'. This was a huge disappointment because the color is not anywhere close to the picture on the label which was a bright red. In fact our H. paniculata 'grandiflora' has better color. The panicles or corymbs on the 'Quick Fire' also droops giving it a "needs water" look, so that's why you see the back of the panicle rather than the face.

An austere photo of next years Rhododendron flower. I thought the delineation of the petal covering essentially the sepals caused by the orange outlining was an understated zen-like way.

Pretty gaudy Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Fanfare' but we keep it around because the bees like it so much. The inch worm seems to like it too.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Worlds Smallest Seed and Other Plant Trivia

Kim, the Blackswamp Girl in her blog, A Study in Contrasts recently (October 23) posted a picture of tiny Nicotiana seeds. Before I saw the photo of her seeds, I thought the Lobelia 'Crystal Palace' seeds were the tiniest. This piqued my interest in finding out what is truly the smallest seed in the world.

I came across this interesting website of Botanical Record Breakers from Wayne's Word which lists things like:

1. The World's Oldest Living Thing
The Oldest Germinated Seed
2. The World's Oldest Living Fossil
3. The World's Most Massive Living Thing
4. The World's Tallest Tree
5. The World's Hardest & Heaviest Wood
6. The World's Smallest Flowering Plant
7. The World's Smallest And Largest Fruit
Largest Bean Pod & Seed Cone
The World's Largest Sperm
8. The World's Largest Hitchhiking Fruit
9. The World's Largest Vegetable
10. The World's Smallest And Largest Seed
11. The World's Smallest And Largest Leaves
12. The World's Largest Flying Seed
13. Longest Distance Traveled By Drift Seed
14. World's Fastest Reproducing Plants
15. The World's Fastest Growing Plants
16. The Fastest Trapdoor On A Plant
17. The World's Deadliest Plants
18. Most Painful Botanical Encounters
19. World's Most Valuable Plant Jewels
20. Dislaimer: Authenticity Of Coconut Pearls
21. Most Complex Plant-Insect Relationship
22. The World's Largest Stinking Flowers
23. Plant & Animal Adaptation Hyperlinks
24. Go To Diversity Of Flowering Plants

Just the sort of trivia I love.

So, what's the smallest seed? From WaynesWord: "Certain epiphytic orchids of the tropical rain forest produce the world's smallest seeds, up to 35 million per ounce. One seed weighs about one 35 millionths of an ounce (1/35,000,000) or 0.81 micrograms. Some seeds are only about 1/300th of an inch long (85 micrometers). [The resolving power for an unaided human eye with 20-20 vision is just under 0.1 mm.] Orchid seeds are dispersed into the air like minute dust particles or single-celled spores, eventually coming to rest in the upper canopy of rain forest trees."

My Dad used to grow orchids as a hobby and I remember breaking open the seed pods of an Epidendrum. The seeds were very thin, fine and light but they were fairly long probably 4 times the diameter of the Lobelia seed so it never occurred to me that this could be the smallest seed I've ever seen. It also was many, many years ago that I broke open the pod so I guess I can be forgiven for not remembering. However the Epidendrum may not be the orchid that Waynesword referred to so the seed he wrote about may be exceedingly small.

There's a photo of an orchid pod with seeds spilling out on the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens website that looks very similar to the one I opened as a kid.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More, Seeing small things, part 4

New leaves on a Japanese maple. I don't know why it's still producing growth but these are new leaves and not autumn leaves changing color.

Two photos of Hydrangea paniculata bracts. If the first photo is of a bract or sepal what are the budlike structures called?

A tiny Black-eyed susan, Rudbeckia hirta (Asteraceae)

Once again a photo of a bract, this time of the Seven Sons tree, Heptacodium miconioides, with the same bud like structures as the Hydrangea.

English Daisy, Bellis perennis. These were very nice in the pot but didn't do well after we transplanted them into the garden. Perhaps they are a spring blooming flower so hopefully they'll survive the winter and bloom again next spring.

Newly opening flower on the Camellia sasanqua, 'Marti'.

Dainty flowers of the sweet basil, Ocymum basilium.

