P80805When a plant that should be compact or shrubby gets too lanky with exposed lower stems, it is described as ‘leggy’. We do not hear much about plants that develop ‘knees’. Perhaps that is because there is only one species that does so. That one species happens to be very rare here. If there are other specie that develop knees, I do not know what they are.

‘Knees’ are weird appendages that grow upward like stalagmites from the roots of bald cypress Taxodium distichum, particularly where the trees grow wild in swampy conditions. Knees can get quite tall. One of our professors used to tell us that they could do some serious damage to a canoe. Perhaps knees are why bald cypress is locally unpopular in landscapes.

However, I happened to notice that bald cypress is a common street tree in downtown Oklahoma City. Just like most other street trees, they are installed into small tree wells, but otherwise surrounded by pavement. They were remarkably healthy and well structured specimens that were too young to have damaged the pavement. Yet, I could not help but wonder what they will do as they mature. Even before the trunks grow as big around as the small tree wells that they are in, what would happen if knees develop?

There happens to be not one, but two bald cypress at work. The smaller is alongside a small stream. The larger is adjacent to a lawn where the soil is seemingly dry on the surface, but quite soggy just below the surface. This larger specimen is already developing distended burls that seem to be rudimentary knees. Although there is no pavement to break, the tree happens to be shading a picnic area where knees, if they develop, would be quite an obtrusive problem.P80805+



P80804KHow Italian! Red, white and green! A coastal redwood with a white albino sport (mutant growth) amongst otherwise deep green foliage Actually, it is very Californian. Coastal redwood is endemic to California with only a a few north of the border on the extreme southern coast of Oregon.
Such sports are quite rare. Back in the late 1970s, an article in World Magazine mentioned that only five of these albino ‘trees’ where known to exist. There were actually more, even back then, but others were not documented. (They were WithOut Papers – WOP.) The specimen in the picture is at a home that is about a century old, so it was known about for a very long time, although not documented.
Albino foliage is a lethal mutation. It lacks chlorophyll, so can not sustain itself. It only survives because it originates as basal watersprouts that remain attached to the original green trees that produce and then sustain it. Attempt to graft albino grown onto other green trees has been unsuccessful.
Albino growth looks pretty in pictures, and is provides striking (although very perishable) cut foliage that is even more striking with black flowers, but does not make such a nice tree. It stays shrubby at the base of the originating tree, without developing distinct trunks or substantial branches. It does not shed old foliage as efficiently as green growth does, so always looks grungy. To make matters worse, albino foliage is more sensitive to frost, so gets killed back every few years or so, and then is slow to shed the dead foliage and stems.
Coastal redwood is one of the most fascinating trees in the World. It is the tallest, and among the biggest and oldest. It is no wonder that it is the state tree of California.

Six on Saturday: Bits and Pieces II


It has been a while since I posted a sequel to anything like I used to do so commonly. I am only doing it now because I do not have six pictures that fit a particular theme. There are not six different camellias or six different rhododendrons blooming at the same time. There is not a new landscape with six different newly installed plants to show off. Instead, I merely found a few amusing or silly pictures from work for this week. I sort of like #5 because it is interesting even to those of us who are familiar with it. I will actually elaborate a bit more on that later at noon.

I know these Six on Saturday posts do not fit with my other articles, but hey are fun for those us who participate. You can see other Six on Saturday posts by other writers at the link at the bottom of the page. You might even want to give it a try and participate yourself.

1. This might look like a signs at the Generic Aroboretum, or the Arboretum for the Horticulturally Disinterested, but the signs really refer to buildings that are named after trees. Almost all of the buildings in the neighborhood are names after flora of some sort.P80804

2. Woodpecker pantries are often constructed in old coastal redwood trees with soft bark. It seems silly to me; but it must be effective. Otherwise, woodpeckers would not put so much effort into stocking them. Woodpeckers deposit single acorns into the holes bored into the bark, in order to store the acorns for later. Some of these holes are very old, so have stored several acorns over several years. At lest one woodpecker guards the pantry from squirrels while the other woodpeckers are out and about collecting acorns. Such pantries are typically in trees that are isolated from others, so that squirrels can not enter from other trees, and then raid the pantry from above. The only access to the squirrels is from the ground. This panty does not seem to be active at the moment, but discarded acorn shells at the base of the tree indicate the it was active in recent history.P80804+.JPG

3. Coastal redwood trees are very efficient at regenerating from stumps of harvested trees. This tan oak wanted to give it a try too. It did not really regenerate from the stump of course, but merely grew from an acorn in the detritus that collected on top of the stump, and rooted into the rotted wood. The fractures visible at the bottom of the stump are caused by expanding tan oak roots.P80804++

4. Which of these things does not belong here? Do you remember that from Sesame Street? Blue hydrangeas are not common here, although we have quite a few that are fertilized to be blue. I thought that these looked silly together because they are so similar in color.P80804+++

5. Albino coastal redwoods are so fascinating. The white foliage can not survive without chlorophyll, so must remain attached to the original green tree that produced the white mutant growth. This takes a bit of explanation, so I will write a bit more about this about noon.P80804++++

6. Finally, we have two silly looking tiny weds that grew in a crack in the big rock that I wrote about earlier in Rock Concert. They are not much to look at, but this looks like one of those artistic pictures that other writers take.P80804+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

New Guinea Impatiens

70802Good old fashioned busy Lizzie is hard to find nowadays, if it can be found at all. The nasty mildew that kills it so quickly might not be prevalent everywhere, but happens to be a serious problem where most of the bedding plant farms are located. Now, the formerly uncommon New Guinea impatiens, Impatiens X hawkeri, which is somehow resistant to the mildew, is becoming popular.

