Sunday, November 25, 2012

Meet the Houseplants: Part 3

Welcome back to Lost In the Farmer's Market where today the discussion focuses on some house plants you may not be familiar with. This is the third post of a series that could give you that critical gift idea for the gardener in your lives. 

Today we're taking a step away from succulents towards the Philodendrons and Monstera, both of which belong to the Araceae family which respectively is more commonly called the Arum family. For those not familiar with the Arum family, the arums are best known for the Malanga, Taro and Mexican Bread fruit. The family is also known for the staggering variety of plants under it's group of which a significant number are house plants or are famous horticultural curiosities such as the Titan Arum. For note the Titan Arum (Amorphopahllus titanium) by technicality is the largest cluster of flowers in the world, it common name is the 'Corpse Flower' due to it smelling like, well something died. From prior posts you might recall the Voodoo Lily (Amorphophallus) and, Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema), both of which are in the Arum grouping. Some other commonly seen relatives include Caladium (Elephant Ear), Calocasia (Taro), Xanthosoma (Malanga), Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia), Skunk Cabbage, Dieffenbachia (Dumb-Cane), Dracunculus (Dragon Arum) Syngonium (Arrowhead Plant) and finally, Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily).

In short the number of members in the Arum Family is quite incredible but perhaps what is more amazing is that under the same heading both the monstera and philodendron groups are also noted to reside. They look nothing like the above list of plants and yet, there they are under the same family heading, talk about natural selection and adaptability! With all that said Monstera and Philodendron are both here because they are related from several points of perception. Today we will take a brief glance at several philodendrons and a rather unique example of a Monstera.

Philodendron cordatum – Heart Leaf Philodendron

The philodendron itself is best typified by its most common representative, Devil’s Ivy or Epipremnum aureum. Devils Ivy is an incredibly common garden center house plant but talk about that would be far too easy. For today’s post the focus are is on three philodendrons you may not be familiar with. The first and most durable, is the Heart-Leaf Philodendron which is a plain green Philodendron who can tolerate heat drought cold drafts and neglect with ease. Sadly it is not seen in the trade as much is should be given its durable qualities. All you have to remember is to not over water, and should this happen cuttings can be grown in water with ease. A regular potting soil mix and filtered light is all this houseplant asks for and in return you get a neat trailing plant that has deep green heart-shaped leaves and no pest problems. Heart-leaf philodendrons are probably the most forgiving of the philodendron family as they can thankfully can survive in pots long after the soil has become depleted even without extra fertilizer, for years without any sign of distress.

Philodendron erubescens – Blushing Philodendron

The blushing philodendron demonstrates that not all members of this large family are vine-like in growth. In this case the blushing philodendron is roughly upright growing with large arial roots that brace it as it gains height. Perhaps specimens such as this one demonstrate how closely related the Monstera and Philodendrons are as the growth habits of this Philodendron absolutely resemble those of Monstera Deliciosa or the Mexican Bread fruit plant. As far as care goes, regular potting soil is  acceptable with no real provision for special drainage, but you will need a tall pot as the roots dig deep. Cuttings can be had by cutting a 3” long section of stem with one leaf in the middle and the stem ends being dipped in rooting hormone. This cutting should be inserted into a pot preferably about 6” diameter filled with any basic potting medium. Cuttings can be rooted in water also for ease of propagation. The plant in the picture is just a few months old, and was propagated in the stem cutting method. As you can see in the picture it’s decent for a recently propagated plant and will likely make a nice houseplant at some point. This philodendron might be seen in as part of winter time collections of house plants in places like bLowes and Home Despot. No special care is needed and for note this species of philodendron got it’s common name for it’s reddish tinged leaves and red stems.

