A Scratch on the Wall, Part 1

Happy Leap Year Day!

How rapid the advancement of time!  Weren’t we celebrating Christmas two minutes ago?!

Realizing how FAST time passes, lends a certain legitimacy to the incessant documenting we bloggers do.  Reliving the day, focusing on what we did/saw/thought, then placing our best and brightest ideas where others may one day find them: this has been humanity’s best defense against time since cave dwellers scratched the first pictures on a wall. Not always terribly earth shattering these tableaus, but frozen in time nevertheless. See this day? This scene?  It mattered to us!  Stop! Look!

Yesterday my master gardener class had a day worth scratching on the wall.  We took a field trip to a most amazing place:

U of FL Indian River Research and Education Center

The UF Indian River Research and Education Center opened in 1947 with only one scientist and a small laboratory. Today it is an internationally known education facility doing cutting edge research on citrus and other plant diseases.  We were there for citrus and palm lectures as well as hands-on learning in the teaching and demonstration gardens. Of the 225 species planted there, approximately 62% are native to Florida, with the remaining 38% being non-invasive yet highly adaptable to native conditions.  Here is the first plant we saw, at the building’s entrance:

Petrea volubilis

This late winter bloomer is a woody vine called Petrea volubilis, aka Queen’s Wreath.  Talk about a royal welcome!    Then we walked through the building to a butterfly garden accessed via a spectacular arborway of Cracker Roses:

Cracker Roses

Here is the sign describing the purpose of the waystation:

Monarch Waystation

We soon learned not only  migrating monarchs stop here!

Zebra Longwing Butterfly

The state butterfly of Florida, the Zebra Longwing, swirled everywhere around us!

The next garden was more open:

Teaching Garden

I particularly liked the way this bed was outlined:

Inverted Glass Jars as Garden Surround

Such a creative touch! Colorful glass jars, inverted side-by-side, made prisms of the afternoon sun.

This area was packed with so many specimens yet didn’t feel crowded:


A beautiful bamboo walking trail led to a euphorbia I’d never seen before:

Copperleaf Firedragon

and to another connecting arbor, soon to be covered with these:

Blue Glory Thunbergia

We passed through to a large open field area,

Arborway, IRRECWalking past a grove of flowering mangos

Mango Grove in Bloom

and a rose cultivation area near the science buildings

Rose Garden then back to the research center for a break near huge spiking bromeliads!

Aechmea blanchetiana -Perhaps I should’ve titled this “Scratching the Surface;”  😉  😉  there’s still another garden to show you.. 🙂

Scratch on the Wall Part 2, coming soon!

Untll next time…..


From Sour to Sweet?

Indian River County is well known as one of Florida’s top 10 citrus producing areas. From November to June, it’s quite common to see huge open-air citrus haulers roll by with ripe fruit, bound for local packinghouses and processing plants.

I, too, have a citrus tree, a Honeybell that SHOULD produce a tasty, sweet grapefruit/tangerine hybrid, but right now it functions strictly as a “squat” for wayward  guests:

mockingbird nest

The mockingbirds built this nest last year; I saw them fly in earlier today and eyeball the new, Spanish arrival,

Spanish Moss

"The name is Moss...Spanish Moss" 😉

who seems none-too-pleased to be sharing his host with THIS resource drain:

Tillandsia Fasciculata

Hey! I was here first!!

Poor tree…I think I heard it cry for help:

HoneyBell Citrus Tree

"Save me!!!!! Please!!!"

In truth, this Honeybell’s problems preceded my arrival at small house, but as I’ve ignored it over the past two years, the situation worsened.  In addition to the greasy spot fungus, it developed black spot, a disease that appeared for the first time in Florida during 2010. Thankfully, both can be managed by applying copper fungicide and horticultural sprays, but not just yet.  Currently, the tree is setting new blooms that will open continuously over the next few weeks, and research suggests treating fungi 4 weeks after petal-drop.

Right now though, I CAN start fertilizing with 8-8-8 and then repeat the application in May/June.  I’ve also ordered a product called Keyplex, to add some much needed micronutrients to the tree’s diet; as with humans, nutritionally sound trees are more resistant to infection.

I can’t say for certain if all (or even any) of these measures will turn such a sad and sour story into something sweet, but I’m hopeful.  🙂     Last fall, I thought this Home Depot half dead orchid would never make it, and look at it today:

Purple Speckled Phalaenopsis

Until next time……….

Weekly Photo Challenge: Down

Quite some time ago, I transplanted a madagascar palm, and while so doing, caught sight of a tiny plant emerging nearby.  It didn’t look like anything I’d sown, but it also didn’t appear “weed-like.”  After a few seconds consideration, I decided to let it be…then promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward 6 weeks, to the day my orchids bloomed. I was searching Google to round out my knowledge of these beautiful flowers, when i read a description that reminded me of something I’d seen before:  “A small terrestrial plant 4-25cm (1-1/2 to 10 in.) tall, with five to twelve lanceolate leaves that are green with purple and/or tan pigmentation, 1-8cm( 3/8 to 3 in.) long and up to 1 cm (~3/8 in.) wide.  The flowers are white with a yellow lip narrowing at the base.  There are five to fifty flowers in a terminal spike.”

