Coffee

Coffee was more popular as a houseplant decades ago.

The White Raven Coffee Shop, the best little pourhouse in Felton, has an interesting but old fashioned houseplant on the counter. This group of four small but rapidly growing coffee trees, Coffea arabica, was a gift from a loyal customer.

Mature plants can get to thirty feet tall in the wild. Fortunately, coffee trees are easy to prune to fit interior spaces. Pruning for confinement is actually better than relocating big plants outside, since they do not like cold weather and are sensitive to frost.

Like various species of Ficus, coffee is appreciated more for lush foliage that happens to grow on a tree that can be trained by pruning to stay out of the way, overhead or in other unused spaces or corners. The simple remarkably glossy leaves are about two and half inches long or a bit longer. The very fragrant small white flowers are almost never seen among well groomed houseplants, and only rarely and sporadically bloom among less frequently pruned larger trees in greenhouses and conservatories.

The half inch wide coffee fruit, which is known as a ‘cherry’, is even more rare than flowers among houseplants because of the scarcity of both pollinators and pollen (from so few flowers). Those fortunate enough to get flowers sometimes pollinate them with tiny paintbrushes or clean make-up brushes to compensate for a lack of insects about the house. The resulting bright red or somewhat purplish cherries barely taste like cherries and only make two coffee ‘beans’ each; not enough to bother roasting and grinding for coffee, but great for bragging rights.

Advertisement

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/

Anthurium

Anthurium seem to be upholstered with vinyl.

The diminutive and indistinguishably dense flowers of Anthurium are surprisingly pathetic relative to the flashiness of the ‘spathe and spadix’ structures that accompany them. The spadix is the generally conical structure that supports and is covered with the flowers. It is most often pale shades of white, yellow or green, but can be pink or purplish. The spathe is the solitary, colorful bract that surrounds the spadix. It is most often white, red or burgundy, but can be orange, pink or pale shades of yellow or green.

There are nearly a thousand known specie of Anthurium. Most but certainly not all have glossy foliage. Leaf shape and size is as variable as flower color. Most Anthurium are terrestrial understory plants that grow below higher canopies of tropical mountain forests of Central and South America. Others are epiphytes that cling to trees, or lithophytes that cling to rock outcroppings.

Around the home, they are mostly grown as houseplants as much for their rich green foliage as for their colorful blooms. In the garden they need shelter from direct sunlight and frost. Blooms, and perhaps other parts, are toxic.

Six on Saturday: L. A.

Los Angeles is commonly abbreviated as ‘L. A.’ or simply ‘LA’, which is not only insolent, but can be mistaken for Louisiana. I must spell it out. Anyway, I am in Los Angeles now. After postponing this trip for months, I left hastily without much of a plan. I am camped out in the backyard at Brent’s home, not only because it is the best place to stay here, but also because I did not bother to make reservations at the eccentric Hotel del Flores. I did not do much of what I wanted to do, and will not before I leave, but I do not mind. It has been good to simply relax and grab a few oddities from Brent’s garden, including #1, #2 and #5. Some of these shared earlier.

1. Platycerium bifurcatum, staghorn fern grew into a suspended colony that is about six feet wide. I may have mentioned earlier in Six on Saturday that it looks like coronavirus.

2. Platycerium grande, giant staghorn fern, which Brent and I refer to as moose antlers, flares out too much on top to form more spherical colonies like Platycerium bifurcatum.

3. Monstera Deliciosa ‘Albo Variegata’, variegated split leaf philodendrons is supposedly rather rare. I thought that it was more common years ago, but no one else remembers it.

4. Costus comosus, red tower ginger should bloom between late winter and early spring, rather than between later summer and early autumn. Maybe its bloom lasts for months.

5. Dichorisandra thyrsiflora, blue ginger, which is not actually related to ginger, should bloom about now, but is not blooming as spectacularly now as it did several months ago.

6. Aechmea fasciata, silver vase bromeliad should have bloomed half a year ago like red tower ginger. Likewise, bloom can last for a long time. However, this bloom looks young.

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/

Red Passion Flower Vine

Red is simpler but more colorful.

The mostly white and blue common passion flower likely remains the most popular. After all, it is the weirdest. Elaborate and disproportionate floral parts imply that it is of another planet. Red passion flower, Passiflora racemosa, although less peculiar, is perhaps a bit more colorful. Its brick red flowers bloom randomly for as long as weather remains warm. 