Philodendron hybrid ‘Duke of Orange’ -  Duke of Orange Philodendron

I got this plant at a supplier near Durham earlier in the year while looking for something else. I admit it was a complete impulse buy but then with such orange tinged leaves on something as easy to care for as a philodendron, it literally put most coleus out of business. I have to repeat that this guy is INCREDIBLY slow growing, having gained less then an inch over about four months, but then considering it’s new leaves are a sort of bronze-electric-orange color the growth speed is irrelevant. Like most philodendrons it seems to be soil insensitive, and is currently growing in basic potting soil.  It turns light green when exposed to a few hours of full sun a day but reverts back to that orange color when brought back inside and given filtered light. I have noticed it does respond somewhat to fertilizer but I would not suggest you go crazy feeding it. I imagine that if paired with the right pot this plant could be exceptional in any indoor setting as a striking centerpiece. In terms of availability I have seen this plant offered by numerous online green houses and though catalogs but surprisingly places like bLowes and Home Despot have not noticed it yet.

Monstera friedrichsthalii – Swiss Cheese Plant

Our last entry in today’s post is the botanical star of this year’s Urban Farm Day and a favorite in the plant giveaway at the Sustainable Neighbor’s Meetings.  Swiss Cheese plant as a common name can refer to a number of plants in the Philodendron and Monstera family however if you are to seek this plant out make sure to use the Latin name. As far as house plants go this one is relatively quick growing and quite respectable as far as durability and ease of propagation are concerned.  The plant pictured is the mother plant for all of the swiss cheese plants sold and or given away, and while it has lost something like 95% of it’s mass by next year it will make a full recovery at which I can take the same quantity if cuttings and let it regenerate itself again. Left to it’s own devices with ample fertilizer and regular water it can grow about a third of an inch a day. Propagation can be accomplished by rooting cuttings in water or by soil layering the stems. Soil layering is when you allow a plant’s stem to come into contact with the soil and weigh the stem down with a stone or pin to promote root formation at the point of contact.  As far as care goes this plant seems to be accepting of all but extreme cold and long dry spells.

As a final biological note for this post, both Devil's Ivy (Epipremnum aureum) and Heart-Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron cordatum ) are both known for the ability to exude excess water from the tips (apex) or edges (margins) of their leaves. From a biological stand point this may be a method to attract insects to protect the plant or a way to counter a long wet season. It is possible this ability developed to increase local humidity. Once thing is certain, if you find droplets of water on the leaf tips of your philodendron, and you also watered recently you are over watering and should ease off for a bit.

This brings another episode of LITFM to a close, I hope you found the plants discussed interesting, maybe they have given you an idea for a gift for someone you know. Next week which is the first of December will hopefully see the continuation of the food security topic and a few more ideas for house plants. As always Keep ‘em Growing and see you here next week!

Meet the Houseplants: Part 2

Season's Greetings and welcome back to another episode of Lost in the farmer's market, in the interest of keeping the content flowing before December arrives we will dive straight into the topic at hand, the rhipsalis relatives of the holiday cacti.

So keeping to the houseplant theme this post’s plants of notice are from the Rhipsalis group of which I have three in the collection to introduce you to. As noted in the prior post, the Rhipsalis groups are related to the Schlumberiga group (Christmas cactus). The most famous Rhipsalis is the ‘Easter Cactus’ which is Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri. It is important to consider that Rhipsalis are epiphytic and thus are suited to high organic matter soils with limited moisture retention, or are rapid draining. Also any part of the stem segments that should break off and land in another potted plant or should come into contact with soil can potentially root making for an easy to propagate houseplant.  Like all succulents the big enemy of a Rhipsalis is overwatering which can cause root rot rather quickly. In terms of exposure I’ve found that at least in the case of ‘Drunkards Dream’ these plants can handle a few hours of direct sun per day. Much like with aloe, if you see the stems reddening it means that your Rhipsalis is getting it’s maximum limits in terms of light exposure. Since most rhipsalis are used to growing somewhere under the canopy of a tree filtered light is best with additional light provided in the summer.

As for plant examples to say we have three plants from the collection that demonstrate the range of forms that this plant can come in. Now admittedly the Easter Cactus has a differing stem shape and I don’t have a specimen to show but the ones below are more readily available in the trade to the point you can find them almost year round in bLowes and Home Despot.

Drunkards dream is a loosely trailing mounding sort of succulent.

