Some history of houseplants and their study

As we begin our new season of houseplant care, I think this would be a good time to explore how we got all of those beautiful foliage and flowering houseplants. They certainly aren’t native to our land. Many of them originated in far-off places around the globe. Think orchids from South America and the Philippines and the islands of the South Pacific. The philodendrons originated in the West Indies. Today, we call that area the Caribbean. And different varieties of our ornamental figs spanned the globe, different varieties originating in the South Pacific and all over Africa.

In today’s world, all this globetrotting would seem quite easy. You simply hop on a plane, go somewhere, hire a local guide and look for different plants. But how would you know if it has already been discovered? And if you did find something, you cannot imagine the trouble you would have getting by the plant inspectors at the airport. They are there to protect us from diseases and insects that we do not already have in our plant world. They are very meticulous. So, even today, it is not a small thing to bring in these plants.

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The significance of lucky bamboo stems

First of all, I do want to thank the several readers who pointed out an error in last week’s column about lucky bamboo. It seems that I left a “Y” off an important word. It read “luck bamboo,” not “lucky bamboo.” I guess I should be paying more attention to my spell checker. But it does point out the fact that the column is being read.

I do want to say that researching for last week’s column and this one has been a fascinating journey. I learned a lot about plants, culture — especially Chinese — and myths. I think that is why I so enjoy writing. It is, every week, a learning experience.

To begin with lucky bamboo is just one of the names attached to the plant. Depending on what part of the world you are in, it might be called curly bamboo, Chinese water bamboo, friendship bamboo, goddess of mercy plant and ribbon plant. Actually, this confusion really points up the need for our systems of botanical (Latin) plant names. No matter where in the world you might be, the plant will be easily identified as Dracena sanderiana.

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A bamboo that is not a bamboo

Yes, I want to spend this week talking about that ever-popular plant that we see more and more of this time of year. But before I begin, I want to give a big “thank you” to a whole group of people who made my summer most pleasant. I am talking about that hardy group of 20 or 30 people who, for the last five months, rain or shine, hot or cold, have managed to be at our own farmers market in the Curley’s parking lot from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The produce, most locally grown, has been fresh, crisp and fantastic. But the market is more than the produce. It is friendly place where you can chat and meet friends and where when you ask a question or for a recipe, these folks can be very helpful. So, marketeers, thanks for a great season. Have a wonderful winter. You will see me on the first Tuesday in June.

Let’s talk about luck bamboo. It seems to be everywhere, mostly in groceries and home improvement stores, and garden centers. I’m sure that you will recognize it from the adjacent picture. First, let’s get one thing straight: It is not a member of thebamboo family of plants; it just looks like a bamboo plant. This plant is a member of the very large family of plants, the dracenas. Its botanical name is Dracena sanderiana. Okay, enough of the Latin.

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A guide to arranging houseplants

As we start to look forward to those long, dreary winter days, my thoughts turn to houseplants, those green living things that brighten the home and give us hope that the spring green will soon be appearing. In case you don’t know it, I am not a winter person. I guess you might say that I put up with those three or four dreary months so I can enjoy the rest of them, right from the first iris in the spring until the last orange leaf drops from the maple tree.

Let’s talk about those houseplants. I think that I do not want to talk about care and handling; I’ve covered that pretty well recently. Instead, I want to write about the overall types of plants, and how to use them.

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Shower time can help houseplants

Today, I want to I want to spend a few moments talking about autumn houseplant care. Taking a little time right now with the plants you love so much will keep them healthier throughout the season. They’ll give you fewer problems and a whole lot more enjoyment. Whether the plants have been in the house or on the patio these past few months, they are probably very dusty and, most probably, have more than a few tiny insects living on their leaves. I learned what I am going to tell you many years ago, but the whole scenario is fresh in my mind. Continue reading

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More tips for drying flowers

I thought we would do one more column on how to dry flowers, so you can make attractive bouquets that will last through the winter months. That’s right: Most of them will give you several months of beauty, but you need to remember that they are not plastic flowers. Even they wear out their welcome after a few months. We tend to get tired of that colorful dust collector on the dining room table. Isn’t that what flowers are all about — fleeting beauty? That’s why we buy them in the first place. We want to perk up a room, cheer ourselves or a friend for a few days.

