Sunday, January 30, 2011

Getting My Flower Fix at Orchid Shows

I've discovered that there isn't much I know about the mysterious flower, the orchid, other than it makes for one fantastic photo shoot. This weekend the Central Illinois Orchid Society held their annual orchid show. They had a great turn out in both plants and people. The society brought over 65 plants from their individual collections as well as educational displays, photographs, and door prizes.

Phalaenopsis 'Double Delight'

Epilaeliocattleya Don Herman
The variability in the orchid family (Orchidaceae) is tremendous.  I learned that it is thought to be the second largest plant family, and contains the plant responsible for one of our favorite flavor extracts for baking--vanilla. The American Orchid Society has educational sheets that are helpful, but only on a handful of genera. With over 850 genera documented, my hope is to learn the most common and enjoy the ones I don't know. This is how I cope from becoming overwhelmed in any field filled with terminology and potentially no labels.

Vanda Thongchai x Vanda Kasem's Delight

Classic to unique
Flower shape varied so much from species-to-species. Some flowers had large rounded petals, others strappy petals. You can find plants with multiple flowers a tight cluster all open at the same time on the end of a spike, or spread out over the length of a spike opening one at a time slowly. I am now a big fan of the following orchids types: lady slippers, the genus Vanda, and many of the fragrant varieties. On display, I found the following flower that was just a lovely coral color. Such a unique color.

Phragmipedium Don Wimber

Is there a chocolatier in the house?
In the small room where the show was the air was a delightful bounty of fragrance. It turned out that there are a number of orchids that have scents varying from the light smell of soap, to a bold odorous smell, to chocolate. Yum!

Pot. Shin Shiang 'Diamond' looks like daffodils, smells like heaven
Zygopetalum 'Blue Blazes'
Angraecum Veitchii 'White Star'
Cattlianthe Chocolate Drop 'Kodama'
Like the name suggests, it smells like chocolate.

 Blooms...blooms...blooms, that's what orchids are all about, or is it?
What the uninitiated may not know is that growing an orchid is not all about the flowers. A plant is only in bloom from a few days to two months. Sometimes they bloom longer, and worse, sometimes people don't get them to bloom at all. But having a plant not in bloom for about nine months doesn't have to be annoying like construction season. If this is your fear, I have learned that many of the orchids have especially nice leaves to save you. These can be used as center pieces or for the tiny plants, talking points.
Ludisia discolor
Dossinodes Indra's Net
also happens to be a miniature orchid

Did you see that?
I heard a lot of chatter about not having space for such plants. A few of these demonstration lovelies showed if you like unique and don't have the space for the larger plants, there is an entire industry of miniature orchids. So many people took double-takes on the miniatures. They offered a punch in a petite-sized place.
The Dendrobium peguanum plant measures in at a whopping 2"

Phalaenopsis equestris
I no longer am able to conjure up a single image to represent the orchid family. What I have learned is that I enjoyed this orchid show so much that I find myself resisting the urge to run out and buy many. I have a few plants that I might look at, but will wait until I learn a bit more. I didn't win any door prizes at this flower show, but I did leave feeling like a winner from the opportunity to photograph the flowers and talk to the society members.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Conservatory Close Up

I've visited our local conservatory, University of Illinois Plant Conservatory, four times already this year. It's true we're only four weeks into the new year. It is quite the little gem especially in the winter. The air seems so fresh inside a conservatory, sometimes I like to sit and talk, most times I take photos. On this trip I focused on close ups. There is something fascinating about taking a closer look from time-to-time.
Nun Orchid (Phaius tancarvilleae)
At first glance this looks like a hummingbird hovering.
The winter is such a great time of year to find orchids in bloom. The bright unique flowers are the little bursts of energy that make walking across campus on the gray winter days in central Illinois tolerable.
Epidendrum Pretty Lady
Ready for Valentines Day, this bloom has a heart.
The Epidendrum Pretty Lady, is a beautiful orchid where the inflorescence is a cluster of flowers held high above the foliage. An individual flower is only about .5 inch in real life. Sometimes you find little surprises like the heart-shape on this fuchsia colored Epidendrum. From a distance, this little find would have gone unnoticed, but up close, this flower shows a lot of love.

The following photos are some close ups that are artistic, but not terribly useful for identification.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Tree Grows Through It

The church above looks like a bouquet of greenery is spilling out over the top where a roof once was, and indeed it is. Called Kirchruine Abterode (or Ruined Church in Abterode), Hesse, Germany, it has been in ruin since 1809, giving the trees and vines around it a chance to really take hold.
Many young trees now surround the grounds of the church even filling in the cemetary. Ivy (Hedera sp.) can be found growing up their trunks and well into the canopies. All of the trees lend a air of mystery to the ruins. But the tree (Tilia sp. I think--speak up if you know) that was left to grow inside, poured over the tops of the walls and gave an air of romance to what would otherwise could be a dreary place.
I can't imagine why someone left that particular tree there to continue to grow, but I couldn't be more grateful. There proved to be a lot of life flourishing around these ruins. Nature showing all the signs of perseverance that few buildings can maintain without abundant attention.

