3 interestingly new plants (seeds) to my collection

Dear everyone!

First of all, for my readers who celebrated Christmas hope you had joy and fun with your loved ones. Secondly I have an update to you. In today’s blog post I would like to talk about 3 different type of plants. These plants are dioscorea elephantipes, edithcolea grandis and euphorbia obesa.

What is common in all 3 is that I have recently bought seeds online and I have just made a potting video, which you can watch here: Potting of the seeds – you might ask, but it is winter! You shouldn’t sow seeds now! You are right, but this year, the winter is pretty mild, where I live, not to mention there is always a good amount of sun. So I am quite optimistic and hoping it works out well!

Without further delay let’s start talking about these plants. First I would like to talk about  dioscorea elephantipes.

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What everyone notices first is the strange shape and look. This is also why I have decided to acquire some seeds.  It is a deciduous climber. It takes the name “elephant’s foot” from the appearance of its large, partially buried, tuberous stem, which grows very slowly but often reaches a considerable size, often more than 3 m (10 ft) in circumference with a height of nearly 1 m (3 ft 3 in) above ground. It is rich in starch, whence the name Hottentot bread, and is covered on the outside with thick, hard, corky plates. It requires significant processing before being eaten to remove toxic compounds.

Primarily a winter grower, it develops slender, leafy, climbing shoots with dark-spotted, greenish-yellow flowers in winter (May or June in habitat)The flowers are dioecious, with male or female flowers occurring on separate plants.

Distribution

Its natural habitat is the arid inland regions of the Cape, stretching from the centre of the Northern Cape (where it occurs around Springbok), south to the Clanwilliam & Cederberg area, and eastwards through the districts of Graaff Reinet, Uniondale and Willowmore, as far as Grahamstown.

It was recently rediscovered in a section of the Northern Cape Province by an expedition collecting seeds for the Millennium Seed Bank Project.

In this area, it is most common on rocky north & east-facing slopes, in quartz or shale based soils.

Cultivation

This species is not difficult to cultivate, however it requires extremely coarse, well-drained soil, and sparse watering. Importantly, it is deciduous and loses its leaves in the summer. At this time it goes through a dry dormancy period.

Watering

This species indicates when it is requiring water, by the presence of green growth. From when a new growth appears from the caudex, it can receive regular watering, up until the growth withers and dies back. This is when the plant goes into its summer dormancy. Then watering should become more rare – until the next new growth appears.

The cycle can be extremely unpredictable or erratic, but in most cases this results in a watering regime of wetter winter and spring, and a dry summer dormancy period.

Sun & shade

In nature, the caudex is usually in shade beneath thicket vegetation, and only the leafy tendrils reach up to the sunlight. Therefore the caudex is sensitive to prolonged exposure to heat and full sunlight, and a dappled-sun or semi-shaded position is preferable. The green vine tendrils however, thrive if they are able to reach partial or full sunlight.

Soil

This plant grows naturally in brush on rocky slopes, so it requires extremely well-drained soil, with a large (at least 50%) mineral component.


Second is the edithcolea grandis.

Edithcolea-grandis-Persian-Carpet-Flower

Edithcolea is a monotypic genus with a single species Edithcolea grandis (Persian carpet flower). Once classified in the family Asclepiadaceae, it is now in the subfamily Asclepiadoideae of the dogbane family Apocynaceae. It is native to Africa and to the Arabian Peninsula.

The genus is named after Miss Edith Cole (1859-1940). She collected the type material for this plant together with Mrs. Lort Philips in 1895, during a botanical expedition (1894-1895) led by Mr. Ethelbert Edward Lort Phillips (1857-1944) from Berbera to the Golis mountains in northern Somalia.

Edithcolea grandis is a succulent plant with leafless richly branched perennial and decumbent stems with a diameter of 2 to 4 cm and up to 30 cm in length (ref prota, ref Field 80). The glabrous stems are 4 or 5 angled and armed with regularly placed hard and acute spinelike teeth or tubercules. The base color of the plant varies from green to red with brownish spots.

