Nopalea cochenillifera f. variegata

Various types of spineless cacti are common in Florida gardens, but spineless AND variegated? Not so much! The second I laid eyes on this cactus at our Master Gardener Plant Auction, I knew I’d be taking it home! :)

Nopalea cochenillifera, 12/15/13

Although auctioned as a “NO ID Opuntia,” the American Journal of Botany describes my new plant as one of 8 cacti recently moved from the Opuntia to Nopalea genus.  Chalk it up to key differences in the shape of the flower tubes, and the impact this has on pollination: nopaleas are visited by hummingbirds, opuntias by insects.   Who knew :?:

N. cochenillifera is drought-tolerant, yet, oddly, thrives in our rainy summers. At maturity this cactus assumes a tree like shape with branches of jointed pads reaching 12′ high. Just this morning, I noticed the first new pad forming since i brought the plant home:

Nopalea cochenillifera with new pad forming, 12/15/13

Nopalea cochenillifera is loaded with potassium, magnesium, calcium, manganese, copper, zinc and iron, as well as thiamine, lutein, niacin, riboflavin and beta-carotene. Farmers who raise goats and livestock value it as easy-to-grow fodder but humans can also benefit from including nopaleas in their daily diet.  Click and scroll for interesting recipes.

As an aside, we’ve been having very dismal, gray, un-Florida-like weather since Thanksgiving.  The cheery garden colors of summer and falll have been replaced by interesting textures and jewel tones:

Alternanthera Dentata Purple Knight, Assorted Coleus and Calladium and Syncolostemon Transvaalensis, 12/15/2013

Each winter since moving here, I anxiously await the tiny Soldier’s Orchid, and every year they arrive earlier, in greater quantity!  Here’s the first of 2013, randomly sprouting in a container:

Zeuxine strateumatica aka Soldier's Orchid, 12/15/13

That’s about it from not-so-sunny Vero Beach!  I can’t really complain though, it’s still warmer than normal and Christmas is in the air!

Until next time…..


Wordless Wednesday: December 12, 2012

Long time readers may recall I completed MG certification last March so this year I was invited to the Master Gardeners’ Christmas Party! :) The event was held yesterday at the Gifford Youth Activity Center and Community Garden, a knowing/growing green-space worthy of a much larger post.  For now, let me entice you with the first of many pics. :)

Luther Burbank Spineless Opuntia, 12/11/12

This cactus is one of more than 60 spineless Luther Burbank opuntias, but the exact variety is unknown. Oddly enough, this same unidentified prickly pear has been growing in the Ranchero since I moved in: last month it set buds for the first time:

Spineless Luther Burbank Opuntia, 11/30/12

Stunning pink flowers are coming….maybe even by New Year’s :!:

Next time I’ll share more of the Community Garden…..

:) :)

Orchids and Succulents in the September Garden.

September is an odd month in So. Florida gardens. By late summer, most hardy perennials are calling “Time-Out” from brutal sun and tropical downpours, yet the jungle species are gearing up and raring to go :arrow: Intense heat and convective rains make VERY happy orchids :)

Brassia Maculata, Sept. 6, 2012

Brassia Maculata, Fully Opened on Sept. 6, 2012

Remember Lila Mystique, the Winn-Dixie orchid with the strange blue dye-job?  Her second spike has produced pure white flowers:

White Phalaenopsis flower buds, Sept 2012

Lila lost her “mystique” and turned ghostly pale! ;)

Like the orchids, my garden succulents are in peak form now, too!

The Portulacaria Afra (aka Elephant Bush/Dwarf Jade) seen on the diagonal in the above picture, has totally taken off!!  In July, I removed it from its original 3″ pot and planted it in the Ranchero: what began as a slightly wizened, T-shaped, 4 inch branch is now plump, multi-stalked and spreading. If this South African native reaches full height, perhaps I’ll try my hand at Bonsai sculpting. :roll: or maybe I’ll just make zillions of cuttings!

Aloe Juvenna is another African plant that’s doubled in size and spread via offsets since mid summer:

Aloe Juvenna with offsets

This profusely “pupping” aloe is used as groundcover in Kenya

I was really impressed with A. juvenna’s bright green leaves, and the lighter green spots that appear both inside and out.  Lowes sold these two-per-6″pot, which i split immediately and planted at seperate ends of the Ranchero. The one in the picture receives better sun exposure and has produced 7 pups.  When mature, it should send up a tall spike bearing bright coral-to-red flowers.

