Thursday, June 16, 2011

Titan Arum in Full Bloom

The Corpse Flower is fully open and producing waves of cabbage-y, fishy odor right now, near 11:00 PM. These photos are from just before sunset, when the lighting was better, and the smell was potent but not quite as overpowering as it is at the moment. The weather has been pretty warm lately, and I think that has encouraged a strong flowering event this time, even if the inflorescence is a little on the short side (~5 feet). The spathe is further reflexed than in previous blooms, and the colors seem a bit brighter.

Titan Arum Bloom - June 16, 2011

3:00 PM

I just checked the Amorphophallus titanum plant, and the spathe had completely pulled away from the spadix in the two hours since I last looked at it. Tonight will be the night! I would expect it to be fully open by 8:00-10:00, and at the peak of fragrance around 12:00. By tomorrow morning it will be partially closed up, and not nearly as smelly.

The greenhouse will be open until late (1:00 AM), and then open again bright and early tomorrow at our usual time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Corpse Flower: Reloaded

One of the Amorphophallus titanum plants at the UConn greenhouses is preparing to flower again. This is the Titan Arum or Corpse Flower, or what visitors tend to ask about as "that big stinky plant." The last time we had a bloom was in 2008, and I did a fair amount of blogging about it, which I won't try to repeat, though there are some points worth noting.

The individual Titan Arum in question is UConn's plant #5, which was the first of its kind to bloom in New England, back in 2004, and which bloomed again in 2007. Strangely, the plant bloomed again in 2008, without first going through the normal period of vegetative growth. It had foliage over most of the past 3 years, and seems to be back on a proper growth cycle now: dormancy--leaf--dormancy--flowering--dormancy--leaf--etc.

As with the previous three inflorescences on Titan #5, the petal-like spathe is right-handed (i.e., it wraps around itself towards the viewer's right). Left-handed inflorescences are also possible with this species, from what I've seen in photos.

The frilly edge of the spathe is starting to look a little loose, and its interior has changed from greenish to purple-black over the past week or so, so the opening of the bloom is getting close. The growth of the spadix (central poke-y bit) has slowed down to about 3-4 cm per day, which is another indication that the inflorescence is nearly mature. I predicted a couple of weeks ago that the big stink would be on June 20th, and I'll stand by that guess for now, but it could easily be tomorrow. The exact day is difficult to judge, but on that day we'll know by mid-afternoon. There will be announcements on the greenhouse website as soon as we know, so you can rush to campus. The flowers last for only a day or two, and are really only in peak condition for a few hours the night they open.

Other distractions in the Asian tropical room include fruit on the banana plant (Musa, unknown seedless cultivar). I've eaten fruits from this plant before, and they seem more or less identical to the usual supermarket Cavendish.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Memorial Day Bog Walk

Iris versicolor, Northern Blue Flag.

Memorial Day is usually a good time to catch some of the more impressive native wildflowers here in New England. This year, I checked out an unnamed bog at an undisclosed location in Willington, Connecticut. Walking to the bog there were some richer swampy spots where the wild geraniums and blue flag iris were in full bloom.

Cyprepedium acuale, Pink Lady-slipper (this photo actually from Mansfield Hollow State Park).

Closer to the bog, the vegetation changed to indicate the presence of nutrient-poor, acidic, bog-friendly soil. Sugar Maples and White Ash were replaced by pines and oaks as the dominant trees, and the understory started to include Pink Lady-slipper orchids in flower, and one little patch of Epigea repens (Trailing Arbutus).

Ledum groenlandicum, Labrador Tea, in the Willington bog.

After a short but slightly hairy time navigating the inevitable marginal ring of open water and peaty muck at the edge, I emerged into a sunny sphagnum bog. This is a floating bog, though the open parts are mostly dense enough with moss and scrub to provide secure footing. It is still irresistible to bounce up and down a little bit, and watch the dwarf trees within a 20 foot radius sway back and forth.

