08 Jul

Spiny, Hardy, Lovely, and Flowery Cactus: Echinopsis

Echinopsis is the most popular and widely grown genus from the family of cactus. This genus includes more than 100 species varying in size, shape and growing habits. Most of the species in the genus of Echinopsis grow in clusters of globular heads. In some species, these globular heads remain solitary whereas some species produce several offspring around globular heads.

Echinopsis are fast growing plants, and with age they change their shape from globular heads to elongated succulent stems. Old plants can grow into large clumps measuring more than 60 cm in diameter. At this age, most species of Echinopsis produce profuse flowers in spring and summer. The funnel-shaped flowers come in all shades of yellow, white, pink and orange. The best known flowers are borne on Echinopsis multiplex (sometimes described as Echinopsis oxygana).

Echinopsis Huntigton Hybrid

Echinopsis Huntigton Hybrid, Image by epiforums(flickr)

Originally native to South America, Echinopsis multiplex is widely cultivated is many parts of the work for its lovely flowers. Though flowers last for a day or two, they appear in flushes several time during spring and summer – producing many flowers in each cycle. It is quite hardy plant that does not require special attention or growing conditions to thrive. Moderate watering, a regular soil mix with good drainage, and bright sunlight are more than sufficient for this hardy plant to grow. If kept dry, Echinopsis can easily withstand frost and cold.

Echinopsis multiplex

Echinopsis multiplex, Image by pizzodisevo (flickr)

Echinopsis can be propagated from offspring sown in spring or summer. The best and most sought after varieties of Echinopsis are Schick hybrids produced by the Huntington garden. These include (my favorites):

Echinopsis ‘Antares’, Echinopsis ‘Bacarole’, Echinopsis ‘Brigitte’s Beauty’, Echinopsis ‘Desdemona’ and many more.

Echinopsis Schick Hybrid

Echinopsis Schick Hybrid, Image by epiforums(flickr)

Common names of Echinopsis are Hedgehog cacti, Sea-Urchin cactus or Easter lily cactus.

02 Jul

Lovely, Evergreen Bush: Hamelia patens, the Firebush

Hamelia is a genus of evergreen shrubs and small trees from the family of Ixora, and like Ixora it makes an flowering bush for gardens and landscapes. The genus is perhaps best represented by  Hamelia patens, which is widely grown in hedges, borders and as an accent plant.

It is an easily grown bush that produces evergreen foliage and beautiful red or scarlet flowers almost all through the year – thus justifying it common name, Firebush. Hemalia patens grows quite quickly in tropical and sub-tropical climates and grows up to 3 or 4 feet tall with some woody growth. It grows well under full sun or partial shade and requires moderate but regular watering (though mature plants can withstand some drought). Firebush is best known for its flowers which are rich in nectar and attract a lot of butterflies. Flowering is followed by formation of small berries which are favorite food of birds especially hummingbird.

Hamelia patens, the Firebush

Hamelia patens, the Firebush, Image by Mary Keim

Grown as annual flowering bush, Firebush should be pruned regularly to keep the plant in proper shape. When allowed to grow on its own, Firebush tends to form large mounds with dense growth of evergreen foliage and small red flowers.

Besides its horticultural value, Firebush has been used by indigenous people of south and Central America for its medicinal benefits. The extract of the leaves and stems of Firebush is believed to have antibacterial and antifungal properties, that is why, it has long been used a good remedy for all kinds of skin diseases including rashes, skin fungus, sores and insect stings. The extract is also used today for the treatment of headache, rheumatism, fever, and dysentery.

28 Jun

Pennisetum: Ornamental Grasses for Landscapes and Gardens

Pennisetum is a genus of annual and perennial ornamental grasses from tropical and temperate regions of the world. Some popular species from this genus include millet, grain and some fodder plants. These ornamental grasses are known for their foliage and flowers that really add ornamental value to gardens and landscapes.

Pennisetum are generally tough, drought-tolerant and easily grown plants. They usually grow in small clumps and produce soft, feathery inflorescence in late summer. Most species of Pennisetum are frost hardy in tropical climates; however they need protection from long winters of cold regions. These plants prefer full sun and a well-drained soil. In their native climate, these plants can withstand drought and require only moderate watering.

Pennisetum Setaceum 'Rubrum'

Pennisetum Setaceum 'Rubrum', Image by Matt Lavin

Some of the popular species of Pennisetum include:

Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (Fountain Grass) – Grows up to 1 meter and produces rose-colored flowers on long spikes in summer.

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ (Dwarf Fountain Grass) – Relatively smaller species (50 to 75 cm) with small clumps of grassy leaves; grows in almost any soil. Prefers full sun and a little moist soil. Flowers appear in late summer.

Pennisetum orientale (Oriental Fountain Grass) – Ornamental grass with fresh green leaves that grow up to 75 cm. This species produces white, feathery flowers and prefers partial sun, moist soil and a regular soil mix with good drainage.

23 Jun

Lovely, Multicolor Houseplant: Agave lophantha ‘quardicolor’

The very first look at my rooftop garden would tell you that I have a special interest for Agaves so much so that they have gradually taken place of other succulent plants in my collection. I love Agave plants for the variety of colors, texture, foliage, size and formation. Another reason that I tend to love my Agave plants more than other succulents is their ability to survive harsh and humid summers as well as nearly freezing winters.

The plants in my Agave collection are as big as 4 meters across and as small as 6 inches across – and of course, there are many personal favorites. One of them is Agave lophantha ‘quardicolor’. It is a very interesting and colorful plant that grows as a medium sized and compact plant. It is characterized by green leaves with a pale-green mid stripe, and bright yellow border having greyish spines. In winters, yellow borders get a hint of red color to add the fourth shade and justifying the name of the plant – quardicolor.

Agave lophantha 'quadricolor'

Image from pieceofeden.blogspot.com/

Agave lophantha ‘quardicolor’ grows as a compact plant. Leaves can grow up to 30 cm long whereas the plant itself attains the diameter of 60 cm. Mature plants produce suckers that can be separated easily to propagate the plant. Flowers on Agave lophantha ‘quardicolor’ appear rarely.

Since it is quite hardy, Agave lophantha ‘quardicolor’ can be a good ornamental plant for containers, rock gardens or xeriscapaes.  It requires moderate watering, and full to partial sun (avoid direct sunlight where summer is harsh). When grown in containers, repot every two or three years or according to the size of the plant.

13 Jun

Lovely and Unusual, Moraea tortilis: The Spiral Grass

Moraea tortilis or Spiral Grass is a bulbous plant known for its very unusual and ornamental twisting and curly leaves that resemble a corkscrew. Native to limited regions of Namibia and South Africa, Moraea tortilis is a hardy and drought tolerant plant. In cultivation, it can be propagated in a well-drained soil and under sunny exposure. The bulb usually grows up to 2.5 cm in diameter with several twisting and curly leaves that grow up to 15 cm. The succulent and glossy leaves of Moraea tortilis are light-green providing a beautiful background to its white or purple-blue flowers that appear in spring till late summer. Flowers are usually short-lived but add dramatic effect to the intriguing beauty of its spiral leaves.

Moraea tortilis, Spiral Grass

Moraea tortilis, Spiral Grass, Image from duitang.com

Known for its beautiful, spiral leaves, Moraea tortilis makes an excellent ornamental houseplant grown in pots or hanging baskets. As the name suggests, it is not actually a grass but serves as a nice low-growing plants for containers.

Moraea tortilis can be grown indoors as well as outdoors provided that it receives plenty of sunlight, moderate water and a regular but granular soil mix.