Look carefully at the stem segments to see the little 'bottles' for which the plant is named.

A very close in shot showing the variance in stem segment shapes, some are oblong and others are thin, others still have any number of variations on the bottle shape. It is almost as if the entire plant due to it's name is effected by delirium tremens

Talk about aptly named! This rhipsalis is named for its bottle-shaped stem segments and the pictured specimen has colonized at least two other potted plants in the collection including the crab cactus pictured in the last post. The durability of this plant is quite incredible as it was one of the plants that survived the trip from New Jersey to North Carolina and put on an incredible amount of size after the move. Drunkards dream is very available through a number of vendors and the original plant came from Home Despot but I have seen it recently in the succulent plant rack at bLowes on a yearly basis. The only care this guy needs is occasional repotting, and light watering perhaps once a week or when dry during the cold season. The flowers look like Christmas cactus flowers but are tiny and Canary yellow. You can expect flowers around Easter on a mature plant

This plant is very similar to drunkards dream but with much longer stems.

Old man’s Beard takes the same care as drunkard’s dream but, seems to be slower growing. I got this plant as a salvage cutting that is the cutting was shed by the plant probably due to stress and was found on the floor at a bLowes, so it took a while to recover root and gain any size. As you can see this rhipsalis grows around long central stems that end in a spray of much shorter ones. Overall, it seems to be an absolute hanging form and thus looks best in a hanging basket or a angular pot where the stems can dangle. I’ve only had this specimen for about a year and I doubt it is mature enough to bloom but if it does you will see it here. Angel Plants whom sells this variety seems to have no clear information on when this rhipsalis blooms or what it looks like when it does.

As you can see the stem segments are oddly shaped like bizarre trapezoids or rhomboids hence the 'Rhombea' in the name.

This rhipsalis was bought at Home Despot in a tiny 2” pot and was propagated by Altman Plants. It’s latin name and identity has been verified through several sources since it’s purchase and it seems to be the most drought tolerant of the three plants pictured. I admit to being a tad lazy about repotting and it remained in it’s 2” pot all summer drying out repeatedly to the point it had to be dunked underwater to moisten the potting mix. I was finally repotted a month or two ago to the pot you see. As far as survival of neglect goes this one is really good if you can find it in stores. The odd geometric leaf-pads are where the name rhombea comes from and I have no idea what the bloom color looks like but perhaps we’ll find out next year?  It seems content with standard potting mix with no provisions for extra drainage and can handle being dry for long periods. Ironically I didn’t buy this plant because it was a rhipsalis, I mistook it for a queen of the Night cactus which was a perennial favorite at Van Vleck for it’s blooms that opened around midnight and were open for just one night following the hottest days of the year.

If you can find one of these three they are good spine and thorn free house plants to consider for gifts for that gardening-minded person you know.  Chances are the recipient will have likely never seen these plants before and you are picking something really unique. After all a gift like this completely beats a gift card any day of the week! Check our next post where I take this discussion into the land of philodendrons and Monstera, also as always folks, Keep ‘em Growing!

Meet the Houseplants: Part 1

Welcome back to another episode of Lost in the Farmer's Market As you may have noticed due to the holidays and college assignments there have not been updates in the prior weeks. You need not worry, the replacement posts are coming shortly starting with this one. Originally I was planning to talk about food security some more but again due to the number of papers due for college assignments the food security research has been shelved for a later date when I’m not buried in assignments. Instead of food security today’s topic is about a commonly seen house plant that has started to show up for sale in stores in droves.

So in keeping with the line of discussion which for this time of the year leans into houseplant territory I would like to talk about one of the few houseplants that I can honestly say for the longest time I did not like.  Generally around the holidays the two plants seen the most in stores are Poinsettias and the two species of holiday cactus. For the purposes of this article I am speaking of the latter rather then the former. For those who know it by other names 'Holiday' cactus is my generalized term for a group of succulents that are known for the bloom times which correspond with one of three holidays, Easter, Christmas or thanksgiving.   The three species are as follows below:

[No picture available]
Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri - Easter Cactus

A group of cactus blooms as seen from above in several states of opening.

