Sunday, March 10, 2019

If You Think You have a Black Thumb Start with Felicia amelloides

If happiness were made into a plant it would look like Felicia amelloides. It just looks like it is smiling all of the time, and not one of those little lip smiles either, but big fat irrepressible toothy grins all day long. "Felicia" means "happy" in Latin so they thought it was a happy plant too.
Felicia amelloides                                                                                                                                       S. Reeve

If you say you have a black thumb and kill every plant you own, try this one. It really is a "no-brainer." It has a wonderful growing habit. It is a neat and tidy little mound of foliage and flowers without pruning or training. The flowers are either blooming or unnoticeable when they are finished and fade away. This plant blooms all of the time! It is so funny sometimes, I go outside and nothing else is really blooming, but there is Felicia with her riot of cheerful flowers, blooming her head off! 

    Felicia amelloides                                                                                                                                       S. Reeve

My plant is 27 inches across and 16 inches high. The flowers are about 4-6 inches above the foliage which is about 10 inches tall. The plant is gradually increasing in diameter. This plant requires no staking. Flowers are held aloft on strong stems that stay upright. Flower petals or ray flowers are an intense shade of blue-lavender, a rare and welcome color in the garden. There is no gradation in the color of the petals, they are a solid matte blue color, and about the size of a 50 cent piece. Bees love blue flowers, and this is no exception. As a member of the Asteraceae, the compound flower head or capitulum provide an easy-landing platform of ray flowers with yellow disk flowers in the center. This plant is the "7-Eleven" of flowers with fast and easy access to nectar and pollen. Felicia, like many members of the Asteraceae are pollinated by bees also called melittophily. Individual flowers in the flower head are small and their nectar is easily obtained by short-tongued bees and small flying insects, so this is a popular plant! The flowers close at night and on overcast days. Like similar members of the Asteraceae, this plant employs a pollination strategy designed to prevent self-pollination called "plunger pollination." The pollen matures earlier while the stigma is unreceptive to encourage cross-pollination with other plants. It is called plunger pollination because the unreceptive stigma/style pushes the pollen from the fused anthers up through the tube formed by the anthers, so visiting insects can take it to other plants.
   Felicia amelloides with honey bee                                                                                                 S. Reeve

There are 79 species of Felicia in South Africa with 84 species in total. Felicia amelloides is a common coastal plant in South Africa. For a plant that flowers almost constantly it is remarkably long-lived. I have read reports of 15-year-old plants, but five years seems more typical. It is a tough plant too, and one of the few able to live under native oaks. 
 Felicia amelloides                                                                                                                                       S. Reeve

Stems and leaves are covered in short stiff hairs and have a sandpapery feel. Leaves are opposite, variable in form, from elliptical to spatulate, and have entire margins. After pollination, the flowers shrink back into the plant and form seeds. This means the dried flowers are not readily visible while the beautiful flowers are held high. Below is a ripening seed head with feathery pappus waiting to carry the mature seeds on the wind. This plant starts easily from spring cuttings.  

   Felicia amelloides                                                                                                                                     S. Reeve

If the summer is hot the flowering can slow. At any time the plant gets too big or has an abundance of dried flowering stems, it can be cut back to encourage more flowers and a better growth pattern. I just grab a handful and trim it. This is very easy to do. Highly fertilized plants do not bloom as well. Also, this plant does not do well in humid hot summer weather but prefers semi-arid locations with sandy, well-drained soil. It is hardy down to 20-25 degrees F. So if you are frustrated in your attempts to successfully grow plants, give this one a try.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Raver Series of Arctotis- You can't go wrong with any of them!

I am a disciple of plants. What spurs me to write about certain plants is my intense admiration and love for the good performers in my garden. I feel the need to share with people the names and identities of these heroes in my garden. Hopefully, someone else will plant them and love them as much as I do, and be transported by their beauty, and delighted every time they see them in their gardens. 

This is Arctotis 'Pumpkin Pie'. It was the one that started my affection for this series of hybridized Arctotis.
Arctotis 'Pumpkin Pie'                                                                                                                             S. Reeve
I planted it last year from a 4-inch pot from Gourmet Grown growers. I mention them because they do not use neonicotinoids on their plants, so they are safe for the bees to put in the garden. Look at this luscious healthy foliage! The color is kind of a silvery blue that I find very satisfying. The foliage has dense woolly hairs that either creates or contributes to the silvery nature of the leaves. I am continually on the lookout for plants with blue, silver or gray foliage. They seem to unify a plant composition. This plant is now about a foot across a year later. Would you look at how dense this foliage is! 

