Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Double your posting, double your plants!

Welcome back to another episode of Lost in the Farmers Market. 

As you may have seen today has had a double post, the earlier one is for  the weekend before last and this one is for the weekend just passed. Unfortunately it was course work that bogged me down so much the posts just never made it on time. But that aside talk about strange, as we head towards election day, as it turns out those who early voted may decide the out come in several states as sandy has pummeled the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey & Connecticut). While I wont get into the politics I will say this;  folks if you have not already then please go out and vote. 

I might also add that the erratic behavior of the latest hurricane literally puts another feather in the cap for the argument regarding the realities of climate change. The hurricane season seems to be getting longer, and the storms more devastating. We also are coming off a year with the highest temperatures and longest biggest drought in quite some time. I know that for some of you reading what has been said is  pretty much preaching to the proverbial choir. But for the rest of you considering climate change I urge you to look at the temperature records available through he USDA as well as the drought records and see if you cant reconsider what you thought you knew. With that said time to get off the soap box and back into the fields!

In terms of today’s trio of plants we have the Asphodeloideae family, best known for it’s two most famous members Aloe and Kniphofia (red hot poker). However for the purposes of the trio in this episode I am referring to Aloe, Gasteria and Haworthia and their assorted hybrids. In the plant trade occasionally you will see man-made or natural crosses of similar plants however the three plants noted above can produce hybrids through natural crosses if given the opportunity. What makes these three genus of house plants interesting is their ability to photosynthesize using CAM photosynthesis. Now for those of you who missed the last post CAM photosynthesis is noted as the following.

“CAM or Crassulacean Acid Metabolism, the plant stores carbon dioxide in an acid form before it is used in photosynthesis. CAM is commonly seen in the crassula family which includes the Jade Plant. This form of photosynthesis is incredibly efficient and allows the plant to metabolize the carbonic acids whenever the environmental conditions favor thus allowing a plant to survive arid conditions for long periods.”

What this means is that all three plants are incredibly durable versus drought and heat, and thus do not tolerate being wet for any long period of time. Also it means they benefit from having a poor but well drained soil as well as being pot bound as they tend to both offset and bloom more frequently when cramped. Consider all three as succulents and not cactus because because they lack several critical features that differentiate the two. As the old rule goes, ‘All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti.’ 

Here comes the brief biology lesson for today’s post. Since it is clear that cacti are succulent but succulents are not cacti what makes them different. First off cactus generally belong to the family Cactaceae where as succulents come from a number of families. Additionally in the case of cactus the spines are directly attached to the individual stem segments which respectively are called pads. In cacti the pads often fill a mixture of the role of leaf and stem as true leaves in their case have been replaced by the spines and the finer smaller spines known as glochids. I might also add that the vast majority if not all cacti are endemic to the Americas, where as succulents can be found on almost every landmass in some form or shape. I might also add a bit from personal experience, I have successfully grown Opuntia microdasys ‘Teddy Bear’ out doors in northern New Jersey for several years in the past. Despite this I have never successfully grown any succulent species outdoors in  the same conditions all year long.

The Aloe Genus

The aloe family is best known for Medicinal Aloe which now is found in some amount in medical supplies lotions and anything generally used to treat skin ailments. What is often ignored is that the aloe family is a large and diverse group of succulents that have varied and unique shapes and forms most of which are considered tender perennials in the south east and absolute house plants in the north east. A prime example of the variability of aloes can bee seen with the below pictures of traditional medicinal aloe and an ornamental aloe species.

Aloe vera – Medicinal Aloe
 I might add aloe is one of those odd plants where the succulent top of the plant holds so much moisture on average that the above ground growth is often heavier then anything in the pot below. With age they can become quite top-heavy. If there's ever a burn injury at the ranch we are completely prepared!

Aloe quicksilver x rare flare – Silver Ridge Aloe
The Silver Ridge aloe is a ornamental type of aloe that is incredibly neglect and drought tolerant. I have had this specimen for about two years. Since I've had it it's needed  one re-potting and it filled the original pot with offsets to the extent it it became impossible to water from above. I eventually had to dunk the plant, pot and all in a bucket of water until I stopped hearing bubbles and let it drain to water it every month or so.

The flower of the Silver ridge aloe.

