Monarch Musings, Part 2

Okay, if we’ve gotten through the tropical versus native asclepias issue without killing one another, here’s another issue that seems to be dividing folks: the home rearing or raising indoors or monarch chrysalises for later outdoor release.

At first glance, you think, how could anything about this be controversial? And indeed, one of Connecticut’s oldest and most respected organic nurseries not only does this but encourages others to do this.

But very recently–in the last week or so–it has come to light that monarchs that are hand-raised or home raised have difficulty migrating. There was a long article in the Atlantic that discussed various problems with the home raised butterfiles.

Here’s an article from late last year that both thoughtfully summarized the debate, the issues (including the tropical versus native milkweed issue from last Friday’s post) and even has some comments attached that shows how heated the discussion can get.

I don’t raise monarchs indoors. I have had them in my outdoor garden where I grow my native milkweed, asclepias incarnata (which goes by the lovely common name swamp milkweed. Is it a wonder more folks don’t grow this stuff?) I’ve watched the caterpillars crawl around on it–I even did a post last summer on it where I compared watching them to a form of “garden bathing” (like “forest bathing.”)

But I do have friends who raise monarchs. They love the hobby–and yes, they have lost some to disease. It’s been heartbreaking for them. Amazing how fast you get attached to little crawling caterpillars, I guess, particularly ones that you have watched hatch.

What’s the takeaway? I am not sure. I wish I thought we were helping nature. Perhaps someday we’ll learn how to get better at it. Until then, does that mean we shouldn’t try?

Who Knew Plants Could Be Helpful?

Happy Spring! From here on out, were are in the 3 months most likely to be “spring-like,” hence this day, March 1, begins meteorological spring. It’s all going to get better–or warmer–from here, no groundhog required.

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Gardeners know that plants can be helpful in many different ways so the title of my post is kind of silly, really. But this particular plant, a tropical pitcher plant called nepenthes ventricosa is helpful in ways that aren’t immediately obvious.

First, I want to say that it’s looking a little wimpy right now. I just cut the last of the big red pitchers that it had from last summer off. That’s really what led me to this post. The pitcher was full of liquid so I dumped the liquid into the sink and out came a dead hornet. Aha! I thought. That’s where that hornet that was bumbling around in here about a month or so ago went.

These tiny green pitchers have all formed since I brought the plant in for the winter. Any hornets who find their way in now are on their own until the plant goes back outside for spring.

There was a vendor at our Flower and Garden Show offering these for sale. I suspect folks who bought these might have been given the instruction to collect rainwater or some such thing. I know every time I acquire a carnivorous plant, that’s what I am told.

That’s nice to do if you’re not in the middle of February in the freezing north. What I do instead is I fill a watering can with tap water and let it sit overnight at least. Longer is better. Many of the harmful “stuff” in the water evaporates out that way.

Something must be working–this plant is 2 years old. Maybe it likes its diet of scavenged hornets.

Gardening Resolutions #4

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The large plant in the center of the photo is what’s prompted this “resolution.” I seem to be full of them this year, most of them which I am sure that I will never be able to keep, of course!

This is a variegated pittosporum. It’s not a house plant. It’s a shrub that grows in warm climates. I saw it on my trip to Italy in 1999 and fell in love with it. I’ve also seen it, as well as its non-variegated cousin, on my trips to Texas.

My “resolution,” if you will, is to try not to fall in love with these huge plants that were never intended to be house plants. As I just mentioned, this is a shrub. The only reason it’s in my house in a pot is that I can’t grow it outside in my cold climate.

So why am I growing it at all? Well, because, as I mentioned, I saw a lovely hedge of it in Italy, outside of Rome, at a restaurant where I enjoyed a lovely open-air dinner on a warm, late summer night. My chair backed up tot this hedge and the foliage is slightly fragrant. That was all it took. When I saw a small plant offered for sale, it brought back that wonderful memory of that open air dinner and the rest is history.

I didn’t realize that this plant flowered and had lovely fragrant flowers int he spring. It won’t do it for me every spring–but that’s part of its charm too. But still–if I keep falling in love with shrubs, I’ll have to move out of my house!

Another Holiday Worthy Plant

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This stunner unfortunately doesn’t have one good common name. Its botanical is stromanthe sanguinea ‘Triostar’ (or sometimes variegata). I have seen it called Persian Shield, but not often, and I have also seen it called Tricolor Prayer Plant, which is even more misleading, because it does not belong to the calathea/maranta genus which are usually called “prayer plants.” So feel free to come up with some good common name yourself.

