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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Huernia finally blooms

My beleaguered Huernia is finally starting to put out flowers.  I still think it is a Huernia confusa due to the mottling of the annulus and the broken horizontal bands on the...uh...petals? 

No smell on this one, thankfully.  It's a crazy looking flower, but I love it!  The texture is firm and waxy, like plastic: it looks and feels fake...but it lives!  This plant needs a lot more water than I am used to giving succulents.  If I let it dry out even slightly, flower buds start turning red and shriveling up.  I've been making this mistake since I first potted this plant.  Better dry than dead, yes, but I've missed out on many a flower before I realized my mistake.  Oh, huernia, you thirsty lush!

A little shot of my currently blooming Asclepiadaceae ...

Friday, July 23, 2010

My first orchid--bloomed by yours, truly!

I have to say, this pahiopedilum (it's supposed to be a hybrid between Dark Cherry and Cocoa something) almost bloomed itself.  I picked it up at Dominick's last summer (09) because of the pretty burgundy and green flower...and because I lady slipper orchids are amazing.  I hadn't tried to grow an orchid in the past because I was convinced it would be an unsuccessful venture.   I water it twice a week in the sink (just let tons of water run through it), I have it in a north facing window where it gets a moderate amount of light, and I use a dilute basic plant fertilizer about every other time I water it--that is on a good week.  The bloom originally lasted about 8 - 12 weeks before finally shriveling up in the Fall. 

This spring, actually on my first post, I noticed a bud.  It took about a month for the bud to form the flower, but it was so worth the wait.  Enjoy!

Starting to open...

Tantalizingly slow in opening...

Here's the whole plant...lookin' fine!

And, finally, my attempt at a macro image of the flower.  I think this plant is gorgeous!  And really, I forgot about it the whole winter (whoops).  Sometimes, less is more!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Back in business!

After much consternation and the apocalyptic destruction at the hands of Bonide and rubbing alcohol,  BAM!  We are blooming and putting out new growth again!  Here's the Stapelia scitula covered in buds and much bigger than ever.


Perhaps even more exciting, (...I know, I know, you can't bear the anticipation.....)

YESSSSSSS! Finally, the Huernia confusa (I think, we will see when she blooms) is putting out viable flower buds!!  I also figured out what I was doing wrong--I was underwatering.  WHOA!  Actually, underwatering a succulent is a hard thing to achieve, especially in the absence of direct sunlight, but stapeliads apparently need a fair amount of water during their growing season.  This bud is going to make it!  I promise to post the flower.  Despite excruciating de-bugging and Bonide to the soil, it continues to breed mealybugs.  Freakin' Typhoid Mary.  I hope they aren't imidacloprid-resistant bugs, or who knows what may happen.  I caught a few mealies on my Streps....let's just say I was NOT amused.  I gave them a little medicine, too.  Bonide for everybody!!!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Behold, the reason for my infrequent posts!

The dreaded mealybug!! (Gasp! Boo! Hiss!)  Pseudococcidae.  I can think of few other pests that beleaguer indoor gardeners as frequently and as tenaciously as the mealybug...except maybe spider mites.  Maybe it's a tie, and they both lose. 

I had my first experience with mealybugs last year when I took home a beautiful Maranta (prayer plant), and found it to be exploding with white fuzzy stuff within a month.  A more experienced gardener would have probably tossed out the plant, but I have a painful twinge of guilt every time I do that and avoid this as much as possible.  So, I learned the hard way that one can conquer these bugs, rather than acquiesce to the hostile takeover, although it usually involves more trouble than it is worth.   More on how to do this later. 

My prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura var. erythroneura)...its leaves fold up at night when it gets tired, and it looks like it is praying. The backs of the leaves are a pretty maroon.  The leaf tips got a bit crispy this winter, as it was dry in the condo.  I probably should just go ahead and prune it back anyway...

Anyhoo, I purchased a wonderful little Huernia species (labeled Huernia insigniflora, but I think it is probably Huernia confusa) off of e-bay, and unlike any conscientious gardener, of course I did NOT quarantine it.  In fact, like a moron, I noticed several mealybugs on it after I unwrapped the bare root plant, promptly killed them with the time-honored rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip method, AND THEN I STILL PUT IT WITH MY OTHER SUCCULENTS.  Yes, I know.  I deserved what happened next. 

