Friday, October 10, 2014

Today's Favorite Plant - Crocus sativus

Yesterday, I noticed the first flower of a group of fall blooming Crocus sativus (Saffron Crocus) was open.

The first of many flowers to open.
Crocus sativus is not the easiest Crocus to grow but the reward is harvesting its precious inner cargo makes it worth it!

It likes rich, well-drained soils and very hot summers, which is exactly what we had in 2014 in Portland.  Sometimes it blooms well the first year and then sparsely the next. It doesn't force well indoors either. The bulbs are pretty easy to find at the garden center.

I have several "patches" of Saffron Crocus that have done well. Often the flowers open, just as the rains start, which makes harvesting the stamens harder. I always pluck the stamens at first sight and dry them in a little bowl on my kitchen counter, for use later.

Time to pluck those three stamens!
As a spice, Saffron has been cultivated for more than 3,500 years.
From my little patches of bulbs, I get a small amount of Saffron spice, enough to make my favorite Indian chicken dish. It's also nice to use to infuse into vodka to make cocktails. A Lemon Drop made with home infused Saffron vodka is amazing.

A word of caution - NEVER confuse Saffron Crocus or any other autumn-blooming crocus with the similar looking, but highly poisonous Colchicums. You have to know what you've planted.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Charlotte of the Cross

It's that time of year.

The days are quickly getting shorter and I rush home everyday trying to beat the sun going down. It's so hard to get up in the dark, go to work and then drive home in the dark.

The last few days, after getting home, I have sat on my back stoop in the last light, taking in the fragrance of Osmanthus fragrans (Sweet Osmanthus, 木樨). It's full of little ivory blooms and it's scent is floating around my yard. The warm evenings carrying it's perfume on the wind. You never know when you will encounter a cloud of its heavenly perfume, but it stops you in your tracks.

I knew that smell in a past life. I know it's weird but while visiting the Ming Tomb in China - I knew this smell and knew I had been there before.  It was a déjà vu moment. 

As I contemplate my former past life as a Chinese official, I sip a bourbon and coke and eat cheddar cheese Pringles (they had those in the Ming dynasty right?).  Now and then I slip a Pringle nibble to my assistant, Yvette.

My other thoughts are of Charlotte. 

This is also that time of year when the European Cross spiders suddenly get gigantic! Charlotte has decided to make a web between my house and the Caesalpinia gilliesii (Bird of Paradise Bush) I just put in this year. Last year's was rude and decided to die on me...  The Caesalpinia, not the spider....

Charlotte's web is hard to see
I have been feeding Charlotte in the evenings, not that she needs any help. She gets a snack after my assistant Yvette gets her kibble.  But unlike opening a can of K-9 'Brats n Tots', I have to go forage in nooks and crannies for bugs.

For she (Charlotte, not Yvette) loves a good grasshopper or sometimes a beetle, that I find under the  wood boards out in the veggie garden.  It takes a little effort to scrounge insect appetizers. 

Tonight I couldn't find Charlotte in her web. I thought perhaps she moved on to better digs. But when I went to plant something, I discovered where she went .

I found a little bug and stuck it in her web. She got all the signals and zipped up her web. Later on she decided she wanted her snack "to go" and brought it down from the web to her new hiding place under the trowel.

I hope she sticks around for awhile longer - the first frosts are surely around the corner. I will give her treats as long as I can. Hopefully next year's baby spiders will be hers. 

Something to look forward to next year. (Is that "Circle of Life" playing softly in the background?)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chomp! They Came from the Swamp!

Through October 19th, 2014, the special exhibit at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco is Chomp! They Came from the Swamp, an exhibit of carnivorous plants.

There is already an impressive collection of tropical Pitcher Plants in the rest of the greenhouse to see, but this exhibit had a few carnivorous plants I didn't know about. 

This section of the greenhouse had almost constant misting going on, giving the room an ethereal feeling. In the center of the room stood several giant carnivorous plants.

I haven't had  much experience growing these plants, only murdering a Venus Flytrap here and there.

Enjoy the exhibit!

Giant Cephalotus
Giant Cephalotus Baby
Giant White Trumpets

Cephalotus follicularus
Dionaea (Venus Flytrap)
Dionaea (Venus Flytrap)

Sun Pitchers
Pitcher Plant in Flower

Butterwort (Pinguicula)

Sarracenia (White Trumpet)
Giant Dionaea (Venus Flytrap)
Amorphophallus (not sure which one) in a steamy room

Cobra Plants and Hooded Pitcher Plants
Cobra Plant (Darlingtonia)
Rainbow Plants (Byblis)
Rainbow  Plants (Byblis)
Rainbow  Plants (Byblis)
Purple Pitcher Plant

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Conservatory of Flowers

The Conservatory of Flowers was my last stop in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.


This conservatory opened in 1879, making it the oldest public glass and wood greenhouse in North America. It is a city, state and national historic landmark!

It has survived a boiler explosion, earthquakes, closure for structural instability, and severe windstorm damage.

In 1999, a $25 million dollar restoration took place with the conservatory reopening in 2003.

I cannot express the sheer joy and glee I had wondering around in here. I had multiple "plantgasms".

The conservatory is broken out into sections: Potted Plants, Lowland Tropics, Highland Tropics and Aquatic Plants. There is also a special exhibit area, which I will showcase in another post.

In the Lowland Tropics, plants from low-laying tropical forests are featured. Plants from Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia.

It's a jungle in there!
Pavonia strictiflora (Goethea strictiflora)
There was a great selection of Pleurothallids, Masdevallias, and Draculas in the Highland Tropics. As a former "Orchid Geek", it was fun to see plants tucked in here and there. This room had it's own fog to simulate the cool temperatures and high humidity of  being at 3,000 feet elevation. It was amusing to balance taking lots of pictures with keeping my camera out of the constant mist.  

Dracula bella
Nepenthes lowii 'Mulu'
Petrocosmea begonifolia
Restrepia antennifera
Barbosella cogniauxiana

Bulbophyllum 'Elizabeth Ann'

The Aquatic Plants room featured plants from the Amazon and Mekong.  There was a large collection of pitcher plants and Bromeliads

A world in a bowl.

Guzmania conifera

Bulbophyllum blepharistes
Pitcher Plant in bloom.
The Potted Plant area had an assortment of orchids, bromeliads, begonias and other interesting plants. Upon entry into this room a beautiful Schomburgkia splendida was in flower with it's long arching bloom spike.

Schomburgkia splendida

Globba schomburgkii (Dancing Girl Ginger)

A mix of Phalaenopsis
Nepenthes robcantleyi

Zamia roezlii

Vireya rhododendron

Tacca chantrieri (Bat Flower)
The special exhibit was of carnivorous plants. I will include the special exhibit in a special extra post.