Flower Power Fights Pests

Posted May 22nd, 2015 by Marc Cohen
Categories: General Gardening, In the News, Photos

What if you could improve the health of your garden by adding more flowers? Washington State University researchers have discovered that Sweet Alyssum attracts lots of beneficial insects. These insects provide natural pest control by hunting bugs which munch on garden greenery. After experimenting with a few types of plants, researchers found that Sweet Alyssum attracted the most beneficials.

Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritimaSweet Alyssum flowers close up, Lobularia maritimaSweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima, growing outdoors in Pacifica, California

Sweet Alyssum is a fragrant Mediterranean native, often grown as a tough, drought-tolerant groundcover. Clusters of tiny flowers emit a strong, sweet honey scent. This annual species is easy to grow, and reseeds readily. In hot climates, it prefers shade, but in cooler climates, it enjoys full sun. Cut the old flowers back to encourage new blooms. I’ve seen many varieties of pink and purple, but white flowers seem to be the most popular.

Attracting beneficial insects is a great non-toxic way to control pests. This and other natural strategies, like using carnivorous plants, can spare you dangerous chemicals, and actually add life to your garden. For those growing orchids outdoors, Sweet Alyssum is a winning addition.

The Yellow Lady’s Slipper, Afoot in Central Park

Posted May 18th, 2015 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Cool Growers, In the News

Much to everybody’s surprise, there’s a rare, native Lady’s Slipper blooming in Central Park. The New York Times reports that a dozen flower buds have been growing over the past few weeks, and they’re starting to open. The plant is the Yellow Lady’s Slipper, also known as Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens. This orchid species is native to almost all of the USA and Canada, but increasingly rare. It once bloomed in New York City, but its large, brilliant flowers can’t help but be noticed, and it disappeared long before the skyscrapers arrived. In an attempt to bring it back, Central Park staff had purchased and planted one in the Ramble.

Introduced by woodland managers for the Central Park Conservancy well over a decade ago, the plant was purchased from a reputable grower and planted at a time when the orchids were only beginning to be commercially available. It was then forgotten until it began blooming two years later, to the surprise of both staff and urban ecologists. I imagine the first naturalist to recount this rarest of Manhattan sightings must have been greeted as if he were reporting an alien abduction.

The return of this “ethereal masterwork of nature” to New York City is surprising enough, but its public location is even more so. Despite thousands of park visitors passing the orchid daily, it has not been damaged or dug up, which often seems to be the fate of these beautiful Lady’s Slippers. Please remember that native orchids are endangered, and you should never pick a wild orchid or dig up the plant. It’s illegal, and the trauma almost always kills it.

The Coconut Orchid

Posted May 15th, 2015 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Dormancy, Fertilizing, Fragrant Orchids, Growing, Intermediate Growers, Photos, Watering

Maxillariella tenuifolia, aka Maxillaria tenuifolia, aka Coconut Orchid, fragrant orchid species, red white and yellow flower, Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo, Hilo, HawaiiMaxillariella tenuifolia, aka Maxillaria tenuifolia, aka Coconut Orchid, fragrant orchid species, red white and yellow flowers and leaves, Kawamoto Orchid Nursery, Honolulu, HawaiiMaxillariella tenuifolia, aka Maxillaria tenuifolia, aka Coconut Orchid, fragrant orchid species, red white and yellow flowers and leaves, grown in San Francisco, California

Whatever the Coconut Orchid lacks in showiness, it makes up with fragrance. This tropical species features brilliant red flowers, but they’re often hidden in the foliage. However, their sweet coconut scent always gives them away.

Maxillariella tenuifolia, aka Maxillaria tenuifolia, aka Coconut Orchid, fragrant orchid species, red white and yellow flowers, grown in San Francisco, CaliforniaMaxillariella tenuifolia, aka Maxillaria tenuifolia, aka Coconut Orchid, fragrant orchid species, red white and yellow flower, grown in San Francisco, CaliforniaMaxillariella tenuifolia, aka Maxillaria tenuifolia, aka Coconut Orchid, fragrant orchid species, red white and yellow flower, long narrow leaves, grown in San Francisco, California

Coconut Orchids are easy to grow, and with their delicious aroma, they are popular choices for orchid lovers. Their deep red flowers can last more than two months. This species is better known by its old name, Maxillaria tenuifolia, than its new name, Maxillariella tenufolia (trust me — there are a few extra letters in the new name.) Whatever it’s called, it’s native to tropical rainforests from Mexico south to Costa Rica.