The bisexual flowers are 8 to 13 cm in diameter and are formed near the apex of the branches. The flower consists of an outer corolla with 5 corolla lobes (petals), which are fused halfway to the center and a relatively small inner corolla. The outside or back side of the flower is yellow to green. The inside consist of a pale yellow base color with a purple-reddish pattern of spots at the outside that gradually become smaller near the inner corona, which has itself has concentric reddish lines. Long purple hairs are present at the border of the brim of the outer corolla lobes. The remarkable flower is at times described as the Persian carpet flower. The carrion-like smell of the flowers attracts flies and other insects for pollination.

The fruit (follicles) contain a large number of seeds. The oval shaped seeds bear a tuft of hairs (coma) so they can be dispersed with the wind. The smaller variant baylissiana (Lavros & Hardy) has more branched stems that are smaller in diameter (1 to 1.5 cm), shorter (10 cm) and are often spirally twisted.

Distribution

Edithcolea grandis is distributed throughout the African Great Lakes region (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda), the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia) and Yemen (including the Socotra archipelago). The plant is found in dry and arid regions. Sometimes in full sun, but mostly partly shaded by rocks and shrubby vegetation.

Usage and growth

 

Edithcolea grandis is occasionally cultivated as an ornamental in desert gardens worldwide. It has a gained a reputation as a particularly difficult plant to keep because of its very specific growing needs with much light and relatively high (above 15 °C) winter temperatures. It’s very susceptible to rot in combination with low temperatures.


Third and last plant is the euphorbia obesa. 

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Euphorbia obesa is a subtropical succulent species of Euphorbia genus. It comes from South Africa, especially in the Cape Province. Sometimes referred to as a Kaffirhuisie, or a Baseball plant. In the wild, it is endangered because of over-collection and poaching, because of its slow growth, and the fact that the pod contains only 2 to 3 seeds. However, it is widely cultivated in botanical gardens.

Description

Euphorbia obesa resembles a ball, thornless and decorative. It is commonly known as ‘baseball plant’ due to its shape. Its diameter is between 6 cm and 15 cm depending on its age. Young Euphorbia obesas are spherical, but become cylindrical with age. They contain water reservoirs for periods of drought.

The plant is dioecious, which means that a subject has only male or female flowers. The small flowers are insignificant in apex. In fact, like all Euphorbia, flowers are called cyathia.

As in all Euphorbia species, the latex is toxic.

Living in similar conditions on two different continents, Euphorbia obesa presents a form of convergence with Astrophytum asterias which is a cactus from Mexico.

Distribution

This species is indigenous to a small range in the arid Karoo region of South Africa. This is a region of summer rainfall.


Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dioscorea_elephantipes
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edithcolea
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphorbia_obesa

 

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Plants That Changed the Course of History – The pineapple

Dear everyone!

It is December and as you know, during this time majority of the plants are in rest period. That means I don’t have much work with them. Luckily that means I have time to do other things, sadly that means I won’t be able to post on my blog as frequently.

BUT…

Recently a book came to my attention. I found and bought called “Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History by Bill Laws”. So I have decided to start a new winter series and talk about plants which have changed the world we are currently living in. If you haven’t heard about this book, I recommend you to check it out. Some plants I am sure you have heard of, while others can be a surprise to you. Without revealing too much, I will mention some of the plants from the book… so spoiler alert!

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Plants That Changed the Course of History – The pineapple
You might ask yourself… the pineapple? Must do something with agriculture, right? In fact yes and no. Many plants are related to agriculture or consumption, but not the pineapple, it shaped architecture mostly!

