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.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Tillandsia usneioides Flowering

Tillandsia usneoides was in bloom in the UConn greenhouses the other week. The flowers are minute and greenish and easy to overlook, but do emit a slight sweet smell. "Spanish Moss" is indeed not a moss (nor is it from Spain), but a flowering plant in the pineapple family, the Bromeliaceae.

Greenhouse flowering of T. usneoides is unreliable; looking back, I don't see any records of Spanish Moss in flower at UConn since 2004. Intriguingly, the blooms this spring all seemed to be on the clumps of T. usneoides that I had left outside for a portion of last winter in an impromptu hardiness trial. The plants grow perfectly well, vegetatively, when kept in a tropical greenhouse year round, but it is possible that a cold vernalization period triggers flowering. I can't be sure that cold was responsible, though, since a number of other factors were different with the outdoor Spanish Moss. It spent the entire summer of 2014 outside, which means it received rain water rather than tap water, and probably less water and nutrients overall than the non-flowering greenhouse material. Maybe I'll try keeping some plants refrigerated next winter, and see if a cold period alone encourages blooming.