Saturday, October 26, 2019

More succulents we will have on Monday, October 28th 2019

At Barry Parker's talk we'll have divisions of other succulents. Two that I'm including are the Queen of the Night cactus, which has grown reliably in a pot for me for thirty years, and was probably as old when I got it from another indoor gardener. I'm just bringing one cutting, but in the spring I can provide many more. I'm bringing the pot inside this weekend for the winter. It has extraordinary, gigantic blooms! For more details, click on the above link.

Another plant I'm contributing is from southwestern Morocco and the Canary Islands. It's variously called either Caralluma (the older name) or Apteranthes burchardii. There's a nice snippet about it here. Like the Stapelia or Carrion Flower that I am also contributing, this is one of what I call the stinking milkweeds. That is, it's a succulent in the milkweed family with fleshy stems, no leaves, and grows in very dry areas. Unlike the giant carrion flower, this has clusters of many minature flowers at the tips of the stem in early summer.
Caralluma europaea - Wikimedia

Caralluma fimbriata
If you ever want to amuse yourself by specializing in one kind of houseplant, the Carallumas are an option. A quick waltz through some of the species:
Caralluma acutangula - from Wikimedia

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Stinking milkweeds - excellent succulent houseplants!

Celebrating our upcoming talk on succulents by Barry Parker, here is one of the more unusual succulents in the milkweed family. Stapelia is an African genus of leafless succulents from near-desert regions. The swollen stems look a bit like cacti, although there is no relationship.
Stapelia grandiflora stem and bud. Clement Kent, CC-by-SA 4.0

These beauties spend the winter in my kitchen window, as they won't tolerate temperatures below about 10C/50F. Most importantly, in winter they need to be kept almost bone dry. I water them perhaps once a month between November and May, and only very sparingly.

view of bud from above. Clement Kent, CC by SA 4.0
All of this changes when they go outside after it's warm enough. I give them a week in partial shade to prevent sun scorch, then move them to the sunniest part of my porch. Then I begin a regular program of watering with occasional infusions of soluble fertilizer. By July or August I'm greeted by the huge buds, about 3" wide by 4" long.

Several days will pass as the buds grow, and grow, and grow. Finally, one morning before I'm up, they will open.

When this happens, there's a treat for many senses. The nearly foot-wide blooms are a rich golden-orange with dark purplish-red stripes. The hue deepens to the same red meat color at the center of the flower, where elaborate floral parts sit.

freshly opened Stapelia flower, 10" wide. Clement Kent, CC by SA 4.0

The flower is densely covered in long hairs or cilia. Brush them with your fingers - some say it feels like fur.
Stapelia grandiflora closeup showing hairs. Clement Kent, CC-by-SA 4.0
 So far we have sight and touch covered. Take the next step: get close to the flower and take a whiff.

Phew!!! smells like rotting meat!  You've just discovered the most powerful lure in this flower's pollination bouquet. It looks and smells like a rotting carcass, to attract its pollinator: carrion flies.

Let's look again at the center of the flower. See the white egg clusters? They are from the greenbottle fly, one of the first flesh-feeder to arrive at dead animals in the wild.
greenbottle fly eggs on Stapelia - Clement Kent, CC-by-SA 4.0

Click on the video below to see the hatched eggs - a.k.a maggots - waving in the breeze as they try to find the yummy dead meat. Mama greenbottle makes a flying visit.

If you sit and watch your flower for a bit longer, you'll see other visitors.

If you should be lucky enough to have two flowers open at the same time, and the flies carry the pollinia (specialized pollen clusters) from one to another, then you'll eventually see a very milkweed-like seed pod develop, and open to reveal seeds with fluffy appendages to help them fly.

If you want to share with friends, or just have more for yourself, use a clean knife to cut one of the stems (or just snap it in half). Don't get the white sap on your skin - it is irritating. Let the detached stem sit in an airy, dry, sunny place for several days to heal. Then plant it in very free draining material, like you would use for a cactus (gravel is good). Don't water more than once every few weeks until you see signs of new growth. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Balcony and Apartment Gardens with Succulents

Barry Parker taught Animation at Sheridan College, and his students work at Nelvana, Pixar, Disney, etc. Barry also helped design animation programs in India and Singapore and has been an international judge at film festivals. 