      Arctotis 'Pumpkin Pie'                                                                              Photo by Green Acres Garden Supply

There are several selections of color forms in The Raver Series. They were patented by Proven Winners of North America LLC under Amerinova Properties LLC. They were developed by a breeding program of Graham Noel Brown of Nuflora International of NSW, Australia over a period of several years. A. 'Pumpkin Pie' was released in 2004. The hybrid series is a result of a series of crosses between Arctotis venusta grandis and Arctotis fastuosa, both South African native annuals. There are six selections with just sumptuous colors, 'Bumble Bee', 'Cherry Frost', 'Hearts & Tarts', 'Pink Sugar', 'Pumpkin Pie', and 'Sunspot'. They all have a dark eye made of black disc florets and golden-yellow ray florets in the center. As the name would suggest A. 'Bumblebee' has yellow petals with a black eye. A. 'Cherry Frost' has deep rosy burgundy petals against really gray foliage. This one seems to have the most silver foliage of all. It is a beautiful combination. A. "Hearts and Tarts' is my least favorite color, the flowers are kind of washed out looking compared to the others, a pinkish red and yellow. A. 'Pink Sugar' was the one that caught my eye first, it has the most beautiful bright pink flowers with a golden center. The petal color grades from pink to golden yellow and I find the "in-between" colors on the petals just fascinating and so attractive. You can see the wonderful and intense burnt orange of A. 'Pumpkin Pie' above. A. 'Sun Spot' is light orange grading into deeper orange on the petal tips. I also love the descriptive and perfect names for these selections. 

   A. 'Bumble Bee' and A. 'Cherry Frost' photos from Gootsjes AllPlant, A. 'Bumblebee' from Norm's Nursery, and A. 'Hearts & Tarts' from Devil Mtn.

This plant is hardy in USDA Cold Hardiness Zones 9-11. It has a dense compact habit. Silvery basal foliage is dense while the flowers emerge in a "candy cane' fashion from out of the foliage. the flower bud is upside down and curves down from the straight stem and is shaped like a candy cane. It gradually straightens until it finally blooms with a straight stem. As the bloom fades the color fades and the petals reflex backward and curl up. Look at the first photo in the upper right and upper left to see old flowers fading away.
   Bud emerging from the basal foliage in a candy cane shape from  A. 'Pink Sugar'                                S. Reeve   

Here is a close up photo of the felty silver foliage. You can see emerging buds and the dry withered peduncles of the old flowers on the upper right. The flowers wither away and become "invisible" without deadheading. I never deadhead and I still get flowers almost non-stop. It is just a flower-producing machine. Don't you love this beautiful blemish-free healthy foliage? Even if this plant didn't flower, I love this foliage. 
   Arctotis 'Pink Sugar'                                                                                                                               S. Reeve

As with many of the plants in my garden, this one needs well- draining sandy soil and would surely not grow well in dense clay. I grow A 'Pumpkin Pie' and A. 'Pink Sugar'. I am on the lookout for A. 'Cherry Frost'. The flowers open during the day and close up at night and on cloudy days. The colors just blow me away. I almost can't believe they are real, but they are.
    Arctotis 'Pink Sugar'  Bluish-pink grading into golden yellow                                                           C. A. Martin

This plant is sterile so it puts a lot of energy into producing flowers rather than seeds. The basal foliage is only about four inches high and is so dense no way a weed seed would be able to germinate underneath. The flowers rise to about 8-10 inches above the foliage so they are really prominent and exposed when they bloom. I hope you try this plant and let me know how it performs for you. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Delightful Garden Aloe - Aloe x 'Safari Rose'

For three years now I have enjoyed a little tough and well-behaved Aloe in my garden called, Aloe x 'Safari Rose'. I don't see it in the garden centers and I am not sure why. It is certainly one of my best plants. It requires no maintenance, is easy to care for, and it performs and looks great all of the time. There is a lot to like about Aloe x 'Safari Rose.'

