Posts filed under ‘Horticulture’

Ensete superbum

 

Cliff banana (Ensete superbum)

Cliff banana (Ensete superbum). Image courtesy of the National Museum of Natural History.

This monocarpic, herbaceous banana is a wonderful specimen in any garden. Monocarpic describes plants that flower, set seed, and then die. Ensete superbum, or cliff banana, is native to India and has a conical pseudo-stem made up of overlapping leaf sheaths.  Its bright green leaves, reaching six feet in length, drop during winter.  The plant may reach ten to twelve feet while blooming.  The inflorescence (or flower head) is a curved terminal spike with triangular oblong fruits and reddish brown bracts that persist for some time to add ornamental value.  This banana, unlike many others, does not produce suckers and only reproduces by seed.  In some extraordinary cases, plants in the wild can go into a three to four year dormancy period.

Cliff banana (Ensete superbum)

The cliff banana (Ensete superbum) in its current home in the Enid A. Haupt Garden.

This rare plant in now on display in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. You can see it for a limited time just inside the west entrance to the garden, close to the entrance to the S. Dillon Ripley Center.

-Matt Fleming, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist

August 5, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

The Butterfly Garden: A Haven for Wild Bees

A bumble bee (bombus sp) foraging

A bumble bee (Bombus sp) foraging.

In major urban landscape such as Washington, D.C., a place like the Smithsonian Institution’s Butterfly Habitat Garden serves a valuable purpose as a rich and rewarding refuge, not only for butterflies, but also for bees. With so many flowers in bloom at the end of July, it’s easy to see that bees are very important for pollination. A bee moves from flower to flower searching for nutrient-rich nectar, which it laps up with its hairy tongue. In this process, pollen will collect on the bee’s body and be transferred from one flower to another, providing for the production of the seeds that sustain many gardens and wild-flower populations. On the hind legs of some bees, there are corbiculae, or pollen baskets.  These serve a function similar to suitcases, allowing the bees to pack lots of pollen into the baskets for the flight back home to their colony where they share their newfound resource with many others.  Solitary bees do not have pollen baskets, but species like leaf-cutter bees have very hairy abdomens, which collect a large amount of pollen.  Recently the Butterfly Habitat Garden was abuzz with a large number of bee species, including bumble-, leaf-cutter, honey, and sweat bees, all collecting resources and pollinating flowers.

-Lisa Horth is a Smithsonian Gardens Enid A. Haupt Fellow and an Associate Professor of Biology at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where she studies plant-pollinator interactions.

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa)

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa) with full pollen baskets.

Bumble bee (bombus pennsylvanicus)

Bumble bee (Bombus pennsylvanicus) foraging.

Bumble bee (Bombus sp)

Bumble bee (Bombus sp) foraging.

Bumble bee foraging

Bumble bee foraging.

A sweat bee (Augochlorellaa)

A sweat bee (Augochlorellaa).

Honeybee (Apis mellifera)

Honeybee (Apis mellifera).

 

July 30, 2014 at 3:00 pm 2 comments

Explore Smithsonian Gardens’ Orchids Online!

At the end of April, after ten months of planning, coordinating, and troubleshooting, the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection (SGOC) went live. No, we didn’t kill off all of the plants over the winter and revive them for this announcement . . . I mean live as in on-air, online, and freely accessible! SGOC is now available for the world to explore on the Smithsonian Collections Search Center and is the only living collection to join the multitudes of objects, specimens, and archival records that are contained within the site. Below is a snapshot of what an individual catalog record looks like:

Collection, Orchid record sample

Example of a Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection record in the Smithsonian Institution Collections Search Center.

Records are updated twice a month and contain basic information about each accession, such as scientific name, flower color, range (if a species), and taxonomy. One of the best parts of having the collection online is being able to peruse the beautiful images taken by our talented volunteers Gene Cross, Bryan Ramsay, and James Osen.  So far, about a third of the records have images associated with them. We only photograph the orchids when they are in bloom, but many of our orchids (especially the species) are either too small to bloom, or haven’t yet bloomed during their time at the greenhouses.

SGOC’s presence on the Collections Search Center is serving as motivation to improve Smithsonian Gardens’ collection records in BG-BASE and correct plant identification errors.  Our hope is that these records can be a valuable resource for educators, students, researchers, and curious individuals, and a source of orchid inspiration year-round.

-Julie Rotramel, Smithsonian Gardens Living Collections Contractor

July 9, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

The Magic of Rain Lilies

The common name rain lily comes from this plant’s tendency to bloom after a good soaking from Mother Nature.  They are native to tropical and semi-tropical regions of the Americas.   There are 3 genera commonly known as rain lilies – Zephyranthes, Habranthus, and Cooperia.  Rain lilies are a perennial bulb with a hardiness of USDA Zones 7 to 11 for most species.  They come in various colors, mostly ranging from pinks, yellows, and whites and new colors are popping up through hybridizing and breeding all the time.  Although the common name would suggest that they are in the Liliaceae (lily) family, they actually fall under Amaryllidaceae.

Zephyranthes candida

Zephyranthes candida (Kai Yan, Joseph Wong, photographers. Image via eol.)

