Six on Saturday: Going Bananas

Bananas are getting to be a bit too abundant here nowadays. I certainly do not mind. All will go to good homes after winter. Coincidentally, to obtain one copy of ‘Golden African’ banana, I was about to violate my rule against purchasing any plants, when four pups of an unidentified banana became available. Because I expect fruit to be of inferior quality, I am not at all discriminating about cultivar. I can try ‘Golden African’ later if these four pups are somehow unsatisfactory. The smaller fruitless bananas that are producing pups were already here. So were the cannas, which are incidentally related to bananas. Ginger should have been included. Two species live here. (Links for 1, 2 and 3 are the same.)

1. Canna musifolia, which is one of three that grew from runty seed, produces this oddly striated foliage. It was too small in August to show with other foliage on Six on Saturday.

2. Canna musifolia, with scrawny pastel orange bloom and bronzed foliage, produces an abundance of seed, including one that grew into the seedling with striated green foliage.

3. Canna flaccida is not really Canna flaccida as I had hoped. Otherwise, it would be too genetically stable for this defiant specimen to add orange to its exclusively yellow bloom.

4. Musa basjoo may not be Musa basjoo either. Its identity is merely a guess. Of the two that stayed here, this one had three pups, shed one, but continues to fatten up these two.

5. Musa basjoo that initially lacked pups is more than compensating for the other’s loss, by producing two more pups. We could get six of these technically unidentified bananas!

6. Musa acuminata pups of unidentified cultivar arrived only recently. The smallest pup in front lacks rhizome, so is unlikely to survive. The other four are large and exemplary!

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/

Autumn Foliage In Mild Climates

Minor chill initiates autumn foliar color.

Colorful foliage is always present. After all, green is a color, even without any other color or variegation. Defoliation of deciduous foliage during autumn reveals evergreen foliage beyond, even if fading through winter. Immediately prior to defoliation though, deciduous foliage of quite a few species temporarily becomes spectacularly colorful autumn foliage.

Whether deciduous or evergreen, foliage that is most colorful during spring and summer contains chlorophyll. Regardless of how variegated, reddish, purplish, yellowish or other color it might be, it is also green to some degree. It could not be photosynthetically active otherwise. Colorful autumn foliage exhibits brighter color as its chlorophyll decomposes.

Autumn foliage is most spectacular where it is native, such as New England. Much more of it inhabits forests than home gardens. It is not spectacular within forests here because only a few sparsely dispersed native species produce impressive foliar color for autumn. Its naturally local scarcity likely contributes to its limited popularity within home gardens.

Locally mild weather also limits the popularity as well as the potential of autumn foliage. Many of the most colorful maples of New England merely turn blandly pallid yellow prior to hastily premature defoliation here. However, several other species develop exemplary foliar color in response to minor chill, and seem to be as happy here as in New England.

Chinese pistache, sweetgum, flowering pear and ginkgo are four trees that most reliably provide autumn foliage here. Crape myrtle is a smaller tree that is almost as reliable, and blooms splendidly for summer. Persimmon gets as colorful as Chinese pistache, with an abundance of fruit. Boston ivy is a vine with color that is comparable to that of sweetgum.

Of course, even the most appealing of plants are not perfect. Their innate characteristics are relevant to selection. For examples, trees occupy significant space. Ginkgo becomes bright yellow, but without any other color. Sweetgum produces obnoxiously prickly fruits. Flowering pear is susceptible to fireblight. Boston ivy clings to surfaces and ruins siding, paint and fences.

Dracaena Palm

Dracaena palm is a foliar plant.

By the end of the Victorian Period, dracaena palm, Cordyline australis, had become very popular, both as small trees and as foliar plants. The largest specimens were only about twenty feet tall and half as wide. Removal of trunks that grew too tall for short foliar plants induced fresh basal growth. The drab leaves grew three feet long and three inches wide.

Cultivars with bronzed foliage became more popular after the Victorian Period, although not as common as the original. They grew slower and stayed smaller. The many modern cultivars of the past few decades stay even smaller, with even more impressively colorful foliage. Most are purply bronze or variegated with creamy white, pale yellow, pink or tan.

