Posts tagged ‘horticulture’

Spooky Plants Week

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.

Tacca chantrieri plant

Tacca chantrieri, also known as the bat flower, is a member of the yam family and native to Southeast Asia. It has unusual black flowers and long whiskers. The “spooky” part about this plant (the name kind of gives it away) is that it looks like a bat. So it’s perfect for Halloween, and the fact that it’s blooming this time of the year makes it even more special. See it on display inside the Ripley Center kiosk entrance.

Brassavola nodosa  orchid

Also known as the “Lady of the Night” or “Flor de la Noche,” Brassavola nodosa has ghostly white flowers that emit a heady, nocturnal fragrance to attract night-pollinating moths. We have a few of these ethereal plants in the Orchid Collection at our greenhouses.

Cliff banana plant

The National Zoo has megafauna, but we have megaflora! Watch out, the Ensete superbum looks hungry . . . lucky for us, the plant only looks like it might be carnivorous. This herbaceous banana is native to India and more commonly known as the cliff banana. The plant may reach ten to twelve feet while blooming. This banana, unlike many others, does not produce suckers and only reproduces by seed. Our cliff banana caused many visitors to the Enid A. Haupt Garden to do a double-take all summer long.

Actaea pachypoda fruit

Found in the Urban Bird Habitat: Actaea pachypoda ‘Misty Blue.’ It is also called white baneberry or doll’s eyes because the fruits look like a cluster of eyes on red stems watching your every move in the garden. Some birds find the fruit to be a tasty treat, but beware, they are poisonous to humans. (Image courtesy of the National Museum of Natural History Collections.)

Solanum quitoense (naranjilla)

Solanum quitoense, known as naranjilla (”little orange”) is scary in looks only. Spines and purple hairs along the stems give this member of the nightshade family an otherworldly appearance that would be more at home in the Addams Family garden rather than the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden at the Smithsonian. If you can get past the strange looks of the hairy, orange fruit, a fresh glass of naranjilla juice is a sweet treat.

 

October 31, 2014 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

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 1 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

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

Spooky Orchids

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

Brassavola nodosa

Brassavola nodosa (via EOL)

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 decoratum

Mediocalcar decoratum (via EOL)

Mediocalcar deocatum is more cute than creepy, with blooms that resemble Halloween candy corn!

#8 Brassia gireoudiana 

Brassia gireoudiana

Brassia gireoudiana (via EOL)

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

Myrmecophila tibicinis (via EOL)

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

Laelia anceps

Laelia anceps (via EOL)

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

Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis

Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis (via EOL)

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

Aeranthes antennophora

Aeranthes antennophora (via) EOL

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 

Dendrophylax lindenii

Dendrophylax lindenii (via EOL)

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

Bulbophyllum medusae

Bulbophyllum medusae (via EOL)

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

Dracula vampira (via EOL)

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.

October 30, 2013 at 1:07 pm Leave a comment

Back to School with Plants

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 (Sophora japonica)

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’)

Princeton Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’)

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)

Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)

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 

October 17, 2013 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Nam June Paik: Global Visionary

TV Garden by Nam June Paik

Installing TV Garden by Nam June Paik, 1974/2000, single channel video installation with color television monitors and live plants; color, sound, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. (Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

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.

TV Garden Nam June Paik

TV Garden by Nam June Paik, 1974/2000, single channel video installation with color television monitors and live plants; color, sound, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. (Photo by Amy Vaughters, Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

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!

For more information, check out these reviews of the exhibit by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

-Joel Lemp, Horticulturist

August 5, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment


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