Thursday, May 28, 2020

Erythrina x bidwillii-- One of my very favorite plants!

Seeing hummingbirds in my garden is one of my greatest thrills! Because of this, I have planted many hummingbird-attracting plants. Good thing I love the color red! One of favorite plants is also a hummingbird favorite, Erythrina x bidwillii. There are many Erythrina species to love and they are pantropical in distribution-- including both Old World and New World species. I found a very helpful web page describing this written by Wayne Armstrong of Palomar College. Old World species tend to have sturdy open flowers with amino acid-rich flowers for perching birds while many New World species target hummingbirds with more delicate slender flowers and sucrose-rich nectar especially suited to their high energy needs. This is very interesting to me since I have several New World species and selections in my garden. I had assumed that all New World Erythrinas fed hummingbirds, but I was wrong. I waited in anticipation for my Erythrina crista-galli to bloom, predicting increased hummingbird activity, only to find it is not their favorite tree. It turns out 55 of the 70 New World species are hummingbird pollinated. Erythrina crista-galli is mainly pollinated by passerines, and secondarily, by hummingbirds and bees. Unlike other strictly passerine-pollinated Erythrinas, this one has lower amino acid levels so appeals to a wider array of pollinators. Orioles and managers frequent passerine-oriented Erythrinas.
Erythrina crista-galli flowers                                                                                          S. Reeve                      

Erythrina x bidwillii flowers                                                                                          S. Reeve 

Notice how the flowers of the Erythrina crista-galli have the banner petal oriented like a dish so perching birds can grab the rim and sip nectar. The banner is also stout and sturdy and can support the weight of a small bird. The Erythrina x bidwillii has a long banner petal that is folded in the middle to form a tube and oriented downward because hummingbirds do not need any structure to support them as they feed. Fascinating, right?

Compared to my Erythrina crista-galli, Erythrina x bidwillii is crazy with pugnacious hummingbirds when it blooms. The rich red of the flowers is particularly satisfying to me. Flower wands as long as 3 feet cover this plant when it blooms. it is long-blooming starting in May and sending out more blooms throughout the summer. 

Erythrina x bidwillii                                                                  S. Reeve

                             Erythrina x bidwillii                                                                  S. Reeve

The blooms are not always so beautiful. Last year, after a particularly wet winter (for here anyway, lol) my tree had borers that destroyed most of the blooms. The culprit was most likely the Erythrina stem borer (Terastia meticulosalis). The ESB is a small, well-camouflaged brown moth that originated in Florida and has been seen in Southern California since 2015, In California, the ESB has been observed on E. × bidwillii, E. chiapasana, E. coralloides, E. crista-galli, and E. falcata--all New World species.

Before moving here I had the good fortune to grow E. x bidwillii in Athens, GA. This was a dieback shrub that would grow back in the heat of the summer, and get nipped back by frost in the fall. It is always a welcome addition to my garden. The plant is root hardy to USDA Zone 7b and is soil-type tolerant, as long as it is well-drained. I say this because I had acidic thick clay soil pH 5.3 in Athens and have neutral-to-slightly alkaline soil here in Calfornia, and it grows just fine in either place. It does best in full sun and looks best with regular water. I have seen it, though, blooming just fine with no summer water in San Diego. 

     Anna's Hummingbird standing guard                                                                                        S. Reeve

California native Anna's Hummingbirds, and Allen's Hummingbirds fight over this plant here in La Mesa, CA but in Athen's GA, we had the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. One of the main reasons I moved here was for year-around hummingbirds! Between the many native hummingbird plants planted here and all of the other hummingbird plants I have planted, I see hummingbirds all of the time. I prefer to use plant flowers to feed them and it makes me happy to see them all over my garden!

You may have wondered about the "x" in the middle of the Erythrina x bidwillii? The letter signifies a cross between two species of Erythrina. In this case, the cross was made in between Erythrina herbacea a spring-blooming North American shrub that dies back in colder climates, and Erythrina crista-galli, a summer-blooming South American tree. They both possess the distinctive leaf arrangement of three leaves with the terminal leaf being largest. Erythrina crista-galli has spiny leaves and Erythrina herbacea has curving thorns on the stems. Erythrina bidwillii also has curving thorns, but they are not numerous. I prune the plant while wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt with no bodily damage.

