Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Weather



Merriam-Webster
1 : the state of the atmosphere with respect to heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storm, clearness or cloudiness
2 : disagreeable atmospheric conditions: such as
a : rain, storm
b : cold air with dampness 
     (hellloooo – you forgot one – hot air with dampness)

Yeah, ok.  We have that here.  However, of all the places I’ve lived (and I know that’s not so many), the weather here is, has been (as long as I’ve been), and (I’m sure) will continue to be just a little odd, undependable, frustrating and frequently, down-right annoying.  For instance, when the first day of Fall arrives, we do NOT put away shorts and tee’s, we do NOT bring out sweaters and jeans, or, the good gods forbid, we do NOT turn off the AC.



The first day of fall this year was September 22.  Today is October 16.  The past three weeks (with the exception of maybe two days of cool mornings morphing into hot afternoons), we’ve been having Summer.  Indian Summer – sure, whatever you want to call it but Summer nonetheless.  Again, for instance, this past Sunday, October 15, the temperature was 90° with 80% humidity. 

Summertime and the livin’ is easy ….

Monday morning, I walked outside at 6am into the hot wet blanket of weather (the one Merriam-Webster forgot – hot air with dampness).  Ick.  75°; 80% humidity.  Mosquitoes hovering waiting for breakfast.  I came back inside.

Then the wind started blowing – knocked over all my potted plants, knocked branches out of the pecan trees, rattled all my many wind chimes – and when I looked at the thermometer at 7am, the temperature was 57°.  Odd as that sounds, it’s pretty normal; temperature dropping 20 or more degrees in an hour or less.

So, now we are having Fall!  Yea!  Hopefully it is going to stay Fall and we will not backslide to Summer again.  And, about Fall here on the Texas Gulf Plains.  Wouldn’t we all just love to look out the back window to this …..

Actually, this is at my son’s house in VA

Of course, that’s not the case.  We look out to this …..

I know, looks like summer BUT there are a few leaves in the grass!


Okay, okay, it could be worse.  We could be looking out to this …….

This was the year we lived in CO

I don’t try second-guessing the weather.  So, right now, as of today, my closet thinks I have a lot of clothes but really Summer and Winter are hanging side-by-side.  Capris next to jeans, tank tops next to long sleeves.  Today it’s very overcast and chilly so, long sleeves are the choice but by the weekend things will change and we’ll be back to tee’s. 

Take care



Monday, October 15, 2018

Empresses and Emperors … Ringworm and Candles



Remember I said recently that now is the time for me to decided if potted plants are coming inside for the winter or be plopped into the ground with the loving words
“Grow Dammit or I’ll throw you in the trash!”.


This plant, Empress Candle Plant, is now in the ground.  And, it is planted with some trepidation since, while showy in the late summer and fall with beautiful upright yellow blooms, it can also be a bit invasive. 

Generally, I have a rule about invasive plants – NO!  There was a time in my life when I planted things knowing they might be a tiny bit invasive but thinking “I can control this-(fill-in-the-blank)   just how hard can it be   no big deal!”.  I have since learned 1. I cannot control this and 2. It can be alarmingly hard and 3. It is a really big deal.  That said – I like this plant so I’ll just have to try to cut off any seed pods or pull up any sneaky new plants. 


Anyway …..

Empress Candle Plant (Senna alata), also known as Emperor's Candlesticks, Candle Bush, Candelabra Bush, Christmas Candles, Ringworm Shrub, or Candletree (whew), is a longtime favorite perennial of Gulf Plains gardeners.  It can be a small tree or a big shrub depending on where it’s located and how it’s pruned.  Right this minute, I’m planning on mine being a medium sized shrub because they can grow to as much as 15 feet tall.  I’m pretty sure I’ll never get the seed pods removed on something that big!



It is cold sensitive and if you live in Austin and north, you probably want to keep it in a container.  In the warmer parts of Texas such as the Gulf Coast and south, the Empress (it has so many names, I’m going with what I call mine) will grow well.  Plan to trim it back after flowering so it doesn’t get out of control.  It could freeze to the ground here if we have a spat of prolonged cold (like several days) but it should come back from the root.  Longer cold than that and it’s probably done.

