For the past month or so I have been seeing an unusual, brownish-rust colored bird at my feeder. I’d only been able to view it from a distance or through my window screen, but determined its size and shape was that of an immature grackle and it also appeared to have yellow eyes. In fact, it hangs out with the grackles and is just as aggressive. I emailed an expert at the National Audubon Society about this bird and was told it may indeed be a grackle, but one with leucism – a condition in which a bird’s normal coloring is quite faded or splotchy. A black grackle with leucism would possibly appear rust and could also have splotches on its breast. For more information about these interesting conditions see http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/AboutBirdsandFeeding/Albinism_Leucism.htm.
Well, upon closer look this weekend, I determined my mystery bird is not a leucistic grackle, after all. I saw it in flight and noticed it had distinct white bars on its wings and was able to ascertain its splotchy breast was in fact, naturally spotted. In fact, it looked more like a rusty mockingbird upon closer inspection. After searching through my bird book page by page, I finally identified my mystery bird as a Brown Thrasher. I’ve never seen a Brown Thrasher in my area, although North Texas is within its range according to my reference book. Incidentally, it is the state bird of Georgia.
Mystery solved, the topics of leucism and albinism got me to thinking about the birth earlier this year of a white buffalo calf, not far from me, in Greenville, Texas. As you know, some animals are light in color by nature and it isn’t at all unusual they are born white. However, other animal species are very rarely born white. Not all of these rare white animals are considered albinos, however. The little calf born in Greenville is deemed a “non-albino”, as it has brown eyes, a brown nose and a spot on its tail. It is possible its coat may eventually turn brown as it ages. Nonetheless, the birth of a white buffalo is indeed a rare sight, estimated at one in a million or so, and a very sacred one to Native Americans, especially the Lakota Sioux.
To the Lakota, the birth of a white buffalo brings messages of hope, re-birth, harmony, unity and peace. It is a spiritual sign of the eventual return of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, a prophet of supernatural origin that is of great importance to Lakota religion; a prophet who is sometimes compared to the Virgin Mary.
Lightning Medicine Cloud was born on May 12, 2011 on a ranch in Greenville, Texas during a thunderstorm. On June 29th, an official Native American Naming Ceremony was held on the ranch. The ceremony attracted over a thousand attendees and was complete with Native American prayers, songs, dances and pipe smoking in honor of the sacred white calf.
An interesting side note: You may think, as did I, that the white buffalo calf may have to receive extra human attention and protection from other bison and predators since it is indeed quite different in appearance – you know, as in extra protection according to the laws of evolution and the survival of the fittest theories. Not so . . . the others in the herd also sense Lightning Medicine Cloud is special and surround him when there are perceived predators or strangers in the area.
Wow! The herd protects and helps him because he is different!
Couldn’t we all benefit from the valuable messages brought by this Great White Buffalo?
Several years ago, when I first begun taking horticulture classes, I was assigned a research project that included the task of collecting about 70 different seeds. I recall I was asked to collect around 20 seeds from ornamentals, 15 – 20 from trees and shrubs, 15 – 20 from vegetables and herbs, and 15 – 20 from grasses. Although I was a mature student in my mid-40’s, I’m sure I acted like a pampered 18-year-old freshman when I whined to my professor that I thought it was impossible to collect that many varieties of seed, let alone that many from grasses! I went on to tell her that I lived in the suburbs and I doubted there were that many types of grasses even available to me. I asked for a reduction in number of seeds required on the assignment.
Thankfully, my professor didn’t coddle me. She matter-of -factly stated that indeed there were more than enough varieties of plants in my part of the world in which to collect seed and I was well expected to do so. However, prior to my going out into the field to perform the assignment, she offered me one very valuable bit of advice – always look for seed at the exact locations where the flowers of a plant were previously blooming. And yes, folks, grass blooms too! It is just that the blooms are usually so very tiny or inconspicuous that we don’t pay attention to them.
Needless to say, I learned a lot from this one particular course and its professor. In the end, I was ever so grateful that my professor held firm and didn’t cut me any slack on the amount of seeds required for the assignment – after all, that wouldn’t have been fair anyway. (I had a period of adjustment to endure when I went back to school in my 40’s. I learned it really wasn’t a factor that I was working full time AND going to school – the assignments still held all the same. And rightly so!)