            Maturing wand of flowers showing lengthening petals out of the calyx                           S. Reeve

As much as I love this plant one thing frustrates me about it, it has a rangy habit and does not attain the aesthetic ideal of how a small tree should look. Unlike, in zones lower than Zone 9 this plant is not a dieback shrub, but a small tree that does not dieback, and it maintains a woody trunk. In the spring this plant throws up abundant stems ending in long arching wands of flowers while blooming stems from last year are dead and show up distinctly as white curving skeleton bones the following year. To neaten the plant, these must be cut out. I normally do that in the spring, but I will try to cut them out in the fall this year. The wood of the plant is very light like balsa wood, and would easily float. Knowing what I know now about this plant in Zone 10b, I think it is worth the time and expense to buy a plant specifically trained as a tree, so there is an attractive structure to prune back to each year. Most Erythrina crista-galli are trained this way. 

If you love hummingbirds this is a great plant for your garden.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet' - great container plant for attracting Hummingbirds

Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet'                                                             S. Reeve

To say, "I am a big fan of hummingbirds" would be an understatement. If a plant has in its description, "attracts hummingbirds" chances are that plant is already in my cart. Automatic response with lightning-quick speed! I love hummingbirds and own many of the plants that they love to feed on. For hummingbirds, this plant is great since it blooms almost year-round. It does not freeze here so nothing limits this plant's ability to form flowers. It is on my deck and has been for a couple of years. It is probably three feet wide and four feet tall. 

Blooms of Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet'                                                                                   S. Reeve

This plant has a very intriguing selection name of 'Dropmore Scarlet' so I did some investigating. This plant was bred by Dr. Skinner from Dropmore, Manitoba Canada. He was a well-known plant breeder in the area and produced many garden-worthy prairie plants. Because this lonicera was developed in such a harsh winter cold area, I was surprised at how well it does in Zone 10b. It is bothersome to me that so many gardening books take care to list the lower zones a plant can grow in, but whether a plant will grow in a higher zone is not really addressed. Usually, the will say something like, for example, Zones 3-8 or 3-9, so I have no idea if it will grow in Zone 10b. A gardening limitation here is whether a plant will do well without winter cold. Many plants will not do well without an accumulation of chill hours. Fortunately, this plant does well. 

Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet' is a cross between two American species, Lonicera sempervirens, from the South, and Lonicera hirsuta, from the upper Midwest. I can certainly see the Lonicera sempervirens influence in 'Dropmore Scarlet' as it has red tubular flowers like L. sempervirens.

Lonicera hirsuta                                                                                            Photo by Peter M. Dziuk

Well known problems with Lonicera are powdery mildew and aphids. So far, I have had neither problem with my Lonicera. There are many species of mildew and they are typically specific to their host plant. Lonicera can be infected by powdery mildew fungus, in the genus, Erysiphe. Unlike other species of mildew, the genus Erysiphe has over 300 different host plants. To reduce the incidence of powdery mildew either buy plant selections that are resistant, or keep conditions around the plant discouraging for the fungus. Powdery mildew is encouraged by temperatures from 60-80 degrees and dry weather. To reduce conditions favoring its growth, plant in full sun with good airflow, and water regularly. Chemical control is not an option in my garden since I am doing everything I can to have a healthy vibrant place that welcomes all organisms. There are some selections of Lonicera that are resistant to powdery mildew, and in places where it is a problem, they would be worth seeking out. Of course, if you see an aphid infestation a hardy spray of water will knock them off, while providing a meal to ground-dwellers below. 

Anna's hummingbird on Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler'                      Wilson Brothers Gardens

I plant plants because I want to see hummingbirds and other pollinators. I feel better using plants rather than a sugar water mixture in a plastic feeder. Plant nectar contains sugar, sure, but it also contains amino acids, vitamins and other trace compounds that promote hummingbird health. 

Erroneously, I had assumed hummingbirds sucked nectar through a straw-shaped tongue. Recent studies by Dr. Rico Guevara, and colleagues, from the University of Connecticut,  show the mechanism is the forceful action of a brush-shaped tongue end with two grooves flattening against the plant and releasing. This acts as a mini-pump and the mechanical force draws nectar up to the feeding hummingbird--about 15-20 times a second! For many years it was thought that capillary action wicked nectar up to the mouth of the hummingbird, but this is a slow process that did not adequately explain how much nectar was obtained. Fascinating!