Aloe x 'Safari Rose'                                                                                                         S. Reeve

At three years this plant is slowly offsetting while maintaining a clearly defined clump. In this photo it is getting slightly shaded by a Hibiscus so is blooming more than I expected. The slightly bi-colored and rosy peach-colored blooms come up over a period of time and are long-blooming, from late fall until winter, and it will sometimes throw up a flower-or-two during the year. This is a compact and upright selection with leaves only about a foot long and flower stems about two feet tall. This particular plant was bred for sterility and tends to have larger and more numerous flowers than the straight species. The leaves are toothed and tend to be tipped in a blushing red. 

In the whole time, I have had this plant it has shown no indication of disease or Aloe mite. Researching this, revealed that this particular plant was bred for disease resistance. It is said to be extremely resistant to aloe mite, which is looking to be a fearsome foe. Two of my other Aloes had it, and since I garden organically, my options for treating it are limited. One of the Aloes I had to throw away, and the other I cut out the cancerous growth and sprayed with hydrogen peroxide. This is what The Aloe Farm in South Africa says about it, "Hydrogen peroxide 12% (40 volume ) undiluted with wetting agent added can also be useful as part of a treatment program for Aloe cancer. It is always best to physically remove (cut out) the deformities/growths caused by the mite before spraying." No way will I use a toxic neonicotinoid systemic on this problem and poison my bees and hummingbirds. 

This aloe is one of a number in the Safari series developed by Charles Andrew De Wet at his nursery in South Africa. The breeding program started in 1973. In 2007, he chose this plant and named it 'Safari Rose' as it demonstrated superior disease resistance, attractive form, and a long bloom period. There are also 'Safari Sunset', 'Safari Orange', and 'Safari Sunrise'. I liked 'Safari Rose' so much that when I saw 'Safari Sunset' in the store I bought it. 

   Aloe 'Safari Sunset'                                                                                                                                   S. Reeve

This plant has only been in the ground for a month-or-so and it is blooming precociously. Look at the size of that flower spike! So far, it appears that this a faster-growing selection. If this flower size is typical it is clearly an over-achiever. Big flowers are a bonus, but I am also happy that these are also mite resistant because finding aloe mite damage, and cutting it out is not my idea of a good time. 

Hummingbirds and honeybees like the flowers, however, breeding for sterility has reduced the pollen to only a sparse amount. Fortunately, the plant also makes copious amounts of nectar to feed hungry flyers. Aloes are important honey bee plants in South Africa. The flowers open sequentially from the bottom up. This plant needs well-draining soil and can tolerate temperatures down to 23-25 degrees F. If you have a garden in Zones 9-11 this is a great plant for you. Even if you don't, this would be a good one for a container. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Careful! Gardening can be Dangerous

Agave parryi var. truncata 'Huntington'                                                                                                        S. Reeve

I knew it was true love when my boyfriend risked the sharp spines of Agave parryi var. truncata in an attempt to liberate a small pup growing alongside the mother plant. The final score was Dave-2, Agave-1. The agave drew blood but Dave did not give up, and I soon claimed my prize.

At the time, I did not know the beautiful agave, but I soon learned this agave was a form of Agave parryi from Mexico, called 'truncata'. Agave parryi has a large range and within the geographical area, there are different forms of the plant. There are two main subspecies, Agave parryi ssp. neomexicana, and Agave parryi ssp. parryi. Agave parryi ssp. neomexicana has narrower leaves and a shorter, less-branched influorescence. As you can gather from the name, "neomexicana" this subspecies originates in New Mexico. It is exceptionally cold hardy, down to 0 degrees F. This is small Agave producing numerous offsets.

The subspecies Agave parryi ssp parryi is further divided into four varieties. Agave parryi var. truncata comes from the southern-most part of its range in Durango and Zacatecas Mexico which is in the deep central part of Mexico. From here, the range of Agave parryi extends northward into central Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The plant occurs in open areas at 1500- 9200 feet in elevation. There are four main varieties of Agave parryi ssp. parryi, Agave parryi var. couesii, Agave parryi var. huachuensis, Agave parryi  var. parryi, and Agave parryi var. truncata. Even within a single population of Agave parryi, there are a variety of forms which makes identifying Agave parryi a little difficult. 
Here is a diagram with leaf shapes showing lanceolate and obovate, the two main shapes of Agave parryi leaves. Of the four forms, Agave parryi var. huachuensis has the most lanceolate-shaped leaf. 