This very little plant belongs to an interesting group of Asclepiadoideae called the Huernias.  Same family as the Stapelias and Duvaliandras, of which I am so fond.   Huernias tend to be short plants with thick, succulent, clumping stems with fleshy tubercles that look like spines.  Not sharp, and with no glochids to hurt you, feel free to cuddle with them as you see fit.  In going with their brothers and sisters, huernias have also evolved to attract flies for pollination, although with slightly smaller and less smelly blooms.  Interestingly, many have a very well developed central ring, or annulus, that has contributed to the common name, "lifesaver plant."


Note the tiny bud at right...
This cute little guy started off all fun new growth and promising little flower buds, but soon became the harbinger of doom and broken promises.  Within several weeks, I noticed my poor Stapelia scitula (see previous posts) which had previously been going gangbusters and constantly putting out new blooms seemed to surreptitiously go dormant.  A few tiny mealybabies started showing up on the Huernia, and all flower buds quickly shriveled.  Within days, the Stapelia was consumed within a swarm of soft, fluffy mounds of pediculosis

I have learned that one can do fairly well in eradicating mealybugs with Q-tips dipped in rubbing alcohol.  The alcohol seems to melt away their fluffy, powdery white encasements and shrivels the underlying bug.  You can almost hear the nasty little devils screaming their rage at being sent back to the hell that spawned them.  While immediately gratifying, this method is time consuming as you have to kill every bug and egg casing individually--and the little rascals are very adept at hiding.  Alternatively, Imidacloprid is a nice systemic mealy-killer (I use Bonide).  You just sprinkle it in the dirt, and every time you water, your juicy little succulent becomes a sponge for the toxic chemical, and the mealybugs don't know what hit 'em.  Fortunately, I have found that my succulents have all tolerated the imidacloprid without any apparent side effects.

Behold, Ye Holy hand grenade:

So, as of today, there are no more mealybugs readily visible anywhere, and after several weeks of dormancy the Stapelia scitula is growing and putting out flower buds again.   The future of the Huernia confusa is less certain, however.  For some reason, the buds keep blasting...(bud blast means that a flower bud dies before fully flowering).  I'm tempted to throw it out and look for a new one.  Maybe it only blooms later in the Summer, and has fake-out buds early on....hrrmmm.....stay tuned!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Cacti and succulents GALORE--not to mention some really cute desert critters...

Before heading out to Arid Lands Greenhouse, we made the long journey to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum early in the morning in an attempt to avoid the full heat of the desert sun.  To our surprise and relief, the museum provided sun-blocking umbrellas which, while outrageously dorky, were very useful at preventing the outrageously painful sunburn I was expecting. 

We found a rare crested Saguaro by the entrance to the outdoor museum, which was just starting to flower.  In fact, when we arrived in Tucson, all the Saguaros were covered in buds, which began blooming profusely during our stay.  There were hundreds of thousands of Saguaros EVERYWHERE!  From far away, they look like soft, stuffed animals you just want to hug!  Those arm like branches just seem to wave hello!  But up close, they are a prickly affair.  Not to fun to hug, I can tell you.  I think the older ones lose their lower spines to animals and wind and whatnot, but maintain them higher up. 

I also learned that Saguaros are high-rise bird condos.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Whoa, almost missed the sign!!!!  I can't tell you how much fun it was to have the opportunity to swing by Arid Lands Greenhouses.  It was even almost "on the way" between our two tourist spots of the day, the Sonoran Desert Museum (awesome) and Sabino Canyon (awesome, too).  How can you say no to a mere 30 minute detour?  I mean, how often does one go to Tuscon?? 

Arid Lands (at least what I saw of it) consists of three long, connected, cylindrical greenhouses slightly off of the main road.  We missed it the first time and caught it on the U-turn.  I was frantically hoping that U-turns were legal in the state of Arizona, because goodness knows I did NOT have my papers (insert WWII German accent) on me at the time.  The first two buildings consisted of seedlings, young plants, mature small plants, and some large adeniums in flower. 