The two specie have distinct personalities though. Busy Lizzie dazzles with cheery cartoonish colors, and bloom profuse enough to almost obscure the light green foliage. New Guinea impatiens has bigger and bolder flowers of white, pink, red, magenta, lavender, purple, apricot and reddish orange, but does not try to hide its rich green, bronze, purplish bronze or gold variegated foliage.

New Guinea impatiens are more expensive, and are not available in cell packs like most other bedding plants are. They are most popular in four inch pots. They do well in pots and tolerate partial shade, but want rich soil and regular watering. Mature plants can get more than a foot wide, and might get as tall if crowded. Although grown as annuals, they can survive as short term perennials.

Easements Really Should Be Easier

70802thumbLike Michael Jackson said, “You got an easement on down the road.”. . . or something like that. In older neighborhoods, that is where the utility easements are usually located. These are zones for utility poles that suspend electrical, telephone and television cables. When electricity first became available, that was the easiest place to put the cables, and the practice continued for decades.

Utility easements in middle aged neighborhoods are usually at the rear boundaries of back yards. They were put there to get out of the way of shade trees in front yards, particularly street trees. Where there are alleys in back, easements are on one side of the alley or the other. The same applies to narrow streets with easements. More modern neighborhoods have subterranean utilities.

Those of us who must contend with easements know how difficult they can be. Trees that encroach too closely to the high voltage cables on top of the poles must be pruned for clearance, even if such pruning disfigures or kills them. Lower cables for telephone and cable television sometimes get tangled with vines or big shrubbery because clearance from vegetation is not such a priority.

Utility providers have access to easements to maintain their systems. So do the tree services that have the grim task of pruning encroaching vegetation for clearance from high voltage cables. They do what they must to maintain reliable service; which is unfortunately not always compatible with what we want for our trees. Clearance pruning is too often unsightly, but it is very necessary.

The only way to avoid unsightly and disfiguring clearance pruning to to only plant trees that will not encroach into high voltage cables. Of course, in small gardens with big easements, the choices of trees that stay proportionate to available space are very limited. Except for Mediterranean fan palm or palms that stay very short, palms should never be planted below utility cables. They grow only upward, and can not be pruned around cables, so must be removed when they get too close.

Horridculture – Neapolitan

P80801Baldness was not yet cool while Brent and I were studying horticulture at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo back in the late 1980s. Nor were hairpieces yet tacky. Consequently, some middle aged men work toupees. As these men aged and grayed, their formerly well matched topees did not.

Hedges of Pittosporum tobira ‘Variegata’ are notorious for developing green sports (unvariegated mutant growth). Because gardeners do not prune these sports out, they become prominent green blotches in otherwise nicely variegated hedges. Pruning large blotches out would only leave big bald spots. That is why such hedges, as well as similarly blotched hedges of other variegated plants, are known as ‘bad toupee’ hedges.

‘Neapolitan’ hedges are a variant of that concept. They are not composed of formerly identical plants that later challenged their respective identities. ‘Neapolitan’ hedges are actually composed of different plant material that has been shorn together. They sometimes develop as feral plants grow up and into formerly uniform hedges. They are often composed of what should have been distinct plants within a well designed landscape, that were merely shorn collectively by ‘gardeners’ who simply did not care.

This hedge in a median of a driveway into a mall in town is a classic example of the latter. The landscape designer likely intended the deep green Burford holly, Ilex cornuta, to develop naturally as dense and low mounds between the more upright variegated holly olive, Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Variegatus’. Apparently, it is too much to expect a well paid ‘gardener’ to figure that out. Fortunately, this particular ‘Neapolitan’ hedge happens to look good in this particular application, but would look better if the ‘gardener’ would replace the variegated holly olive that has been missing for years from the gap between two Burford hollies to the left.

Epiphyllum oxypetalum

80808The common names of ‘Dutchman’s pipe’ and ‘queen of the night’ are not much less awkward the the Latin name of Epiphyllum oxypetalum, which might be why the Latin name is more common than the common names are. Some know it as ‘white ephiphyllum’ or even more simply as ‘white epi’. It is one of the more popular of the epiphyllums; and it is the most popular with white flowers.

The nocturnal flowers appeal to nocturnal pollinators. What we see simply as luminescent white is actually outfitted with exquisite patterns that are only visible to those who can see ultraviolet light, like nocturnal moths. Bats are as blind as . . . well, bats, but can follow the richly sweet fragrance if they choose to. Sunlight disables fragrance immediately, and causes flowers to close soon after.

