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.


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.

Tree of the week- Madagascar Screw Pine

Screw pine

    Pandanus utilis

Family Pandanaceae

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Monocot dioecious (two plants)
This is an interesting tree we saw driving around in Florida. We had no idea what it was and we had trouble finding the name of it. Strangely, it is called the Screw Pine although it is not a pine nor does it resemble a pine. I am not sure how the Pine name got started. The tree turns out to be a tree from Madagascar and is often planted for an ornamental. The tree is in the flowering plant group, but it is a monocot; more like a grass, lily or orchid with parallel leaf veins. The flowers are of two types, male and female and borne on separate trees. The male, pollen producing flowers are large tresses of little flowers that hang down together in a grouping like a bunch of grapes but instead of grapes, they are small petalless flowers tumbling out pollen. The female flowers look more like a round soccer ball with little teeth all over it. We saw this one bearing green but ripening fruits that looked like hand grenades. They ripen up to an orangy red and then drop out things that look like giant kernals of corn. These fall all over the ground beneath the tree and are food for little animals such as rodents. They apparently are not good tasting for people to eat, although not a poisonous fruit.

The trees are quite ornamental in a strange looking way. They develop many prop roots around the base of the trunk that are quite striking. The tree grows to about 25 feet tall and about the same size spread. If you are selecting one to grow in the landscape, you should decide whether you want to pick up hand grenade type fruits when they drop all over the lawn or polleny inflorescences. Both sexes create some mess that requires clean up.

Overall, an interesting tree for a specimen in the landscape.

Congratulations! We have a Winner

Ginkgo biloba

We have been waiting all month for the

    Ginkgo biloba

tree in the backyard to shed its leaves. We had a contest to see who would guess the closest date. The winner has been contacted and notified that his guess of October 24th was the closest to the actual date of October 29th. Unfortunately, the tree was not quite as synchronous as hoped for due to a violent string of windstorms that tore some leaves off prematurely. If you watch Ginkgos around your town you will see that they lose their leaves all of a sudden within a 1-3 day period. They are well-known for doing this and many a university botany department has these contests. With the contest over, we can once again start to blog about botany and other items.

Another item regarding this post is that it is Infamous’ 100th blog post and a reason to celebrate in itself. I have tried to photograph various items of interest in the botanical world and bring them to the attention of my alert readers. As a goal, I have tried to have 50% of the posts on actual botany and the other 50% on items of interest such as books, movies, strange occurences and recipes. I am pleased that the blog is going well and I hope to do another 100 posts in the next year.

If you have items of interest, pictures, questions about botany or life, please place a comment and the editorial staff and photographer will get right on them. Infamous

A Contest!

These are the fan-shaped leaves of the Gingko tree.

Today we have a very exciting development. We are having our first contest on the blog. The contest is sort of like a baby pool where people guess the date a child will be born, only we will guess the date the Ginkgo in Infamous’ back yard will shed its leaves. In case you did not realize it, the Ginkgo sheds all its leaves in one day. It is the most synchronous shedder I have ever heard of. The tree makes abscission layers at the base of the leaves and for some reason, they seem to all reach the same level of development on the same day. One gentle breeze and Poof! all the leaves are down. So I will start the pool off with my guess that the leaves will fall on October 23. No one else can take that day. Submit your guesses in the comment section. When the day arrives, we shall see who is closest. There will be a special prize of no monetary value awarded. The winner will be announced on this blog. Deadline for your submissions is September 30th so do not delay.

Pine Nuts

Are Pignolias really from a Pine Tree? I was curious what the seeds were from that were labeled “Pignolias” and marked on the bag that they came from China. I learned that they do indeed come from some kind of pine trees. Many species of pine can be used to harvest the seeds. The pine cones make a little seed pod containing one or two pine nuts held in place by each woody bract of its pine cone. The bigger pine cones make bigger seeds so although any pine species CAN make pine nuts, the ones you usually buy are from 2 or 3 species of large coned pine.

If you buy pine nuts that come from Europe, you will probably get seeds from the Stone Pine (Pinus pinea). However, most pine nuts I have seen for sale are not this species from Europe, but rather from China. In China, the most common types of pines used are the Korean Pine (Pinus koraiensis) and Chilgoza Pine (Pinus gerardiana). The Korean pine nuts are more egg shaped, while the Stone pine seeds are more slender. There are several minor species that are used as well, but they are unusual gourmet types.

Pine nuts are most commonly used in pesto and as garnishes. They are nutritionally high in calories and full of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. An ounces of nuts (167 kernels) contains 191 calories, 4 g of protein, 19 g of fat, 1 g of fiber and 3.71 carbohydrate. They are called “nuts” in cooking circles but they are actually the seeds of the pine cone.

I learned about a risk in eating pine nuts from China. Some people have reported a metallic taste in their mouth 2-3 days after consuming them. It seems to be a passing thing that slowly goes away. The cause of this is unknown. It may be that the seeds have been treated with an unknown substance to keep the fats stable.

Whatever you call them, Pignolias or Pine nuts, they are delicious.

Giant Trees


As Infamous travels south, I am noticing that people are naming giant trees.  There must be something in our human nature that is fascinated by them.  We are in awe of these tremendous giants that live many times longer than our lifetimes.  If you want to learn more about big trees, check out this website http://www.americanforests.org/resources/bigtrees/.

Here is a giant Live Oak, in Savannah, GA called the Majestic Oak. 

The Majestic Oak, Savannah, Georgia

This photo is from the website mysorefigtree.com

The tree above is a non-native species called the Mysore Fig.  It is the largest of its kind in the United States.  It was planted by a friend of Thomas Edison’s in Estero, near Fort Myers, Florida.  This guy has his own website where you can read all about it.  Notice the picture of it is GIANT, TOO.  This picture is from the  Mysorefigtree.com website.  

(If I see any more giant things on this trip,  I will let you know.)  Infamousg.

Witches Broom Condition

This time of year, I drive around looking at all the trees with their leaves off and I study the branching structure of them.  One common condition that exists is Witches Broom.  It is considered a disease, but I call it a condition since I think of diseases having a pathogenic organism creating them.  The Witches Broom I am referring to is caused by salt.  Here are a few pictures.

Tufted growth from highway salt spray

These photos were taken along the side of a roadway where salt is used to melt ice in winter.  The cars spray up brine and it coats the trees all winter.

Tufted growth habit

Many buds grow with no distance between them

 The salt damages the terminal bud on the branch.  That bud, in usual situations, subordinates the proximal buds by the production of the plant hormone Auxin.  Auxin is a group of hormones with numerous functions.  The function here being the production of a strong terminal growing bud that extends the length of a healthy branch each year.  Without a healthy terminal bud producing Auxins, the lateral buds break and grow into a disorganized tuft of small branches called Witches Broom.  There is no cure for this except for pruning out the tuft.  If no more salt spray occurs, a bud will start a new elongating branch and will grow more or less normally.   

Given the salt spray situation these young trees grow in, they are going to grow little each year and have a stunted habit.

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