Old hollow tree filled with cement, still persevering.
There were signs that showed attention has been given to some trees. The cavity of this tree was filled with cement long enough ago that there was a one inch gap between the cement and the interior walls of this old split tree. I imagine the deteriorated cement slowly flowing out the bottom creating a miniature alluvial fan. Even gnarled, old, and covered in vines, this tree breaks bud in the spring, sends up new shoots, and keeps on growing.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Buds and Bark with Michael A. Dirr

Dr. Michael A. Dirr
In a tree identification class, a professor will walk hastily between specimens, but will share the details of a tree in front of you with patience and enthusiasm. If you're lucky, there will be a little history on that specific plant, the grounds it's on, or someone who introduced it. If you experience more than this, then you are blessed.

I learned tree identification from Dr. Gary Kling, professor at the University of Illinois. I sought out to study under Dr. Kling because of his reputation. He is ridiculously smart and has a big heart. I was humbled to learn his adviser, Dr. Michael A. Dirr, was the same.

When I discovered that the 2011 National Green Centre Conference  was offering an opportunity to join Dr. Dirr and many industry professionals on a garden walk at the Missouri Botanical Gardens (MoBot), I jumped on it. I've been peripherally involved in horticulture for 19 years. I've torn through two editions of Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. One was while I was working on my Master's in Horticulture Education.

When I told my husband I was attending a garden walk in January, the first thing out of his mouth was, "it's the middle of winter, what's there to see?" He knew. Beyond meeting a man renowned in the industry, we would see, buds and bark. Only people this passionate would willingly pay to go on a walk in the cold, rain or shine. What began as a two hour walk, turned into an a three hour walk ending with industry professionals talking about the future of their beloved industry. The event was forced to an end, only by the bus driver.

Loebner Magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri) at the Missouri Botanical Gardens

Dr. Dirr started the walk off without pause, willingly sharing and quizzing anyone who looked up for the challenge. Everyone was up for the challenge. He wasn't the only one talking. He would call others to speak up when they knew details or were specialists in their field. When part of the group would move at a leisurely pace, he would bark, "hurry up people!", and the tail end would move faster. Discussing a tree thoroughly and then getting to the next specimen, this is what a tree walk is about.

Chip Tynan, Michael A. Dirr, Christopher Tidrick (From the Soil), and Linda Orton
He talked about the history of a series of plantings that have taken hard hits at the University of Illinois. This was an area where I was able to chime in. Living and working at the university for so long, you come to know the location of plants like they're your neighbors. You know when they were born, what diseases they have, and when they have passed. We were able to share and reminisce about the rise and fall of many plantings on the famous 'Quad' at Illinois and numerous other specimens on campus.

Group photo of garden walk attendees
Dr. Dirr was certainly the headliner of the walk, but he was joined by Jim Cocos (VP of Horticulture for MoBot) and Chip Tynan (Manager of MoBot's Horticultural Answer Service), Hillary Barber (Horticulturalist, who worked for Dr. Dirr for years, and now works part time with him as well as for Bold Spring Nursery in Georgia), Linda Orton (President of Mid South Hydrangea Society), Maria Zampini (President of Lake County New Plants LLC), Robert Smith (Arbor Day Foundation), and that was just the people I was able to meet. It was like a roll call of who's who in the industry. It was an experience of a lifetime for me. I was blessed with buds and bark.

Chip Tynan, Laura Hayden, and Michael A. Dirr at Missouri Botanical Gardens

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Solace in a conservatory

Had a hard morning at work. Back to back meetings, computer support...first day of classes. That's the life of working on a university campus. I find it utterly amazing that I can always feel better after a brief visit to the University of Illinois Conservatory. It's a botanical garden always at peak, and yet always changing. It smells good, and in the time it takes for my camera to acclimate to the heat and moisture, I've usually scouted out some new views.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What's the difference?
Alocasia, Colocasia, and Xanthosoma

Elephant ears and Taro are names that are used for the large-leaved tropical plants. They are popular additions to the landscape and when used can be whimsical to dramatic. I've heard many different names used for these plants. I had a couple types in the yard. When I've asked, I was told the largest were elephant ears, the smallest were Colocasia. This is too general and I have found somewhat inaccurate.

Photo taken at the University of Illinois Arboretum

I've often wondered what the differences were between Alocasia, Colocasia, and Xanthosoma. After many long discussions with friends and other gardeners, I finally had to do the research. It's a topic that has been covered on other sites well (and I've included the sources I've used below). The thing that is missing from all of the websites is displaying the side-by-side differences. They are fairly minor visual differences, but it is differences like these that make it easy to successfully grow these plants over and over again. Just a note that the plants don't have to follow these guidelines, so keep in mind there is variability.

The features to focus on are the direction of the leaf and the attachment point of the petiole to the leaf. Beyond that, according to the definitive way to tell the difference is in the flower morphology or DNA.

Details Alocasia Colocasia Xanthosoma
WATER moist but
high moisture high moisture
upward to horizontal downward downward
at leaf notch below leaf notch at leaf notch

*Illustrations Copyright © 2011 Laura Hayden

The Big Ears - Spotlight on Colocasia and Xanthosoma, LariAnn Garner
Colocasia vs Alocasia vs Xanthosoma
, Walter Reeves,

National Tropical Botanic Garden
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