Drawing of a Hummingbird tongue by Dr. Alejandro Rico-Guevara

I love the bluish color of the Lonicera foliage. The flowers are often followed by red fruit desired by birds. Unlike some highly fragrant Lonicera species, this plant is not fragrant at all. Keep the soil moist but not wet and the plant needs full-to-partial sun. The vines twine so just provide something for them to climb on and they will do the work themselves. To encourage more flowers, prune after flowering. The books say Hardiness Zones 3a-8b, but we all know that is not true as I grow this in 10b. This long-blooming vine is perfect for the hummingbird garden as it puts out nearly continuous flowers all year long.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Workhorse of the San Diego Garden - Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta'

I am not exaggerating when I say this plant is a workhorse in San Diego gardens. It is a great non-threatening focal point, as it is spineless and soft compared with most Agaves. This is not an Agave but an Agave relative from a large tropical area extending from Guadaloupe Islands in the Caribbean down into Brazil. This plant grows easily, looks great, and is not bothered by insects and disease. The species name, "foetida", means fetid or bad-smelling, and apparently, when the leaves are crushed it is rather stinky. 
Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta Sport'                                                                                                            S. Reeve

Few plants have this much visual interest and can grow in so many garden and climate situations. True, your garden should remain above freezing to grow it outside, but it grows in a variety of climates. It grows equally as well in hot humid Miami as it does in semi-arid San Diego. I grew them very well in pots in the sticky Atlanta summers and over-wintered them in the garage. It can grow in full sunlight and also in fairly dense shade. This makes it very useful for brightening up shady areas. 'Mediopicta' means "painted center" and this does have a white/cream striped cleanly drawn down the center of each leaf or in a haphazard pattern. Above, you see a very distinct white stripe, but in the photo below the white is diffused through the leaf. The clean striped version is a sport of the other and called, Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta Sport.' The photo of the parent plant below planted in full sun is the Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta' that you commonly see in the trade.

The photo above shows a two-year-old Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta Sport' in fairly constant bright shade. Plants in the shade grow more slowly and that can be a very good thing. 

Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta' in full sun                                                                                         S. Reeve

This plant in full sun is probably also 2-3 years old but has grown more densely.  It is presently about 3 feet wide and a little less tall. Give these plants ideal conditions of rich soil, full sun, and lots of water and you can have an eight-foot-wide behemoth in several years. The good thing is you can just hold off on some of the water and keep this plant smaller in size for several years. If your goal is to have thousands of baby plants, go ahead and plant in a large full sun area, with good soil, and plenty of water. In 5-20 years you will have an eight-foot-tall and eight-foot-wide specimen that is large enough to bloom. Generally, this plant remains trunkless, but it can develop a small trunk with age.

Furcraea foetida 'Medio Picta' blooming stalk                                                                           John Rusk

When the plant reaches a large size it will send up a branched stalk with thousands of bi-colored flowers loved by bees. Given the stalk is the plant's last chance to procreate, it can measure 25-30 feet tall. I have seen reports of 40 feet tall, but I have never seen one so large. A morphological feature of the genus Furcraea is the pendulous flowers compared to erect or horizontal flowers in Agaves. The flowers have a pleasing fragrance. After the flowers are pollinated, soon the plant is loaded with little individual plantlets or bulbils, thousands per plant in a procreation strategy called, "vivipary" or "live birth." Several plants do this including species of mangroves, and surprisingly, tomatoes. If you have ever cut a tomato and found baby plants inside you have seen vivipary. What makes this plant a problem is the often-times 100% survival rate of the babies. Here, in semi-arid San Diego lack of water prevents this plant from spreading, but in many tropical or sub-tropical areas with more water, this plant has become an unwelcome alien. 

Furcraea combined with other plants                                                                                                 S. Reeve

The biggest reason I love Furcraea is you get an instant focal point when you add them to a garden composition. Here are a couple of examples. One is a recently installed business park planter, and the other is a rendering for a fairly shady spot in an outdoor mall.