Modern cultivars generally mature efficiently, but then attain height too slowly to function as small trees. Some do not develop substantial trunks. They are therefore more popular for their delightful foliar color and texture. Many generate appealingly pendulous foliage. However, a few eventually develop sculptural form with exposed corky trunks and limbs. Removal of unimpressive floral panicles prior to bloom removes floral frass before it gets messy.

Bower Vine

Bower vine bloom sporadically until cooler autumn weather.

Autumn needs to get a bit cooler before bower vine, Pandorea jasminoides, will be ready to stop blooming. It may not always bloom profusely, but it does bloom for a long time, beginning with warming spring weather. Flowers can be white, pink or white with pink throats, but are most often pink with burgundy throats. Even through late autumn and winter, the glossy evergreen foliage is appealing without bloom. Mature vines can climb more than fifteen feet high. Those with variegated foliage might stay somewhat smaller.

Six on Saturday: Canna flaccida?!

Canna have been so extensively hybridized that very few modern cultivars are identified by species. They are known merely by their generic designation of Canna with a cultivar name. Canna flaccida is an ancestor of many hybrids, and the only species that is native north of the Rio Grande, but seems to be rare here. I want it! NOW! I should be satisfied with flashier modern cultivars, but I prefer simpler species, especially one from Florida.

Well, it may be here already. Late last spring, at the worst time to dig Canna, I dug a big colony of it from a site that was about to be landscaped. Even after most were recycled to other gardens, the remnants were canned into two dozen #5 cans. One dozen contained three rhizomes each of ‘Wyoming’. The other dozen cans contained five rhizomes each of an unidentified cultivar with narrower green leaves and yellow bloom. That is enough to plant thirty-six linear feet of ‘Wyoming’ and sixty linear feet of the yellow sort! Now that they are blooming, the unidentified yellow sort seems to be the rare Canna flaccida. I do not know for certain, but it keys out accordingly. If so, it is much more than I hoped for!

Two other Canna that live here were omitted from these pictures because there are only Six on Saturday rather than eight. Without its billowy red bloom, the foliage of a cultivar that remains unidentified is indistinguishable from #1 anyway. ‘Cleopatra’ is normally a hot mess of color, but is sharing only green foliage at the moment. Its foliage is typically randomly striped with broad and narrow bands of green like #1 and dark bronze like #2. Its weird bloom is randomly blotched with bright red and bright yellow, like condiments that squirt out the far side of a hamburger, or Pikachu on the grill of a Buick.

1. ‘Edulis’ was a gift from a neighbor. I wanted it for its fat rhizomes, which are like small potatoes. The slender flowers are red. (‘Edulis’ is a group of many cultivars and hybrids.)

2. ‘Australia’ is one of very few plants that I actually purchased. It cost nearly six dollars! A neighbor of my downtown planter box requested bronzed foliage; but I still feel guilty.

3. ‘Musifolia’ may have inhabited one of our landscapes since its construction in 1968. It gets so tall that I bend it down for deadheading. It and ‘Edulis’ produce viable seed. The slender flowers are peachy orange. (‘Musifolia’ is a group of many cultivars and hybrids.)

4. ‘Pretoria’ lived with ‘Musifolia’, but in spring, was dug and canned for protection from gophers. Only four #1 cans of its rhizomes survive. The billowy flowers are vivid orange.

5. ‘Wyoming’ is recovering from relocation while actively growing last spring. Most went directly to new homes. The billowy and vivid orange flowers resemble those of ‘Pretoria’.

6. Canna flaccida remains unidentified. It arrived with ‘Wyoming’, so is also recovering from untimely relocation. The elongated foliage is simple light green. Flowers are mildly fragrant at night. Apparently, only one other extremely rare species of Canna is fragrant.

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

Foliar Color Goes Beyond Green

Foliar color can exceed floral color.