I say it’s “holiday worthy” of course because of the colorations in the leaves. I suppose it could easily be be gifted around Valentine’s Day as well for the same reason. This photo shows the nice maroon stems fairly well. I didn’t capture the maroon undersides of the leaves though. It really is a stunner of a plant!

For me, I grow it in an east or west exposure–where ever I have more room in a given season. I have had this plant for several years and it hasn’t grown very much (and I like that in a plant sometimes)–many of my plants are outgrowing my house!

In the summer, I put it outside under a dogwood that throws fairly dense shade. Despite the outside/inside routine for at least 3 or 4 years, it has never had an insect problem.

In my cooler house, it only needs water once a week. Outside, it might get watered every day, depending on temperatures.

I definitely can recommend this as a plant. As I often say–what’s not to like?

Wait, What? This Plant is Trendy Too?

Because I write this blog (and columns here and there for other publications) I get a lot of things sent to me. Most come via email but occasionally I will actually get an old-fashioned press release in the snail mail.

Just recently I got an email newsletter about how we all ought to be ramping up our house plant design for the holidays (oh my. Even I am not quite ready to think about house plants for the holidays, but then again, I don’t get paid the big bucks for this).

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Interestingly enough, the newsletter had things like rex begonias, variegated and green dracenas paired, side by side, the ubiquitous ZZ plant and this plant–the Ponytail Palm (beaucarnea recurvata).

First thing to know–of course this is not a palm. It is native to Mexico, so for those of us growing in colder climates, we are doomed to grow the poor things in pots.

I have read that proper culture says that we are not to snip off the ends of the leaves as they grow. That may be fine for these plants “in the wild” but in our “over-heated” (or under humidified) homes, the ends of the leaves get quite messy and brown. I snip away with abandon once a year on mine–I can’t stand the look of a half dead leaf. The rest eventually dies off and is then removed anyway.

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The other important thing to know is that these plants prefer to be grown on the dry side. The swollen caudex (or caudices–in this instance, I have about 5 in this pot!) actually stores water so it is possible to over-water them and kill them.

Finally, I have not found that mine are particularly fussy about light–they grow in fairly dark conditions quite nicely. The photos I have seen of them “in the wild” show them in bright light and flowering. Mine haven’t done that, but I expect it’s a light issue (or maybe a light and warmth issue.

You can see that the one above is on a coffee table in the middle of a room. Granted, it’s an extremely bright room–the room has two bay windows that face south and east–but it’s still no where near a window!

As for the trendy part, I suspect it’s the sculptural aspect of these plants that makes them trendy. While I can’t see them being used in the way that the snake plants are–as room dividers, in a row–these are definitely funky accent plants (provided the tips of the leaves aren’t brown, of course.)

And since they’re very easy care, this is definitely a “trend” that could be appealing, especially at the holidays!

What a Difference A Little Warmth Makes!

April in Connecticut was nasty! It was the 5th or 6th coldest April on record (and our records go back into the late 1800s, so that’s a good bit of weather to compare with!)

We got almost 2″ of rain above average–you won’t ever hear me complaining too much about rain, but when it’s so cold, extra rain is extra ugly.

And we had over 6″ of snow above average. That I will complain about!

But so far the beginning of May is making up for it–or as I always say, we only have two seasons here in this state, winter and July.  We haven’t had much temperate weather–it’s either been below average (or much below) or much above. I presume that’s how averages are made.

Still, when I got back from Oklahoma, I found all this in bloom!

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Azaleas were everywhere ( as were forsythia, but I don’t have those)

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Magnolias similarly were everywhere. I have a star magnolia, but I am a bit concerned that it somehow died over the winter. I see no signs of life–either blossoms or leaves. This is a 30 year old tree. I hate when that happens!

My yellow magnolia is doing fine and will be in bloom shortly.

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Bulbs are popping up in places where I planted them–and where I didn’t. More about that in another post.

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My weeping cherry–which is always later than the magnolia–is spectacular.

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And this funny plant–petasites japonica–is doing quite well because of all the moisture. It will do well as long as it’s moist. If it becomes hot and dry, it will get ratty and I cut it back.

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So I was very pleased to see spring at last on my return.