Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tillandsia cyanea

    The Pink Quill (Tillandsia cyanea) comes from the genus Tillandsia which consists of epiphytic species of Bromelaids. It is a plant of Ecuadorian origins and can often be found growing on trees or other plants. What makes the Pink Quill so unusual is the large pink plume of which vibrant purple flowers emerge. This specific species of Tillandsia is commonly found in botanical gardens and greenhouses, for obvious reasons, it's quite unusual looking.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Acacia xanthophloea

The Fever Tree (Acacia xanthophloea) is a member of the very large genus, Acacia, consisting of many very unique trees. The Fever Tree is no doubt unusual, it's bark is a greenish yellow with a powdery coating. There is a reason for it's unusual color, it actually conducts photosynthesis in the bark, an extraordinary adaptation . The tree is native to Africa and can be found in many regions world wide due to it's ability to adapt to different conditions. It is typically grown in warmer environments, but developed trees can easily survive frosts making this tree a useful landscaping tree for many climates. It has compounded leaves, like many other Acacia species, as well as long spines.

This is a picture of the bark, it is uneven and has a coarse texture. The powder covering the bark is easily wiped off with one's finger.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gossypium thurberi

Thurber's Cotton (Gossypium thurberi) is a kind of wild cotton native to Arizona, USA. The leaves are typically green during the spring and summer, in the fall (November) they turn red. It has a tree-like growth habit with perennial growth and thick woody stems. The flowers are white, and when pollinated, turn into small fruits. The fruits are small capsules that are dehiscent, meaning that when they dry out the capsule splits open and releases the seeds. There is a very small amount of cotton fiber in each capsule making Thurber's Cotton useless as a commercial crop.

The capsules can be seen in the picture above. These start to form between October and November in Arizona.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tithonia fruticosa

The Tithonia fruticosa is one of my favorite members of the Asteraceae family (Sunflower family), which also happens to be the largest family of all vascular plant families. Its common name is the Mexican Sunflower, and it is native to Mexico, but its also found in many other tropical locations. Its particularly unusual because it is a perennial, allowing for growth year after year. A single Mexican Sunflower plant can have over one hundred flowers, but what is even more amazing is its growth habits. It has perennial stems which survive year after year to continue to branch off into more sunflowers. It has an inconsistent flower cycle and will continue to produce new flowers even after old sets of flowers are dying. 

Admittedly, the inflorescence of the Mexican Sunflower isn't as attractive as the large flowers of most other sunflower species.

Comparing the Mexican Sunflower to the Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

Mexican Sunflower:
Number of Flower Heads per plant: Multiple to 100+
Growth habit: Perennial
Size of Inflorescence: Small to Medium

Common Sunflower:
Number of Flower Heads per plant: Typically only one
Growth habit: Annual
Size of Inflorescence: Large

The new growth of the Mexican Sunflower is extremely soft, similar to the feeling of velvet. Also the immature flower heads and stems are extremely soft and flexible.

Its woody growth habits are best shown in the picture above. The branches bend due to their extensive length and weight, making a rather sprawling and bushy plant. Near the base the branches come together to the main stem where the woodiness is most prominent.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Opuntia macrocentra

Opuntia macrocentra
, also known as the long spined prickly pear and the purple prickly pear, is a member of the cactaceae family of plants. It is a notable specimen for it's purple color and it's elongated spines. Native to the American south-west, it is a great example of a drought tolerant plant. The purple prickly pear is sometimes used in xeriscaping and desert landscaping for it's unusual look and ability to cope with drought.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Orchid: Trichoglottis philippinensis var. brachiata

This is one of the most unusual orchids that I have come across recently. As the name suggests, this particular species of Orchid was found in the Philippines. It has a monopodial growth habit (as with all orchids under the subfamily Aeridinae), meaning that it grows from a center point straight up with no branching. I find it bizarre due to the glossy texture of the flower and the claw shaped labellum. It has a very distinct shape with a vibrant array of colors; certainly a keepsake for any orchid enthusiast.

This picture shows the bottom portion of the plant where a new shoot is developing. Being under the family Vandeae, it exhibits the common thick lateral roots deriving from the main stem.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cyphostemma juttae

The Cyphostemma juttae is one of my favorite plants of bizarre origins due to its odd growth habits and foliage. The Juttae is a succulent native to Nambia and is hard to come by, especially in the North American horticulture market. It is climatized to hot dry summers and cool dry winters, which are very similar to the climate in Tucson, making this a great desert ornamental. It tends to lose all of its foliage during the winter months, making a relatively unattractive stump. It quickly makes a comeback during spring and summer, and will provide bundles of small flowers which eventually develop the "wild grapes" of which the Juttae gets its nickname. If you are looking at growing this plant I have a few suggestions: First, be sure you are growing in an area with warm summers (be sure to water every other day during summer) and with cool winters (with little to no watering and nothing colder than 20F). Secondly, be sure the soil is sandy and well draining. Also, don't worry too much about fertilizers or mulches - they shouldn't be necessary.