Aloe Ciliaris was one of the first plants I purchased when starting my gardens in 2010. Like the Cannas, they’ve done TOO well! ;). I’ve been digging them up and giving them away, like so:

Aloe Ciliaris. Sept 2012

Can I come live at your house? :)

I didn’t realize I’d bought the fastest climbing aloe in the world….or that it might reach a height of 32ft. (though I doubt it will get that tall here!) The mistakes you make when you’re new, yeah?

Aloe Ciliaris, Sept 2012

Little white teeth are arranged like eyelashes (cilia) on leaf bases sheathing the stems.

In its South African habitat, the serrated leaf edges and slender, pliable stalks help anchor A. Ciliaris on its climb toward the forest canopy and sunshine.  Don’t have a rainforest in your yard? ;)  No problem….propping against trellises (or a fenceline) works just fine!

I have one more succulent to share today: Brasiliopuntia Brasiliensis, the strangest “volunteer” plant in my garden, thus far:

Brazilian Prickly Pear

This cactus has a most unusual growth pattern!

Brasiliopuntias begin life as thin cylindrical “stems” resembling pencil cacti. I discovered this plant’s original “cylinder” in Dec. 2009, growing from leaf matter within the boot of a felled palm tree in our new backyard.  With zero knowledge of tropical plants, I carefully removed it and saw tiny roots…yaaaaayyyyyy!  I potted it up and was very excited by my first Florida whatever-it-was!  :)

By spring, the stem appeared to be flattening out, and a few delicate, thin, bright green pads emerged.  It was beginning to look like a cactus!

Brasiliopuntia brasiliensis stem with pads, Sept 2012

Current Cylindrical Stem and Pad Growth, Sept, 2012

In the middle of summer, little yellow dots cover the oldest pads: some fall away but others morph into little leaves that drop just shy of flowering….maybe this will change as the plant matures.

The spines are sharp, and appear almost overnight, typically on stems, but randomly along the pad edges, too. As seen in the next picture, the original stem gains mass as pads are added and the plant’s overall height increases:

Stems flatten and turn woody as Brasilopuntia matures.

The obovate segment on the bottom is this plant’s original stem.

While waiting for the bottom stem to grow strong and woody, it’s a good idea to stake this most unusual conversation piece!

Until next time!

:) :)

Florida Royalty

For the past three years, I’ve been fascinated by an ENORMO tree-climbing cactus growing two blocks north of my front door. It winds from bottom to top and back again through the boots of a 30ft tall cabbage palm on the edge of an elderly man’s property. Last night, I convinced Maggie to stroll with me by his VERY busy corner, so I wouldn’t look like a total stalker-wierdo taking pictures of some stranger’s real-estate! :roll: As she gestured (with appropo “ooohs” and “aaahhs! :)) I happily snapped photos of the epiphytic spiky vine known as Selenicereus Pteranthus:

selenicereus pteranthus

It”s easy to see why S. pteranthus is sometimes called the Snake Cactus! :)

selenicereus pteranthus

At the top, several blooms are spent….

selenicereus pteranthus

….and toward the middle, new ones are forming!

Selenicereus flowers open between 10pm and midnight, emitting a strong, vanilla fragrance from trumpet-shaped cups that measure a foot in diameter!  As these cacti age, their cylindrical stems can turn gray-to-purple as seen in the first picture. The shape of the stems varies from angular to tubular or ribbed, depending on a specimen’s maturity and growth rate; to entwine themselves around trees while climbing, they develop adventitious aerial roots.

Horticulturalists suspect this species originated in Mexico and Central America where locals referred to it as the Princess of the NightFlorida is the only U.S. state in which this “royalty” naturalized, primarily in the 5 counties of zone9 and above where the Seminole War and Mexican immigration have had the greatest impact.

As luck would have it, last weekend we saw a bunch of Selenicereus stems scrabbling from the base of a live oak into a beachside street! …

Finally!!! :)

Fair game for a cutting:

Princess of the Night Cutting

I was thrilled to find such healthy looking segments with aerial AND terrestrial roots!

When I got home, I halved the longest section again and brushed each freshly cut edge with rooting hormone.  After a few days in a sunny spot on the porch (to callus over,) I planted the cuttings in a single clay pot of fresh cactus soil:

Selenicereus Pteranthus cuttings , potted up

Ta Daa! :) :)

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that roots develop instead of rot ;)

If all goes well, I’ll have my very own Princess of the Night!  :)

Until next time……

Let’s Hear it for Succulents!!

