Thursday, April 21, 2016


Fig. 1     Epiphyllum trained on a grape vine

This month is show time for one of my cactus orchid (epiphyllum).  Last year I trained the orange one to climb on one of the grapes.  The position is good because it is near my kitchen window and when summer comes, the grape leaves will provide shade for this forest-loving plant.  As a result - I must say, it's a lot easier to appreciate and take pictures of the flowers when they are at eye-level (Fig.1).

Fig. 2   Best pictures are taken on an overcast or rainy day.

These plants are very colorful when they bloom.  Flowers come in neon colors, it is so difficult to take good pictures under on a clear day because they are like light in themselves.  I was lucky this year because when we had several overcast days around their blooming period.

So what do we know about epiphyllum?  If you are familiar with Schlumbergera (Christmas Cactus), then you understand a lot of epiphyllum.

As an epiphyte it is like an orchid and other aerial plants. They can grow on other plants such as trees that are strong enough to support their weight.  As lithophytes they can also grow on rock crevices where they feed on decomposing leaves and roots - just like other forms of orchids.   Epiphyllums are generally of tropical origin and therefore the abundance of rain and atmospheric moisture allow these plants to survive without the roots touching the ground.  When they are grown in drier areas like our place, they need to be provided with more water to compensate for the lack of humidity.

Fig. 3    Areole:  a distinguishing characteristic of a cactus.

Epiphyllums belong in the cactus family.  They exhibit the characteristic spines called areoles (Fig. 3). Areole is a specialized branch where a flower originates.  Unlike on some of the more known cacti, the areoles on the epiphyllums are not very conspicuous but when handling the stems you would be notified of their presence in a not-so-pleasant way. The plants have flat succulent leaves that act as water storage - which is another survival mechanism for aerial plants.  In their domesticated life, this feature makes them a good low-maintenance and low-water plant - desirable in a busy world.

In my garden, these plants do not get as much care as I would like them to. There are times when the plants look shriveled due to prolonged dry condition. The good thing is that they don't die easily. I think it would take a year of no water before they finally die :)  They respond positively to a low dose of complete fertilizer.  They are also prone to snail damage.  To keep the plants looking perfect (if there is such a thing), a regular sprinkling of snail bait is necessary.

Fig. 4   The smaller buds on the left were aborted.

I also noticed that not all flower buds have a chance to open - some of them gets aborted (Fig 4). At this point I don't know what causes it.  I will do some literature review and find out what factors contribute to the unsuccessful flower formation.

Try a new plant in your garden this year, 
you might end up liking it.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Have You Really Seen a Fig Flower?

Fig. 1    Parts of a Fig Branch.

One of the trick questions that I like to ask people regarding fig plants is: Have you ever seen a fig flower? The response I get is usually a quizzical look.  Of course! Why ask the question?  Doesn't everyone know?   

If you are looking for colorful petals where bees and butterflies land to get nectar and pollen then you are wasting your time.  The fig is different from most plants in that it produces a syconium.  The flowers are hidden inside and can only be seen by a special wasp that can enter the fruit through the ostiole (Fig. 2).  When the fruit starts to develop we only see the ovary as a syconium wall where all multiple flowers are fused together (Fig. 3). The flowers are facing inside - a characteristic of syconiun.  Imagine a fussy sock with a very tiny opening that is turned inside out.  That is how fig flowers are.  The pollination happens inside with the aid of a tiny fig wasp.  What happens to the wasp is another story. :)

Fig 2     The Ostiole: the entrance for the wasp.

Fig. 3     Cross-section of the fig syconium

Several years ago my fascination about the fig plant and it's fruit led me to write about it and buy my own fig trees.  Because of the uniqueness of the fig, even after so many years, I still am intrigued by it.  And with my own fig plants being close view from my kitchen, the scrutiny is even more intense.
So I thought that figs just bear fruits and we harvest them as they mature.  But recently I read some literature that a normal fig plant bears three crops of syconia in a given year.   And each crop has a name of its own.

Types of Syconia

1.   Mamme - .  These are the fruits remaining on the tree after the leaves have fallen off late in the fall and over winters in the tree and ripen in spring (Fig. 4).
2.  Profichi - .  These are the fruits that develop in early spring and ripen in early summer (Fig. 5).
3.   Mammoni - These are the second wave of edible fruits of the year which ripen in fall.

Fig. 4       Mamme:  The fruits that over winter on the tree

Fig. 5     Profichi. The first new fruits of the year

Every plant holds a mystery that awaits discovery.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Gardening Begins Again

It’s been raining a lot this week!  With the temperature warming up at the same time, plants are rushing to come back from their winter break.  Leaves are rapidly growing - changing the gray landscape to vibrant green once again.   Life is back!  For the angiosperms – also known as flowering plants - it’s show time! 

But while we watch the rebirth in plants, it is also time consider the work that needs to be done at this time in the garden in order to prolong the show that just begun.   Here’s my to-do-list of activities this month.  It’s kind of short because I will be on vacation for a few days – this is realistic and doable.

