19 Sep

Living Stones of African Deserts: Lithops

Lithops are some of the most fascinating and unusual plants from the most dry and arid regions of Africa. In fact, they are an excellent example of survival for their ability to grow under extremely dry conditions and camouflage themselves for protection from animals. Lithops are so good at blending themselves with their surroundings that one can hardly spot these unusual plants in their native habitat where they grow among pebbles and rocks. For this reason, they are also known as Living Stones.

Lithops, The Living Stones

Lithops, The Living Stones, Image by yellowcloud (flickr)

Typically, Lithops (Buy seeds online) consists of two fleshy leaves with fissures on their top. The pair of leaves dries up every winter giving way to a fresh pair of succulent leaves. The leaves usually stray buried in the soil with only the top surface exposed to the climate. This top surface varies in colors and patterns according to the climate and distribution of plants.

Growing Lithops could be challenging but with a bit of practice you can grow them as ornamental plants in your dish gardens or as container plants. When growing at home, be very careful when watering. Since these succulent plants have a lot of water stored in their leaves, they do not require regular watering. If you living in regions of mild climate, keep your plants completely dry during winter since plants would extract sufficient water from drying pair of leaves. Water barely enough to wet the soil surface in summer. In hotter climates, Lithops go dormant during summer. At this time, they should be kept dry (water slightly only when leaves start shrinking). In tropical climates, allow Lithops plants to stay dormant in summer and start watering in winter.

The name ‘lithops’ is derived from two Greek words ‘lithos’ (stones) and ‘ops’ (face).

Lithops generally bloom and grow in autumn or spring. Flowers are white or yellow and emit sweet fragrance. These small yet attractive flowers appear from the center of the pair of leaves.

How to grow Lithops ‘Living Stones’

Unlike in their native habitat, Lithops (Buy seeds online) do not adopt easily to climate outside their native habitat so it is important to understand specific requirements of each species. Generally, it is advised to provide them with filtered but ample sunlight. Grow them in porous and well-drained soil and provide just barely sufficient water in growing season. Lithops can be grown from seeds or off springs.

18 Sep

Striking Landscape Plant: Opuntia Ficus Indica, Prickly Pear

Opuntia Ficus Indica or Prickly Pear is an excellent plant for beginners, master gardeners and professionals alike. It makes a striking accent plant and adds dramatic effects in gardens, landscapes and plantation schemes. The plant is known for typical wide, succulent, pad-like leaves that bear needle-like spines. Large spines have tufts of tiny bristles at their base that are usually known as glochids.

Opuntia Ficus Indica

Opuntia Ficus Indica, Image by Catalina Gracia

Opuntia Ficus Indica can be grown as ornamental plant in containers, landscapes or rock gardens where it grows as unusual shrub up to 6 meters. Cup shaped flowers of yellow, red or purple colors appear at edges of succulent pads. Flowering is followed by fruition. The fruit is called ‘tuna’ and is covered in a thick, spiny skin which is why the plant is called prickly pear. Fruits are edible and taste like watermelon. Opuntia Ficus Indica is grown in many parts of Mexico as a crop as both leaves and fruits are used in many traditional recipes (leaves serve as vegetable and are also used in preparation of jams and jellies) and medicines (for diabetic patients). In fact, Mexico is the largest producer of Opuntia Ficus Indica.

How to Grow Opuntia Ficus Indica ‘Prickly Pear’

Opuntia Ficus Indica has been acclimatized in almost all parts of the world where it grows without requiring any special care. Opuntia Ficus Indica grows in a well drained soil under bright sunlight. The plant can withstand long spells of drought and cold. Water only when the soil is completely dry. When growing on containers or garden, handle Prickly Pear plant with care for its spines and bristles.

Opuntia, Prickly Pear Fruit

Prickly Pear, Image by Tomás Castelazo

17 Sep

Tropical Flowering Shrubs for Poor Soil: Convolvulus Cneorum

Convolvulus is a genus of annual and perennial shrubs from tropical and Mediterranean regions. These easy to grow plants vary from climbers or trailing plants to shrubs and mound forming bushes. Plants and flowers also vary in size and spread. Flowers of Convolvulus plants are trumpet shaped and vary from white and pink to purple and mauve in color. These sun loving plants grow quite easily and survive very well in sandy, chalky and dry soil.

Convolvulus Cneorum, Flowering Shrub, Morning Glory

Convolvulus Cneorum, Image by Jessie Hirsch

Convolvulus Cneorum which is commonly known as Silver Bush grows as low growing plant and usually forms a think carpet of evergreen foliage. Because of its capacity to withstand drought and grow in poor soil, Convolvulus Cneorum is a good choice for rock gardens or as ground cover for sandy or poor soil. It is easy to maintain and should be pruned back after flowering.