Dogwood fruit. With the added magnification, you can see the bumpy texture of skin of the fruit. Again the shallow depth of field plays havoc with keeping all of the objects in focus.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Shooting Star Nursery: Found new mailorder nursery for native plants, especially the Strawberry bush, Euonymus americanus

Euonymus americana Hearts-a-bustin Photo by hickoryrose1, Webshots Outdoors.

I was so impressed by photos of the strawberry bush, Euonymus americanus on several blogs, Tangled Branches Cultivated October 6, 2007 post, Rurality October 2, 2007 post and Ledge and Gardens October 10, 2007 post, I looked for an online nursery to purchase the plant and found the Shooting Star Nursery which specializes in native plants.

Their plants are very reasonably priced so I'm interested to see what the size and quality of plants that are delivered but I took a chance and ordered a bunch. They had several kinds of nursery grown (not wild gathered) Cypripedium orchids for and unheard of price of $10.00. The Strawberry bush was $8.00 and I bought some other plants like meadow rue, dutchman's breeches and more.

The shipping was very reasonable too which makes me think that the plants will be very small but I will let you know about their quality when they arrive.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Seeing small things Part 3

This is a very tiny flower no bigger than a large pea but wonderful just the same.

For some reason I love this photo of a tiny misshapen mum. This was a straggler and the last flower to bloom on the plant.

Lobelia 'Crystal Palace'. We first saw 'Crystal Palace' when we lived in Seattle many years ago and loved the plant so much we have some every year. They are an annual but very easy to start from seed. The seeds are exceedingly tiny so I just sow them in a tub of potting soil and lightly cover the seeds with extra soil.

Some kind of Salvia. This sends up very tiny flowers which grow to no more than about 1 1/2 feet tall. Like all Salvias this one is a very tough plant, growing in a hot and dry place in the garden. Like other small flowers, I had a difficult time trying to get the camera to focus on the flowers.

Campanula medium, Canterbury Bells. It was interesting to see the web like hair structures inside the flower. We planted these last year and I thought they were dead but I noticed a bit of blue under some other plants and when I brushed aside the leaves these bells were revealed.

Sanpdragon, Antirrhinum majus. We planted these snapdragons several years ago and they seem to reseed regularly. The flowers have changed colors through the years so it's interesting to see what the next year will bring.

Penstemon, 'Navigator Mix'. This is a dwarf Penstemon growing to only about a foot high. After its heavy blooming season in early summer the plant will keep producing flowers if you deadhead it. The last photo also shows the very shallow DOF (depth of field) when using the macro lens set up. Everything gets blurred not more than a 1/4 inch from the plane of focus.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Seeing small things part 2

Phacelia campanularia. I had seeds from last year stored in the frig so I thought I should use them before they died. I planted these in late August and the flowers are just starting to bloom. I hope the killing frost will hold off a little longer so these tender plants will be able to bloom more.

Some kind of Salvia I started from seed a couple of years ago. This tall plant was a good buy because it blooms all summer and readily self seeds. I haven't had to buy more seeds. For some reason this is a difficult plant to photograph. Almost all my pictures of the flowers are slightly blurred. I don't know if the camera focusing sensor has a hard time distinguishing features or if the color is somehow difficult for focusing mechanism.

Pink Begonia.

"Home Run (TM) Rose". I love the velvety look of the petals.

Two photos of millet seed that sprouted from seed spilled around the bird feeders. The first one is of a seedhead and the second, the flowering stage which is a bit strange because you can already see the seeds forming. Shouldn't it be the flower first then the seeds forming?

Unknown pink bush type rose.

I think this is a black-eyed Susan. I don't know why it is so tiny, about the size of a nickel but it looked colorful and interesting so I added it.

Here's the objective lens of the binoculars and how it is hand held in front of the normal camera lens. Notice the lens has two elements or pieces of glass glued together. It also has a color corrected coating for truer colors and less color fringing.

You can see why I would prefer to use the Panasonic since it's much, much, lighter in weight, smaller, thinner and definitely more portable than the Canon especially when the lens adapter tube is attached to Canon so it can accept macro lenses.
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Location: Zone 6, New Jersey, United States

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