Category Archives: Plants

What to do in the middle of a Florida summer

Watch the grass grow.  While staring out at our half-moved lawn tonight, John suggested we get a cow.  I’m considering it.

Lotus Festival Leftovers

Yesterday’s assignment for the newspaper was the Lotus Festival—in one word, yay!  I spent two hours touching, looking, eating, drinking, and talking lotus and various other water plants.  The only problem was that the information in my notebook far exceeded my 15-inch article allotment.

For one, water lilies were as big of a draw for the festival as lotuses and the only flower you’ll see a picture of here on Lettuce Share or over at the Herald-Tribune.  Debby Downer strikes again; the pounding rains damaged a lot of leaves and blooms. Marilyn Eigsti, owner of Wonderful Water Lilies, holds this plus a Tropical Water Lily and Spring Festival annually in her backyard/the prettiest nursery I’ve ever seen.  And from what the crowd said, a few of which drove over from Naples, Eigsti is the only person to buy water lilies and lotuses from because of the variety and quality she offers. The number one tip I picked up on buying these particular plants: don’t buy them from Home Depot.  The national chain sells varieties that won’t grow in Florida.  You need a local, but no worries because Wonderful Water Lilies is open by appointment.  You don’t have to wait for a festival to buy.

When buying and deciphering between the two plants, the major difference is that the leaves of the water lily lie flat on the water, and the leaves of the lotus stand above the water.  There are also a few slighter differences.  Water lily stems are smooth and their leaves have a split in them.  Lotus stems have tiny bumps that make them rough to the touch, and their leaves are completely rounded without a split.

But those are basics and not the reason so many people attended the festival yesterday.  They were genuinely amped up about the lotus…maybe a strange choice of word when talking about plants–amped–but there was true excitement amongst the shoppers yesterday.  It seemed like more of a treasure hunt than a plant sale.

One shopper practically shouted, “In the rest of the world, the lotus is huge!” Another woman approached me several times, each time with a new interesting tidbit and every time ending the conversation with, “I could go on and on about the lotus.” I’d call it the Lotus Effect, but that’s already a thing.  It refers to the way lotus leaves self-clean.  A scanning electron microscope showed how the leaf structure beads water and carries away dirt.  The Lotus Effect has been integrated into products such as fabric, paint and solar panels.

In Myanmar and Cambodia, strands from the lotus stem are woven into a fabric finer than silk.  One robe requires over 200,000 plants!  To see how fine the strands are, snap a stem and pull it apart.  And if you’re hungry, eat it when you’re done.  Every part of the lotus is edible.

The leaves are used like banana leaves to wrap up meats and vegetables in a pouch to then bake, steam or grill.  The nuts can be smashed into pastry, and the stems are often pickled.  This is the recipe for the lotus salad served at the festival:

Lotus Namasu

Peel and thinly slice 1 pound lotus crosswise (cut in half lengthwise if using a large root).  Par boil 3-4 minutes.  Prepare sauce by combining 2 cups rice vinegar with 2 cups sugar, and pour over the lotus.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup diced carrot and 3×4 inches slivered konbu for color (konbu is kelp).  Mix well and serve cold.  May be made 2-3 days in advance.

Experimental Fig

Since I couldn’t go all Chainsaw Massacre on the creeping fig after finding a bird’s nest, I went Edward Scissorhands instead and cut around the flower details on the garage door.

I got the idea from this wall at Maclay Gardens.  Instead of cutting around a diamond, they cut out a diamond.

I worried the random cuts would kill the fig everywhere around the diamond, but so far so good and it’s been a few days.  There are a few shriveled strands, but they’re barely noticeable behind all the healthy vines that just got trimmed back.

Experiment gone well with one small exception; another suitable name for this plant would be sticky fig.  As I pulled it up, little flecks of red paint came with it.  Still, I like the new look, and since we don’t actually use the garage for our cars, it may last past the bird’s nest.

faster-than-Creeping Fig

First let me say that if I lived in a deed restricted community like Lakewood Ranch, I would not be able to afford the fines this so-called “creeping” fig would have incurred on my behalf by now.  It’s insane – running fig, flying fig, magic fig – any of these names would be more appropriate than creeping fig.  This is not a fence or wall…  

It’s one of our garage doors.  Good thing our garage is filled with crap instead of cars.  Otherwise, we’d have a real problem.  But right now my biggest problem is that it should be called Casa Fig.  First I found this enormous black beetle…

Then a spider plus its victim and possibly children???

And finally, a bird’s nest…

It’s definitely a mockingbird’s nest because one flew out over John’s head.  We decided to stop clipping and leave the nest alone, so for now it’s lopsided fig…anything but creeping!

Multiplying Milkweed

Self-sowing plants fall into the category of either convenient or maddening.  They fill in bare patches or pop up in places they shouldn’t.  Still, they’re always more welcome than weeds and when cooperative can be real money and time savers.

