Brent left for vacation in Hawaii at about the same time that I returned from vacation in Oregon and Washington. Since I told him to stop sending me so many pointless pictures prior to my vacation, he is now sending even more. I might have gotten more pictures of his vacation than I got of mine. Although I would like to see Hawaii for the horticultural aspects, I am not otherwise impressed by what little I know about it. Perhaps I would get a better impression of it without so many of Brent’s pointless pictures. These are a few of the lesser pointless pictures, without the selfies.
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.
Foliage needs sunlight for photosynthesis. Foliage needs air for respiration. Roots need moisture to sustain foliage. Houseplants can technically get all of what they need from the confinement of their pots within the interiors of homes and other buildings. They only require sufficient moisture to be delivered to them, and sufficient sunlight from windows. The air is the same that we all utilize.
However, there is no substitute for nature. While hydroponics and synthetic light facilitate yet more deprivation of what is natural, the plants involved would appreciate more consideration. Without exception, domesticated plants are descendants of plants that grew wild somewhere. Those that dislike local weather would be pleased with the weather of their respective ancestral homelands.
Most of the popular houseplants that are grown for their lush foliage originated from tropical forests. Many were understory plants that prefer the shade of larger trees. That is how they tolerate the relatively shaded interiors of buildings. Now that they are here as houseplants, they appreciate shelter from frost. They probably miss rain, humidity, sporadic breezes and tropical warmth though.
Rinsing tropical foliage plants in the shower eliminates some of the dust that they accumulate where air stagnates. Rinsing them out in the garden is even better because it does not make such a mess in the shower. What is even better than both of these options is allowing a gentle rain to rinse the foliage. Plants only need to be moved to a windless spot prior to an expected rain shower.
The weather was much too cool earlier in winter. There will be no rain later in summer. This time of year, and again next autumn, the weather is safely mild; and eventually, a few showers are likely. Timing is critical. Plants should be brought out just prior to rain, and brought in before the weather gets sunny. Foliage that has always been sheltered is very sensitive to scald from direct sunlight.
Saucers and pots can be cleaned while outside. Crowded plant can be repotted.
Dragon fruit became a fad on the West Coast of California several years ago. They were probably always around, but had previously been rare. When they inexplicably became more popular and common, they did so down south first. Their popularity migrated to the Santa Clara Valley a few years later. It probably will not go much farther though, since they are sensitive to frost.
It is not a bad fad, at least relative to most others. Dragon fruit, which is also known as pitaya, happens to be very easy to grow and propagate from cuttings. Locally, it needs protection from frost, but no more than other popular tropical plants. It recovers from minor frost damage quite efficiently. Pruning scraps can be rooted and grown as more plants for friends and neighbors.
Of course, I dislike fads. I am not impressed by the fruit, which might lack flavor here where the weather does not stay very warm for very long through summer. The coarsely textured and floppy plants get big and awkward. They are typically trained up onto posts from which their many long stems hang downward. An exemplary specimen looks like Sigmund the Sea Monster.
This is a fad that I dislike enough to try. I want to see what all the fuss is about. These are my first two cuttings. The upper cutting produces red fruit. The lower cutting that is marked with a line to show how deeply it should be stuck into rooting medium produces white fruit. I will know where to release them into the landscape by the time they develop roots and start to grow.
This is so shameful that I probably should not be writing about it. Oh well. Perhaps in a few months, I will write about how these cuttings will be progressing.
Unlike the common bird of Paradise that is grown for striking bright orange flowers, the giant bird of Paradise, Strelitzia nicolai, is grown for strikingly lush foliage. The big rich green leaves get nearly six feet long, and flare outward from leaning trunks that can eventually reach upstairs eaves. Foliage is healthiest if sheltered from harsh sunlight (such as hot reflected glare), wind and frost.
Bold white blooms with contrastingly delicate blue streaks are a rare surprise on older trunks. The navy blue floral husks with nectar dripping from them look like the beaks of drooling seagulls; but the flared flowers above look like the crests of parrots.
Just like potted chyrsanthemums, azaleas, hydrangeas and poinsettias, potted specimens of Guzmania magnifica are popularly purchased while beginning to bloom, enjoyed as house plants through a long bloom cycle, but then discarded as bloom eventually deteriorates. They are rarely allowed to produce new pups that can be divided and grown into fresh new plants to bloom later.
