Thursday, September 20, 2018

Plant Notes

To mark the beginning of mid-semester break, I gave myself some long lazy playtime on campus. A bucket of water and secateurs and a ramble around the gardens. A snip here, a snip there. Propagation is a hell of a drug, especially when your campus is nestled within a botanical garden that is quite literally packed full of uncommon and unusually beauties.

Plants have this magic power called 'totipotency' which enables them to revert a cell that already has a specialised function back into a sort of primordial undifferentiated state, and then change that cell yet again into a new specialisation. This is why you can cut a sprig of rosemary, and even though what you have in your hand is a branch that has never touched the ground, it will nonetheless grow roots where previously no roots would grow. They're wizards. Plants are wizards.

That said, the power of this shapechanging ability does vary from species to species, and some plants are better at it than others. My previous attempt to strike cuttings of Carissa macrocarpa failed, which was partially expected as the literature indicates as much. But, it's spring, and the time of year, particularly the time in the plant's growth cycle, one attempts to propagate via cutting, can influence success. Hopefully the warm weather and a little rooting hormone will up my chances. There are also some seeds, harvested from the few fruit I could find, sitting in a greenhouse. They have a long germination period however, so it will be some time before I know whether or not they took.

I've also propagated Bambusa oldhamii previously as well, although only one of those cuttings took. Again, the time of year may have influenced this. It's a marvellous bamboo. The sort of bamboo one dreams of, if that dream is a painting and the painting is the idealisation of a bamboo forest. More than one plant would be nice.

Calothamnus quadrifidus is new to me. I'm a sucker for those incredibly unusual Western Australian plants. I have no room for these larger shrubs and trees, and don't want to put them in the ground here, but still... An individual branch looks as though it should be a conifer, but it in Myrtaceae. The flowers have a touch of Grevillea to them, surprising red things that erupt from the stem. Did no research on propagation by cuttings on this one, so we'll just wait and see.

Always make sure your containers have drainage holes. The take away tub I used for some tassel fern cuttings did not, and when I wandered by the fog house to see how they were going, I discovered they were in fact swimming. Didn't seem to bother the cuttings in the slightest, but I repotted them all the same. The cutting I have in water propagation at home hasn't done anything yet, but hasn't wilted either. That's not nothing.

I ventured down to the field station and hacked at the Malva parviflora around my veggie plot. I'd let it go far too long, and it was beastly. Did not attempt to pull out the roots. Smaller plants put up an incredible fight, so I'm content to cut its head off whenever it pops up instead. Planted some Sugar Snap peas and this time remembered to put a bird net around them. The ducks on campus are greedy little buggers. Harvested some silverbeet, poked at the garlic, sprayed myself in the face with a leaky hose.

There were orphan plants on offer outside the nursery when I got back from the field station. Calothamnus gibbosus, sibling to the one I'd just taken cuttings off. These were incredibly pot bound. Incredibly. So much so, they'd grown well out of their tubs and were in fact pot bound in the tray they'd been sitting on. Had to cut them out of their plastic, and cut the root ball. It was so incredibly hard and tight. Like weaving, one said. I saw topographical lines in the tightly packed roots. I don't know if they'll take kindly to the root damage, but free plants. Why not?

Today I tackled some of my projects at home. I potted up my Pseudopanax ferox into an air-pruning pot significantly bigger than its current pot. Got potting mix everywhere. It'll be happy in there for good few years go come, and I won't have to worry about the roots girdling. I don't think I've really shared any photos of this plant. It's just...very difficult to snap. Really needs a photography backing sheet to show its bizarre form. I do love it. Ma calls it my 'minimalist Christmas tree'. It looks like a drawing of a tree. A very simple drawing at that.

The elkhorn fern I've had for more than a year, and have had no troubles with it at all. It grows beautifully. I just haven't been able to mount it successfully. Partly my own ignorance. It had come away entirely, so I gave it a clean up, cutting away most of the rooting mass at the back and dividing the fern, as it turned out there were actually 3 all smooshed together. I bound them to the mount with old stockings. Hopefully, especially being as its growing season now, it'll root in this time.

Potted up some tubestock I picked up from Bili Nursery & Landcare. They're indigenous to the area, which in this case means the SE sandbelt, not the clay soil I'm on. None of these darlings will be going in the ground. Not until I pull my thumb up and start doing serious soil work. Anyway, what's particularly cool is that these plants are propagated from local remnant growth, and they're unexpected for an area I think of as being entirely urbanised.

I picked up Eryngium ovinium as I do love a spikey sweetheart. I have another Eryngium - not native - which does not at all cope with our summer. In fact, I thought it was dead, except it started suddenly growing back beautifully in winter. I'm hoping this native Eryngium does better in summer, so it's a wait and see plant.

I was very excited to find an Isopogon - Isopogon ceratophyllus - which occurs naturally in Victoria, so I had to grab that as well. Its leaves are wider than those of I. formosus, which is now fairly well known in cultivation. They could almost be mistaken for Grevillea leaves.

Acrotriche serrulata was new to me. Or, at least, if I'd seen it before, I hadn't noticed it. It's a meek little thing, with quite a cute little habit - almost looks as though its bonsai'ed itself - but the selling point is the nectar pods it puts out after flowering. I'm told these taste like crème brûlée. Yeah. You read that right. Damn straight I'm giving that a go.

And finally, I repotted my Acacia aphylla. Bought as tube stock ages ago, now a good little plant with only a little bit of weird sideways growth due to odd positioning.

I'm actually terrible at "not acquiring any more of those WA specialist plants that look so cool".

It was a really nice day. Warm bright sun, a light breeze, and the magpies sussing out the birdbath. There's an old apron I use when mucking about in the dirt, but it doesn't stop me from getting dirt up my nose and in my socks. Sometimes I wear gloves, but it doesn't feel proper unless my fingernails are black and brown. And bugger, I forgot to put the shade cloth on the greenhouse. Tomorrow. I'm well pooped now.