How to grow Convolvulus Cneorum

Convolvulus Cneorum or Silver Bush grows well in sunny positions where it is protected from frost and long, dry spells of cold. These plants are easily propagated from seeds and require just sufficient water; do not over water.

Convolvulus Cneorum is generally related to the family of Morning Glory. Other popular species include: Convolvulus Mauritanicus, Convolvulus Tricolor and Convolvulus Arvensis.

12 Sep

Beautiful and Unusual: Agave ‘Blue Glow’

Today I am featuring Agave ‘Blue Glow’ which is one of my favorite of all agave plants in my collection. Agave ‘Blue Glow’ is supposed to be a hybrid between Agave Attenuata and Agave Ocahui – ‘Blue Glow’ has long narrow leaves (from Agave Ocahui) with a terminal spines and almost no marginal spines (from Agave Attenuata). Dark blue-green leaves have red margins that glow when seen at eye-level with sunlight in the background. Agave ‘Blue Glow’ is relatively slow growing plant that tends to grow solitary. It forms a compact rosette of up to 18 inches in height and spreads as wide as 2 feet- suitable for growing in containers. The plant in picture is about 2 years old and was grown from a small offset.

Agave 'Blue Glow'

Agave 'Blue Glow'


Agave ‘Blue Glow’ prefers bright sunlight but protection from direct harsh sun of summer. It is quite hardy, easy to grow, and drought tolerant. I am growing my plant in a terracotta pot in my roof garden.

Agve 'Blue Glow' Leaves

Agve 'Blue Glow' Leaves

29 Aug

Ornamental, Indoor/Outdoor Plant: Pedilanthus Tithymaloides

Pedilanthus is a genus of ornamental shrubs and bushes grown for their foliage. Most of the species have succulent leaves and stems with milky sap. Originally native to tropical regions of America, Pedilanthus grows easily in most parts of the world as ornamental foliage plants for outdoor as well as indoor houseplant. The most popular species is Pedilanthus Tithymaloides mostly grown as indoor foliage plant.

Pedilanthus Tithymaloides, Slipper Plant

Pedilanthus Tithymaloides, Slipper Plant - Image by douneika (flickr)

Pedilanthus Tithymaloides is commonly known as Jacob’s Ladder or Slipper plant because of its ‘zig zag’ stem and symmetrical patterns of leaves alongside the stem. Both glossy green and variegated varieties of this lovely foliage plant are available. Variegated leaves usually have a touch of pink in winter. Pedilanthus Tithymaloides can be grown in containers as well as in rock gardens or as border plant in gardens. Flowers of pink and reddish-pink color appear on stems.

How to Grow Pedilanthus Tithymaloides

Pedilanthus Tithymaloides is not fussy about food and light. It is quite hardy plant that would withstand some neglect, however, for healthy foliage plants, provide Pedilanthus Tithymaloides with a warm and bright spot to grow. Water only when the soil is dry.

26 Aug

Lovely, Deciduous Flowering Tree: Cercis siliquastrum

If you are looking for a tree that is unique in shape and delightful in blooms, try Cercis siliquastrum. Commonly known as Judas tree, it is perhaps one the most beautiful species of all deciduous bloomers. It is hardy, drought tolerant, frost resistant and shaped beautifully in wild as well as in cultivation.

In its natural habitat that includes parts of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, Cercis siliquastrum grows up to 30 meters, however, in cultivation it would rarely gain that much height because it grows quite slowly. This makes Cercis Siliquastrum as good choice for gardens where you have limited space. Though it is drought tolerant, Cercis siliquastrum flourishes well when waters adequately.

Cercis Siliquastrum, Judas Tree

Cercis siliquastrum, Image by Andrew Dunn

Being a member of pea-family (like Wisteria, Robinia, Cassia etc.), Cercis siliquastrum is an excellent bloomer especially in winter and spring when it bears small yet very attractive flowers of magenta or pink colors. Flowers are borne on the trunk before leaves and are followed by seed pods that last long. The beautiful pink or magenta flowers not only add to the ornamental value of this handsome tree but are also used in salads for their tangy taste.

How to Grow Cercis siliquastrum

Cercis siliquastrum is propagated form softwood cuttings or seeds. Being native to temperate regions, these deciduous plants prefer exposure to bright sunlight and average water.

22 Aug

Fast Growing Ornamental Groundcover: Duchesnea Indica

Duchesnea Indica is a quick growing, ornamental plant that spreads quickly to serve as a good groundcover. Popularly known as Indian Strawberry or Mock Strawberry, Duchesnea Indica bears ornamental foliage and fruit – both resemble the foliage and fruit of real strawberry plants, however the fruit of Mock Strawberry is quite tasteless.

