Showing posts from July, 2012

Cycads at Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory

During the Jurassic Period, dinosaurs ate Cycads as part of their vegetarian diet. Today, many Cycads are on the verge of extinction. According to the Cycad Society, more than half of the 320+ species are threatened or endangered.

The Australian Cycad Pages point out that "Cycad plants are long-lived and slow-growing, with slow recruitment and population turnover. The fleshy and starch-rich stems are highly susceptible to fungal attack, and almost all species grow in well-drained soils or sites. Habitats range from closed tropical forests to semideserts, the majority in tropical or subtropical climates in regions of predominantly summer rainfall. Cycads often occur on or are restricted to specialised and/or localised sites, such as nutritionally deficient sites, limestone or serpentinite outcrops, beach dune deposits or precipitously steep sites."

One of the U.S. locations where you can enjoy them, is at Myriad Botanical Gardens, Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory in Oklaho…

Lipstick Tree or Annato is Bixa orellana from S America

Annato is often grown as an ornamental for its pretty, fragrant, pink flowers even though they last only one day. 
The seed pods that follow the flowers are covered with red hairs.

On a recent visit to Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory in Oklahoma City, Kenton Peters, the Education Coordinator, pointed out their Lipstick Tree and its unique features.

Lipstick Tree, Annato, is native to Central and South America, Brazil in particular but is grown in many tropical areas, including Florida in the U.S..

The name Bixa orellana is derived from Francisco de Orellana, a 16th century Spanish explorer.

The seeds have and orange-red coating that is used as a food dye and in cosmetics. Peters reminded us that we have seen Annato on the list of ingredients of cheese and he's right, of course.

The red color is also used in polishes, lipstick and other products. The Lipstick part of the name comes from the red color being used in pre-commercial face paint.

Filipino and Mexican foods use thi…

Smarty Plants - "What a Plant Knows" by Daniel Chamovitz

When a plant is moved from one place to another in the house or in your garden, you are usually trying to place it where it will grow more successfully. Maybe the flowers were sparse or the stems were long and lanky or the leaves were becoming crisp. Whatever signs prompted the observant gardener to move it; the plant somehow signaled its need for different conditions and got what it needed.
Scientists think plants know more than we give them credit for and that our interactions with them would benefit from understanding what has been discovered over the past decades.
In a new book, “What a Plant Knows”, scientist Daniel Chamovitz explains how plants see, smell, feel, hear, understand where they are, and remember.   To help us understand the new science, Chamovitz compares each sense we think of as being human and animal with the counterpart senses of plants.
For example, plants use a set of genes to determine whether they are located in the light or in the dark. Those same genes are in …

Bees - what's what?

Between the heat and the drought, it's a struggle for all the living things out there, including plants, birds, insects and whatever is digging all those holes in our back yard.

The Havahart SprayAway is set up to discourage the four-leggged problem and we water several hours a day to keep enough pollen for the insects. Bird baths (all 3) have to be filled daily to keep the birds happily splashing.

New this year is a bunch of blue jays. We've seen as many as 8 at a time around the birdbaths.

There are fewer butterflies this year, but plenty of other interesting insects to watch, including skippers, bees, wasps, etc.

Bee and pollinator protection organizations:
Great Pollinator Project
Bee Guardian Foundation
Xerces U.K.
Step Project Worldwide
Pollinator Partnership
Wings and Seeds…

Fall garden anyone?

Fall planted seeds include those put in during July and August such as bush beans, cowpeas, lettuce, cilantro, and cucumbers. Tomatoes are planted with new plants in July. And, remember to plant chard and kale so when temperatures cool, you will have those delicious leaves for salads and soups.

Flower seeds of annuals are not usually planted this late unless you think you can squeeze one more planting of zinnias in before your first hard frost. In another month, we'll be starting perennial seeds though.

