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Orbea variegata-Starfish Cactus, Toad Cactus

Orbea variegata, Starfish Cactus, Toad Cactus, Carrion Flower,Indoor gardeningOrbeas are a genus of succulent plants in the Apocynacea family, they're evergreen- leafless plants native to Africa. Starfish Cactus and Toad Cactus are misleading common names because this plant is not a cacti-it is a succulent. A better common name for this Orbea is Carrion Flower or African Carrion Flower.


Leafminer Bugs

Leafminer bug damage on ornamental plant, Nasturtium"Leafminers bugs" describe the larvae of moths, flies and beetles that feed on the interior tissue of the leaf of a bug. The damage done by these garden pests to our plants is easy to spot because of the "mines" created as the bugs chews inside the leaf. In some instances the leafminer will cause a light colored blotch on the leaf, in really bad cases the plant will look discolored and/or drop leaves. It is rare that leafminers do enough damage to kill a plant, what they destroy mostly is the aesthetic value of your ornamentals for a short period of time.


When I Collect Pineapple Lily Seeds

When I collect Eucomis bicolor Seeds, Pineapple Lily Seeds, Urban Gardening, tropical bulbsToday I was making a quick inspection of the garden and I noticed that some of my Pineapple Lily seed pods where ready for picking. I decided to make a quick post to show what a Pineapple Lily seed pod looks like before and after it is ready to release the seeds. The top photo of a Eucomis flower is an example of what it looks like before it ripens. Notice how nice plump and green it looks after it has been pollinated and is setting seeds. The bottom photograph of a flower had probably ripened yesterday or the day before. Notice the change in color- it is now a pale yellow-green and the pod looks a little deflated.

Self-Rooting Coleus In My Garden

Rooting Coleus Plants, Popular Garden AnnualSix days ago I noticed my black Coleus had started to rot in a few places up the main stem. I cut off the pieces that were rotting and just dumped the scraps in the garden among other plants. Today before the big storms hit us I was in the garden trying to capture photos of a butterfly that was visiting and noticed that the Coleus cuttings still had not died.

When I Collect Purple Coneflower Seeds

Purple Coneflower seed heads, Urban Gardening, Chicago GardenerJust two years ago I thought collecting seeds in my garden was the easiest thing in the world. I could wait until November and collect fully intact Purple Coneflower seed heads. The only obstacles I encountered where the occasional humans who dug out plants or pulled the cones from my plants. I could wait until the cone had tuned black and some of the stem started to blacken and die before I cut off the heads and saved them for trades or for sowing back into the garden.


How To Propagate Eucomis Bulbs: Leaf Cuttings

How To Propagate Eucomis Bulbs By Leaf Cuttings, Eucomis BicolorOne of my favorite tender bulbs to grow is Eucomis bicolor. The bulb is commonly called a Pineapple Lily because the cluster of flowers grow in a pattern that resemble a pineapple. If you are interested in information on how I grow these bulbs here in Chicago you can read my previous post at this link: Eucomis bicolor-Pineapple Lily.


When I Collect Cleome Seeds

Cleome Seed Pod, When I collect Cleome SeedsIn between the scattered rain today I was out in the garden checking on the Cleomes and trying to collect a few seeds so I could scatter them into other areas of the garden. One of these annual plants can produce more seeds than you know what to do with, the trick is knowing when the seed pods are ripe so you can collect your Cleome seeds.

Tradescantia pallida: Purple Heart Or Wandering Jew

Tradescantia pallida is species of spiderwort that is native to eastern Mexico. In warmer climates it is an evergreen perennial plant that can be grown as an ornamental ground cover, in pots or as an ornamental houseplant. This plant has escaped cultivation and in some areas it has become invasive because of the plants' ability to adapt to shade or sun, quick growth and relatively disease free existence. In colder climates, like here in Chicago, the invasive qualities aren't really an issue because it can't survive the winters in our gardens.


Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie'

Ipomoea batatas Blackie, Ornamental sweet potato vineProbably the most common plants used in planters in the Chicago area has to be these ornamental sweet potato vines. You can find the chartreuse colored vine and this darker form growing in all parts of the city in the planters the city maintains. They spill over planters or are used as ground covers to great effect. My favorite is the two common ones you see is "blackie" even though it has a politically incorrect common name I love the dark foliage. I have one planted with my "black" calla lily and oxalis.

Columbine Seedling

We've been experiencing a bit of rain in Chicago these past few days and one benefit from it is the seedlings that have emerged or have been given a boost by extra water. I was taking advantage of the fact that the soil is saturated with water and pulling weeds is relatively easy when I spotted a couple of seedlings. One of the seedlings I spotted amongst the weeds is this columbine seedling.