Duchesnea Indica grows natively in south Asia and parts of eastern Asia as a low growing perennial. The plant has been acclimatized in many parts of the worlds where it is grown as ornamental houseplant. Suitable as groundcover, for container gardening and window gardens, these low growing plants do not require special care. In fact, they can withstand neglect.

Duchesnea Indica, Mock Strawberry, Indian Strawberry

Duchesnea Indica, Image by Shihmei Barger

How to Grow Duchesnea Indica

Mock Strawberry can be grown easily from divisions or seeds as evergreen groundcover. It requires full to partial sun and tolerates drought and frost – a good choice for xeriscaping. Duchesnea Indica self-seeds in favorable conditions and becoming quite invasive.

17 Aug

Lovely Flowering Plant for Rock Gardens: Gaura Lindheimeri

Gaura commonly known as Beeblossom is a genus of annuals and perennials from North America where it grows natively as summer bloomer. These hardy and drought tolerant plants produce long and delicate spikes of conspicuous flowers. The most popular species of the genus is Gaura Lindheimeri which is grown commercially as popular garden plant. Suitable for borders or as background filler in landscape, Gaura Lindheimeri grows into dense clusters and bears ornamental flowers from midsummer till early fall. Flowers are white with a touch of pink and appear in frequent sprays.

Gaura Lindheimeri is a good choice for xeriscaping or rock gardens because of its capacity to withstand drought.

Gaura Lindheimeri, Beeblossom

Gaura Lindheimeri, Image by Søren Holt

How to Grow Gaura Lindheimeri

Gaura Lindheimeri performs good at both sunny or partial shady garden locations. Being a hardy plant, it requires moderate watering but protection from strong winds. Propagation is easy from divisions.

15 Aug

Easy to Grow Foliage Plant: Kochia Scoparia (Summer Cypress)

Kochia scoparia or Summer Cypress (Buy seeds online) is a hardy and drought-tolerant foliage plant grown as ornamental as well as forage plant. It is a quick growing plant that tends to form rounded or pyramid body of dense leaves and branches. Young plants of Kochia are bright green and color but turn red in colder climate as they mature. Thin and finely cut leaves of Kochia add to its ornamental value. It is useful as accent plant in landscapes and grows in almost any soil (rich, sandy, alkaline, poor etc.) except very acidic conditions. For this reason, Kochia is sometimes grown at mass level to control soil erosion, and for reclamation or re-vegetation of land.

Kochia scoparia can spread very quickly and become invasive in warm and dry climates where it breaks off from the base and is blown by winds as a tumbleweed. In landscapes and gardens, it can be contained by frequent trimming especially before formation of seed heads in spring.

Kochia Scoparia contains higher levels of protein and oxalate than most grasses and fodder plants, thus it also serves as a forage crop for livestock. However, high intake of Kochia scoparia can be toxic for most animals therefore  it should be used sparingly and mixed with other forage plants .

Kochia Scoparia, Summer Cypress Plant

Kochia Scoparia, Image by Shin Kusano

How to Grow Kochia

Kochia is fairly easy to grow and does not have any special requirements. Propagated from seeds, Kochia requires bright sunlight and moderate water.

03 Aug

Lovely Flowering Trees and Shrubs of Cassia

Cassia is a large genus of flowering trees and shrubs from tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. These fast growing plants are second to none when they are in full bloom. Most species of Cassia would produce dense clusters of very attractive flowers. In fact, a Cassia in full bloom is a treat to watch. Being drought and frost tolerant, Cassias are excellent plants for gardens where they would grow fast into shrubs or mid-sized trees. Almost all species bloom and bear lovely flowers of yellow or pink colors.

How to Grow Cassia

Most species of Cassia are sun loving plants and require moderate watering in a well-drained soil. These lovely flowering plants propagate from seeds and quickly grow into young shrubs or trees.

Cassia, Flowering Trees and Shrubs

Cassia Flowers, Image from homestretching.blogspot.com

Popular Species of Cassia

Cassia Fistula (Golden Shower Tree): Locally known as Amaltas, this is one my favorite trees. Cassia Fistula grows into a mid-sized deciduous tree and bears profuse, bright flowers of yellow color.

Cassia Nodosa: Native to Himalayas and the Malay Peninsula, Cassia Nodosa or Pink Shower Tree grows into a large tree with dense leaflets. Flowers are yellow that turn into dark pink as they mature.

Cassia Corymbosa: Native to South America, this autumn bloomer grows as a woody shrub or small tree. Leaves are bright green and dense.

Cassia Didymobotyra: Commonly known as Peanut Butter Cassia (fragrance of its flowers is reminiscent of peanut butter), this beautiful plan grows as evergreen, semi-deciduous, flowering shrub in cold climates. Yellow flowers grow on long stalks in summer or autumn.

Cassia Nodosa, Pink Shower, Pink Cassia, Pink Lady

Cassia Nodosa, Image from oramsnurseries.com.au