Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Holidays 2014

Botrychium dissectum
The second half of 2014 was a hectic time for me (and mostly in not-fun ways) and the blog has suffered from a serious lack of attention. Here's hoping the New Year will bring better things.

Out in the somewhat wild lawn behind my house there are a few Cut-leaf Grape Ferns (Botrychium dissectum), probably the most common local representative of the fern family Ophioglossaceae. The grape ferns are eusporangiate (they have very simple spore-bearing capsules), and the early stages of their life cycles are entirely subterranean, where they can live for years drawing nutrients from host fungi. Botrychium dissectum is evergreen when it does start producing foliage, but still prone to disappearing below ground at odd times, and the leaves can either look like the one in the photo here, or have more finely dissected margins. Both forms occur side by side in my lawn, but I couldn't find the finely dissected plant this week: it's probably still there but in a dormant phase for some reason.  There are also two mosses in the photo: Leucobryum glaucum (White Cushion Moss) is the short pale one behind the frond and Polytrichum commune (Common Haircap Moss) is the taller dark green plant all around the fern.

Temperatures in Connecticut for the first phases of winter have been very warm; I stepped outside on Christmas Eve at about 9:00 PM and was shocked to find light drizzle and 62 F temps. That's like an evening in June, not December. It has cooled off to more seasonal temperatures today, but it was warm enough for the bees to be flying this past weekend. They don't find anything to collect except maybe water, this time of year, even in mild conditions, but they can relieve themselves outside (if it's cold and they are cooped up in the hive they have to hold it) and it's probably good for them to have the opportunity to freely move around on their combs and reorganize.

Honeybees flying in Mansfield Center, Ct, December 27.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Amorphophallus ongsakulii

The genus Amorphophallus is known for producing some of the largest, stinkiest inflorescences in the botanical world, so A. ongsakulii comes as something of a surprise when it sends up a thumb-sized spathe and spadix, from a plant with leaves just a few inches tall. The flowers have faint spicy sweet smell.

Amorphophallus ongsakulii's natural habitat is the understory of tropical rain forest in Laos. It was only described in 2006. For me, the plant has done quite well in a warm greenhouse with some shade, with a winter dormant period where the leafless tubers were kept potted in slightly moist soil.

Friday, June 6, 2014

White Lady's Slipper

It had been a cool, prolonged spring in Connecticut, although recent stretches of sun and warmth have allowed the local flora to catch up. The Pink Lady's Slipper orchids bloomed right about on schedule for Memorial Day and the end of May. Now, the Pitcher Plants and Mountain Laurel are in bloom, on time or even a little early.

While hiking in Mansfield Center the other week, I ran across something I hadn't seen before in person: a white Lady's Slipper. This is an albino individual of the Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule), not one of the other species of the genus. The plants seem to vary a fair amount in their flower coloration, but C. acaule plants without a trace of pink are pretty uncommon.

Speaking of abnormal Lady's Slippers, the photo above shows a strange one, with one of its two leaves attached midway up the pedicel (stem subtending the flower). The specific epithet of C. acaule means "stemless," and I have never seen one before or since with leaves that didn't emerge directly from the ground, from a stubby subterranean stem. Other species in the genus have leafy stems with elongated internodes between the leaves, but this condition seems to be a very rare throwback for the Pink Lady's Slipper. The plant was the sole example of this growth form in a large population growing in Pitch Pine woods in Mashpee, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod.

I'm uncertain of whether either of the odd forms of C. acaule described here have a genetic basis. It would be interesting to try to find the plants in future years and see if the flowers are consistent. I suspect that the albino coloration is caused by a mutation and will remain from year to year, but the plant with the abnormal elongated internode might have been the result of a single season's disrupted development.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Connecticut Cactus & Succulent Show this Weekend

Hatiora herminiae, an epiphytic cactus from Brazil.

2014 is the year of the 31st annual Connecticut Cactus and Succulent Show and Sale, to be held in its usual location at Naugatuck Valley Community College. The event will run Saturday April 5, 10:00-5:00 and Sunday April 6, 10:00-4:00. More information is available from the Connecticut Cactus and Succulent Society. Parking is abundant and admission is free.

It's always a fun time, and every year we get a large number of repeat guests coming in from all over the Northeast, to see an extensive judged show, numerous vendors, informative lectures and demonstrations, auctions filled with rare plants and rare bargains, and (primarily?) to meet and chat with other fans of unusual desert plants.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Signs of Spring

Probably the earliest indication, from the botanical world, that winter in New England is s-l-o-w-l-y on its way out, comes from the Sugar Maples. The maple sap has been flowing for about a week in my neighborhood, as indicated by the formation of sapsicles on broken twigs, and a very small harvest of icy sap from the maple I tapped last weekend. It's been too cold for any sort of significant flow, but if the temperatures get near freezing and the sun is strong, the sap does start to move. In December, even if there is a freak warm spell, a tapped maple will not yield anything: they need a certain period of cold vernalization, or perhaps they respond to the increasing day length this time of year.

The Skunk Cabbage flowers can't be too far behind, perhaps starting in three to four weeks. Right now, the Skunk Cabbage buds are buried under a foot of snow, with more snow and ice on the way tomorrow, biding their time.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Eulophia petersii

Eulophia petersii flower.
The Orchidaceae (orchid family) is the largest family of flowering plants, comprising something on the order of 25000 species. The orchids are most diverse in the tropics growing as epiphytes on the trunks and branches of trees, although even here in Connecticut we have a number of native species. Most of the epiphytic orchids are more or less succulent (unlike our native woodland and bog orchids), as an adaptation to surviving the short periods of dryness that can even afflict plants in the tropical rainforest, if they are growing attached to bark without soil.
Although they are much fewer in number of species than the tropical epiphytic orchids, there are succulent orchids that live in true desert environments. Eulophia petersii is one of the most widespread of the desert orchids, occurring over much of eastern Africa, from South Africa to Somalia. The plants grow in shallow soil over rock outcrops, or in dry sandy soil, in areas with a warm, dry climate with rain primarily in summer.
Eulophia petersii plants consist of clusters of squat, fat green stems (called pseudobulbs in orchids) that bear a small number of succulent, sharp-edged leaves. The plants are evergreen and the leaves can persist for several years, but the actual growth of the plants is highly seasonal. New pseudobulbs and foliage are produced in spring and summer, and tall racemes of flowers bloom in mid-summer. In the winter, the plants are dormant and can withstand weeks or months without water. 
Eulophia petersii plant with succulent leaves and pseudobulbs.
In cultivation, E. petersii plants are not difficult to grow in conditions similar to those favored by agaves and echeverias. It may help to use a soil that is especially coarse and free-draining, though general-purpose cactus and succulent mixes should be acceptable. In summer, a fairly generous watering and fertilizing regime produces good results, as long as the plants get plenty of sun. In winter, E. petersii should be watered lightly and infrequently and kept in a cool, sunny location. Home propagation of Eulophia is probably only practical by dividing older clusters of pseudobulbs. Cultivated plants do set seed if pollinated, but as with other orchids the seeds are minute and require exacting conditions, possibly including the presence of symbiotic fungi, in order to germinate and grow. I've never had any luck trying to start the seeds by sprinkling them in the soil around the parent plants.