Columbine Seedling, Seedling Identification

When I Collect Nasturtium Seeds

I was out in the garden today picking a few blooms from my Nasturtiums to decorate a salad with when I noticed how many seeds were being produced by my plants this year. When I first grew them I was worried I wouldn't be able to recognize the Nasturtium seeds and that I would somehow lose them all to garden critters. Once these annual set seeds it is pretty easy to spot them if you move the foliage aside and inspect your plants. For the most part the seeds are produced in pairs like in picture of nasturtium seeds in this post but on a few occasions I've observed them growing in groups of three or four.

how to collect and save nasurtium seeds


Watering Houseplants Part 3: Watering From Below

white crust on houseplant pot, how to water houseplants, monadenium
One of the biggest disservices that I do my houseplants is watering them from below. Even though I know better sometimes I can't resist the urge to fill the sink or a large container with water and setting the plants in the water to get a drink. Watering houseplants from below is a time saver if you have a lot of plants to deal with but you should avoid it when possible.


Ceropegia Woodii: String Of Hearts

Ceropegia Woodii Flower, Rosary Vine Flower, String of Hearts Flower
Ceropegia woodii is an evergreen trailing vine that is commonly grown as a houseplant. It is probably best known by String of Hearts because of the heart shaped green/marbled leaves. Another common name that it often goes by is Rosary Vine because of the tubers that are produced along the stems. I consider this South African native an easy indoor plant that can be grown by just about anyone with enough bright light- mine grow happily in a west facing window.

When grown indoors if they're not given enough light the growth will be a light green color but under strong light the leaves and stems take on a deep green color. The two plants I grow are potted in hanging pots and I allow the stems to trail where they reach a few feet in length. But you can also wind the stems up a small trellis or topiary frame if you don't have the room to grow it as a hanging plant. You can allow the tubers, that grow below the soil, to fill the pot and become pot-bound before you repot your plant.

C. woodii likes dry soil and over-watering is a sure way to kill this succulent plant. I usually wait until I see some of the tubers near the top of the stems have begun to shrink before I give it a good drink of water. I grow mine in bagged cacti & succulent soil I purchased at a garden center that I amend with a bit of perlite. I wouldn't recommend growing these plants in plain houseplant soil unless you amend it so that it drains very well.

I purchased both of my Strings of Hearts plants here in the Chicagoland area. The first one I bought I picked up at Jamaican Gardens and the second one I bought at a local Home Depot. The plant I picked up at Jamaican Gardens (in Morton Grove, IL) has smaller and more triangular leaves. The String of Hearts I purchased at the Home Depot in Chicago has more of the heart-shaped leaves that give this plant the common name we know it by.

This spring I placed both of my plants on the back deck and learned one lesson pretty quickly. While these plants like very bright light indoors when placed outside for the spring and summer care should be taken to give them protection from the strong midday sun. If you summer your plants outside make sure to place them in a partially shaded area of your garden or patio.

Today I went out to check on my plants and noticed that both of them were blooming. I was surprised by the show of blooms because I haven't exactly been treating them well and since I've owned them they haven't received any fertilizer from me. The blooms are nothing short of fascinating even if they look a little phallic to some in my house. Possibly the best description came from my foster brother said they resembled wisks.

Notice the little hairs on the edge? The inside is also has little hairs that trap small flies inside the "vase" until the hairs wither and allow the pollen covered fly to escape and go onto the next flower. Out of curiosity I put a bloom up to my nose and I don't know why I was surprised that it didn't smell good. I can't describe the smell but I can tell you that it lasted for an hour in my nostrils. If I had to guess I would say that there is a probably a special pollinator that isn't found in Chicago that pollinates these blooms. But I'm going to keep my fingers crossed because I've read a post on a garden forum by someone on the east coast who has had these flowers set seeds. I'll set it in the garden in an area where flies are sure to find the blooms and hope for the best.

Related Post
String of Hearts Vine Propagation


Natural Methods Of Pest Control: Using Carnivorous Plants

natural methods of pest control with carnivorous plantsIn "Natural Methods of Pest Control" I blogged about how I was using beneficial bugs like lady bugs to control garden pests that were attacking plants in my garden. To read about the use of lady bugs follow the link above so you can see the photos and the video I made.


Zinnia Green Envy

Zinnia Green Envy Flower
Zinnas are popular garden annual or perennial plants that originated in Mexico. Zinnia elegans was sent from Mexico to Madrid, Spain by Casimir Gomez de Ortego to his friend the marchioness of Bute. Zinnia is named after Johann Gottfried Zinn, who was a medical professor at Gottingen University who is best known for publishing a book on the anatomy of the eye.