Huge, beautiful, flowering Astrophytum myriostigma (Bishop's cap).  I want one so badly!!!  Mine is currently a baby, and it sure isn't growing as quickly as I'd like it too.  Maybe it needs a new pot.  My Bishop's cap is currently in a West-facing window at work.  This little guy looked like he needed as much sun as he could get.

Aww, isn't she cute???  If only she would grow LAAAAARGER.  Grow!  Do it now!  The astrophytum is currently living next to Chicken Little, the hysterical Adenium arabicum seedling.  Who, by the way, went completely bald after his crazy 80's bender and is now regrowing new leaves.  How embarrassing, see below:

"I'm not dead yet!" - Chicken Little

Back to Arid Lands...

I was greeted by a very pleasant woman, whose name I can't remember but gave us a fantastic recommendation for a nearby Mexican restaurant for lunch, and was given the quick tour and then left to my own devices and enjoyment of the myriad of cacti and succulents.  I mentioned I had met Bob Webb when he was visiting Gethsemane Gardens in Chicago, and she told me that Dr. Webb apparently had a great time in Chi-town, and gave everyone a fantastic review.  Aww, aren't Chicagoans the best?  He was away in some hot and sunny remote place doing what he does best while we were visiting (too bad, I wanted to let him know that my Duvaliandra dioscoridis ended up blooming spectacularly and thank him for the recommendation). 

My attempt at a panorama of the greenhouse building 1.

Some adeniums (NOIDS), they were labeled, but I didn't look.  Whatevs, they were pretty.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Sunny, sandy, and cactus-y!  Current immigration politics aside, Tuscon is a mecca for those interested in C + S, and I was finally able to visit and see some incredible plants.  We stayed at the new, beautiful, and running-ridiculously-cheap-specials-on-room-rates Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain Resort Hotel (before you judge, we booked the flights and rooms before the AZ legislation debacle became national news). 

I was prompted by Bobb Webb's recent guest lectureship at Chicago's Gethsemane Gardens (see earlier posts) to pay my own visit to the man's famous Tuscon greenhouse, Arid Lands.  I may have dragged an unsuspecting participant ("It will only take a minute, I promise") through three large silos of beautiful succulent plants in the 100-degree Sonoran desert heat in the process, but at least it was a dry heat.  :-)

Soooo many beautiful pictures to come.  Stay tuned for my next post, once I have made sense of the close to 300 pics I took of Arid Lands, the Sonoran Desert Museum, Sabino Canyon, and Saguaro National Park! 

As for the window garden, the Streptocarpus are exploding with blooms and probably are deserving a post of their own (I've put it off too long).  A mealy bug infestation has been rearing its nasty and multitudinous head.  I suspect the introduction of my beautiful and thriving Huernia confusa brought in the vicious sap-suckers.  I've been religiously incinerating them with rubbing alcohol and am starting to add Imidaclopromid to the soil. 

So much to blog about!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A stink in time...

The Duvaliandra dioscoridis started opening while we were running around setting up for a champagne "celebrate spring" party.  Oooh, fancy.  I have to admit I was a little worried that people would walk over and try to smell it.  Of course, I did, and....ugh!  Not dirty socks like the Stapelia scitula, this little stinker smells like straight-up poo!  Fortunately, you have to be right up to it to appreciate the aroma.  I smell a prank coming on later tonight....(heehee)
Slowly, but surely, the leaves opened up over the next several hours.   I think it's a pretty nice accomplishment, and I am feeling rather satisfied with my superior indoor gardening abilities.  I really hope I can bloom it again....even better yet, bloom all of these random Stapeliads I've got growing right now.  Maybe I don't have superior indoor gardening abilities, but plants have an incredible adaptive capacity to grow despite being confronted with less-than-ideal circumstances.  Supposedly, these plants grow in the shade of larger plants and stones in the wild, and this was my reasoning behind selecting them for my northern window succulent garden.  Despite accusations to the contrary, I really don't like killing off succulents, but they are so interesting it is impossible not to at least try to grow them.

Here are some more photos of the flower once it completely opened:

Note that an arm is starting to branch out from the main stem!  Cool!

