Showing posts from January, 2012
Blight, Plague, Disaster, and other Maladies of Monoculture

Some months ago I saw an interesting public-television program called "'The Botany of Desire", which was less salacious than the name suggested. It was based on a very popular book of why we have had affinities for some notable plants such as Tulips and potatoes. What caught my attention was the amount of detail given to the visually unremarkable modern potato, the vast majority of which is grown for the fast food market, primarily McDonalds' restaurant outlets. The problem is that just 1 variety is grown, the Burbank Russet variety, to the exclusion of virtually any other variety, since its long shape is perfect for making french fries that are long enough to stick up out of the serving container. Why would well-trained potato agronomists plant all of their farms with just one variety of a plant ? The answer is "money", since that plant type is what will sell or what is demanded. Why would such …
The Remarkable Tillandsias

Having grown bromeliads for more than 20 years, I am constantly amazed at how diverse the family is. One of the more durable groups is the genus Tillandsia, often called ( wrongly) "air plants". I have grown to appreciate their durability and colorful flowers, which often last a very long time. There are hundreds of species, from petite tufted species under an inch tall to 7 foot-diameter giants that weigh hundreds of pounds. The natural habitat for this genus is quite diverse, with climates ranging from cool, high-mountain aeries to the most brutal of desert climates, but all species are New World. I see so many instances of the smaller species glued to a seashell or piece of driftwood, sometimes with a magnet attached, and sold at retail stores as plants which need no care, thriving only on air. Let me clarify the culture of these remarkable plants. 

 Most of the species likely to be found in the retail trade are the so-called "hard …
The Giant Leopard Orchid

The genus Grammatophyllum is fairly small, with at most a dozen species, most of which are solid, sturdy plants of a few dozen pounds. A few of them, however, are giants which can weigh hundreds of pounds. The smaller species have pseudobulbs the size of avocados, bearing 3 foot leaves, with flower spikes up to 4 feet long showing off 70-100 spotted flowers 3 inches across or more. Large plants of this section of species can be 6 feet across. The larger species, such as G. speciosum and G. wallisii, have cylindrical, cane-like pseudobulbs up to 7 feet tall, with 6 foot leaves. The plants can have flower spikes 8 feet long, bearing hundreds of heavy-texture, spotted flowers. Individual plants can span 25 feet, sometimes more, and weigh up to 1000 pounds. 




   Growers often say that their plant is as big as a small car, leading me to quip that perhaps they own a VolksOrchid. In all instances, though, these are big pla…
Oil Palms--A Case of Two Identities

 In our amenable climate in Miami, we can grow many thousands of different plants. Even when speaking about plants using their specific Latin binomial names, plants can be confusing and difficult to keep separate. The use of common names in plant naming is even more confusing, and can lead to some cases where plant choices can be badly mixed up. Such is the case with Oil Palms, which can have twice-confusing names. There are the tall, slender and regal American Oil Palms, and the shorter, broader, African Oil Palms. The American group grows rather slowly, whereas the African group can grow with surprising speed, becoming a weed in some climates. I say that these groups have twice-confusing names because there are members of the African Oil palm group which are native to the Americas, leading them to have a common name of American Oil Palm ! We then have a problem of 2 radically different genera, from largely disparate continents, with the same co…
Is it Really Possible to Stop Plants from Growing ?    

The answer is "not really". It is possible to slow down plant growth in the case of many ornamental plants, but to completely stop plant growth is almost impossible. We hear a lot about the term "growth regulators", without which many millions of commercial plants would grow too tall and too rank to be worth selling. Millions of annual plants, Poinsettias, Chrysanthemums , and even flowering hedges are routinely treated with growth regulators to "slow down" their growth to make the plants fuller and denser.

Many Hibiscus sold in retail markets are treated this way, and the results are amazing; the plants are full and compact, with a gorgeous deep malachite-green color, and lots of flowers on a small plant. If you look closely at the stems, however, you would notice that the leaves are almost stacked on top of each other, with a very short internode space between leaves. When the growth regulation ch…