General Sherman Tree

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The biggest, tallest and oldest trees in the World are all native to California. The biggest trees are the giant redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum. The tallest trees are the coastal redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. The oldest trees are the bristlecone pines, Pinus longaeva. The biggest and the tallest are two of only three specie of redwood in the World, and except for a few coastal redwood that live barely north of the Oregon border, both are endemic only to California. Most of us know that the coastal redwood is the state tree of California. However, some believe that California is the only state with two state trees, which are the two native specie of redwood.

This gives arborists from California serious bragging rights.

Most of the arborists whom I work with are very familiar with the coastal redwood. Not only is it the most prominent tree in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but it is also a common tree in landscapes of the Santa Clara Valley.

The other two specie are not nearly so common. Neither perform well in landscape situations, and certainly not locally. Even if they did, the giant redwood gets much too bulky to fit into urban landscapes, and the bristlecone pine is a bit too irregular for refined landscapes. Because they both live in somewhat remote regions within California, some very experienced arborists have never seen either of them in the wild. Of course, it is not something we talk about much.

I still have not seen bristlecone pine in the wild. The only specimens I have ever seen were bonsai stock that had not yet been cultivated as bonsai specimens.

In the late 1990s, I had not seen giant redwood in the wild either. I had only seen the unhappy specimens that were planted on the sides of roads between San Jose and nearby towns during the Victorian Period before the urban landscape had become so inhospitable to them. One of my respected colleagues who had seen many of the more interesting trees of California in his travels had not seen them either.

Fortunately, it was nothing that a good old fashioned road trip could not fix. Without much planning at all, we drove out to Sequoia National Park and met with the General Sherman Tree. There was too much snow to get very far, so we did not get similarly acquainted with the General Grant Tree farther up the road. It was one of the most compelling horticultural trips of my lifetime, right up there with going to see the native California fan palm, Washingtonia filifera, outside of Palm Springs, or the Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, outside of Palmdale. I know that the picture above is not a good picture of my colleague with the General Sherman Tree. It is from a time when cameras still used film. Getting pictures transferred to a compact disc was merely an option back then. The sepia toned picture below is even older, but it is not mine.00

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Carrots Are EVIL!

P80811KHow can anyone eat them? No only do people eat them, but many people enjoy them, and some even consider them to be their favorite vegetable!
Carrots are ridiculously bright orange. They try to make themselves appealingly colorful like summery flowers or oranges. Something that grows underground has no business being that bright orange! About the time that typically bright orange California poppies became available in sickly purple, pale white, orangish red and a few other colors, carrots with the same colors also became available! Coincidence? I think not.
Carrots have that distinctively weird texture. Radishes have that perfect crunch. Beets are firm but cook up so nicely. All of the various root vegetables have the perfect texture that works for them; except for carrots. They try to mimic radishes, but are not as succulent and crisp. They are a bit more firm like turnips, but they can not get that technique down either. They are just nasty!
Carrots have that distinctive flavor . . . or unflavor. What does it taste like? No one can give a straight answer. Carrots can seem to taste mildly sweet, but it is all deception! People just say that about carrots because they do not taste like anything else!
Carrots have that distinctive evil shape. They are long drawn out roots that reach straight for Hell, from whence they came! If it were such a great shape other root vegetables would use it.
Carrots grow underground where we can not see what they are up to. What are they doing down there? That region of the garden below the surface of the soil should be reserved exclusively for turnips, beets, potatoes, onions, yams and any other subterranean vegetables that are actually good for something. Why waste space on evil carrots?

Six on Saturday: Cacti

Cacti was the topic for my gardening column less than two weeks ago. ( https://tonytomeo.com/2018/07/30/cacti-are-notorious-for-nonconformity/ ) Both space and illustrations are limited in the column though. Only a picture of a prickly pear was posted with that main article. The other part of that article, which is a brief description and a picture of white epiphyllum, was posted the next day. ( https://tonytomeo.com/2018/07/31/epiphyllum-oxypetalum/ ) Since then, I have been wanting to get a picture of one of the small but delightful orange flowers of a prickly pear in the private collection of one of my colleagues. Now that I got that picture, I really did not know what to do with it. I got two other pictures of the fruit and stems of the same prickly pear, and three more pictures of other cacti in the same collection so that I could post them here. Instead of saving the best picture for last, the prickly pear flower is posted first just because it is that cool.

