Thursday, July 28, 2011

Something Smelly - Amorphophallus in bloom

Everyone loves flowers, right?

The beauty of the colours! The scent! The visual lift they give to an otherwise sea of greenery in the garden. I include myself in this category too. I love flowers!

Not everyone loves this flower though! If ever there was a group of plants that are 'love them or hate them', then Amorphophallus is it.

Emerging Amorphophallus bulbifer flower spike

Amorphophallus bulbifer almost open

Amorphophallus bulbifer finally opens!
Amorphophallus bulbifer is currently out in flower in my back garden. It would usually be out a bit earlier than this, but I planted the bulb a bit late, not that it seems to mind one little bit.

The colour is pink, in a fleshy kind of way. The 'perfume' is highly scented (if you like old bins full of rotting food waste) and the appearance is, well, repulsive. And yet I still love it! Weird and wonderful, bizarre and yet fascinating at the same time, this flower is typical of the Aroid family, and is what draws me to this group of plants. To call it a flower is of course not strictly correct. The correct terminology is 'spathe', and the flowers are located deep down inside the spathe tube towards the bottom of the spadix.

Some weeks ago, the tightly wrapped spathe had emerged from the soil and had sat there, waiting to open. It seems that the current warm spell has coaxed it out. If the flowers are not fertilised, it will wither and be replaced by a single, striking leaf. On the other hand, if pollination has occured (unlikely, as only one of my bulbs is in flower at the moment) it will produce a cluster of berries that will slowly ripen throughout the summer.

Mottled stem detail of Amorphophallus bulbifer
Although the rather strong odour seemed to be going down a treat with the local population of flies, I resorted to closing the back door to our house, as I had (foolishly?) planted it just outside the door under the dappled shade cast by a pyracantha and yellow flowering escallonia. Thankfully, the smell is short lived and by tomorrow it will be a distant memory... until the next one decides to bloom too!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Is this the world's ugliest Agave?

Take a look at my poor Agave tequilana. Surely this takes 1st place as the world's ugliest agave, ever! What a mutant!

Agave tequilana attempting to grow out winter damage

I've had this plant for a number of years, and believe it or not, this was once a beautiful specimen which easily held its own amongst it's other agave rivals. Although the leaves are the same colour as it's better known cousin, Agave americana, they are much narrower and strap-like. In terms of cultivation, I've found no noticable difference to Agave americana - it has taken considerable cold and frost without any issues at all, although always when kept dry. I used to overwinter it in an unheated greenhouse.

So what went wrong here then?! 

Due to the length of those long strappy leaves, there came a point when it could no longer fit through the greenhouse door. Instead it coped just fine under a makeshift polycarbonate roof outside against the house wall, along with one or two other plants. Two years ago, some rain blew under the roof which then froze into the crown. I thought that the centre had been killed, thereby killing the plant. Half of the leaves also died due to the damaging combination of cold and wet. 

Two years on, and Agave tequilana is proving to be a fighter! After producing a bunch of tiny, distorted leaves from the old growth point, new healthier leaves are now appearing out of the side of the crown. 

Lopsided and ugly? I prefer to call it character! It will be interesting to see how things look in another couple of years.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Arisaema jaquemontii

Arisaema jaquemontii is one of my favourite Arisaema's. I have already featured a photo of it back in my post on 21st June. Well, here it is again, growing in my garden here in Woodbury.

There is something about this little species that I just like. It is not brightly coloured or eye catching - the spathe is pale green with white stripes, so it does not immediately stand out. It is also a small species, in my experience only reaching around 30cm high. The corms are small too, even whan mature, only reaching about the size of a 50p coin.

Arisaema jaquemontii

So what is so great about Arisaema jaquemontii? For a start, it is a hardy species that seems happy enough just left to its own devices in the garden. Secondly, the spathes are carried up above the foliage, so although they are green in colour, they can still be easily seen. Finally, there is something attractive in the slender shape of the spathe, and with it's slightly upturned tail at the tip. Interestingly, this is the only species of Arisaema that originates from the Himalaya region with this characteristic.

In the wild, Arisaema jaquemontii is found growing in areas of scrub and small shrubs in alpine regions and rocky slopes. It favours a well drained position in dappled shade.