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The pineapple has a long and interesting history. Many fruits, vegetables, animals were unknown in Europe before the exploration of the New World aka America. The pineapple prefers warm climate, hardly a climate which is in the (large part) of Europe. Captains, scientists and explorers returned from America with exotic fruits, plants and animals, so they can studied (or reproduced) in Europe. But here came the first issue. It required suitable conditions.
Especially on the colder regions of Europe it seemed challenging to produce these topical fruits. Great Britain was one of the regions. The era of inventions in horticulture started, and it spread like fire, a competition between royal courts and aristocracy. It was challenging to produce exotic plants, and they tried everything.. wooden structured glass tents with heating stoves and best quality horse manure.
John Evelyn, gardener and writer, wrote about how to use the natural resources (Sun) with combination of manure to heat glasshouses.
The upcoming years the “greenhouse building passion” didn’t decrease in fact it started to become more and more popular across the Western world.

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Hendrick Danckerts’ painting about John Rose, royal gardener giving a pineapple as present to Charles II., King of England

The biggest breakthrough was achieved by Joseph Paxton, the son of a British peasant. He revolutionised how greenhouses work. He realised the importance of ventilation in greenhouses, the white walls reflecting light and heat, furthermore if the glass windows are 52° degree, then during the noon period, the roof can collect the most sunlight. His observations revolutionised greenhouses and until today they are relevant.

In summary, tropical fruits – mostly the “weird shaped” pineapple revolutionised and promoted the use of greenhouses. Thanks to that, we can now grow tropical fruits, vegetables all year round even at the colder regions of the world!

 

The Soil

Hello everyone,

During the last months, I have talked about various plants and fungi, but I haven’t talked about something, which all of them need – except Tillandsien – and it is the soil. The soil is the key to start… basically everything.

Imagine, without (clean, nutritious and healthy) soil there wouldn’t be agriculture, trees and plants, and this would affect everything, the whole ecosystem. This is why when corporations or consumers pollute their soil, is like pointing the gun towards ourselves.

Let’s start our journey in the garden. You go outside and dip up some soil. In that small amount of soil, you can see more diversity than anywhere else. On the top (humus) layer, you can find various plants, seeds, mosses, fungi, bugs, bacteria and even animals (if it is a big piece of soil of course :)), the more you go down (top soil – subsoil and finally bedrock) and more hidden world appears in front of us. You can find a waste network of plant roots, the underground network of fungi, “gardening” earthworms, maybe some borrowing animal (mole) and millions – billions of microbes.

soil-life
Source: http://www.ezrasorganics.com

This clearly shows that soil is providing home, food and generally life for all of us. But what is it made of?
– 45% minerals
– 25% water
– 5% organic matter
– 25% air*

I will not go into too much in the detail, but all the 4 elements above are crucial to create a healthy cycle of life – if you are interested in it more detailed, feel free to read about it here.

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Source: USDA

* data from United States Department of Agriculture

We can also talk about multiple type of soil. There are areas which are rich in minerals, while others are poor. Different colours, from brown, white, red or black. Different textures from rocky to sandy places, but surprisingly nature found a way to adopt to most of these terrains and conditions. The soil texture is dependent on 2 aspects, such as natural (weather) and non-natural (human) interventions. The biggest changes occur, because of humanity, agricultural and urban development interventions and climate change.

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Source: USDA

Sadly, due to humanity we are faster and faster destroying the soil. With the increasing population we need bigger and bigger areas for agriculture, and where agriculture is present it destroys the ecological balance of the soil. By nature, the upper layer of the soil is slowly losing its mineral content due to wind and water – this is what we call soil erosion. To this soil erosion process, agriculture plays a significant role. It has speed up the process by 10-40 times.

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Source: Wikipedia

As you can see from the map, huge areas will be affected in the near future if we can’t find a solution to soil erosion. Everyone can do a bit to preserve their healthy environment. The next time you plan to use chemicals in your garden, think about a more biologically friendly solution!