However, if the gardener is not feeling cooperative, self-sowers are sure to be the biggest pain in the ass you and your garden have seen since your honey tried to smoke out a moleCuban Buttercup is a flower not to be planted lightly; it’s a commitment, one forced upon me because I didn’t know any better.  It creeps between the brick pavers overnight, crowds out other plants, and it’s time to stop resisting.  In the spirit of Pema Chodron, I’m embracing the Buttercup and all the other self-sowers growing in my garden beds.

I’m putting away my wallet and cutting my garden workload thanks to Buttercup, Salvia and now Milkweed.  Seed pods burst through the garden last April, and one Milkweed plant gave birth to a litter.  Five new plants popped up this spring.  But location, location, location; a few were a little misguided in planting their roots.And some could have been planted with my own hands; this pot was empty other than the shells and marbles:As opposed to the Buttercup, I’m thrilled with the spread.  Milkweed equals butterflies; monarchs in particular, and my milk carton is in place and ready to house all the impending chrysalises.

Click here for free milkweed seeds.

What the Buddy Walk Gave to My Garden

Tomorrow marks the Manasota BUDS 10th Annual Buddy Walk, a charity and event I’ve supported since their inception.  Like anyone else, I have my reasons to support this particular cause; their names are Ella and Stacy.  Ella was born with Down syndrome, and Stacy is her amazing mom and one of the founders of Manasota BUDS.  They are also my niece and sister.

Family is the root of why I never miss a Buddy Walk, but an ancillary and quite selfish reason has emerged over the past two years – Mariposa, my favorite nursery, donates to the silent auction.  It’s definitely true when people say there’s no selfless deed.  I’ll be circling that silent auction table like a shark tomorrow.

Prior to last year’s Buddy Walk, I had several butterfly plants scattered throughout the garden and even had plenty of butterfly visitors.  But then I won the butterfly garden package from Mariposa.  Now, I have a real butterfly garden; I just didn’t know the difference.  You think you see a lot of butterflies until you start seeing three, four different types daily.

The package included a cassia tree, milkweed, porter weed, button sage, pentas, and passionvine.  The combination is pure magic.  Sulphur butterflies should have been listed along with the plants as an auction item.  There were caterpillars on the tree and butterflies circling within days.

We get pop-ins, like the White Peacock and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, and more than just Sulphurs are regulars.  The Gulf Fritillary is the Norm of our garden right now, constantly sipping at either the porter weed or button sage.

Sleepy Orange on the Cassia Tree

White Peacock Butterfly

Gulf Fritillary on White Button Sage

It’s a small one, but it’s a dream fulfilled.  When I started to really get into gardening, the goal quickly became butterflies.  I got lucky with a few plants; my Mexican sunflowers attracted tons of Swallowtails, and anyone can plant a milkweed to get Monarchs, but it really just depended on the day if I’d see a butterfly or not…not anymore.  Thanks BUDS!

For more information on Manasota BUDS, visit www.manasotabuds.org.  To register for the Buddy Walk or to make a donation, click here.

Enchanted Kudzu Forest

Hallelujah, the weather has cooled down just enough to take a walk mid-day without risking heat stroke.  To celebrate, Luke and I spent the lunch-hour strolling Arlington Park.  Although the sun is now bearable, my favorite section of the park is still on the west side where the tall trees and kudzu almost block it out entirely.  Kudzu is an invasive species from Asia that all gardeners should fear, but in this environment, it’s hard not to admire.  Arches, forts, and statues form as the kudzu crawls and clings to everything in sight.  The vines rise into columns and cascade down like waterfalls.  In the few small patches where the sun meets the ground, it has to drill through the thick like a spotlight.

And as if the mini-forest wasn’t feeling enchanted enough, a bright yellow bird I’ve never seen before hopped across the path.  It took me a while to identify, but it’s definitely a hooded warbler.  The yellow eye mask is unmistakable.

Warblers are way too quick for me.  The rest of my photos are blurs.  It was nice of the fish to be so cooperative.

Seagrapes and a Sonic Boom

Sea grapes have always bugged me.  It’s weird and I don’t know why, they just always have.  There’s a hedge around the corner that seemed more and more out of place and pointless every time I walked by it…until recently.  My visit to De Soto National Park has had me rethinking my stance on the sea grape.  I gained a new appreciation for them that day - their history, appearance and usefulness. Now I can’t stop noticing sea grapes…in a good way.

An odd tidbit of history is what initially drew me in.  Apparently, long before the stringent postal regulations of today, sea grape leaves were used as postcards.  Tourists would write messages on them and mail them home.  You could affix the stamp straight to the leaf.  And before tourists, it’s believed that DeSoto and his comrades were using them as playing cards.   