The bright yellow, orange, red or pink bloom stalks, as well as their rich green basal foliage, are so glossy that they seem to be plastic. The colorful parts of the blooms are pointy strap shaped bracts that arch outward from upright stalks. The leaves below have the same shape, but are longer, and more densely arranged in neat rosettes. Tiny flowers are mostly obscured by the bracts.
Guzmania magnifica, likes bright ambient sunlight without direct sun exposure, and can tolerate significant shade, especially if grown for only a few months while blooming. They seem to like misting, but probably do not not need it. They should be watered only weekly to every two weeks, when the surface of the soil seems to be getting dry. Too much fertilizer might scorch the foliage.
Plants can inhabit nearly every climate on Earth. They live in hot and dry deserts, cold arctic regions, rainforests and just about everywhere in between. Plants seem to have it all figured out. Some even know how to live in our homes as houseplants, although they probably did not plan it that way. Most houseplants are tropical plants that are naturally endemic to tropical ecosystems.
It is actually their tropical heritage that makes them more comfortable in our homes. Tropical climates tend to be conducive to proliferation of all kinds of plants. Those that want to live there must be competitive. Trees compete by growing faster and taller than other trees. Vines compete by climbing the trees. Understory plants that live under taller plants compete by needing less sunlight.
It is these understory plants that do not mind the shade of our homes. Even those that like bright ambient light might never expect to get direct sun exposure. The various ficus trees that might naturally grow tall enough to reach the top of a forest canopy in the wild are still understory plants while young. Because they know how to use resources efficiently, tropical plants do well in pots.
However, these advantages are not so useful out in the garden. Tolerance to partial shade also means that some tropical understory plants need to be sheltered. If too exposed, foliage can get roasted by sunlight or arid wind. (Most tropical climates are more humid than local climates are.) Complaisant roots do not disperse well enough to sustain lush foliage without regular watering.
Ironically, roots of the various ficus trees are very aggressive because they to not disperse deeply, but instead spread out at the surface of the soil where they grow into exposed root buttresses.
The most familiar weakness of tropical plants is their susceptibility to frost. Even though it does not get very cold here, it gets cool enough in winter to offend plants that would never experience cool weather in the wild. Actual frost can severely damage foliage, and can even kill some tropical plants.
This is why one should not ask someone else who is very vain to take a picture of something important. The vain only take good selfies. Others subjects are too unimportant to them to bother getting a good picture of.
Fortunately, I did not ask for this picture. Brent, my colleague in Southern California, sent it to me with all those other pictures that I shared this morning, and the rest of the pictures that I intend to share next Saturday. I think he wanted to show off his magnolia. I do not remember what cultivar it is, or even what species. I though there was a Magnolia soulangeana in this spot, but these flowers do not look right for that.
I think this picture shows off the plumerias better. Brent probably did not think of that because he does not understand how impressive these specimens are to those of who can not grow them, even while these specimens are bare. I would like to grow some here, but it gets a bit too cool for them in winter. They are very sensitive to even mild frost.
Some of us know plumeria as frangipani. There are quite a few different cultivars that are indistinguishable while bare in this picture. Some stay quite small. My favorite white flowered cultivar is very tall but lanky, with only a few branches. The biggest specimen is the most common, with large trusses of small but very fragrant white flowers with yellow centers. Most bloom with a few colors swirled together. A few are more uniform hues of light pink, bright pink, red, pastel orange and buttery yellow.
I have pruned these specimens a few times. The pruning debris gets plugged as cuttings of various sizes. They grow into copies of the originals that get used in landscapes that Brent designs.
It could not have survived out in the desert for forty years. Wandering Jew, Tradescantia fluminensis, would have desiccated before its first summer. Well watered gardens are a completely different situation. Wandering Jew can become invasive and mix with other more desirable ground covers, only to die back and turn dark brown through winter. It starts over the following spring.
The one or two inch long leaves and succulent stems are very tender, sort of like busy Lizzie (impatiens). Stems root wherever the swollen nodes touch moist soil. New plants are ridiculously easy to propagate by cuttings, or simply by scattering pruning scraps wherever new plants are desired, and sprinkling a bit of soil or compost over them. Because it is so tolerant of shade, wandering Jew is an easy cascading houseplant. A variegated cultivar has slightly larger leaves.