Wednesday, May 30, 2018


This is one of my all time favorite plants.  And, they are surprisingly easy to grow.

Plumerias are a genus of flowering trees in the dogbane family.  They are native to tropical America from Brazil to Mexico and the Caribbean.  Growing in tropical ground, they can get to be upwards of 30 feet tall.  They bloom from spring through fall in beautiful colors like white, yellow, pink, and red and variations of those colors.

Plumerias have a dozen other names, like: Tipanier in Tahiti; Dok champa in Laos; Jepun in Bali; Pumeli or Melia in Hawaii; Sacuanjoche in Nicaragua; and Graveyard Tree in the Caribbean Islands.  And, they are close cousins to hemp, periwinkle, oleander, natal plum, milkweed, star jasmine, mandevilla, plus about 400 more flowering plants.

Star Jasmine

Bonus! you don’t have to live in the tropics to grow plumerias.  While the plants are fairly tolerant of both salt and windy conditions, they’re not tolerant of cold and could die in temperatures below 40°.  They do, however, lend themselves easily to be grown in containers.  Or once all chance of cold temps are done, plant them in the ground.  Of course, if you do this, you will have to dig it up come chilly weather.  And, that works pretty well too.  Once dug up, hang top down in a protected area – then replant again in the spring. 

Myself, I just keep mine in pots until they get too big for me to manage, then I take cuttings and plant them in the ground and tell them to hunker down and hold on.  Depends on our winter – sometimes it works, sometimes not.

So, planting in ground or pot – they are happiest in a well-draining soil in a place that gets a minimum of 6 hours of sun.  During the growing season plumerias like regular watering although they don’t like “wet feet” and are prone to root rot.  They also are heavy feeders.  Fertilize monthly with a high phosphate (phosphorus) fertilizer, like 10-30-10 to encourage blooms. Giving them too much nitrogen will result in beautiful foliage growth but fewer flowers.

In areas where the weather turns chilly, most plumerias will go dormant come November or so.  Stop fertilizing at the end of the growing season (here that would be September/early October) and reduce watering.  By early winter they should not need any water – just protected until the next spring.

They are easily propagated by either seed or stick.  So, if you want a “clone”, cut a branch off your plumeria.  Let it dry out for a few days then dip the end in a growth hormone and plant in a pot filled with a coarse soil mixture of regular potting soil with pumice, poultry grit or perlite added.  Growing from seed is a little more challenging and the resulting plant may not have the same flower as the “mother”.  And, you’ll have the wait a minimum of 3-5 years before you’re likely to see any blooms. 

These little guys are not yet a year old

And this big one is about five.  I’ve
pretty much told it now is the time
to bloom or else!

What else – how about some useless information –
1.    They won’t burn except in extreme (over 500°) temperatures
2.    In some cultures the leaves are used as poultices for bruises and ulcers and the latex is used as a liniment for rheumatism
3.    It’s used in love spells
4.    Ghosts may live in the trees with white flowers.

Take care

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

All for the love of fishing .....

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away .......

…… two men were exploring and came upon

a small lake or large pond
but surely,
a perfect “fishin’ hole”!

This marvelous bit of water was, as it turned out, located on terra firma owned by a powerful landholder, Mr. ABC.  And, just to make things interesting, due the weirdness of the rules of this land, the water itself was owned by an aquatic holder, Mr. 123

Yes, I know – odd that the land and the hole in the land owned by one individual while the water itself was owned by someone else.  But, things are what they are so we will proceed ….

Now, these two men wanted to fish.  This private body of water seemed to be teeming with fish.  There were no other people around.  WOWZA!  Off they went to get the fishing boat.  (Did you ask if the two owners - land and water - even allowed fishing on the private land and in the private water??  No, they did not allow fishing.)

Now, I’m going to have to speculate a bit here –
I assume the boat wasn’t as big as this

but probably bigger than this

The two were faced with an immediate problem.  No boat ramp!  How to get the boat from trailer to water.  Hmmmmmmm.  HA!  Build a boat ramp, of course.  Build a boat ramp on a lake/pond located on private land filled with private water.  Okay.

So again, off they went to get items necessary for building a boat ramp, items like a truck load of gravel and a really big trackhoe (which was borrowed or possibly rented).