1984 Takes On Guerrilla Gardening Granny

I've just spent a few moments reading about June Turnbull a 79-year-old Guerrilla Gardening pensioner who has come under the scrutiny of the nanny state. She hasn't come under the watchful eye of the Wiltshire county council because she's on a terrorists watch list- her crime is that she's operating "without the necessary "Section 96" safety licence" as she tends to a flower bed on public land. For those of us not versed in bureaucracy this means that she doesn't have a permit to garden on public land, she's not wearing an orange safety vest, she doesn't have a look out and there aren't signs warning motorists work being done ahead.

Watering Houseplants Part 2: Botanicalls

BotanicallsIn my previous entry, Watering Houseplants Part 1: Pick Them Up, I mentioned moisture meters that you can buy to help you determine when your houseplants need water. Some very forward thinking NYU college students have devised a system with a sensor that can tell when your houseplants need water or light and call your phone to let you know. For years indoor gardeners have been talking to their houseplants but now they can actually talk back.


Viola cornuta 'Bowles' Black'

viola cornuta bowles black, black violetWe've been experiencing some heavy rains in the Chicago area which my garden must really appreciate because I've been treating my garden like a xeriscaped garden-which it isn't. Aside from a couple of cherished plants in pots nothing has been getting supplemental watering this year. Because of the rains and horrible humidity I've not been spending much time in the garden looking at plants or looking for bugs to photograph so when I went out today I was surprised to find this little violet blooming in a pot.

When I Collect Cypress Vine Seeds

Ipomoea quamoclit is native from South America up to Northern Mexico. It has naturalized in some warmer zones in the United States. This annual twining vine is commonly known as 'Cypress Vine' but also goes by the name of Hummingbird Vine and Star Glory. It is also sometimes confused with Ipomoea sloteri "Cardinal Climber." While the two vines and flowers look similar they have some pretty obvious differences. In my opinion Cypress Vine is the better of these two plants because of the softer foliage and star shaped flowers.

Cypress Vine flower pictures, Cypress Vine seed saving, ipomoea quamoclit

I purchased a packet of 'Cypress Vine' "Valentine Mix" because it contains red, white and pink blooms of this flower. I must not have saved any seeds from the pink or white blooms last year because this year I've only noticed the reds blooming. Here in Chicago I grow this vine in full sun in poor soil where it blooms profusely well into the fall.


Restarting An Echeveria

How To Propagate An EcheveriaI picked up this "Black Prince" Echeveria back in November of '06 after I spotted it in a new shipment of succulents at a local Home Depot. Unfortunately this Echeveria started to become a little leggy which is understandable because of the low light conditions indoors over the winter.


Watering Houseplants Part 1: Pick Them Up

how I water houseplantsProbably the most frequently asked question I get asked when people find out about my interest in plants relates to the watering of houseplants. Specifically, people want to know what I call "the houseplant numbers"-meaning they want to know how many cups of water they should give their houseplants per week. Unfortunately houseplants don't operate on our schedules and they don't understand liquid measurements.


How I Repot A Cactus

How I repot A CactusI finally got around to repotting a couple of cacti that I own and decided to take some photos to detail how I repot a cactus. Normally I would recommend repotting a succulent during the early spring when it enters the active growing cycle but I didn't get around to it and there are still plenty of warm days ahead.

Nicandra physaloides-Shoo-fly Plant

Nicandra  physaloides-Shoo-fly Plant-Apple of PeruNicandra physaloids is a weedy annual plant that was introduced from South America as an ornamental gardening plant. In Illinois it can be found growing wild in various counties except in the NW area of the state. This plant grows to a height of 2-5 feet tall, the foliage and stems are reported to be poisonous to mammals and untouched by deer. This member of the Nightshade Family grows well in moist soils in full or partial sun.


Solanum dulcamara: Bitter Nightshade

Solanum dulcamara Bittersweet, Bitter Nightshade, Blue Bindweed, Climbing Nightshade, Fellenwort, Felonwood, Poisonberry, Poisonflower, Scarlet Berry, Snakeberry, Trailing Bittersweet, Trailing Nightshade, Violet Bloom or, Woody Nightshade
Solanum dulcamara is native to Europe and Asia but it has naturalized in many areas, North America being one of them where it is an invasive weed. Here in Chicago you can find it growing in roadsides and empty lots but it is also commonly found growing in gardens. The flowers and fruits in the photos above were growing in a neighbor's garden happily growing up the chain link fence. In gardens this plant can scramble over plants, trees and shrubs and be hard to control.