If there were no lilies in the world, succulents would rank first on my list of favorite plants: I love their different textures, unusual shapes, and chameleon-like reactions to heat, humidity and time of day. What’s pale green in the morning may look whitewashed at noon or red tinged by nightfall, like this Echeveria Elegans:

Echeveria Elegans

Echeveria Elegans at 730pm after a day of full sun.

There are over 150 recognized species of Echeveria, and though most exhibit standard mat-form rosettes (like Elegans,) others are strangely shaped like this one:

Echeveria glauca ssp. pumila f. cristata

Echeveria glauca ssp. pumila f. cristata

If the word ‘cristata” sounds familiar, you may be remembering my Mother’s Day Mutant ;) with the cristate defect causing horizontal, wavy stem growth. Because the stem on the Echeveria above is flat yet undulating, the green, leafy, top-growth forms haphazard rows instead of neat rosettes.  But there’s another more interesting fact :arrow: E glauca ssp. pumila preserves its cristate properties even when reproduced from small cuttings or single leaves!!!  If I hadn’t tried it myself, I mightn’t’ve believed it…look!

Echeveria glauca ssp. pumila f. cristata

Six months ago, a small, leafless section of the original plant broke off, so I unceremoniously popped it in the ground. At the time, I was doubtful such a tiny, unrooted piece would survive, and I definately had NO knowledge of cristate mutations!  Ahhh, live and learn (literally!) :)

I also recently (as in yesterday! :roll:) figured out why only one of my Opuntia species has been flowering:

Opuntia Humifusa, Eastern Prickly Pear

Opuntia Humifusa, Eastern Prickly Pear in bloom

Unlike the Eastern Prickly Pear, the other Opuntia variety in the Ranchero is spineless:

Spineless Opuntia (rear) Eastern Prickly Pear (foreground)

Spineless Opuntia (rear) Eastern Prickly Pear (foreground)

Apparently the lack of spines indicates the original Ranchero Opuntias are most likely hybridized specimens created for use as cattle feed. Although flowering isn’t impossible, it’s less likely because “forage” varieties are grown for their edible thalli (pads) which can be fed raw to livestock or cooked for human consumption. The botanist behind these genetics was Luther Burbank, and you can read more about his work here. :)

Until next time….

Share Your World, Week 24….and a few cactus facts!

I’ve fallen behind with my Share Your World postings; rather than play catch-up, I’ve opted to jump back in with this week’s questions. :)

Are you left or right handed?

I always say I’m right dominant because that’s my “writing” hand, yet many things I do primarily left-handed. I do everything on my smart-phone with my left hand, exclusively. I stir pots and use cooking and baking utensils with my left, and only use my left hand when applying eye-makeup…wierd…yeah?  I remember reading that handedness is a genetic trait…If that’s true, I may have passed it to my sons, both of whom write “lefty!”

What is one thing you love about being an adult?

Making all my own rules, and conversely, throwing them out the window at will!  These things are huge to me. I hate feeling stifled, or like I “should” do this or “should not” do that! I’m well aware this makes me sound like a spoiled brat. ;) Next question!

What do you need to unlearn?

Are you ready for this?  The ridiculously embarrassing way I count hours.  For instance: when I worked shifts at Staples we’d have to arrive at 8am. If I left the store at 3pm and you asked how many hours I worked, I couldn’t tell you without first doing this: 8 to 9, 1hr…9 to 10, 2hrs..10 to 11, 3hrs…11 to 12, 4hrs…and on and on until I got to the hour I clocked out! This is no joke….i DO this!  Thankfully, I didn’t work 12hr shifts too often!! I’d still be there “counting!”  LOL!!

What is success for you?

When I was young and looking toward my future, I only ever really wanted to be a mother.  I didn’t have professional/career goals beyond that.  If you’ve read my blog at all, you know I have 3 kids who have grown into lovely young adults who are also “fine citizens.” Success, for me is knowing they’re on paths that are right for them individually, and I take credit for allowing them to ALWAYS be themselves, especially on days I wished they were making different choices.  I think that was my biggest success as a parent…I had excellent instincts about when to get out of the way.

I totally enjoy answering Cee’s questions, but love reading everyone else’s replies more. Click the link, and consider participating, too. :)

Before I close,  I have to share a few facts I learned today, quite accidentally!

I was working in my gardens around 3pm and noticed one of my cacti had bloomed:

Mammillaria Sheldonii in bloom

We’re in rainy season now, so thunderstorms blow in most afternoons like clockwork, and today was no exception. :roll:  Although short-lived, the winds blow strong and the rain hits hard: I assumed when I went back outside, the cactus blooms would be shredded on the ground.

