Monday, January 30, 2012

Plant O Rama

For those of you who are interested in plant related events...

Check out Plant O Rama at Brooklyn Botanic Garden on Tuesday January 31 8-4PM.

I'll be hanging around all day.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Not Quite Gardening....

So my dear friend Alex got me a mushroom kit for Christmas/birthday/new years/ roommate situation...

The kit is downright awesome. It's not producing anything anywhere as quickly as it states on the box, but considering my apartment is a million degrees and its still technically the dead of winter, I'm all sorts of impressed.

It even came with a cute little spray bottle.

 And today I noticed...


 And.. a second mini mushroom.

They're growing in coffee grounds so.. they are all sorts of discolored.

Either way, this kit is pretty fun and low maintenance. I just spray it twice a day and that's about it. I've been hoping to grow mushrooms ever since my Vegetable Production class had a field trip on it. Eventually there will be some sweet stir-fries out of this.

If you think mushrooms are super awesome and want to learn more, check out the New York Mycological Society as they have mushroom ID trips all the time.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Deal Behind Evergreens

Alas, a challenger approaches!

My employers wished that I incorporate more sciencey articles into our written material. After staring at our bare garden framework for a bit, this was about the best I could come up with. (Please leave the evolutionary time scale out of this. I'm aware that conifers come first.)

Evergreen plants have been revered in temperate zones throughout history as symbols of hope, strength and everlasting life. It’s no surprise that these persistent plants play such an important part in various cultures. This winter the park was decorated with a large evergreen tree, garland, and boughs and while I'll admit that I humbugged through all of it, the park did look rather nice. I still can't support the concept of a Christmas tree, but that's just me. Needless to say, these cultural decorations hold different meanings for everyone, but no one can deny the agelessness of an evergreen plant, nor can they deny them as a symbol that spring will bring green yet again.

In temperate climates, broad leaves are both a blessing and a curse for plants. The high surface area found on broad leaf plants allow greater room for photosynthesis, and detrimentally, a greater area for desiccation during periods of freezing and drought. Those of you who checked out New York Botanic Garden after last year’s freak October snow storm will agree that trees can have structural difficulties in supporting snow weight along with a full limb of leaves. These two reasons have caused many broad leaf plants in our climate to lose their leaves in the fall and resprout them in the spring when growing conditions are favorable.

Despite the cold weather limitations to having leaves, not all plants have decided to go bare for the winter. Evergreen plants have evolved and even produced several advantages over their deciduous relatives. Producing an entirely new set of leaves is very energy consuming. Energy stored from the previous growing season needs to be accessed while water and nutrients need to be readily available. Leafing out can be a lengthy process for plants in short growing seasons. Evergreen plants can catch the worm by photosynthesizing as soon as the ground thaws.

Evergreen plants are also well adapted to low nutrient levels because of their leaf retention. Mountain laurels, Rhododendrons and Pines can be found thriving in highly acidic soils in the northeast. Soil acidity can negatively affect plant nutrient availability, making these soils ideal for evergreen vegetation. Evergreen leaf litter has a higher carbon-nitrogen ratio than deciduous leaf litter and it tends to acidify the soil over time, making survival more difficult for deciduous plants in the same area. Places like the New Jersey Pine Barrens are prime examples of this phenomenon.

Some evergreen plants have evolved to produce needle like leaves. These leaves have strong advantages over broad leaf plants in cold environments because narrow shape of the leaves limits transpiration and they have low sap levels which help prevent damage during freezing temperatures. Leaves on evergreen plants are often waxy. This coating protects the plant from desiccating when temperatures are freezing or water is scarce.

The conical shape of pines and hollies helps the plants against snow weight. Snow is more likely to slide off branches rather than build up and break under the weight of snow and ice. The shape is also beneficial during photosynthesis. Leaves and branches at the top of the plant are the newest and are the most productive at producing energy. As the tree grows, less sunlight reaches the needles on the lower parts of the tree. The tree sheds these branches as they become unproductive.

Evergreen plants do replace their leaves gradually throughout the year. Some evergreens retain their leaves for only a few months while others like the Bristlecone Pine, wait up to thirty years before replacing their needles. Needless to say, evergreen tendencies are not only limited to woody plans. Herbaceous plants may retain their leaves to protect their crowns from extreme winter conditions.
So next time you take a look at a holly or pine, be reminded of that crazy old relative who’s not only been through everything, but also knows how to make lemons into lemonade.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lost and Found: Euphorbia milii

Sheesh, two weeks vacation from work has totally destroyed any pretense of motivation. Despite what people may think, there are plenty of plant related things to post about during the winter. Too bad its a bit colder out, and the sun isn't around as much and I just feel so much lazier about posting. I suppose I should give myself some credit and say that I haven't been completely lazy. I have been working on learning to write in Russian lately (which is time consuming) and I've been kicking up the fire spinning practice since I had to slack on that with all of the Christmas parties in December.

But at least some of my plants are working overtime this winter. My co worker found 3 of these lovely Euphorbia milii in the park last fall. I took one, our assistant gardener took one, and the third was given to a kid on a bike who seemed to be very pleased to have some spiky thing to show his mother.

They were crazy overgrown. I really can't imagine how someone went without pruning these for so long. I had to zip tie the plant together just to get it to fit in the subway door on my way home. Needless to say, no one really wanted to sit next to me on my way to Bay ridge.

I can't really imagine where someone must have kept these. They were all in hanging baskets so I have to assume someone had some large bright NYC windows, something I'll never have. The plants were also covered in mealy bugs. I can only suspect that someone was moving or noticed that the plants had bugs for the first time and just freaked out.

I spot treated affected areas with alcohol and doused the entire plant with insecticidal soap. I don't need a plant this large contaminating my entire collection. It lost a lot of leaves after the ride home and I cut off most of the bracts (larvae like to hide in new growth). 3 weeks later, the thing was in full bloom like nothing ever happened.


The bracts on this plant are pretty interesting. There are different stages of coloring. The bracts start yellow, mature to pink with a yellow stripe, and then continue to full pink before shriveling up. 
Good find. ;)


I guess I should back track when I say bracts. The petal parts of what you would assume are the flowers of this succulent are actually modified leaves called bracts. The true flowers are small and are in the center of the bracts. Euphorbia milii is commonly referred to as Crown of Thorns. One look at the spines on this thing and you'll know this plant was well named. Leaves are mostly found on new growth and the plant is well known for exhibiting apical dominance. Anyone growing crown of thorns should cut back the main leader from time to time to keep the plant full and bushy. This is best done in late spring. 

When cutting back euphorbias, be aware that they are spiny and that their sap produces latex. If you have latex allergies, wear gloves.  Run any cuts on euphorbias under water to cause them to clot quicker. This will make cleaning up your plant that much easier. Everyone has told me that cuttings root well in 6 weeks. I haven't tried them yet. 

(Note the zip ties.)

I've been pleased with this plant so far but its going to take me quite awhile to get it to produce a reasonable shape. I've read that you should cut back a third of the plant or less every time.. so I don't expect this to be a one year pruning fix. Meh, maybe I'll just try to braid the thing into some weird form. I just have to find impenetrable gloves first.