Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

The poinsettia is commonly seen around Christmas when it is used to decorate homes and business. Their popularity means that the plants often sell for quite a high price, and although it comes in cream and pink, the red variety remains the most sought after around the festive season. I spotted this beautiful specimen (one of the most vivid reds I've ever seen) on a large shrub near work. It is a delight to walkk past and admire:

What we commonly refer to as 'flowers' are in fact 'bracts' (colored leaves if you will) which actually surround the rather insignificant yellow flowers within:

It is interesting to note that reduced day light induces the poinsettia into bloom. So of course in the northern hemisphere, as Christmas approaches, days get shorter and the poinsettia blooms (I have heard that to induce flowering out of season that you put it in a cupboard after 4-5 hours of light a day for 2 months. Remember, things such as street or car lights will affect its ability to bloom). Yet here in the southern hemisphere, days shorten about now, and the plant is in bloom during June and July.

The poinsettia is reputed to be very easily propagated, and the process is similar to that of propagating frangipanis (dry the cutting for a few days before planting in well-drained soil in the warmer months). The plant exudes a sticky yellow sap when broken (as with most euphorbias) so care is needed when handling it.

It is believed that the plant's association with Christmas started in the 16th century when a young peasant girl in it's native Mexico, too poor to afford any gifts, picked some blooms and placed them at an altar to commemorate the birth of Christ. Taken by the plant's beauty the nuns then started to do the same - and a custom was created.

 More locally, the poinsettia was chosen as the floral emblem of Brisbane when the city was formally formed in 1925. A subtropical climate, the plant thrives there. Here in Sydney the plant also does exceptionally well, but again is usually only seen in older inner city areas - it can't handle the more extreme temperatures of the Western suburbs.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Crucifix Orchids (Epidendrum ibaguense)

These beautiful orchids are known by a couple of descriptive and imaginative common names. One is the 'Crucifix  Orchid', named as such by the Catholic missionaries when they discovered in in South America. Another is the ""Ballerina Orchid" because the individual flowers resemble dancers in tutus (if only in shape, at least):

Personally I've always thought the flowers more closely resembled goldfish with their gaping mouths and protruding fins. The shape of the flowers really is amazing.

I've always marveled at these plants. They bloom year round, are very pretty and thrive on neglect. They seem to do well when pot bound, or growing on an exposed rocky cliff, with multiple flowers on the one stalk all year round.

Native to South America, they like a warm frost-free climate and plenty of sun. They thrive in a loose, open soil (like most orchids) and can be propagated by simply planting the little plantlets which develop on the stalks of the parent plant. They tend to be common in older suburbs, especially close to the coast. In fact the only place you can't find them is in the nurseries - a shame really as they are so hardy and easy to grow. Actually it is for this reason that many orchid societies tend to recommend them to those with brown thumbs or newbie orchid fanciers.

The below photo shows them growing in a garden in Brisbane featured on the cover of Gardening in Warm Climates by Desmond Herbert (1898 - 1976) and photographed by Frank Hurley (1885- 1962 and published in 1952 - a demonstration of their popularity in times gone by.

And here are some growing in a local garden:

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Good roots & scavengers

Lately, I have been paralyzed by indecision in the garden. I get in there with a series of intended tasks but before long I stall. The problem is really quite simple - I have too many plants.

 I have no room for this running bamboo. Having had it since I was a child, however, I can't part with it

The problem has various causes. Firstly, I inherited someone else's plants when we moved in here - many of which where nice but had outgrown their allotted space or didn't fit in with my intended landscaping. As I've always believed throwing away plants was something sacrilegious, I held on to them until I could rehouse them. In addition, the climate in this part of Sydney is milder than that of where I used to garden, so plants grow much faster and bigger here. Add to this sick plants given to me by friends and family and combine it with a garden 4 . 2m wide and you get the picture - chaos!

Consequentially, too many plants mean too much time wasted shifting them around. I spend more and more time thinking about how to get rid of plants rather than enjoying the garden. So  a few months ago I had a 'lightbulb moment'  -  I collected a few, placed them on the curb and stuck a sign that said "Free Plants". The idea worked well - by nightfall most had disappeared.

Now to give a bit of context, whatever I've put on the curb - old boxes, broken crates, cracked pots, half-decayed planks of wood unearthed while digging - generally disappear in hours. To prove the point, when my partner showed me one of our ceramic baking trays was cracked and useless, I put it on the curb - you guessed it -like clockwork it had gone by the next morning. In fact, the only time I can't get rid of rubbish is when I call the Council to collect it  (they never do). Luckily the Garbage Fairy never fails to take whatever is out there.

                                       Broken and useless, someone took it home

Having felt content with my 'good deed' of recycling plants, you can imagine my disappointment when, a few days ago, someone returned the plants all dying and sad !:

A lime tree, toparised fig and some other unidentifiable plant, taken green and healthy, have been returned dead and broken.

Oh well. I did try :) 
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