Monday, July 25, 2011

Plant Profile: Gryphon Begonia

Plant performance of sun to part-shade (left) vs. part-shade to shade (right).

I have been wanting to grow the Gryphon Begonia hybrida and see how it performs in my yard, and later in my home. I bought 4 plants from an independent garden center. They were all the same size when I bought them. In general, I don't add fertilizer to my plants other than what is already in the potting soil.
"Beautiful, strong & durable foliage"
--PanAmerican Seed

The Gryphon Begonia is described as having "beautiful, strong & durable foliage" and I am all about durable in the garden. The information sheets for Gryphon Begonia on the PanAmerican Seed web site clearly state that this begonia thrives in the shade and with less water.

When the description on this plant is part-shade to full shade, my experience now says respect it if you want the plant to perform to the best of its ability. It's a hard balance to find the right amount of sunlight, in duration and quantity, for plants. Is the dappled shade  under a dogwood enough? Perhaps too much? What I discovered with this begonia is that direct mid-day sunlight, even for an hour is too much. The two plants in the same containers flanked a patio table. One was protected from direct light by a dogwood tree, and the other did receive direct light for only about an hour. The plant in the shade had large leaves. It was very full and tall. The plant in too much light was smaller with an airier appearance. Never reaching its potential.

One of my favorite color combinations,
Petunia 'Raspberry Blast' with a Gryphon Begonia
I kept one of the plants in a 6 inch pot with no drainage. This is usually a dangerous proposition when it comes to over watering and rot. I'm aware of these possible issues, but found that I spent most of my time watering. It is pretty voracious in its ability to take up water. Then the problem really becomes that this condition significantly dwarfs the plant. It hasn't grown over 15" tall and is pretty wimpy looking overall, but about the same as the plant that was in sun.
Color combination of this plant must be planned out well before choosing the containers. I had two peach colored ceramic containers and a red ceramic container. All three of the containers clashed horribly with the silver/blue leaves with maroon coloration underneath. I didn't want to drop the cash for new containers, so on this endeavor I made due. The fourth plant was placed in a large terracotta pot with other plants. The begonia in terracotta combination was very nice, though I think I'd stick to charcoal gray or earth tones.

The temperatures over the last few weeks have been in the high nineties. The hoses have been left out because watering has become a must in yard as well as the containers. The Gryphon Begonia leaves have shown damage where water has sat on the leaves. The damage is either caused by the sun heating the water, or the severe temperature differences between leaf and water. This damage followed a significant hail storm a few weeks ago, that left many of the leaves looking like swiss cheese.

After all of the weather events hail, heat, sun and water, that have hit these begonias, they have bounced back quickly and powerfully every time. They perform best when you give them room to grow and the proper lighting needs. I am thoroughly impressed with the durability of this plant and plan on using it again and again. It will be interesting to see if I can bring it inside over the winter to become a house plant.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Amorphophallus titanum

Laura next to the Titan arum taken off of a webcam by Mark Hart
Opportunities for interesting events constantly surround us in Urbana. This weekend, there is an opportunity to see a titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) that just began opening today at the University of Illinois Conservatory.

I've been visiting the conservatory everyday over the last week. The greenhouse manager, Debbie Black, has taken the time to talk and answer my never-ending list of questions. Over 700 people have gone through the conservatory this week. There are so many outlets for this information, a live video feed, facebook updates, and dedicated email lists. Debbie has been interviewed by numerous news agencies in the last week, even Modern Marvels is coming to film, and her voice is beginning to pay the price of popularity.

Today, with the anouncement of the malodorous flower opening, the numbers have just spun out of control. There has been a constant line of interested onlookers since the announcement of the flower beginning to open. With the first sign of the leaf unfurling around 3:00pm people have begun walking by holding their noses trying to avoid the pongy air.

This is a rare opportunity to view the world’s largest inflorescence native to Sumatra. The largest flower was measured at just over 8 feet. The U of I flower is opening after growing to around 42” or just shy of 4 feet. Just a babe in the world of titan arums.

Other than the size why the attraction?

Also known as the corpse flower, the flower got its name from the fragrance that it emits of rotting flesh. The tip of the flower (spadix) heats up at maturity causing the chemicals in the plant to emit a foul odor.

The leaf on this arum is long gone. After years of growing a tall leaf and going dormant again and again, each time growing larger, it finally sends up a flower to finish its life cycle. The spadix is wrapped by a green spathe that is dark maroon on the inside. It takes anywhere from 7-10 years for this plant to complete its life cycle and flower. There have been less than 100 of these flowers to have bloomed in the United States.

