Hoya Plant

Hoya flower

Hoya flower

Here is an interesting flower seen at Selby Gardens in Sarasota, Florida. The Hoyas are a group of tropical vines that are usually epiphytic. That means that they grow up on a support (such as a tree) and need humid air and dew for a source of water. The most common houseplant sold in garden centers is Hoya carnosa. It comes in a variety of leaf colors and if given enough sunshine, it will flower. The flower and plant are waxy to conserve moisture. Although they may be grown in a humid area, they make the most of any liquids coming their way by being almost plasticy feeling with a heavy layer of wax.

The reason I wanted to show you a picture of the inflorescence is that it is a good example of an umbel. The individual flowers are tiny five petalled affairs. The are clumped together by their stems and come out from the center like a firework. That is an umbel. In the Hoya they are usually a ball of individual little flowers. Some other plants that are umbel-bearers are flat topped umbels like the wild carrot, etc.



Dwarf Alberta Spruce Sports

Most of the time when you hear the word “sport” you think of a game like soccer or baseball. In botany there are sports of another kind. Occasionally, a plant will develop a very different looking branch compared to the rest of the plant. Sometimes this branch has characteristics that make it desirable to nurserymen to propagate a new type of the plant. If they can get a cutting going and grow the whole branch out into a plant on its own roots or graft it onto a rootstock, they may have a new variety of the plant that can be propagated for commercial purposes. These sports are highly desired because of this.

An example of a sport that has become a popular garden plant is the dwarf Alberta spruce. It is a dwarf variety of a white spruce (Picea glauca). Regular white spruce can grow in the forests up to nearly 100 feet tall. With the sport, the distance between the branches is very reduced. It may only grow a couple of inches per year. A twenty-five year old regular white spruce may be about 40 feet tall and a dwarf one may stand only 5-6 feet tall. This reduced branch growth makes the little tree very tight and compact. It is a very attractive small landscape shrub and commands a good price for the grower.

The large branch winging out is a normal Alberta white spruce without the dwarfing effect.

The picture above was taken of a Dwarf Alberta Spruce growing in a cemetery where it has attained the height of over 8 feet. Since it is actually a white spruce, genetically, it has all the makings of a big tree. Only the small genetic change that occurred in the sport branch has dwarfed the plant. Plants and other creatures make mistakes sometimes in their cell division when the chromosomes split and sort and divide. It was a mistake that created the sport in the first place and after many years and cell divisions later, another mistake can undwarf it. This “big” branch coming out will soon grow and grow and begin shading out the shrub. It is a more successful form of the spruce so if the tree has a chance, it will send more nutrients and water and growth hormones to it at the expense of the dwarf part. If you want the shrub to stay dwarfed, it is important to prune out the reverted sport and keep the form dwarfed.

Progress Report on the Hops

Progress report on the hops

A quick photo update on the Hops plants. Williamette seems to be the best grower with over 6 feet of vines produced in their first year. All the others are still growing like crazy. So far, I have found you can make tea, mouthwash, underarm deodorant and of course, flavor beer with hops. I may have to invent new uses with all the production.


We have been enjoying the nice weather lately and have been taking photos of tulips. The many colors and forms and heights of tulips are just amazing. At our local Botanic Garden, Dow Gardens, they have planted a huge display of every color and type to greet the visitors at the entrance.

At an average cost of $.25 to $.50 per bulb, a solid bed of blooms could easily cost $10,000 or more.

Here, in a high profile entrance, the tulips will be grown as a seasonal display and pulled out after blooming to make way for annual flowers.

Tulips are, botanically, a perennial and they do survive the winters and reflower the next year.

Tulips are prone to pests such as voles or other creatures who eat the bulb.

Tulips are a member of the Lily Family. They are a perennial bulb that is tolerant to very cold weather. In fact, they require a period of chilling in the winter where they lie dormant and mature their flower buds in preparation for blooming in the spring. That is why you cannot grow tulips properly in tropical climates. Like many bulbs, the Tulip has several distinct periods of growth. The spring flowers are just the end of the cycle that we enjoy. Along with the flowers blooming, the big leaves grow out each spring and recharge the bulb so it can go dormant in the summer. Dry summer weather deep underground, the bulbs store their energy and wait for autumn rains to push them into growth in the root area. The roots get going in September or October and anchor the bulb down under ground. It is important that the roots come out and latch onto the soil before the ground gets so cold that they cannot grow anymore. If you plant tulips very late, and cold weather settles into the ground before the roots are established, and your tulips will not grow well the next spring.

Tulips are famous for the so-called “Stock Market Tulip Mania” that spread through the Netherlands in the early 1600s. Speculators purchased bulbs and traded them hoping to double and triple their investment. The time period is often used as an illustration of stock market “bubbles” where enthusiastic speculators bid up the price of something hoping to sell it off to a greater fool before reality sets in and the item loses most of its value. Many fortunes were made and lost between 1634 and 1637 on tulips.