They drove the trackhoe down into the lake/pond and ……. it got stuck in the soft mud.  And then, it started to sink.  This is bad.  They tried pulling the trackhoe out of the lake with their truck to no avail.  And to their credit, these two did try to get it out with other smaller equipment.  No luck.  It sunk up to the cab.

And, just to make things more interesting, the aquatic holder, Mr. 123, showed up to remind (repeat, retell, prompt, recap, run by again, hark back, tell again, jog the memory), the two that there is no fishing on the private land in the private water.

Oooh, woe is they. 

Now, there are two options
     1.  Buy the trackhoe (to the tune of $60k to $100k) and leave it in the lake as a “water sculpture”.  Then move to another galaxy.

     2,  Hire someone to try to haul the trackhoe out.

As of this writing, the two errant fishermen are bringing in a D9 Cat (which is a really big bulldozer), maybe two of them, and possibly a diver (to attach cables to the trackhoe). 

And with luck, the stars all aligned correctly, fingers crossed and positive thoughts, they will succeed in getting the trackhoe out.  Of course, I wonder what will happen if they get the bulldozer stuck as well.  Possibly those two fishermen will have to give up fishing and leave the galaxy asap.

Take care,

Ladies and gentlemen, this story is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Lions and Tigers and Alligators, Oh My!

 Recently a friend asked me if I’d been to Brazos Bend.  No, I had not.  We should go one day.  That day was earlier this week. 

Brazos Bend State Park is an absolute treasure in the huge cosmopolitan area that makes up greater Houston.  It’s located on FM 762 in the Needville area and is close to Houston, Sugar Land, Katy, Galveston, and Wharton.  It is 5000 acres of peace and stress relieving beauty.  I almost said peace and quiet but quiet it is not.  There are all sorts of birds chirping, bull frogs calling, the buzz of insects, and the occasional alligator bellowing but there are no truck, car, or train noises.  Nice.

There is plenty to do there - biking, fishing (no license required), hiking, birding, canoeing, camping, star-gazing (the George Observatory is located at the park), free programs, and guided hikes.  There are hardwood forests and wetlands consisting of many lakes and swamps.  Plus, they have some of the best oak trees I’ve seen in a while and all of them are draped in Spanish moss and a few covered with ferns.  Actually, I found one I’d like to take home with me.  Next time I’m bringing a truck!

We hiked around 40 Acre Lake.  There were all sorts of birds – herons, ibis, egrets, cormorants, along with many different ducks and perching birds.

In addition to birds, there were alligators!  Like, a big bunch – actually a congregation of alligators!

Side Bar:  Did you know …….
1 Adult American alligators measure 11-15 feet in length, and can weigh up to 1000 lbs.  2 They are considered apex predators and consume fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.  Generally, they eat smaller prey that they can gulp down in a single bite.  3 Young are protected by their mother for about 2 years.  4 They will bask on land and will climb trees if there is no shoreline available (oh goodie, watching for alligators in trees).  5 While the American alligator was on the endangered species list, it has made enough of a comeback that it is now a protected species.  6 And, they tend to be less aggressive towards humans, but it is best to not feed, tease, or aggravate them!

As we were walking along the path, Bobby stopped me and said – what’s that up there?  Uhhh, a branch laying on the path.  Nope, sez he, I’m pretty sure it’s an alligator.  I slowed down walking.  As we got closer, the “branch” jumped up and RAN (quick like a bunny) to the water (on my side of the path) and slid in.  Oh my!  A few minutes later, he again said – look – there’s another one.  This one was laying quietly just beside the path in the grass.  I stopped walking.  He walked on.

So, here’s the thing – I don’t like lizards – not little ones like this ……. or big ones like that.  Yes, I know – odd because I really do like dragons BUT, I don’t think dragons are even remotely related to lizards and that’s a whole other conversation!

He motioned me forward.  And, not wanting to be perceived as a scared little baby, I walked (as far from it as possible and still be on the path) right past the alligator snoozing alongside the path for the humans.  Was I brave or what!

A little later we hiked to one of the visitor centers.  It’s a very interesting place and there was a volunteer to answer questions along with a park ranger.  The place has all sorts of skeletons and general information with pictures on many of the things you can see there at the park in the way of animals, snakes, wildflowers, birds and, of course, alligators. 