Agave parryi var. couesii, is found up north in central Arizona. This agave is smaller than the other forms with a leaf shape is narrower and less rounded than A. parryi var. truncata. Unlike Agave parryi var. huachuensis with its straight long leaves, the leaves of this agave are rounded on top and nip into an hour-glass shape. The plant gets up to 1.5 feet tall and 2 feet wide. The rosette of leaves is more open than the other forms of Agave parryi too. The spines on the apex of the leaf are more slender than on the other forms. Agave parryi var. couesii offsets freely and forms large clumps. This is the hardiest variety, down to 0 degrees F. 
Agave parryi var. couesii                                                                                                                        Agaveville
Agave parryi var. huachucensis appears more robust than A. parryi var. couesii. The leaves are larger, around 25 inches long, and the inflorescence is larger and more branched, sometimes with more than twenty branches.  Unlike the others, this one has long lanceolate leaves. This form freely suckers into large colonies. It is found in southeastern Arizona and into Mexico on south-facing slopes in oak woodlands and pine forests at 5000-7200 feet in elevation. This variety reaches 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It is hardy down to 10 degrees F.

     Agave parryi var. huachuensis                                                                                                       Martin Molina

Agave parryi var. parryi is the third variety of Agave parryi ssp. parryi. It is found in grasslands, oak woodland, and in pinyon-juniper forests at 4000-9200 feet in elevation in Arizona, New Mexico, and northwestern Mexico. Many plants are strongly spherical, symmetrical, and very attractive with sometimes a hundred broad leaves on one plant. Mature plants are 1.5-2 feet tall and 2-3 feet across, and hardy to 10 degrees F. Unlike some varieties of Agave parryi the leaves strongly overlap like tiles on a roof, also called "imbricate." This agave has a very stout large single apex spine. A colony of the round shapes of this Agave looks like an artist's installation. They look so perfect they don't seem real. This slow-growing variety does not offset readily and so the specimens are dotted through the landscape rather than clustered together.  Here is a selection of Agave parryi var. parryi called 'Estrella' from Mountain States Wholesale Nursery. Notice the spherical symmetrical form and rounded leaves.

                     Agave parryi var. parryi 'Estrella'                     Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

The fourth variety is Agave parryi var. truncata. This is the least hardy of the four varieties because it comes from the southern part of its range. Depending on how cold it gets in your gardening location source your agave parryi carefully, as the different varieties have different preferred temperature ranges with Agave parryi var. couesii more tolerant of colder temperatures, down to 0 degrees F.  

Agave parryi var. truncata is hardy down to maybe 10-15 degrees F. This variety is a gardener favorite because of its symmetrical squat form, big black curved terminal spines, and gray coloration. One of the most popular clones is Agave parryi var. truncata 'Huntington' made by H. S. Gentry in 1951 in Durango, Mexico. It looks like a gray artichoke with its short or truncated leaves. This is the plant I spied in Hillcrest a few months ago. It is a smaller grower at 1-2 feet high and 2-2.5 feet across. 

                           Agave parryi var. huachucensis                                            Martin Molina

When this small agave has lived around 20 years it ends its life by sending up an astonishing inflorescence that is around 20 feet tall with many branches. The stalk can grow about 4 inches per day. Buds are red and open to golden flowers on flattened terminal clusters in the summer. Each branch has hundreds of flowers. They are well-loved by bats, bees, and hummingbirds. I don't know how a flower could be any more enticing than these. It looks like the agave has served the flowers up on a plate. Agave nectar is especially rich in sugar, at 22 percent, and the pollen is very nutritious and high in protein, at 50 percent. This agave is a one-stop shop for pollinators. Here is a close-up on the flowers. When bats swoop in they get pollen all over their bellies, and pollination occurs when that pollen is transported to the next agave flowers they visit. 

   Agave parryi flower closeup                                                                                                  USDA Forest Service

This Agave likes rocky soil that drains very well. If growing this in colder parts of the world, make doubly sure the drainage is excellent before planting, as winter wet is more lethal then cold temperatures for this plant. While this plant can get by on no supplemental water, it will look much better if watered well every few weeks.

    Agave parryi var. truncata 'Huntington'                                                                                                    S. Reeve

 Above are very attractive specimens of Agave parryi var. truncata 'Huntington'. This is an oldie but a goodie selection that is still in high demand today. Notice the significant and lethal-looking terminal spines. Sorry Dave. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

It's a Tree that Hummingbirds Love!