Flowers are about three or four inches wide. They develop in open racemes that seem to spread out somewhat evenly over the exterior of their foliage. Bloom is not profuse, but is somewhat continuous until autumn. Newer flowers replace older flowers within the same racemes. Leaves are as wide as their flowers, with three blunt lobes and axillary tendrils. 

The lushly evergreen foliage can get shabby through winter, or completely ruined by just mild frost. It regenerates vigorously though. Aggressive pruning as winter finishes delays bloom, but promotes vigorous growth. Vines can potentially reach more than twenty feet. Fruit is rare without manual pollination. Fruit flavor can be bland without tropical warmth.

Rubber Tree

Big glossy leaves of the familiar rubber tree like a sunny spot in the home, away from sources of heat.

Pruning a rubber tree, Ficus elastica, in the home takes a bit of acrobatics, since any wound immediately bleeds staining white latex. While pruning with one hand, the other hand must catch the latex with a rag. A third hand is needed to catch the bleeding piece of stem that gets pruned away. To make things more complicated, all three hands should avoid the potentially caustic latex. Even if it is harmless to the skin, it is a painful irritant if it gets into the eyes.

Young trees have larger glossy leaves that may be as long as a foot and half as broad, although most are about half as long and broad. Many modern cultivars have variegated or bronzy foliage. Where it gets enough sunlight as a houseplant, rubber tree will eventually need to be pruned for confinement. After all, in the wild, it can get more than a hundred feet tall and almost two hundred feet tall, with trunks more than six feet wide! In the garden, it needs shelter from frost. Aerial roots can develop in humid environments.

Pitahaya

White pitaya looks almost otherworldly.

This weird tropical cactus gets mixed reviews. Pitahaya fruit, or dragon fruit, is abundant in favorable conditions, but develops potentially bland flavor. The green succulent stems may be vigorous, but develop distinctly pendulous form that resembles Sigmund the sea monster. Bloom lasts from summer to autumn, but individual flowers open for just a night. 

Selenicereus undatas is the most popular pitahaya. Its fruit weighs between half a pound and a pound, and has white flesh. Selenicereus costaricensis fruit is similar, but with red flesh, and perhaps slightly more flavor. Selenicereus megalanthus fruit is smaller, thorny and yellow, with white flesh and richer flavor. Home grown fruit is superior to market fruit.

Pitahaya grows very easily from cuttings or pruning scraps. Young stems climb with wiry aerial roots, so need substantial support. Fruiting stems hang downward from the tops of such support. Most modern cultivars need no pollinator. Some old cultivars need another of its same species for pollination. Pitahaya is vulnerable to frost where winters are cool.

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.

Tropical Hibiscus

This tropical hibiscus was found in Oklahoma, where it needs shelter from frost.

This humongous six inch wide tropical hibiscus, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, looks like it might be from Hawaii or Florida, but was actually found in K and K Nursery and Landscape of Norman, just south of Oklahoma City, where winter nights are already seriously cold by our coastal California standards. It is happy to bloom so impressively only because it is in a greenhouse. Even here in our pleasantly mild climates, tropical hibiscus are happiest where sheltered above from frost, by eaves or evergreen shade trees that are high enough to also allow warming sunlight through. In the cooler spots, even sheltered plants occasionally get damaged by frost, and need some time to regenerate after winter.

Some of the classic tropical hibiscus that typically have smaller flowers can grow above single story eaves if not pruned down. Most modern varieties with larger or ruffly double flowers rarely reach the eaves, and many stay less than six feet tall even without pruning. The evergreen foliage has an appealing glossy sheen, which is an ideal backdrop for the red, pink, white, yellow or orange flowers.

Philodendron selloum

Philodendron selloum is unfamiliar with autumn.

There are all sorts of philodendrons with all sorts of fancy names. Yet, the biggest and boldest lacks a common name (at least one that is actually ‘common’), and is most popularly known by a Latin name that is not even correct. The proper name for Philodendron selloum is really Philodendron bipinnatifidum. It is a big awkward plant with big and deeply lobed leaves on long petioles (leaf stalks), and weirdly thick aerial roots. Well exposed plants can stand on wobbly trunks. Partly shaded plants can creep along the ground, and prefer to grab onto and climb tree trunks, fences or anything that they can get a hold of. The aerial roots are harmless to trees, and generally too slow to catch a healthy cat, but will take paint off of walls. All parts of Philodendron selloum are toxic.