Thursday, October 1, 2015

Autumn Miscellany

Darlingtonia californica at the NECPS Show.
Earlier this month, the New England Carnivorous Plant Society held its annual show. As usual there were plenty of superbly cultivated plants on display (and plenty more for sale), and some well known people from the carnivorous plant community in attendance. This Darlingtonia was one of the more impressive horticultural feats; I don't think I've ever seen one so large cultivated in the East. I've never been able to keep them alive for more than a year or two, myself; they definitely tend to decline in our warm, humid summers.

The venue was a new one for the NECPS: Tower Hill Botanical Garden, near Worcester, Massachusetts. Tower Hill is a beautiful location and the public turnout was quite high, with about 2200 paid guests for the weekend. The only minor issue was that space was pretty tight, with the show and most of the vendors packed into one conference room, because of some scheduling conflicts.

Part of the bladderworts of New England display.
Several of the NECPS regulars collaborated to collect fresh specimens of almost all of the dozen or so bladderwort (Utricularia) species that are native to New England. They put on a great educational display and managed to turn up some plants that are found at a limited number of sites, like U. inflata, which supports its flowers above the surface of ponds on spongy, star-shaped floats.

The bees had a good summer and a decidedly better than average fall, which was nice after a cold start to 2015 with more winter colony losses than I'd like to see. It's been on the dry side in Connecticut, but the bees have apparently been finding plenty of flowers. Most colonies have packed away enough autumn honey to get themselves through the winter without any supplemental sugar feeding, which was unexpected. Looks like I'll be holding on to the stack of warehouse club 25 pound sugar bags in the basement until next spring, at least.

I tried to photograph the supermoon lunar eclipse last Sunday, and took a few shots that turned out OK. I don't think my camera was up to the task of capturing the earth's shadow starting to cross the face of the moon. Photos of the total eclipse worked better, without the overwhelming contrast of shadowed and sunlit portions of the moon messing up the exposure.

2015 turned out to be a "mast year" for apples (and oaks, too), with all of the feral or unmanaged trees around town producing crops of fruit that are so heavy that I've seen a number of snapped branches. Mast years occur irregularly; maybe about every third autumn will have this kind of super abundance of apples. The fruits are remarkably free of worms and disease, which is what you would expect based on one idea about the adaptive significance of masting: when all the trees in an area are synchronized in a mass fruiting event, pests can't reproduce quickly enough to take advantage, and then starve during subsequent non-mast years when very few fruits are produced. There is probably a contribution from the vagaries of weather to the masting phenomenon. Pollination limitation might also be involved in synchronizing masting, with any trees that flower heavily in a non-mast year experiencing poor pollination and low fruit set due to a lack of mates, and presumably maintaining reserves that would have otherwise gone into fruit to flower strongly again the next spring.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Massachusetts Cactus and Succulent Show

Best in show for the 2015 Massachusetts Cactus and Succulent Show: a large, perfect specimen of Ariocarpus retusus.
 This weekend, the Massachusetts Cactus and Succulent Society is holding its annual Show and Sale, at the Americal Civic Center in Wakefield. There is a judged show, plant and supply vendors, and an auction; the CSSM show is pretty similar to the spring cactus show in Connecticut, although not quite as large.

The entrance to the show, which is in the main hall on the basketball court.

Conophytum and other mesembs, with ribbons after the judging. It's now the main flowering season for conophytums and some of the specimens were in bloom.

Haworthia koelmaniorum, with translucent windows on the upper surfaces of the leaves.

CSSM member Ken S., with his all-Adromischus sales table, stocked with extras from his enormous collection, which is grown under fluorescent lights in his basement.

Adenia globosa, a succulent member of the Passifloraceae (passion flower family), native to tropical East Africa.

Aloe plicatilis, the Fan Aloe, flanking the entrance to the show area and illuminated by a sun beam.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Aponogeton madagascariensis Seeds

Looking down into a large aquatic tank with a pot of Aponogeton madagascariensis.
 Aponogeton madagascariensis, the Madagascar Lace Plant, is a submerged aquatic with naturally occurring holes in its leaf blades. The leaves are like window screen, with a network of veins and photosynthetic tissue, but with gaps in the leaf between the veins. Aquatic plants have more difficulty than terrestrial plants obtaining carbon dioxide, because gas diffusion is much slower in water than in air; the lacy leaves of A. madagascariensis probably are an adaptation to create more surface area for gas exchange.

Aponogeton madagascariensis inflorescence, late summer.
As is the case with many aquatic plants, A. madagacariensis sends its flowers above water for pollination. The flowers seem to be able to self-pollinate and if conditions are right give rise to clusters of small, green, horn-shaped fruits a few weeks later.