A native to Mexico, Central and parts of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, the Empress attracts pollinators and is larval food for the sulphur butterfly.



While it is attractive with lush growth and yellow flowers that bloom from late summer to late fall, there are those that say it’s actually a noxious, self-seeding weed.  Probably you want to keep that in mind where you plant one - in your flower beds ok; in a pasture - probably no.

Growing the Empress from seed is easy.  Soak seeds overnight.  Plant directly in the soil after chances of frost have passed or start in small peat pots indoors.  This is one of those plants you will want to plan before you plant.  Since they can get so big, you probably want to make sure there is plenty of grow space.  The Empress needs little care, grows well in any soil (sandy, loamy and clay), prefers a well-drained area, loves our full sun, is somewhat drought tolerant but happier with a little regular watering.

Now, here we go – Did You Know?  This plant is often called the ringworm bush because of its very effective anti-fungicidal properties.  It has been used for treating ringworm and other fungal infections of the skin.  Grind the leaves until they look a bit like "green cotton wool".  Then, mix with an equal amount of vegetable oil and apply to the affected area two or three times a day. 

I feel confident about planting (and controlling) the Empress because I already have a close cousin planted – Wooly Senna.  It normally is covered with small yellow flowers this time of the year but suffered greatly from our weather last year (drought to flood to snow).  Still, it’s slowing coming back and we’ll see what happens this winter.  (Yes, it makes a bazillion seed pods.  Yes, sometimes new plants come up.  Yes, I keep them weeded out.)



Cool plants!  Fall color!  Easy care!  Works for me.



Take care



Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Adventuring – wildflowers and OTHER PLACES



In addition to looking at wildflowers and cotton, we did some other adventuring.

I like to walk through old cemeteries.  It’s interesting to see what the living do for the dead.  It’s kind of like walking through a database of the families, traditions, and influences of a community.

When living in Galveston, I walked through the old city cemetery (also known as Old Potter’s Field or Yellow Fever Yard) occasionally.  There are elaborate mausoleums and simple cement boxes, some at ground level, some just below.  I think one of the saddest ones I saw was a plain cement box with “Died of the Yellow Fever    1867” engraved on the top.  Sad to die when no one even knows your name.

Another time, while wandering around a wooded area in Alabama, we came across what probably had been a small family graveyard.  The house was no longer standing but there were six grave stones standing in amongst the brush and trees.  Now, I have to admit, it’s been many years since I’ve seen this site and the actual names on the stones are a fuzzy memory except for one.  So, the tallest marker had just a name – “John Smith”.  The four to the right each said “Mary, daughter of John Smith; William, son of John Smith; etc.  The one to the left (and this is what I will never forget) “Wife of John Smith”.  No name.  Really????  Made me wonder though - did they all die of illness?  or violence?  or something else? 

The other day while adventuring through wildflowers, we also walked through two small cemeteries. 

The graves of young children hurt my heart.



Some were very elaborate



Some, not as much



Some had “gifts” left to mark a visit.



I don’t know exactly what these are – mini mausoleums?  Maybe, but there were no names or dates on any of the three. 



OK – here’s a Did you Know? thing.

There’s a small town just east and south of us called Damon, TX.  It sits atop a salt dome (petroleum, sulphur, and limestone exploration).  Damon Mound is 144 feet above sea level and for us Gulf Coast flatlanders, that’s a good-sized mountain – well, at least a really big hill.



The city of Damon was settled by Samuel Damon.  He left the frozen northlands of Massachusetts in 1831 to settle in Texas.  When he arrived, the Mexican officials turned him back, as they were not allowing any more Americans to enter.  Damon swam ashore and made his way inland and eventually found shelter with one of Stephen F. Austin’s colonists.  Ultimately, he built his own home and later received permission from Mexico to operate a freight line.  In the fall of 1835 he was transporting military supplies to the Texas forces near San Antonio de Béxar.  Due to scarcity of ammunition among the Texans, Damon, along with others, stole the bells of Mission Concepcion (property of Mexico) to melt into bullets.  After delivering the supplies, he took part in the siege of Bexar and the battle at San Jacinto.  He died in 1882.  And, he’s buried in the Damon City Cemetery.



