April 12, 2013

Giant Corpse Flower Blooms

A sci painting entitled 'Amorphophallus titanum' by artist and illustrator 'Janasci on Deviant Art

A post on the Pacific Bulb Group today announced ( and shared a link from USA Today) about the blooming of a Giant Corpse Flower, or Amorphophallus titanum at the University of Miami - and yesterday, a colleague at work shared a post on our intranet at Hasbro where one of our toy engineers posted that he had over 400 Amorphophallus bulbs available, which he propagated over the years ( most likely A. konjak, a prolific bulbil producer). All of this Amorphophallusness must be a sign ( not unlike the Jesus found in a tortilla that I saw in the news last night), that maybe I should reconsider starting another ( yes, another) Amorphophallus collections. Look out Plant Delights Nursery - I am preparing my order! ( even though you never sponsor my blog when I have promoted your nursery and site for free over 50 times!). ( really, still love ya though!), ( just kidding).

The University of Miami video describing the blooming last night of the giant Amorphphallus titanum. Courtesy of USA Today.

One of my fellow designers at work, yesterday started this conversation, as she asked me if I ever heard of the Dead Horse Arum (same plant at A. titanum in the video). She was just curious, but not really interested in growing any, but she confirmed this trend - I have grown, even collected Amorphophallus ever since Plant Delights Nursery's catalog was printed in just green ink without pictures ( just sayin'), and at one time, I had about 12 species ( not many in a genus where there are over 200 species). I started growing them for their flowers, but had little luck getting them to bloom. What surprised me though, was that as a collection, the plants themselves were very attractive - and when displayed together, they always received lots of comments from visitors to the garden, asked what they were.

Life cycle of an Amorphophallus via the U.C. Davis Conservatory.

Of course many of you won't have room to house the "largest inflorescence in the world", and as this particular species demands hot, humid, greenhouse conditions, few of us can provide the proper environment - but most of the other species of Amorphophallus are indeed 'growable', and better than being merely 'growable' they are easy to grow. Even better, they are quite beautiful plants, looking tropical, rare and just plain interesting.

 Amorphophallus are grouped into a family of plants called 'Arums' which includes calla lilies, jack-in-the-pulpits and, well, you can see the family resemblance for yourself. Like most arums, Amorphophallus grow from a tuberous structure, like a bulb, which remains dormant for half of the year. When ready to bloom in the spring, when the soil in the pot is warm, the single bud or petiole (the stem to you and I), will emerge. The plant grows in one, single spurt (sorry - I could have been more vulgar with with genus, believe me I am tempted). The modified stem will reach a specific height ( depending on the species), generally about 2 -3 feet tall, when an umbrella-like single compound leaf unfolds into a graceful, palm-like display. Then, that's about it for the season, until it limps, and goes dormant again.

With each year, with proper fertilization, the bulb will grow increasingly larger, until it is ready to bloom, but I would not grow this genus for it's inflorescence, but rather for it's over-all appearance, in particular it's mottled stem, which alone, is absolutely beautiful.

But there might be another reason to appreciate the rotten-meat scented Dead Horse Arum...
A gelatinous thickening agent from A. konjac has many commercial uses in Asia, including in these sweet jellies
which I used to love when in college in Hawaii.

So if you are bored, try ordering a could of Amorphophallus species this year. Despite their notorious stench when in flower ( consider yourself lucky if you do get one to bloom) the bulb of a few species are edible, in Japan,  - A. konjac, the Devil's Tongue arum, which is grown commercially for many medicinal uses, food products like 'Devils Tongue Jelly' which uses a ground powder made from A. konjac as a thickening agent which becomes firm, and gelatinous, not unlike Agar agar. This power made from the tuber, which is called Konnyaku, is the base of these popular 'Tofu noodles' which you may have seen in your supermarket.

And in your local Whole Foods market, you might see these "diet pills".... as gelatinous or 'fiber' can sometimes be marketed as a diet trick - you know, Glucomannan vs Psyllium. Don't be Psylly.

April 9, 2013

Recycling Succulents

Many species and selections of succulents are available from most any nursery. Don't worry about
the Latin names, just buy ones that you like. Later, if you become more interested, you can buy named
forms ( I like to order from Highland Succulents) who will ship un-rooted cuttings.

Contrary to what you may think, I don't like succulents and cacti.


I just grow them because they are easy, and no matter what anyone tells you, just because they are beautiful and carefree has nothing to do with why I grow so many. It may not look like it, but I am a lazy gardener. It's true, ask anyone who really knows me. I actually have very little free time to garden and fuss with things, and although many of you ask me "Matt, I don't know how you do all that you do!", the truth is, that if you ever visit me, you will see the truth. There is my 'prop' portion of the garden, and then there is the rest. And God forbid if you ever drop in unannounced and see the inside of the house! Hey, I have to spend some time on this blog!

April 8, 2013

Spring in and out of the Pit House

In the hundred year old pit house at Logee's Greenhouses in CT, a pink rabbit-eared lavender, or Lavendera stoechas from Spain blooms in the cold, fresh air that makes a pit house so hospitable for such plants.
Last weekend Joe and I drove down to Logee's Greenhouses, and I was thrilled to see that their pit house was open to the public again. I have such memories of this old fashioned style of greenhouse once common in the 18th century here in New England. My mother used to take me here in the 1960's and 70's, and I can still flash back to those moments every time I set foot into this almost completely underground pit house. Fortunately, this old pit house has not lost its charm, and even better, it held some new surprises...