Today we enjoy bulbs for their beauty and a true signal that spring has finally arrived.

Update on the Hops

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An update on the small hops plants that went in recently. It is not even 2 weeks now and one of them has grown 12 inches! People have told me that these are vigorous growers and I guess they are right. They do not even have many roots yet and they are sprouting up very well. I may have to go into the hops business.

Growing Hops

Spring has sprung here in the great midwest and Infamous did a little gardening today. My activities involved a new plant for my garden. I am going to try growing Hops. Hops is the bitter stuff they use to flavor beer. It is winter hardy here and although an unusual plant, it is grown by some hobbyists.

My shipment arrived in a plastic bag in bareroot form. They looked like fat cigars covered with bark. I had a great deal of trouble locating a source for them but I am quite pleased with the plants I received. I ourchased from Freshops located in Philomath, Oregon. Their phone number is (800)460-6925. They had a long list of varieties with various characteristics explained. If you know what you are doing, you can select just the right flavor for your home brew. Since I am a mere dabbler in brewing, I was more interested in the appearance, disease resistance and growth characteristics than flavor. I selected three varieties, Brewers’ Gold, Cascade, and Williamette.

The plants arrived just barely starting to bud out. I got good sized big chunks of root rhizomes and they have to grow their own roots. I started the plants in turkey roaster trays made of aluminum. I have to transplant them later to their ultimate growing spot but I do not have that ready yet.

Since roots grow based on signals from auxin, I did not remove any buds that were peeking out. The growing point of the bud is a rich source of auxin and removing them would have decreased the “let’s grow roots” signal in the plants. By the time they are transplanted to their permanent locale I hope to have a good deal of root growth starting.

Hops are a perennial vine that grow very fast and vigorously each season. The tops apparently die to the ground each year and start afresh each spring. I plan to grow them up a wooden trellis but any support can be used. They are heavy feeders and are best grown with lots of sun, water and fertilizer.

From my reading, the worst problem with them is downy mildew. It can really decrease growth of the plants and make the new shoots die back. I will wait to see if my environment has this problem. It may be more prevalent in the Pacific Northwest.

The other problems that may occur are minor fungal problems, aphids and mites.

The source of the hops for brewing is in the female flowers at the tips of the vines. The flowers are dioecious which means there are male and female plants. Only the female plants produce the flowers which have the flavoring used in brewing. Usually only female plants are grown since the males are needed to make seed not flowers.

Flowers are small 1/4 inch sized and consist of a flower cone. At first the stylets (pistils) of the cone stick out waiting to be pollinated. The styles dry off as they mature and the small petals appear. After the flower is done doing its thing, it dries and becomes papery masses of flowers. These dry masses can be harvested and dried in a food dehydrater. The hops can then be stored and used for your brewing pleasure.

One last interesting trivia bit about hops. Dogs are very sensitive to true hops. If they ingest it they can get a condition called malignant hyperthemia. They can die from overheating! Keep your hops away from your pooches.

A Citrus Library

Infamous just visited the Florida Citrus Arboretum located in Winter Haven, Florida. Here is a picture of citrus we saw there.

An actual citrus type called Buddha's Hand

This plantation is maintained by the Florida Department of Agriculture. It is a repository of all the important types of citrus that were bred into our present day commercial varieties. Botanists keep such collections to have the DNA of plants that are vanishing in the wild. These trees were the Grandparents of our current types and they may contain genetic variation that would be helpful to reintroduce characteristics such as disease resistance and cold hardiness.

Citrus comes in a wide variety

It was interesting to see the colors, tree habits, fruit size and other strange things. The colors ranged from green to yellow to orange. Some trees were thorny and some had slim willow-shaped leaves. The fruit skins were variable from thick and wrinkly to smooth and thin skinned. The most amazing thing was the size variation. Some Kumquats were no bigger than a dime up to the Chinese Pummelo with was about 8 inches in diameter.

Small citrus with willow shaped leaves.

Pear shaped citrus

These rough skinned fruits are lemons

A Kumquat,

    Fortunella crassifolia

What did they all have in common? They all formed an edible fruit consisting of a terrible tasting skin covering compressed sections of fruit holding the seeds.

And now a tiny little botany lesson. Do you know what a hesperidium is? It is the fruit of a citrus. It is the special name botanists use for the type of berry produced by the citrus. Botanically, berries are a bunch of seeds surrounded by fleshy (sometimes tasty) plant meat. Then a skin is covering the berry. In the hesperidium, each section is that berry. So in other words, in an orange, all the orange sections are each a berry, botanically, and each berry is squished together with his brothers and they are all covered by a peel. So when you peel an orange, you reveal about 8-9 berries all lined up inside and each of them holding seeds. The whole unit that we call an orange is the hesperidium.

