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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Blooming now Echium candicans of unsung hero , Francis Masson

                         Echium candicans- Pride of Madeira

This plant is one more denizen of the cloud forest that has successfully adapted to the So Cal coast. The ones in the picture are a rather sedate size, but given their head echium candicans can and will grow to 6 feet. As the name suggests they hale from the island of Madeira off the coast of Africa


 Their native habitat is windswept, fog wrapped, dry cliffs. This means--- Pride of Madeira is an unsurpassed plant for us  to cover steep, difficult slopes with an exuberance of blue steeples in spring and early summer. Once established ( some water the first year) all they'll need is the pruning shears there after. 

 Bees, butterflies and birds love them.
                         Echium candicans  combined with aloes

Hummingbirds particularly would love this combination as  aloe arborescens is one of their favorite plants.

 Pride of Madeira is  an almost perfect 10-- drought resistant, home for butterflies, bees love it (and the honey is reputed to be very good). It is a bird refuge. The only thing it isn't, since it isn't a succulent--- is fire retardant. However if combined with aloes as above, it becomes lots  less flammable.

Echium candicans can be grown from softwood cuttings,  or seeds or a 5 gal. plant from the nursery. They are gangly babies, showing little promise of their swan-like conversion into a mass of spectacular blue steeples.

 Echium candicans has a first cousin called Tower of Jewels Echium wildpretii a native of Teneriffe very similar to candicans but bigger and redder.

                                    Echium wildpretti- Tower of Jewels

It is classified as a biennial, like parsley, but either this is not true in So Cal, or it self- sows so readily you never notice its biennial nature? (Try saying self-sows so readily a few times...). Anyhow--the bees think it is simply superior:

 Tower of Jewels close-up with bee (W)
(The Canary Islands and Madeira are very close neighbors off the African coast. Madeira lies slightly to the west of the Canaries at 32.6511° N, 16.9097° W.)
These tough beauties were sent to Kew Gardens in 1777 and were collected by one of the more unsung heroes of the plant world, Francis Masson.

Masson was a Scot, as were many of the great English gardeners. He was the first of the plant hunters from Kew, hired by Joseph Banks* to actually do the heavy lifting of collecting, nurturing and transporting the new species found  on Captain Cook's second circumnavigation  of the globe aboard the Resolution.

 As a gardener/botanist Masson slept and ate with the crew since he did not rank as a "gentleman" in the English caste system. That means a hammock in a 4 foot space.

Masson was dropped off in S. Africa where he spent 2 years collecting,( while Cook proceeded to his death in Hawaii.)  Masson collected over 1700  new species for Kew, 500 in S. Africa alone. 

                        Protea-  Photo ©  by Martin Heigen 

 In 1776 Masson went to Madeira , the Canaries and the Azores  collecting the echiums, sending them back to Kew. His Account of the island of St Miguel”  was published in 1778 in the “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.

A potted palm ( Encephalartos altensteiniiEastern Cape Giant Cyclad   he collected and cared for is still alive at Kew in the Palm House-- the oldest potted plant in the world. It can be seen in the background  this painting of Masson at Kew.

Masson was recognized by his contemporaries as the prodigious botanist he was and was made a Fellow of the Linnean Society -  a most unusual honor for a  "gardener".

" Banks once more persuaded" Masson to go collecting--this time in Canada. Masson  spent the next seven years collecting plants in the Great Lakes area of Canada. He died in Montreal.

The genus Massonia is named after Masson. A most unassuming genus.
                          Massonia echinata (like a hedgehog)
 Every time you see an agapantha displaying its blue fireworks, or a  Bird of Paradise flaunting itself, a gazania, a Tower of Jewels, a Pride of Madeira--bless Francis Masson. 
Note: see the Kew website and one called  Unknown Scotland. (Masson was born in Aberdeen and the Scots are rightly proud of him).
*More about Banks in a later blog. He's certainly a hero, but hardly an unknown.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Epiphyllum blooming season in SoCal

                                              German Empress hybrid
This is epiphyllum blooming season in So Cal. Always forget how spectacular they are. This year the pink and  coral shades are blooming  now on the place, and reds are in the nurseries.