You see – you just never know what interesting bits of history you’ll find.

Take care


Thursday, October 4, 2018

Adventuring – Wildflowers (and other Places)



I got a text from a friend the other day asking me if I recognized a specific wildflower.  Bitterweed.  No, where is it?  Show me.  So, yesterday we went wildflower adventuring.  Mostly I think of wildflowers blooming during the spring and very early summer.  There are, however, some that start blooming in early fall.  We saw fields and fields of yellow flowers and stopped and took pictures along the way.


 Maximillian Sunflower
 
Maximilian sunflower is a perennial sunflower found from Manitoba to Texas.  They start blooming the first week of September and continue through early November.  It is a desirable range plant and is eaten by livestock. A heavy crop of seeds is produced, making it a valuable plant for wildlife. It was named for the naturalist Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, Germany, who led an expedition into the American West in the 1830s.


Purple Gerardia
This one I hadn’t seen before and it took some serious searching to discover a name.  An annual member of the Figwort family, it has beautiful purple-pink bell shaped flowers.  It’s a major food source for sulpher and buckeye butterflies.  At one time, the root was harvested for the treatment of hemorrhoids. 


Slender Headed Euthamia or perhaps Downy Goldenrod

And, it could be either.  According to my wildflower book, the two are almost indistinguishable from one another.  Both are upright slender perennials.  Both bloom September to November.  Both attract bees and will grow in any soil; any sun.  FYI:  Goldenrod, however, has been used to reduce pain and swelling, to stop muscle spasms, to treat gout, joint, eczema, tuberculosis, diabetes, enlargement of the liver, hemorrhoids, internal bleeding, hay fever, asthma, and an enlarged prostate. 


Woolly Croton
 
This is a range land, Texas native wildflower.  It produces seeds that are very valuable to dove, quail and other seed-eating birds.  You do not want to touch this plant as the tiny, dense hairs are easily shed when handled and can cause eye and skin irritation. And, other than that, it’s an invasive pest. 


Bitterweed
 
This is a native perennial found on the South Texas Plains.  The name Bitterweed is due to the bitter taste and bad odor caused by a resin like substance found on the plant.  It blooms June through October.  Also called Sneezeweed, the dried and powdered flowers were historically used as snuff.  Bees, wasps, butterflies, beetles, and other insects collect nectar and pollen from the flowers, but in the case of bees – honey produced tends to be bitter and unpalatable. 


Sedge
 
This is one of the largest family of plants with about 2000 different species.  Some good and desirable, some not so much.  And while they resemble grasses and rushes, they are not.  Some sedges are woven into mats and chair seats, and a few provide coarse hay. The pith of Cyperus papyrus was the source of the papyrus of ancient Egypt and other Mediterranean countries.  For the most part, this variety (Cyperus entrerianus, I think) is considered an invasive pest. 

Cotton
 
Now, I do realize this isn’t a wildflower but it is a growing thing and we saw a lot of cotton fields ready for harvest.  Texas ranks first in cotton production in the U.S.  It is the leading cash crop in the state, and is grown on 5 million acres.  Cotton is a member of the Mallow family – same as hibiscus, okra and hollyhocks.  Interesting.  So, I am a native Texas – have seen cotton growing from here to the panhandle all my life.  I know about the cotton gin and have a basic understanding of what ginning does.  I had not actually seen a working cotton gin and we stopped by one and watched for a few minutes.  Raw cotton goes in at one end and ginned cotton comes out in pallets at the other.





While we watched for a few minutes, a worker came over and gave me a handful of ginned cotton.  Soft.  Puffy.  Cool!

Take care



Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Rambling



Wow – it’s already October.  We’ve reached the point in the year that the months will fly by – at least that’s how it works for me.  I swear – Christmas is just a couple short weeks away!

September was a rainy month.  A friend of mine keeps track of such things and he says we had 9.08 inches of rain over 22 days.  Please note, this is just an observation, not a complaint.  This past summer was so very hot and dry the rain was much welcomed.  Of course, the bad thing about the rain is it awakened the


Mind Numbing Scourge 
Mosquitos.

Hundreds of millions of little freeloaders that zip onto unprotected skin and latch on before you realize they’re there.    
  