As sea grape leaves die, they harden.  They’re as thick as heavy paper and easy to write on or decorate.  The one flaw is that they become brittle and can snap.  The live leaves won’t snap, so they open up a whole other realm of craft possibilities.  First I found this how-to blog post on crafting the leaves into plates and bowlsThen I saw a Q and A in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune with local Master Gardener Jane Smith:

Q: What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever done with a plant?

A: I was invited to create a costume for a fashion show at the Art Center Sarasota.  I made a dress out of sea grape leaves, which I embellished with gold leaf and some paint.  The last I heard the “dress” made it to another fashion show at Selby Gardens.

I tried to find a picture of the dress somewhere but no luck; surely, it was gorgeous.  The live leaves are so much prettier than I ever gave them credit for.  Before they die, they turn red.  So for living in the South, sea grapes are as autumnal as they come.  

The trunks are equally as impressive in all their multiples.

Sea grapes are salt-tolerant and wind-resistant, so they’re often found along shorelines.  That explains the “sea.”  The “grape” is derived from the fruit it bears, which forms in grape-like clusters.  They’re edible too; this link will take you to a recipe for sea grape jelly.   

Sea grapes line the pathway between Bayfront Park and Selby Gardens.

But sometimes living in Florida is so much cooler than sea grapes and sunshine.  I got to experience a sonic boom today!  I heard and felt the space shuttle Discovery reentering our atmosphere for the last time ever.  Incredible!  If only I had know what it was at the time.  It wasn’t until an hour later when a friend asked me if I had felt it that I knew immediately I had.  It stopped our conversation the clap was so jarring.  Our office is on a busy street, so the initial thought was that someone got rear-ended at the stoplight.  It’s funny now to know what it actually was.  Oh, and the high was 82 degrees today…it was a good day to be in Florida.    

Gardening Keeps Me Sane

My thighs are screaming from all the crouching, but my mind is well rested and relaxed after an entire weekend of gardening.  Despite multiple reports warning of thunderstorms, the weather was non-stop perfect.  I weeded, seeded and savored.  Between the weather and the sweet scent of citrus blossoms, x marked the spot to be – my garden.

I planted Violet Queen giant zinnias and an annual cut flower mixture, carrots, jalepenos, Royal Burgandy garden beans, and heirloom tomatoes.  Mortgage Lifter seemed a topical choice, and of course, there’s a story to go with the seeds.  They were developed by a radiator repairman named M.C. Byles.  In the 1940′s Byles advertised the tomatoes as being large enough to feed a family of six, and people drove from up to 200 miles away to buy the seeds.  He’s said to have paid off a $6,000 mortgage with his seed money.  

And I’m not the only one planting seeds right now.  The red salvia is whipping seeds around the garden like confetti, while the milkweed is being awfully precise.

The solid white specs are petals from the grapefruit blossoms.  The things that look like little badminton birdies are the milkweed seeds.  All I had to do was push them in and water.  My other projects required a little more effort.  I mulched the lettuce with newspaper and rooted a half a dozen crotons.

The weeds were becoming too much work, and I didn’t feel like leaving the house or spending money.  Newspaper was my solution.  I pulled the weeds, added a layer of compost, and laid the newspaper down.  I cut a hole in the center of each section and pulled the lettuce through. 

It’s cheap, easy and biodegradable.  But as the pages start to dry, you’ll need to weight them down with something.  I used lava rocks.  The ink in the newspaper initially made me pause, but people add it to their compost all the time.  Unless you’re using glossy inserts, you’re in the clear because most newspaper print is now soy-based.    

Our office needs a landscaping upgrade, so my mind immediately went to crotons.  They’re colorful without having flowers.  Leaves range from basic greens to soft pinks and bright oranges.  Use plain water or a rooting hormone; either way, getting cuttings to root is a cinch.  I used the latter this time around.  Simply take your clipping and immediately submerge it into water. 

Cut the leaves off until only the top two remain, then dip the cut end into rooting hormone and stick it in the ground…be patient.  At ten dollars per plant, this project will eventually save me sixty bucks!   

X is for Xerophytes

I’ve written about my epiphytes in past posts, and thanks to ABC Wednesday and the 1997 edition of The Merriam-Webster Dictionary that sits on my nightstand, I’m ready to write about my Xerophytes.  Epiphytes, such as the ball moss in the grapefruit tree, are plants that survive with no soil.  Xerophytes, most commonly cacti and succulents, are plants that survive with hardly any water.  Bromeliads are another example, except I don’t have any of those.  Here’s a Xerophyte I do have:

It’s the tall spiky succulent in the back.  It’s commonly known as Milk barrel and formally known as Euphorbia horrida.  Every rose has its thorn, but in this case, the two are one in the same.  The spikes are left behind when the flower finishes blooming.  I’m looking forward to seeing it bloom; the spikes are pink.