It is time to get started on a fall garden if you are planting one this year. Oklahoma State University Fact Sheet 6009 has a handy chart to help us know what goes in when.
Territorial Seed suggests that it is also time to plant overwintering onions and shallots.
Brent and Becky's Bulbs has native choices that can extend your flower garden's bloom. They sweeten the pot with a 10% discount on Allium, Calochortus, Camassia, and Triteleia.
A couple of things to remember, especia…

Insect Habitat - build one for your garden

In the photo: YVC participants Zane Burleson, Kayla Russell, Catelynn Bradley, Mary Knack, Jaycee Gardner, Andrew Cunningham, Skye Dixon, Catherine Moses, Talon Watson, Bailey Tull, Dallas Juneil and staffSonya McJunkin, Lindsay Liszeski, Eileen VanKirk, Charley Walton.
Every spring gardeners find aphids on their plants. Some reach for a bottle of insecticide and others hope that lady bug beetles and parasitic wasps will fly in and dine on the aphids, eliminating the problem.
There are many other helpful insects. For example, ground beetles that hide in the weeds hunt insect eggs and caterpillars. Lacewings eat aphids, caterpillars, mealy bugs, leafhoppers, insect eggs, and whiteflies. Parasitic wasps attack aphids, beetles, caterpillars, flies, sawflies, scale insects and true bugs.
  With enough encouragement, beneficial insects can replace chemical and organic pest control methods.
Helpful insects include pollinators such as bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths and beetles, whose ac…

Basil walnut pesto - an illustrated how to prepare

The basil and garlic did well enough this year to make and can several jars of pesto. We skip a year sometimes if the basil is not abundant but most years this is one of the things we do to preserve the flavors of summer.
A sinkful of basil is washed, the stems are removed
and then the leaves are washed twice more.

This 1.5 pound hunk of Parmesan cheese was cut and put into the food processor and ground.

That hunk of cheese made 4 cups ground. Then, a 2 pound bag of walnuts went into the food processor, one pound at a time, with enough olive oil to make a walnut paste.

The walnut-olive oil paste was removed from the food processor, into the same bowl as the chopped cheese.

Garlic is a personal thing - we like lots. Remove the skins and put into the food processor bowl

On top of the garlic, we fill the food processor bowl with basil leaves and add a few tablespoonfuls of lemon juice and a teaspoon of salt.

The lemon juice and salt add the acid you need for safe canning.
Repeat until all the…

Old-fashioned flowers have the most butterfly nectar

If there is one thing we have all learned about attracting butterflies it is that the old-fashioned flower, vegetable and herb varieties provide the most nectar and attract the most pollinators.
 Some of these old-fashioned butterfly favorites have to be given to you by a gardener or found at a real gardeners' plant sale - a plant club of some kind where gardeners take extra plants from their own gardens to offer to the public.
Since they are available at garden sales and as passalong plants, you can assume that given the right amount of time and attention, yours will need to be divided and shared at a future time.
This tall, perennial phlox paniculata came from a neighbor down the road. After she joined our garden club, I stopped in and asked for a few roots - she had a quarter acre of the stuff and what a dramatic sight when it was all in bloom! 

Water your garden - how to keep it green in heat and drought

Water is critical to plants and nothing brings that home like a hot dry summer. Most gardeners use twice as much water as they need to keep their garden thriving.

Annuals, including everything from impatiens to cucumbers, need the most water. Sun loving plants in containers also can require daily, if not twice a day watering, to prevent stress.
Medium water use plants, such as shrubs, woody perennials, and trees planted within the past year or two, need to be watered during hot, dry, weather.
Mature trees and drought tolerant plants need less water than those listed above. Moisture-loving plants such as hydrangeas can become stressed and may need extra water to keep them looking their best.
Transpiration and evaporation are the processes that make the plants you watered this morning droop in the afternoon.Water evaporates out of plants through the underside of the leaves, the stems and flower petals. It is challenging to keep some plants looking good no matter how much water they recei…

Feeding adult butterflies and their offspring

Our garden attracts many varieties of butterflies, skippers and moths. Among the most dramatic, though common, butterflies are the swallowtails. At this time of year we see dozens and dozens of tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucas) on the tall perennial phlox late in the afternoon.
In this hot dry weather, many butterflies need supplemental water, sugar and minerals.
If you want a LOT of butterflies, it helps to provide the plants where they lay their eggs. Many butterflies are host specific and will lay eggs only on one type of plant.

Many types of swallowtail caterpillars look similar. Black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes asterius Stoll) hang out, dance around and mate on the perennial phlox so this could be one of their caterpillars.

This year the garden has a dozen parsley plants, 8 fennel plants, and plenty of dill. We are being rewarded with plenty of caterpillars.

Giant swallowtail butterflies are the largest of the species with wings that span 6-inches and more. To bring the…