February 01, 2005

Tetrapanax Papyrifera Chinese Rice Paper Plant

For a tropical looking plant that can handle the Texas heat this one is a must. The Rice Paper Plant is appropriately named. Chinese people since antiquity have known the use of rice paper for writing and printing. Historians believe that rice paper was invented during the Han Dynasty around 105 A.D. The pith (the soft spongy central tissue in stems) supplies the substance that is turned into rice paper. To form rice paper you take young stems cut from the mother plant and soaked in water. When the pith has softened enough it is then forced out of the stem to form 10-14 inch pieces. It is then dried and rolled over a block, flattened, and then trimmed to form scroll sheets 4 to 8 feet long. However, I believe I would drive or walk down to OfficeDepot or Wal-Mart before I would venture into making my own paper.

The book on this plant is zone 7-10, 60”to 10’ in height, sun to light shade. Be it known that this plant is a traveler and I can certainly understand why people made things out of it during antiquity. They HAD to; it was coming up all over the place! Just take a visit to the Japanese Garden at the Ft.Worth Botanical Gardens and see for yourself how this plant has a mind of its own. Once you get this plant through its first year, you will have it forever (not unless you start making paper)

The brownish frosted green leaves emerge in early spring and start to grow, into its larger fuzzy, umbrella like, mature leaf. The leaf is huge and can measurer as much as 24-36 inches wide. The plant can grow up to 20ft tall, but that is usually in Houston or farther south. In Arlington the winter will knock it down to the ground almost every year. My mother has grown this plant for 10 years and still has it in her yard today. If there is a problem with this plant it is the dried dead leaves. I have ground up the leaves before and the fuzzy stuff on the leaves tends to fly all over the place and will get into your throat. Trust me, you cannot drink enough water.

The flower heads form in the late fall and are usually too late for the Arlington, TX area. The flower heads are creamy white, fluffy balls held up high in large loose panicles. If there is enough time, black seeds will form and can be used to grow new plants or used for craft ideas. Usually the winter will not wait for this blessed event to happen.
There is a new form of this plant out there somewhere. It is called Tetrapanax papyrifera ‘Variegata’. Yes, you are right, it is a variegated form of the standard rice paper plant. It has green leaves with cream to white flowing through the leaves. I am looking for this plant if you can find it. I will have some of the regular Rice Paper Plant at the AOGC plant sale in June.
Happy Organic Gardening!

Posted by cheryn at 10:02 PM

Malvaviscus arboreus var. Drummondii

This has to be one of the finest varieties in this species. It was very common in old Texas gardens. The popularity as a garden flower can be traced from the Gulf of Mexico to Florida.
Although this species of Turk’s Cap is more compact in its growth and bears smaller flowers and foliage than Malvaviscus arboreus (Giant Turks Cap), it can on occasion become as impressive in size. Turks cap can grow in alkaline or acidic soils and is well adapted to sun or partial shade. It is a deciduous perennial shrub height 5’-8’ spread 5’-8’ zone 7-11. Propagation is by cutting, transplants, or seed (usually spread by the birds, which are attracted to the red seed head).
I grow my Turk’s Cap in the two corner flowerbeds located in my back yard. In winter I prune back the long growing canes between 6-8 inches above the ground. The new canes or limbs form in early spring. As spring is followed by summer the showy red blooms start to appear just in time for the hummingbirds. Red tomato-like fruits that are edible and are fairly tasty (or so I have heard) follow the blooms.
This plant likes moist soil, but once established it is fairly drought tolerant. There is no other plant that can give so much color in such shade areas.
Furthermore, there are also white blooming forms of Turk’s Cap and a rare variegated leaf form that blooms red. However it has been known to lose its variegation and is not as cold hardy as the other two varieties. I have never noticed any insect damage that has ever amounted to anything. However, I did notice some powdery mildew this year from all the late spring rains. This plant is a keeper but it is also a plant that just keeps on going, like that pink bunny.
Happy Organic Gardening!