Epi’s bloom through the spring and into summer. My experience is that the bloom times are fairly unpredictable, but my plants are from plants that were 50 years old  when the cuttings, unnamed, were made. Modern hybrids are possibly more reliable?

America's Sweetheart hybrid

In  innocence (polite term  for ignorance) thought I could easily give a description of the various types of epi’s. Wrong. To generalize madly---modern epi’s are the result of hybridization with day blooming  types, hyliocerius and night blooming cereus.( The best account of the epiphyllum species is probably the website Got Epi’s ( )   Highly recommended.

Meanwhile the word epiphyllum comes from Greek and means “upon the leaf” which is where the blooms occur.
                                                               e. akermanii
Though hard to classify neatly, most epiphyllum are easy to grow in So Cal--they like dappled shade, bloom best growing  in pots (mimicking the tree forks they like in their natural state), a bit of water, but not too much--every 10 days in the summer is good--- a potting soil for terrestial orchids works . Or use a formula especially for epis consisting of potting soil, bark, a bit of perlite. In other words-rich but fast draining. Every grower has his own perfect recipe.
                                                           Epi Rose Samoa
Generally grown from cuttings--- hopefully find a friend for free ones--- or a vendor on the Internet. Actually the free ones might come into bloom faster, if you can score an old leaf. Epi's bloom on older leaves. Vendors generally supply newer leaves, which are going to take maybe 3 years to come into flower.
 Epis are first cousins to Dragon Fruit ( a hyliocereus) (see earlier blog August 22 , 2011) . DF's take 2-3 years to begin flowering and fruiting. All hybrid epi's have hyliocerues in their parentage, otherwise they'd bloom only at night. The colored day blooming epi's have night blooming cereus in their parentage if they are fragrant. ( Surmise! This is tricky stuff. ) Here is the Night Blooming Cereus in one of the most goth illustrations around:
   From  Dr. Robert John Thorton’s The Temple of Flora.                                  1799.**

Though hard to see in this print, in the background there's  a clock tower pointing to midnight, emphasizing that the cereus flower lasts only for one night. It is very  scented.
Caveat emptor-- many of the plants called night blooming cereus aren't. They are epiphyllum oxypetallum which is a glorious and dazzling plant in it's own right.

                         Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum Oxypetalum)
The leaves of the Queen are flat, epi leaves.Night blooming cereus has funny, spiny,gangling  round leaves.( see 1799 illustration above)
                      Here is Night Blooming Cereus climbing a palm tree

 Some Night blooming cereus are temperamental along the So Cal coast. (Epi's aren't) Had one cereus that grew and lived for many years but never bloomed.Triangular leaf. Acanthocereus tetragonus. Too dry for it at 1200 feet up in the foothills.Acanthocereus tetragonust is a native of S. Florida, needs a more humid, tropical climate than our semi-arid foothills.Might grow along the coast in a sheltered hot spot?
                               This one is also called Barbed Wire plant
Another cereus that blooms profusely along the coast in So Cal is c. peruvianus, which also bears fruit (pitahaya) . It blooms at night (of course) is scented and grows fast. Mine used to bloom in July. Gave it away and planted an apple tree instead.( Like apples better than pitahaya.)


Bet you're  glad we got that  sorted out.....
The weather this spring has swung so madly from hot to cold, accompanied by late rains it’s  no wonder the epis are in major  survival mode.” If the plant is very healthy it doesn't feel threatened and won't bloom"* We like to think plants bloom and fruit trees bare when they are happy. This is—to an extent, true. But they also react to stress by  blooming more and setting more fruit to ensure their survival, much as the human birth rate rises in times of war.

                                                                  St. Louis Spring hybrid
Stormy Weather
This one is a favorite-tempramental bloomer- but worth the wait for its fushia interior and scarlet exterior. The plant is about 20 years old. Blooms best if left in at least 1/2 day sun along the coast. Move into shade once blooms are set.

See even more epi's having a survival party at :
                                            EPICON XIII
                    The 13th International Epiphyllum Convention May 26 & 27, 2012

* quote from Got Epi's

** This has recently been re- published in several editions