Aloe haworthioides Var. aurantiaca - Faux Haworthia
Aloe-Haworthia hybrids are not commonly seen in the trade due to incorrect identification and possibly the lack of interest. Even so from a biological standpoint you can see the aloe influences in the especially fat  stems which are a clear aloe genetic influence. The Haworthia genetics are visible in the little white dots, and soft spines spread across the stems. Also the sharply triangular shape of the leaves and the relative lack of leaf size and length are both clear haworthia heritage effects.

The Gasteria Genus

Gasteria derives its name from the unusual shape fo the flowers which resembles little stomachs roughly. The name is in part due to the pink coloration of the flowers and the actual curved shapes. In respects Gasteria is incredibly slow-growing, absolutely intolerant of wet soil but easy to care for. Only one member of the gasteria family (G. batesiana) is noted for any medical usage. I might add that the medicinal species of gasteria is almost extinct in its native range and may only be found in commercial propagation. Gasteria are often known as a whole under the names ‘cow-tongue cactus’, ‘Lawyer’s Tongue’, ‘Mother-in-law’s tongue’ and ‘ox-tongue’.

Gasteria pillansii var. pillansii - Ox Tongue

 This is a gasteria that has been int he collection for about three years, it came from a  cutting acquired through Fayetteville Technical Community College's Horticultural program. Admittedly int hat time it has grown just a few inches at best and the small offets near the base of the parent plant appeared late last year. As far as house plants go, gasteria seems to take whatever it gets. I barely water it, it gets virtually no fertilizer, and it seems not to care. I might add it requires so little that the plant that shared it's pot has long since died and the gasteria is moving along as if it was never there.

Gasteria x Aloe ‘Green Gold‘ - Gasteraloe
 As noted in the picture info this plant is a Gatsteria Aloe hybrid produced by Altman Plants and bought at bLowes from the succulent plant rack.  I've only had it in the collection for about two months, and re-potted it a few weeks ago into the clay pot you see above. As far as I can tell from the gasteria genetics side of things the speckling on the leaves, and sloe growth rate plus the seeming lack of offsets are what it inherited from the cross. On the aloe side of it's genetics it seems to have gotten a rosette form where leaves emerge in a loose radial arrangement. Additionally the swollen stems of the aloe half of the cross as well as their general shape seems to have trumped a lot of the gasteria genetics. Time will tell what this hybrid becomes.

The Haworthia Genus

The first thing to know is that the Haworthia family is named in honor of Adrian Hardy Haworth (1768-1883). The haworthia family is physically shaped a lot like the aloes and some of the gasteria family.  Much like the other two groups the haworthias are succulents that prefer soil with excellent drainage and will not tolerate being wet for long periods. Not surprisingly at least one species of Haworththia (H. maxima) is noted for being used as a skin softener in its native country.
The most common example of this plant species in the trade is Zebra plant or Haworthia attenuata which can be found in most house plant racks in most stores. In fact it looks a lot like faux Haworthia  but you can type in the latin name and find images of it by the boat load on the internet.
Haworthia cuspidate - Star Window Plant – (cross of H. retusa and H. cymbiformis)
The star window plant is without a doubt one of my long standing favorite haworthias. Not only is it largely care free but it blooms a few times a year and is a mobile biology lesson on biological diversity and evolution. This plant has evolved to have little windows on it's leaf tips to allow sunlight to shine in at a set angle to maximize photosynthesis using the least external surface area. This adaptation means that it is incredibly water-efficient because there is little external surface area where photosynthesis is going on proportionately thus less gas exchange and evaporation of moisture.

Haworthia resendeana - [No Common Name]
Occasionally in the plant trade you will find plants who have  Latin name but no common name and this haworthia is one of them. While theorized to be some kind of H. coarcata hybrid there is no certain information to prove of debunk the theory. As noted in the picture information this specimen albeit a lot smaller survived the trip from New Jersey to North Carolina some years ago and has put on incredible growth requiring several transplanting operations. As far as care is concerned it is somewhat slow growing, largely neglect proofed and responds well to fertilizer.

So with that said this wraps up October’s episodes of Lost in the farmers Market.  I know the talk of house plants is not normal for the time of year however I thought it was a unique topic. Since the holidays are rapidly approaching some of this might make your selection of gifts a bit easier for those gardening-inclined people you know. In the meanwhile  remember that we are approaching the last weeks of the year in which you can plant your crops, if you have not done it do it now.

So remember folks, Keep ‘em Growin!

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