Posted by cheryn at 09:55 PM

Drimiopsis maculata African Hosta

This is not a Hosta, or even in the Hosta family, but it should be considered as a replacement alternative to Hostas in Texas. African Hostas' leaves are fleshy oblong-ovate, medium green with dark maroon spots. The spots appear on the young new growth and only last through the spring and into the early summer when they disappear into the green of the leaves. I believe that the thick glossy leaves tend to repel slugs and snails. I have had some small damage to some of my leaves, but nothing compared to what the slugs and snails do to real Hosta plants.

This wonderful bulb’s homeland is the semi-arid areas of South Africa, which will make this bulb tolerate tons of heat and drought that Texas is known to have almost every summer. If that is not good enough for you how, about all the different places you can plant it in: part sun, light shade, or even dark shade, this is a very forgiving plant.

The book on this plant is 1’h x 1’w Zones 8-10, or colder climates if grown in pots. I would plant the bulb deep enough to cover it completely. Make sure the bulb is covered in the winter, it does not like frosts or sever weather. The bulbs are fleshy, and have large visible scales that look like a lily. In May or June you will get a flower stalk 6-12 “ tall with small white flowers that turn to pale green with age. If properly planted and mulched it will return every year. As the bulb returns, it will form clumps, and these clumps should be separated every few years or so. Rich, humusy, organic soil will make this plant multiply like rabbits. This plant needs well-drained soil; it does not like wet feet. Moderate to casual watering is all that is needed to keep this plant looking at its best. I will have just a few of these bulbs at the AOGC plant sale in June. Try it out; you will like this bulb.
Happy Organic Gardening!

Posted by cheryn at 09:44 PM

Lycoris Squamigera (skwann-ee-ger-uh) or Surprise Lily

You can call it Magic Lily, Resurrection Lily, Hardy or Autumn Amaryllis, Naked Lily, or Naked Ladies, but by whatever common name you want to label this bulb, you have to call it one of the best.
L. Squamigera has a long and prestigious history. Originally from Asia, it was brought to America prior to the Civil War and has been doing fine ever since.
The Bulb is believed to be a cross between a straw colored L. Straminea and a rosy pink L. Incarnata. The bulb is sterile, which means after it blooms it might form seed heads, but none will be fertile. However, the plant does multiply well by natural offsets that form around the mother bulb.
Now why would they call it Surprise Lily you ask? Well, around the fourth of July and up until the middle of August, when there is nothing in the yard that looks good due to all the hot Texas weather, up pops the surprise lily. The first big rain of summer triggers the rather thick scape (flower stalk) to rocket out of the ground. The scape rises quickly in 4-5 days to its height of 2 feet and then reveals a cluster of 6-8 pink funnel-shaped flowers. The flowers look like some small amaryllis blooms (thus the name Hardy or Autumn Amaryllis). They last 4-6 days and even longer if they are planted in a mass planting.
After the plants bloom and the scape have faded away and dried up, don’t expect to see any leaves for a long while. Here in Texas the thick green strap leaves do not emerge from the ground until around January or February and will stay green until late April or early May. After that time it will stay dormant until July when the plant will bloom again.
The book on this bulb is Zones 5-10, a semi-shade to woodland area, virtually any soil, acidic or heavy alkaline clay, and height 24-36”, with spacing of 9-12”. If you have pets and/or children, be aware that this plant is poisonous.
Most Lycoris do not like to be moved or disturbed in any way. It is critical to label or mark them in some form when you are planting them. If you are planting this bulb from a mail order source or dividing a clump, re-plant as quickly as you can. In addition, try to keep the roots wet and intact as much as possible. Even following all of the above procedures the bulbs might not bloom for 2-3 years after planting. So plant only if you are a very patient gardener! As a matter of fact, I planted some of these bulbs two years ago from a plant trade I had made and I am just NOW seeing the leaves come up. On the upside, this bulb is long-lived, and doesn’t need much care. I would suggest you fertilize as soon as the bloom has faded and again in early spring. Do not fertilize any recently planted bulbs until you see some growth. And yes, ladies and gents, I will have some of these wonderful bulbs at the 10th annual AOGC Natural Urban Living Garden Show in June 2005.
Happy organic gardening!

Posted by cheryn at 09:38 PM