The titan arum at Illinois was a gift from Mo Fayyaz at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and has been diligently nurtured for 10 years by Debbie. For the first 5 years, Debbie was the only person allowed to water the plant. This was because they lost many other plants to over-watering in previous years.

The corm weighs in around 40 pounds. The native pollinators of this flower are carrion beetles and other insects. The titan arum needs pollen from another plant to fertilize it's flowers. In the greenhouse, Debbie will try to hand pollinate the flowers from two year old frozen pollen, and hope for fertilization to make new seeds for her collection. I hope to have an opportunity to help with that process and learn.

The flowers inside the Titan arum inflorescence are just visible at the base of the spadix inside the spathe.

Commonly asked questions:

How long does it flower?
From when the flower breaks ground to begin growing, to when it withers and dies back to the ground, the flowering process can take 3 - 4 weeks. It is only open and really pungent when, first the female and then male, flowers are viable and ready for fertilization. The inflorescence only lasts 1-2 days before the spathe begins to wilt.

What is the heaviest corm?
This plant's corm weighs around 40 pounds. The largest corm in the world weighed in at 200 pounds at Kew Gardens.

For more information see the following links:
Plant Sciences Conservatory
Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Titan arum, Corpse flower...something smells here

Standing at 39" high, this Titan arum is just getting ready to put on a show.

Check out the live video feed of the
Titan Arum blooming

The Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) is native to Sumatra, Indonesia. It is the largest single inflorescence in the world and can grow up to 8' in height. It consists of a spadix and spathe growing up from a corm. The corm of this bloom particular bloom is just under 40 pounds. The largest has weighed in at 200 pounds. At full maturity, the tip of the spadix is approximately the temperature of the human body and coincidentally the scent is that of rotting flesh. Actually in this phase (see photo) of the flower, the fragrance has not been activated yet. You can get as close as you want and not get knocked out.

The entire life cycle of the Corpse flower begins with a leaf coming up for a short time and then going dormant. It will repeat another cycle of the leaf growing in size the next time around. Then the plant goes dormant for a long time. The next time there is activity, in a couple of years, the flower makes an appearance.

Read more about the titan arum...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bagworms are out in force

I've seen bagworms create their decorative bags from many different plants. Most often though it's been with the evergreen leaves of arborvitae. I've seen bagworms creeping across sidewalks, hanging from cement stairs, and hanging from plants. I didn't expect to see this bagworm hanging from this deciduous shrub, I think it was a hydrangea. The structure had great architecture with dried leaf curls and remnants of flowers stuck to the side. If you want the real details about bagworms check out the latest issue of Home, Yard, & Garden from the University of Illinois.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Tetraploid-à-Tet: What does tetraploid Daylily really mean?

Hemerocallis 'Prime Minister'

It is the peak of Daylily (Hemerocallis) season here in Central Illinois and companies are pushing everything from their newest "Tet" selections to the old fashioned Daylilies. But what does this name Tet or Tetraploid Daylily mean and why are they saying it is better?

What does tetraploid daylily mean?
I looked around at Daylily websites to find what they had to say about definition of tetraploid and frequently found them to be circular. Using the word to define the word.

Tetrapoidy in lilies means that two nuclei have been fused together doubling the number of chromosomes normally found in a cell creating two sets of chromosomes. This doubling creates more genetic mutations (outcomes) available for creating new plants.

Why do they say it is better?
The mutations that occur from the doubling of chromosomes results in the ability to breed new plants that have more admirable traits, such as flower color, stem thickness, leaf shape or plant habit. The breeding possibilities are much greater. Flower color is usually more intense and there are far more options available than the reds, oranges and yellows that are available in the diploids friends.

Hemerocallis 'On and On'

What else?
There are some other traits that are often found in tetraploid Daylilies. They don't spread or divide as rapidly. This could mean there won't be the same ground cover effect as with Hemerocallis fulva or other diploid varieties. On the flip side you don't have to dig and divide your plants nearly as frequently or work to keep them in check. Another change is that there also tends to be fewer flowers per scape (stem) as their diploid friends. While we are on the topic of friends, tetraploid and diploid flowers don't cross to produce viable seeds. They must remain friends in the garden.

  1. American Hemerocallis Society 
  2. Down to Earth Garden Club 
  3. Wikipedia
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