Well on to the topic at hand – seed collecting. Now (late fall) is the time to collect seed from your spent summertime plants. This includes annuals, perennials, vines, trees, shrubs, vegetables and, don’t forget, grasses. Most seeds are enclosed in some sort of pod and in the case of fruits and vegetables, the seeds are in the fruit. Again, to look for seed of any type of plant, you should look closely in the area of the plant where the flowers had been blooming.
Sometimes, the spent flower heads dry out on the plant in pretty much the same form as the flower. The dried, shriveled petals become a part of the seed, or its “wind sail”, if you will. These types of seeds are easy to find, are usually very numerous, and are effortless to collect (that is, before they go wind sailing!) Think of the Dandelion, for example. Gerbera Daisy and Clematis are other examples. Maple tree seeds actually twirl through the air similar to helicopters! Another way seed is dispersed by wind, although indirectly you might say, is through tumbleweeds! I must admit I never thought of a tumbleweed being a form of wind hitchhiking for seeds!
Instead of seeds embedded in dried flower heads, other plants form pods in which one or more seeds are encapsulated. Again, you will find these pods at the point where the former flower dropped off the plant. Most times, seeds drop straight down from these types of plants (once the pod becomes dry and brittle) and they germinate nearby the mother plant. Think of Morning Glory, Moonflower, and Cardinal Climber. These seeds are relatively easy to collect by simply gathering the pods just prior to them dropping from the plant. You can also look directly below the mother plant and gather seed from the ground as well.
With other plants, the seed pods eventually become so brittle they shrink, separate with force and actually pop interior seeds in the air, dispersing them outward from the mother plant. Think about Dwarf Mexican Petunia. These types of seeds can be somewhat challenging to collect unless you happen across a dried pod just prior to it popping!
As we know, seeds of vegetables reside inside the mature fruit of the plants. And where on the plant are vegetables harvested? For the fourth time – at the point of a former flower! Think of Tomato, Pepper, Squash, Cucumber, and Pomegranate plants, for example. In nature, the pulp (or fruit) around the seeds serves as the ultimate fertilizer should the fruit drop or be left to rot on the ground. I can attest to this as one lazy winter I left pumpkins out to rot behind my greenhouse in my backyard after using them for Thanksgiving decorations. Come spring, I literally had hundreds of little pumpkin plants sprouting alongside my greenhouse! As you can imagine I got such a surprise! I had mainly been using my greenhouse to store all of my heat shrink plastic wrappings so at first, I could not understand where the pumpkin plants had come from. As you can imagine, after my discovery, I decided to put my greenhouse plastic to good use and got to work replanting the pumpkin seedlings. Leaving the fruit pulp among the seed greatly enhanced the success of germination. However, I do not recommend this method for many reasons – you’d probably prefer to eat the fruit if possible; it is too smelly and messy to plant an entire pumpkin, cantaloupe, etc.; and, of course, there are superb soil and fertilizer alternatives!
Well, if you had a prized plant or two or three in your garden this summer and would like the opportunity to grow additional ones from seed next year, take the time in the next week or so to look closely at the former flowering areas of your plants. You will most likely find seeds or seed pods in abundance at this time of year. However, let me provide you a few tips regarding harvesting the seeds:
Keep in mind the size of a seed can vary greatly and may not correspond with the size of the plant necessarily. Some seed are so tiny you can barely see them with the naked eye and others are hard to miss. Moss Rose, Alyssum and some grasses have minute seeds. Among those plants with large seeds are the Avocado and Peach trees.
Unless it is a fruit or vegetable plant, wait until the seed or seed pod is dried (brown and crunchy) before harvesting. I have never had success harvesting immature or green seeds. This means you will need to allow your prized plants to dry up and “go to seed” versus tidying up for fall. Think of Dill for example.
If your seeds are inside a fruit/vegetable – after de-seeding the fruit, wash the seed and spread it in a single layer on a cookie sheet or paper towel and let dry on the counter for several days.
Remove as much chaff as possible and store seed in a cool, dry area or container until planting time comes next spring. I usually store seed in sealed plastic ware or used coffee cans and place in my garage or pantry.