Monday, May 10, 2010


"Must be blood."
"Two-ey, that's gross!"
"Must be fresh."
"I don't wanna hear this."
"Feed me, Seymour, feed me all night looong!"

The Little Shop of Horrors is here at last!  The Duvaliandra bud is beginning to open!  It has been almost a month since the bud formed, and now the flower is going to be bigger than the branch!   Whoa! 

The petals are opening up like a mouth, and I can't help but think of Audrey II from the Little Shop of Horrors.  If it starts singing, I won't fall for its empty promises.  I stayed awake through the second act of that Broadway play.  Don't feed the plants!
Poor Audrey.

Stay tuned for more pics!  I know you wish you were here for the blooming of this rare and endangered succulent plant, but I promise plenty of photos.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Chicken Little and More Uplifting News...

AACH!  Adenium shock!  Plants Are The Strangest People (blog see link below) opined in a 2008 Wizard of Oz plant analogy thread that the plant best representing the Cowardly Lion is the Adenium obesum.  The reason for this dubious designation is the annoying habit adeniums have of dropping leaves for apparently any reason: a mighty wind...a change in position......a dirty look.  In my case, repotting as well.  I hope this is just shock and not something more sinister like caudex or root rot.  Gross.  Did you know that some of the fungi that rot out your plants can actually kill you?  It's true, although you won't get infected unless your immune system gives out.  So treat yourself right or your roots could rot.

"The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!  No, wait!  That's just my yellow leaves falling to the ground." --Adenium "Chicken little" arabicum seedling

It would look like a sweet 80's-retro, Cyndi Lauper-inspired variegated Mohawk, if this was what was supposed to happen.    Here's hoping for a speedy recovery, Chicken little, and strong new growth over the upcoming growing season. 

In other news...

The Duvaliandra dioscoridis bud is blowing-up faster than last season's "Biggest Loser" contestants.  How big will it get before blooming?  Stay tuned.  It's easily double in size from the last post.  The tips of the petals are becoming slightly salmon colored. 

All is not lost in northern exposure! The unbearable anticipation continues!!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Random Gesneriads (Part 1)

The African violets and Streptocarpus plants have launched into full bloom! Compared to a northern exposure succulent garden, these guys almost grow themselves.  All I do is keep them from drying out and give some dilute Schultz liquid fertilizer a few times a month.  The African violets just EXPLODE every month or so and then bloom for about 2 to 3 weeks.  The two I have here are both from Jewel (the local grocery store).  One has a purple and white flower with fuzzy light green leaves, and the other is a double-petaled, ruffled, wine-colored flower with slightly darker leaves.  The purple/white plant tends to be a stronger bloomer, but the ruffles on the other plant make it fun to keep around.  I like 'em a little on the trashy side.  Dirty, flirty violet.

African violets, Saintpaulia, are in the Gesneriaceae family (Gesneriads), which include the related and also popular Streptocarpus group of plants--more on them later.  Because of the ease of growing African violets and the frequent nature of their bloom cycle, they became popular house plants many years ago.  Your grandmother grows them, I promise.  Violets get a bum rap from folks who buy a blooming plant at the grocery store and then toss it out when they have trouble getting the plant to bloom again.  The most common reasons I have observed in office gardeners who have this trouble are too little light (as in an office cubicle) and lack of fertilizer (as in never).  Fertilizer makes the difference.  Would you flower if someone stuck you in a dark hole and didn't feed you?  Thought not. 

I have the most luck with using half-strength liquid fertilizer every other watering.  Light isn't too tricky for me, either.  They need bright indirect light, which would be either a big North window (like mine), or an East window with strong morning light.  South and West windows may be too bright, unless there is a filter of some kind.  These babies burn!  The result is very unattractive.  I envy people who complain to me that their windows are too bright for African violets.  Really??  Your cup could runeth over with blooming succulents and you are trying to fry violets?  They are sweet little plants, but they can bring a top-notch A game when they feel like it.  Not to be underestimated, they remind me of Betty White.