Activities for March

Replenish soil nutrients   An application of balanced fertilizer such as 15-15-15, 16-16-16, 10-10-10, or even the organic version 5-5-5 to perennial plants, shrubs and trees, groundcover and lawn is a good thing to do at this time.

Increase soil organic matter content A distinguishing characteristic of a poor soil is low in organic matter.  Invest in good compost (including decomposed animal manure) to apply throughout the cultivated areas of your garden every year.   You can either purchase or make your own compost.  If you have not done composting before, this is a good time to try it. 

Pull out weeds.   Pull them out when you see them.  There is no better time to control weeds other than before they use up some resources meant for your plant and before they produce seeds. 

Check irrigation system.   Make sure the system is working before we need to turn them on again.  In this area, where we do not have the luxury of regular rainfall, irrigation system is the lifeline of the garden during late spring all the way to fall.  In addition to that, we want to continue to consciously conserve and use water efficiently.   Drought might be over for a while but we need to get into the habit of conserving our natural resources.

Plant annuals In my case I’m planting some vegetables such as radishes (‘French Breakfast’ and ‘Cherry Belle’), chard, and Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia Torch).   I intend to plant other warm-season veggies but not yet.  However, if you want to harvest tomatoes early, you can plant them now – make sure to protect them from late frost.  The problem with planting too early is that they sit there in the garden without showing any significant growth for a long time and that only prolongs their  exposure to pests while they’re vulnerable.

Clean and Fertilize Plants in Containers  Remove all dead stems and leaves.  Prune if necessary.   Apply a side-dressing of fresh potting soil with a little bit of complete fertilizer to boost initial growth.  Apply another dose of complete fertilizer again after the first month of growth. 

Stroll in your's good for you.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Succulent Gardens

The Succulent Gardens located in 2133 Elkhorn Rd, Castroville, California is a remarkable destination for any gardener.  It functions as a nursery and demonstration center but it also boasts beautiful and mature succulent/cactus gardens.  I had the pleasure to take pictures and buy a few plants during our visit there earlier this year.  


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ruth Bancroft Garden: A Garden of Austerity

Planted with water-wise plants, the Ruth Bancroft Garden exemplifies an austere garden.  It is not the typical lush and colorful garden where everything is provided and all challenges are eliminated to optimize the performance of plants. In this garden, the plants are those that can live on less water - it is not that they do not need more water but that they have a deeper tolerance to drought.

Here are pictures of some plants I saw:

1.  Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica)

2.  Agave peryii - starting to bloom

3.  Agave havardiana

4. Echinopsis huascha

4.  Probably a Stenocereus_eruca

5.  (Help me name this plant)

6.  (Help me name this plant)

Visit your local public gardens to expand your imagination.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Peaches are Ripe Again

It is that time of the year when we are flooded with peaches.  What this means is that peaches will be served every meal for a couple of weeks and I will be busy preserving the ones we cannot consume or share with our neighbors.  Sometimes it is hard to decipher whether this is a blessing or burden.  One thing is sure - it starts as the former and ends as the later. :)

The tree has a sad history.  The tree has suffered severe cases of  leaf curl (Taphrina deformans) in the past years drastically reducing the canopy cover not only for purposes of photosynthesis but for shading.  The location of the tree can get very hot in the summer - the sun exposed portion of the trunk can crack and separates from the cambium layer.  At present the bark on half of the trunk's girth is peeling off. We pruned the tree last year with the intention of eventually removing it.  In fact, already I bought a pluot tree to take it's place (close to the plum tree). But this year's peach crop tells me to delay the process.

Plant a fruit tree this year for the enjoyment of many 
generations to come. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Tanacetum parthenium

Tanacetum parthenium (L.)
Common name:  Feverfew; Wild Chamomile
Other Names: Chrysanthemum parthenium
                        Leucanthemum parthenium
                 Pyrethrum parthenium 
                 Matricaria parthenium
Family: Asteraceae
Origin:  The Balkan Peninsula

Tanacetum pathenium (feverfew) is a perennial plant that is traditionally cultivated for its medicinal properties. Extensive studies throughout the ages have shown that the flowers and fruits are known to contain parthenolide which accounts for the medicinal potency of this plant.  However, beyond its therapeutic uses, tanacetum parthenium is also an important ornamental plant in landscapes.  Dainty white flowers with yellow center rise above the canopy of the plant in the summer and fall - making it an excellent plant choice for mixed borders.  

In my garden, feverfew came as a volunteer plant - in other words, it is a self-seeding plant.  Over the years it has spread and I had to deliberately contain it on the eastern side of the patio providing an added visual interest in that area. This plant requires very little to thrive. In our Zone 9 area, it is almost evergreen but I cut it back every year in the winter to give it a clean fresh growth for the spring.  

Suggested Reading:  Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium L.): A systematic review

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