Lastly, after all this talk about collecting seed I must let you know not all plants produce seed that is “true.” What this means is, if you purchased an amazingly beautiful, unusually-colored Moss Rose hanging basket this year and wanted to duplicate it via seed next year, unfortunately its seed may not produce the exact colored flowers or it might not even produce flowers at all. This is because the genetics and cross breeding involved with creating the unusual “hybrid” plant may have rendered it unable to reproduce “true.” If you are aware a plant is a hybrid, just keep in mind its seed may not produce an exact replica of the mother plant.
Well, after the last point I must redeem the virtues of seed collecting! Even if you don’t wish to capture seed for planting next spring, it is still an incredible experience to get up close and personal with plants and educate yourself, your kids or others about their amazing life cycle. To this day, I remain ever so grateful for the horticulture professor that one fall semester who made me stick out the search for 70 seeds!
When we see Poinsettias
most of us naturally think of the Christmas holidays. A single potted
Poinsettia has the ability to make any room festive – from a messy college dorm
to an austere auto body reception area. Multiple pots of red, pink and/or white
Poinsettias create instant holiday decor for bank lobbies, government offices,
museums and other public buildings. I usually purchase one or two every winter
to admire and enjoy in my home. (A common myth is Poinsettias are poisonous.
While their milky sap may cause skin irritation in some allergic persons and
accidental consumption of the plant may cause an upset stomach in kids and
pets, exposure is typically not serious.)
I personally prefer the traditional deep red Poinsettias, but I believe the
white, pink and new marbled varieties look amazing in certain settings. White
poinsettias look classy in a neutral room or a room filled with predominately
gold Christmas decorations. The pink and marbled varieties compliment rooms
adorned in pastel hues or blue and silver toned decor. And, most recently the
stores have offered Poinsettias sprayed with glitter – adding a little extra
bling to the season.
Of course, I normally wouldn’t recommend spraying glitter or anything toxic
onto a beautiful plant, but Poinsettias are plentiful, relatively inexpensive
and have been hybridized to the point they may or may not return in following
years with the same vibrant color. Thus, I treat them as “annuals” or
“seasonal” interior plants.
As such, below are a few tips to keep your seasonal plants happy:
your potted Poinsettias in bright or sunny areas if possible.
temperature around 70°F is ideal for long plant life.
severe temperature fluctuations and warm or cold drafts.
· Water only when the soil is dry.
· Do not fertilize when the Poinsettia is in bloom.
If you are up to retaining your Poinsettias after the holiday season, you should certainly give it a try! First of all, remember that due to hybridization, your subsequent plants may not “bloom” quite as vibrantly as before. Also of importance is the fact that what we consider as the blooms of Poinsettias are actually their modified leaves, also known as bracts. The true flowers of the Poinsettia are the small yellow centers of the red (or otherwise colored) bracts. As such, Poinsettias make attractive, GREEN, potted plants that can be placed outdoors in temperate zones after the last frost of spring. They enjoy sun, but should be placed where they will receive afternoon shade during the summer months. As fall approaches, the plants should be moved back inside. Secondly regarding blooms, Poinsettias are perennial tropical natives to Mexico and, like the Christmas Cactus, are photoperiodic. This means their blooming (or leaf-turning) is dependent upon them receiving just the right amount, or lack, of light. Eight weeks prior to blooming season, Poinsettias require 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness per night. You can accomplish this by moving the plant to a dark room or closet to mimic their light requirements, however be careful to treat with “kid gloves” for again, like the Christmas Cactus, Poinsettias can be finicky when it comes to their environment.
I have to admit when you enter my home, you are met with at least 25 -30 live plants throughout my abode. Off the top of my head, I have a Ficus Tree, numerous Philodendrons, English Ivy, Coleus, Sansevieria, Dieffenbachia, several varieties of Dracaenas, and a Gerbera Daisy In addition, I have one deep red Poinsettia as the centerpiece on my dining room table.
I admit, I simply am not a fake flower or fake plant person . . . until it comes to Poinsettias, that is. I love to decorate my Christmas Tree with them!
