Sunday, January 24, 2016

Return to the Fray

Happy new years, for the holidays mega-aloe got decorated!

Welcome back to the first post-hiatus episode of Lost In the Farmer’s Market. For those of you who were wondering where LITFM went, I had a bit of a family crisis to handle that took several months to get back to a reasonably relative state of normality. For clarity purposes, my grandmother had become sick in August with no confirmed cause until October when she was diagnosed with what was thought to be stage 3 ovarian cancer. She had to undergo a serious surgery to remove as much of the cancerous growth as possible as it had escaped into other organs. Her surgeon and general practitioner didn’t us then then but the chances of her surviving the surgery and the ICU period after were nonexistent, yet she pulled through and now she’s about to go on her third chemo therapy treatment. As the one person who has to handle her medical and legal affairs I don’t think I have to mention exactly what sort of chaos comes with not only having to handle your issues but someone else’s as well. But then there is the cavalcade of well-meaning folks who try to step in and help which adds another logistical complication to the situation. The situation is being handled on a day-to-day status and now that it has leveled out, I can again begin writing LITFM for all of you readers out there. With that said LITFM isn’t dead but it did go into an early dormancy and now just to thumb its nose at our bizarre cold weather and the recent snow/sleet event we burst through the frozen ground not unlike a spring snowdrop.

For this installment I am going to talk about some house plants, and some of you know where this is going but for those who don’t, sit tight. For this episode I’m talking about three of the more durable house plants you can get. The family names of these house plants are Aloe, Gasteria and Haworthia, but there are a number of crosses between these three because we have gasteraloes, and aloe-haworthia hybrids. For note the three are closely related and can cross-breed sexually producing natural and viable hybrids without genetic meddling in a lab. So of course if you see a ‘gasteraloe’ at the store or at my table at the market* you can know that these plants can be GMO-free and can be organically grown.  At the market I often get a lot of passersby who claim they have a ‘black thumb’ or that they ‘kill plants’ and I often want to look at their significant other and remind them that they should have gotten a prenuptial agreement. Taking care of aloes isn’t particularly hard and they are more often killed by kindness rather than by neglect. However when you think about it, this isn’t unlike a relationship in a lot of ways, too much attention and you come off as a creepy stalker, but if there is too little attention then you seem to be cold and withdrawn and in either situation you wind up…. well the picture below sums it up.

Go on cue up Mad World by Tears for Fears you know you want to.
The first rule of growing aloe, Haworthia or Gasteria is to remember that they thrive on benign neglect, prefer moderate to bright light and may only need watering once a week in the warm months but as little as once per month in the winter months. But then there is the third issue these three plants face, in that everyone thinks that they all look like aloe vera when in fact just the aloe family comes in so many shapes colors and sizes that realistically it’s no surprise that Gasteria and Haworthia also come in a staggering number of colors shapes and sizes. There is literally a shape and color for every need and taste.  But I would bet some of you don’t believe me, so allow me to prove the point starting with the aloes. For those of you who remember my article about this last year, there are some new entries to this list and yes there will be a test afterwards for aloeology certification. Since I capped off this post with an image of the  well-known Aloe vera/barbadensis that I decorated in lieu of a Christmas tree the following list will cover the other varieties.

Aloe ciliaris – Climbing Aloe

I don’t think anyone believed me when I said climbing aloe would rapidly become the tallest aloe you had ever seen but the specimen plant certainly proves it. I’ve had this aloe for about three years, and it’s now two feet tall and has no offsets.  These are a must-have for collectors because they grow in a way that is at odds with what most know about aloes.

Aloe cultivar – Walmsley’s Bronze Aloe
This is a new addition to the collection; the common form of this aloe is Walmsley’s blue, but bronze makes rare appearances. The difference between the two is that this variety gets a bronze coloration when in bright light as opposed to the blue turning a blue-green color. I picked this one up in mid-2015 with a group of Walmsley’s blue and noticed the labelling was wrong then tracked down a positive match.

Aloe deltiodantes ‘Sparkler’ – Checkerboard Aloe
To be fair this species of aloe didn’t have a common name until I named it, but the variety is actually sparkler and it’s one of the more durable aloes despite its moderate to slow growing habits. The one thing to remember with this aloe is to try to water the soil by using a measuring cup or something that can apply water to the soil without getting water on the leaves.

