Sunday, February 17, 2019

Rain and Forests and Seeds and . . .

Well, DAMN, DAMN, DAMN . . . . . another morning of wet everything.  Yard work plans to be shelved yet again.

Do you suppose “Rain Forest” is a season?  I’m beginning to think yes.  Pretty soon everything in my yard is going to reach monster heights.  I’m going to need a machete to walk outside.  Now, normally I’m not one to complain about rain (primarily because by August I’ll be whining about the lack of) and, I’m not complaining about the rain now.  However, the overcast, humidity, fog, and drizzle are getting to be really tiresome.

And, according to The Weather Channel, it’s not going to get much better.  Ugh.

Well, since I’m thinking summer will start by the Ides of March, I guess I’ll enjoy (?) the cool overcast days while I can.

I got all my seeds planted several weeks ago.  One of the new ones I planted is Roselle Red Hibiscus

The Roselle Hibiscus (also called Florida cranberry, red sorrel, or Jamaica sorrel), while native to West Africa, grows well here and points south.  It produces attractive flowers and foliage and can grow to as much as 7 feet in a single season. 

My primary reason for wanting to grow this particular hibiscus is for the flower which is used to make jams, sauces and teas (the hibiscus tea everyone likes).  The leaves can be cooked like spinach or added raw to salads (fyi: the description of the flavor for the leaves is “a nice zing” which I translate to tart). 

Roselle grows best in well-drained soil and bright sunlight.  It doesn’t like drought conditions and appreciates regular watering.  It does not do well in shade at all and is very likely to freeze and die when temperatures fall below 40 °.  So, be sure and save seeds for next year.  Start pruning early as that will increase branching and the development of more flowering shoots.  Roselle will start flowering in October – the flower itself is small and not overly showy.  Oh, and you can grow it in a container but it will still need bright sun and lots of watering (as it is likely to dry out very quickly). 

The part of the plant most popular is found at the bottom of each flower – the calyx.  Once picked the calyces will stay fresh for about a week so plan to use them quickly.  Again, according to experts, one bush can yield as much as 12 pounds of fruit so you may not need to plant more than one or two bushes unless you just like the way they look.  And, for those that like to grow such things, Roselle is an heirloom plant.  (Heirloom plants are older cultivars of a particular fruit or vegetable that are grown in very small numbers today. Heirlooms do not play a large role in modern agriculture because they don’t always ripen consistently and often end up growing in peculiar shapes or appearances.)

 Another bunch of seedlings that will need sun soon are Catalpa Trees.  Also known as Cigar Tree, Catawba Tree and Fishing Worm Tree, it is a native ornamental tree that produces dense clusters of white flowers and long seed pods.  They typically grow to about 50 feet in height.  Because of the large, broad, heart-shaped leaves, they also make great shade trees.

Come springtime, beautiful and fragrant clusters of white, trumpet- or bell-shaped flowers cover the tree.  The fruits, which resemble green beans, hang down from the branches.

Want to grow one?  Seeds should be fresh when harvested.  The long seed pods will turn brown in mid-fall and you can harvest the seeds then.  I put mine in the fridg for 2-3 months, then plant in small peat pots and they pop right up.  Now, experts say you can plant them as 3-4 inch seedlings.  I grew one from seed a few years ago.  I planned to wait until it was closer to 15-20 inches tall before planting but, one spring I sunk the pot into the middle of a flower bed to help protect the roots from our very dry, very hot summer.  By the middle of fall, it had broken the pot and grounded itself.  Not my first choice of places but sometimes you take what you get.

These trees are very accommodating.  They will grow in most any type of soil, once established are drought tolerant, are deciduous, and can live up to 150 years.  It is also the sole source food for the catalpa sphinx moth caterpillar.  If the caterpillars are numerous, they can eat the tree bare of leaves, though the tree should produce new leaves quickly.

 Because the caterpillars are an excellent live bait for fishing, some dedicated anglers plant catalpa mini-orchards for their own private source of "catawba-worms", particularly in the southern states. 

In addition to being a great shade tree, in the way-back days, teas and poultices made from the bark and leaves were often used as laxatives, mild sedatives, as a treatment for skin wounds and abrasions, for infections, snake bites, and even malaria.

Right now I have about 20+ seedlings coming up so I may have baby trees for anyone who wants one by early summer!

17 Feb 2019

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