Furcraea in upper right of photo                                                                                                  S. Reeve

Relaxing garden at outdoor mall                                                                                                  S. Reeve

Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta' combines well with so many plants that it is easy to use in garden compositions. It can even be used in quantity as a bedding plant or by itself as a focal point of a pot. It combines well with other succulents, agaves, aloes, roses, grasses, shrubs, and many other plants. The unique texture and patterning give the opportunity for all kinds of inventive combinations. Even if you have other variegated plants, as long as the variegation is a different scale you can combine them with Furcraea. This plant is a workhorse for me as it always looks clean, healthy, and blemish-free. It is also spine-free and soft so that makes it a great choice for a garden with children.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

'Tis the Season...

'Tis the season for huge dinner plate Aeoniums!  I know they are called, "dinner plate" Aeoniums so I expected a large rosette would be about 8-10 inches across. I measured this one and it is over 20 inches! Wow! 

Aeonium urbicum rosette                                                                                                                                  S. Reeve
This is Aeonium urbicum or a hybrid of Aeonium urbicum in the Family of Crassulaceae. The species is one of 36 endemic Aeoniums to the Canary Islands. Aeonium urbicum is from the Islands of Tenerife and La Gomera. There are a total of 42 species of Aeonium all from around this region. Aeonium urbicum is found on the Eastern side of the islands in barren landscapes and on old lava flows. There are several subspecies of this plant that differ slightly in morphology and flower color.

This species is solitary and often has tall unbranched stems. Many Aeoniums, like the ever-popular Aeonium arborescens branch and form shrub-like plants. This one does not. Mine has not developed a sizable stem yet, so I am wondering if this could be a hybrid of some other species? The stem is only 6 inches, but it is only a year in the ground. It was sold as Aeonium urbicum. My plant is also offsetting smaller rosettes at the ground, and Aeonium urbicum is not supposed to offset, so it looks like this could be a hybrid. My plant is offsetting at the base and it looks like it will form a dense colony of rosettes. 

This lovely plant is monocarpic and will die after flowering. It generally takes from 3-13 years for a flowering event to occur. When it blooms it produces a tower of many small flowers favored by bees. According to a study I read, this plant averages around 1,600 flowers per inflorescence. This species has one of the larger inflorescences of all of the Aeoniums. Polycarpic Aeoniums that do not die after flowering tends to have smaller inflorescences. It is a magnificent final act of flowering for Aeonium urbicum. This large flowering stalk comes at an energetic premium as the plant gives all of its resources to complete the event, and dies shortly afterward. It is thought that large inflorescences evolved in insect-poor areas to ensure pollination. Thankfully my plant is already offsetting so I do not have to worry about losing this plant if it does flower. The root system is made of fine hair-like roots as the plant itself serves as water storage. 
Aeonium urbicum Inflorescense                                                                Annie's Annuals

Right now, at Christmas, Aeoniums come into their glory and their rosettes grow to maximum size. During this time stems grow too if it is a stem-forming Aeonium. In the summer the rosettes remain but shrink in size in response to summer drought. The rosette leaves curl in toward the center forming a ball-like shape. In the summer, leaves along the stem are lost leaving leaf scars along the stem.  If you continue to supply them water, they shrink less, but they do cease growing and go dormant. They love water but need good drainage. They can also be drought-tolerant, especially if they get some shade, but look better with regular water. It is really an adaptable plant. Aeoniums do best at the coast where it doesn't get very hot but can do fine a little inland if they get water and shade. They will not tolerate frost.
Aeonium urbicum, Aeonium arborescens, Echeveria 'Cielo', Sedum adolphii 'Firestorm',
Hesperaloe 'Brake Lights, and Salvia 'Royal Bumble'   S. Reeve

I love this green Aeonium as it combines well with other succulents and provides a restful large green space in the composition. I have it growing with Echeveria 'Cielo' which also likes a good bit of water. Another reason to like this plant is it grows densely making weed germination impossible. Attractive red edges show up on the leaves at times of stress, especially in full sun. This Echeveria can stand full sun and also a fair bit of shade and do well in either situation. I have never seen pests on it. It looks clean, green, and refreshing. 

If the long stalks bother you, you can cut off the rosette head and that will root for you if given soil contact. For those with freezing temperatures, this plant grows well in pots, so you can bring it in during the winter. Keep an eye out for pests when it comes inside, as it will be understandably stressed and prone to infestation. I don't fertilize but rely on the break down of mulch to supply what the plant needs. My dinner plate Aeonium is a great Christmas gift in the garden.

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 it 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. 

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.