In years’ past, I would place Poinsettia stems strategically on my Christmas Tree after having adorned it with ornaments. I focused not only on balancing the decor of the tree, but on filling in the bare spots that allowed a person to look through to the trunk. Red is my favorite color, so I fell in love with this practice. This year, having tired of my usual tree topper, I decided to go easy on placing Poinsettias in the body of the tree and instead, I created a bouquet of Poinsettias as my topper. Needless to say, I am very pleased and next year, I may spring for a few more Poinsettia stems to make it even more full!
Well, I hope that no matter your religious persuasion, you choose to brighten your home and/or workplace during this gray winter season by adorning it with a colorful Poinsettia or two. After all, December 12th is National Poinsettia Day! -And if you are up for the challenge, I wish you much success in keeping them around for many more National Poinsettia Days to come.
In my research for this post, I came across a wonderful and very comprehensive site from the University of Illinois. For more detailed information about the beautiful Poinsettia and its history, see http://urbanext.illinois.edu/poinsettia/index.cfm.
A very good friend of mine, Stella, surprised me with a gift of a brilliant yellow potted Ranunculus at work one day recently. She knows I very much enjoy flowers and had seen this plant at the local home improvement store and was spellbound by its gorgeous springtime-reminiscent blooms. She thought I might know all about the plant, but alas, I only knew its name! I had often seen the paperflower blooms in catalogs and gardening books but for some reason I did not think Ranunculus grew very well here in Zones 7/8.
I believe I’ve been wrong.
From what I’ve read, being on the cusp of Zones 7 & 8 can offer two choices when planting Ranunculus and the good news is, since it is early March, it isn’t too late to take part in one of the choices. If you live in Zone 8-11, you could have planted the bulbs/tubers last October/November for a display of flowers right about now. This is good advice for next year for those of you whose winters never reach below 10 degrees. For those of us that live further north and overlap a bit with the above zones – say Zones 8 and northward, you can plant Ranunculus bulbs this month and enjoy their vibrant colors come late May or June.
Ranunculus, sometimes commonly called Persian Buttercup, produce full, rose-shaped blooms in a variety of bright colors. They are indeed cool weather plants. As mentioned above, they grow from tiny bulbs or tubers and hence, they prefer dry soil. They do not take to the heat very well, and perhaps, knowing how hot our summers (and sometimes springs, falls and even winters) are here in North Texas, this is why I pretty much wrote them off early on. However, after having witnessed their beauty and resiliency (my stunning lemon-colored gift has resided in a pot on my patio all week and still looks great) I have indeed had a change of heart. I can now attest that Ranunculus are very worthy of planting along with other cool season ornamentals such as pansies, dianthus, and snapdragons. Of course, you may wish to simply plant a few bulbs/tubers in pots and enjoy them on your patio or front porch. In my opinion, their greenery is just about as pretty as their blooms, reminding me of full, healthy chrysanthemum leaves.
While it is possible to dig up the bulbs/tubers after the greenery dies down and store them in a cool/dry area until the next fall or spring, most folks treat Ranunculus as an annual. The tubers are indeed quite small and inconspicuous and usually when the earth becomes warm and wet with early summer rains, they are prone to having rotted anyway. Considering on my lunch hour today I purchased 15 tubers for $4.98, it certainly isn’t expensive to grow new plants from year to year.
Well, when I arrive home from work today I plan to locate a few high-ground, mostly-sunny spots in my backyard to plant my Ranunculus tubers. After researching the best way to sow these tubers, I learned it may be a good idea to soak them for about 30 minutes to plump them up before planting. (The claw-like tubers actually look like dried up mini-tarantulas if you ask me!) Once plumped, you should plant them right away at about 2 inches under the soil, with the claws pointed downward.
So . . . within a couple of months, I hope to enjoy a rainbow of Ranunculus in my backyard. I hope you find time to plant your rainbow this spring too!
Until next time, Cindy
P.S. Ranunculus are touted to be among the best of cut flowers as not only are they beautiful, they stay fresh for 7 days in a vase.
If you wish to create a bold and beautiful tropical background to your landscape this summer, now (March/April) is a great time to plant Elephant Ear bulbs.
