Category Archives: Plant Choice

Winter 0f ’18 -’19: Cloudy, Mild With a Chance of….On Weather, Zones & Plants

It’s 41ºF at 5:30am on Mar. 12 as I begin to write this.  We appear to have come out of the longest sustained ‘cold’ period of the winter of ’18-’19 which began on February 4 and continued through Mar. 11, a period of 36 days.  Over those days we had freezing minimum temps at PDX, the official NOAA reporting station for the Portland area, on 26 of them.  On two of those days, Feb. 6 and 7, PDX recorded the winter’s lowest temp, 23ºF, making it a zn 9a winter, mild for us historically and especially so for the temperate US as a whole, much of which was experiencing its own much colder temps.  It’s mid-March and our high temps have climbed well above what they were and our forecasts call for milder, more ‘normal’ highs and lows now locally.  It looks likely that not only are we going to be on the ‘warm side’ of normal, but that our lows have shifted into a pattern well out of the freezing range.  (State ODF meteorologist, Pete Parsons, calls for a pattern of slightly warmer and drier weather than normal over March, April and May with the highest chance of this during May.) 

While weather consists of moments, recorded data points, we attempt to make sense of it in its patterns over time…our experience of it.  In this we are much like our plants.  Plants too have their ‘expectations’ of the weather and those conditions that take them outside of them, outside their familiar patterns, the relatively quick changes and perturbations, as well as the longer sustained patterns, and extremes, are ‘noticed’ and make a difference.  How does this winter compare? Continue reading

The Fascicularia and Ochagavia Question: Two Worthy and Relatively Hardy Bromeliads

 

The inflorescence of Fascicularia bicolor with its blue flowers. The center of the foliage on a blooming rosette, turns red when the flowers appear and then, like many Bromeliad, that rosette dies replaced be previously formed offsets. My blooming plant had multiple rosettes at the time, three of which bloomed. Taken in my garden, Sept. of ’17.

If you’re not into blood and guts, consider this genus, as on my scale of one to ten as described above with ten warning of near complete evisceration if one is fool hardy or reckless, this one’s a solid 4, dangerous enough but not stupidly so.  Fascicularia pitcairniifolia.  You would think that in a genus composed of one or two species things would be pretty well settled taxonomically, guess again. Originally described as F. bicolor it was reclassified as F. pitcairnifolia and later changed back to F. bicolor.  Subspecies were proposed.  Changes retracted.  There are significant differences in the sampled populations, but were they sufficient to constitute separate species??? Adding confusion at a different level are those who say the species name indicates that it is from Pitcairn Island.  It is not.  The specific epithet simply recognizes a similarity to the foliage in genus, Pitcairnia, another Bromeliad member.  This Fascicularia is from the lower Chilean Andes, allegedly north of the other Fascicuaria species, F. bicolor which is suppose to be slightly hardier and occurs at least occasionally as an epiphyte!  Some botanists have argued that F. pitcairnifolia possesses thicker, slightly wider leaves. and some minor differences in the timing of flowering and is reputedly slightly less hardy.  The ranges of both overlap  Good luck sorting this out. Continue reading

Growing and Understanding Globe Mallows in the Urbanized Maritime NW: Sphaeralcea spp. and Cultivars

Every plant evolved in and lives in context.  They are dependent upon it for continuing support, not just for their survival, but for their well being as they grow, mature and attempt to reproduce.  It is not just competition out there.  Though we may order them from a catalog, grow them from carefully collected seed, receive them as gifts from a friend or purchase them from the shelves or rows at a garden center, they are individual plants, removed from their context…their futures’ will be short if we don’t make some attempt to recreate it.

Sphaeralcea ‘Childerly’, from the Dancing Oaks catalog, though it’s not currently listed.

Sphaeralcea are often called Globe Mallows and are another member of the large Mallow Family, the Malvaceae, some 244 genera with 4,225 known species.  I’ve written recently of Anisodontea another genus of the family.  Most of the 40-60 species of Sphaeralcea are North American natives of dry areas, growing from the Great Plains west and south into Mexico, with a few occurring in South America while a few others reaching into southern Canada.  They include annuals, perennials and shrubby species, I’m looking here at perennials, all of which have very long bloom times, often spanning the entire summer into fall.