The blooms from a below angle

Note the angular parts of the leaf-pads, someone at some point they resembled the bodies of crabs and thus the common name 'Crab Cactus' came about.

Admittedly I do not have a photo of an Easter cactus but I do have images from the collection of the other two. My Christmas cactus however is too young to bloom so only the pads are pictured to show their shape.

I encountered the Christmas cacti group around 1999, when I went to work at Van Vleck House and Gardens, which was a private botanical garden located in Montclair New Jersey. The Horticultural director there was a guy named Stephan Schuckman. What made it interesting was that he was a complete and absolute Christmas cacti aficionado, literally there were hundreds of varieties there at the time in numerous shades, shapes and, colors. At the time, I had not gained an appreciation for cacti and succulents at the time and wrote the following in my horticultural notes regarding the Christmas cacti.

"There is no other plant I know that is so incredibly boring for about eleven months a year just to get a brief two-week bloom."

For those of you who don’t know it is important to note that the holiday cactus is actually succulents, and they come from South America. This actually makes them epiphytic or semi-epiphytic as their biology is designed to propagate the plants with or without seed production. Generally holiday cactus and other similar species of segmented succulents can self propagate by a process called shattering. Shattering occurs when the given plant is under extreme stress, and the response is the separation of the individual pads or leaf segments which hopefully are moved by animals wind or water to better conditions. Root rot actually can cause shattering in holiday cactus which can be a method of rescuing a specimen that has caught a root disease.

What makes the holiday cactus plants so wide spread as gifts during the holidays is their incredible ease of care. Their soil should be a basic potting mix with a little extra sand for drainage.  Unlike a lot of true cactus and some varieties of succulents holiday cacti literally can grow successfully in the same sorts of potting mixes you would use for a common house plant such as a Philodendron as long as you mind how often you water. The plants pictured in this article are generally watered perhaps once every two weeks and even then not enough that there is runoff. Additionally unlike a number of house plants Christmas cacti benefit from being outside for as long as the temperatures permit as the natural light aids in bud formation. Much like poinsettias and chrysanthemums holiday cactus's flower formation is relative to the length and intensity of daylight, as the shortening of day length prompts these plants to bloom.

The irony is now; there is always at least one holiday cactus in my collection as I've come to appreciate the key aspects of the plant.  It spends most of the year sandwiched between the Rhipsalis out on the deck, but as the photos show when it is blooming it becomes a table decoration to brighten up the holidays. In that light, it is also quite amazing how your mind can change with time and experience, to that end I suggest you try a holiday cactus as far as easy house plants go I would say this one if pretty easy and they make a nice colorful gift.

I have to say this post replaced the original planned post about food security for several reasons, most of which pertain to research issues and college workload. Don’t worry the food security stuff will be back as soon as I get a moment to really dig into the information and verify the facts around it.  My next post will cover a relative of Holiday cactus, the Rhipsalis genus. For note both schlumbergia and rhipsalis belong to the Rhipsalideae 'tribe' so they are distinctly related, but it is not clear until they bloom.

Happy thanks giving and as always folks Keep 'em growing!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Food Security Part One

Welcome back to another episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market, due to college work load, and the extra time needed to pull information for this post it was significantly delayed. Due to length the post was broken into two parts with the second half to be posted this weekend. The topic is a bit more serious then is generally covered, as I am posting about food security. The first half is an introduction to it and the second half is about the things you personally can do to achieve some measure of food security on a local level. As they say with politics, all politics are local politics and thus in the case of food security it all centers on the local regions. Before we get to the discussion of food security I have a few pictures from the feild you might like.

This is the dark color that 'Red Giant' Mustard turns when exposed to regular cold temperatures.

This mustard plant displays the other end of the coloration spectrum, where the new leaves take on the deep red color on the margins. Also, some leaves will display characteristic marbled color as the leaf in the lower center.