I have known about Tecomaria capensis or Cape Honeysuckle for a long time. It is called "Cape" honeysuckle as it refers to the Eastern Cape of South Africa where it is native. When I drive around many people use this robust plant for a hedge, unfortunately, this usually entails chopping off all of the flowers to maintain a strict geometry. 

As you know I love hummingbirds! If a plant description says anything about the plant being popular with hummingbirds, I will probably try to grow it. That is, except for Tecomaria capensis because it has the small problem of wanting world domination. It is a known aggressive spreader, it roots at any node touching the ground, spreads by runners and seeds, and it can get out of control quite easily and that scared me away from trying to grow it in my garden. 

Well I found the perfect solution for my garden. This is normally a vine-like shrub, but it can be trained as a standard tree! Perfect! I have grown this in a large pot for over a year now and am very pleased with how well it grows and how well it blooms. No way can it spread because it is in a pot on my deck, so the hummingbirds get their flowers and I don't have to deal with taming this wild beast. It just blooms all of the time! After a big bloom period, I trim the branches to encourage more dense branching and it doesn't miss a beat. Soon it is putting on more flower buds. This a veritable hummingbird feeder 365 days of the year!

Tecomaria capensis 'Riot Red' tree                                                           S. Reeve

While the regular species has bright orange flowers, and there is also a yellow-blooming hybrid, there is a new selection with rich red flowers called, Tecomaria 'Riot Red'. Not only are the flowers a very beautiful color, but the flowers themselves are much larger than the species. The flowers occur in short terminal racemes (at the ends of branches). 
Tecomaria capensis 'Riot Red' flowers                                                                                                S. Reeve

As you can see from the photo this flower is perfect for hummingbirds. Although, it is pollinated by a different bird in South Africa called a Sunbird which is a little larger than a hummingbird. Unlike our hummingbirds, they cannot hover and must land on the plant to sip nectar. Here is a photo of a Greater Double-collared Sunbird from Anne who writes a blog called, "Something Over Tea."
Greater Double-collared Sunbird                                                                                                    Anne

What is curious about these flowers is no matter how the bunch is oriented on the plant the flowers will always move to an upright position. Here is a photo of this. The raceme of flowers was hanging down but all of the flowers have flipped over to be in the correct positions for effective pollination by an upright bird. The stamens of the flowers are didynamous or occur in two pairs of matching stamens. Didynamous stamens is a characteristic of the Bignoniaceae family. The stamens and pistil curve over the back of the flower and end up on the roof of the flower, positioned so that if a bird sticks its head into the flower looking for nectar, the stamens brush pollen onto the back of the head of the bird for transfer to the next flower visited. Mother Nature sure is clever and efficient! The tubular flowers are synsepalous and sympetalous (fused) with five lobes and a zygomorphic petal arrangement which means bilaterally symmetrical.
Upright flowers of Tecomaria capensis                                                                                           S. Reeve

I am very pleased with this plant so far. It gets a pan of dishwater every few days and seems to be doing well in spite of that. Honeybees visit it too. 

Oddly pinnate compound leaves                                                                                                       S. Reeve
The leaves are oddly-pinnate and occur in groups of five to thirteen. The leaflets, and compound leaves are always arranged oppositely. The seeds occur in two rows in long capsules and they each have two wings that help them disperse in the wind. Even though this plant can climb like a vine it does not have tendrils. It can be remarkably drought tolerant but likes regular water. It is hardy to 20-25 degrees. It can freeze and come back from the roots. Mulch well if you live in an area that freezes. This plant is very invasive in the right circumstances and has escaped cultivation in many areas around the world, so research this aspect if you are interested in planting it. By putting this aggressive spreader in a pot I turned this into a carefree plant that the hummingbirds and I can both enjoy.

Monday, October 1, 2018

All Summer Bloomer for the Bees and Hummingbirds

Leucophyllum langmaniae 'Lynn's Legacy'                                                                                             S. Reeve

I love California native plants, but not so much in the summer when they are semi-dormant. One way to have some summer beauty is to choose plants that look like they are native to mix with natives. One such plant is Leucophyllum langmaniae 'Lynn's Legacy'. While not native to California, it hails from Mexico, so kind of close? I have known about this remarkable plant for quite some time but have never seen it for sale. It blooms heavily all summer especially if it is watered once in awhile. Once one flush of blooms finishes it just prepares a new set of buds to bloom again. The blooms least several days.