If you are interested in an unusual stop while in Florida, I would recommend the Budwood collection. It is not a tourist attraction and there is no one to guide you around. It is just a fenced in collection of citrus guarded by a receptionist. She charges you $8.00 per bag for picking your own collection in the plantation. You have to go through a shoe wash solution and be sprayed off with a mist of soapwater to reduce the transfer of citrus insects and diseases to their collection. There is a little map and all the trees are well marked. The best time to collect ripe citrus is early February. You can call them at (863) 298-7712 and get details. Our car navigation system got us there with no problem; the address is 3027 Lake Alfred Rd. (US 17), Winter Haven, FL 33881. They are open to the public Monday through Friday 9:00 to 4:00 for visitors.

Oh Goodie another Contest!

OK all you blogosphere fans, just what you were waiting for! Infamous is on a journey where plants are weird. This pod was found, so we are looking for an identification of the tree. What kind of plant makes a pod with seeds inside it? Astute readers will immediately guess something in the pea/bean family. This legume is a big tree, though not some little sweet pea, lima bean or soybean sized plant. We are in tropical Florida, so that opens up many possibilities. The first reader to name the plant wins…a free pod of beans. Or nothing whichever is more convenient for me. Bragging rights are always great. So, my little sprouts, NAME THIS PLANT.

Name this member of the legume family

Answer to the question???http://toptropicals.com/catalog/uid/enterolobium_cyclocarpum.htm

Tree of the Week-Tropical Gumbo Limbo

I hate to start a post with a crime scene photo but here it goes.

Pollarded Gumbo Limbo Tree

This tree caught my eye on an earlier trip as a great looking specimen before it was maimed. The so called pruning technique here is called pollarding. The name comes from the word poll, as in a polled Hereford with its horns cut off. The “horns” of the tree are cut off to make this denuded form. It is said that this controls the size of the tree allowing small sprouts from the cut ends to come out like a broom. In my opinion a tragic crime done to a nice tree.

Here is a picture of a normally grown Gumbo Limbo tree.

Normal (that is NOT pollarded) Gumbo Limbo tree

The Latin name of the Gumbo Limbo Tree is Bursera simaruba. It is a native Florida tree. It is found throughout the tropical regions of the Americas and is a popular landscape tree. It has been nicknamed the Tourist tree for its peeling red bark reminiscent of the sunburned skin of tourists. It has small seeds covered in a red meat that is attractive to birds because of the high fat content.

The wood of the tree has been known as the ideal carving wood for carousel animals. It has also been used for living fence posts, as the living twigs jabbed into the ground will often sprout into trees and serve as a support for wire fences. The tree can grow quite large, up to 90 feet tall and three feet across. This large size is probably what led to the pollarding shown in the first picture. Homeowners often plant it and it outgrows its space.

The name Gumbo refers to the tree’s sap. It is sticky and resinous. The uses for it are numerous including glue, varnish and incense.


This week was finals week at most US colleges, so I am saluting our burned out students with a post about Energy drinks. These have been very popular for the past few years, offering a burst of sugar, caffeine, and magical herbal substances including Guarana. The main chemical ingredient in Guarana is caffeine. It also contains some antioxidants and theobromine (of chocolate fame) and theophylline which are heart stimulants.

In South America, the Guarana plant has been used for centuries as a stimulant and memory enhancer. No wonder students drink the stuff.

According to tropical lore, the berries from the Guarana plant are processed and dried and then pounded into a dry powder. The powder is added to water and a dough results which is rolled out into small cylinders. It is known as Brazilian coke. It is used by grating into a beverage and sweetened to taste. It is more popular in Brazil than cola drinks. It is so widely known that the word for soda is often “Guarana” regardless of the flavor of the beverage. The most popular brand is the Antarctica soft drink. More caffeine is consumed in South America from guarana than from coffee and colas combined.

There is some evidence to suggest Guarna has some health effects. In the ‘Pharmacological Activity of Guarana (Paullinia cupana) in laboratory Animals’ by Espinola, E.B. Dias RF et al J. Ethnopharmcol 55 (3); 223-9, it increased memory and endurance when compared to a placebo in rats.

In humans, memory, alertness and mood were increased by moderate doses. It is also generally recognised as safe by the US government. Since the main effects seem to be from the caffeine, I cannot say whether it would do much more than a cup or two of coffee, but whatever floats your boat. The main thing that will help you do better on exams is more studying. If a soft drink with mystical powers is your drug of choice, it may allow you to study more. I would think unstimulated study sessions and a good night’s sleep would be the best, but I am just a Mom, not a brain scientist. Good luck, kids.

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