Cat Claw Mimosa

There were also glass cages with various types of snakes and one on the counter with a tarantula in it.  (Snakes and spiders don’t bother me – just lizards)  And, the park ranger was holding a baby gator and showed me how to pet it.  Which I did!  Go me!

If you haven’t been to Brazos Bend Park, put it on you list of places to visit. 

Take care

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Genial Beverage

Everyone knows tea was first used in Asia.  However, did you know …….

According to Chinese legend, in 2700 B.C.E. Emperor Shen Nong, a mythical emperor born with the head of a bull and body of a man, accidently discovered tea as a soothing beverage.  While boiling water in the garden, a leaf from an overhanging wild tea tree drifted into his pot. The Emperor enjoyed drinking the infused water so much that he was compelled to research the plant further.  

And, Indian history attributes the discovery of tea to Prince Bodhi-Dharma, an Indian saint who founded the Zen school of Buddhism. In the year 520, he left India to preach Buddhism in China. To prove some Zen principles, he vowed to meditate for nine years without sleep. It is said that towards the end of his meditation, he fell asleep. Upon awaking, he was so distraught that he cut off his eyelids and threw them to the ground. Legend has it that a tea plant sprung up on the spot to sanctify his sacrifice.

It is generally thought that traders traveling throughout China, Tibet, and North India encountered people chewing tea leaves for medicinal purposes and spread the leaves and plants as they went.  It didn’t make an appearance in the West until the 17th century when a Portuguese missionary brought tea to Europe while caravanning back and forth between Portugal and China.  And, it didn’t become popular until when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese royal who adored tea, and she introduced the concept of tea time to the court.

Tea came to America along with colonists in the early 1700’s.  At about that same time, the British East India Company persuaded Parliament to implement heavy taxes on tea by way of the Tea Act, to bolster up their failing financial position.  And we all know how that turned out.

Iced tea originated at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. A tea merchant had intended to provide visitors with free hot tea samples, however because it was unusually hot during the fair, the tea was not a success. So, to increase interest and sales, he asked a nearby ice cream vendor for some ice, which he dumped into the brewed tea. And, an American tradition was established.

Now for all the southerners out there – Sweet Tea

ICED TEA.   After scalding the teapot, put into it one quart of boiling water and two teaspoonfuls green tea. If wanted for supper, do this at breakfast. At dinner time, strain, without stirring, through a tea-strainer into a pitcher. Let it stand till tea time and then pour into decanters, leaving the sediment in the bottom of the pitcher. Fill the goblets with ice, put two teaspoonfuls granulated sugar in each, and pour the tea over the ice and sugar. A squeeze of lemon will make this delicious and healthful, as it will correct the astringent tendency.  1878

Why Green Tea?  Well prior to WWII, green tea was the tea of choice.  During WWII
the major sources of green tea were cut off from the US by the Japanese, leaving tea drinkers with tea almost exclusively from British-controlled India which produced black tea.  Americans came out of the war drinking predominantly black tea, something that has remained constant.

Whew!  So, is tea good for you?  Yes!  It is a powerful antioxidant, can help reduce the risk of cancer and is studied as an inhibitor to the growth of cancer cells.  It can lower cholesterol levels, used by many as a treatment for arthritis, helps fight infection, inhibits the formation of blood clots, and prevents strep throat and flu when used as a mouthwash.  It has less caffeine than coffee and refreshes the body – nervous system, muscles, heart, and liver.  What more could you ask for!

Take care

Monday, May 21, 2018

Black, White, Green, Oolong, Pu-erh

 OK – I want one of these!  And I can, maybe, grow it here!

It’s a Tea Plant – like the drink, TEA!  And, no it’s not any of the herbal tisanes (which is what herbal “teas” should be called because they don’t have any actual TEA leaves in them).  And yes, the TEA plant is an herb.  Confusing, I know, but there you are.

Anyway ---- so, Did You Know …….

All the various types of teas come from this plant, Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and subspecies, Camellia sinensis var. assamica.  These are the two major varieties grown today to produce green, oolong, black, and white teas.  The difference in the flavors is due the way the leaves are processed.