Ledum, or Labrador Tea, was in full bloom. Labrador Tea is mainly a boreal plant, though it hangs on here and there in bogs in the more temperate parts of the eastern US. The leaves have a distinctive brown fuzzy underside, and can in fact be used to make a somewhat wintergreen-tasting tea. The Willington bog is the only local spot I know of where it grows, and I had never caught it in flower before.

Sarracenia purpurea var. purpurea, the Purple Pitcher Plant.

The pitcher plant flowers weren't quite open yet for the most part. There aren't a huge number of Sarracenia in this bog, though the population seems pretty stable. There aren't any sundews in this bog at all, which is strange; it looks perfect for Round-leaved Sundews at least, and the other area bogs have one or both of the local Drosera species. It's doubly odd because there is an area of seeps not half a mile away where both sundews grow in large numbers.

Picea mariana, Black Spruce, about 1 m tall, with female cones.

Another interesting feature of this bog is a large population of Black Spruce trees, stunted into natural bonsai. Black Spruce, like Ledum, is primarily a boreal plant, which persists in boggy spots and the occasional cold mountain slope in southern New England. There is a tiny mistletoe, Arceuthobium pusillum, that grows on the spruce trees in the Willington bog, but I couldn't find it this time. I seem to recall seeing it once before, years ago when I first visited this location, in later summer, but that time the mistletoe was pointed out by the late Les Mehrhoff, who knew the local flora twice as well as anyone else. It is a shame that Les won't be guiding any more bog walks.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Ferocactus cylindraceus on the hills around Mountain Palm Springs.

One of the highlights of this April’s Cactus and Succulent Society of America convention, in San Diego, was the mid-week field trip. There were various options, including garden and nursery tours, but I chose to explore the Anza-Borrego Desert by bus and on foot, with expert guides Andrew Wilson and Dr. Juergen Menzel. There was an Anza-Borrego off-road trip, as well, though it seems to have involved less walking, and more bouncing around on crumby roads, with attendant vehicle breakdowns, so I feel that I chose wisely.

Mammillaria dioica (female plant) at Box Canyon.

Anza-Borrego is about a two-hour drive east from San Diego. We started out in coastal Mediterranean scrub (or what was left of it) near the hotel, then headed into the Cuyamaca Mountains, which are sparsely forested with oaks and poplars, with fields of yellow wildflowers on valley floors. Then came a long descent through increasingly scorched, arid landscapes to the town of Ocotillo, on the desert floor, below sea level.

Bursera microphylla at Mountain Palm Springs.

Our longest hike was to Mountain Palm Springs, near the southern edge of the park. There we saw hundreds of chollas (Cylindropuntia bigelovii and others) and barrel cacti (Ferocactus cylindraceus), including some remarkable multi-headed and crested specimens. There were also a few desert iguanas, but the lizards were about the only creatures out and about on a hot and blazingly sunny day. The reward at the end of the hike was a stop at a genuine desert oasis, where water seeps out of the ground and a grove of California Fan Palms (Washingtonia filifera) provides a shady spot for contemplating a giant old Elephant Tree (Bursera microphylla).

Agave deserti and Echinocereus engelmanii at Box Canyon.

The next stop was Box Canyon, site of the first wagon road into Southern California. The vegetation here was slightly lusher, dominated by flowering shrubs like Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa). There were impenetrable thickets of Century Plant (Agave deserti), and clusters of Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) in full bloom.

Nolina parryi.

Other shorter stops included lunch at Tamarisk Grove, where a short nature trail featured abundant flowering specimens of California Fishhook Cactus (Mammillaria dioica) and Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens). We admired a huge plant of the locally rare beargrass, Nolina parryi, by the side of the road, and spent some time in the town of Borrego Springs, shopping for fresh organic desert grapefruit and checking out the park visitor center. I was parched and tired by the end of the day, but it was an unforgettable trip!

Fouquieria splendens and friends, nature trail at Tamarisk Grove.