Rain lilies are often grown in containers where they can be placed on a front porch or around a deck and will reward all season long.  I have found that if grown in containers, they seem to prefer being slightly crowded and even somewhat pot-bound.  They also look great along a pathway or in the front of a sunny border and are often used in rock gardens.  To get the finest show, Rain lilies look best planted in masses.  Most Rain lilies will bloom several times a season, usually after a good downpour.

If you live in a zone where Rain lilies are not hardy they are easy to overwinter.  When it starts getting cooler, simply bring them indoors (either the container or, if planted, the dug up plants – if possible give them a quick potting) and keep them dry all winter, then set them outside again in the spring.  You can pull off the foliage as it dies to keep them clean.  You may want to either add soil or rough the edges of the pot prior to setting them outside if the soil has shrunk over the winter.

Habranthus tubispathus

Habranthus tubispathus, also referred to as Habranthus texanus (Stan Shebs, photographer. Image via eol.)

Rain lilies grow best in full sun to partial shade.  They prefer to be kept evenly moist but can tolerate periodic dry spells without problem.  During summer months use a well-balanced fertilizer (either liquid or slow release).  The bulbs produce offsets which can be divided and planted in spring or you can sow seeds if you wish.  If you are collecting seeds, sow right away before they dry as they tend to lose the ability to germinate and may take extra time to do so.  Rain lilies are very gardener-friendly as they have no serious pest or disease issues.  I have had problems with mealy bugs, however, but that is because I start watering them earlier in the season than normal and I keep them in the greenhouse for a fuller plant come spring.  Be aware that all parts of the plant can be toxic if ingested.

After reading this, you may be eager to see some Rain lilies for yourself, so please stop by the Ripley Garden at the Smithsonian Institution this summer and enjoy their beauty.  Some of the ones we display are Zephyranthes flavissima, Habranthus robustus ‘Russell Manning’, Habranthus texanus, and Zephyranthes candida.

 

-Matt Fleming, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist

May 25, 2014 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

Water Conservation at Smithsonian Gardens

Join us this Saturday, May 9th, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m for a celebration of “Water, Water, Everywhere” at Garden Fest in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. In this blog entry Sarah Tietbohl writes about just one of the many ways we try to conserve water at Smithsonian Gardens.

Moongate Fountain in the Haupt Garden

Moongate fountain in the Enid A. Haupt Garden

When I first started at Smithsonian Gardens in 2010 I was assigned the job of cleaning the Moongate fountain in the Enid A. Haupt Garden.  I was excited about this task as I would have an opportunity to learn to use a new piece of equipment and keep cool during the hot summer months.  I estimated that the fountain would need to be cleaned maybe once a month. With the pond open between April and October, that would total seven times a year. That spring, the cleaning schedule started out at once a month.  As the season went on and the temperatures climbed into the 90s, I noticed that the fountain was growing algae at a rapid pace. It turned the water a sickly slimy-green color. That once-a-month cleaning turned into scouring once or twice a week! That season, I ended up cleaning the fountain well over twenty times. The next year it was the same story.

Moongate fountain in the Haupt Garden

Sarah explains her environmentally-friendly method for maintaining the Moongate fountain.

After the summer of 2011, I really started to think about all of the water, energy, and time it takes to clean the Moongate fountain. I started to gauge the amount of water that was being used in one year to clean and fill the fountain. I calculated that it takes 2,300 gallons of water just to fill the fountain each time it is cleaned, plus 200 gallons or so to clean it. I decided to research environmentally-friendly products that would reduce the amount of algal growth, thereby cutting down on the amount of water needed to re-fill the fountain after each cleaning. Fewer cleaning sessions would also result in less emissions (and noise) generated from the power washer that runs every time the fountain is cleaned. I started experimenting with a non-toxic black pond dye. Adding black dye to the fountain reduced the amount of sunlight that was able to penetrate the water, which in turn reduced the algal growth. I found the dye to be very effective and talked my colleagues into using it in the fountains in the Ripley and Folger Gardens as well. Thanks to the black dye solution, Smithsonian Gardens has reduced fountain water use from 60,000 gallons a year to slightly less than 22,000 gallons- a terrific way for Smithsonian Gardens to employ a sustainable alternative in its operations.

-Sarah Tietbohl, Smithsonian Gardens 

 

May 7, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Container Gardening Basics

Container gardening is fun for everyone and easier than most people think. Containers are easier to maintain in areas where space is limited, easy to move around depending on the light requirements, can be rotated depending on the season, and will break up the monotony of a deck, patio, or terrace.

It is entirely up to you, the gardener, whether to select the container before or after the plants are chosen.  Just make sure the plants and the container complement each other in size and color and remember that drainage in the container is a must!

Container gardens require a soil mix that is light and well drained.  Many potting mixes also have fertilizer added and contain ingredients to help retain moisture, both of which are helpful for container plants.  It is best to purchase soil labeled exclusively for container gardening.  These mixtures are usually made from ingredients that—oddly enough—don’t include soil, thereby making them “soilless” mixes.  If you find the bag too heavy to pick up it’s probably too heavy to use in a container.