The tea plant is an evergreen tropical shrub.  In the fall, it will flower with small white blossoms that have a very sweet scent.  If you chose to plant one in the ground, it likes a well-drained, sandy soil in a sunny to part shade location.  Remember, it can grow upwards of 10 feet but can also be trimmed (like a hedge) without suffering any problems.  Something else - Tea plants require consistent temperatures that range between 65 and 85°.  According to the pros, tea plants stop growing when the temperature drops below 55° or rises above 95°.  So, the plant should be kept indoors where you can control the temperature.  Hmmmmm – not above 95° -- it would have to stay indoors from May to November here.  Something to think about.  Another yes – the tea plant lends itself well to growing in a pot.

And again, yes, the tea plant is a close relative to the Camellia we all know and love.

OK – so if you want to grow a tea plant to for its leaves, you must have patience because the plant should be 2 – 5 years old before you harvest leaves.  Only the young, tender leaves and buds are used for tea and you want your plant large enough to produce the numbers of leaves you need.

Now, growing tea is only part of the process. Once your tea plant is growing well, you'll need to harvest and process your tea leaves.  Depending on the type of finished product you want, leaves should be picked spring, summer, or fall and at different times of the day.

So, for Green Tea -
Pluck the very youngest leaves and leaf buds.  Blot the leaves dry and let them completely dry in the shade for a few hours.  Steam the leaves (like you would vegetables) on your stove for about a minute or roast them in a skillet for 2 minutes.  Spread the leaves on a baking sheet and continue to dry in the oven at 250F for 20 minutes. 

And, for Black Tea -
Pluck the very youngest leaves and leaf buds.  Roll the leaves between your hands, and crush them until the leaves start to darken and turn red.  Spread them out on a tray and leave them in a cool location for 2-3 days.  Dry them in the oven at 250F for about 20 minutes.

Or, you can buy loose tea leaves, enjoy having a pretty and unusual plant plus get all the tea bennies without the whole processing thing.  I personally don’t care for any of the weird teas (like green or white or oolong).  I like black tea and don’t care too much for ground up tea dust in bags – give me leaves please.

Take care.




Friday, May 18, 2018

A deep HOLE in the ground

 My son and his family live in Virginia and I try to get up there for visits every year.  Virginia is such a pretty place; the biggest drawback being 900 bazillion people live/work there and they all drive 90 mph on the various highways (I am always happy to sit in the backseat with my eyes closed).  That little thing aside, the countryside is lovely and the entire state just oozes history.  A large number of my family ancestors are from there (from the 1600’s until they all moved further south) and one of these days I’ll remember to take my genealogy stuff and look for more information and graves and such. 

On one trip we went to the Luray Cavern, which is a really big hole in the ground with rocks and dirt, cement and other heavy things on top of it.  Just being told about it put my claustrophobia on alert.  Still, couldn’t run screaming the other direction in front of the grandchildren, so off we went. 

Now, if you haven’t been there, the caverns are in the Shenandoah Valley, just west of the Blue Ridge in the Appalachian Mountains in Luray, Virginia.  My first impression of the staircase down into the cavern was a shaking rickety affair, packed with thousands of other people.  Of course, it’s not like that at all although there was a huge line of people in front of me and a huge line behind me. 

Just a little history:  Luray Cavern is the largest cavern in the eastern US.  It was discovered in 1878 by a group of men whose attention had been attracted by a large limestone boulder and a nearby sinkhole that had cool air coming from it.  One man squeezed through a small hole, slid down a rope and went exploring by candlelight (foolish man).

The caverns were opened for tours, by candlelight, just a few months later (no, no, no, no – down what probably was rickety steps in a long skirt – nope, no, that’s just wrong!!!!!).  It didn’t get electric light and paved walkways until the early 1900’s.

Luray is a "live" cave, which means its formations collectively grow about a cubic inch every 120 years.  It was designated a Registered Natural Landmark in 1974, therefore it can have no garish colored lights and no exploring off the designated paths (only a third of the cave is open to the public). 

The cavern is just beautiful.  They do have specific areas carefully lighted so visitors can clearly see the unusual and lovely stone formations.  And, although it’s a hole in the ground, it is a huge hole in the ground.  Still, I think I would have been happier if there have just been the five of us and 3 other people down there.

This is a reflection of the ceiling in water

Yep – that’s money
The ultimate Wishing Well

Luray Caverns – you should put this on your “I want to visit …..” list.  It is well worth it!

Take care.