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  The cheery garden colors of summer and falll have been replaced by interesting textures and jewel tones: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…..


Artocarpus heterophyllus aka Jackfruit tree

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

The plants in my Ranchero garden are an eclectic mix of native, non-native and downright foreign, like this Opuntia Microdasys Albispina (whose story I’ve previously shared.)

Opuntia Microdasys came from Naxos, Greece!

It was a big surprise when this cactus arrived in 2010 via international mail; a single, rootless pad severed from a plant on a Naxos, Greece balcony!  Since crossing the Atlantic, it’s grown quite a bit, spawning a new family tradition AND American offspring ➡ when Maggie recently left Vero for her college apartment, I sent a single, rootless pad along for the ride!  🙂

The next foreign plant has never appeared on the blog before…strange really, considering the backstory!

Jackfruit Tree Sapling, Oct 31, 2012 Vero Beach. FL

The sapling amidst the mexican donkey ears is a Jackfruit tree, grown from foreign seeds I received in a bizarre, roundabout way from my stepdad.

The story goes like this:

In August 2010, he went to metro Boston for his grandchild’s 1st birthday. During the visit, he met a next-door neighbor, a Filipino lady who purchased a jackfruit at the local Asian market.. Upon hearing he was returning to Florida she said, “take these seeds and grow them.”  (wierd story?!!)  He pocketted the seeds….actually, he packed them in his carry-on: there were 8 seeds in total, and they were HUGE!

Naturally, when he got back to Vero Beach, he gave them to me:  “Take these seeds and grow them.” 😉  ha!!!  It was more like, “maybe you can do something with these?”

And so, most were dug into the Ranchero and a few into pots: 6 germinated and did well until the historic, 3 week cold snap of December, 2010.  In a month when lizards and oranges fell dead from frostbitten trees, I never expected my tiny new seedlings would survive, yet one did!   A truly remarkable event since Jackfruit trees are rare (foreign, really) anywhere north of Miami!

For more facts and legends about these interesting trees, click here

Until next time…..

🙂 🙂

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 ➡ 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. 🙄 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!

🙂 🙂

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 ➡ 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….

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…..