Barry Parker tufa trough with alpine scene
one of Barry's troughs
But I know Barry best as a fantastic gardener. The garden he and Michel LeFebvre created in Toronto was a wonderful place to learn about new plants and new techniques, all arranged and executed with a very acute sense of design. He ran courses on how to make your own tufa containers for succulents on your porch or balcony.                                                                                                                                                                        But, (alas!) on retirement Barry left us for a lovely second floor apartment with two balconies in Montréal. He now gardens mostly in pots, growing a wide range of succulents and other plants, often from seed. When I visited him in September he had some very nice aloes he grew from seed with fascinating new colour patterns on the leaves - and they were blooming too!                                                                                                                                                               
seed-grown agave by Barry Parker
one of Barry's seed-grown aloes
So, I'm very happy that Barry will be speaking to us on Monday October 28 (details above). All year long, members of the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto have been making divisions of succulents to bring to this meeting. A little bird even told me that one of Barry's larger agaves will be at the meeting to be given away. I myself have divisions of my night-blooming cactus and of my Madagascar Milkweeds (Stapelia) and their Canary Islands relatives Caralluma to give away.                                                                                                   We really hope to see some apartment/condo gardeners at our meeting. Attending the meeting is free as always, but for this special event we are giving new members first choice of the succulents and indoor gardening books (1 per new member, please!).

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Back to the Future - Retiring to Help Pollinators

In the last few years, my posts to this blog have been sparse because I've been very, very busy delivering many academic commitments. But as of 3 days ago, I retired from full-time scientific work to focus more on conservation - hurray!

Pete Ewins - in his garden. photo-CK
This fall I'm rejoining the board of the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto, who supported several large pollinator projects I'll be blogging about in the coming months. I'm also collaborating with In the Zone Gardens, a joint project of WWF Canada and Carolinian Canada. ITZG is helping people plant pollinator and wildlife gardens. Today I'll be joining Pete Ewins of WWF Canada at my favorite organic farmers' market, Dufferin Grove, where I've done previous pollinator events.

At Dufferin Grove I'll be contributing several pollinator perennials and shrubs to Pete's free giveaway table. I'm highlighting some of them below.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed - photo CK
One plant I may have trouble giving away is Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata. It's a great plant, but my seedlings are small plugs, which most people ignore. But experienced gardeners know that a plug plant put in the ground this fall will be a big, blooming fountain of flowers next summer. So I hope to give many of my 50 seedlings away today. I grew them from wild-collected seeds from three locations in Ontario and Québec, courtesy of the North American Native Plant Society Seed Exchange. This way gardeners will get wild plant vigor and a range of flower colors from pale pink to red.
Arrowwood Viburnum - F.A. Martin, CC By SA 4.0

I'll also have three good sized bushes - two Viburnums and one Ninebark.

Arrowwood Viburnum, Viburnum dentatum, is a big bush in the wild but smaller varieties have been selected for gardens, which is what I'm giving away. Like our other native viburnums, it has attractive
clusters of white flowers in spring for the pollinators, followed by blue berries in late summer and fall for the birds. Its leaves turn lovely shades of red in autumn. The leaves also feed a variety of caterpillars, including those of the Holly Blue butterfly and the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth.

Holly Blue butterfly - Charles J Sharp, CC BY SA 3.0

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, Judy Gallagher, CC BY 2.0

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), is a shrub much used by landscapers for its good foliage and growth form. As I pointed out in my article "Soil Spectrum", in Ground, the journal of Landscape Ontario, Ninebark is one of the native plants which gets it roots extremely deep in the soil, so after the first year it never needs watering and in fact brings up nutrients from subsoil layers to the topsoil. With abundant white flowers in spring and various native moth caterpillars living on the leaves (to feed the baby birds!), its a perfect backdrop to a pollinator garden.
Ninebark, by Eric Hunt, CC BY-SA 4.0