Black pearl peppers are quite striking with their black-marble shaped fruit and dark foliage which is quite striking against the light foliage of another plant such as artemesia.

When ornamental peppers finally turn red from whatever color they used to be, the seeds generally are ripe, but you want to pick the peppers for harvesting seed once the peppers have started to dry and are crinkled.

A large cotton plant can be quite showy even without the visible presence of cotton bolls.

The calyx of a cotton plant's flower before the flower even opens.

I see these large green garden spiders all the time in North Carolina, this one was protecting it's brood between the branches of a Lantana plant.
I included because it's cool looking, I found it scrambling amongst mulch as I planted pansies in a front yard this week. Not a clue what it is but body shape and size suggests a flightless wasp of some sort. It was about two inches long which makes it a bit big for an ant and the wrong body type and color to be any sort of termite.

While considering the issues we face today I would say that food security is likely one of our biggest weaknesses. The issue is corporate agriculture where absolute profit is the driving motivation, instead of good land stewardship with profit as a secondary motive. It is rare outside of certain limited magazine publications that this topic is ever discussed in any detail and rarer still to have the topic handled by anyone who is an actual expert on the topic with supporting credentials. The lack of discussion leaves one to try and piece the data together themselves, which can lead to confusion on the topic. I think we can all remember how in the 1990's not everyone was entirely sure what the word 'organic' was precisely supposed to mean.

The term 'Food Security' can be referred to in several differing definitions. According to the World Health Organization it has three aspects, food availability, food access and food use. The former of the three is simply having sufficient quantities of food on a consistent basis. The second of the three, food access is having the resources (economic and physical) to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. The latter of the three parts is is the correct use of food based upon information of basic nutrition and care as well as access to clean water and sanitation facilities.  The Food and Agriculture Organization goes as far as to add a fourth part to the three parts proposed by the WHO. The fourth part to food security is Food Stability which refers to the other three parts but over a time rather then immediately.

For the purposes of this post I'm more or less referring to the fourth definition with an addition; that is, part of our problem is that currently the United States is a monoculture sort of producer. That is we produce a whole lot of a few things that are massed in one place and in doing so attract greater problems such as pests and weeds with chemical resistance. But at the same time due to agribusiness's business model we have chemical runoff into waterways and polluted soils not to mention what gets back to the consumer on and inside the produce. Consider that the average head of lettuce from a major producer may travel hundreds of miles to get to a warehouse before it gets to the market, where you can buy it. Since this is the case you must consider then that all it takes to cripple the system is a critical failing of infrastructure, major natural storm (hurricane sandy, Katrina and Andrew), some major fuel shortage or worse a new strain of disease or pest to cripple the food supply system. Also it is important to note that someone with sufficient ambition and malicious intent could conceivably damage the digital system that keeps our transportation system running.

We simply do not talk about food security enough these days, especially in the light of the limits of our own food system in the USA. For instance did you know that there are roughly 7,000 food plants that are safe for human consumption and of those only about 140 are grown in any real quantity? Out of those 140 we expressly rely on only 12, but in America the top five agricultural products aren't what you would think. As for America's top five products are Corn, Cattle (beef), Cow's Milk, Chicken Meat, and Soybeans in that order. With the aforementioned facts* in mind, one has to ask, we rely on 12 food crops, the agricultural plant products in the USA that are produced the most are corn, soy and wheat all of which have been extensively genetically modified and may have lingering health effects on the population. Not to mention these 'super crops' also require more chemical intervention to get a successful product and they are implicated in disrupting local biodiversity. With all that said perhaps there is in fact a fifth facet to food security, ‘Product Integrity’. Knowing what you are to eat and having accurate information to make the choices that benefit your own health in the way you wish it to.

To summarize, Food security isn't a national thing, it is a world wide thing, but we America seem to want to ignore it. It is almost as if we as a people are afraid of having to do things differently much less to have the conversation. Ironically fuel security is talked to death, as is national security, however if you have a nation of starving people those other two stop being relevant.

*All numerical information in this post was pulled from three sources, The World Health Organization, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Agriculture Organization’s respective web sites.