I grabbed my camera and ran out to look for it:

Zeuxine strateumatica

Yup, I'm the plant she let be...and I just bloomed!

Sure enough…right where I’d left it, with one big exception…it developed a flower!

Say hello to Zeuxine strateumatica, a lawn orchid with a very interesting history!   Native to Southeast Asian rainforests, this little plant was first seen in the USA right here in Indian River County!  Horticulturists theorize it arrived in 1936 via seedbags of centipede grass imported from China and spread quickly in our hot humid climate. It was said to “soldier on” resulting in a nickname  “Soldier Orchid” for this completely non-threatening flower!  😉

In my research, I learned Z. strateumatica appears haphazardly, for reasons ill defined and less understood.  Just because it grew this year, doesn’t mean it will return next, or any year, hereafter!  I’m so glad I didn’t pluck it and chuck it in my overzealous desire to be weed free. How easily I might have missed my one and only chance to see something special.

So the moral of the story is this: Sometimes looking DOWN, requires a great deal of “looking up” to make sense of what you’ve seen.  🙂

Until next time….Soldier on! 😉 🙂

What’s in Bloom? Orchids!

For years, I avoided orchids for all the typical reasons: too hard to grow/rebloom/keep alive. Then, in spring of 2010, I saw my mother’s half dead phalaenopsis and avoidance turned to eagerness. “Sure, we can get this back among the living,” I told her!  By then I had 6 months of tropical gardening reading (and doing) under my belt and felt I understood epiphyte cycles. I took it home to repot, figuring new spikes would appear in 9 months to a year.

A year came and went–nothing…18 months rolled by…despite all the right feeding and pampering–still nothing!  In October 2011, I gave up and stuck it under the backyard tree, along with another half dead phal purchased from a clearance cart in Home Depot, during my earlier exuberance..

Well!! Hark the herald angels really DO sing!  Shortly after Christmas, spikes appeared on both plants!   On Valentine’s Day, my mother’s orchid finally began to rebloom!

Purple Phalaenopsis Orchid

Look at me!!

Purple Phalaenopsis

Do you like my head shot?

Today, I was thrilled to see the second bud fully opened:

Purple Phal 2/18/11

February Flower of the Month

I guess little Home Depot phal doesn’t like being left behind…this afternoon, it too started opening!

Small white & purple speckled phalaenopsis

Wait for me!!!!

Although it’s hard to see in these photos,  each plant has at least 8 buds already; the purple one has 2 side branchlets growing off the main spike with more flowers forming on both. The next few weeks should be full of fragrant flowers!

Last night I uploaded photos of everything that bloomed during the last two months. To see the Ranchero January/February flower gallery click here.  🙂 🙂

Until next time…..

Weekly Photo Challenge: Regret

The Florida “rainy season” begins June 1 and continues to the end of November. Nearly every day between 3-4pm, dark clouds roll in to a soundtrack of thunder and a lightshow of electricity.  Even on days when the sun’s been alone in the sky since dawn, Florida is the lightning capital of the U.S.—a deluge can start any minute….or not!

Here is a picture I took while standing in my side yard on June 14, 2011.  It has not been altered in any way beyond straightening and cropping:

Regrettably, it didn't rain on 6/14/11

"I bring regrets. I will not rain today," said Cloud

I could NOT believe it didn’t rain that afternoon….I was expecting a tornado from the looks of things!!  I ran around bringing my container plants inside, along with anything else from the yard with “missile-like” tendencies. Even though the temperatures that day (and entire week) were in the mid to upper 90s, nothing happened. I had to find out why!

Turns out, last June was one of the driest in years because a mean high pressure ridge was stuck in place over Florida and the Atlantic Ocean  When that happens,no fronts pass in: no convection means no relief, aka rain!

Of course, rain finally arrived on the last few days of June, but not enough to change things. We were still in the midst of the worst drought since 1942, and that didn’t change until the incredibly intense “No-Name” storm of  October 9  dumped 8″ of precipitation in 24 hrs, flooding the ranchero and toppling palm trees….but thats a story with pictures for another day!

Until next time!

Talkin’ Trash!

You know the old saying, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you?!”   Old sayings aren’t always right!

When we first moved to Vero Beach, I noticed this sign along the many canals criss-crossing our neighorhood.


Being new to the area, the word “lagoon” meant zip to me. I didn’t know where it was, or why it was important, but since I”m not one to willy-nilly toss Diet Coke cans or candy wrappers in watery ditches, the sign didn’t apply to me!  Or so I thought until I heard about the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program and its effort to save this beautiful natural resource:

Vero Beach section of Indian River Lagoon

You are looking at our local section of a lagoon that stretches 156 miles along Florida’s Atlantic coast.  In 2011, an area 30 minutes north of here exploded with a super algae bloom, killing sea grass and marine life.  I was shocked to learn that excess nitrogen and phosphorous in garden fertilizers plays a major role in algae development!