With drying, we are trying to extend the beauty, the mood, for a few weeks or months. Yes, you can have dried flowers that last longer if you spray them with lacquer or even hairspray. The enemy of dried flowers is moisture from the air, and a good spraying will seal them against humidity. Sometimes we just do not want to dispose of them. Each May, during their short season, I pick a lot of lily of the valley from my garden and put them in small vases around the house. Gradually, the water evaporates and the stems of bells dry. Each year, when I need those same vases, I find them where I left them 12 months ago. They still remind me of the beauty that once was.

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How to preserve flowers for the winter

As the sun moves south and the nights get colder, and we realize that it will not be long before a killing frost, we begin to remember the good things about summer: the warm nights, not the storms and wind. We look back on our beautiful flowers and shrubs, not the backbreaking work to create those beautiful views. We’re not happy when we think that, very soon, they will be gone, gone until next summer.

But wait! They do not have to be all gone. There is still time to salvage a lot of the garden, to enjoy through the dark fall and winter months. We can pick those last blooms now. We can dry them, retaining their colors, though they will probably not be as bright and beautiful as they were in July and August. It doesn’t take a whole lot of work, and virtually no expense. No garden? Open your eyes: The roadside is covered with pods and thistles and cones and everything. Let’s take a look.

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What’s in an olive?

Have you ever thought of an answer to that question: What is in an olive? Yes, the pit is there, but so are a lot of nutritious things, minerals, oils and vitamins. Can you imagine where they come from? A few nights ago, while we were walking, I asked my 6-year-old grandson, Sam, if he knew where olives came from. Of course, he had the answer: They came from Wegmans.

Let’s look at olives. Before Wegmans got them for us, the olive has had a long and varied history. As a matter of fact, there is no history as to when this plant was first cultivated. But we do know that it is one of the first plants to be cultivated in organized farms. Lost in unwritten history are answers to the questions like: Who first pressed olives to extract the oils? Who first found a way to take the bitterness from the fruit and treat them with salt or soda to make them edible? One day in southern California, as I was wandering about the grounds at my hotel, I picked a ripe olive and popped it into my mouth. Talk about bitter! It took a couple of days to get the taste out of my mouth.

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Rose care continues into fall.

What a summer this has been. I cannot remember when I have suffered so much from the heat and humidity. It has been oppressive. Think about those many days near or even above 90 degrees. Think of those days with high temperatures and humidity that drove the heat index to 100. Yes, it has been an uncomfortable summer for us. But think of those rose plants that you treasure so much. They don’t have air conditioning. And unless you can get time to water them, they go thirsty and then under the several deluges, they have wet feet for days.

So, stop complaining about your summer. The roses probably had it worse. And yet, week after week they threw beautiful blossoms. Roses next to my house bloomed profusely while 75 feet away, at the end of the drive, they performed miserably. They were paying me back for the times that I did not go the distance with the hose, the times that I should have fertilized but didn’t, the times I let the aphids eat holes in the leaves. Plant’s know. They were paying me back.

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How an Auburn woman grew a pineapple

I recently talked to a very nice local lady who said that she had not only rooted a pineapple, but that it was bearing fruit. Wow! This I had to see. So I chatted with her and she had her niece send me a picture of the pineapple. Looks like it is really coming along.

This is no easy feat. Some two years ago, Georgene cut the top from a ripe pineapple, took the skin off and enjoyed the fruit. Then she filled a pot with potting soil and affixed the top and kept it damp. Within a few months, she noticed roots forming. She didn’t tell me this, but I assume that the old leaves began to yellow and fade away as new ones formed. Then, just several months ago, she saw the formation of a fruit. Now this has grown into the size of a very large egg, and is still growing. Georgene, I hope that the new one tastes as good as the original.

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