And, in addition to mosquitoes, here in my part of the universe, the rain has brought up the fire ants trying to dry out their underground tunnels and caves.  Walking through the back yard is dangerous.  I’ve taken to wearing my boots. 



Otherwise walking around the yard requires me to watch where every foot goes so I don’t walk into one of the mounds.  And, having done that in my life, I can tell you those annoying little (and all I can think of are really bad words here) THINGS will swarm your feet, legs, and other places before you’re even aware you’ve come in contact with them.  Plus, they work like ninja assassins – each one quietly gets a place and one-two-three, they all bite at the same time.



When the mounds appear in the yard, I have a simple solution.  I fill my largest container with water, set it to boil and then add a big squeeze of dish soap.  Then, I take it outside and dump it on the mound.



Of course, the thing about using this method is – the grass will die too.  This is not a problem for me (grass is much over rated in my opinion) but I expect Michael is having apoplexy somewhere in the ether net. 



I thought I’d go out early this morning and pick up branches and big sticks then start the odious process of mowing.  However, it was very foggy and humid out there this morning – drops of water were just hanging in the air along with sky-hanger spiders and the scourge.  Maybe later.



My sister gave me a bag of Ox Blood Lily bulbs the other day.  I did get them planted.  Then, I decided, I’d done enough outside because it is very humid and very, very, very, very warm (I can’t really say hot because it is only 80° but I assure you I’m thinking HOT) and I hadn't dressed correctly to discourage the scourge and, and, and.

Just sort of rambling in my thoughts today.

Take care.
Positive thoughts everyone!
It is October after all!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Euphorbia - large and diverse




I know I’ve said earlier that I’m already thinking about plants that will have to come in for the winter months vs those that will get plonked in the ground with the loving and encouraging words of

“Grow Damnit or I’ll throw you on the trash heap!”.

One of those I will be bringing in is Jatropha multifida.  I never remember the Latin names unless I write them on a plant label but it’s also called Coral Plant or Guatemala Rhubarb.  I’ve had several, all grown from seed. 

And, here’s just a little bitty tip about labeling plants  -  use the slats from mini-blinds.  Write with pencil (ink of all type fades after a time).  Sometimes I put the tag in the ground, sometimes tied on a branch of the plant.  Works.


So, in years long past, when I lived in Galveston and my sister was still in Houston, we would spend a day roaming around different junque (not really junk, not exactly antiques) shops, plant nurseries, and any other interesting place that caught our attention.  At some point we’d stop for lunch.  Now, once upon a time …. after roaming around the Heights for several hours, we stopped for lunch.  In front of the restaurant were two huge planters each with this really cool tree growing merrily along.  Trees that were covered with red blooms and seed pods.  Seed pods.  Hmmmmm.  Snap!  and I picked one off.  Dropped it into my pocket and we went inside for a delightful lunch.

Jatropha multifida is a small tropical tree that does well in bright shade or hot sun. Probably the most important word in that last sentence is – tropical.  It will freeze when temps drop below 40°.  The second important word is – tree.  It can get up to 10 feet tall easily (20 feet in its native home of Mexico and Central America).  Now, I have a personal rule about plants.  When they get 8 feet plus tall and are in a large container that takes me and the handcart to move, they get planted in the ground to live or not.  I’ve done this several times with different Coral Plants.  They do just great during spring, summer and fall and ok during a mild winter; might freeze to the ground and may come back from the root as long as we don’t have any really prolonged cold.  However, in general, the ones I’ve planted in the ground, freeze and are gone.  That said, I always keep seeds and start new plants. 



Coral Plant is a showy ornamental in the Euphorbia family. Like all members of that family, it oozes a milky latex sap.  It is a single-trunked small tree with deeply lobed leaves that look a little palm-ish.  Flowers come up from the main stalks as a cluster with tiny bright dark pink blooms.  Seed pods form within the blooming cluster.  By the way - all parts of Jatropha multifida (aka Coral Plant; Guatemala Rhubarb) are poisonous.  And, while there are various articles about “medicinal” uses of this plant, you don’t want to be eating any of this one or putting it on your skin for a prolonged time.  Best to enjoy it as a small eye-catching tree.