Prior to beginning Master Gardener classes, my extent of fertilizer knowledge consisted of the 3 numbers on the packaging, the first two being nitrogen and phosphorous. I had  2-7-7 for cacti/succulents; 11-35-15 for orchids; 18-18-21 for vegetables; 8-14-9 for african violets<—this being a total waste of time and money–I never met an african violet I didn’t eventually kill! I used 10-10-10 for everything else!  I applied them “sort of” on a schedule, but not really. If a plant looked “off” I mixed up a watering can and doused it, and I doubt I was the only injudicious person on the street!

Which means every time it rained, all this excess fertilizer flowed down the canals and into the lagoon, picking up grass clippings and palm fronds along the way. Before you know it, nutrient-loading encourages algae, which then consumes oxygen and blocks sunlight, killing sea grass and fish.

Moral of the story? Trash isn’t always Diet Coke cans and candy wrappers—trash can also be too much of a good thing!

In the future, management of the lagoon’s biodiversity will depend on solid science, reliable data and public outreach to educate the people living around it. Thankfully, the Smithsonian Institute in Fort Pierce and Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch are focusing on the relationship of water quality with seagrasses, macroalgae, and phytoplankton.  This research should help local policy makers with new guidelines for fertilizers and their proper use near canals.

Before I close, I have a few quick pictures to share.

Some of you may not be familiar with epiphytes.  I took one down from a tree today for a few close-ups:

Tillandsia Fasciculata

Although it looks very much like an air plant I shared with you before, this is a different variety of tillandsia, known as fasciculata.   She is about to be a mother for the first time:

Baby FasciculataTillandsia babies are called pups.  For optimal protection, pups always grow on their mother’s underside near twig-like “roots.” These roots are the hooks by which she attaches to some other structure, usually a tree or wooden fence.  Although you cannot see them in pictures, tillandsias have microscopic hairs along the entire length of each curvy leaf;  the hairs attract the water and nutrients she needs to grow and reproduce.  I find these plants so fascinating.  If you’d like some quick facts, check out this link.

And last, but most exciting to me…take a look at the first zucchini growing from round 2:

Zucchini from Round 2

I hope I make it!!!

I hope so, too!

Until next time…..

The rain, the yard, and other things!

Although this isn’t the rainy season, it’s been intermittently gray and showery since Gardenfest.  Of course, there’s an upside to all this extra moisture: take a look at some happy vegetables:

ArtichokesThese are the artichokes we planted in mid November, which seem to be doing quite well.  Experienced Florida gardeners tried to warn me off artichokes, but I’m stubborn and wanted to give them a shot!  I opted for a Sicilian Violetta variety figuring our hot climate has enough similarity to Southern Italy’s.  Time will tell, but for today, all looks great with no diseases or pests in evidence. (I just did the Sign of the Cross for luck..now THAT’s Italian!)

Next up is Zucchini Round 2:

Zucchini Round 2

This second round of leaves (and blossoms) is faring better than the first which developed two major problems: mildew on half the foliage, and blossom end rot on half the fruit.  I increased the calcium, and am being more cognizant of how I water. Last week I ripped out the damaged section and fertilized the remainder. I’m so happy to see their appearance and vigor improving!

The rain also brought a visitor to our door….literally!

Florida Box Turtle

When I went out front yesterday I almost stepped on a Florida Box Turtle!  I’ve run across armadillos in the evenings but never a turtle in daytime!  Poor thing must’ve had a confrontation with something!  Look at this close-up of the carapace:

Damaged Carapace

"You should have seen the other guy!"

He hung around the house for most of the day, even wandering into the garage at one point!   What a random event!

After lunch today, the weather improved for an hour so I went out to check on things.   Remember the barely visible Agave spike from late January?

Agave Guiengula

Look at me now!

Not only has the spike grown wicked tall, the flowers at the terminal end are opening nicely and worthy of a close-up:

Agave Guiengula Flower Spike

While this spike is nearing it’s end, there’s another just beginning in an air plant on the other side of the yard.  Meet Tillandsia Utriculata:

Tillandsia UtriculataLast fall, this paleolithic looking epiphyte fell from an oak tree in my mother’s front yard.  This is how it looked when she gave it to me on October 13:

t. utriculata in Octoer, 2011

C'mon, lady!!! Put me back in a tree!!!

 In general, epiphytes need shade or dappled sun at the most—if left in the tropical sun, the leaves actually dehydrate and burn.  I placed it in a citrus tree and it seems to like it there, as evidenced by its continued growth and developing spike.  The spike will elongate to 15′ or more with multiple side branchlets extending 4-8″ in numerous directions!   All of this will take place over the next 3 months!  Many pictures to follow!

So there you have it….the rain, the yard, and other things…(not quite a Cowsill’s reference, but close!)

Until next time,  enjoy this sweet tune circa 1968!   🙂