In the wild, sprawling primary stems can cascade almost twenty feet. Of course, they are much shorter in home gardens. The more pendulous secondary stems that bloom get about a foot long, and perhaps three inches wide. Flowers bloom in summer, and can be half a foot wide and a foot long. Epiphyllums naturally hang from trees as epiphytes, so will do the same from hanging pots.

Cacti Are Notorious For Nonconformity

80808thumbAlmost everyone thinks of cacti as tough plants that live out in the hottest and driest parts of the deserts, where few other plants can survive. They are the sorts of plants that we threaten to plant out in the most inhospitable or neglected parts of the garden. We never actually do so, just because we do not appreciate cacti any more than weeds. They are fine over in the neighbor’s garden.

Whether we like them or not, cacti really deserve more respect than that. Even if they do not fit our style of landscape, they are striking and distinctive features within the landscapes that they are adapted to. Except for a few euphorbs that look sort of like cacti, there are no substitutes for their form and, of course, their texture! The uniquely specialized physiology of cacti is extraordinary.

Cacti really are built for the desert. In a climate where heat and arid air desiccates foliage, cacti do without. Photosynthesis is done in the green skin of the distended stems. Furrows in the stems of some cacti increase surface area for photosynthesis, but still expose far less surface area to the weather than individual leaves would. The succulent flesh of the distended stems stores water.

The foliage is not totally lacking. It is merely modified into sharp spines or irritating glochids with which cacti protect their succulent flesh from animals. Spines of the old man cactus are elongated into coarse hair that diffuses the intensity of the sunlight that might otherwise scorch the green skin below. Bigger thorns that extend beyond the spines within each tuft are actually modified stems.

Cacti certainly put significant effort into surviving desert climates; but surprisingly, most cacti do not even live in deserts, and many live in tropical rainforests of South and Central America! Some have weirdly pendulous stem structure, and some are epiphytic, so they hang from limbs of larger trees. In regions where most insect and animal activity is at night, cacti bloom nocturnally, with big luminescent and fragrant flowers that appeal to moths, bats and their associates.


P80729Coppiced trees and shrubs are just like pollarded trees, but without the trunk and main limbs. Instead of getting cut back to the same distended knuckles at the ends of disproportionately stout limbs, they get cut back to the same stump just above grade over winter. Some get coppiced annually. Others get coppiced only when they get too big. The coppiced California sycamore in this picture may never get coppiced again.
It was not intentionally coppiced. It had merely been cut down. The trunk was in the middle of where this thicket of secondary growth is now, but all of the canopy was over the adjacent parking lot from which the picture was taken. The tree was so severely and asymmetrically disfigured and leaning that it was unsightly and unmanageable. It really looked ridiculous. Removing the tree and replacing it with a new one would have been more practical than attempting to repair the disfigurement with corrective pruning over many years. Besides, such severe pruning to repair the disfigurement would have caused other disfigurement, and in the end, the tree would still be leaning.
Others California sycamores nearby had been cut down years ago because they were crowded. As the remaining trees continued to grow, those that had been cut down regenerated from their stumps with multiple trunks, and are now getting almost as tall as the others that were not cut down. Some of their smaller trunks will get cut down next winter, leaving them with single, double or triple trunks, but they will not be cut down completely as they were before. Instead, they will be allowed to adapt to their crowded conditions naturally. They are all becoming such appealing trees.
The coppiced but technically cut down California sycamore in the picture will be given the same sort of second chance. While bare in winter, the secondary growth will be pruned to leave only one, two or three trunks to hopefully develop into a new tree on the same spot.

Corndog Orchard

P80728KUrban sprawl replaced the formerly vast orchards of the Santa Clara Valley a long time ago. Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine that they were ever here. Apricots, prunes, cherries, almonds, walnuts and all that the region was once famous for are all now rare commodities.
Only a few minor corndog orchards remain. They survive only because they are not actual orchards that are grown on land that is useful for something else, but instead grow wild on otherwise useless marshland and along the few creeks that flow through the region. Some marshland that could not be converted into usable space was developed into parks, and within many such parks, the remaining marshlands are protected as native habitat.
Vasona Lake County Park and the small Vasona Lake within were once a large marshy area that sustained what was probably the biggest corndog orchard within the Santa Clara Valley. It is at the transition where the Los Gatos Creek flows swiftly from the slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and then slows as it reaches its flat alluvial plain within the Santa Clara Valley. Although not nearly as abundant as they were prior to development, corndogs still inhabit the banks of Los Gatos Creek and Vasona Lake. We know them as cattails.
Because they are a native species that had historically been more common locally than anywhere else nearby, and because of their common name that is coincidentally associated with cats, cattails had been nominated to be the official Town Flower of Los Gatos (which is Spanish for The Cats). There are not many natives that would be as appropriate, and the only comparably culturally significant flowers would be those of the old fruit orchards, such as apricot blossoms. No other flower is both native and so culturally significant.