1. Prickly pear flower should bloom during the day. They should not be nocturnal. I can not be certain because I am not familiar with this particular species. What I do know is that the flowers have been open early in the morning, and then closed shortly after exposed to sunlight, almost like those of a nocturnal epiphyllum. It took me a while to get this picture of this single peachy orange flower.P80811

2. Prickly pear fruit should ripen right after bloom, but most fall off of this plant while still green. It might be because the plant is potted and watered regularly. Those that ripen are only about two inches long, and quite pithy without much flavor. They would probably be bigger, more abundant and better flavored if the plant could grow in the ground.P80811+

3. Prickly pear pad is not as prickly as those that I got a picture of for the previous article about cacti. I do not know how their flavor is because I have not tried them. This is a small plant that can not spare many pads. Even if there were a few to spare, they are not very big, even when mature. The probably would not taste very goo either, since they take so long to mature in the pot.P80811++

4. Cereus cactus really is nocturnal; cereusly! It produces huge white flowers that are about as big as those of the white epiphyllum that was featured earlier. The flowers do not open until after sundown, and may wait until late at night. While open, they are powerfully fragrant. The fragrance seems to ‘turn on’ immediately when the flower open, and ‘turn off’ as soon as the flowers close before dawn.P80811+++

5. Rat tail cactus, like epiphyllum, is epiphytic, which means that it grows where debris collects in crotches of limbs in big trees. If they grown on the ground, they just sprawl about and maybe form low mounds. This is not an exemplary specimen, although it bloomed well earlier, with reddish orange flowers that are significantly smaller than those of the epiphyllum, and also a bit smaller than those of the prickly pear.P80811++++

6. Epiphyllum is a weird epiphytic cactus. This particular cultivar is even weirder than most. Cacti photosynthesize with their green stems, while using what should be leaves as spines. This cultivar does not seem to be satisfied with that technique, so is outfitted with these weird leafy appendages on its flat green stems, as if it really wants leaves like other plant have.P80811+++++

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

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Kashmir Cypress

70809Plants are usually well suited to the climates that they are native to. Glaucous (slightly reflective grayish) foliage is more common in harsh climates where darker green foliage might get cooked by the sun. Pendulous growth is more common among plants that want to shed heavy snow efficiently. Kashmir cypress, Cupressus cashmeriana, has both, but is from a tropical monsoonal climate.

It is a stately tree that can eventually get taller than fifty feet. Within its native range in the eastern Himalaya, old trees can get three times as tall! Limber stems might hang downward several feet. The minute scale leaves are neatly set on limber stems arranged in flat sprays, similar to, but more defined than those of arborvitae. Foliage is silvery grayish green, and perhaps slightly bluish.

Mature trees do not need much water, but would probably be happier if watered occasionally through summer. Kashmir cypress is unfortunately susceptible to the same diseases and insects that afflict Leyland cypress. That is a serious risk to consider before planting prominent specimens. Incidentally, Kashmir cypress is also known as Bhutan cypress, and is the national tree of Bhutan.

Division Is Equal To Multiplication

70809thumbMathematically, division is the opposite of multiplication. Horticulturally, they are the same. Digging and splitting overgrown perennials to propagate them is known as ‘division’ because it divides many rooted stems or rhizomes of one plant into many new plants. Division is a form of propagation; and propagation is commonly known as multiplication. So, we divide plants to multiply them.

Autumn is generally the best time for panting. It is after most of the warmest and driest weather, and just before the cool and rainy weather that keeps newly planted plants from getting too dry. It seems obvious that autumn would also be the best time for division. However, a few perennials that are dormant or mostly dormant by the middle of summer can be divided now for an early start.

Bearded iris may not look dormant with their leaves still green, but they are about as dormant now as they will get. If divided now and allowed to slowly disperse roots through the remainder of summer, they can prioritize the production of new foliage when they come out of dormancy in autumn, like they would do naturally. Like many perennials in mild climates, they grow through winter.

Once dug, the plump rhizomes need to be separated from the old shriveled rhizomes that they grew from. For most, the best segments of rhizome are between the leafy tips and the stalks of the flowers that bloomed earlier this year, although it may not be easy to see where floral stalks were attached. The older sections of rhizome behind the flower stems are probably shriveled already.

The freshly divided segments of rhizome should then be groomed of deteriorating old leaves. Remaining green leaves can be cut in half to remove drying tips. Rhizomes then get replanted just below the surface, with the perpendicular fans of foliage standing upright. The main difficulty with dividing iris now is that they will need to be watered until the rain starts late in autumn. Bergenia, lily-of-the-Nile and a variety of perennials with big rhizomes get divided in a similar manner.