Haupt Garden container garden

A variety of heights, colors, and textures in this Enid A. Haupt Garden urn make for an exciting container garden.

Plants with the same growing conditions and water and light requirements should be planted together.  Consider using non-flowering plants for unique leaf texture and color along with flowering plants, perennials, herbs, and even vegetables.  This type of planting is called “fusion” gardening in the green industry.   Perennials used in containers during the season can then be planted in the garden bed for the following year.

For a great looking display, a mixture of tall, medium-sized, and trailing plants is important.  Tall plants can be planted in the center, off to the side, or at the back of the pot.  Shorter plants can be placed around the tall plants and trailing plants close to the outside edges.

Smithsonian Castle hanging basket

Short on space? A hanging basket is the perfect solution if you’re lacking in square footage. This simple but colorful summer arrangement gussies up a lamppost next to the Smithsonian Castle. Eric Long, photographer.

The plants will only receive nutrition from you so using a well balanced fertilizer is important for overall plant health.  Top dressing with a slow release fertilizer helps get the plants off to a good start. The more water you add to the soil, the more fertilizer the plants will need.  An all-purpose food mixed with water is an easy and fast way to feed your plants.

A daily watering check is a must, especially if the container is displayed in full sun during the summer months.  Watering in the morning is best.  Plants will be able to quench their thirst through the warmer parts of the day and the risk of foliar diseases will decrease if the leaves are kept dry in the cooler temperatures at the end of the day.

Many varieties of plants need to be deadheaded to remove spent flowers and encourage more branching and new flowers.  Routine maintenance will also alert you to any diseases or pest problems that may occur in the container garden.

Inspire yourself to bring color and excitement to every area around your home through the wonderful world of container gardening.  Start out small and simple.  Gardening is a perfect way to achieve some quiet time and interact with nature.  Discover how fulfilling and fun container gardening really can be!

-Jill Gonzalez, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist

April 15, 2014 at 8:15 am 1 comment

Plant Pranks

It’s April Fool’s Day! You know what that means . . . Don’t worry, we don’t have any tricks up our sleeves today. We’re going to let the plants pull all the pranks. We asked Smithsonian Gardens horticulturists to think of a few of their favorite plants that deceive and mislead both pollinators and gardeners alike. (Yes, we are anthropomorphizing here; guilty as charged!)

Maianthemum racemosum

Maianthemum racemosum a.k.a False Solomon’s Seal -suggested by James Galgliardi, Butterfly Habitat & Urban Bird Habitat Garden horticulturist: From its foliage one would think this plant to be Solomon’s Seal, but this native plant reveals its true self in bloom. Instead of the drooping bell-shaped flowers from the leaf axils seen on Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum racemosum’s flowers appear at the end of the stems as fragrant plumy racemes. Attractive berries turn ruby red in summer. These berries serve as a food source for a variety of birds in the Urban Bird Habitat.

Lycoris squamigera

Lycoris squamigera -suggested by Brett McNish, Supervisory Horticulturist: This lily loves to play tricks on unsuspecting gardeners. The green foliage grows in the spring, then dies back in the summer, leaving little evidence the plant ever existed. In late summer the flower scapes shoot up quickly and burst with beautiful pink blossoms. This is why Lycoris squamigera is also know as the ‘Resurrection’ or ‘Magic’ lily. Isn’t nature cool? (Image via eol)

Exochorda

Exochorda -suggested by Erin Clark, Victory Garden & Heirloom Garden horticulturist: Exochorda, also known as pearl bush, has flower buds that look like little pearls. At a glance out the window, it can also fool some of us paranoid sun-seekers into thinking spring has dropped yet another snow. Not to worry, it is just a sign that spring is truly here. Watch for this to bloom within the month. While we grow an heirloom species, there are many modern cultivars to choose from. (Image via eol)

Lithops

Lithops- suggested by Joe Brunetti, Victory Garden & Heirloom Garden horticulturist: Lithops, also known as ‘living stone,’ is a succulent native to southern Africa. Mimcry helps this plant blend in with its environment. The leaf pairs look like rocks and pebbles, which helps the plant to avoid being eaten. Leaf pairs can be shades of brown, green, cream, or tan and produce yellow or white flowers.  (Image via eol)

Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens orchid specialist and horticulturist, had many suggestions! Orchids are masters of trickery and deception. 

Bulbophyllum beccarii orchid

Bulbophyllum flowers often look and smell like dung, dead animals, or bloody dismembered parts of animals. They do this to attract carrion flies which pollinate them . . . but alas, the flies have been duped and get nothing in return for their pollination services. (Pictured: Bulbophyllum beccarii via eol)

Ophrys orchid

Most famous are the various orchids such as Ophrys (from the Mediterranean ) that use sexual deception to attract bees to their flowers. They have lips that strongly resemble lovely female bees to attract the young, naive male bees. Furthermore, the fragrance of their flowers contains a bee’s sex pheromone, attracting the males and tricking them into ‘pseudocopulation’ to spread the flower’s pollen. (Pictured: Ophrys scolopax via eol)

April 1, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

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