For about the past 15 years, I have been fortunate to enjoy Elephant Ears in my back yard with very, very little garden work involved. There was only one really very cold winter that I recall when I had to plant a few extra bulbs the following spring, otherwise my Elephant Ears have reliably sprouted and multiplied throughout the years. (That really cold winter I’m speaking of was the very unusual February in 2011 when we had freezing temps and ice on the ground for 3 -4 days straight – during Super Bowl weekend of all inconvenient times!) At any rate, the reason I mention this is because Elephant Ears are tropical plants and thus, are considered annuals in Zones 7b and northward. You will most likely have to dig up the bulbs and overwinter them from year to year if you reside in the less than tropical zones of the U.S. The good news about this practice is it will give you the opportunity to split the corms (or eyes of the bulbs) and produce more plants the following year. I personally live in Zone 8a and as I stated earlier, although my Elephant Ears are 95% of the time perennial, there is always a little wiggle room with the annual/perennial designation depending upon the location in your yard that you plant your bulbs and if you have a particularly cold or warm winter. (For a detailed garden zone map, including lookup by ZIP code, see http://www.garden.org/zipzone/index.php.)
Elephant Ears are fast-growing, huge foliage plants very similar to, but much, much larger than their close relatives, caladiums. Depending upon where you live, Elephant Ears will grow 3 – 6 feet tall and their leaves can become as large as . . . ummm . . . Elephant Ears! Because of their bold appearance and need for ample space both in width and height, it is best to plant Elephant Ears in corners of your home or landscape – or on the back row of your beds. They will give a tropical, summertime feel to any landscape and thus, are especially attractive planted in yards with pools or ponds. You may find bulbs that produce green, variegated or dark purple leaves. So – depending on the color of your home’s brick, rock, wood, etc. you are sure to find striking specimens perfect for your surroundings. Various leaf margins can also be found among the exotic species, such as smooth, ruffled or scalloped.
Unlike most bulbs & tubers, Elephant Ears enjoy warm, humid and oftentimes wet conditions. In very hot areas of the U.S., such as south Texas and Florida, Elephant Ears do best if planted in full to almost full shade. Areas north of these states can plant the bulbs in mostly sunny to partly sunny locations. My Elephant Ears are planted in a corner of my backyard that is mostly shaded and stays a bit damp. They thrive in this (relatively) cool, damp locale, although they do get a burst of sunlight for a couple of hours in the late afternoon – amazingly from the reflections of a couple of my neighbors western facing windows! Sometimes the sun is so intense bouncing off the windows in the Texas heat, I will find the leaves of my plants will have temporarily wilted and dipped to the ground. However, after a quick spray of the water hose they usually perk up by the next morning.
Once you have found the perfect location in your landscape for your Elephant Ears, you will need to plant the bulbs, pointed end up (or sideways if you have a bulb that is hard to differentiate), at about 2 inches under the soil. Typically, the bigger the bulb, the bigger the plant, thus, depending on the size of your bulbs you may wish to leave about 1.5 to 2 feet between each one accordingly.
As I mentioned earlier, in the ornamental sense, Elephant Ears are grown specifically for their large and beautiful leaves. However they do flower on rare occasions. The flowers remind me of those of peace lilies (although about 10 times larger!).
Another interesting fact about Elephant Ears (also called Taro) is their bulbs have been cultivated for many centuries in the tropical areas of Oceanic, Asian and African countries, and still are today an important part of the Hawaiian diet. In fact, Taro is considered a “tropical potato”. Different cultures utilize the bulb (and sometimes the stalk and leaves) in different ways, but it is always cooked thoroughly. If not, the plant can cause quite an upset stomach, among other problems, as it contains calcium oxalate crystals which can produce gout and kidney stones in humans. Since pests are hardly a problem with Elephant Ears, it is thought the spiny calcium oxalate crystals within the raw plant actually deter insects from eating the plant as well.
Incidentally, as I was researching Elephant Ear, or Taro, I came across many photos of people eating Elephant Ear pastries at county fairs. At first I thought they were actually deep fried Elephant Ear leaves! Well, come to find out, it is just another name for a huge pastry – one that does not include chlorophyll, by the way. Elephant Ear pastries, no matter how authentic they look to deep fried leaves, are simply another tasty carnival tidbit similar to funnel cakes and Belgian waffles. Either they don’t routinely bake them in Texas or I simply have overlooked this treat all of my life (which is hard to believe since I love funnel cakes!)