Mammillaria Sheldonii with buds

I was wrong!!

It seems that Mammillaria Sheldonii cacti flowers “self-protect” by closing during inclement weather. I had no idea!

I also learned something else by visiting the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website: the mammillaria buds in my pictures were actually produced LAST summer. They stay dormant until the first big summer rain occurs, causing them to burst into bloom 5 days later!  Dang if that isn’t EXACTLY what happened :arrow: the rainy season began here last week!   Fascinating!

Until next time…….

Sunflowers and Updates!

Remember when cultivated sunflowers were upwards of 10′ tall with only one head?  Those days are long gone!  Over the past two decades, hybridizers have altered this proud native icon in ways that make it barely recognizable!  From pollen-less plants, to shades of white or red (red!?!) today’s sunflower is anything but an average garden variety :arrow: Even if you do adequate research before buying seeds, you can still end up with unexpected results. Take a look:

American Giant Sunflower

Editted on Sept 19, 2012: While cleaning out an old email folder, I ran across the reply:

“From:Thomas Heaton ( Sent: Thu 4/05/12 11:27 PMTo: karen mulhern (

HI Karen, American Giant is single head.  Kong is branching. Tom”   So what to make of this mystery?  Perhaps Kong got mistakenly placed in the Packet?  End edit of Sept.19

Now for some happier updates!

Artichoke Leaves with Lizard

Opuntia the Greek is under here somewhere!

Madagascar Palm

“I’m very happy in my new home!”

Amaryllis Rebloom!

Yaayyy! More flowers on the way!

And now to the last picture,  because it’s been a long time since I’ve shown you the pepper plants:

Green Bell Pepper Blossom

After resting for a month, with no signs of production, the Ranchero pepper plants are once again covered in little white blooms!  This one was particularly worthy of a close-up!

Until next time…..

Enjoy Spring!   :)

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 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!   :)

2nd Generation Greek :)

A day or so ago, I  told you about some favorite heirloom seeds that align nicely with my European heritage.  Now comes the tale of an unexpected traveller who arrived at my door from the fertile, far-away isle of Dionysius’s nuptials.  :)  But first, the backstory.

In August 2010, Maggie left Florida for a 7month trip around the world that commenced in Ireland and ended in Guam. There were stops throughout Europe and then it was on to /Russia/Mongolia/China/So.East Asia/etc.  From place to place, she collected little souvenirs for the folks back home.   Fast forward a few months, to December..

During the week between my birthday and Christmas, I received quite a surprise: an envelope mailed from the Cyclades Islands!  Inside was a wonderful letter detailing Mag’s travels and a little black pouch containing a small opuntia pad snapped from a cactus at her Naxos Hotel!

naxos mother plant

I'm the mother plant!

The offspring opuntia was approximately 3″ round and already calloused over (overseas travel isn’t easy you know!!)  ;)  so I immediately potted her up in the good ol’ American sunshine to establish new roots:

naxos opuntia pad

I'm second generation!

Thirteen months have passed, and Opuntia seems happy in her new digs!   She’s not only rooted…she’s growing a “family!”

opuntia is growing!!

We're Greek Americans!!

Sigh……Don’t you just love a good immigration story???

Until next time, enjoy this short video of Opuntia’s birth land….it’s as pretty as she is!

How the Ranchero got its name

Tucked among the mexican donkey ears, i found the most wonderful late season garden surprise—some very unexpected pale pink dahlias, that I definitely hadn’t planted.  “Volunteers” happen often in my backyard cutting garden, but rarely in my main cactus garden, The Ranchero.

This might be a good time to tell you how The Ranchero was conceived, and subsequently named.

We moved to “small house” in December 2009; to the side of the screened porch was a thoroughly overgrown, empty koi pond with tons of weeds and a two paddled Opuntia. (I wish i’d taken “before” pictures, but alas…)  What an eyesore!  Nevertheless the basic outline had potential and the sun exposure was perfect for a succulent/cactus bed.  After two weeks of cleanup, the first specimens were planted

Fast forward to just before Mother’s Day, 2010. My daughter Maggie, who also lives at small house, had a friend visiting from up north.  Upon seeing our now very full cactus patch, she remarked,  “its soooooo ranchero!!!”   Three days later, they gave me this handpainted staked sign.

The original Vero Ranchero sign

and that is the story of how the Ranchero got its name…maybe you had to be there :) :)

The sign has since washed away in a flood,  but Maggie and I and the name remain….

Until the next time…..