Posts tagged ‘horticulture’
BOO! In honor of Halloween, we are celebrating another #SpookyPlantsWeek. Here’s our round-up of the weird, creepy, gross, scary, and wonderful plants that we featured on Facebook this week. All can be found growing in our gardens at the Smithsonian museums or in our greenhouses in Maryland.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!)
Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens orchid specialist and horticulturist, had many suggestions! Orchids are masters of trickery and deception.
Spiders, moths, ghosts, and vampires, oh my! Orchids might not normally comes to mind when you think of Halloween, but these fascinating members of the Orchidaceae family have adopted (and adapted) all sorts of creepy-crawly characteristics as strategies to survive. Some are on the list just because of their spooky names or association with human traditions. Smithsonian Gardens has a large collection of almost 8,000 orchids at our greenhouse facilities in Suitland, Maryland. The orchids come out to play once a year for a winter exhibit on the National Mall co-hosted with the United States Botanic Garden.
#10 Brassavola nodosa
Also known as the the “Lady of the Night” or “Flor de la Noche,” Brassavola nodosa has ghostly white flowers that emit strong a nocturnal fragrance to attract night-pollinating moths.
#9 Mediocalcar decoratum
Mediocalcar deocatum is more cute than creepy, with blooms that resemble Halloween candy corn!
#8 Brassia gireoudiana
Brassia species orchids and hybrids are also known as “spider orchids” due to their Arachnid-like looks. The orchids use visual mimicry to trick spider-parasitizing wasps into spreading their pollen. The wasp mistakes the orchid for a spider and attempts to lay its eggs there on the lip of the flower, taking pollen without even knowing it as it flies off to the next orchid. If it was a real spider, the wasp larvae would devour the spider as their first meal!
#7 Myrmecophila tibicinis
Myrmecophila tibicinis is literally the ant lover (its name means “ant lover”). Its hollow pseudobulbs provide a home for stinging ants. The ants secrete formic acid, which feeds the plant, and act as plant bodyguards in the dry season when thirsty animals are looking for a drink from a nice succulent bulb.
#6 Laelia anceps
This beautiful orchid is native to Mexico and traditionally used to decorate graveyards on for Day of
the Dead (Día de Muertos) festivities.
#5 Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis
Bulbo phalaenopsis is a smelly, carrion fly-pollinated orchid whose fragrance, according to an old taxonomic text, is said to be like the stench of 1,000 dead elephants rotting in the sun.
#4 Aeranthes antennophora
A genus mostly from Madagascar that’s believed to be pollinated by bats looking for moths to eat, which the flowers resemble.
#3 Dendrophylax lindenii
Made famous by the book The Orchid Thief, the Ghost Orchid is a rare orchid found in Florida, Cuba, and some islands in the Caribbean. We have a couple of examples of this leafless epiphyte in our greenhouses.
#2 Bulbophyllum medusae
Named for the most famous female Gorgon of Greek mythology, Bulbophyllum medusae has many bizarre umbels of flowers like a head of snakes.
#1 Dracula vampira
Dracula vampira takes the #1 spooky spot. You might want to bring garlic with you when seeking out this striking pleurothallid orchid with sharply pendant, black striped flowers and a lip like a mushroom.
As parents, teachers, and students wrap up the first couple of months of the new school year. Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist Christine Price-Abelow thought it would be fun to highlight a few plants with names linked to education. Keep an eye out for these plants growing in the museum gardens on your next class field trip!
1. Chinese Scholar-tree (Sophora japonica)
Chinese Scholar-tree is also known as the Japanese Pagodatree. In its native country of China the Scholar–tree was often planted near Buddhist shrines, hence the name. However it is commonly used as a city or street tree in the United States. It has a moderate to fast growth rate and usually reaches a height of 40-60’ with a nice rounded crown. Sophora trees have a compound leaf which casts a light shade and they are very tolerant to heat, drought and pollution. They produce creamy white flowers in mid-July followed by a pod type fruit. This “educational” tree can be found on the west side of the National Air and Space Museum near the McDonald’s trailer and seating area.
2. Princeton Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’)
The next time you visit Smithsonian Gardens and the National Mall, be sure to look up at the large towering trees shading the walkways. A large percentage of this tree canopy is made up of American elms, specifically the ‘Princeton’ American Elm. As you know, most plant cultivars are named for people and places and the ever popular Princeton elm is no exception. The Princeton elm was first introduced in 1922 by William Flemer of Princeton Nurseries located near Princeton, New Jersey. The Princeton elm was originally selected for its resistance to Dutch elm disease and aesthetic beauty. There are many examples of the Princeton elm planted throughout the U.S. and they can be genetically linked to a 200+ year old American elm tree formerly growing at Princeton Cemetery near Princeton University.
American elms have a beautiful yellow fall color and make excellent shade trees. They are fast growing and reach a height of about 80’ with a spread of 50-60’. The Princeton cultivar is known for its disease resistance and large dark green leaves. They are also a great choice for urban landscapes. Plant your own piece of history!
Smithsonian Gardens is using Ulmus Americana ‘Princeton’ as a street tree and in the tree box planters surrounding the museums.
3. Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)
In keeping with our “Back to School” theme, our next featured plant is the pencil cactus. Though often referred to as a cactus, this plant is actually a succulent and a member of the Euphorbia family. The pencil cactus is native to Africa and India, therefore it is grown as a seasonal tropical plant or a houseplant in the Washington, D.C. area. This euphorbia’s distinctive round, rod-shaped branches that resemble the familiar school implement give the plant its nickname. They are very easy to grow and can be propagated by cuttings.
*A note of caution, you should always wear gloves when working around this plant; it exudes a milky, latex-type sap that can cause an allergic skin reaction for some people.
This plant can be found growing in a large container in the Ripley Garden.
-Christine Abelow-Price, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist
Smithsonian Gardens recently had the opportunity to make a unique contribution to an exhibit currently on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Our staff often provide plants and flower arrangements to beautify the space of a gallery to complement the art on display, but rarely are we asked to provide plants to become an actual work of art. Art in the garden is a familiar trope, but in this case, the garden is the art.
This was exactly the case when we were approached to provide living plants for the exhibit Nam June Paik: Global Visionary. Nam June Paik was a Korean American artist born July 20, 1932 in Seoul, Korea and died January 29, 2006. He worked in a variety of media, but is often called the “father of video art” as he was one of the first artists to explore the medium of video and television in art.
In the center of the exhibition is Paik’s 1974/2000 installation TV Garden, comprised of televisions screening his 1973 video masterpiece “Global Groove” peeking out from a jumble of live tropical plants. Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouses’ Interior Plant Section helped install the plants and has maintained them throughout the duration of the exhibit. There are over three hundred tropical plants in the installation, and all are varieties specified by the exhibit’s curators to remain true to Paik’s original vision. Aglaonema commutatum ‘Maria’, Dracaena warneckii, Scindapsus aureus (Jade pothos), and Ravenea rivularis (Majesty palm) were acquired in a variety of sizes for TV Garden.
From a horticulturist’s perspective, it is a challenge to maintain these plants due to the sheer quantity and the close proximity of the televisions, wires, and cables spread throughout the installation. Every week it takes approximately three hours of watering and grooming to keep the plants looking fresh and healthy.
Nam June Paik: Global Visionary is open through August 11, 2013. Hurry over to see it; it closes on Sunday!
-Joel Lemp, Horticulturist