Horridculture – Bullwinkle

P80808This rant may not go in the direction you expect it to. The pictures suggest that this would be about the bad vegetation management crews who severely disfigure trees that get too close to utility cables. It is not.
This is about horticultural ‘professionals’ who plant trees where they will encroach into utility cables, with no regard to what might eventually be done to them in order to keep electrical service reliable and safe. The native oak in these pictures likely grew from seed, so unless someone knows the squirrel who buried the acorn, there is no one to blame. Many of us who enjoy home gardening are sometimes not aware of how tall and wide particular trees can get when we plant them. Horticultural ‘professionals’ should know better! That is what they charge so much money for when they design a landscape.
Palm trees are the worst! They grow only upward, with only a single terminal bud. Once that terminal bud encroaches into a utility easement, there is no option to prune back to another branch that might direct growth around the easement. ‘Pruning’ the only terminal bud back kills the entire tree. Yet, some landscape ‘designers’ continue to prescribe the all too trendy queen palm for the backsides of urban landscapes, even if utility cables are back there like they so typically are.
The oak in these pictures got a Bullwinkle cut, with big ‘antlers’ reaching upward and to the left and right of cables that are directly above. The lower picture sort of shows a ‘step back’ cut into the top for clearance from other perpendicular cables that pass over that edge rather than directly above. The tree is in surprisingly good condition, and gets pruned as properly as possible for the difficult circumstances.P80808+This brief article from a few days ago discusses a few more details about easements. https://tonytomeo.com/2018/08/02/easements-really-should-be-easier/

Phlox

80815Those outside California sometimes envy our ideal climates and soils. More of a variety of plants can be grown here than in most other places in America. There are not many plants that can be grown elsewhere that will not grow here. However, phlox, Phlox paniculata, is an example of a plant that can do well here, but for some reason or another, is much more popular everywhere else.

Phlox is native to much of the eastern half of North America, and has naturalized in other areas where it escaped cultivation in home gardens. Locally, it needs to be watered regularly to bloom on time in late summer. It is quite happy out in the open but might prefer a bit of partial shade in the afternoon here where summers are warm and dry. Powdery mildew can sometimes be a problem.

Bloom can be various hues of pink, purplish pink, red or white. The inch wide flowers are neatly arranged on conical terminal panicles about four to six inches wide. Blooming stems stand almost three feet tall and spread almost as wide. The somewhat narrow leaves are about four inches long. Phlox is mostly grown from seed, and can be propagated by division of perennial basal growth.

Think Outside The Nursery Pot

80815thumbA dressed turkey that is packaged for retail sale in a supermarket is not ready to be eaten right away. If frozen, it must be thawed slowly. It must then be unwrapped; and little bag of giblets must be removed from inside, before the turkey gets stuffed and finally cooked. Although the inexperienced sometimes cook a turkey with a giblet bag still inside, doing so is not the correct procedure.

Plants that are purchased in retail nurseries are similarly packaged in such a manner that facilitates transportation from production nurseries to retail nurseries, and from retail nurseries to home gardens. Their roots are contained in vinyl cans. Larger trees might be boxed. Occasionally, balled and burlapped plants are available. Most trees and vines, and some tall perennials are staked.

Vinyl cans, which are also known as nursery pots, are designed for growing nursery stock in, and containing the stock as it is transported. That is all they are designed for. They are not meant to be used as planters in home gardens. Most young and actively growing plants that tolerate them in production nurseries really do not want to be confined to vinyl cans any longer than necessary.

Even if plants that are brought home from a nursery are to be grown in pots, they should be planted into more appealing pots that are designed for the comfort of the plants within, and not just left in the nursery pots that they were grown in. Clay pots and wooden planters are comfortably porous and better insulated than thin black vinyl that gets dangerously hot if directly exposed to sunlight.

Alternatively, nursery pots can be shaded and obscured within slightly larger pots, within groups of other pots, or by settling them into shallow shrubbery or deep ground covers temporarily. Plants that are big enough to provide their own shade are likely too big for their nursery pots. Invasive plants like mint are often grown in nursery pots that are buried almost to the rim in the ground, although mint eventually escapes through drainage holes. It is good to know the limitations of what nursery pots are useful for.

Knees

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+

Albino

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.