Watering is also straight forward.  There's no guess work like with succulents:  just stick your finger in the soil and give it a feel!  If it feels damp and some dirt sticks to your finger don't water, but if the soil feels dry and springy give it a drink.  If the idea of sticking your finger in the dirt grosses you out, get over it.  Really saturate the potting medium when you water.  As for the potting substrate, I just use a basic store-bought African violet mix, though you have to be careful to repot every  six months to a year--sometimes the mix dries up and won't take up water like you want.  This has to do with artificial humectants added to the soil that help with water retention.   Apparently they expire...who knew?  Two things to remember:  1) Drainage hole(s) at the bottom of the pot, 2) Don't get water on the leaves or they will permanently spot, which is, again, not pretty. 

I recommend cheap plastic pots for African violets because plastic tends to keep the soil moist longer (great for violets, terrible for most succulents).  For the so inclined, you can just stick the plastic pot into a prettier container.  Violets like to be pot bound to bloom at their best, so generally you will never have the need for a pot larger than 4", as the outer most ring of leaves naturally die off to make room for new growth at the crown.  Miniature cultivars stay even smaller.

For more info, check out the African Violet Society of America

Spring Growth Update

Duvaliandra dioscoridis.  So, this is in the same group of plants as the Stapelia plants, and I haven't found too much information on it.  I will walk you through all that I know.

Sub-family:  Asclepiadaceae
Genus: Duvaliandra
Species: dioscoridis

Duvaliandra is a monotypic genus consisting of this one species.

D. dioscoridis is endemic to the small Island of Socotra, the largest of an archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean, just east of the horn of Africa.  It is part of the Republic of Yemen.  Socotra is so remote that many of the plants on the island are unique to this location, and cannot be found elsewhere in the world.  UNESCO declared Socotra a world heritage site, due to the extraordinary biodiversity.  A rare succulent, indeed.

This plant is of the Arid Lands crop that Gethsemane has been selling for the past month.  Bob Webb recommended it to me, so of course I picked it up.  The specimen I picked had two tiny buds on its branching arm, and fortunately, one has been progressing nicely, and hopefully will bloom soon!

You can see the distal bud is starting to take off, but the proximal bud isn't doing too much.  Probably gone already.
Looks like the flower will have five petals...
How about that?  I bet it will open soon. The bud is slower to develop that my Stapelia scitula, which blooms all the time.  Maybe this means the flower will last longer than a week?  Oh, the unbearable anticipation!  I'll post a photo of the flower once it is already bigger than this photo this morning!

Lil' Fatty!

Hello, Adenium!!!

Aren't you the cutest little bonsai'd succulent? 

Aren't you???

If you are asking if this was an impulse purchase from Gethsemane Garden Center last week, the answer is yes.  This little guy was labeled Adenium arabicum seedling and I think was another one of the Arid Lands bounty they have had for a while (its almost gone, so move fast if you still want any).  I'm just going off of the label, I'm not sure how you would be able to distinguish an adenium obesum seedling from an adenium arabicum, but apparently as i read more about it, there is something of a discrepancy going on regarding the nomenclature.  The plant that the lay person such as myself thinks of as adenium arabicum has a very fat caudex with multiple upward reaching branches, with the squat, wide caudex being the main difference separating it from adenium obesum.  So, of course, this is not correct by any means.  Some people think that the arabicum should be correctly labeled as obesum, and that obesum should be labeled something new.  Others feel they are just variants of the same species.  How many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop?  The world may never know...

So here's the deal with my seedling.  I immediately repotted it from the soggy soil mix it was planted in, gave it a very rocky, sandy, fast draining soil, and stuck it in a pretty little bonsai planter.  I realize if everything goes according to plan, it should outgrow this pot pretty quickly, but there in no guarantee I won't kill it this summer.  Since the adenium are notoriously rot prone, I will probably be taking this little guy straight to work, where it will get direct afternoon sun.  Less chance for rot, and I doubt it would do that well in my north-facing apartment.  Permanent dormancy.  That would be my prediction, anyway.  Suffering the slowest death in the state of Illinois.

What are THESE???
I think they may be new branches, but maybe they are just new leaves...they look like little pink tulips growing out of the seedling's trunk.  Only time will tell...hopefully they just won't involute like the buds on the new Huernia confusa I got in the mail last week...

Let's hope for the best!