Sphaeralcea (ambigua) ‘Childerley’

Sphaeralcea ambigua, one of the largest growing species of the genus, at up to 3′-5′, often found considerably smaller, is native to the US Southwest, SW Utah, Nevada to Arizona and southern California down to Sonora and northern Baja, Mexico.  They are found east of California’s Sierra Nevada and the several other smaller ranges of southern California, which shield them from moisture coming from the Pacific.  It is the most xeriphytic of the genus, meaning, the most tolerant of drought.  The USDA breaks the species into four separate subspecies, S.a. ssp. ambigua, the most commonly occurring form across the four states with the typical orangey flowers, S.a. ssp. monticola, the one occurring at higher elevations, beyond the Sonoran Desert and covering its Nevada range, S.a. ssp. rosacea which is limited to the San Diego area east to Maricopa county in Arizona, of the warmer Sonoran Desert, with a flower that is rosy-pink and S.a. ssp. rugosa which is limited to the Mojave Desert area with the more expected orange-red flowers.  Both S.a. ssp. ambigua and S.a. ssp. monticola grow on north of the Mogollon Rim, an east-west running escarpment,  the abrupt rise in elevation marking the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau.  The other two subspecies grow below this and largely south and west of it. Continue reading

Roldana cristobalensis (formerly Senecio cristobalensis…now, Roldana petasitis var. cristobalensis)

Roldana petasitis var. cristobalensis shown here looking amazing with Aeonium arboretum ‘Zwartzkop’.  Its substantial leaves are some 8″ across, thick and velvety, the undersides of which are red/purple, like the stems.  The color often comes through in the veins along the top surface.  A very striking foliage plant.  Picture this with its close relative, Pseudogynoxus chenipodiodes, the Mexican Flame Vine, formerly known as Senecio confusus!

Sometimes called Velvet Groundsel, this plant has been living and marketed under several different names.  The first name in the heading is the one Jimi Blake ascribed to it, a name I didn’t recognize for a plant I’ve grown off and on in the past…it got lost in his list paired with a particular Thalictrum and I simply missed it…until recently.  I knew it as Senecio cristobalensis and, had I recognized it, would have included it with an earlier post in which I focused on his favorite Asteraceae.  I did actually mention the plant there simply as another Senecio that I’ve grown of value.  Here I shall treat it more directly.  The genus, Roldana, was recircumscribed in 2008 to include some 54 different species.  Other authors include as few as 48 and as many as 64 in the genus, most of which used to belong to Senecio and are native to the extreme Southwestern US, Mexico and Central America.  Most of the Roldana species are somewhat ‘shrubby’ herbs with a few, like this one woody, even tree like.  Both genera are within the Asteraceae and share tribe status as well, Senecioneae.  For the curious, Roldana spp., even more finely, are included in the sub-tribe, Tussilagininae, which includes the very commonly grown genus of garden plants…Ligularia!  On closer examination the morphological similarities will begin to stand out to most of us.  Check out all of the photos on the Wikimedia Commons page for Roldana petasitis.  Roldana petasitis is the correct species name for this plant.  With all of the shuffling and consequent confusion still going on in the world of taxonomy, especially in such a mixed large genera like Senecio, we must all be allowed our mistakes of nomenclature.  It is a volatile changing world out there. Continue reading

Bocconia frutescens: Choice Tender Garden Plant or Invasive?

 

Bocconia frutescens with its inflorescence of single seeded fruit, one of the ‘woody’ Poppies that comprise the genus.  Macleaya cordata, from the same family, has a similar look, though topping out at around 8′ and is herbaceous in habit dying to the ground each winter.  Another Wiki picture of Bocconia f.  growing in Hawaii’ where it has escaped cultivation and threatens the few remaining native landscapes, particularly historically dry and mesic forests.

The title’s question isn’t something we in the Pacific Northwest need to worry about.  It will take an awful lot of global warming to make this plant cold hardy here and that may be part of its enticement!  I chose this from Jimi Blake’s list…because I am a sucker for cool foliage.  Sometimes called the Mexican Tree Poppy this is a Poppy, a member of the family Papaveraceae, a family currently containing 42 genera and 775 species, which is within the the ancient order, the Ranunculales, an order that includes some of the earliest of the ‘modern’ Eudicots to evolve.  This doesn’t mean that this species of Bocconia was around at the beginning of ‘time’, or even of this order, just that it comes from that particular genetic line, a line that has been traced back to its beginning, millions of years ago.  Recall that every plant, every organism is in ‘process’, that given the appropriate supporting conditions, consistent over time, will keep reproducing, generation after generation…and, that given the appropriate inducements, of consistent, changed conditions, different from those today, will work to adapt to them, each generation ‘responding’, those better adapted, surviving and reproducing, altering the species and, perhaps even becoming, producing, a new one.  One of the characteristics of this family and order, having arisen in a time when genetics and characteristics of plants were less strictly defined, is a wider range of physical or morphological variation than you might expect, which is evident when you look at the flowers of the many diverse species within these genera, this family and order…Bocconia frutescens’ small flowers looking very unlike those we would commonly think of when we picture a Poppy. Continue reading

Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’ (Bengal Tiger) and the Banana Story: Evolution and Cold Adaptation

Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’ taken three years ago…before this Tiger lost its stripes!

Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’ backlit. If I saw this plant in a nursery today, I’d be sorely tempted to buy it…again.

Another Jimi Blake plant.  I have history with this choice of Jimi’s…and the NW has a history with Bananas as well!

There’s an old hand colored postcard floating around the Washington Park office of bananas as part of an elaborate bedding out scheme around the ‘Chiming’ Fountain, near the Sacajawea statue.  If memory serves, it is Ensete ventricosum, which have a uniquely identifiable form.  Back in the day, Ensete v. seems to have been a thing.  It is a non-suckering species, unlike the spreading, mat forming Musa spp. and cultivars, and is commonly grown from seed.  It is interesting to me that they were available prior to the 1900’s and relatively common, probably up to 1929 and the stock market crash…at least for  the more horticulturally involved, as specimen in annual display beds.  Gardeners must have dug them out in the fall and hauled them to greenhouses to ‘protect’ them for use in the following year.  I did some research in the early ’00’s of catalogs and area nurseries to get an idea what was available in the 19 teens, and of a few Park’s planting plans of this period, influenced by the Olmsted’s and under the direction of Emanuel Mische…. Compared to typical planting plans of more recent years these were relatively adventurous, especially given that acquiring such plants was often a much bigger deal in the nineteens and twenties than it is today.  Back then if you weren’t wedded to a particular clone and you could find seed for it, exotic bananas were a possibility.  There was an excitement around the novel and exotic that had spilled over from Europe.  Local inventories also included a wide array of bulbs which could be more easily shipped than grown plants widening the range of choices.  They often times had choices that you would have to spend some time searching for even today.  With the economic collapse of ’29 it is no surprise that tastes and possibilities became much more conservative.  There were those who clung to the use of some of the old exotics, but you would have to look hard for them in public places and gardens. Botanical gardens became refuges for the forgotten and newly collected.   It took many years before enough of the gardening population reclaimed their sense of wonder and awe enough to create a new market for the plant’s of the world.  We experienced a similar contraction of the nursery industry in the Fall of 2008 when the real estate boom stalled and demand for plants collapsed causing the closure of many nurseries and a reduction in the selection available from local garden centers.  Locally gardeners have become increasingly interested in such plants and have continued to support the many small specialty nurseries that provide them Continue reading

Anisodontea capensis ‘El Rayo’: A Closer Look at Jimi’s Beautiful Obsession and the Growing Conditions in South Africa

This is from the catalog of Andre Brian a nursery in France as once again this particular variety is not very common in the trade here.

Another Choice Plant From Jimi Blake’s NPA Seattle Study Weekend Presentation

‘El Rayo’, in english is, ‘Lightning’!  One should expect something pretty spectacular, flashy even, with this plant…or not.  ‘El Rayo’ in Portland is a taqueria!…in Portland, ME that is.  I would hope that the name of either doesn’t over sell their product!  Does anybody know? About the tacos I mean?  Gardeners should always be wary of cultivar names.  While they serve as identifiers of a particular, and allegedly unique form or clone, and sometimes as a helpful and memorable descriptor, they can too often tread across the line into misleading hyperbole!  Names are often assigned to a plant that have been in the trade for some time under other names.  These ‘new’ and unique names are then ‘trademarked’, legally protected, as the nursery heavily markets the plant.  The gardening public then comes to recognize and associate this protected name with the plant and begin to ask for it by that name.  Unlicensed growers cannot supply the plant by that name and so some nursery producers carve out a larger share of the market.   After experience we may come to recognize these marketing ploys…or not.  Oft times a little celebration or indulgence is called for. Continue reading