Aloe descoingsii – Miniature Aloe

I received this plant from a college several years ago and thought it was some form of haworthia, several misidentifications later I found a clear match. This aloe species is seen in the trade as a small terrarium plant that often is sold in tiny 1.5-2.25” pots for just a few dollars at most. If I had known that several years later it’d be five times its original size and was still reasonable to manage I’d have cultivated it as a sale plant instead.

Aloe dorothea – Sunset Aloe

I think a lot of you have seen this one, as I’ve sold them during the summer at the market for about two years now. Sunset aloes are fairly rare in the trade but make quite a statement as their coloration goes from bright green to yellow-green and on to shades of orange and bright red with exposure to the summer sun. In their native range this species is critically endangered due to overharvesting as it has all the same medicinal properties as Aloe vera/barbadensis.

Aloe gastrolea – Midnight Aloe
I sold a naturally occurring mutation of this aloe at the market in 2014, and this is the original strain. Midnight aloes are surprisingly tough, require little care and have a striking dark green color that stands at odds with what one might expect an aloe to look like.

Aloe hybrid ‘Christmas’ – Christmas Aloe
I received a tiny offset of a mature example of this aloe about two years ago and while it wasn’t the fastest growing plant in history finally it’s achieved a size that makes it fairly photogenic. I still don’t quite know why it’s called Christmas but I suppose it will become clear with age.

Aloe hybrid ‘ Snowstorm’ – Snowstorm Aloe
Snow storm is one of those odd aloes that has an odd color pattern that stands out amidst other ‘white’ type aloes because it is so unusual. It’s the combination of a primary green color mixed with the white oval shaped spots and the mostly white teeth ion the margins of the leaves that makes it so different.

Aloe hybrid – Silver Star Aloe
The Silver Star aloe has a number of trade names and this is due to multiple subspecies variations on the original silver star plant stock. I sold naturally occurring mutations of Silver Star at the market much to the delight of a number of lucky customers. As a general rule though, this aloe is less tolerant of persistent cold and wetness so be wary on watering this one too much.

Aloe hybrid quicksilver x rare flare – Silver ridge aloe
This aloe declined a little due to a brief case of root rot and is showing some decent recovery. Though considered an ornamental aloe variety it does bear gel and its silver-white coloration is certainly rather interesting as is it’s rough-textured leaves. Otherwise it’s a fairly care-free aloe that will bloom in early summer without fail and rarely needs repotting.

Aloe nobilis ‘Gold Tooth’- Gator Aloe
Gold tooth aloe seems to have never lived up to its name as the teeth on its leaf margins never even turned yellow. According to the original grower’s images and information this was supposed to be its big trait which as noted never manifested. The shape of the leaves and their dark green color led to me nicknaming the ones that never developed any gold teeth ‘Gator’ which turned out to include the specimen plant of the original variety. I can presume that this plant is prone to reverting to its original form and that the gold tooth thing was a random genetic variation that was not stable.

Aloe x. nobilis – Crosby’s Prolific Aloe
Marketed as one of the faster growing vera/nobilis crosses Crosby’s prolific isn’t nearly as fast growing as the grower information suggested but to its credit it has tripled in size in about two years which is still very good by aloe standards. I do know this species is still medicinal and with some age it could  compete with traditional aloe for medicinal gel output.

Aloe x ???  'Grassie Lassie'
 I cannot find the exact parentage of this aloe variety but, it is clear that it is theoretically a perennial up to zone 8 if not some parts of zone 7b.  Trials have had about a 50-50% success rate in the Fayetteville area though I kept my specimen as a house plant. In that role this aloe is more like a very cold-tolerant aloe vera and does produce some gel and seems to be largely care free. The leaves are different in that they do have a grass-like habit of bending randomly and they are a bit more fragile.

It does not matter how you perceive it, there are many aloe options out there and growers are producing more every year to meet the personal tastes of the gardeners out there. What I have posted on LITFM is the first part of  a three part series, and next week we will delve into the Haworthia group and the week after that the Gasteria and Gasteraloes. Stay tuned and tell your freinds...LITFM is back!

*Ok that was a cheap plug.

No comments:

Post a Comment