New England is famous for spectacular foliar color through autumn. Such color is merely seasonal though, and almost exclusive to deciduous vegetation. With few exceptions, its color range is limited to variations of yellow, orange, red or brown. It happens thousands of miles away, and is difficult to replicate on such a grand scale with locally minimal chill.

For smaller scale home gardens, there are many options for foliar color at any time of the year, regardless of chill. Some are deciduous. Most are evergreen. Colorful foliage might exhibit variegation or monochromatic coloration. Variegation might involve stripes, spots, borders, veining, or any combination of divergent colors. Some might entail a few colors.

Besides autumnal yellow, orange, red or brown, foliage can be pink, purple, blue or gray. Variegation can feature any of these colors, as well as white. The size and form of plants with foliar color ranges from small annuals and perennials to vines, shrubbery and trees. A few of such plants that are deciduous might change to different colors through autumn.

Various Hosta, Euonymus, Coprosma, Pittosporum, Hedera and Bougainvillea are some of the more popular plants with white or yellow variegation. New Zealand flax is popular for bronze, brown, gold or pink variegation. Canna can display evenly bronze or purplish foliage, white patches on green foliage, or neat yellow and pink stripes of varying widths.

Purple leaf plum and some cultivars of smoke tree, beech Eastern redbud and Japanese maple have the best purplish foliage. Other cultivars of smoke tree, as well as arborvitae, juniper, Monterey cypress and honeylocust, generate impressively yellow foliage. Agave and blue spruce contribute soft blue. Coleus impresses with various color combinations.

Whether deciduous or evergreen, most colorful foliage displays its best color while fresh and new in spring. For some, color fades through summer. Junipers that are gold through spring may be plain green by summer, particularly in dry conditions. Although light colors and variegation are appealing within shady situations, shade can inhibit such coloration.

Evergreen Foliage Has Distinct Advantages

Evergreen foliage is shady all year.

Gardening was easier before suburban lifestyles became so passe. Now, larger modern urban homes occupy smaller urban parcels. Modern fences are taller to enhance privacy for such densely situated homes. Garden space is both minimal and shaded by so much infrastructure. Ironically, shady evergreen foliage is now more practical for such gardens.

Deciduous trees are still practical for single story suburban homes on suburban parcels. They provide cooling shade for summer, and allow warming sunshine through for winter. Smaller evergreen trees and shrubs closer to fences obscure unwanted scenery beyond, without shading homes during winter. Such strategy is facilitated by sufficiency of space.

It is not so practical for confined and modern urban gardens though. Space is insufficient for big deciduous shade trees. Smaller trees can not get tall enough to shade roofs of tall modern homes. Insulation of modern homes is fortunately so efficient that summer shade and winter sunshine are not as advantageous as they still are for older suburban homes.

Therefore, most trees in modern home gardens primarily obscure unwanted scenery and provide privacy, rather than merely provide shade. Not only should they be proportionate to their gardens, but such trees should also retain evergreen foliage as low as the tops of associated fences. Some of the more practical options are actually evergreen shrubbery.

Large evergreen trees, such as Southern magnolia, California pepper, camphor, various palms and some eucalypti, are too big for some confined modern home gardens. English laurel, New Zealand tea tree, hopseed bush, various arborvitae, and particularly various pittosporum function as small evergreen trees that are proportionate to confined gardens.

As practical as evergreen foliage is for modern urban home gardens, it requires as much maintenance as other forms of vegetation. Contrary to common belief, evergreen foliage sheds. It is just sneaky about doing so slowly throughout the year. Additional foliage also innately adds shade to already shady situations, which can complicate other gardening. To become compact evergreen trees, shrubbery requires directional pruning.

Chinese Evergreen

With such lush foliage, Chinese evergreen is a bold houseplant alone, and is also quite compatible with all other houseplants.

It is no coincidence that Chinese evergreen, Aglaonema, is perhaps the most common tropical plant for interiorscapes. It is quite easy to care for, and available in so many unique personalities. Many have rich deep green foliage. Most are elegantly variegated with white, silvery gray or gold. Leaf shape is quite variable, although most have rather narrow leaves radiating outward from dense rosettes. Leaves can be half a foot to more than a foot long, and a bit more than an inch to almost six inches wide. Mature plants are at least a foot tall and a foot and a half broad.

