Sunday, January 11, 2015

Wait Who told January it could be this Cold?!

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In The Farmers Market. This episode marks the first of forty-six episodes making up the entirety of the 2015 web log season. As per tradition the month of January is reserved for reviewing the prior year’s activities and processes to determine which if any of those plants, products, materials and methods is worth integrating to routine operations at the test gardens. There are four posts for the month of January so of course you can expect a Harvest summary for 2014, a products review and a plant review. Most of the aforementioned data is still being studied and prepared so for today’s post we are reviewing the origins and nature of 2014’s most famous plant species.

I know some of you regular readers are already guessing as to what the most popular plant species for 2014 is and indeed I can’t blame you for guessing as the answer could be any number of plants or plant groupings. Amazingly in 2014 the diversity of plant materials sold at the booth exploded for lack of a better word. We offered more varieties than in any prior operations year and 2015 is already ahead of the curve in materials so I think all of you out there who read this know that the booth will be featuring a number of firsts in 2015. But let’s talk about the obvious item at hand; the most in-demand plant species of 2014 was the Aloe family group. During August we had the “Sparklitis” month event devoted to aloes primarily and then we upped the ante when we attended the Hanukkah Bazaar in December. Your response was to buy most of our stock and due to that I think it can be fairly said that the customers have spoken.

But of course the real telling factor is how this favoritism altered the plant collection at the headquarters as that collection is the true yardstick by which one can determine how much plant hunting went on for a species in 2014. In total in 2013 the Aloe group collection had eleven individual plants on record consisting of the following varieties.

Aloe ciliaris – Climbing Aloe
Aloe deltoidantes ‘Sparkler’ – Checkerboard Aloe
Aloe descoingsii – Miniature Aloe
Aloe dorothea – Sunset Aloe
Aloe varigata – Partridge Breast Aloe
Aloe vera/barbadensis – Medicinal Aloe

Gasteraloe hybrid – ‘Green Gold’
Gasteria verrucosa – Ox Tongue

Haworthia attenuata var. zebrina – Zebra Plant
Haworthia coarctata – Black Dragon
Haworthia cuspidata – Star Window Plant

To say that the collection has eleven examples of the aloe family is no small feat. For note Aloe, Haworthia and Gasteria are all so closely related as far as succulents go, that they can cross-breed naturally however more often than not the crosses are due to human-assisted sexual reproduction via manual pollen transfer. In 2014 due to the success of the 2013 offering of rare and exotic aloe species the race was on to present more of the established varieties (Aloe vera, Checkerboard aloe and sunset aloe) while making inroads to offering new options that may not have been known previously. This meant scouring any and all wholesale plat purveyors who dealt in  house plants and then after that hitting up every nursery within a sixty mile radius at least once every two months starting in March. Additional rarities were special ordered in some cases for sale as part of the August specialty month. What was available already at the headquarters was divided and prepared months in advance of August and this set the stage for a much larger Aloe grouping plant list when compared to the original eleven plants noted above. As of this writing the aloe ‘clan’ consists of some twenty seven individual specimens not counting the crop for this year. For 2014 the following specimens were introduced to the collection.

Collection Items
Aloe gastrolea – Midnight Aloe
Aloe hybrid ‘Christmas’ – Christmas Aloe
Aloe hybrid ‘Silver Star’ – Silver Star Aloe
Aloe hybrid ‘Moon dance’ – Moon Dance Aloe
Aloe nobilis ‘Gold Tooth’ – Gold Tooth Aloe
Aloe nobilis x Aloe sp. – Crosby’s Prolific Aloe
Aloe x ‘Grassy Lassie’ (Griffin Hybrid) – Grassy Lassie

Gasteraloe hybrid ‘Green Gold’ – Green Gold Gasteraloe
Gasteria bicolor – Lawyers Tongue
Gasteria verrucosa x Aloe sp. ‘ Flow’ – Flow Gasteraloe*
Gasteria verrucosa x Aloe sp. ‘Radiance’ – Radiance Gasteraloe*

Haworthia mirabilis – Wonderful Haworthia
Haworthia miribilis var. triebneriana – Domed Star Window Plant
Haworthia sp. – Pagoda Haworthia
Haworthia venosa subspecies tesselata – Tesselated Haworthia

Sale Items
Aloe glauca – Blue Aloe
Aloe hybrid – Blizzard Aloe
Aloe nobilis subsp. – Gator
Aloe gastrolea – Nightskye Aloe
Aloe x  hybrid – Fauxgave

As you can see, we offered five new aloe types in 2014 with good success. However in the above list you might notice two entries with asterisks. That brings us to the more interesting part of the topic at hand. In the plant trade despite efforts to make the plant stock uniform so that the customers always get roughly the same result we often come across the fact that the plants themselves often have their own plans. While the act of taking a cutting, or dividing a clump-forming plant or any other form of asexual reproduction of plant stock does endure that the new plants are genetic duplicates of the parent plant, some times the environment ont he growing rack prompts recessive traits to be come dominant and you end up with a mutation of an otherwise homogenous crop. One of the plants offered this year as marked with an asterisk above,  was a interesting example of such variation. The 'Flow' Aloe-Gasteria hybrid was offered in spring of 2014 by Angel Plants who is known for their interesting variety of house plants. However in the growing racks they seemingly failed to notice that they shipped out a number of plants exhibiting the same genetic mutation.The image below depicts the specimen plant (a offset of one of the mother plants) of the 'Flow' Aloe-Gasteria hybrid. Note the fat fleshy leaves that make it's aloe heritage very obvious. Notice the impossible deep green stem tips and lighter green freckles all over the plant qwhich come from the Gasteria side of the parentage.

The 'Flow' Gasteria-Aloe hybrid
 For comparison, the plant below is the 'Radiance' type that I actually sold this year, or perhaps the oddest example of the type. Note the leaves are thin, and the amount of gel within is probably next to none. The Radiance type more closely resembles it's gasteria parentage and barely resembles the Aloe side of the equation.
The 'Radiance' Type Gasteria-Aloe hybrid
For clarity purposes I've included an image of an Aloe and a Gasteria so you can see what traits are evident in the probable parent species.

Gasteria verrucosa - Ox Tongue Plant

Aloe nobilis x Aloe sp  'Crosby's Prolific'

So clearly radiance was a mutation on the normal strain, that to a skilled handler of exotic plants stood out readily and of course I snapped up every example of the mutation for exclusive distribution. Some of you out there have members of this rarity as a result and as you can see the Radiance type is already producing pups so the item will be kept in circulation. This highlights the odd aspect of the plant trade however. Often the new hot item of the year isn't intentional it just so happens to be a chance mutation that is stable and desirable.  What will come for next year's August event? Who knows but I can assure you that it will be something  to talk about. This puts the cork in the bottle for this episode of LITFM, just remember folks, winter plants need less watering and try to avoid wetting the leaves, stems or crowns of your succulents and other plants.

I'm still manning the booth at the City Farmer's Market on Saturdays between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm. I cant say what materials will be sold at the booth other than fresh cut herbs, and soup kits. What plant stock I carry is dependent on the weather. The Fayettevile City Market is located at 325 Franklin Street in the front parking lot of the Fayetteville Transportation Museum.

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