Maxillariella tenuifolia, aka Maxillaria tenuifolia, aka Coconut Orchid, fragrant orchid species, red white and yellow flower, grown in San Francisco, CaliforniaMaxillariella tenuifolia, aka Maxillaria tenuifolia, aka Coconut Orchid, fragrant orchid species, red white and yellow flower, grown in San Francisco, CaliforniaMaxillariella tenuifolia, aka Maxillaria tenuifolia, aka Coconut Orchid, fragrant orchid species, red white and yellow flowers, long narrow leaves, grown in San Francisco, California

To care for Coconut Orchids, provide morning sun, regular water, fertilizer, high humidity, and winter dormancy. My Coconut Orchid has been a faithful harbinger of spring for over a decade, blooming with dozens of flowers each year. I rely on my nose to know when they’ve opened. I’ll be enjoying their sweet coconut scent until they finish.

Mother’s Day Orchid Care

Posted May 10th, 2015 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Growing, Photos

With brilliant colors and fascinating shapes, orchids have become favorite gifts for Mother’s Day. Don’t worry if you don’t have a green thumb; most orchids don’t deserve their finicky reputations. A few care basics can help you enjoy your tropical flowers for a long time.

Phalaenopsis hybrid, Moth Orchid harlequin pattern, Orchids in the Park 2013, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CaliforniaPhalaenopsis flower close up, white Moth Orchid, Orchids in the Park 2013, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CaliforniaPhalaenopsis Sogo Berry 'KHM 1219', Moth Orchid hybrid, Orchids in the Park 2013, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

To get the most out of your gift, check these helpful care tips:

Paphiopedilum, Lady Slipper flower, Orchids in the Park 2013, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CaliforniaOncidium hybrid, Dancing Lady flowers, Orchids in the Park 2013, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CaliforniaCattleya hybrid, Orchids in the Park 2013, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

Orchid Hybrid Vigor

Posted May 5th, 2015 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Buying Tips, Photos

Laeliocattleya hybrid, purple white and yellow flowers, Pacific Orchid Expo 2015, San Francisco, CaliforniaCymbidium hybrid, red white and yellow flowers, Pacific Orchid Expo 2015, San Francisco, CaliforniaAustralian Dendrobium hybrid, white yellow and hot pink flowers, Pacific Orchid Expo 2015, San Francisco, California

Shopping for the perfect Mother’s Day gift? An orchid hybrid is your best bet. Hybrids are crosses between closely related plants. Breeders cross-pollinate different orchid varieties, and then choose the best offspring. Hybrid vigor emerges when the best traits from both parents create tougher descendants. They are often easy to grow and flower, and hardy enough to survive some neglect. Hybrids usually have larger and longer-lasting blooms. With basic orchid care info, they’re as easy as other common houseplants.

Fortunately, most orchids sold today are hybrids. If you buy from a supermarket or home improvement store, you’re almost certainly buying a hybrid. If you buy from a florist or garden center, it’s likely to be a hybrid, but you should always ask if you’re not sure. Orchid species can have finicky care needs, and you wouldn’t want your gift to cause your mother any stress. Tell her not to worry, and that’s it’s easy to care for an orchid with hybrid vigor.

May Orchid Shows

Posted April 30th, 2015 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Botanical Gardens, Events

Orchid shows are one of the best places to learn about orchids. Most shows feature local experts, knowledgable vendors, and orchid society members who are eager to share their love of this amazing plant family. Many events are timed for Mother’s Day celebrations on May 10th.

May 1 – 2
Maclean District Orchid Society Autumn Show, McLean Bowls Club, McLachlan St., Maclean, NSW, Australia
May 1 – 3
Blue Ridge Orchid Society Show, Center in the Square, Advance Auto Parts Atrium, 1 Market St., Roanoke, Virginia
May 1 – 3
Exposicion Nacional de Orquideas Cartago, Centro Comercial Paseo Metropoli, La Lima, Entrada a Cartago, Cartago, Costa Rica
May 1 – 3
North Gauteng Orchid Society Autumn Show, Safari Garden Centre, Pretoria, Gauteng Province, South Africa
May 1 – 3
Rustenburg Orchid Society Autumn Show, Waterfall Garden Centre, Rustenburg, North West Province, South Africa
May 1 – 3
Orchid’en Seine, Jardin des Plantes, 114 ter, av. des Martyrs de la Resistance, 76100 Rouen, France
May 1 – 3
Journees des Orchidees, Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac, 24590 Salignac-Eyvigues, France
May 1 – 3
Salon des Orchidees, Salle des Fetes, 37250 Veigne, France
May 1 – 3
Exposicao de Orquideas de Orquidario, Jardim Botanico, Rua Jardim Botanico, 1008, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
May 1 – 3
Exposicao Nacional de Orquideas de Mogi Guacu, Campo da Lagoa, Jardim Murilo, Mogi Guacu, Sao Paulo, Brazil