Rose of Jericho, the resurrection plant

Hello everyone,

Today I would like to talk about a very interesting plant. I am sure you know my common phrase “the world of plants can’t stop to amaze me, with its diversity”. I could repeat myself. This plant can literally “cheat death” with its unbelievable strategy to survive without water.

I am talking about the Selaginella lepidophylla, aka (fake) rose of Jericho. This plant has a strategy to survive dry conditions. In fact it can survive without water for years and years. This plant is native in the Chihuahuan Desert (Mexico/USA). It forms a tumbleweed, which means they are blown by the wind around the desert. By the first look, they seem to be a bunch of dry, dead sticks and leaves.

 

rose-von-jerichoSource: http://www.krautrausch.de/rose-von-jericho

But when it gets in contact with moisture, it starts to “resurrect”. It begins to curl out and the yellow/brownish color starts to turn green – this is why it received the name, resurrection plant.

Selaginella lepidophylla is easily confused with Anastatica both species are resurrection plants and form tumbleweeds, they share the common name “rose of Jericho”.
Source: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selaginella_lepidophylla

In some traditions, the plant symbolizes energy renewal, good luck, good business and health.

Lately I have purchased 2 specimen to seem them coming back to life before my eyes. It takes couple of hours to unfold, so I have decided to make a video out of it. The video can be seen on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-1rIzd5mCE

Thank you for reading! 🙂

THE TERRARIUM EXPERIMENT – PART 2

Hello everyone,

As a continuation of last week’s topic, I am now going to talk a bit about plants in a closed environment. Last week, I have showed you, how I made a terrarium from a starter kit, and this week I would like to talk about the principle behind it.

So why is it an interesting experiment? First of all, it demonstrates in a micro environment how different organism work together to create an ecosystem. An ecosystem (as you can guess from its name) must something to do with interactions. To speak scientifically ecosystem is: An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system. (Wikipedia). This is simple and complex at the same time. Simple in sense to understand how it work, it is a circle of life/activities, and complex in terms of chemical and biological procedure – luckily nature invented it and it works perfectly. In this process are key non-living components like Water(H20), N2(Nitrogen), Oxygen(O2), Carbon Dioxide(CO2) and living components like plants, fungi, bugs and animals.

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The nutrient cycle

In fact, you don’t need to make this experiment, you are already part of this experiment – by living on the planet. Nevertheless it is fun to see how a micro environment evolves.

So from now on, we will talk about the process in a terrarium. And let’s start from the bottom upwards…
There are 4 key elements to understand:
1. Drainage, it is key to avoid the rotting of the roots and keep the water sitting in the soil.
2. Charcoal layer, it cleans the water and soil fresh and removes toxins (unfortunately in my kit there was no such)
3. Soil, obviously one of the most important since plants need a growing medium. It needs to be clean, high in minerals and non-chemically treated.
4. Plants, to enable the ecosystem to cycle.

Afterwards, the only component you need to add, is water and ready to experience how our ecosystem works.

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An overview

In action you can see, how it looks like:

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Our planet works on the same principle and just like in the your glass jar, the earth consists of different layers – of course a little bit more complex

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To simply explain I will use the explanation from BottledPlants.com:

They divided it into 2 categories. 1. Water cycle and 2. Gaseous Exchange

1. Water Cycle:
Terrarium-Ecosystem-–-Water-cycle.png

Starting from the plant itself:

  1. Plant Transpires – This means the exchange of gas between the environment. This also means gas in the form of water vapour, as technically, water behaves like gas in this stage of the water cycle.
  2. Water Condenses – Water vapour given out by the plant condenses into water droplets. These water droplets may form on the wall of the enclosure or in the air itself as mist. Usually mist will form during cooler temperature. However, if the terrarium is overly watered, water droplets on the water will be visible throughout the day. This is when you need to ‘air’ the plant.
  3. Soil Wets – Mist in the air and water droplets on the wall sips into the soil. This of course includes you watering the soil. Always use a sprinkler so as to maintain top soil layer’s landscape.
  4. Water Absorption – Water is taken into the roots following a few methods.
    • Osmosis – This happens when there is a lower concentration of salt in the soil than in the plant at the root. Water basically flows into the roots along the concentration gradient, from a lower salt concentration to a higher salt concentration. This process does not take up energy.
    • Reverse Osmosis (RO) – This takes place when there is a higher concentration of salt in the soil than in the plant at the root. Not to be mistaken by dryness of soil, a relatively dry soil can still be low in salt concentration. This process requires the use of energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). ATP is manufactured in the leaves during photosynthesis.
    •  Capillary Action – This action takes place simultaneously during Osmosis or RO. Basically it makes use of surface tension and suction effect to draw water. The molecular forces in the Plant’s stem attracts water molecules on it’s inner surface and draws water up against gravity. Transpiration of the plant also creates a suction effect (think sucking water through a straw) which suck up water on the surface of tubes in the stem

This lesson on the water cycle happening in a terrarium ecosystem does not take into account how the plant makes use of the water. However, it gives you a basic idea of the water cycle.

2. Gaseous Exchange:

Terrarium-Ecology-Gaseous-Exchange.png

As mentioned at the beginning there are numerous important gases which are required to ensure a healthy ecosystem. CO2 and O2 you know they are important, but there is also another very important component, N2 – Nitrogen. It important to have in the the air of the terrarium, but too much will kill the life inside. As a solution, you can use lichen (as it was included in my starter kit).

All in all, having a sealed terrarium is easy to maintain – in theory – but in practice you see that the chemical and biological processes are very complex and too much or too little from one component can destroy the whole life.

Finally, I leave you with a thought to think about. Our planet. Our planet was engineered perfectly by nature, but one component – human activity (over exploitation of resources, pollution, over population, etc.) threatens the whole system. We can see how easily everything can collapse and everyone will experience the consequences!

Thank you for reading!

The Terrarium Experiment – part 1

Hello everyone,

Today I would like to share an easy and interesting experiment, which demonstrates in a micro environment how our planet works. It is a fun for everyone experiment, no matter how old are you, and you can observe some interesting facts about our nature. In part 1, I will talk about the creation of a terrarium, while in the part 2 the scientific explanation how things work and what process is going through inside the glass.

First of all, let’s talk about how to make it and what you will need:
– a glass container
– a lid (preferably corkwood, but others will do too)
– rocks
– soil
– plants

You can either do it yourself or buy kits in shops – either way, it should be easy. In my case I will use a kit and in the future I plan to do my own version. If you are doing your own version, it can be more advanced – later I will tell your more about it.

So let’s start!

What did I get in the kit? I got some Asparagus aethiopicus seeds, a bag of Pozzolan (volcanic) stones, dried and pressed coconut coir soil, couple of stones (decoration), 2 panda figures (decoration), Lichen.

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You may ask, is it good or enough to build a terrarium? Yes, but of course it could be improved slightly.
Before I have started to build my terrarium, I have soaked 2 paper towels in lukewarm water and wrapped it around the asparagus seeds.

Then I have left the seeds in a fairly warm location (it is summer so close to the window) for 24-48 hours to start the germination process. Now comes the waiting…

After 1,5 days, I took the seeds out of the wet paper towels. Now the terrarium was ready to get assembled.
I have put the pozzolan stones on the bottom, to ensure that the access water wont sit in the soil to prevent mold.

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Next step was the soil. I received dried coconut coir soil, which means I needed water to make “useable” soil. I have added double amount of water than the volume of the coir, and let the soil sit in the water for couple of minutes.

At this point, I recommend you to use gardening gloves or latex gloves to avoid messy situations – especially if you are indoors like me! 🙂 Next with a spoon or small shovel (or with hands like I did), you can add the coconut coir on the top of the rocks and spread it on the surface equally. Do not mix it with the stones, the purpose is to let the access water drip down through the stones.
Next step are seeds. First, I have dropped them on the top of the coir and then carefully to push them in the soil, about 1 cm deep.