Well, at the close of this post, I’d like to point you to a couple of websites that provided me a wealth of information – but the main reason I’d like you to visit them is to gaze upon the photos to see just how huge an Elephant Ear leaf can get. Truly amazing.
I hope you find the perfect place to create your tropical paradise this year!
I believe I have found the perfect blooming plant for my hanging baskets, the ones that are positioned to get only morning sun. Blue is a cool color that usually fades into the background, but the electric blue of Lobelia is exquisitely vibrant. I personally love blue flowers and I have been admiring this low trailing, blooming plant in other people’s yards and containers for several years now but I just hadn’t come across any to purchase in the nurseries. This year, I found some early and scooped them up. I also ordered seed via catalogue and have a few planted in 4-inch pots. I see sprouts (not many) so I’ll have to let you know how growing from seed turns out in one of my later updates, perhaps.
Well, I’m going to go on and on about this plant’s color. Actually, Lobelia is the genus name for a large group of plants of a variety of heights and bloom colors. For example, Lobelia cardinalis (otherwise known as Cardinal Flower) grows up to 3 feet tall and blooms red in color. Some types, including some trailing types, bloom in pink or white. The particular type I am discussing in this post is Lobelia erinus. While the other types and colors of Lobelia are indeed beautiful, I have found nothing more intense in color as the electric blue of the trailing Lobelia erinus. It is a floral hue that makes you do a double-take when walking by because you simply can’t believe the blooms are real.
Now, having boasted about this plant’s color I’d like to reiterate that it is an low profile edging, hanging basket, and/or filler plant. Its vibrancy indeed makes a powerful statement wherever you choose to place it, but the plant itself is a bit dainty. And being dainty, in general, usually means a little extra TLC may be involved. Such is the case with Lobelia.
Lobelia erinus is a tropical perennial, and thus, in areas north of Zone 10 (pretty much the entire US) it should actually be considered and treated as an annual. Although it is plant of tropical origin and is accustomed to warmer temps, Lobelia is not a full sun candidate – especially in my part of the US – Texas. Lobelia enjoys part sun, part shade and thrives in moderately moist (but well-drained) soil. Thus, if you choose to plant Lobelia in a container or hanging basket you will need to water it more frequently than you would more drought-tolerant plantings. In fact, no matter how beautiful the colors may mix, avoid grouping Lobelia with drought tolerants such as Lantana, Purslane and Moss Rose. Instead, add Lobelia to containers and landscapes that host Liriope, Caladiums, Coleus, and Impatiens. Sweet Alyssum, which benefits from the same part sun conditions, is a great companion to Lobelia in both texture and color.
The Lobelia pictured in my hanging baskets below receive morning sun from about 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and I water them daily since they are housed in coconut liners (and thus, the soil dries out rapidly.) I am very pleased with their performance thus far as it has been difficult to find a suitable blooming plant for the area. Fortunately, Lobelia fits perfectly with its part sun-part shade needs, moist but well drained soil preference, and its trailing habit!
With regard to pests, the only thing I’ve found in my research that bothers Lobelia are thrips. Thrips are those tiny “invisible” bugs that sometimes land on and bite humans if you happen to walk in their path. They are especially attracted to white, yellow and yes, you guessed it – blue flowers. The best method to rid your Lobelia of thrips is to give them a spray of organic Insecticidal Soap. Since thrips are so tiny, you might give your Lobelia a spray now and then for preventative measures – just be sure to treat when your plants are in the shade or you may burn them.
An interesting side note about the Lobelia genus is that several plants in this group have medicinal properties. Native Americans historically smoked Lobelia inflata (otherwise known as Indian Tobacco) to alleviate respiratory conditions. In the 19th century, it was used to rid the body of toxins and as such, it earned the name “puke weed” in addition to Indian Tobacco. In today’s herbal medicine world, it is still used (in moderation) to help with asthma. An extract of Lobelia inflata is thought to have properties that may assist with drug addiction and treatment of cancer. Keep in mind herbal medicine is just as powerful, if not more so, than traditional medicine – so never try to diagnose yourself. The “puke weed” reference above should keep you from partaking on your own!
In closing, I hope you are as fortunate as I have been and are able to seek out a few Lobelia pottings in your nearby nursery or garden center. Surely you have a spot in your landscape that can benefit from a little blue electricity this season!