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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hydrangea, Astromeria - June bloom So Cal

                                  Hydrangea macrophylla
Hydrangea (Hortensia) is not generally considered a water-saver. However in the cloud forest along the So Cal coast, hydrangeas---hydrangea macrophylla---in old gardens (along with Belle of Portugal roses) have survived for 50 years or better, planted as foundation plantings with an eastern (morning sun) exposure without extra water. In this garden 6 hydrangeas grown from cuttings from an old garden in the neighborhood, survive handily, bloom copiously, and manage on a soaker hose every 3 weeks  to keep them blooming  in summer. Hortensia survive with rainwater once the roots are well-established (thanks to the cloud cover),  losing only leaves if drought stricken. The plants  survive.

Our mop heads  came to the Americas via the Azores  but originate in Asia. There about 110 different kinds--- mopheads and lace caps being the most familiar around here.

                          Hydrangea macrophylla
The small potted plants from the grocery store will grow along the coast. A lot of websites airily aver you can turn your pink hydrangea to blue or purple by adding aluminum sulphate to the soil. This will work on the East Coast (or anywhere the soil is naturally acid.) It won't work around here if you plant your hydrangea in the ground, because our alkaline soil prevents the aluminum sulphate from working.

 If you must have blue--and it is lovely--put the plant in a pot of acid soil, then add the aluminum sulphate in the fall. However, you no longer have a drought resistant plant--- you have to water all the time---to be green, better to enjoy your hydrangeas pink.

                                           Astromeria aurea Golden Lily of the Incas

Astromeria, also called Peruvian Lily is another tough plant, drought resistant, blooming naturally after the winter rains, blooming much longer with an occasional soaking. Why Peruvian when actually our plants are hybrids of a plant from the mountains of Chile and another from the highlands  of Brazil ? To Europeans of the 18th c. all of  Spanish S. America was called "Peru". 

Though looking somewhat like a lily, it isn't. It's a rhizomous plant with water storing tubers, not unlike a dahlia. Our hybrids, developed mostly in England and Holland, are a cross between the winter blooming plant from Chile and the summer blooming plant from Brazil. It now comes in about 10 colors  and new colors are being hybridized. It's a long lasting cut flower--one of the best.


Atromeria bloom spring through summer. The trick to keep the flowers coming is to pull the flower off, not cut it. It then hastens to produce another flower stalk.

The seeds of astromeria were brought back to Linneus by a student of his, Claus von Astroemer who went on one of the earliest voyages of botanizing in S. America in 1753.* Linneus, no slouch at "branding" named the pretty Golden Lily of the Incas for the very wealthy father of Claus Astroemer. ("Keep those cards and letters coming...") 
                                                      Linneus dressed as a Laplander


 Claus actually described the Humboldt current 50 years before Humboldt. He was quite an adventurous fellow though you might not think so to look at him. Became a Baron, started a botanical garden at Gotheburg and has a perfect right to look pleased with himself.

Claus von Astroemer

Friday, June 22, 2012

Jacaranda, Poinciana, Golden Trumpet Tree--Blooming for Summer Solstice

These trees, tropical --and sub-tropical are the Cirque de Soleil of the summer solstice.

This tree is mysteriously absent from our Central Coast. This is peculiar as Poinciana tolerates temperatures to 20° and could, in theory be grown in suitable micro climates along the coast from San Diego to Point Conception.

                                                                   Golden Trumpet Tree
The Brazilian Golden Trumpet tree grows without problems along our coast as far north as Santa Barbara. It’s doesn’t develop into a luxurious golden canopy for a number of years unless it is planted in a sheltered hot spot , but even as a smaller tree it is worth growing.
All these trees are related, all members of the Bignonia  family  which was established early ( 17th c.) in the history of western botany to honor a great patron of botanists- Jean-Paul Bignon

 Bignon, through his influence with the king (Louis XIV) was able to get the necessary royal financing--- without which nothing got done in the France of Louis le Grande
.As plants,, many of the Bignonias are attention getters and  few of them are unassuming  (c.f  Scarlet Trumpet vine, also flourishing along the So Cal coast)

Unkind people might find the Bignonias a touch gaudy as his enemies found Jean-Paul. But for us,  Bignon gets added to the  list  of splendid patrons who had the  foresight  to support plant explorations. Even if these patrons,(like present day ethno-biologists combing the Amazon forests)  were after commercial results---hoping for something spectacular*

 Bignon’s protégé, De Tournefort was a serious scientist  (you can see by looking at him) who first sorted out the concept of genus. A physician as well as a botanist,  De Tournefort . was nearly  forced into the priesthood. Freed from this fate by his father’s death, De Tournefort to was  able to pursue his true passion--- botany.  (My perceptive readers have already figured out , that botany was the glamour science of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.)
De Tournefort’s efforts were rewarded with a professorship at the Jardin des Plantes. A plant explorer himself he encouraged others also  and wrote Elements de botanique (1694). Eventually, even  got  a 
street in Paris named for him.

                                                                             Rue Tourneforte
 Bignonias are a guy’s best friend….they won’t lose their shape.. Jacarandas are tough trees and often self-sow in So Cal. Their flower fall of purple rain  is exasperating to some, poetic to others. They are ,obviously, easy to grow. Jacaranda grows in well drained soil and tolerates drought. Water saver!

The  red canopied Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia) is equally thrifty  where it’s warm enough for it. (Zones 9-10).  
Mystified by the absence of Poincianas along the Central Coast, decided to grow my own. Perhaps the mystery is solved. When seeds arrived the package announced “ seeds may take several months to sprout at 75°-85°.(!)
 In the tropics those temperatures occur naturally; Poinciana grows like a weed. The Poinciana tree has nitrogen-fixating and soil-improving properties  Surprisingly, it is a legume. Native  to Madagascar, an entrepôt for the slave trade; Poinciana  travelled the Middle Passage to the West Indies .

In So Cal, the seeds need help to propagate quickly. See for good directions  Basically, you soak seeds in very hot water 48 hours  before planting. Hopefully,  shouldn't take months to sprout them—stay tuned….

Update August 27, 2012- Poinciana seeds from Rare seeds arrived within a few days and were subjected to the very hot water treatment, soaked in 1/4 of an inch of water until they spouted on 8/26/12/. Basically it took 2 months. Suspect it could be done in less time if the process were begun in August, as tropicals tend to sprout most quickly in late summer/early fall, getting ready for the rainy season.

                                                 photo from Trade Winds Fruit
 The Golden Trumpet tree Tabebuia chrysotrichaThis tree is a favorite of the University of Florida dept. of botany at  .   UFL can’t understand why more Golden Trumpets aren’t planted as  it’s a proved to be  happy urban tree that isn’t a water hog
 Grows to 25 feet.  Flowers appear as do the jacaranda flowers  while trees are leafless.. Tolerates temperatures into mid 20's F and looks best with occasional to regular watering in warm months plants flower best when not overwatered. [i]

Three colorful  canopies  of flowers with romantic pasts……… and water savers every one.

[i] Information from San Marcos Growers

  Blooger is knee-deep in technical difficulties having changed  browsers! Arghhh.....


*All hoped to find another  golden egg such as  the Spanish found in the cochineal trade based on 1,000 years of Aztec cactus farming .See A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield

For those who like their details up to date—Jacaranda is now a genus of its own. A lot of fine tuning goes on in the world of botany.  Bignonia is now a “family”.  Golden trumpet has also been assigned into 2 catergories.