This particular selection was made by plantsman Lynn Lowery of Texas in the mid-eighties. He discovered it growing among a stand of Leucophyllum langmaniae outside of Monterrey, Mexico. Lynn loved collecting and introducing new plants, especially natives, and had a keen eye for promising selections. His nursery was in Houston, TX. 'Lynn's Legacy' is a slower growing version of the regular Cenizo, and was chosen for its profusely flowering nature and its compact growth to 5 feet. This is such an easy plant that covers itself with flowers several times from late spring into fall. It requires so little to behave so beautifully. The growth is compact and dense and flowering is profuse and lovely. The specific epithet, "langmaniae" refers to Ida Kaplan Langman. She botanized in Mexico and wrote an impressive book in the mid-sixites on the plants she found there titled, "A Selected Guide to the Literature of the Flowering Plants of Mexico."

While I prefer the deeper pink flowers of the Leucophyllum frutescens, the compact growth habit and grayer foliage of this plant make a better landscape plant for the typical homeowner. Here are Leucophyllum langmaniae 'Lynn's Legacy' in the foreground and Leucophyllum frutescens in the background. Notice the different flower colors. The soft gray foliage and rounded habit make this plant attractive even when it is not flowering which isn't very often!

Leucophyllum langmaniae 'Lynn's Legacy'                                                                 Photo by Dr. Jerry Parsons
Another advantage to this particular plant is it is not as dependent on humidity and rainfall to spur bloom formation as Leucophyllum frutescens. As long as you remember to water it occasionally, maybe once every 10 days or so, it will continue to bloom. I love this plant as it is positively bodacious! It is a doer and thriver. Once I planted a couple of Leucophyllums and basically forgot about them as they got swallowed by an Encelia californica only to find them in the mid-summer as the Encelia died back. I had hardly watered them and they still looked great. This is almost a "plant-it-and-forget-about-it plant" at least where I live. 
Leuocophyllum langmaniae 'Lynn's Legacy'                                                                                  S. Reeve

Now of course because gas-powered hedge clippers exist there will always be those that desire the plant to look like a cube or hockey puck, but please don't do this to this plant. Its fine rounded and well-behaved growth habit does not need assistance to look its best.
Plant torture                                                                                                   photo by David Cristiani

Leuocophyllum langmaniae does best in well-drained sandy soil and grows best when provided heat and full sun. As I mentioned before this plant flowers almost continuously regardless of rising humidity, irrigation or precipitation. Irrigation in the dry months of summer can encourage more profuse blooming of the lavender flowers. Bees and butterflies love this plant. Why I love summer-blooming bee plants is they supply late season bees with the pollen and nectar they need to produce offspring. Summer bloomers make all of the difference between success and survival of native bees for subsequent years. One summer we had uncharacteristic heavier rains and they allowed, a previously uncommon bumblebee to prosper. Here is a shot of gorgeous Bombus pensylvanicus ssp. sonorus visiting Leucophyllum frutescens. 
     Bombus pensylvanicus ssp. sonorus                                                                                             S. Reeve

Honeybees also love this plant as do hummingbirds. In the summer I have four species of hummingbirds in my garden and they appreciate the all-summer feeding station that his plant becomes. The sympetalous zygomorphic (fused petals, bilaterally symmetrical) five-lobed flowers occur in pairs at most congested internodes, so doing the math, that is a lot of flowers! The leaves are furry, gray, and spatulate. The silver hairs on the leaves are stellate and each individual hair is shaped like a sparkler. The flowers are also covered in minute hairs. Nectaries with sweet nectar draw the wildlife plus ample pollen makes this a valuable plant especially for bees. It supplies nectar for the adults and pollen to store for the larvae. Check out the nectar guides in this close-up. They act as runway lights for incoming bees. Because I plant this for the bees, I make sure when I buy it that it has not been treated with neonicotinoid pesticides as I do not want to harm the bees that visit. In Texas, Mexico, and Arizona this plant is the host plant for Theona Checkerspot butterfly and the large gorgeous Calleta Silk Moth. 
    Tomentose leaves, furry flowers, and spatulate leaves                                                                          S. Reeve