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UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley

Posted April 25th, 2015 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Botanical Gardens, General Gardening, Photos

After blogging about the spectacular orchids at the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, it only seems fair to give the rest of the flowers a chance. There’s plenty more to the garden’s collections, with plants from around the world. Here are some of our best photos. The first six pictures highlight a few of the drought-tolerant plants growing outdoors.
Honeybee in flight laden with orange pollen of Aloe castanea, , Univ. of California Botanical Garden at BerkeleyBeavertail Cactus, Opuntia aff prolifera, with purple fruit, Univ. of California Botanical Garden at BerkeleySparaxis elegans close up, orange petals with purple center, Univ. of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley

Orange and yellow flower, Univ. of California Botanical Garden at BerkeleyPurple flowers of Puya bromeliad species native to Talca Chile, grown outdoors at Univ. of California Botanical Garden at BerkeleyFlowers of Aloe capitata var quartziticola, grown outdoors at Univ. of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley

The next photo presents one of the garden’s best vistas: an incredible view of San Francisco Bay, with Alcatraz in the foreground, and the distant Farallon Islands appearing faintly in the background over the Golden Gate Bridge. The final row of pictures shows a few of the prickly gems of the Arid House. They all point to a beautiful visit!

View of Golden Gate Bridge Alcatraz and San Francisco Bay from Univ. of California Botanical Garden at BerkeleyTrillium in bloom, Univ. of California Botanical Garden at BerkeleyProtea burchellii, close up of flower, Univ. of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley

Mammillaria crucigera, small cactus with small bright pink flowers, Arid House, Univ. of California Botanical Garden at BerkeleyAloe with red edged leaves, Arid House, Univ. of California Botanical Garden at BerkeleyAlluaudia ascendens leaves and spines, Arid House, Univ. of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley

Orchids in the Jungle

Posted April 22nd, 2015 by Marc Cohen
Categories: In the News

Enjoy an amazing orchid photo tour of RHS Garden Wisley, south of London. Expert photography captures sights from the garden’s tropical glasshouse. It’s easy to spot the brilliant colors of the orchids popping out of the lush, steamy jungle display. RHS Garden Wisley is one of the most popular gardens in Britain, and covers 240 acres (97 hectares) in Surrey.

Orchids for Dessert

Posted April 16th, 2015 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Misc, Videos

I’ve blogged several times about the world’s most delicious orchid, vanilla. But did you know that there are other edible orchids? One of the most popular orchid foods is salep, or sahlep. In Turkey and the lands of the former Ottoman Empire, the roots of Mediterranean orchids are milled into flour, and added to ice cream in warm weather, and hot drinks in wintertime.

Salep is traditionally made from the tubers, or thickened roots, of the orchis family. The Early Purple Orchid, or Orchis mascula, is one of the most common sources. Harvested from wild orchid populations, the tubers are made into starchy flour. This is added to water or milk to make ice cream, and flavored with pistachio, apricot, vanilla, or peach. When added to hot water or milk, it’s often flavored with cinnamon.

I’ve never had the opportunity to try salep, but others describe it as tasting sweet, nutty, and earthy. Orchid ice cream has an elastic texture that stays frozen longer than regular ice cream. In the videos below, salep vendors in Turkey entertain their customers.

To learn more, check out this authentic salep recipe. You can also read a tale of buying salep in Turkey, including a photo of dried orchid tubers. Salon explores orchid ice cream and salep’s Turkish birthplace.

A Floating Orchid Forest

Posted April 9th, 2015 by Marc Cohen
Categories: Misc, Videos

Looking to relax? How about a calming visit to floating orchid forest? Tokyo’s Miraikan Museum has just what you need. As guests walk though the exhibit in the video below, computers gently raise and lower thousands of living orchids hanging from the ceiling. It’s reminiscent of the lush beauty of Avatar, and I’m sure it’s full of wonderful fragrances, too.

If you can emerge from the trance of this dreamy video, you may notice that these orchids are bare-root, not potted at all. Hanging in the air is very familiar for these air plants, although they are typically attached to trees, not the ceiling. As long as they have water, good humidity, and a little fertilizer, this exhibit could continue to live, grow, and bloom indefinitely. However, this floating dance of flowers, leaves, and roots only runs until May 10th. Read more about the exhibit here.