Aponogeton madagascariensis fruiting shoot shedding floating seeds.
When ripe, the fruits split open and release seeds. The seeds are a milky violet color and have a water-repelling waxy surface, enabling them to float and disperse away from their parent plant. After floating for a day or two, the seed coat becomes clear and water-logged, and splits open to release the green embryo inside, which sinks to the bottom. I've been gathering the seeds and putting them in submerged pots of sand and soil, and hope to get some germination and Lace Plant seedlings soon.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Dicrocaulon humile

Dicrocaulon humile, J. Vlok collection from Rooiberg, north of  Vanrhynsdorp, W. Cape, S. Africa. Cultivated by Steven Hammer, Vista, Ca (early April 2011).
Dicrocaulon humile is a low-growing dwarf shrub, from the family Aizoaceae (ice plants), native to the arid Knersvlakte near the small town of Vanrhynsdorp in South Africa. Its highly succulent leaf pairs are fused into pea-like bodies, which are exposed and green only during the cooler months. This plant is very rarely cultivated, and as far as I know is represented in horticulture by a single clone derived from material collected at Rooiberg. There is a confusing abundance of hills and peaks in South Africa called "Rooiberg," but this one is the Red Mountain just northwest of Vanrhynsdorp. Dicrocaulon plants, like most mesembs, are self-infertile, so that the lonely D. humile of greenhouse collections does not set seed. However, cuttings taken early in the growing season in autumn root fairly easily, and the plant has been passed around among connoisseurs of such things to a limited extent.

Dicrocaulon humile in flower in cultivation in Connecticut, July 2015.
Dicrocaulon humile flowers right around the summer solstice, when the plants are otherwise dormant and brown. The flowers have subtle violet color, which doesn't show up very well in my photos, and a very strong sweet smell that I can detect from some distance. The odor is reminiscent of artificial grape soda. The blooms stay open day and night, but the fragrance is most pronounced during the heat of the day, suggesting pollination by bees or other daytime insects.

Dicrocaulon had long been considered part of a group of mesembs called the Mitrophyllum Group or Mitrophyllinae, consisting of about half a dozen minor genera with plants characterized by strict summer dormancy, heterophylly (producing different leaf shapes at different seasons, often with very distinct, compact summer resting leaves), and an epidermis with large, water-storing bladder cells. Recent evolutionary work (Klak et al. 2013. A phylogenetic hypothesis for the recently diversified Ruschieae) has split the former Mitrophyllum Group into two natural units that are only distantly related: the Dicrocaulon Clade comprising the genera Oophytum, Monilaria, Diplosoma and Dicrocaulon, which is basally diverging in the tribe Ruschieae, separate from a Mitrophyllum Clade consisting of Mitrophyllum and Meyerophytum, which originated more recently within the Ruschieae. The Dicrocaulon Clade plants have, in retrospect, exaggeratedly minute, shrivelled summer resting leaves that are quite different from the meaty oversummering bodies of the Mitrophyllum Clade genera.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Newport Flower Show 2015

Rosecliff Mansion, home of the Newport Flower Show.
 The Newport Flower Show is running this weekend. I was there yesterday helping out with some of the setup, and it looks like it will be another impressive summer show in a spectacular setting at Rosecliff, one of the gilded age Newport mansions that are now public museums.

 Entries for succulent plants didn't seem quite as numerous as they have been in some previous years, but there were still some nice specimens. This giant medusoid euphorbia, Euphorbia esculenta made the trip from Pennsylvania. It was one of a number of entries from the Hamilton collection; Mrs. Hamilton is a fixture at the major East Coast flower shows.

  One of the special classes for the show this year was "Little America," for miniature gardens with a theme related to famous locations in the USA. I particularly liked this succulent dish garden titled "Roswell," complete with crashed UFO, alien accident victim and scraps of tinfoil.

The path gets rough in spots in the southern half of the Newport Cliff Walk.
 After I finished up my duties inspecting succulent plant show entries, I headed out for a stroll on the famous Newport Cliff Walk. The northern parts of the walk are pretty well paved, but the southern portion, which I had never completed before because of construction closings, gets kind of hairy in spots.

Conglomerate boulders with a quartzite outcropping at right, at then end of Ruggles Ave.
 The geology of Newport is complex, and I haven't located a good guide for interested laypeople such as myself. The southern tip of the island is weathering-resistant granitic gneiss (in the photo below), which transitions to the north into a mess of ancient Precambrian and somewhat less ancient Carboniferous sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, including serpentine, slate, quartzite and conglomerate (pudding stone - photo above). The conglomerate, a fossilized mass of gravel and cobbles, might be glacial till from a "Snowball Earth" event in the late Precambrian, when most of the planet seems to have frozen, right to the equator. I don't know enough about such things to be certain, but Snowball Earth sediments do occur in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Plantago maritima at Land's End near the southern tip of Newport, RI.
One of only a handful of native New England succulent plants occurs at various points along the Cliff Walk: Plantago maritima, or Sea Plantain, is a nearly cosmopolitan inhabitant of harsh, salt-sprayed habitats. Sea Plantain has thick, water-storing leaves that are said to be edible, but quite salty; I can't imagine it would be a good idea to eat a whole salad of them.