Another reason I prefer the habit and flower power of 'Lynn's Legacy' is flowers up and down the stems in doubles while Leucophyllum frutescens tends to flower only singly at the ends of branches. Leucophyllum langmaniae prefers dry alkaline, rocky or sandy soil, that is well-drained. Summer heat and occasional watering will keep this plant blooming for months well into fall. It is hardy down to 5 degrees F. Once again, drainage is more of an issue than cold hardiness as this plant will more likely succumb to bad drainage in the winter than from cold. If this compact grower needs pruning do this while it is dormant in the winter. This truly one of my favorite plants for wildlife and I almost feel like I am cheating when I grow this because it is so easy. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii is a tough heat-tolerant hummingbird plant

For some reason, I have not written about this plant before even though it is so obviously a great plant for the semi-arid South West. Probably because it is such a no-brainer that I rarely think about it. Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii is a large mouthful of a plant name or you can just call it Flame Acanthus. It is super easy in my garden and long-blooming. It starts blooming when the weather turns hot and keeps blooming into the fall. It is a small shrub, about four feet wide and four feet tall. Here is a photo of numerous young buds stacked and ready to open. 
     Anisacanthus buds                                                                                                                               S. Reeve

It takes hard pruning really easily, and it improves the growth habit by making it fuller after pruning. Feel free to prune it to the ground in the late winter, and it will reward you with dense fresh new growth and abundant flowers all through the summer. Pruning does improve the growth habit, as it can be a little sparse on top and unruly if left to its own devices. The skinny foliage is a nice rich green that doesn't appear to suffer in the slightest bit when the temperatures rocket upward. Drought tolerant too as I have some that get no irrigation and they do just fine. A little water does mean more flowers for a longer period of time though. While it is native to dry limestone soils in Texas and Mexico, it is adaptable to other conditions. Like other Texas plants, it responds well to water in the summer with profuse flushes of new blooms. Hardy to 10 degrees F. Speaking of adaptability, Tony Avent does sell this plant at his Raleigh, NC nursery, Plant Delights. I ordered it several times to grow in my Zone 8 Athens, GA garden but it never survived in spite of me desperately wanting it to. Supposedly it grows in Houston, but it did not grow in Athens, GA. Not sure why the difference?

    Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii                                                                                                    S. Reeve

It will even grow in a little shade. It does not need full sun to bloom well, but it blooms better in full sun with additional water. As you can see the flowers are made for hummingbirds and they get lots of visitors! The petals and sepals are both fused into a tube at the base. The petals open out into four lobes that irresistibly invite hummingbirds to dine. Anisacanthus is in the Acanthaceae Family which also includes Justicias and Thunbergias--other hummingbird pollinated genera. One characteristic of Acanthaceae that is unusual is the opposite arrangement of leaves. Not too many plants have opposite leaves. 
Photo of the jaculator the little prong on the right side of the seed.                         Photo by Hugh Wilson

Another characteristic of these plants that I am not too pleased with is its exploding brown seed capsules that launch seeds several feet away. Mind you, not a bad strategy for increasing the population, but many of these seeds sprout, so you need to be ruthless about weeding them out as you see them. These are a little blurry but they show the seed capsule beginning to form. This is the little club-like structure with the filament coming out of the end. 
                                                                                                                                                S. Reeve
             Seed capsules                                                                                                                S. Reeve

Now that I have rabbits in my yard the seedlings are less of a problem because the rabbits love to eat new young plants. The mechanism that flings the seeds is called a "jaculator." It is a rigid hook-shaped structure or modified funiculus that catapults the seeds from the plant. A funiculus is a plant structure that attaches the ovule to the placenta, and that is generally its main function, but in the case of this plant, this funiculus also functions as a jaculator propelling black seeds after the brown capsule explosively opens.

 Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii blooms                                                                                           S. Reeve

What I love best about this plant is it is such a great source of nourishment for my local hummingbirds without requiring a lot of input from me. I don't fertilize at all or water much and it is just a non-stop blooming machine. The plant is deer resistant too. I also love knowing I can prune it and it doesn't mind the interference and it comes back better because of it. The flowers are at the ends of branches so place it with a smaller blooming plant in front to highlight the higher blooms. It must have well-drained soil to do well.