If you have a small wooden stick, it can help a lot to arrange the seeds nicely.
Finally all I had to do is place the lichen on the top. Before doing so, I have placed it in water for couple of minutes to ensure it soaks some water up and get it a little bit more clean. The reason why the lichen is there is not because of decoration, but because of a very important task. It will stabilize the environment.

As a final touch I have added couple of drop (distilled) water, and my terrarium is read to get sealed tightly. I didn’t add the decoration elements to give more space for the plants to grow, but if you want, you can do so.

I leave it on my table in the living room, close to the window where it gets enough light and warmth. During summer, especially if you have hot a strong sun, it is advised to move it to a more shady location, while during winter closer to the window. Also don’t be surprised if during winter it dries out, it can happen if you keep it too close to heater. In this case, just remove the lid and add couple of drops of water.
At this point you can also ask, how do I know I had added enough water and not too much/little? It isn’t a problem if you can’t get the right amount right. First of all, after you have sealed the lid, you can see some drops on the side of the glass.

It is normal and if you see this, you did right. The problem starts (example on picture) if you see the walls are foggy and not dripping water. That means you should open the lid and wait couple of hours/ half a day, so access water will evaporate from the glass, and then again seal it tightly. It is a bit challenging to find the right balance, but not impossible. So don’t forget, if you see water dripping of the wall is good, if you see that the walls are foggy (like mine), just open it and let the access water evaporate!

In case you wish to “upgrade” or make your own terrarium, I highly recommend to watch the following YouTube videos by SerpaDesign:

He mentions various rocks, soils, plants and even life within the terrarium. He also highlights the importance of springtails in the closed environment and why their presence is beneficial. I highly recommend to check it out!

I hope my experience made you curious to start your own terrarium! In couple of days, I will publish my follow up post on “how does a terrarium work?”

Thank you for reading!

My bonsai experience – with a lot of pictures!

Hello everyone,

Today I would like share & mark a special occasion with you. Lately I was busy with moving and traveling, but now I finally managed to bring a very special content to you. This is something I know people love to see and experience – and as you could read from the title – yes it is a bonsai post, hurray!

I usually share my stories about plants, with sometimes some scientific posts, but this time the post’s main purpose will be to please the eyes. Please note this isn’t a commercial, I was just really lucky enough to find this shop not far from my flat and the owner was kind enough to show me around and allow me to take photos about the plants. So here is the story…

It was a normal day in Brussels, Belgium. I was walking around enjoying the sunny weather when I found a sign:

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The bonsai store at Rue Lesbroussart, 30 in Brussels, Belgium

I was surprised and as a bonsai and plant fan like me, I had to go in. I wasn’t disappointed. Next to “typical” bonsai plants I saw really magnificent ones. It had 2 sections. Indoor and outdoor bonsai. The owner was a really stunning and helpful woman, with whom we talked a lot about the bonsai and the shop. Eventually I had to ask if I can take some photos for my blog and she kindly agreed. Now came the problem.. I wanted to take a photo from all plants, but then I would be still there, shooting photos. I tried to make a selection of the most interesting plants. I am curious how many species you can recognise! I made a slideshow about the individual plants:

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Even many single specimen were beautiful, but as a whole, the outside garden was stunning!

Just look at these beautiful colors! This is why I love spring!

But it is not over yet. For a grand final I would like to share with you one of the most beautiful bonsai I found in the shop.  It is a 35+ years old Azalea in full bloom! If this doesn’t make you WOW! than nothing will! 🙂

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So all in all, I had a great, short trip experience in the shop. If you are in Brussels, I definitely recommend you to visit the place, you can find there many beautiful bonsai and expertise from the owner!

Let me know in the comments which is your favourite one! 🙂