Indirect sun exposure or partial shade is best. Chinese evergreen likes humidity, so likes to share sheltered enclosed atriums with other lush foliage plants. New plants are easy to propagate by division.

Christmas Trees Dead Or Alive

Live Christmas trees can get huge.

Poinsettias, Christmas cacti, cyclamen, various forced bulbs and several other seasonal potted plants are again becoming popular. It happens annually prior to Christmas. Heath, heather, rosemary, English holly with berries, and delightful compact conifers have been gaining popularity for many past years. Seasonal potted plants are increasingly diverse.

Unfortunately, few survive for long after Christmas. Forced bulbs exhaust their resources. Cyclamen are likely to rot after a month or so. Very few retire to a garden. Poinsettia gets too lanky in the garden to be a favorite. Most seasonal plants simply succumb to neglect. After their primary performances, they are no longer interesting enough to justify tending.

In reality, some of these seasonal potted plants are little more than cut flowers with roots. These roots allow them to live longer than cut flowers, but their ultimate fate is the same. Wreaths, garlands and various seasonal cut greenery likewise serve a purpose, but only temporarily. Without roots, it all lacks any potential to retire into a garden after Christmas.

Christmas trees are really not much different. Although there are several different sorts of Christmas trees, they fit into similar categories as cut foliage and seasonal potted plants. Obviously, they are seasonal. They need not last much longer than Christmas. Although, some have a potential to do so, few survive or function for more than a few Christmases.

Contrary to popular belief, and their expense, cut Christmas trees are generally the most practical Christmas trees. They are essentially a very substantial sort of cut foliage. They grow on farms like any other foliage and vegetables. After such a tree serves its purpose, it resigns to compost or green waste recyclery. A freshly cut tree can replace it next year.

Large potted Christmas trees may seem to be more practical, but require maintenance to remain as appealing as they are now for another year. Despite the expense, few last that long. They want to get out of confinement, so that they can grow as trees. Pre-decorated small trees are Italian stone pines. They grow much too big for contained home gardens.

Evergreen Tendencies Are No Mistake

Evergreen foliage is resilient through winter.

Evergreen plants retain foliage throughout the year. Deciduous plants defoliate for part of the year. That is the simplest explanation. The various reasons for shedding or retaining foliage are not so simple. Annual plants die after their single growing seasons. They can not live long enough to be either evergreen or deciduous. Some plants just may be both.

Foliar color, to some extent, conforms to preferable environments. Monterey cypress and Monterey pine have richly deep green foliage. It maximizes absorption of sunlight within the foggy coastal regions that the trees inhabit. Blue spruce has glaucous bluish foliage. It reflects a bit of sunlight to protect from sun scald within severe high mountain climates.

Similarly, deciduous plants generally defoliate for environmental situations. Most go bare for winter, in order to be less susceptible to damage from wind and snow. Bare stems do not collect as much heavy snow as foliated growth. They are also less resistant to wintry winds. If foliated, they are more likely to succumb to wind or overburdening snow weight. 

Evergreen plants may retain their foliage because they are from climates in which winter weather is not so harsh. Wind may be no more extreme than it is in other seasons. Snow may never occur. Plants from tropical regions may be unfamiliar with colder weather and shorter daylength associated with winter. Their evergreen foliage might function all year.

Some tropical plants that are evergreen within their native environments may defoliate or die back as a result of even mild frost. Some recover as if deciduous. (Those that can not survive local climate conditions are not very popular here.) For example, canna die back to the ground after frost, but regenerate later. In tropical climates, they can be evergreen.

Evergreen species from mountainous regions or extreme northern latitudes are generally uncommon here. They prefer harsher weather. Although evergreen, they are remarkably resilient to wind and snow in the wild. They are likely evergreen to always stay receptive to limited sunlight whenever it is available, though wintry weather is possible at any time.