Mine all start in containers and stay in containers until they get too big.  Plant it in decent soil with good drainage.  It is somewhat drought tolerance once established but is happiest with regular watering.  As I said earlier, put it in full sun or bright shade (yes, even our hot full sun is ok).  I usually use a slow-release fertilizer in the spring and then mostly ignore it.  Growing from seed is pretty easy – I soak the seeds (they look a bit like navy beans) overnight then plant them in potting soil in little starter pots.  They live in my fish tank “greenhouse” until they germinate and grow a bit.  Then, they are transferred to a normal container and off they go. 

Pretty cool plant.  Something a little different. 

Take care

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Night Ladies



 Another plant I brought with me from Arizona is Night Blooming Cereus, a cactus native to Arizona and the Sonora Desert.  I mention this because it has started to bloom.  And, it is, by far, one of the most beautiful, fragrant flowers I have in my yard.  The biggest drawback is --- it only blooms at night (yeah – I’m sure your figured that out from the name), the blooms only open between 8pm and very dark-thirty, and then they wilt, drop-off and are done.  You really have to pay attention or you’ll miss the show.



There are a couple other names for this plant - Queen of the Night, Princess of the Night, Lady of the Night.  And, the name, Night Blooming Cereus is a somewhat generic name in that it includes several different genera with the same characteristic of blooming at night.  Mostly though, they all look very similar. 

I read that this particular cactus is grown as a houseplant – well, unless you live in AZ or TX (my part of TX, that is).  I’m not sure just how that would work or where it would fit indoors because this is a tall, twiggy, somewhat untidy plant.  The limbs can grow straight up or curve all over itself.  Plus, it could get to be as much as 10 feet in length.  I try to keep mine cut back to a manageable size because, although it lives outdoors from March to November, it does have to come inside during even our winter months.  In past lives, it has lived in a greenhouse but currently it winters over in the garage with a light and promises.  During the season, I grow mine in bright light – it gets the morning sun and is shaded during the hot afternoon.  Seems to do best for me that way.  Use a well-draining soil – I mix pea gravel in the soil and a little sand.  And, if you cut yours back – save the cut limbs.  Let them dry for a few days.  Dip them in root hormone and stick in a pot of dirt and, Eureka! you will have another cereus.  They root pretty easily.  The Cactus Guy tells me to fertilize them with a slow release fertilizer like Osmocote. 



According to those “in the know” the plants usually don’t start blooming until they’re 5 years old (I always think that’s a +/- thing).  The blooms on mine start forming in late September on the end of a limb.  One expert said they put on buds when the nights cool down some.  But others indicate they can bloom all summer.  So, take your pick just be aware, buds form and grow very quickly.  They open and close also very quickly.  And, if, if, if, the planets are all in alignment, the universe is smiling, all is well with the world (or at least at your house) when the flower is open at night, it can be pollinated, and then it can (maybe) produce a fruit --- Dragon fruit.  I’m not sure if all species will fruit or only a specific one (or three) but mine have never produced anything other than beautiful flowers.  Still, DRAGON Fruit – I have to work on this…….




FYI:  Pollinators for NB Cereus


 Sphinx moths resemble hummingbirds because of their body size and the way they feed. These moths act as pollinators for night blooming cereus and other types of succulents and cactuses. The moths are brown with a 2 1/2- to 31/2-inch wingspan. They feed on flower nectar with their proboscis, which is a beaklike, extendable tongue, or hollow tube.  Interesting

Nocturnal, nectar-feeding bats act as pollinator for night blooming cereus like the greater long-nosed bat, the Mexican long-tongued bat and pallid bat.  OK whatever gets the job done.

Hmmmm, what else????  Well there is a Cantonese soup made with the dried flower of the NB Cereus - lǎohuǒ tang.  The fruit produced is brightly colored and sweet to the taste.  The NB Cereus has a tuberous, turnip-like root which is said to be edible.  Good things to know, just in case …..

Still, it’s an easy plant to grow and usually pretty forgiving.  The first picture was taken in 2016.  Then, we experienced THE GREAT FLOOD OF 2017 and it sat under water for three days.  Big sigh.  Was not a happy plant.  But, with pruning, positive thinking and moderate threats, it has come back.

Take care